Self Driving Cars: Are They The Future Of Motoring?
As a young teenager I can remember watching a segment of 60 Minutes (a TV News Magazine that airs on the CBS Broadcast Network in the USA) devoted to self driving cars. I recall watching the reporter and a technician sit in the front seat while with just the touch of a start and destination button, the car took off down the road on its own. It had a steering wheel and operational pedals for normal driving, but the vehicle operator could easily switch to the self drive mode with very little effort. The problem with that car was that it required a special track which could be mounted on top or under the road. The vehicle would electronically sense and follow that track. All the other driving functions were governed by a computer.
Before the days of tiny tech, GPS and on board navigation systems, all that technicians could do to make a self-driving car was think tracks and large on board computers stuck in the trunk. The problem with that method was it was cost prohibitive and required every road in America (and elsewhere) to be altered to accommodate the track. Today, that is not a problem and it seems that autonomous or self-driving cars in regular use everywhere are less than ten years away. In California and a few other states these smart cars are already legal for experimental use. The only downside I can see is that the technology required to make self-driving cars common place remains big and a bit bulky. Just about everyone has seen that Google self-driving car with that spinning top hat thing on a fame mounted above the roof.
While I am sure that the technology for smart cars will soon fit nicely on any vehicle without even being noticed, there are some serious questions about how far self-driving should go. First and foremost, it seems obvious that most larger roads and highways will have to have smart car lanes (similar to High Occupancy Vehicle lanes). Will that be practical, possible and cost effective? And what about local driving? Will smart cars be smart enough to consider all driving and road conditions? If not, traffic accident disasters of epic size and scale could be on the horizon. And what about smart trucks?
No one can doubt the benefit of a smart truck cargo system which would allow tracker trailers to cruise the highways of America from point A to point B, but will a self-driving trucks be safe enough to perform their cargo pick up and delivery duties? And what about their operators? There will still be a need for a driver in the cab to perform the various tricky driving and parking requirements unique to large trucks. The good news is that no one wants to see a truck weighing many tons tuning along the highway without an licensed operator in the cab, so I am certain that truck drivers will not be relegated to extinction by smart trucks.
Amid all the possible negatives facing the possibility of roadways filled with smart, self-driving cars, there are some big positives. As people live longer, they tend to want the freedom of being about to drive themselves around for as long as they can. Few elderly people willingly turn in their licenses and that is a totally understandable situation. However, almost daily we hear about some horrendous accident with multiple fatalities caused by elderly drivers who lost control of their vehicle. I think it would be absolutely amazing to allow folks who can no longer properly operate their vehicle to remain on the road in a self driving or autonomous vehicle. Not only would this offer them better freedom of movement and more independence, but it would save them and the government a fortune by lessening the need for free or reduced fee transportation currently provided to generally healthy people who may not be able to pass a driving test anymore.
When I look at self-driving cars, I see an option. I doubt that autonomous cars will take over the driving duties for most people anytime soon. Instead, I believe that smart cars and trucks will be an option for people and businesses that need them. I envision that option being exercised with special care, special highway lanes and highly monitored by federal, state an local authorities. As far as acceptance goes, the only people I believe will be completely opposed to autonomous vehicles are speed cops who write tickets that help boost the economies and pay the bills for struggling municipalities everywhere. Of course that could always change if somebody can figure out how to give a smart car that gets a little feisty a ticket!