This first saw light of day nearly a year ago, but merits another outing I feel.
Here’s a scenario for you. It’s next spring. It’s a pleasant though cool day, blue skies, fluffy clouds, birds trilling, daffodils looking at their best. You’re full of the joys, enjoying driving. Then it all goes wrong, because suddenly you tailend the car in front. Now you know the rules. Run into the back of somebody, and it’s always your fault. Always. The police will agree, you may even get a ticket for without due care and attention, and a few points on your licence. The insurance companies agree. The guy in front will be claiming off you, not the other way round. There goes your no claims discount.
But what if you aren’t responsible? What if you were travelling in one those hideous little Google driverless cars they’re trialling? How can it have been your fault, since there’s no steering wheel, no brake pedal, no gearchange, no handbrake? You just climb in, punch your intended journey into the satnav, and let the car get on with it while you do the crossword. Blameless.
Not really, since if you put your trust in Google you do so at your own peril. I imagine the navigation system will be based on Google Maps, and as you know these are incorrect and misleading to the point of obscurity; you might expect to find a blank spot marked ‘Here be dragons.’ I once wasted a couple of precious and irreplaceable weeks, or so it seemed, trying to navigate the city of Worcester using some printoffs of Google Maps my client had sent. It might just as well have been a treasure map. The roads did not exist, and to judge from the rather imposing and pretty permanent looking Victorian architecture hadn’t existed in a long time, if at all. Finally I went old school and bought a streetmap from a petrol station. I got there in about five minutes.
Satnav in itself is a bit iffy, as anybody who has ended up down a narrow country lane that is blocked by an unfordable stream will tell you. Then the cars rely on a series of sensors, with proximity sensors fore, aft, and laterally, and a big roof mounted optical scanner. They use these on driverless military vehicles in the USA, so they clearly work. However, you can forget about putting your car through a carwash, as the brushes will just rip off the whole shooting match. I can also foresee that young hoodlums might just make a hobby of dropping a binbag over the scanner, or simply spraypainting the panels.
Now according to the manufacturers, should such high jinks occur, or a simple computer failure, then the systems will fail to safety, and the car will simply glide to a halt. This is unlikely to win you any friends if you’re halfway through negotiating the turn from Hyde Park Corner into Knightsbridge, or in the middle of the Blackwall Tunnel during a Friday rush hour. It’s also going to be disturbing if it happens when you’re sandwiched between a couple of trucks and a bus. There’ll be a lot of honking then I think.
Lastly, there’s the appearance of the bloody thing. I mentioned it was hideous, yet it’s meant to be friendly and cuddly. It’s all rounded, with a cheeky grin at the front and big lights like kitten’s eyes. It’s supposed to look safe. Given the whole shooting match relies on computers, and you know how often your laptop hangs or freezes, I think a big grill with a set of shark’s teeth, and a flame job would be more appropriate. That way other drivers could see the danger and get out of your way before a bluescreen of death, or the dreaded Circle of Doom, plunges you into their vehicle.
You may also wish to ponder the need for side mirrors. Just a comment.