Driverless cars – the end of the petrolhead?

Nissans Autonomous Drive Leaf, exhibited at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show. This takes the firms established Safety Shield Technologies and moves them to the next level. Photo: Nissan
Stanford Universities 2009 self-driving car - a Volkswagen Passat

Stanford Universities self-driving car Volkswagen Passat – as long ago as 2009

So….the UK government have decreed that driverless vehicles can be used on the road as from next year. Sounds great – or does it?

Whilst these trials will only be permitted when there is still a human in the vehicle, able to take control if necessary, the need for a human presence is no more than a step along the way. It is well documented that Googles self-driving cars have already clocked up well over 300,000 miles accident-free, to say nothing of the intensive testing which has also been carried out by just about every major motor manufacturer in the world, the US Military, and doubtless many other organisations who have not made their efforts public knowledge.

So let’s just travel a little further along this road and see where we might end up. For a start, the need for a human minder in the vehicle will surely disappear in the not too far distant future, provided self-driver accident rates remain negligible. For anyone who thinks this is far-fetched, let’s reflect on the fact that much of the technology behind self-driving is here and actively in use now on many of the cars we buy today. Take the humble Golf: active cruise control and city braking both over-ride the human drivers inputs, or lack of them, whilst self-parking demonstrates better spatial awareness than many humans. Or Nissan’s Qashqai, with its Around View Monitor cameras continually scanning 360o around the car looking for trouble. Indeed, Nissan have already declared that they will have on the market by 2020 a range of commercially-viable self-driving vehicles.

Nissans Autonomous Drive Leaf, exhibited at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show. This takes the firms established Safety Shield Technologies and moves them to the next level. Photo: Nissan

Nissans Autonomous Drive Leaf, exhibited at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show. This takes the firms established Safety Shield Technologies and moves them to the next level. Photo: Nissan

And how long will it be before the dreaded Health & Safety Police realise that self-drivers have fewer accidents than human-controlled vehicles and start to demand their mandatory usage. Who knows – they may be right: I’ve yet to hear of a robot with road rage, although doubtless one could be engineered.

Actually, the driverless car opens up a whole range of intriguing possibilities. No longer will you need to hop in the car to pop to the shops for a newspaper or a pint of milk – just send the car to the nearest automated store!

On second thoughts, maybe that’s not such a good idea, for inevitably the technology of the driverless car will be combined with other realms of science faction to create even more of a nanny state. Just imagine it: say you fancy a drink at a country pub on a lovely warm summer evening. Free from worries about drinking & driving, you instruct the car to take you to your desired hostelry. Back comes the digitised message – “Input rejected – allotted measures of alcohol for the week exceeded. Please try later”.

the 1950's vision of self-driving. It's been a long time coming, but its here, now.

the 1950’s vision of self-driving. It’s been a long time coming, but its here, now.

OK – the foregoing is lighthearted, but let’s not forget that the technology to make any of this happen is not stuff of the future – it’s here, now. For sure, things will not develop in just the way I’ve joked about above, but we should be in no doubt that the Government’s decision to permit driverless vehicles has just changed the shape of the future.

Oh, Mr Cameron, what have you done to us? Maybe an independent Scottish Government will reverse this decision & we petrolheads can all move to the Highlands to enjoy their great driving roads!

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