A future with no drivers

A self-driving car owned and tested by Yandex during a presentation in Moscow earlier this year....
A self-driving car owned and tested by Yandex during a presentation in Moscow earlier this year. Photo; Reuters
Get your motor running. Head out on the highway. And sit back and have a snooze.

Wait, what? Is this some sort of weird dream? Or a video game?

It is, the scientists at the cutting edge of AI research would have you believe, a glimpse into the future of fully autonomous motor vehicles — where you might still have to turn a key but you will not have to accelerate, indicate, steer or grumble about another car going too slowly.

Once the stuff of wild fantasy, a world where the cars have no drivers behind the wheel — where road deaths and injuries plummet — is rapidly becoming more of a vision.

Deloitte spokesman Scott Corwin — the company runs a ‘‘future of mobility team’’, so keeps a keen eye on developments — told the Financial Times this week that the automotive industry was spending massively to investigate self-driving technology, creating a ‘‘race to win the Willy Wonka golden ticket’’.

Corwin predicted the roll-out of autonomous vehicles would gather pace but with ‘‘limited market launches in pretty controlled environments’’.

He clearly has a vested interest, so perhaps his words should be taken with a grain of salt, but James Peng, the chief executive of self-driving start-up Pony.ai, which operates in the US and China, also created waves last week when he predicted fully autonomous cars could be on open roads within five years.

‘‘The biggest challenge is all of us. It’s the other vehicles, it’s the pedestrians and bicyclists on the road that behave, a lot of times, irrationally,’’ Peng said.

Therein lies the biggest issue if this is going to progress from hopeful dream to part of everyday life. Can the technology be trusted? Can there really be a robotic substitute for an actual brain when it comes to making split-second decisions behind the wheel of a car?

Humans are not perfect — far from it. But they do have these fairly remarkable organs that do a pretty good job of dealing with the unexpected.

What would a future with no drivers look like? Clearly, there would have to be vast investment in our infrastructure. The roading network would have to be tailored to the technology.

Things would look a bit weird. Imagine looking around the streets and seeing cars with no drivers behind the wheels. Perhaps there wouldn’t even be wheels.

The phrase bandied about is ‘‘democratisation of mobility’’. That — giving everyone the opportunity to be mobile — and the appeal of all but eliminating the road toll are the reasons more in-depth investigation into the feasibility of driverless cars is to be encouraged.


It may be time to fire up the debate over the greatest New Zealand men’s cricket team of all time — and the current model is in that debate.

They lack a genuine bowling superstar in the vein of Richard Hadlee but otherwise the Black Caps are loaded, and in the wake of their highly impressive first-test win over England, are justifiably being rated near the top of the list of our finest teams.

Six of the top seven average 40-plus with the bat, BJ Watling is no longer a scrappy underdog but a wicketkeeper-batsman of the highest order, Colin de Grandhomme has become an unexpected all-round star, and the Southee-Bolt-Wagner unit is an unmatched bowling trio.

Heady times for New Zealand cricket fans, even if the World Cup heartbreak still burns.

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