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By Miles Downard * Sitting in traffic on the way to work must be one of the most useless uses of time imaginable. There’s no opportunity to do anything of use, like watch a move for example, or catch up on that book you’ve been reading for months. Find something though-provoking on BizNews.com even.
But what if you could do any one of those things? Anything other than actually perform the task of driving. Sounds like something from The Jetsons, right? Wrong. It’s the stuff of right now according to a little company called Google.
After years of development a working example of Google’s autonomous car project has finally emerged from the depths of the California-based internet giant’s secret lair. And what I can tell you is that it has no steering wheel. No brake pedal. No pedals at all in fact. There’s no fancy adjustable suspension. The engine won’t tear your face off with its vicious power.
What you get is a button to start, a button to stop, two seats and a screen to display your route map. Oh and a face that makes you go ‘awww’.
The actual task of driving is handled by sensors mounted around the car, integrated with some fancy software that works out when to stop and go, while cleverly removing blind spots and detecting objects up to as far as two football fields away in all directions. They’ve held back on details of the vehicles propulsion, but based on the sound (or lack thereof) in the video I’m guessing something electric lurks beneath the hood.
Google tout this as the future of transport – a tool to shoulder the entire ‘burden of driving’. It would remove the danger of drunk drivers, allow the elderly to maintain their freedom even if they can’t keep their car keys, perhaps allow women to safely apply their make-up in traffic and even give unassisted transport to the blind.
These are all very positive contributions to the world of motorised transport and indeed the safety thereof. Although I’m not sure that driving a Ferrari 458 up a mountain pass is really a ‘burden’, either way I’m not sure I could ever get on board with a totally autonomous vehicle. There’s just something so joyous about driving; be it along your favourite stretch of quiet back-road, or those few momentary blasts of unhindered space in between the morning traffic.
With Google at the helm all of this will become nothing but a story you’ll try tell your grandkids one day, while they sit telepathically texting their friends via some mind-controlling Facebook app, completely ignoring your pearls of wisdom.
Anyway, who am I to stand in the way of the mighty Google? So watch out world, or rather watch out California because 100 self-driving prototypes will take to the streets when testing starts later this year. Watch below as the first lucky few get a ride around Google’s parking lot.
* Miles Downard is the editor of BizNews Motoring
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