Google unveiled their autonomous car at the Detroit Motor Show in January. They are not the only company developing their own drive-by-wire vehicles, which look set to become a definite feature of our roads in the future. Whilst there have always been those who are scared of change – from the cavemen who no doubt believed that the wheel was the work of some evil god through to the people who thought that the electric toothbrush would shake out their teeth – a little shake up of things is often for the greater good.
From medicine through to microwaves, technology has enhanced our lives and those of everyone around us. There’s plenty of enhancements that have been influenced the lives of humanity in a positive direction. We can now travel round the globe in hours or watch scenes of fantastic moments of natural beauty in the comfort of our own home. When you think about it there is very little to be worried about when it comes to advancements.
With autonomous cars there are many obvious benefits that these computer controlled vehicles will bring – but what less expected affects will they bring for the greater good?
Car pollution is one of the leading environmental concerns in the UK. Not only do these vehicles expel dangerous and harmful fumes, but all too often it seems we’re carving up our beautiful countryside to allow for an increasing number of roads. Autonomous cars could make our existing roads more efficient with a steady and continuous flow of evenly paced traffic, preventing bottlenecks at junctions and ensuring that everyone gets to their destination in a timely fashion. No need to build more motorways and dual carriageways if we can simply make better use of the existing road infrastructure.
These days if you’re going to have a heart attack, you better hope it’s not during rush hour. With so much congestion on this country’s roads, the sad fact of the matter is that the emergency services have trouble negotiating the chock-a-block roads during peak hours. With more autonomous cars on the road the flow and movement of traffic would be much more efficient and vehicles could even be programmed to stop and curb immediately, saving substantial amounts of time off emergency vehicle response times – saving lives, property and helping catch criminals.
Driving whilst under the influence of alcohol has been a big no-no in the UK for the past few decades. As cars have become faster and the roads more congested even a sniff of booze on your breath can earn you a long ban from getting behind the wheel. Taxis are the current alternative option, but if you leave your car at a pub or a restaurant you have to return to collect it. With autonomous cars you would be able to hitch a ride home with a fully sober artificial intelligence that couldn’t wait to give your moody, hung-over self a ride to work the following day.
In recent years people have become attuned to compensation culture. Whether or not this is an offshoot of US society is irrelevant, claiming to have whiplash from a prang is now a multi-cultural phenomenon. With autonomous cars accidents would be greatly reduced as would general sudden braking and vehicles could even keep logs of the inertial forces that generated on the road that could disprove a number of accident claims in seconds. And ultimately this would keep us all better off.
Thanks to hectic working schedules and congestion on the roads, all too often public transport runs on a schedule unbeknownst to man or beast. However when a large percentage of traffic becomes autonomous it is not unfeasible to imagine a world where the flow of traffic is smooth and we could even experience drive-by-wire buses that are given priority by the universal management software. More people would use buses thanks to the increased reliance of the service.
Let’s face it, some manoeuvres like changing gear challenge today’s motorists with parallel parking and three point turning giving new drivers nightmares. Some of the theatrics and stunts pulled off in films like the Fast and the Furious seems to be beyond the skills of most drivers. There is no reason why autonomous cars couldn’t be programmed to pull off some of the more exotic driving stunts such as drifting, hand-brake turns or even do-nutting in specially designated areas.
With so many autonomous vehicles on the road it would be possible to simply rent one going in the direction you wanted – much like we use buses or taxis now. Car ownership could become a complete thing of the past as everyone could simply hire a car that’s moving around the city. It would be like a much more personal public transport system that operated on time and the best thing about it would be no other passengers to ruin your relaxing journey.
Our Final Words
Even though there are many benefits to autonomous cars, we believe that the people simply enjoy the art of driving too immensely to forgo their behind the wheel pleasures. There will be a great degree of reluctance when it comes to handing over the visceral pleasure of tearing around the concrete superhighways over to our computer counterparts. The reality is more likely to be a mix of automated and human controlled vehicles on the roads of the future.
One criticism that is always levelled at artificial intelligence controlled vehicles is the level of care they can provide when it comes to making human style decisions. For this reason all aircraft fly-by-wire systems have a pilot override system. Perhaps a more realisable future is one where every car has the ability to be both controlled by a human driver and can be switched into an autonomous mode to travel as part of a road train.