As someone who has witnessed and ultimately thwarted an attempted car theft in Canada, my first thought upon seeing this story of “smart car” tipping was to think “well, maybe this will teach the manufacturer to make the cars untippable.” Believe me, I’m all for smart cars. Not every car can be a tank, and I don’t think they should be. But how smart can they be if two people can do almost $10,000 worth of damage to one in five seconds by tipping it on its side? As a motorcyclist, I’ve lived with the possibility of random destruction of my vehicular property all my life. I’ve learned to be a little careful, a lot detached, and when possible heavily insured. As a driver of a 10-year-old pickup truck and a 20-year-old motorcycle I’ve also learned to not give much of a fuck. Sure, it sucks when someone randomly destroys or absconds with your property. I’ve been a victim of random property crime, and it hurt. But guess what: it’s going to happen. And you learn. You learn to keep your garage clean enough to put your vehicle away at night–when most property crimes occur. You learn to care not quite so much about what your sheet metal looks like. You know, if the finish on your metallic powder-coat window pillar can’t be restored outside the factory, maybe it wasn’t so “smart” in the first place.
Motorcycles, being inherently unstable at rest, used to be designed to handle a fall pretty well. I say used to be because these days motorcycle design is heavily informed by automotive design, which means large expanses of fragile surfaces that we care a lot about because they account for about half the resale value. But in the old days if you dropped a bike you might bust a signal light and scuff some chrome, but the vehicle would be basically operable and intact after anything short of a high-speed collision (again, been there). So why not make the smart car a little smarter? If you assume the vehicle will be tipped, this is pretty easy to design toward. So why aren’t the smart car folks doing this? Well, for one thing because they currently have a monopoly. There’s nothing to prevent them from selling extreme fragility and a 9-month wait time for parts with every vehicle. Some tipping will be almost required to straighten this out.