Autonomous cars: are they the future or will we maintain control of the wheel?
I read a piece this week in the New York Times, about a guy who tried driving a semi-driverless vehicle. Semi-autonomous is perhaps the more comfortable environment to be in right now, as you are still in control of the vehicle to some extent. Few of us would be confident giving over complete control as yet. However, there is still an element of no control, even in a semi-autonomous vehicle, as this is still the point at which you are actually just beginning to trust the car. In a semi-autonomous car, the vehicle is allowed to perform gentle turns with the driver’s hand on the wheel and it can adjust the speed dependent on the road type.
Imagine being in an autonomous car travelling at 40 miles an hour on a busy road in rush hour and all you have to do is press a button to activate the driverless mode function, then just sitting back and relaxing. Sure, there’s more to it, like suddenly deciding to remove your feet from the brake and the accelerator and entrusting the car to keep you safe, right? Or, do you, in fact, just let the car do the work the road? Are you always on guard when the cars in front of you slow down, and you need to suddenly brake? It may take some getting used to…
With all the cameras and computers the autonomous cars have, they are able to monitor the behaviour of other road users. So, in within the next 10 years will we will all probably have at least test driven an autonomous car! It will make long trips more bearable, and I guess there are certain professions that could certainly benefit from an autonomous car.
If you’re like me and up for taking a leap into the future then this could be for you! That being said, the tech isn’t quite mainstream yet and people are still reluctant to use it right now. Of course, even when it does hit the mainstream, there are still cost implications to consider. I have little doubt that the first autonomous cars will be very expensive to buy, which is the way with most technology when it first comes out. But I’m sure they’ll soon be ubiquitous. Some people are already imagining a future in which human-driven vehicles are actually banned!
So it is time to give up the wheel, one of the greatest inventions of all time? As I see it, driving is a gift and one that takes time and dedication to learn to do well. It’s also a pleasure for many, and the sense of control when in charge of a vehicle is palpable. When we let autonomous cars take control we will be giving all of that up. Would you be prepared to hand over your licence in exchange for perpetual passenger status?
Another interesting point is, obviously, safety. There are thousands of road deaths every year and most of these are down to human error. If an autonomous car makes the roads a safer place for everyone, then it may be the right option. After all, a machine never needs food or sleep, it is not distracted by arguing kids in the backseat, or an urgent call at an inappropriate time. Thinking of it that way, could there be anything less safe than a human at the wheel?!
The technology for semi-driverless cars isn’t good enough yet but we are not that far away. It is, therefore, important that we start to build sensible processes now. I think the shift will be gradual, but its safe to say that our future generations will one day live in an autonomous world, in many ways.