April 17, 2013

Horse 1467 - Driverless Cars?


As automakers like Ford and internet giants like Google all push for technology advances that power the driverless car, the economy of each region could hinge upon their comparative success.
"Everyone has a little piece of the puzzle right now," said Ryan Eustice, a professor at the University of Michigan's College of Engineering. "Google and others are on the West Coast trying to pull it there, but Michigan also has a good chance at being the center of gravity."
Michigan is trying to take steps toward that goal – or at least staying on par with its California competition. State lawmakers have introduced a bill that would set the stage for more autonomous vehicle testing on Michigan roads.

- Pete Bigelow, AOL Autos, 16th Apr 2013

General Motors, Ford and Volkswagen have all been working on cars which drives themselves. I was reading about tests in the United States when I also came across several objections by legislators who thought that a driverless car creates all sorts of legal problems. Maybe, but to suggest that technology wouldn't eventually reach the point where computers could do the job of driving as well if not better than people? What Madness!
80% of all air accidents have been due to pilot error. I bet that if this was studied in motor accidents, that 95% would be due to driver error as well.

The London Underground has had driverless trains on the Victoria Line since as long ago as 1967. The Docklands Light Railway only has people who open and close the doors on every train. The Jubilee Line even has platform screen doors which do not open unless a set of train doors open in concert with them.
I was on an Air New Zealand flight in 2007 from Auckland to Los Angeles when after we'd landed, the pilot cheerfully announced that the plane had been on autopilot since it left the deck in Auckland, and it had flown across the Pacific, flown through a storm and landed so that the front wheels lined up perfectly with the lines on the runway. I suspect that this is modus operandii on just about all passenger aircraft.
If we trust ourselves to trains and aeroplanes to drive themselves, then why can't we do the same with cars? Instead we'd prefer to live with drivers who are distracted by kiddiewinks in the back, or by texting on their mobiles, or worse, drivers who are drunk, stoned, or overly tired. Tell me again how that makes sense?

I rather like the idea of electric cars because I also like the idea that safety can be built into them so easily. If cars had a slot guide like a slot car, we could have thousands of electric cars being recharged as they went down the motorway. If you were asked for an exit code before you got on, you could literally let the car find its own way whilst you nodded off or looked at the scenery. Best of all, if there was an accident, the controllers of the motorway could switch off the power so that there wouldn't be a pile up and even turn down the voltage to get cars around the incident with safety. Think of those bumper car rides at the funfair - at the end of the ride, all the cars glide to a stop. Cars are now fitted with parking sensors, so adapting that technology can't be all that difficult surely?

You'd still have racetracks and country roads for people who like driving but the sad fact is that as it stands, the vast majority of trips are made by people getting to and from work and complaining about traffic. A car that drives itself would be like having one's own electric chauffeur. Combining these technologies of driverless cars and slotway motorways, I think would dovetail quite nicely together. I'd like to think that the future of yesterday would be here tomorrow.

No comments: