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Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Google Car Prototype Pays Attention So You Don't Have To

Google Car
What was once a mere search engine is now a software developer, social network, email provider, planet mapper, information probe, tax dodger and a search engine. At this point, they might as well venture into the automotive world as well. We've seen modified Toyota Priuses and the like since 2009, but this is Google's own-brand autonomous car, developed in secret and from scratch to read the road hundreds of metres ahead and take care of that pesky chore of driving for you, so now you can text and check your makeup and pass out drunk and gaze inattentively out the window without being told off by the police or the parents of that person you just ran over.


What could well be the world's first commercially available self-driving vehicle, the electric Google Car is currently undergoing development testing. It has a top speed of just 25mph - I assume because the computers doing the driving can't process the situation fast enough at higher speeds - and when it eventually goes on sale in around 2017, it won't feature any driving controls at all. No pop-out steering wheel like in I,Robot, no nuthin' apart from an emergency stop button in case the car tries to follow its own GPS navigation into a river or something. You do get a screen displaying the route, and at the moment just two seats from which to see the world sliding past you auto-magically. Meant for built-up areas that have been scanned by Google and loaded into the car's brain, there are 100 test vehicles being prepared, each packing a primary electric motor and a backup one in case the main motor fails. Oh, and the nose is made of foam to make crashing a little bit more pleasant for pedestrians.

Would I have one? Ask a musician if they want a self-playing instrument...

However, I believe that there is a place in the world for autonomous cars, even if it's nowhere near my driveway. As the video briefly highlights, blind people would have the independence that their sight impairment otherwise takes from them if they could get around without controlling a car (or using a bus like some chump). The same goes for tetraplegics and other disabled people, of course. Plus, the elderly wouldn't have to hold you up or dither at junctions or go the wrong way, and most importantly, people who don't really care about driving wouldn't have to spoil it for the rest of us any more. This would vastly improve road safety and reduce the number of accidents, because the main cause of car crashes isn't speed or terrorists or pelicans, it's people not paying attention and/or not knowing what they're doing. For this reason, I welcome our autonomous overlords... just as long as I can still drive my car myself and they can do more than 25mph before too long. I wouldn't want to freak them out by overtaking them all the time.

Oh, and as well as going faster, it would also be nice if they didn't look like a mortified Toyota POD:


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