October 1, 2013
When We Are Not Needed Behind the Wheel
Watching the film I, Robot with my roommate, I loved the idea of the car that drives itself. Being able to input a destination, speaking aloud to the car’s on-board computer, then sitting back and relaxing as the car drove you to your destination, obeying all the traffic laws, and not having to worry about things like automotive accidents, speeding, or falling asleep at the wheel – in fact, that was encouraged – at least until a giant truck full of killer robots attack you, of course. That is technology I could get behind. I am not a fan of driving. I am a good driver, to be sure, but I do not enjoy doing it. Worse, it seems that the older I get, the more I have to do it. That is why I have long hoped for something like the self-driving car out of I, Robot or countless other science fiction movies.
Sometimes it seems that wishes do come true.
Companies like Google and Tesla Motors are both working to create a car with a functioning auto-driver system within the next few years. Though these wonders of modern technology will not be fully driver-less, the hope is to make them about 90 percent independent from the need of a human behind the wheel, giving control back to the driver in situations where the car’s computer/driving system is not able to accurately accommodate the needs of the road. Fully independent vehicles are on the horizon, but it is unlikely that any of those will be seen until well after the mostly independent models have been proven road worthy to consumers.
Of course, there are a lot of things that need to be addressed with an independent driving system. The ability to recognize and obey traffic laws is, of course, a priority, as is driver safety. How well can an autonomous car function under the control of human drivers while forced to compensate for other cars? How willing would insurance companies be to provide benefits for machines that would be more susceptible to machine error than human error? Would we, the consumers, trust cars we were not in full control of? This is why, although companies like Tesla Motors hope to have working prototypes ready within the next three years, it will likely be a decade or more before we see cars like this regularly on the roads.
I, for one, am very hopeful for such technology, though I do admit my own wariness of such independent vehicles. However, much like the autopilot system used in airplanes, I do think that such a system will make for safer travel.
There may well come a day when we are no longer needed to be behind a wheel when on the road. When our cars will simply transport us to our destinations at command, allowing us to relax and simply enjoy the transit. As someone who spends far too much time on the road as it is, I say that this day cannot come soon enough.
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