In a slight change to the usual format, today’s “Apps to Watch” has been jettisoned in favour of something I hope will be a more compelling read.
You may have noticed over the past year or two that driverless cars (also known as autonomous vehicles) are receiving an increasing amount of press coverage lately, with tech companies like Google hard at work on their own vision of the automotive future, as well as car companies like Tesla, Ford, Volvo, and many more. Volvo says that by 2017, 100 real-world customers will be using its self-driving cars on public roads.
It’s very likely that the majority of car makers are at least have driverless cars on their roadmap in the not-too-distant future. There are also very strong rumours that the richest company on the planet, Apple, is working on its own electric vehicle – which may or may not be self-driving depending on who you listen to.
The ultimate mobile device
Apple’s Tim Cook recently said that the car is the ultimate mobile device, so it’s no surprise that tech companies are extensively testing the technology. And so as a “mobile device”, that justifies at least some coverage in Mobile Industry Review…
Just this week, Reuters ran a story that the United States’ National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the artificial intelligence actually driving a Google Car can be considered a ‘driver’, potentially cutting through lots of red tape in the march towards getting the things on the road.
Back in the UK, London transport chiefs apparently [Guardian] want Google Car trials to come to London, which would certainly help testing in traffic-choked, congested conditions and wet weather. Google just extended its current test to Kirkland, Washington in the US to get more experience in a variety of terrains and weather conditions, but the UK’s capital would be an even more realistic and challenging test.
I can’t help feeling however that the more disruptive residents of London will be tempted to deface the cars, cut them up on the road, and try to derail the whole experiment. Wouldn’t it be just a little bit fun to block the cars down a one-way street or not give way when you should?
The purpose of a driverless car?
So what is the purpose of a driverless car? A couple of things are clearly obvious such as safety, slower cars on road and (hopefully) fewer accidents as a result. The computers driving the cars apparently make conservative decisions, so going anywhere should ultimately be safer. Google also reported last year that of all the millions of miles its driverless cars have clocked up, very few accidents have occurred, and those that have were on the whole not the fault of the car.
You can read monthly reports on Google’s Self-Driving Car Project here.
Perhaps another benefit is that you could safely use your mobile, surf the Internet, chat with friends or even have a nap while the car does all the hard work for you. That all sounds fantastic. A future where road traffic accidents decrease, congestion is eased, and travelling to and from work frees you up from the monotony of sitting in traffic for hours.
But despite the obvious upsides, I guarantee you that I will never buy a self-driving car. The reason is that myself and likely a huge percentage of the population actually enjoy driving. That’s why I’m not averse to the idea of riding in a self-driving bus or train, or trucks that automatically deliver goods.
Being stuck in rush hour traffic is no fun of course, and people who regularly experience that situation may find themselves tempted by such a driverless car; anyone who has a daily commute into central London for example would be a good candidate. In that case a car is more of a utility vehicle that frees you up to relax or do something useful while it drives you to your destination.
A car is not an appliance
But for many other people, and especially anyone who works at home (like me), a car is not just an appliance to get from A to B. A car is the ultimate freedom and can also be an expression of your personality and individuality.
Who can argue that it’s fun to take a weekend spin through twisty mountain roads, or try and beat the guy next to you at the lights. And if you own a sports car or any vehicle a little bit exotic or quirky, you’ll understand why driverless cars have no appeal. Classic car owners would understand.
As a motorbike enthusiast, the idea of sitting back and allowing someone else to drive me around sedately is not a concept that I relish. The point of owning a car (or a fast bike) is the thrill of a weekend blast: to find a beautifully smooth, bendy route with amazing scenery, or simply to explore somewhere new.
There’s the added benefit that you can fit all the shopping in the boot of a car, of course.
A car can also reflect the owner’s tastes, particularly the younger generation. Do you know any teenagers who would like a driverless car? Ask your kids, I’m fairly sure they will say no. It’s no doubt an image thing, besides that fact that many people are (and should be) proud of their cars. Would you prefer a cool-looking red convertible parked in the driveway with the top down, or a boring driverless car?
Admittedly such vehicles provide an excellent showcase of the latest technology, fitted with all kinds of advanced sensors, navigation systems and complex AI. It truly is an amazing feat of engineering at the forefront of automotive technology. But just because we can do something, it doesn’t necessarily mean we should. And what about the huge issues related to electronic security, privacy and hacking?
Just say no
I have to admit, I’m just not the target audience for such vehicles.
But with trials well underway all over the world, particularly in the States, it seems inevitable that the “ultimate mobile device” of the future will be the car that drives you to work on its own. All you need to do is push a button or tell it where you’re going. With the obvious safety benefits, perhaps governments will one day mandate that all cars are driverless.
But I implore you to say “no” to the driverless car, or you better enjoy your driving freedom while it lasts…