September 1, 2014

Luddites may gripe, but the days of human beings being allowed to do things machines can do better will soon be but a distant memory. Driving is an obvious example. From January driverless cars will be tested on UK roads. By July, they’ll have more or less taken over. Or not…

Not, if you believe Thatcham research chief Pete the Saw, as quoted this week in Globule Re magazine. Could be a while yet, Pete suggests, perceiving many hurdles in the path of robocars.

And, not withstanding governments’ initially welcoming stance on driver-free cars, there are growing signs that he might well be right to sound a rasping little parp of caution.

Formerly acquiescent California legislators this week executed a distinctly un-robocar-like surprise U-turn by changing the law to require that passengers have to ability to assume control at any moment should conditions so require. This will not please Goggle, who’ve designed their kiddie-friendly robocars (generously likened in design to stripped out VW bugs) with neither steering wheels nor pedals.

Thatcham’s Pete reckons it will be another 15 years before fully autonomous vehicles roam the land, and even then, he says, “it won’t happen in a big bang. It will be a gradual growth of autonomous features on vehicles.” Starting with the obvious stuff like AEB, drivers will soon be picking and mixing from a vast array of features designed to overrule or second guess them in a range of more or less intelligent ways.

If a sudden shift of liability from old-fashioned drivers to robocar manufacturers and suppliers was a confusing enough prospect for motor insurers, an incremental introduction of autonomous features will muddy the picture up worse than a wet weekend at Glastonbury.

The good news is for lawyers.

DLC

Want to see Goggle’s robocar in action bringing everyday ecstasy to some regular Sunshine State folks taking a first test drive? Simply click on the image above to view an inspiring and moving short film produced by the search-engines-to-every-single-aspect-of-every-second-of-your-life multinational and try not to think of Dave Eggers’ flawed but tonally apt The Circle. What: you haven’t read it? OK, read it and then try not to think of it while watching this charming and heartwarming video.


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