Driverless cars: will robots take over the roads?

Fully automated, self-driving cars are almost here.

Robot driving automated car

We’ve seen rapid changes in car technology over recent years. Cars are being built with increasingly intuitive features, such as cruise control and automated parallel parking. What’s coming next? According to technology researchers and car manufactures; fully automated, self-driving cars.

In 2012, Google X unveiled a fully functioning self-driving concept car, without pedals or a steering wheel. Fast forward to April 2016, and the latest news from Google’s parent, Alphabet, says that the autonomous car is just about ready for mass consumption.

Making a massive technological breakthrough in May this year, a fleet of more than a dozen self-driving trucks travelled from factories in Sweden and southern Germany, arriving in Rotterdam to deliver their goods. These ‘smart’ trucks (which still required a ‘driver’ to be present) were made by six of Europe’s largest manufacturers; DAF, Daimler, Iveco, MAN, Scania and Volvo.

What does all this driverless technology mean for the future of cars? While you might be ambivalent about self-driving cars, artificial-intelligence (AI) researchers believe that they will be safer than today’s human-controlled traffic. The mindset goes that since humans are irrational, their impulsive decision-making increases the chances of accidents on the roads.

Professor Andry Rakotonirainy from Queensland University of Technology says, “We know that in over 90 per cent of cases, crashes are due to human error. Theoretically, if we have a driverless car and the driver is out of the loop, it means less crashes.”

But if cars are intelligent enough to drive themselves, won’t they go power-mad and try to destroy humanity, à la Terminator? In short, no. Or at least, not yet. While AI technology is developing in leaps and bounds, the idea of a singularity (the term used to describe AI that is capable of self-improvement and autonomous decision-making) taking over the world is not necessarily anything to worry about.

AI researchers such as Martin Robbins say that there’s no reason to think that if and when sentient robots begin to ‘live’ among us, they’ll develop the desire to want to control us. Then again, there’s no reason to think they won’t.

“Every time we talk about something like sentients, we immediately start to bring to that word all the baggage that we have from our own experiences of being a sentient creature. You’ve literally no idea in which direction this could go. It might want global conquest or it might be happy trolling chess programmes. There’s no reason to think it’s going to do one thing or the other,” he said.

So, in what form are self-driving cars likely to appear our roads? Before personal automated cars become the mainstream, everyday commuters can probably expect to see the first driverless cars to appear in the form of taxis. Uber is already investing heavily in robotics technology, with an aim to build a fleet of self-driving vehicles.

But what comes after self-driving cars is anyone’s guess.

What do you think of driverless cars on our roads? Would you hop into a driverless taxi today if you had the chance?


    To make a comment, please register or login
    18th May 2016
    I am sort of glad I won't be around when all this crap happens -- I enjoy driving and the world is become like a jail can do this and can't do that -- nanny world
    18th May 2016
    I totally agree

    18th May 2016
    I love driving, but I also enjoy it these days when my kids drive me around.

    I reckon I'll enjoy being driven by a robot car too.
    18th May 2016
    No I dislike being a passenger
    Happy Jack
    18th May 2016
    Does that mean we'll be able to go to the local for a drink without the fear of blowing numbers on the way home?
    If so, the publicans would most likely be in favour of them.
    18th May 2016
    I would definitely be against it. I love to drive.They're going too far with these innovations

    18th May 2016
    The in-vehicle auto-message says, "Sit back, relax, enjoy, and remember that nothing can go wrong, can go wrong, can go wrong.................".
    18th May 2016
    Yes what could possibly go wrong go wrong go wrong go wrong
    almost midnight
    18th May 2016
    I think it would be fabulous! Less idiots on the road - both young and old. Time to relax while getting from one place to own private limo! if going further afield I could really enjoy the scenery!
    18th May 2016
    What is the world going to be like when robots are building and maintaining robots to do everything - where would the human race be then - pretty scary

    18th May 2016
    You would never need to find a parking space again. Just tell your car to keep driving around the block, or back home again, or......
    19th May 2016
    Barak and just imagine the petrol bill or the car running out of power if run by Electic,
    19th May 2016
    Ah, that's when you tell it to go to the robotic recharge station while you're busy. One robot would connect to the other, and.....
    26th May 2016
    The Tesla in the USA has this ability already

    19th May 2016
    Just imagine it! You're running late for your flight, and you ask the robot to get you there on time (maybe break the speed limit just a little?) Computer says, NO!

    I don't think I'm going to like this brave new robot car world. I like being a driver, and I just couldn't trust an electronic device to operate safely 100% of the time.

    Besides - my wife would be constantly calling out - "Look out for that car!" - "Aren't you going the long way?" - "What are you doing now? You can't do that here!" LOL
    Happy Jack
    19th May 2016
    Great to crack a joke about the Missus, you guys but let's get serious about this: will it mean we can go to the local, have a beer with our mates without worrying about blowing numbers on the way home?
    If an errant robotic car runs a red or skittles a copper, whose to blame? who does the time in the big house.
    There's a lot of questions to be answered here and the Pollie's (for once) will be working their butts off sorting it all out.
    The one's I feel for are the truckie's- they'll be out of a job for sure. Look at the iron ore mines in the Pilbara! driverless haul trucks and soon to be, three kilometre long, driverless trains. Capital will do all it can to shed labour as it always has.
    This brings us to the big picture- the desire to shed labour will not end with trucks, taxis and trains. With the new technologies encroaching on all our lives and in particular our means of income. As usual we are taking one step forward and two steps back and this will have deep repercussions for the economic stability and social fabric of our society.
    No longer can we revert to the old adage- progress and innovation will create more jobs, because we are bordering on an economy were computers and intelligent robots will be doing he bulk of the work.
    So, what's our reaction? increase the retirement age to seventy, that's what.
    Get with it all political parties or our society will suffer through an increase in inequality as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
    19th May 2016
    I think it will be marvellous! imagine sitting and reading the paper while being driven where ever you want!
    19th May 2016
    I have always got motion sick if I try and read etc while a passenger
    21st May 2016
    What happens if two driverless cars crash. Who takes the details?

    Also, perhaps I'm the nervous type. I can't see myself trusting them for about 100 years, and then I won't have to.
    21st May 2016
    I don't trust other drivers now, so I don't really see the difference.

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