Imagine thousands of cars on the road and none of them have a driver. In fact, they don’t even have a steering wheel. Or pedals. Can you envision it? Try.
Because that’s what Google envisioned when it set out to make the first autonomous car—one that doesn’t need a driver. And that is mostly electric.
It’s like something out of science fiction, out of the future. But apparently, the future is now. Or just around the corner.
What powers the car? Software called, aptly, Chauffeur. And prototypes are on the road now—maybe a dozen or more. The test cars include a Prius, Lexus and Audi, among others. Google claims its cars have driven more than 700,000 accident-free miles. Well, one accident. A car was rear-ended. The other driver was at fault. And then another—when the car was being driven manually, Google says.
Ever since the car was invented, humans have been in the driver’s seat. Are we ready to give up that seat to….software? Will Google need to install pedals on the passenger side so there’s something for people to do when they feel the urge to hit the brake? What will the interior really look like?
Google says it’s going to begin selling its driverless car in 2015. Is that even possible? How would you feel if you saw a driverless car coming at you? Would it distract you from your own driving because it’s such novelty? Would you be concerned about your safety?
Would you even consider buying one?
And how will insurance be handled? Because without the human factor—the idea of human error—you’d expect to get the best auto insurance quotes. But insurers aren’t ready for this—there is no history for them to base their calculations on.
Every new technology creates some degree of fear and the Google driverless car is no different. What will happen? Will giving up control make us too nervous? What if something goes wrong? Without pedals and a steering wheel, are we just sitting ducks?
On the positive side, it opens up new possibilities for legally blind people who have been unable to drive. Others who can’t now drive due to disabilities would also find the cars helpful.
Google is bring us a brave new world. It remains to be seen how many drivers will be brave enough to give up their control and hand it over to software.