Would you get in?

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And now, on to today’s big question…

Would you get in a driverless car? And would you pay for the privilege, or would someone have to pay you for taking the risk?

These aren’t theoretical questions that scientists and psychologists are working on in tech company back offices. Not any more. They’re immediate questions facing ordinary people on the street.

Waymo has launched its first driverless car service. You can now hail a driverless taxi. And your trip will be free, to encourage you to get in.

But would you get in?

Don’t worry, you’ve got time to think about it. There are still a lot of caveats.

You have to sign non-disclosure agreements and you have to want to travel within a small part of Phoenix, Arizona. So, for now, you’re more likely to get run over by a driverless car than face the choice of riding in one unexpectedly.

Launching the first “commercial” driverless vehicles is an extraordinary moment for humanity. Not that the technology is perfect yet. In fact, the article about Waymo’s innovations is flawed enough as it is.

The website Techcrunch.com provides a link which describes the testing location for the new vehicles. Apparently the city of Phoenix in Arizona “designs and manufactures the highest-yielding neutron generators and commercializes nuclear technologies for practical applications.”

Huh?

In other words, the technology behind the website can’t tell the difference between the nuclear tech company called Phoenix and the city in Arizona…

Which is not encouraging when you’re reading about tech-controlled vehicles which need to know where you’re going in order to get you there. Imagine getting dropped off at a nuclear testing sight instead of downtown Phoenix…

At least they didn’t link to the other “phoenix” – the one which bursts into flames unexpectedly.

Our in-house energy expert and e-believer James Allen has more on what can go wrong when technology goes haywire. The people on the bus next to him enjoyed what happened, so I think you will too…

But back to the story of driverless cars. They are now up and running. To a carefully restricted group of people who are members of an “early rider” programme. And the cars only go to a carefully restricted amount of places – “a controlled geofenced environment”. Which, notably, does not include the airport in Phoenix.

When Waymo users hail a cab, if they’re members of the early rider programme, and if a driverless vehicle is nearby, and if they want to go to a place within the geofenced area, then things kick off.

This may seem a disappointing start, but don’t forget the service is free for now. And it’s still a “state-authorised experiment” as far as the local newspaper is concerned.

The discomfort and opposition to all this isn’t a surprise. Even the experienced tech journalist from Techcrunch.com struggled with his driverless ride:

I’ve been riding in autonomous vehicles on public roads since late 2016. All of those rides had human safety drivers behind the wheel. Seeing an empty driver’s seat at 45 miles per hour, or a steering wheel spinning in empty space as it navigates suburban traffic, feels inescapably surreal. The sensation is akin to one of those dreams where everything is the picture of normalcy except for that one detail — the clock with a human face or the cat dressed in boots and walking with a cane.

That doesn’t sound like any suburban traffic I’ve been in…

Do you think you’ll ever get used to driverless cars? I still try to open taxi doors in Japan. Rookie mistake… They open and close automatically.

I think the fact that we’re discussing how driverless cars will be adopted, instead of whether they’re even possible, is the key message for today.

It’s strange how quickly we move on from dismissing the viability of technology to moaning about its inconveniences and flaws. Critics of new tech are often deeply misguided.

The good news is, I may never have to teach my impending daughter how to drive. So I’m up for this driverless revolution as a matter of my own personal safety. I mean our personal safety. Especially given human-faced clocks and cats with boots and walking canes are already piling up in the spare bedroom…

Let me know if you’re ready to zip about in a driverless car yourself: nickolai@southbankresearch.com.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at an equally dramatic change in what’s powering that car.

Until next time,


Nick Hubble
Editor, Southbank Investment Research

Category: Technology

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