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Are Driverless Cars Almost Here?

Yes they are, and it’s not so much a revolution as an inevitable progression.

The First Steps – Driverless cars

In October 2015, Tesla unveiled the new Autopilot driving mode which, the company claims, will let people out of the more tiresome and fiddly aspects of driving – overtaking and parallel parking, for example. Drivers still need to keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road, but they delegate the “thinking” to the machine.

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This seems like a massive leap in car tech, but it’s simply another step in the journey to driverless cars. The great thing about Autopilot is that Tesla can update it in the same way an iPhone gets updated, keeping it in the loop, and it can also drive smarter to save fuel. Yes, it’s just one more series of tasks that car drivers are handing over to the car itself, a process which, when you think about it, started a long time ago.

The Future’s Already Here

Google tested driverless cars back in 2012 and we were all excited at the future finally arriving – we’ve all dreamed about the cars in films like Minority Report, zipping around and up and down all by themselves. There’s also the idea of giant, city-wide conveyor belts that people can hop their cars onto – that’ll be a big job for the chain conveyors from Renold to get their teeth into. While some fear giving up control to the car, we’re already halfway there; think about it.

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The very first internal combustion engine car – the Ford Model T – needed a huge amount of knowledge (and effort) to even get started. Drivers had to fill the radiator with rainwater before each drive and if it was cold, they may have had to heat the water on the hob first.

Then drivers had to perform a feat of mechanical engineering just to start the engine – throttling, sparking or using a hand-crank. The amount of throttle and the electric charge had to be tightly controlled and it was an art. Then came the amazing ignition key system in the 1950s, then our own button ignition systems.

Making Life Easier

There’s also the progression from manual to automatic gears – people just accepted this as another welcome convenience, not a sinister power struggle between man and machine.

There’s a whole raft of features in modern cars that do some (not all, just yet) of the driving for us. There’s dynamic cruise control and automatic braking in Toyota and Subaru cars, for example; drivers love them. They love them just as they loved fuel injectors, anti-lock brakes, airbags, speed limitation and the many other tiny features and widgets that bit-by-bit make driving less arduous. They also make it safer by removing human effort and error.

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This is why driverless cars are almost with us. They won’t come in a big wave of new technology, they’ll smooth their way into our lives and we’ll welcome them with open arms, just as we’ve embraced the many other innovations in driving over the last few decades.

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