Tuesday, 21 April 2015 GMT
Author: Staveley Head
Funny how advances in technology creep into our lives without us really noticing. Phones become touchscreen. TVs become flat screen. Computers become laptops. And generally, this is great. Everything we use gets quicker and thinner and lighter, and often cheaper.
As for our cars and vans and lorries, we get power steering, central locking, automatic climate control, SatNav, Bluetooth and air bags which are all hugely beneficial.
But now there’s an advance which we will notice – and could change your life as fundamentally as the day you passed your driving test.
Self-driving cars have arrived and are being tested on our roads.
Now the idea of getting into a car and not driving it is nice enough when it’s a cab. But when there’s no driver? When you just tap in your destination and sit back? It’s going to feel weird to say the least. Look at it like this, would you be happy to nod off as a computer drove you along at 70 mph or to put your children in one and let it do the school run for you? Nor me.
There is clearly some amazing technology at work here and nothing like this would ever be launched without thorough, rigorous testing. But as this is such a massive change as to how we currently get about, will we ever embrace it?
We have cars that park themselves in spaces little bigger than the car itself (and that is brilliantly useful). We have rain-sensing wipers, light-sensing headlights, alerts to tell us when we’re straying into the wrong lane and even sensors that slow us down when we’re too close to the car in front. We like those. We get used to them. The next time we look for a new car we want that technology again.
And think about it. Most of the thousands of accidents on our roads are caused by driver error – tiredness, distractions, alcohol and so on – and these cars cut that out entirely. In one swoop driverless cars suddenly become more than an interesting idea. They become a necessity.
Also, they would adhere to the speed limit automatically so traffic jams would be reduced. They would alert you and their maintenance companies when they need attention, again cutting down the chance of an accident. And if a computer is driving you, you can watch a movie, work, or chat on the phone. Much more relaxing and productive, especially over long distances.
So where does the UK government sit on this? Claire Perry, the Transport Minister, said: ‘Driverless cars are the future. I want Britain to be at the forefront of this exciting new development’. So that’s that then. But what about control? What if something goes wrong with these things? What if the system is hacked? Will our driving details be held on some computer somewhere? And what will happen to it?
Worse still, if drivers are no longer needed, what will happen to those who do that for a living? What about those cabbies? Van drivers? Lorry drivers? Delivery drivers? Are they all going to end up as in demand as telegraph operators and bus conductors?
True, there will always be a demand for the human touch. Chauffeurs and limo drivers will still be wanted, and people will prefer certain items to be delivered by hand. And yes, there will be a demand for people to maintain, develop and design these things. But for other drivers, this is a very real issue that needs addressing.
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