A Driverless Car: Coming Soon to Streets Near You

The future is driverless. At least that’s the story according to tech giant Google. Last week, the California-based company unveiled the newest generation vehicle in its series of driverless cars.

Although Google has been experimenting with driverless cars since 2005, this newest generation is the first car designed completely from scratch. Gone is the steering wheel, as is the accelerator and (worryingly) the brake.

The car is limited to a modest capacity of two people and to a sedate maximum speed of 25 miles per hour. Practicality is apparently not the first thing on Google’s mind.

What does appear to be the focus, perhaps understandably in a car with no brake pedal, is safety.

“They have sensors that remove blind spots, and they can detect objects out to a distance of more than two football fields in all directions, which is especially helpful on busy streets with lots of intersections,” said Google at the car’s launch.

That’s all well and good, but we’ve all had laptops that crash, phones that freeze and microwaves that seemingly have a mind of their own, so what happens when things go wrong.

What happens, say, if you experience the automotive equivalent of the Blue Screen of Death while commuting on a motorway? Thankfully the answer isn’t to adopt the brace position and say a prayer. According to Google the car runs two systems – one electronic and the other mechanical. If one fails, the other simply takes over.

It’s understandable that we are worried about the bits of the car we would have no control over, but consider the following fact. An estimated 90% of all car accidents are caused by human error. The Google-mobile offers is a chance to wipe out that 90%.

The car’s aforementioned lack of blind spots is augmented by a silicon brain – one that promises faster reflexes, a longer attention span and more thorough awareness than its fleshy predecessor. Additionally, the front bumper is constructed of soft foam and the windscreen is flexible to reduce any potential injury the car might inflict if a pedestrian did wander into its path.

Maybe it’s not so bad after all.

After assuring us that the car itself was safe, its creators went on to espouse the additional benefits. In the U.S., drink driving is one of the leading causes of accidents each year, with an estimated 4 million people get behind the wheel while under the influence. Google’s new car would eliminate those 4 million potential accidents.  Likewise it would minimise accidents caused by drivers who were tired, sleepy or distracted.

With nine years’ development already under their belts, commentators are predicting another five to ten before a driverless car is commercially available.

So that gives us another few years to to speculate about how people will actually respond to the ghostly prospect of a car floating alongside them without a driver in sight.

I’m not too sure how I’d react but I’ll let you know if I catch a glimpse of the Google-mobile in my rear view mirror.