Self-driving cars are headline news. No longer the stuff of sci-fi, the recent government announcement that the precursor to autonomous motor vehicles – Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) – will be written into law this year has got us thinking about the fun element of a car that drives itself?

After all, if you’re reading this then, for you, driving isn’t just a chore to get you from A to B: it’s the joy of the ride itself. Can you imagine life without the thrill of 400 hp roaring into life as you press pedal to metal?

No. Us neither… Right now, petrol heads around the globe are experiencing the same nagging unease that horse coachmen of the late 1800s must have done with the motor car threatening their beloved method of transportation. 

So, are we right to be apprehensive? Or will the advent of the self-driving car be something that we’ll fall in love with?

What do we mean by self-driving cars, exactly?

When we think of a car that truly drives itself, we imagine jumping inside, saying “hit the beach” and settling back for a snooze/Insta hit/Greggs fix/insert chosen activity. However, although the tech is getting there, such futuristic reality won’t be around for a few years yet.

Self-driving cars, at least at first, will be limited to aspects such as ALKS, whereby the technology will keep a car within a single lane at speeds of up to 37mph and a driver able to retake control within 10 seconds. We can hardly contain our excitement…! Not quite the Avengers or Westworld scenario we’d like to think of. 

While Johnny Cabs are still some way off (Total Recall reference – keep up…), with behemoths such as Tesla and Google working their tiny asses off to make self-driving vehicles a reality, it’s gonna happen sooner rather than later. Tesla is already pushing the boundaries with its semi-autonomous Autopilot. Mercedes has similar technology and Google has been working on this since 2009 with their newly branded Waymo project.

It’s easy to assume that the UK is the epicentre of the world when it comes to such tech, but nothing could be further from the truth. Other countries, such as the good ol’ US of A are far more advanced in putting an infrastructure in place. One can only imagine how the tech-obsessed SE Asian countries are approaching this (like a duck to water, we’ll bet). 

But enough of that – it’s time to get back to talking about the fun factor. Because, let’s face it, the thought of self-driving cars is likely to be as much fun as taking a National Express from Newcastle to Milton Keynes…

And what about the trust issue?

Learning to trust a car to get you safely to your destination is another huge issue. As you hone your driving skills you gain confidence to know what manoeuvres and speeds are safe to undertake. You are also a human being – able to comprehend the concept of human error. Can a computer ever truly understand that curve ball…?

We have to say, we think that this might be one of the biggest hurdles that the concept of self-driving cars will have to overcome. Nurturing such a relationship between humans and tech is going to take some doing.

On the other hand, could self-driving cars have some advantages

But then… What about dull, boring journeys. Long trips – travelling hundreds of miles through repetitive faceless scenery might be better undertaken by a self-driving car. Instead of arriving at your destination a washed out, caffeine-fuelled wreck, you’ll emerge bright eyed and bushy tailed, thanks to a few hours of R&R. What about that hideous journey through stop-start congested city traffic (or, indeed, the M25 during rush hour?). Letting technology take the strain certainly sounds more fun than driving yourself, we must admit.

Self-driving cars – truly autonomous, self-driving cars – could provide a very real alternative to rail travel or short-haul air travel. And in nervous pandemic times it’d certainly be a more attractive option than mixing with the masses who may or may not be expelling viral load with every gasp. There’s also the aspect of safety, as self-driving cars will remove risks associated with drink or drug driving, fatigue and poor driving skills.

While you’ll never be able to remove the adrenaline junkie lure of man or woman vs. the open road, there’s something to be said for letting the car take the strain in certain situations. Self-driving cars are coming, there’s no doubt about it. Let’s just pray that they leave the ‘off’ button there for when we want playtime…

Image by falco from Pixabay