Dawn of the Driverless Car
by Ralph Lucas – Publisher
(October 13, 2017) While there has been a huge uptick in the discussion about driverless cars, there are some people who wonder about the loss of the sheer pleasure of driving. I am one of those people.
I grew up surrounded by cars. My father worked for a time for Roots Motors, a British company that produced cars like the Hillman Minx, the Humber Hawk and the Sunbeam Alpine sports car. I remember reading the highly literate Henry N. Manney III in issues of Road & Track magazine who brought the whole sensation of being in command of a sleek, fast, standard shift sports car to life. My first car was a Triumph TR-3. Later I would own a TR-6. I once had a V6 version of the Pontiac Fiero. Of course it was red and it would cruise comfortably at 140k on dry, straight stretches of the 401.
One of my favourite Manney phrases was his description of being able to reach the various controls, buttons or gear shift as everything in the cockpit fell “easily to hand.”
The backroads of the island of Montreal, out in the hinterlands of the west part of the island in the late 1960s were a thrill to explore, particularly in the then very rural communities of Pierrefonds and Senneville. Taking tight corners at speed, downshifting at the perfect moment and finding the straightest line through a curve in the road provided a tremendous rush. Part of it was the wind in your hair, part of it was the precision required to hit the clutch, downshift into a lower gear as you revved the engine just enough to help slow the car going into a turn without ever having to touch the brakes. My seat belts, long before they were required by law, came from a defunct C-46 airplane.
There was a time when driving was fun. I think in the future there will be a thriving business catering to people like me where great old sports cars can be rented by the hour and taken for fast drives around a complicated twisty track closed off from the outside, modern, sterile, boring world of driverless cars. Maybe that’s just me. Maybe that’s just people of a certain age who can remember when gas stations had employees who manned the gas pumps, cleaned your windshield and who would check your tire pressure if you asked.
The future of driving, or non-driving, unfolds on CBC when the series The Passionate Eye will look at the Dawn of the Driverless Car. Imagine a world where cars can drive themselves, a world where we have become simply passengers, not even allowed to drive the cars that ferry us around, with decisions made by computers. That brave new world may be just around the corner.
Big tech companies like Google and Intel are investing millions of dollars to make self-driving cars a reality. Ford says it will have a fully autonomous car in commercial operation by 2021.
But will self-driving cars actually work and will we be able to trust the technology? How will the driverless car fare in complex urban driving conditions with cyclists, pedestrians and complex road markings? And how will they interact with cars still driven by humans? That is if they still let us humans drive.
Dawn of the Driverless Car peers into the future driverless world and discovers that, despite the glossy PR, the reality may not be all good news. From the ethics of “no-win” driverless car crash scenarios, to the impact on employment, cars may be gearing up to rise up against us in ways that none of us are expecting.
Dawn of the Driverless Car will air on The Passionate Eye, Saturday, October 21, 2017 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBC News Network and repeat on Sunday, October 22 also at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBC News Network.