I like the use of technologies to avoid crashes but I can’t foresee a time when I would want to commit to fully-autonomous driving…
It is pouring with rain so the car drops you off at the supermarket entrance and heads off on its own to find a parking spot way the heck and yonder at the other end of the mall.
When you have finished your Big Shop for the week, it is still raining cats, dogs and frogs so you hit the button on the key fob. The car returns from wherever it was and you load up with nary a drop of the wet stuff falling on your head.
Well, getting your hands on the key fob to an autonomous drive car may mean a wait until 2020, when Nissan plans to begin selling that feature in multiple vehicles. However, a car capable of doing the task described in a driverless mode is here in the now.
Nissan granted yours truly the opportunity recently to take a spin in a driverless electric-powered LEAF. Actually, the word spin doesn’t truly describe what was a very smooth and controlled ride around a course loaded with obstacles, traffic lights turning red, cars changing lanes unexpectedly and automated pedestrians wondering out in front of us – if ‘me’ and the car counts as an ‘us’.
The LEAF looked like any normal edition but was loaded with 360-degree cameras, laser scanners, radar and other ‘electrickery’, as a TV character called Catweazle once described the workings of a light bulb. I felt like that character from my childhood, who incidentally was a caveman hurled through time into the 1960s.
The car pulled away smoothly, stopped at those red lights and signalled turns, a sequence of manouevres rarely witnessed on our roads when there are humans at the wheel. It slowed when a car driven by a human changed lanes ahead of us on the off-road circuit. I would have hit the phoney ped that bounded out from the curb but not this ghost driver that took instantaneous evasive action.
My drive was on an airport-based circuit away from the real world, while over in Japan Nissan has conducted some demonstrations on freeways. By the end of this year, a dedicated track featuring real townscapes – masonry, not model buildings – will be ready. It will enable testers to push the vehicles impossible to carry out on public roads to ensure the technology is safe.
When the car is available for real world driving, a combination of GPS navigation and a tablet-style screen will enable the non-driving driver to direct the car to work, home, play or park with precision. You will be able to drive your favourite routes and it will map and record the preferences for future trips.
The mock supermarket-shopping demo was the most enjoyable part of my experience because driving around full parking lots looking for a space is not my favourite pastime. That said, I’m not thrilled at the thought of fun being removed from my daily driving. I like the use of technologies to avoid crashes but I can’t foresee a time when I would want to commit to fully-autonomous driving. Not because I don’t trust the technology but because I enjoy the challenges thrown up my daily drive.
And I have this fear that many will allow their skills to diminish but just relying on technology to get them out of trouble. Do you agree or am I caveman like Catweazle?