It seems like everyone is jumping on the self-driving car bandwagon — it’s gone from far-off futuristic technology to something that’s actually going to impact our lives in a very short space of time.
Is there really all that much to get excited about though? We present to you 15 ways self-driving car technology is going to change everything.
The obvious one first: robot drivers are safer than humans, no matter how scary that sounds. They don’t get tired, they don’t get bad-tempered, they can react faster than we can, and they’re much better able to spot a cyclist racing along behind a hedge than our poor pairs of eyes.
Robot drivers are also much better at working out when to start accelerating and when to tap on the breaks, and in theory that should mean fewer queues and a smoother flow of traffic. You can look forward to shorter journeys as well as less stressful ones in the future.
Driving around the block several times will become a thing of the past when autonomous cars take over — they’ll know where the free spots are and which other cars are heading to fill them. Of course when you get to the parking space your vehicle will manoeuvre in perfectly.
You may not be willing to give up the steering wheel just yet, but think about the elderly or the disabled — people who usually find it very difficult and very scary to get out and about on a regular basis. Consider the difference a self-driving car could make to someone who was blind, for example.
The first self-driving cars will only be partially autonomous of course, but when they get all the way there, it frees up a lot of time for you on the journey. Chat to your family, watch some television shows, catch up on the day’s news or social media updates — it’s all up to you.
6. Law and order
The finer details are still up in the air right now, but will self-driving cars be able to break the speed limit or start without a valid insurance certificate? It’s hard to imagine autonomous cars being able to outrun the police, which is good news for all road users except those with criminal tendencies.
Self-driving cars are going to have an impact way beyond the normal highways and byways of the country of course, and autonomous vehicles are already playing a significant role in space exploration. In the future, some form of self-driving cars or buggies will be able to scout along the surface of distant planets with no help from us.
Even if you’re dead set against the idea of self-driving cars you’re probably going to be grateful for the technology if you need rescuing from a spot where a human driver can’t get to — self-driving vehicles are going to be hugely valuable after floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters when human emergency workers can’t be risked.
We’re all going to have to start thinking long and hard about the kind of ethical implications autonomous technology brings with it. If a self-driving car loses control, should it risk the life of its driver rather than plough into a crowded marketplace? There are no easy answers and everyone is going to have to join the debate as it becomes more pertinent.
10. Buying cars
If you don’t enjoy the process of choosing a smartphone or choosing a laptop then look away now — there are many different companies working on self-driving cars to sell you to, and in the future choosing a vehicle might be a question of deciding which features you care about the most (or which dashboard you think looks better).
Never mind self-driving cars replacing your family vehicle, what about taxis? Imagine pressing a button on your smartphone any time any place and having a robot car scoot towards you and take you wherever you want to go. It’s like Uber but without the human element.
12. Car design
When there’s a robot driving the car, the whole design of the vehicle changes — it’s not just about removing the steering wheel. Front and back seats can be built to face each other, for example, and there are plans for exterior airbags as well as internal ones to prevent bangs.
13. Road design
Let’s not forget the design of the roads, which will also adapt to meet the needs of robots rather than humans. Sensors can replace road signs, lanes can be placed closer together, and major thoroughfares will be tricked out with all kinds of electronics to keep autonomous cars in the right place.
14. Night time
If your car is taking care of all the driving for you, then that gives you chance for a snooze along the way: might people decide to tackle long journeys during the dead of night if they know they can stretch out and sleep along the way? It’s another reason why congestion should be reduced.
15. Instant repairs
One of the benefits of an autonomous driving system is that it can be upgraded over the Web instantly, just like your smartphone or computer. If Ford discovers a fault or security bug in its self-driving software, for example, it can send out a patch to the entire fleet in a matter of minutes.