Are you prepared for a driverless car?

The fantasy of driverless cars has been with us for ages. Movies and sci-fi books have had them and various companies have given it a go. It's only now that new experiments have shown that this may soon be a reality, writes Rajiv Makhni.

brunch Updated: Jul 19, 2014 17:16 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Rajiv Makhni
Hindustan Times
driverless car,Apple,Sergey Brin

It was 7.45am. I had skipped my workout, showered, decided not to shave, worn pyjama pants, a white tee and was set for a wind-down-non-working-grunge day. That’s when I realised that I hadn’t paged my car.

Punching the app button on my phone, I was told that I had missed out on my favourite car – but a smaller one would pick me up in about three minutes. Also this would be a shared ride for the first half of my journey. Quickly gathering my stuff, I pressed the ‘house shut down button’ and made my way down to the pick-up pod.

Also read: The driverless car is here

The pug-like car was already waiting and I was dismayed to see that it had ‘face your friend’ seats, so I couldn’t avoid conversation with the stranger who would be my ‘friend’ for part of my journey.

Can you face the future: While the driverless car could be a boon for children as well as old people, it would also have the option of 'face your friends seat'

I greeted the tattooed, excited and supremely intoxicated gentleman, obviously was on his way home after an all-nighter at the mind-merge club. The car asked for a reconfirmation of my final destination, told me that traffic was heavy and set the time to reach drop point as 27 minutes.

As the car started on its silent, driverless, steeringwheel-less, pedalless journey and joined its other sensor-laden brethren on the narrow road in a train-like formation – I looked wistfully at the random car driven by an actual human being.

It used to be fun to be in control of your own car, that rush of blood when you put pedal to the metal, that amazing feeling to merge man and machine – that was gone forever!

Yes, traffic jams were a thing of the past, struggling to find parking space had been eliminated forever, roads had shrunk by half, getting to your destination was twice as fast, houses were bigger as nobody had to waste space for parking private cars, vehicle accidents were unheard of, but, maybe we had given up the passion for efficiency.

Should I pay the super premium ‘human driver car tax’ and buy myself a real car?

The fantasy of driverless cars has been with us for ages. Movies have had them, sci-fi books have described them and various companies have given it a go. It’s only now that new experiments have shown that this dream concept may soon be a reality.

Also read: Cars as a device, not just vehicles

As always, new technology throws up equal parts of delight and despair. Here’s why driverless cars may well be the greatest boon and bane of recent times.

Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page came out with some radical new thoughts on how a driverless car would actually be used.

Nobody would own one, you would just page one to pick you up wherever you were, get dropped off and ask for another one on demand. No finding parking, no buying a car, no waste of parking space, no fighting with neighbours over wrongfully parked cars.

Our Driving Force: Google's founders said that nobody would own these cars, just page one to go wherever you want to go.

In certain countries, 50 per cent of a city is wasted in public and private car parking. This could revolutionise the urban planning.

With no human error or ego involved, perfect use of road space, disciplined driving, an awareness of every other vehicle, pin-point accuracy with GPS, faster movement, excellent synch and coordination across the city and a major reduction in road signs, driverless cars would change the way we plan our day as well as shrink the number of roads and space required for them.

Many people cannot drive a car, like children, the aged, the differently abled, those too drunk to get home and those who can’t wrap their heads around negotiating a car and unruly traffic. Driverless cars are for all. This also takes care of the problem of wasted time and space.

When you drop off your child to the bus stop, when the bus driver picks them all up and takes them to school – you and the bus driver are actually redundant drivers adding to the number of vehicles on the road. A driverless car will come and take your child straight to school.

No steering wheel, no pedal, no seat for a driver, everyone in the car is a passenger, more space, better ergonomics – a driverless car is a total reboot of the design and process of what a car is and how it is built. From seating to engine to safety standards – everything will be more efficient and usable.

All electric cars, reduction in the number of cars across the world by more than 50 per cent, roads and parking space reduced by even more, drastic reduction in pollution, fewer number of road fatalities and better use of time and resources for those in the car.

The Road Ahead: It is quite possible that the first driverless car may come from the tech giant Apple.

What’s not to love?

Actually a lot! Driverless cars open up a Pandora’s box of problems.

Think of the number of people out of jobs, from bus and truck drivers to taxi and scooter drivers to the workforce in the auto industry. Think of the auto industry itself, can it sustain a 50 per cent cut in car sales? Think of security issues like a master hacker bringing an entire city’s driverless car fleet to a grinding halt. Think of privacy issues where your every moment is now tracked.

And then think of what I think is the most depressing thought of them all. You will never drive a car again! That in itself, is enough for me to go hug and kiss my ‘needs a driver’ car right now.

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, July 20
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First Published: Jul 18, 2014 18:44 IST