Imagine the day when you can get inside your car sit down tell it where to go then sit back, relax, and read the paper while the car drives itself to your destination. It may sound crazy and of course highly illegal but thanks to internet giants Google this day could be upon us sooner than we think.
This year masters of all things digital Google began to test their driverless cars on U.S roads, and have successfully completed 700,000 incident free miles. Here in the UK we are all set to follow suit from January 2015 when testing of the driverless car begins in three UK cities. Google are looking likely to be the first company to get their cars on the road, although they have not yet confirmed if these will go on sale to the general public. Recent videos released by Google show cheery Americans enjoying a hands free ride in the prototype car but how do they work, and more importantly are they safe?
Google's adorable prototype car which looks a little like a miniature Volkswagen Beetle with eyes, nose and a smile, is powered by an electric motor and can drive up to 100 miles before a charge is required. It uses sensors, software and digital maps to locate your route, GPS is then used to locate your car when needed. The car is fitted with roof sensors and cameras that allow for a 360 degree view. Google have said that there car will have a top speed of 25mph. It is not yet known if a driver's licence will be required for these cars.How do they work?
As exciting as the driverless car is, I can't help but have visions of Arnold Schwarzenegger getting into the Johnny Cab in Total Recall, before it loses control and bursts into a ball of flames; of course Google won't have Johnny at the helm but is it safe?
Google have said the aim of the driverless car is to make our roads safer, and while I 100% agree with this, I still don't know if I would feel safe in a car with no steering wheel or brakes.
In an interview with re/code in May Chris Ursman spoke about the reason the car will have no brakes or steering wheel: ' In our car there is no steering wheel so we have to design really fundamental capabilities. So we have effectively two motors and they work so if one of them fails the other can steer, so the car can always control where it's going, and similar with brakes '. This obviously hasn't put the Californian DMV fears at rest as recently they called on Google to have a steering wheel and brakes on every one of their prototype cars otherwise they will no longer be able to test them on their roads. The same can be said for the British public, in a recent survey by Churchill Car Insurance discovered that the majority of UK adults (56 per cent) say they would not purchase a driverless car and a quarter (25 per cent) believes that autonomous vehicles will not be safe.
Another thing that is bound to worry the British public is the fact that the cars do not recognise potholes; Chris Urmson admitted recently 'the car can't detect potholes or spot an uncovered manhole if it isn't coned . If this is the case then it will be pretty much impossible to drive on many British roads as they are littered with dangerous uncovered potholes - on a positive note it could be a good thing as it may encourage the government to finally clean up our roads
While Google may be leading the race to be the first to get a driverless car on the roads, they’re not the only company who are competing to create the perfect driverless car. Nissan well known for their innovative cars such as the 100% electric Nissan Leaf, announced that they plan to have their own autonomous cars on the road by 2020 and have even got backing from the Japanese government who also plan to issue Nissan with a special 20-20 license plate to commemorate this. Researchers at Oxford University are currently in the process of testing an electric driverless Nissan Leafs.
At the 2014 German Motor Show luxury automaker Mercedes-Benz showcased their autonomous S-Class car. Volvo has also got permission to test 100 of their versions of the autonomous car on the roads of Gothenburg by 2017. Audi, Volkswagen and BMW are also planning on developing their own prototype autonomous car in the coming years.
Although Google's car may be a good few years away from becoming road worthy it looks certain that one day in the very near future we will be joined on the roads with driverless cars. Could this affect the automotive industry? Well yes if the Google car does take off its bound to be a lot less expensive to run and for many who cannot drive it's an easier, less expensive and faster option than the process of getting a driving license. Google have not gave away much with regards to how they will market their car, for now it may just be aimed as a taxi service rather than replacing cars but if it is successful the automotive industry will have a big challenge on their hands. Google may soon be masters of both the digital and driving world, if they are successful then who knows what their next venture will be a pilotless passenger plane.
By Jenna Niblock