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The Future of Driving Google Style

Google is continuing to expand its reach into our lives by exploring and demonstrating new uses of its growing technological capability. Google Glass is perhaps its most high profile invention and the company is now setting its sights on personal mobility, demonstrating a prototype of its new driverless car in California. For many this is an enticing glimpse of the future, the ultimate in stress free commuting – just get in the car, use your smart phone to tell the car where you want to go, and then sit back and relax while the car takes you to your destination. Google argues that aside from convenience, the greatest benefit will be to road safety as the element of human error is removed.

However, there are still many obstacles to overcome. Currently, driverless cars are illegal almost everywhere in the world although some states in the US are legislating to change this. To work effectively driverless and conventional vehicles will have to be able to work effectively together – imagine a situation where its not clear who has right of way, say on a road narrowed by parked cars. Humans can (usually!) use compromise, logic and judgment to find a mutually beneficial solution. What if one of the cars is driverless and the other has a driver – how do they communicate and act safely? And what if a driverless car has an accident? Who’s fault is it – the passenger (no driver remember!), the manufacturer of the car, the author of the software? Imagine the product liability implications! All of these questions and many more need to be addressed before the vision becomes a reality. Perhaps we will end up with a situation like we find in the airline industry. Passenger jets can now take off, fly and land themselves. However each aircraft still has two fully qualified pilots to ensure safety and passenger confidence. We may still require drivers to be trained and qualified, even if they don’t always do the driving themselves. Either way it seems likely that google’s vision is many years away from an everyday reality for most of us.