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Is the future driverless?

Coming hot on the heels of the news that Volvo has tested the first driverless car on the public roads in the UK is an announcement from Nissan that it will have 'autonomous' versions of its cars available from 2020. According to Nissan's executive vice president, Andy Palmer, this technology will be rolled out across all Nissan cars within two vehicle model cycles.

Coming hot on the heels of the news that Volvo has tested the first driverless car on the public roads in the UK is an announcement from Nissan that it will have 'autonomous' versions of its cars available from 2020. According to Nissan's executive vice president, Andy Palmer, this technology will be rolled out across all Nissan cars within two vehicle model cycles. Scientists at Cambridge are already experimenting with a self drive car on private roads and Google's driverless car has already notched up in excess of 100,000 miles on US public roads without incident. It seems, then, that the industry has already decided that this is the way forward but is that true and what does it mean for drivers? 

The concept, if not the technology, of an autonomous car is pretty easy to grasp. The car uses computers, lasers and radar to map out the road ahead and steer its way safely through any hazards to its destination. The basic idea is that the majority of car accidents are down to human error, rather than mechanical or technical failure. Therefore, removing humans from the driving equation will make for safer cars and fewer injuries and fatalities on our roads. That is simple enough but the implementation of such technology would profoundly change our relationship with our cars and the whole concept of transportation.

 

First the good news: driverless cars could communicate with each other, reacting much faster to potential hazards and 'seeing' any problems on the road far ahead. This means that they could, in theory, drive much faster and much closer together than human driven vehicles could safely achieve. This would dramatically reduce congestion on our roads and shorten journey times. Some estimates even suggest that our roads could take 500% more capacity if all cars were driven autonomously. The car could also be sent home after taking you to work and return to collect you later; thus removing the need for so many parking spaces. If desired, you could even send the car out to work as a taxi when you are at work, earning extra money and reducing the number of vehicles required on our roads. 

The bad news is that our love of driving would have to take a back seat. The joy of motoring could be gone forever. Acceptance should not be assumed, however. It is well known that passenger aircraft are capable of flying themselves but the public doesn't want that. Will this be the factor to scupper such wonderful technology? Or will legislation prevent their adoption? It seems we will find out rather quickly.

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