Here I’ll take a look another technology which will revolutionise our world; the driver less car. Of course, this category will include all vehicles, lorries, buses, coaches etc.
The concept of a car driving itself is not actually revolutionary; the idea has been around for years. At the 1939 World’s Fair in New York such a concept was promoted. Since then it has never been far away from the thoughts of engineers and science fiction writers. These initial thoughts and ideas were commonly based around the car being guided in a circuit, or designated route, by some kind of road-based guiding mechanism. For sometime now though, however, the effort has been dedicated to giving the vehicle its own guidance mechanism and sensors.
Perhaps, before I go any further you may want to take a look at this excellent short video featuring a man from Google on a personal mission to change our world. Sebastian Thrun tells a powerful and personal story. Remember too that Google is a huge concern with massive resources at their disposal. Quite simply, they can make things happen.
DO WE WANT DRIVERLESS VEHICLES?
Of course, when you think about it, a car driving itself is just an extension of technology that many of us are familiar with already. None of us would be alarmed if we bought a new car and it had cruise control or parking assist sensors, would we? In the UK there is also an increasing use by insurance companies of a little black box which, it is hoped will reduce the awful carnage we see when some of our young get behind a wheel. In public opinion terms a study by Accenture found that About half of respondents (49 per cent) said they would be comfortable using a driverless car. I think the reality is that we are becoming accustomed to this kind of technology and so it will just happen. The biggest hurdle, beyond making all the technology work together, may well be the regulatory one, the laws and rules side of life. This New Scientist article looks at some of the legal and regulatory issues to be tackled.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF CARS DRIVING THEMSELVES?
• Fewer traffic collisions. Car driven by computers and sensors will not drive dangerously, too close to another vehicle and all the other sins which we humans do
• Less cost for road signage. If the car is driving itself why do you need signs showing the speed limit or signs saying ‘Take A Break – Tiredness Can Kill’?
• Less congestion. Cars route themselves, they drive away from congested areas meaning a better use of the roads
• Cash strapped governments can dramatically reduce the amount of Motorway Police and Traffic Officers needed as cars will adhere to speed limits, drivers will not be able to do the stupid things we do and crashes will (in theory) be eliminated
• Cars will operate more efficiently as computers will drive them at optimum efficiency
• Governments will not have to spend money they don’t have building more roads. The road network will become more efficient. Driverless trucks will use the roads at night and, possibly, may even have to pay a premium to drive during the day
• The costs of vehicle insurance will reduce. Whether we like it or not most ‘accidents’ are caused by people
• Parking would be free. You can simply send the car away
• Speed limits could be increased
THAT ALL SOUNDS GOOD – IS THERE A DOWNSIDE?
The short answer is yes. Now here is the long answer.
Firstly, there will be huge job losses. It is not possible to do a simple Internet search to discover how many jobs are dependent on driving, in the UK, for example. I suspect the figure is in the several hundreds of thousands, perhaps even beyond 1 million. Just think about it; bus and coach drivers, taxi’s, couriers and lorries of all different shapes and sizes, all depend on having someone sat behind the wheel. Remove the need for a driver and you have massive job losses. Not only that, one particularly appealing point about driverless cars is their inability to crash. Again, I cannot access figures for this but how many new cars are purchased each year to replace cars that have been written off in accidents? How many vehicle repair centres will exist when vehicles cannot crash? How many jobs will be lost in the car insurance market? How many people wander the streets every day issuing car parking fines for vehicles that have breached parking regulations? When cars drive themselves they will only be able to park lawfully so these people will have not have jobs. The combined figure of all of these factors is enormous. Whilst I accept that driverless car production will create some jobs, it will be a tiny amount compared to the jobs lost. After all, the vehicles are being made anyway and it is just the addition of sensors and computer equipment that will bring some extra work.
Secondly, the age of driverless cars will likely come in stages and, I must admit, I have absolutely no confidence that our regulators and legislators can even pretend that they will be able to keep pace with these changes. As an example, I live in the UK where it is unlawful to eat mince pies on Christmas Day. This law was introduced by Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century and still lays our statute books today! I think one of the major stumbling blocks in moving towards a driverless car society will be the inability of our legislators to, how shall I say; wake up and smell the coffee!
Thirdly Councils will take a massive revenue hit. Councils in the UK bring in a lot of money through parking charges . When driverless cars are in use then why would you bother to park it at a cost? You could simply send it away to park itself for free and then bring it back when you need it.
DRIVER LESS CARS – WHERE ARE WE NOW?
There is a wall of research money hitting this sector and there are a huge number of organisations and companies involved in developing this technology. I have typed in the names of five car manufacturers along with the words ‘Driver Less Cars’ and it became very obvious that pretty much every manufacturer is in this market. Here are the simple results I found; BMW, Ford,Toyota and Audi.
Nissan’s development can be seen in the video below.
You can try this yourself.
Not only that but you can see that the American military have been looking at this for a few years and the US Marines are about to deploy unmanned vehicles to Afghanistan. Nor is it just the Americans; here is what the Chinese military are doing.
The first wave of driverless vehicles, I suspect is where the vehicle operates on a set route or in some sort of controlled environment. The video beneath shows the Navia, which is typical of the kind of vehicles you can expect to see soon at Park and Ride’s, airport car park shuttles, university campuses and the like. In fact, just as you can see in Rotterdam at the ParkShuttle.
So there you have it. Driver less cars will be with us soon, the only real question is when?