Autonomous Cars Approved

Yesterday was a great day for automotive technology in the UK, as the government approves testing of autonomous vehicles by the end of 2013 (cars that drive themselves for want of a better word – Autocars perhaps?).

The converted Nissan Leaf, self-drive car, as built by Oxford University.
The converted Nissan Leaf, self-drive car, as built by Oxford University.

So far, these kind of cars have only been allowed to be driven on private land in the UK where researchers at Oxford University have been testing a converted Nissan Leaf car around the Oxford Science Park.

As I mentioned in a previous post (Self-driving car comes to Oxford), the car uses a different method than that of the Google Self-Drive car to determine its location, and attempts to memorize routes regularly driven ~ such as the school run or daily commute.

Google themselves seem to be leading the way with this technology along with the American Government; I suspect that this is simply because Google are getting more airtime and publicity, but their converted Toyota Prius has clocked up an impressive 300,000 miles on public roads. The governments of Nevada, Florida and California have all passed legislation specifically about driverless cars.

There are several companies developing this technology though, as you would expect, and both Mercedes and Volvo have demonstrated the self-drive capabilities of their vehicles.

You can almost read the headlines now: Autodrive Car Kills Child
Further reading however tells that the car was manually driven by a drunkard, massive bad press and bad public feeling ensues. You get the idea…
All the vehicles mentioned however, all seem to have one fatal flaw in my opinion, and that is that they all have a ‘manual override’ – i.e. you can take control whenever you wish. Personally I believe that this is not a good idea, and that by doing this you are inviting trouble. Google themselves have had a couple of crashes :oops: which happened when the car was being manually driven.

Take out the driver and you take out the bit of driving that causes the vast proportion of the problems. Computers don’t have opinions, or attitudes, nor do they make decisions based on their emotional state; They just do what they are told.

The best news for me as a long-term geek, is that these cars “should be commercially available by the end of the decade”. Soon we’ll be able to jump in the car, direct it to the destination, sit back and relax, maybe have a little breakfast and watch the news on our windscreen… :cool: