Self driving cars are here.
A half-century ago, some sci-fi images imagined 21st-century drivers zipping around in flying vehicles, speeding along invisible highways. While cars may still be planted firmly on the ground and the highways solid, one futuristic idea is coming to fruition: self-driving cars in which drivers do nothing more than sit and monitor the dashboard while the vehicle negotiates traffic.
“After almost a hundred years in which driving has remained essentially unchanged, it has been completely transformed in just the past half decade,” notes Wired in an examination of Google’s autonomous vehicle and other efforts to rethink the relationship between car and driver. Google’s fleet of specially equipped Prius vehicles can drive 70 miles an hour on a highway, stop at traffic lights and merge in highway traffic—and has logged 140,000 miles in a year. Some reports suggest the company is hoping to introduce the system as soon as next year.
Traditional automakers are also on the case. General Motors, for instance, expects to develop a semi-autonomous car by mid-decade and self-driving cars by 2020. BMW’s Highly Automated Driving project has logged a few thousand miles on Germany’s autobahn with its “electronic co-pilots.” And China’s First Auto Works conducted a successful test run of a driverless vehicle, similar to Google’s Prius, last year.
Automakers tout safer driving as reason to adopt self-driving cars—which wouldn’t text or drive under the influence, and would have quicker reaction times than humans as well as no blind spots. But these cars would necessitate an overhaul of laws and insurance regulations, among other things, and present some thorny issues, as The New York Times reports. Meanwhile, new technologies such as pedestrian detection systems and parking assistants are already wresting some control away from us all-too-human drivers.