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on driverless vehicles and other visions of the future

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google gives us a glimpse of its techno-wizardry

Like many a wannabe science nerd I was thoroughly absorbed by the first episode of the Stephen Hawking-presented Brave New World program on SBS recently. There were a number of jaw-dropping developments featured, and I could arbitrarily pick on any one of them to focus on here, but Google’s driverless vehicle, which I’d heard of before, particularly drew me because of its obvious application and because it’s much further developed than I imagined it to be.

The Wikipedia article on this, already looking a bit dated, tells us that the car has done some 1600 k without any human intervention, and 225,000 k with occasional human intervention. This raises obvious questions about such vehicles and the law. Have they already broken the law? Anticipating the rapid progress of this technology, Google successfully lobbied for the state of Nevada to pass a law in relation to driverless vehicles in July last year, and now California appears keen to get in on the act. Other US states introducing bills to prepare for the advent of such vehicles are Florida, Hawaii, Oklahoma and Arizona. These developments are of course without precedent, and we’ll have to wait and see how well the law is able to handle them. The Google car is of course the focus of all this attention, but major car manufacturers are being driven to develop commercial prototypes that are either fully or partially driverless.  Safety will be of paramount importance in devising new laws. A Google driverless car was involved in its first accident last August, rear-ending another vehicle and creating a five-car pile up, but according to Google, it wasn’t operating in driverless mode at the time. So their safety record so far is so good, and the way things are moving, the law may not be an obstacle for too long.

The potential for driverless, or autonomous vehicles is obviously enormous. They include fewer errors and crashes, better utility of roads, fewer barriers to the disabled or otherwise incapacitated, fewer parking problems [cars could park in out of the way spots and return when their owners want them], and fewer drivers. What would be the downside? Well, if they really took off, you’d need a total overhaul of systems. Driver’s licences? Who would need them? Car insurance, registration, even car ownership would become problematic issues. A Pandora’s jar of challenges, a cornucopia of opportunities. Hoping I’m still around to see how it all falls out. Meanwhile, my rear-view mirror fell off inside my car this arvo. Will have to print off a new one. Might have to print off a new front windscreen too, cause there’s a chink in the glass where the mirror fell off.  Actually, since I’ll never be able to fit the windscreen myself, I may as well print off a new car altogether…

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Written by stewart henderson

March 18, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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