Hands off the wheel?
I glanced at the highlights from the Google I/O conference this morning and one of the segments featured was about self-driving vehicles, namely the Waymo company and their fleet of cars. The presenter mentioned that all you needed to do was order a car and one would arrive at your door with nobody behind the driver’s wheel.
While it might have been elaborated on in the full conference feed, it left me wondering about something... Would you, as the passenger, be obliged to sit in the driver’s seat or could you sit wherever you wanted? As far as I’m aware, there are no countries with the necessary legals in place that state that passengers do not have to be able to control the car in case of emergencies — which would mean they would have to sit in the driver’s seat, hands ready to take the wheel. While this is obviously a transitioning state, the future of driverless cars is pointing in the direction of radically redesigning cars — complete with ‘family social setting’ interior and all forms of steering/dashboard/ pedals removed.
Which takes us to another point... if, in these new Waymo cars, you don’t have to sit in the driver’s seat, what’s the wheel for? It eerily turns by itself, so apart from bit of showmanship, it’s not really necessary if nobody needs to sit there.
I’m eagerly awaiting the day I don’t have to drive somewhere, despite the fact I quite enjoy the act of driving. Think of the Canberra–Adelaide direct route drive if you could just fall asleep in one state and wake up in the next. It would definitely make traversing this country of ours more bearable. [ JENNIFER KILLIĆ ]
Ed replies: Quite the catch-22 there, Jennifer. You order a driverless car, don’t have to drive it, but it does look like you have to be behind the wheel, watching the road, and ready to take control in case your robot motor gets into trouble. Waymo’s accomplishments so far are a glimpse at a future that requires new laws. Here in Australia, the state of Victoria (cruelly blanked out in your vision of interstate travel) has trialled driverless cars thanks to new legislation that allows them on the roads, though someone has to be in the car always watching and ready to take control. Even with this leap of faith, consulting group KPMG reckons it’ll be another decade before we’re ready for truly autonomous vehicles, based on people’s acceptance of the technology and infrastructure. As for the steering wheel, we’d say its presence anchors the whole experience making this new technology familiar, and there’ll still be times when you’ll need to take manual control (like navigating a tricky driveway or alley).
I’M EAGERLY AWAITING THE DAY I DON’T HAVE TO DRIVE SOMEWHERE, DESPITE THE FACT I QUITE ENJOY THE ACT OF DRIVING. THINK OF THE CANBERRA– ADELAIDE DIRECT ROUTE DRIVE IF YOU COULD JUST FALL ASLEEP IN ONE STATE AND WAKE UP IN THE NEXT.