Self-driving cars have been the stuff of sci-fi, from low brow futuristic shoot-’em-ups like Demolition Man to thought provoking social commentaries like Minority Report.  

“The future” looks like it’s even closer. Google announced its going to put its fleet of autonomous vehicles on the streets of Mountain View, Calif. The cars will be limited to 25 miles per hour and minded by a human chaperone, just in case. But Google plans to take the human entirely out of the picture (except as a passenger or passengers, of course).

The cars will use the same software that drives its Lexus testbeds, which have driven over 700,000 miles without causing an accident. Google will port the software into the two-door cars that have only seen the controlled conditions of a closed track.

Google, of course, is not alone in trying to take the driver out of the car. Tesla’s made no secret that its pursing the technology as well. Ditto that with Uber, which is funding its own driverless car program and its CEO has made statements that he would love to replace his drivers with cars that don’t need them. There’s also rumblings that Apple is getting into taking humans out of autos as well.

Some have speculated that cars that don’t need drivers eliminates the need for ownership. Perhaps. But fully autonomous cars would eliminate the need in many households for more than one vehicle and it could also pull double duty, delivering kids to afterschool activities and making deliveries for the family. Serious thought is going into a post-diverless car world in law enforcement (What would fill the financial hole for traffic citations if everyone drove perfectly?), insurance (If Google’s cars have driven 700,000 miles without an accident, will we need the same kind of insurance we need now?) and traffic planning (Cars that redirect themselves around traffic and adapt to the best route could make pileups a thing of the past.).

Now if only Google/Tesla/Uber/Apple could come up with a flying self-driving car…

Via The New York Times. Photo by Shannon Hauser/flickr.

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