February 20, 2013, 12:14 PM — Is there anyone who isn't developing a self driving car these days? From the nerds at MIT to the geeks at Google to the gearheads at just about every car company on the planet, they all seems to be working on one. Even governments are getting on board with the idea of cars tooling around under their own guidance while you relax in your seat texting, watching a movie or knocking back a few cold ones on the way home from work. Apparently, self-driving cars will soon replace sliced bread as the great thing against which all other great things are measured.
Here’s a question, though: who really wants a self-driving car? I’m probably in the minority on this, but nothing I’ve read yet has gotten me excited about autonomous vehicles.
However, before coming to a conclusion, let’s look at it a bit more closely. It turns out that not all self-driving cars are being developed equally. Far as I can tell, the autonomous vehicle technology currently in development falls into one of three broad categories:
1. Fully autonomous cars
Image credit: REUTERS/Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles/Handout
This is what first comes to mind when most people hear “self-driving car”: a car that does all the driving. This is basically what Google is working on, a car that operates itself using an assortment of devices and technologies to figure out where it is and how to get where it’s going. CEO Sergey Brin says that such cars will be “far safer” (since they won’t fall asleep or drive drunk) and will reduce road congestion (since they’ll be able to drive closer together on the highway). Google is already test driving its car on the streets and Brin feels they’ll be available to everyone in 5 years.
I don’t like this idea, first off, because I like to drive and be in control. While autonomous cars may be safer than your average driver, they’ll still never be foolproof, and, of course, even software and systems designed by our best and brightest minds can still have fatal bugs. Plus, even though it sounds like states will require a licensed driver to be ready to take over if need be, how much more distracted will people be once they get used to the car driving itself? Will people really be ready to take the wheel quickly enough in case of trouble? All in all, this seems pie-in-the-sky and reminds me of the predictions about a decade ago that we’d all be using Segways by now.