The driverless car has always been part science fiction, part hopeful reality. Many ideas out there have been pitched, from cars riding on rails to robot chauffeurs. Yet despite promises that in the next few years, such technology would be the reality, so far nobody has delivered. Could it be Internet giant Google who finally makes driverless cars possible?
All signs point to yes. Google recently unveiled that it had been working on driverless cars for some time, logging over 140,000 miles of testing. While currently cost prohibitive, this proves, if anything, that the technology exists today… and it could have a huge impact on the technology of traveling.
The human element is without a doubt the least predictable and most common cause of accidents. Excessive speed, distracted driving, and just plain old lack of common sense (like the idiot who stopped in the middle lane of the highway in front of me the other day and started backing up because he missed the exit) lead to more accidents than vehicular failure. Remove the human element, and replace it with a computer that can process road conditions, speed, other cars, and a million other bits of information… and you could have something groundbreaking.
The Google cars use computer A.I., cameras, lasers, and GPS devices to figure out where to go, how fast to go, and where other cars are. So far Google says there has been just one accident from its fleet of seven cars… when somebody else rear-ended a Google driverless car. That is pretty impressive, and a computer would be better able to optimize travel speed for fuel efficiency, timing, and could better account for things like traffic while the human passenger can be as distracted as he or she wants.
I do, however, have some misgivings about this.
Unlike many Americans, I like driving. I’m sure there are others out there too who like driving, but a majority of people seem too busy to be bothered to enjoy the experience. Then again, I don’t have a daily commute and I don’t deal with traffic very often (and when I do, my Jeep is quite handy in getting around it). I worry that one day, driving a car yourself might actually be outlawed and driverless cars will be law, rather than an option. Getting these cars off the ground also will pose a problem… many people will have their own misgivings about trusting a car to deliver them safely to their destination, and manual override systems will be a must. There is also the cost… while Google hasn’t said what all this technology costs, I know it wasn’t cheap. It would probably be cheaper to just hire a chauffeur instead.
All that aside… the future is now, people. Driverless cars are possible within our lifetime, and we may one day find ourselves sitting shotgun as the computer takes us to work.