The Future of Driving is Self-Driving!

 Just over a century ago, the first motorized carriages made their appearance on the unpaved roads of the world, and within a few decades they had gained widespread acceptance, and many people began including them into their daily routines, relying on them to make their lives easier, by getting them to where they needed to go quickly and in relative safety.
Back then, driving yourself to your destination, without the aid of a horse, ox or donkey was seen as ‘new’ and ‘fresh’, though I doubt they used the latter to describe the idea – it is 2012, after all, and language, along with cars have adapted and evolved to better suit our ever-changing needs and lifestyles. Nowadays, everybody, and I mean everybody can afford some sort of car, get a license and then give themselves the freedom and independence of going anywhere and at any time.

Now, the next big step since the invention of the automobile is, of course, the fully-autonomous self-driving car, a concept which but a few years ago seemed far-fetched. Now, that almighty corporation of all corporations, Google, is leading the way in the field, and they have already racked up more than 300,000 safe miles of autonomous driving. This means that this seemingly complicated technology is more than feasible, even today, and I say it’s here to stay, and it will dramatically change cars, the way we use them and our perception of ‘motoring’ in general.

Google’s system may only be in a ‘testing phase’, but it is already fully operational, and from what we gather, quite safe to use in everyday traffic conditions. It relies on sensors, radar and complicated software to keep everything straight and level – it’s like boarding a train, which is actually your car, and you don’t have to pay for the ticket. It is surprising how quickly the technology has developed, and for those who may have not heard about it, it may come as quite a shock that it exists.

All car manufacturers, who make future projections say it is the future, and it may actually be closer than you think. For instance, BMW’s i3 electric city car will reportedly feature a combination of systems which will allow it to drive autonomously, in town, with the ability to change lanes on its own – the i3 is expected to be launched some time in late 2013 – it’s late 2012 now, so by this time next year, you will be able to buy a car which will drive itself, in town, safely, with minimal or no imput from the driver.

The notion of ‘driver’ may also change in coming years, as most things do, and we may even begin hearing the term ‘active passenger’ in a few years’ time, in the same context we now use ‘driver’. This is actually a good thing, because very few people are into driving and enjoy doing it, and as is the case with virtually everything we do, if you aren’t really interested in the task at hand, you end up doing it badly – so too is the case with most drivers nowadays, for whom driving is akin to washing the dishes, or adjusting the thermostat in their homes. The number of accidents would be drastically smaller.

Self-driving cars will, however, finally enable disabled people to be free and independent, so in this respect, at least, it will be even more useful, and revolutionary at the same time – even the blind will have cars, and use them safely on a daily basis, an idea which today would undoubtedly raise a few eyebrows and mean smiles. The market for cars designed for people with disabilities is currently a secondary one, handled by specialized companies, which usually overcharge – yes, they overcharge the disabled, and no, it’s not right.

With self-driving capabilites, the market sector of cars for people with disabilities will go mainstream, and since automakers are only keen on making money, they will launch their own ‘special’ cars, which will undercut anything the aforementioned specialized companies will be able to muster. Looking further into the future, we may even end up seeing special dedicated ranges of cars for this sole purpose.

Make no mistake about the fact that this is happening, and it will happen soon. This is what we’re heading towards, and while it may anger some, it is a natural step for the automobile, and a very predictable one. One aspect which is slightly scary about all this is the idea of control. As cars get smarter and smarter, they will ‘be connected’ to all sorts of networks, which will monitor both the actual vehicle, as well as the driver, his or her behavior and various other relevant parameters.

I`m not trying to suggest any wild conspiracy theories here, but in the slightly-more-distant future, cars may become fully-autonomous in the true sense of the word. Steering wheels, pedals and buttons will disappear, and the car’s interior will be more of a comfortable voice-operated lounge on wheels, cosseting the now ‘passive passenger’ en-route to the desired destination. Actually driving a car may, at some point, be deemed by some committee as being unsafe and unpredictable (which it is), and it may even be outlawed altogether, and driving a car will be a thing of the past.

Just in case, let’s enjoy this particular style of cars while it still lasts, as they are still fun and entertaining, compared to what lies ahead! I do hope I’m wrong with this last part, but judging by the way things are run, and the increasing scrutiny each person is put under these days, it is not as far-fetched as you may think. . . AEB is next to be widely-implemented, next up will be automatic lane-changing.
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