Thursday, September 27, 2012

Google Cars and its potential impact on society

Google Cars, a project that is being worked on by Google. Perhaps you already knew this, or perhaps you didn't. In short, Google is working on a system where cars don't need human drivers anymore. You can read more about this on the link below this page.

The reason I wanted to write a blog about Google Cars is because very recently I saw a news headline stating that Google has the ambition to market the system in roughly five years. That is tremendous fast, especially if you consider that, as Wikipedia also states, the laws in many countries are not ready for this kind of technology.

What I want to talk about is my vision of the possibilities such system can have for societies and the impact it could have on the way how we look at transportation.

A Day Made Of Glass

I recently saw a couple of demo videos with a futuristic view on technology and our way of life made by the company Corning. Of course I had a wow-feeling and was marveled about the visions people can have about the future. And thank god, for once, not so apocalyptic.

There was only one moment though that I thought could be a bit more 'futuristic'. And that was the moment that a person's steps in to the car and, manually, drives off. Seeing these videos and reading about near-future realistic technologies I realize that the future may be far more technological advanced or different, then we now even can imagen.

Google Cars and its potential impact on society

Driverless cars could solve many problems we face today concerning accidents, environmental pressure, traffic jams, parking problems and perhaps the stress people feel during the time they spend in their car.

Accidents

Accidents caused by alcoholism, mental illness, and stress is about 90% (source)! When cars operating without drivers are a common thing the number of accidents can potentially drop 80%, and probably even more (80% for facturing in errors by computer software).

The financial benefits of simply this fact are bigger then what the system even might cost. The future old-way of cars would almost be criminal to permit. There would be less accidents, less damage repairs, less human (fatal) injury, less medical healthcare, and less costs for insurances for either the car and person. And I am not even talking about the time-savings of the paperwork related to car accidents.

Environmental pressure

I am not a kind of person that could be described as a "tree-hugger" but the ecological environment we live in is rather important to me. Why damage our precious planet when we have the technology in our reach to improve our environment or at least to lessen the damage?

Many people that drive a car, me included, like to drive fast (within the boundaries of the law of course). Like to be the first that gets away when a traffic light jumps to green and likes to drive the maximum speed allowed, knowing that it will probably save only a couple of minutes, increases changes for accidents and definitely costs more fuel.

Cars that are driven automatically will drive at optimal speed at a steadier pace and will actually adjust that speed when its surroundings (more/less traffic) change. More optimal driving is less pressure on the environment because of more efficient use of the resources. And that also applies to electric cars which electricity is generated by power-plants that run on coal or gas.

Traffic jams

The amount of cars probably won't be less than it is today and therefore long rows of driving cars are still going to be a daily view on the road. But we can't speak of traffic jams. Every car is going to pick its optimal side on the road, cars will communicate with each other, drive more closely together, less accelerating and less braking. Cars can even anticipate on situations far ahead so that the right track and speed can be decided.

And as a driver you won't have to worry about the traffic and can relax or work during your ride.

One additional positive side effect is that the automated cars can respond and act accordingly to vehicles from police departments, hospitals and fire-stations. Traffic jams are no longer an issue then.

Parking problems

Problems concerning parking your car are increasing almost daily. Everyone wants to park near their destination and are sometimes stressed about finding a spot. Not to mention the loss in time and the pressure of the amount of cars in rather small centers of cities.

At this moment it is still obligated, even in the countries where Google lobbied to change the laws, to have a trained driver behind the steering wheel. I can imagen that when the society is more used to this form of transportation, the obligation of a trained driver in a car will be history.

That said and the assumption it will change, no one has to worry about parking their cars anymore. Just step out your vehicle at your destination and the car will find a parking spot by itself. When you are about to leave for home, you can summon your car by your phone, glasses or perhaps your watch and you are picked up at the place you are or want to be picked up.

Knight rider anyone?

Future bit farther away

It's even thinkable that in a future farther away that personal vehicles are simply gone. Human population is still growing and cities are getting bigger and bigger. It could be socially irresponsible to maintain the current situation we are used to now. I would not be surprised that it will eventually be even forbidden to drive your own car. Despite that there are many people that like to drive their car for their hobby.

With automated cars its possible to share them easily and deploy the cars far more efficiently. Perhaps one public car to every two households, instead of the current two private cars for every one household.

Not perfect just yet

The technology is not perfect just yet. Extreme weather conditions are not very well worked out, as stated by Google (think of snow and heavy rain). Besides that the law in many countries have to be changed on behalf of driver-less cars and the fact that people actually can call again in the car, even non-handsfree.

I, for sure, will switch to driver-less cars when they are affordable. The pros weight heavier then the cons for me.

Google Cars at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_driverless_car

Thank you for reading my blog!

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