Google announced recently that they have built several self-driving cars, and have been running them around California. So far these vehicles have logged over 140,000 miles without a real hand on the wheel.
Self-driving cars are not a new idea. But unlike earlier solutions, this current approach works with the existing infrastructure and therefore, actually has a good chance of succeeding.
Looking into my crystal ball, here is how I see things playing out in the future:
- Cars will start to take over pieces of the driving experience for safety reasons. Actually, this isn’t much of a prediction as ABS, Traction Control, and Electronic Stability Control have done this for some time.
- Cars (like the Google car) will steadily improve, until the option to let the car drive without human intervention becomes reality. At that point only the ‘purists’ will continue to drive themselves.
- The self-driving car will never speed, never explode with road rage, never drive drunk, never fall asleep at the wheel and will always merge politely, thus reducing accidents. Insurance companies will then introduce substantially lower premiums in return for a promise that you will never touch the wheel.
- Statistical information will appear showing that only those cars being driven by humans crash. At that point, the option for human hands on the wheel will be legally removed and we will all become permanent passengers.
- Any vehicle that cannot be automatically driven will no longer be allowed on the public roadways. This will include most classic cars and ALL motorcycles.
I know many people, such as my wife, will cheer this future. The ability to automate the 8 hour drive to Nana’s would be a major boon for her. In fact, with no driver needed, the kids could be sent off on their own to visit Grandma. Of course, in that situation, the car would arrive OK, but the kids may have killed each other on the way.
And think about what a huge boon this will be for people who are blind, elderly or have other handicaps that make driving impossible. Suddenly the world will be their oyster.
The roads will become predictable, safe and boring!
Anything that the systems can’t cope with will have to go and, since these systems will find it impossible to handle the complexities of balance and leaning, motorcycles will be first vehicles against the wall.
But what about that classic car you’ve been hankering for? If you own a Model-T Ford or a Ferrari… Sorry, but they will have to stay home, relegated to being polished and admired. I’m sure Ferrari will continue to make exclusive cars for a while, but since these cars are all about the driving experience who is going to bother ? I can’t imagine a computer describing how a great car ‘feels’ to drive.
The green crowd is cheering this future because they believe it will increase car sharing and cut the miles ‘wasted’ on pleasure driving. Personally I don’t see the connection between a self-driving car and people lining up to car-pool. And the green folks seem to have completely missed the fact that, as soon as there is no need to pay a driver, the number of trucks on the road will skyrocket.
And as for ‘wasted‘ miles, I can see plenty of miles being covered picking up groceries and returning the book you borrowed from your friend, and all sans-driver.
Yes, the roads of the future will be safe and predictable, and another life experience will have been lost. And somehow I just can’t shake the feeling that along with it we are losing a little piece of our humanity. Should we live life, or just exist? Isn’t a little danger and excitement a necessary thing for a full life?
Perhaps we should all be like my Mother-in-law who, upon finding out Joanne was learning to ride a motorcycle, suggested “Why don’t you just stay home a read about it?”
But, as John Shedd once said “A ship in a harbor is safe — but that is not what ships were built for.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.
- Google develops self-driving car (confused.com)
- Google has self-driving cars… Self-driving cars! (thenextweb.com)
- How close are we to mass-market driverless cars? Google is working on it (techvibes.com)