Great Techspectations: Why Google’s self-driving car being 30 years away is a good thing

Great Techspectations: Why Google’s self-driving car being 30 years away is a good thing
Credit: Google

While you might see Google’s self-driving car projects hitting the headlines every day (and the occassional bus), the reality is, they might not be available where you live for really quite a long time.

According to a talk by the self-driving car project’s technical lead Chris Urmson at SXSW,ha that could mean a wait of up to 30 years, depending on where you live.

“How quickly can we get this into people’s hands? If you read the papers, you’re going to see that it’s maybe three years, maybe it’s thirty years. And I am here to tell you that, honestly, it’s a bit of both.”

That might come as a disappointment to some people, but for me, it sounds like a pretty good plan.

A cloudy outlook

Driving on the wide-open, sunny roads of California (I imagine, I’ve never driven in California) probably isn’t quite the same as inching your way through miserable grey London traffic. And that’s different again to the incredibly narrow, winding country roads that I learned to drive on.

Of course, if you do live in one of the more self-driving car-hospitable regions, you’ll probably only have to wait a few more years. Although, presumably you’ll have to take control if you ever want to leave one of those nice, predictable areas.

We spend a lot of time wanting the next technological innovation here (it is, after all, in our name) but a self-driving car isn’t the same as the next flagship smartphone. If the software crashes and your phone reboots, it doesn’t have the potential for putting peoples’ lives at risk.

There are a whole bunch of technical (and a few philosophical) questions to figure out before self-driving cars can truly go mainstream – and historically regulations don’t move very fast.

Fully autonomous vehicles might take decades more to make their mark across the globe, but until then there’s always Tesla’s Auto Pilot mode to get us part of the way there.

➤ Google Self-Driving Car Project | SXSW Interactive 2016 [YouTube via IEEE Spectrum]

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