Blog: What’s Your Next Car: A Ford? A BMW? A Google?

Once again we’ve been keeping an eye on what’s happening in the world of motoring outside the UK. And this week we’ve been looking towards the USA and delving into the futuristic world of “self-driving” cars.

But what’s this got to do with Google? Well you may be surprised to hear that it’s Google who are very much the trailblazers in this area, having, since 2009, developed a fleet of six self-driving cars that have racked up a total of over 300,000 miles of accident-free motoring on US roads in the states where this technology has been allowed. These now include California, which adopted a law in this respect last month. As State Governor Jerry Brown said: “We are looking at science fiction becoming reality in a self-driving car”.

But what IS a self-driving car?

Well, to coin a phrase, it does exactly what it says on the tin! The test cars developed (with millions of dollars of investment) operate by using cameras, radars and lasers to create a three-dimensional model of the car and its surroundings and to feed this into a computer that then drives the car. To date tests have been conducted with a human driver on hand to take over in case of a malfunction. But the long-term view is that cars could become little work and leisure cubicles, fitted with seats, tables and screens for work or leisure. Think about them as a personalised train with no tracks to dictate routes!

Sounds far-fetched? Consider this. Google recently ran a trial on public roads with a blind person (backed up by a licensed driver) who used a modified, self-driving Toyota Prius to make a 30-minute commute to work – taking 90 minutes off the time taken to make the same journey using public transport.

Think about other applications and benefits. Transportation for all, regardless of age or infirmity; automated delivery vehicles; the linking of self-drive cars to control and improve traffic flows; and reduced emissions and better fuel consumption from better controlled driving. There’s a way to go yet in terms of making the technology affordable but it’s estimated that the first commercial model could be with us in five years’ time. Looking further ahead, Wired magazine predicted that by 2040, up to 75% of cars could be autonomous.

But what’s this got to do with the comparatively dull world of car insurance? One thing – safety. Wired magazine went on to estimate that between 2001 and 2009, almost 370,000 lives were lost on US roads and of the incidents causing these road deaths, 83% were caused by human, rather than mechanical, error. Reduce the possibility of human error and road safety will improve dramatically. Reduced accidents will lead to cheaper car insurance.

So the next time you’re struggling to park your car in that just-about-big-enough space, think about whether you might be chilling out in your self-parking Google GTi in 30 years’ time.

As ever, we’d love to hear your views.

26/10/2012 13:46:10 Eren

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