The Implications of Going Driverless

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16 December 2011
Craig Weber

Google recently received a patent for a driverless car that can handle the challenges of the open road. (Story: Google Granted Patent for Driverless Car Technology) I love this story, and the implications.

The NTSB's proposed ban on texting will require a rewrite. Unless my autopiloted car and my smartphone are sharing computing power or connectivity, I'm assuming my texts sent while underway won't impact safety. Of course, by the time this system is operational, texting will most likely have become passé.

The field of play for telematics is about to get more complicated. Sure, you can track where my car went. But was I at the helm, or was my car driving itself? And what if I get out of the car to let it park itself? Does that still count as me driving, for insurance purposes?

If my car can drive itself, under what circumstances will I even decide to go with it? For example, for many daily errands (e.g., picking up the dry cleaning, grocery shopping, taking the kids to football practice) the main value-adds I bring are navigation and execution of the route. Take those away, and I might choose to do something else.

We're one step closer to answering one of life's Big Questions. Namely: Are men or women better drivers? The answer may turn out to be neither, assuming that Google gets the product right. With R2D2 as our chauffeur, my wife and I will have to find something else to debate. Related question: Will my autopilot car stop and ask for directions when it gets lost, or will it just drive around hopelessly? For tradition's sake, I propose to make that a user-configurable feature. I'd hate to have my car out-perform me in such an obvious manner.

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