News has come from several car manufacturers that they are ready ‘to go’ with an entirely driver-free automatic car.
In fact, Audi has announced that its model will be available for sale from 2017.
It certainly sounds impressive and it’s no doubt what the future of driving holds but as some cynics are pointing out, there may be quite some way to go before we get there. So, while the manufacturers’ claims are impressive and some of their demonstrations likewise, it might not be advisable to hold one’s breath pending the mass take-up of this technology.
What are the major inhibitors?
It may well be that very significant numbers of drivers won’t take up these new technologies because to put it bluntly, they enjoy driving too much.
Yes, that does include all those ‘boy racers’ and ‘petrol heads’ out there but it also includes a whole host of people for whom letting a computer do all the work will be unthinkable. For example, the chauffeurs of luxury limousine hire companies might not be too happy at the thought of having their six-figure luxury limo entirely under the control of an invisible microchip in the bonnet.
This is a slightly different issue to the one above.
It may well be that many of us who don’t particularly enjoy driving and would happily have someone else do it for us, might still baulk at the idea of that ‘someone’ being a tiny computer hidden away inside the car somewhere.
Given the tendency of things such as PCs and Smart Phones to seize up and require a reboot, it may take a generation or two before there is a mass public trust in allowing a microchip to carry us safely at 130 KPH.
If you are inclined to debate that, you only have to consult all of the public attitude surveys towards entirely pilotless aircraft – something that’s technically perfectly possible and much easier than building an automatic car. Would you be happy sitting in an aeroplane at 40,000 feet knowing that there was no human being in the cockpit?
All or nothing
Even many of the advocates of automatic driving systems will acknowledge that this is a real challenge.
The problem is that nobody doubts that 5000 sophisticated automatically controlled vehicles travelling along the motorway in an orderly and 100% safe fashion may be perfectly conceivable. What that doesn’t take into account though is the odd idiot driving like a lunatic in their manually-controlled vehicle doing things such as cutting in and then emergency breaking in front of you for no obvious reason.
In fact, it may well be the case that the mass roll-out of this technology will prove to be impossible until manually driven cars are banned from the road and it is a legal requirement for everything to be fully automatic and orderly.
Just how many experienced drivers will be able to sit behind the wheel and do nothing without suffering a huge rise in blood pressure due to fear and tension, must be debatable.
Think that’s unlikely? Well, you only have to listen to the experiences of drivers that are familiar with manual gear change cars trying to adapt to automatic transmission. The automatic tendency to reach for the gear stick when an automatic just isn’t quite in the gear you think it should be, is overpowering – as can be the frustration when you remember it doesn’t have one!
What that might be like when the car is doing absolutely everything for you is hard to imagine.
It’s very difficult to find anyone who believes that automatically driven cars wouldn’t be a good idea in the final analysis, even including some of those such as professional luxury limousine hire chauffeurs.
Even so, some of the above obstacles are very tangible and real. It’s going to take a long time to overcome them as well as the spending of some serious money on the part of the motor vehicle industry.