When I express my enthusiasm for autonomous vehicles, which I’ve done on this blog recently and to many patient friends over lunch tables in the last few weeks, they sometimes respond with skepticism:
“Well, I can see we might have better cruise controls, or smarter braking and automatic parking systems, but I don’t think we’ll ever be able to take our hands off the wheel completely.”
“But the car is still a relatively recent invention, and look how far it’s come already”, I reply. “It’s only a little over 100 years since the Wright brothers first managed to fly 100 feet, and we pretty much have self-flying airliners. Do you really think that in 100 years we’ll still be pointing these deadly human-controlled missiles at each other on narrow roads?”
That, at least, is the neat turn of phrase I might employ if the lunch hasn’t involved much wine or beer by this point. And they usually admit that, yes, maybe, perhaps I have a point.
“And so the question isn’t whether we will get driverless cars, but when, and what the route is between here and there. It will start with smarter cruise controls — it already is, in fact — and then maybe certain highways will have special lanes in which you can take your hands off the wheel if you’re appropriately equipped. Maybe some airports will allow self-valet-parking cars in the car parks. And soon, as we’re resurfacing country roads, we’ll be building in the wires that will make the whole driving process cheaper and easier and less dependent on complex maps and camera systems. But whether you think it’s going to be in 100 years, or within my lifetime, or — as I sincerely hope — before I retire, it is going to happen.”
This is pretty much the point that Matt Honan makes in this Buzzfeed article, but, of course, he does it better than me even without beer.
And he can speak more authoritatively about Google’s cars, because he’s actually been in one.
There are a whole host of legal issues surrounding the implementation of driverless cars, which – knowing how much lawyers like to cash in on protracted negotiations – might delay things somewhat. Do I want my car to be programme to avoid damage to the would-be-driver, the passenger(s), the third party vehicle, my vehicle????…..whose at fault in a crash …..the car manufacturer, Microsoft (or who ever has programmed the vehicle), the road maintenance crews…….??? I think I’ll stick to my bike…..and my brand new Nissan Leaf……
Hi Richard –
Yes, I think there is a chance lawyers could spoil everything- I mentioned that a bit in my previous post. But I do believe they — or to be more precise, a litigious culture — can only slow progress down, and not defeat it entirely!
Jealous of your Leaf, though. We don’t have off-street parking here, but I’m investigating the options…
The Tesla can already do much of this without under road surface cables.
I love the new seven seater with rear gull wing doors that have an extra hinge in them to allow opening in 30 cm space. I also like the idea of the “insanely fast” option with 0 to 100kph in 2.7 seconds, not that I’d dare use it at my ancient age and slow reaction times.
Hi Q! As you mentioned retirement, I am at an age where the fear of no longer being able to drive on my own, because of coordination, sight, hearing or mental capability, I will be limited to others getting me from here to there. I find the concept of a driver-less car to be my extension of independence and ability to go where I both need to and would like to without limitation. Aging would not mean greater dependence on others and public facilities, until I am close to totally incapacitated. As a person growing up and now growing older in a world of opportunities where independence has offered me a very comprehensive living environment, losing the independence would be devastating. The driver-less car therefore becomes more than just a great idea, it becomes a life changer!