David Williams, national motor journalist and road safety award-winner
For years we marvelled at Google, and not just because they transformed the way we use computers, but because they shot from little-known start-up to household name – and became a verb in the Oxford English Dictionary – in little over 15 years.
Google has truly revolutionised how we live. Having begun life online, they’re very much a part of the technology world now. And as in car technology develops through dash cams, Bluetooth tyre pressure gauges, and the like, it only seems right for Google to be a part of our daily, physical journeys.
Now they want to revolutionise the way we travel too with their self-drive car. But will the sci-fi-toytown creation enjoy the same successes?
Google won permission from California’s Department of Motor Vehicles last year for ‘driverless’ public road trials, to build on the millions of miles already driven at secret research centres.
It was all going so well until, recently, they admitted their ‘autonomous’ vehicles had been involved in no fewer than 12 incidents, fortunately none of them involving injury. In fairness, the cars had covered 1.7 million miles and, said, Chris Urmson, head of Google self-driving car project, they weren’t to blame for a single incident.
Added Urmson: “Our drivers routinely see people weaving in and out of lanes; we’ve spotted people reading books, and even one playing a trumpet.” You’ll never find a computerised car doing that and surely, if mere humans had clocked up those 1.7 million miles they’d have left much worse in their wake than scratched bodywork.
So why does new research from motor insurance comparison site, uSwitch reveal that 48 per cent of people don’t want to be a passenger in a self-drive car without a ‘real’ driver, and that 16 per cent cent are ‘horrified’ at the idea?
The answer lies in one of the other findings from their survey of 953 adults: that an overwhelming 92 per cent of consumers felt ‘in the dark’ about ‘driverless’ trials, while only six per cent believe the Government was running sufficient trials.
Well, I’ve got news for them: the driverless revolution actually began in the 1950s when we started allowing cars to dip their own headlights, followed by rain-sensing wipers, automatic antilock braking and automatic traction systems that ‘knew’ when to deploy.
Self-drive’s been creeping up on us ever since. Even now, thousands are cruising motorways, relying on Adaptive Cruise Control to stop them running into the car in front, and hitting the brakes for them if it all goes wrong. The same goes in town with systems such as Volvo’s City Safety collision avoidance system.
The problem is, to mangle a phrase, good news is no news and nobody reports how many injuries these systems quietly avoid, every hour of the day.
Dashcams and in car cameras might hold the answer. Daily they capture moments that – without ‘self-drive’ tech – would end in tears. And we never hear a word about it.
Google – remember them? – should curate the footage online, alongside incidents when the invisible helping hand of Self Drive wasn’t there to save the day. uSwitch would find some very different responses then.