Look! No hands! No steering wheel, brakes or accelerator, either, in fact. The Google driverless car, now being trialled by the public in California (where else?) promises a revolution in motoring – but also a potential way to save lives, fuel and the planet itself. Google is certainly nothing if not ambitious.
One day we may look back at how we drive now and wonder why it took us so long to reach such a point. After all, much of the technology that drives this revolution is already with us, in even modestly priced new cars. Cruise control has been around for decades now, and manufacturers have introduced a form of radar control on their more expensive offerings that will brake a vehicle automatically at higher speeds if it moves too close to the car in front.
Many new cars now have satellite navigation built in, and there is no reason, in principle, why the sat nav cannot be wired into the car’s mechanics to create a vehicle that will drive and stop itself, once an operator has keyed in a destination. With accurate real-time information on congestion factored into routes, it will also mean less time wasted in traffic jams and getting lost, adding an environmental benefit.
In this way, the Google car is merely catching up with technology which is commonplace in aviation and on some railways. A green bonus to all this is the way that all-electric cars are gaining, albeit slowly, consumer acceptance – a quiet revolution already in action.
On the downside, of course, the driverless car won’t be much fun for the petrolheads – a substantial obstacle to this transport revolution. Without getting too ahead of ourselves, then, perhaps the first place to implement the new technology would be on the motorway. Driving here is more of a chore than a pleasure, and taking the boredom out of it might well prove popular.
In any case, driverless cars are also the best way of delivering personal freedom and mobility to all. Google, not for the first time, may be about to change all our lives for the better.