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Technology in the Driver's Seat
Back in 2010, Google announced that it had in development a ‘driverless car’.
On their blog they wrote “Our goal is to help prevent traffic accidents, free up people’s time and reduce carbon emissions by fundamentally changing car use.”
I suppose that does sound better than, “We saw it on a Bond film and thought it looked cool.”
In the four years since, four states in the US have passed laws permitting autonomous vehicles – Navada, Florida, Michigan and, of course, California.
Personally, I’m torn on the matter.
On one hand, I’m a big fan of Knight Rider.
On the other hand, I quite like living in a world without fear of robotic automobiles.
Considering there has only been one report of an accident involving a Google driverless car on the roads (it was being driven by a human at the time too), it may seem like an overreaction to worry about being attacked by one, but I have good reason.
While visiting a friend in Devon last year, I ventured out in the car in search of the supermarket in a nearby town.
I didn’t know the area at all, so I called upon my trusty mobile and asked Google Maps to lead the way.
It was going fine until it sent me down a pedestrianised shopping area.
I know, I know! I was a moron for blindly following the directions.
The point is that in that situation, the outcome was just an embarrassing five minutes of waving apologetically at angry and baffled shop-goers.
Had it been a driverless car though, the result would have been a headline the following day that read:
SHOPPERS KILLED IN GOOGLE CAR MASSACRE
(I wanted to put a joke here about what would happen if Bing had a go at making a driverless car but let’s be realistic, no-one would use it anyway)
Over the years, technology has massively improved the comfort, reliability and safety of motoring. From air-bags to power-steering, cars have come a long way since their inception back in 1886.
Some would argue that they have also become uglier, duller and generally less enjoyable to drive in that time too. Obviously those people are absolutely, 100% correct.
However, once you’ve seen a crash test pitting old against new, it’s difficult to argue that the advancements haven’t been for the better.
We also have things like parking sensors and rear cameras nowadays. These don’t help safety all that much, but they do prevent car park fist-fights and, more importantly, save the driver the traumatising ordeal of having to turn their own head to make sure they don’t ruin their bumper by striking a misplaced school-child.
Considering it seems to be far too much effort for some people to even maneuver themselves into the correct lane before they arrive at a junction, maybe driverless cars would be a good idea.
It would give them time to do the more important things like shout, swear and flash their lights at those selfish do-gooders who drive at 30 MPH in built up areas.
In my opinion, driverless cars just won’t catch on. Not because they won’t be very good. I’m sure they will be brilliant.
They will be safer, more economical and really quite useful.
The reason I don’t think they will catch on is because humans like to be in control. We need to be in control. Technology controlling us can never be a good thing. We learned that in the sci-fi horror film WALL-E!
Also, we’re not very trusting. You could be a passenger in a car driven by your best friend, but if they just drive a bit too close to the curb once, you’re braced between the handle and the floor mat as if you are a passenger on a free falling helicopter.
Imagine if, instead of your best mate, the car is actually being driven by that cocky search engine that is always saying things like “Did you mean…” and, according to the news, knows more intimate facts about you than you know yourself.
There would be a fun novelty value when you are being driven home from the pub through some quiet suburbs, but what about when you’re sat in the back of a driverless car making its way down the slip road onto a busy motorway?
There’s probably an uncomfortably high risk that you’ll ruin the seat’s upholstery. No-one wants that.
Instead of developing something that, if we are realistic, will be nothing but a novelty that only celebrities and rich eccentrics will buy, why aren’t we working on new car features that will actually make the roads a better and safer place?
For example, if a driver turns off a roundabout without indicating, the car automatically releases the seatbelt and engages the brakes.
That’s possibly a little harsh.
I’ll leave it to Google to iron out the details.