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What do we want? Fully autonomous cars!

Written by

Neil Martin

Neil Martin

As I was accelerating away from IKEA on Saturday (who accelerates towards it), I had a strange experience with my car, which made me think, why on earth is it taking so long to get fully automated cars on the road? Come on people!

The traffic had stopped quickly in front of me and as I was going pretty fast (within the law, officer, honestly), I began to apply the brakes in a way that would bring me to a controlled stop about six feet away from the car in front, without my rear passenger being catapulted into the front seat.

Half way through this strategy, the car had other ideas, and with a crunching sound from somewhere in the engine bay (I guess as it applied the brakes and cut the power to wheels), we stopped almost instantly, with said rear passenger nearly in the glove compartment.

The  car behind had to slap on the anchors to avoid hitting me. 

This sudden action from my car was also accompanied by the display on the dashboard showing a big, irregular star (illustrating an explosion) with the words, POSSIBLE IMPACT. I’m not actually sure those were the exact words, because my nose was somewhere near the windscreen. And the display has a horrible habit of giving you the message for about a half-second, which means by the time you register it's telling you something, its gone and you’re left with that sinking feeling you’ve missed something, maybe something very important, like IMPACT. 

And did it mean a frontal possible impact, or the near miss from the rear, as the car avoided me and let half of his tyres on the road.

The diplay also tells me when cars are too close behind, but again, in messages that are there for milli-seconds. In the queue trying to get into IKEA, bumper to bumper, I figured out what it was saying, because it came flashing up like a Blackpool illumination: Warning - Car Behind Too Close. And what does it want me to do with that information? Get out of the car, walk around to the person behind and say “...listen old boy, the car’s a tad put out that you are a bit too close - would you backing off a bit, there’s a good fellow.” That would be one quick way to the local A&E department.

But the point is, we are getting to the stage when cars think they know better. And perhaps they do. But they still aren’t driving. Okay, they might advise, let you know you’re about to hit that errant deer running across the motorway, but when they commit to avoidance tactics, it’s a little confusing for the driver, because within the eyes of the law, I'm in control of the car. The car is not in control of itself. 

So are we going to enter a land of confusion as we straddle cars that are increasingly very smart, but not quite intelligent to do it all. I had another car which wouldn't let you drift lanes. But, this was for emergencies, as it told me in no uncertain terms when I kept using it on a quiet stretch of French motorway to see if it would do it repeatedly.

But, I want to either drive myself, or let the bloomin car drive. I don’t want to be left in the middle, with the car and I competing for control and figuring out what’s right and wrong.

So please, can we get to fully autonomous cars, Level 4 I think it is, as quickly as possible? Because, I have no problem with my car driving me; I have lots of other things to do than staring out of a screen. Driving is mostly hard and tedious, and we humans are not cut out to match today’s constantly fluctuating road conditions and other driver moods.

Self-driving vehicles will rid society of one of the great handcuffs. I for one can’t wait until I can dial a Google, or Apple car, and it will arrive on my doorstep within minutes, and I will step in, having tapped-in the destination coordinates via my smartphone app and it will take me safely there while I do something else. 

Technically it's possible, but we are going to have to wait decades for authorities, legislators and regulators to figure out if one autonomous car has a crash, then who’s fault is it. 

We need autonomous cars next year, not next century, but I somehow doubt that’s going to happen.

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But the point is, we are getting to the stage when cars think they know better.

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What do we want? Fully autonomous cars! image