Google, best known for their internet search engine, have announced plans to launch a driverless car by the end of the year.
Self-driving cars are not an entirely new concept, Google have been working on building one for several years now and many traditional car manufactures such as Ford and BMW have also shown off prototype cars. Even current cars have some of the features built into these cars of the future; automatic braking, parking sensors and even “traffic jam assist”. The cars make use of GPS for calculating routes, and a series of sensors to navigate around the streets keeping track off other cars on the road and potential obstacles and hazards.
There have been concerns on the safety of the cars, though so far Googles own prototype cars, built around a Toyota Prius, have only been involved in one collision with several hundred thousand miles on the clock, and that was being rear-ended by a human driven car.
The reduced rate of incidents with these robotic cars can potentially lead to reduced insurance costs too, though who would be liable in an accident is yet to be worked out. Would it be the software manufacturer, whose software is driving the car, or the car owner?
Google’s car is specially built, with a soft front and flexible window to help damage from impacts. With a top speed of 25mph there not going to be causing any major accidents anytime soon. Safety is obviously a concern with Google’s first run, and many people are likely to be wary of these new robotic vehicles. Of course with a 25mph limit on speed you’re not going to be making cross country trips any time soon, and it would be much better suited for driving around a city; the school run, picking up groceries or maybe as a personal taxi after a night out.
The driverless cars allow for freedom to people normally unable to take to the road, such as the elderly and people with poor vision.
Within the UK the law was changed late last year to allow for driverless cars, however wording on a 1968 law would mean that such vehicles would have to still allow for a human to takeover and drive the car as normal. Googles’ car does not allow for this, instead controlled by smartphones and voice, so it’s yet to be seen if the car design or the law will change first.