The car has always been near the forefront of technology. Pioneered by Carl Benz in the late 1800’s, it has been the way to get from A to B (within reasonable distances) since. As the world around it has evolved, so has the car itself. Interiors have become more refined, exteriors have become more aerodynamically advanced and driver aids such as power steering and traction control help the driver to drive safer. The next big advancement for the car seems to be more advanced driver aids, maybe culminating in the driver being removed from the operation all together.
Driverless cars already exist but these are military vehicles, designed to remove the driver so that they are faced with as little danger as possible. They mainly off road terrain and are controlled by several people and several computers back at a safe base. These machines don’t have a driver in the conventional sense but do show what is currently possible.
Certain cars can brake for themselves, but this is used if the driver cannot react quickly enough to a sudden obstacle or if the driver falls asleep or loses concentration at a critical moment. Cruise control allows the driver to set a certain speed or following distance to the car in front. This is mainly used on a motorway or long A road and is designed so that the driver doesn’t have to fully concentrate on doing the same thing for a long time, eventually losing focus.
The biggest leap toward driverless cars came this year, from electric car manufacturer Tesla. They sent out a software update to 60,000 compatible cars (nicknamed “Autopilot”) that allowed the car to accelerate, brake and steer for itself. In short, the driver doesn’t have to do anything. This system can only be used on motorways currently, the system couldn’t cope with the complexities of town and city driving. Cars that steer themselves had before only been used for parking, so this represents and big leap forward in the automotive industry. The car will drive itself in every way, you could even sit in the passenger seat if you wanted!
Doing that is not recommended, autonomous cars are a legal grey area. If a police officer were to see someone sitting in the passenger seat with no-one in the driver’s seat, would they pull them over? Of course they would, it would be very dangerous if there were to be a glitch or failure with the system. Tesla themselves advise driver to remain in the driver’s seat whilst travelling on autopilot. It is illegal to use a mobile phone while driving, but them are you actually driving with the autopilot system engaged? Not technically, but you would still responsible for the car and the well-being of any peoples in or out of the car.
So are driverless cars a good idea? In some respects, it depends on your point of view on driving itself. For example, I like driving. I find it relaxing and fun. So in my view, I don’t want a driverless car, because I don’t view driving as a chore, something that I have to do but don’t like. I do however like the idea of tesla’s autopilot system, but it’s not for me personally. I would use on really long journeys, to eliminate as much fatigue as possible but that’s it. Other people I have spoken to say they would use the system, if it were safe and reliable, as much as possible. Some people say that driverless cars would be hard to trust, but people who have driven using Tesla’s autopilot were surprised as to how quickly they got used to it. Driverless cars will always come down to personal preference, but it does look like they are coming and coming fast. Companies such as Google, not traditional motoring companies, have thrown their weight behind the technology. With the influence and money that Google and concept and demonstration cars from established car manufacturers becoming more and more common, it looks like driverless cars will be on the roads in the future.
Image credit: flickr.com/rowanhill