Autonomous automobiles
June 2, 2014
by Ivan Raconteur

I rejoiced last week when I read about Google’s plans to introduce a line of self-driving cars.

It’s about time.

The concept of the cars, and their design, which does not include accelerators, brake pedals, or steering wheels, makes some people uncomfortable.

Not me. I think it’s a great idea.

The Google cars will reportedly have buttons to start and stop the vehicle, and a screen to display the direction of travel.

I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent behind the wheel over the years, but I’m ready to hand over the controls to someone – or something – else. If that else turns out to be a self-driving car, that suits me fine.

Oh, sure, there are still times when I enjoy sliding into the driver’s seat, cranking up the music, and heading out on the highway.

Most of the time, however, transportation simply involves the mundane, but necessary task of getting from point “A” to point “B” and back again.

I’d be perfectly content to sit back and relax, and perhaps catch up on some reading while I am commuting.

This would make my time on the road much more pleasant and productive.

Vacations would be much more fun, too.

As a single person, when I go on vacation, it often means long hours on the road on the way to my destination. I arrive weary and stiff from my journey.

If I had an autonomous vehicle, I would be able to sit back and enjoy the scenery. I’m sure I would see a lot of things under those conditions that I would miss if I was focussing on my driving.

Traveling would be less stressful if one could simply turn the controls over to the vehicle.

In addition to these benefits, I’d feel safer on the road if other drivers let their vehicles take control. I use the term “drivers” loosely there, because half of the people I encounter on the roads are busy doing anything but driving.

Even at the relatively primitive level of technology that is available for self-driving cars today, they can’t be any worse than many of the human operators that are out on the roads.

With autonomous vehicles, people could send text messages, check their e-mails, and do all of the other things they do behind the wheel now, but without endangering their own lives or those of other people on the road.

Another benefit of autonomous vehicles is they don’t drink or use other mind-altering substances, so there would be no danger of having cars driving while intoxicated.

Autonomous vehicles would never fall asleep at the wheel, or engage in aggressive acts of road rage.

Google is not the only player in the autonomous vehicle arena. It has been reported that GM, Ford, Nissan, Toyota, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz are already testing self-driving technology.

Some high-end luxury cars already have forms of elementary radar systems that make it possible to incorporate some of the elements of self-driving cars to assist their human drivers.

It has been predicted that fully autonomous vehicles could be on the road as early as 2020.

This could be great news for our aging population. As people get older, they may be able to remain independent longer because even if they can’t drive themselves, their cars may be able to transport them where they need to go.

It will take changes in legislation to make it possible, since only four states currently allow autonomous vehicles on public roads (and they require a licensed driver in the driver’s seat ready to take over the controls).

Autonomous vehicles could make roads safer by removing human error (and human stupidity) from the equation.

I have resigned myself to the fact I will never be able to afford a chauffeur on newspaper pay, but if I start now, I may be able to save up enough dough to buy an autonomous vehicle by the time they start rolling off the production lines in large numbers.

It may sound like science fiction today, but autonomous automobiles could be on the road sooner than we might expect.

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