Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Keep your mind on your driving

Keep your hands on the wheel
Keep your snoopy eyes on the road ahead

How long will it be, I wonder, before those seven girls in the back seat, a-huggin' and a-kissin' with Fred, won't need to give those instructions to the driver?  The British government has announced that three UK cities will be allowed to experiment with driverless cars on the road early next year.  OK, so we will be almost light years behind other places, notably California, but at least it will be a start.

I occasionally cause people to break out in almost hysterical laughter when I produce my mobile phone.  Although not the size of a house brick like those very early examples, mine is, shall I say, a little elderly.  I can't surf the web with it, I can't even use it to take photographs and texting is nigh impossible - press a button three or four times for some letters - but I can use it to make and receive calls.  Seeing my mobile phone might give people the impression that I am a technophobe.  That's not really true.

All the same, I am, well, not worried about driverless cars.  Perhaps a little concerned - or maybe perhaps not even that.  But I am puzzled.  There must be so many challenges to be overcome by the designers before truly driverless cars can become a reality.  That said, I suppose one must first ask, what exactly is the definition of a driverless car?  Will it be truly without any need of a driver?  Well, of course not.  Somebody will need to do something to start the vehicle moving even if by some miracle this could be achieved simply by a thought process.  And presumably somebody will be needed to actually instruct the vehicle to stop at the destination.  Or will they?

I'm told that there are already cars on sale that can park themselves, although I have yet to witness such a feat.  I know also that there are cars that automatically apply the brakes if the driver fails to slow down when approaching another vehicle on the road.  Given that satellite navigation is now commonplace (even my car has it) it is no great stretch of the imagination to see the possibility that the driver could state his/her destination and voice recognition software would lead the in-built sat-nav to calculate a route.  Another command, and the car would automatically start to follow the chosen route.  On reaching the destination, the car would, presumably, seek out a parking place and stop.  It's that seeking out a parking place that causes me to stop and wonder. 

I think that before this could happen, the sat-nav systems would need to be improved considerably.  For instance, a simple postcode leads one to a street or part of a street in England.  In France, a postcode can cover a whole town.  Some refinement would appear necessary.  And how would the car know if the house it was going to had a drive to park in?

Another problem would be sudden road closures.  Not all road closures by any means involve putting a barrier in place, especially if it is simply a temporary closure for something like a carnival procession.

No; it sounds a good idea - in principal.  But I think I will stick with my trusty steering wheel, accelerator, brake pedal and manual gear change.  At least for the next year or two.  Perhaps I might think about a new mobile phone instead.


joeh said...

I'm with you!

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip, said...

I'm a little late to this party.
But I can only think that driverless cars can't come soon enough.
For they shall be forced to obey traffic laws.
There will be no more violations of right of way... oh, and maybe they will park themselves within the lines in parking lots.