Electric car_Tesla Model S

Driver-less cars – we are SO ready!

The arguments in favour of driver-less/ autonomous cars are, in my opinion, compelling, with the rate of progress in the area astounding. Google has spent several years actually live-testing their driver-less cars and the results overwhelmingly point to them being significantly safer on the roads than people sitting behind the wheel.

The main advantages of autonomous cars, as far as I can see, include:

  1. Safety – with a rich network of sensors and the speed of response of a computer, a driver-less system would be expected to respond to potential threats on the road far faster and more reliably than a human, who cannot be aware of their entire surroundings the entire time. Machine learning and AI would also allow the system to learn from previous experience and to crowd-source data to fine-tune it’s various control systems, in theory making the entire system more sensitive, predictive, responsive and ultimately safer. Add in the network effect of vehicles being able to seamlessly communicate with one another in real-time and safety becomes amplified. Tesla’s recent release of it’s Autopilot software point to this idea in a very real and practical manner. The main limit still standing in the way of safety on the roads is, as far as my own personal experience informs me, people. Humans continue to do the dumbest things behind the wheel: texting, web-browsing, speeding, forgetting what the flishy-flashy lights on the side of the car are for (HINT: they’re called indicators and tell others, who are not psychic as it turns out, what you intend to do!), and a myriad of other similarly stupid actions that a computer wouldn’t dream of performing. I for one welcome the day that we can turn over control of the moving bullets we refer to as cars to machines.
  2. Efficiency – with autonomous vehicles in constant, seamless and wireless communication with one another, updating such data as location, one would imagine a much more efficient flow of traffic, ultimately speeding up transit times and all but eliminating delays. No more sitting in traffic jams on the daily commute due to that pile up caused by the idiot in the <insert popular car brand here> driving like a dick!
  3. Tesla interior
    Slick, stylish, high-tech & clean. The future in physical form!

    Time-saving/ time-liberation – personally, the idea of commuting to work, or anywhere for that matter, is an awful one on account of the fact that it is dead time, with full attention needing to be applied to the task of driving. If that experience involves spending significant periods just inching along in heavy traffic then that is unproductive time that I would far rather spend doing something else, such as reading or watching a movie. There is no reason why the task of focusing on inching along cannot be handled by a computer leaving me to at least put the time to more enjoyable use. From a business perspective, if you do a job that can, in part, be done remotely and electronically then having an autonomous vehicle would in theory enable you to ‘work in-transit’, with that time being considered part of the productive work day. Surely this should mean that you would thus be able to spend less time physically in the office. The auto-pilot feature I saw demonstrated in the Tesla Model S I was privileged to drive in during a recent trip to Silicon Valley demonstrates this principle perfectly, with the driver able to hand control in stop-start traffic over to the car.

  4. Independence – if there is no need for people to be in charge of a vehicle then why do there need to be any constraints put on who can make use of that vehicle? Much as a minor, a blind or disabled person can take a taxi to get around, an autonomous vehicle has all the same advantages with the added bonus of being their very own, personal vehicle. Cars represent freedom for those who are fortunate enough to own or otherwise access them. Autonomous vehicles promise to offer the same freedoms to anyone and everyone, ultimately improving access to resources, social interactions, employment and a generally better quality of life. What greater demonstration of equality than the ability for all to have ready access to mobility, especially given the freedoms that having such mobility provides.
  5. Good for the environment – if cars become autonomous and smart – and couple those traits with a move to electric power – then is there even any real need for everyone to actually own a car? With the power of the internet to hail services and goods, one can easily imagine a world where an autonomous car is hailed for a trip before it whizzes off on another errand at the current user’s destination, before either it or another vehicle returns to whisk the same user back home once they have need for it again. The fact that one vehicle could be off ‘busying itself’ on a number of tasks during an allotted period of time as opposed to simply sitting idle in a parking space promises to reduce the number of vehicles actually needed on the roads & thus reduce overall congestion, pollution (although if all cars are electric then emissions would be irrelevant anyway) & free up the streets for pedestrians to enjoy more. Perhaps cities could actually own a fleet of cars to be at the service of residents, with country-dwellers still likely to actually need to own their own car as it would be less efficient to provide a centralised service in rural areas.
  6. Tesla showroom
    Even the car showrooms of the future are cool

    Cool factor! – let’s be honest, one of the reasons firmly in favour of autonomous cars is simply their undeniable “awesome” factor. Watch any film that depicts visions of the future and most feature some form of driver-less transport. Ok, so we may not be at the stage (yet) of flying cars but having a car that drives itself and frees us up to do, well, whatever else, and that are designed to be sleek, sexy, high-tech and damned desirable is pretty futuristic in and off itself.

The future for our roads looks to be brighter, safer, less polluting and more enjoyable one, assuming that the pace of adoption does not ultimately get bogged down by regulatory foot-dragging. Given the current numbers of people killed annually on the globe’s roads, that future can not come fast enough. The world, it would appear, is finally ready for autonomous cars and I for one welcome it.
Tesla HQ
One of the places where the future is being created: Tesla HQ, Silicon Valley. (apparently Elon was in the building!)

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