clean safe and drives itself. Is this the future? | Vital Football

clean safe and drives itself. Is this the future?


Vital Football Legend
SOME inventions, like some species, seem to make periodic leaps in progress. The car is one of them. Twenty-five years elapsed between Karl Benz beginning small-scale production of his original Motorwagen and the breakthrough, by Henry Ford and his engineers in 1913, that turned the car into the ubiquitous, mass-market item that has defined the modern urban landscape. By putting production of the Model T on moving assembly lines set into the floor of his factory in Detroit, Ford drastically cut the time needed to build it, and hence its cost. Thus began a revolution in personal mobility. Almost a billion cars now roll along the world’s highways.

Today the car seems poised for another burst of evolution. One way in which it is changing relates to its emissions. As emerging markets grow richer, legions of new consumers are clamouring for their first set of wheels. For the whole world to catch up with American levels of car ownership, the global fleet would have to quadruple. Even a fraction of that growth would present fearsome challenges, from congestion and the price of fuel to pollution and global warming.

Yet, as our special report this week argues, stricter regulations and smarter technology are making cars cleaner, more fuel-efficient and safer than ever before. China, its cities choked in smog, is following Europe in imposing curbs on emissions of noxious nitrogen oxides and fine soot particles. Regulators in most big car markets are demanding deep cuts in the carbon dioxide emitted from car exhausts. And carmakers are being remarkably inventive in finding ways to comply.

Granted, battery-powered cars have disappointed. They remain expensive, lack range and are sometimes dirtier than they look—for example, if they run on electricity from coal-fired power stations. But car companies are investing heavily in other clean technologies. Future motorists will have a widening choice of super-efficient petrol and diesel cars, hybrids (which switch between batteries and an internal-combustion engine) and models that run on natural gas or hydrogen. As for the purely electric car, its time will doubtless come.

Towards the driverless, near-crashless car
Meanwhile, a variety of “driver assistance” technologies are appearing on new cars, which will not only take a lot of the stress out of driving in traffic but also prevent many accidents. More and more new cars can reverse-park, read traffic signs, maintain a safe distance in steady traffic and brake automatically to avoid crashes. Some carmakers are promising technology that detects pedestrians and cyclists, again overruling the driver and stopping the vehicle before it hits them. A number of firms, including Google, are busy trying to take driver assistance to its logical conclusion by creating cars that drive themselves to a chosen destination without a human at the controls. This is where it gets exciting.

Sergey Brin, a co-founder of Google, predicts that driverless cars will be ready for sale to customers within five years. That may be optimistic, but the prototypes that Google already uses to ferry its staff (and a recent visitor from The Economist) along Californian freeways are impressive. Google is seeking to offer the world a driverless car built from scratch, but it is more likely to evolve, and be accepted by drivers, in stages.

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Vital Football Legend
I'd imagine it's definitely going that way. I look forward to being able to sleep during a long drive but then I enjoy driving too (mountain roads are a particular favourite). I think ideally I'd have one 'auto' and one 'manual'.