2014 is the year autonomous car technology burst into the mainstream with the introduction of the self-driving Google Car, though just a few lucky people have actually ridden in one thus far. Among them is Matthew Inman, creator of the hilarious webcomic The Oatmeal, who summed up his experience with the self-driving Google Car in six succinct points.
Because I love the Oatmeal so much, I’m going to strongly suggest you go and read his comic before you carry-on reading the rest of this post. You should also check out his post on the Tesla Model S that he bought and adores. I’ll be here when you’re done.
Pretty good, right? Not his most hilarious work, but more informative than many “serious” journalistic attempts to describe what riding in the Google Car is like. The two most important points he makes though are just how timid the riding experience currently is (compared to what it could be), and that we should embrace the data instead of the anecdotes when it comes to autonomous vehicles. But as Inman notes, Google Cars still have a hard time with things that would confuse human drivers, like four-way stops and whether or not a pedestrian is about to cross a road. However, Google seems increasingly focused on the automotive world, and their self-driving prototype is arguably the most advanced in the world.
Apparently early prototypes were a lot more “aggressive” in their software tuning, resulting in screeching tires and screeching passengers. So engineers make the Google Cars much more timid in an effort to make them not-so-terrifying. According to Inman, the cars drive in a very human-like manner (including the ability to exceed the posted speed limit), and eventually the forward thinkers will forget anybody is driving at all.
Nevertheless, people are going to hate on these cars regardless, but Google has hundreds of thousands of accident-free miles on its record after just a few years of testing. Suffice to say, rather than looking at autonomous cars as a limiting factor (right now they can only go up to 25 MPH), but rather the return of our freedom to flip through our smartphones and have “important conversations” during the morning commute. The quality of the average driver has been in decline, and it’s only thanks to better and better safety features that humanity hasn’t driven itself off of a collective cliff playing with our new gadgets.
I for one welcome our Skynet Marshmallow Bumper Bots overlords.