What’s the Big Deal with Driverless Cars?

google-driverless-car-280514Google unveiled this week its driverless car built from the ground up. It’s not a converted Prius, it’s a Google original. Yes, it’s a little odd looking and has what seems like an intentional (and creepy) face, but beauty is on the inside apparently, and this little bug-like car is pretty damn nice.

On the other hand, driverless technology isn’t really anything new. In flying, whenever we cruise at altitude, it’s not the pilot flying us, rather the autopilot. The machine. The technology. The pilot is there mainly to assist if something goes wrong, which is rare. Of course that’s not to say pilots do nothing, they do a great deal, but the point is that the pilotless technology in flying is already there, so why are we so in awe of driverless cars?

It could be because we expect there to be autopilot within a plane but not within a car. In a plane, two people – a Captain and a Co-Captain – could not safely be in control of hundreds of lives without the help of technology. The reason we trust flying to be safe is because of the technology. Would you really feel safe if flying was entirely manual? Probably not. Sure, we trust bus drivers and train drivers to keep us safe, but that involves being on the ground where we don’t feel we need extra safety measures such as autopilot. Up at 40,000 feet it’s a different story.

autonomous carMaybe driverless cars are so exciting because it’s an advancement in technology that we weren’t expecting so soon. We were all expecting flying cars by 2015 thanks to the ‘80s classic Back to the Future but that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. However, no one predicted driverless cars to appear so quickly. Autonomous vehicles that appeared in the Films Demolition Man and Minority Report were set in the years 2032 and 2054, respectively. KITT from ‘80s TV show Knight Rider (a driverless Pontiac Trans Am) was a fantasy not a futuristic prediction. It was something that we all thought was cool for decades but knew deep down it wouldn’t become a reality. Like the Hoverboard. But predictions of driverless cars, well they were predicted much, much later than now. In the movies, anyway.

The other reason driverless cars seem so impressive is because they’re just cool. People will be able to go out and not worry about having a designated driver. It’s like having your own personal taxi that you don’t have to pay. Also if you face a long journey, you can kick back and catch up on all the TV you missed. Of course the whole safety issue is fantastic. It’ll reduce and nearly eliminate road accidents (providing ALL vehicles are driverless) and pedestrians and cyclists will live another day as well.

Driverless cars mean we’ve hit one of the big milestones of ‘the future’ predicted in movies of the last three or four decades. We’re in awe because it actually happened. We did it. Smartphones, tablets, wearable tech, these are just a natural evolution of technology. But driverless cars are not. Making all cars electric would be the natural course of car technology. Instead, Google has taken a fantasy that we’ve had for thirty years and made it a reality. We’re in awe because ‘the future’ is now. Like most fantasies, we never really believe they are going to happen, until they do.