| 22nd May 2012
The Californian State Senate passed a bill yesterday that allows ‘self-driving’ cars to be used on their roads. State Senator Alex Padilla, who constructed the bill, says that it passed without objection.
“Human error is the cause of almost every accident on the road today. If autonomous technology can reduce the number of accidents, then we also reduce the number of injuries and fatalities on California’s roads," Padilla said. “For me this is a matter of safety." The bill now heads to the Assembly to be considered next month.
What this bill means is that, if approved, California’s road network will likely soon be filled with driverless cars. You know the type, the ones seen in films like Demolition Man and I, Robot. Or that bloody horrible taxi in Total Recall with the wooden dummy that asks Arnie where he wants to go.
Those examples may seem a bit far-fetched, but the technology’s there. Google has recently been testing its latest innovation, a self-driving Toyota Prius. It may only be a prototype, but it’s completely autonomous, using cameras, radars and other sensors to identify obstacles on the road and navigate its way safely to pre-set destinations.
The Blind Leading the Blind?
Google’s Prius was announced in October 2010, but has recently gained massive media exposure after the company released a video showing off its practical applications. Steve Mahan is 95 per cent blind, but the video above shows him completing his daily routine with little effort thanks to the car’s technology.
Dubbed 'Self-Driving Car User #0000000001', Mr. Mahan clearly loves his new-found freedom. “Look ma, no hands... and no feet!" he laughs as he picks up his dry-cleaning and tacos. Nevada has since approved the nation’s first autonomous vehicle licence after officials gave the car a whirl around the area, impressing them first-hand with its equipment and ease-of-use.
General Autonomous Motors
Google’s known for its philanthropy, and there are currently no plans for the company to release their Prius on a commercial basis. Step in General Motors’ director of electrical and controls integrated research, Nady Boules. Nady reckons that General Motors’ self-driving cars will be available to the public before the end of the decade, with GM’s Cadillac division working on a system called ‘Super Cruise’, which is capable of automatic steering, braking and centring the car on a lane on a motorway.
GM claims that their features are already in place to make cars ‘semi-autonomous’, with Radar, Lidar and camera systems that provide blind-spot recognition, lane-departure warnings, collision mitigation and more. Boules says, “If you combine these elements and take each of them to an extreme, we could have a car that can’t crash and a car that can drive itself."
A Highway to Hell?
What we want to know is would you, as a consumer, actually want to buy a new Toyota Prius that ferries you around? For a lot of people there’s no better stress release after a day at work than getting behind the wheel of their car and going for a good drive. Would an autonomous car dull people’s sense of exploration? Imagine it – driving through a forest area you’ve never visited before. Where would the fun of discovering a local pub on your own be if a self-driving car ushered you there?
Of course we’re just gesticulating. As the video above shows, it’s of great benefit to the disabled and infirm, and would likely be the perfect car for people that aren’t too confident about their abilities on the road. Governments will have to create new legislation to amalgamate self-driving cars with existing vehicles, and create new laws that’ll make all drivers happy. Whilst self-driving cars look futuristic and cool in concept, will it kill off the desire to drive, and take the adventure out of going on a leisurely Sunday wander?
Images courtesy of Los Angeles Times, Mirror.co.uk, The Telegraph and GadgetMadness.
What do you think? Is there a market for autonomous cars? Would you buy one for a disabled relative? Will we see new car discounts for driverless cars in our lifetime? Does nothing beat the thrill of doing doughnuts in a supermarket car park with your windows down? Let us know by liking our Facebook page and leaving a comment, or by tweeting our @Askaprice account on Twitter. We’ll share the best comments and suggestions!