Could Auckland be the world driverless car capital?

Regulations are holding back developments of driverless cars in the USA. A simple change in regulation and Aucklanders may not have to pay for Len Brown’s trains.

Consider one potentially important technology, the driverless car. The idea is simple: a computer drives the car for you, based on input from the surrounding environment. Putting a computer behind the wheel may sound scary, but in?road tests performed by Google and other companies, the cars have had a good safety record.

The benefits of driverless cars are potentially significant. The typical American spends an average of roughly 100 hours a year in traffic; imagine using that time in better ways ? by working or just having fun. The irksome burden of commuting might be lessened considerably. Furthermore, computer-driven cars could allow for tighter packing of vehicles on the road, which would speed traffic times and allow a given road or city to handle more cars. Trips to transport goods might dispense with drivers altogether, and rental cars could routinely pick up customers. And if you worry about the environmental consequences of packing our roads with cars, since we can?t do without them entirely, we still can make those we use as efficient ? and as green ? as possible.

Perhaps Len Brown would be better served to push for this. Think of the massive investment in the technology sector as Google gets to use Auckland as a test bed for driver-less cars.

The point is not that such cars could be on the road in large numbers tomorrow, but that we ought to give the cars ? and other potential innovations ? a fair shot so that a prototype can become a commercial product someday. Michael Mandel, an economist with the Progressive Policy Institute, compares government regulation of innovation to the accumulation of pebbles in a stream. At some point too many pebbles block off the water flow, yet no single pebble is to blame for the slowdown. Right now the pebbles are limiting investment in future innovation.

The driverless car is illegal in all 50 states. Google, which has been at the forefront of this particular technology, is asking the Nevada legislature to relax restrictions on the cars so it can test some of them on roads there. Unfortunately, the very necessity for this lobbying is a sign of our ambivalence toward change. Ideally, politicians should be calling for accelerated safety trials and promising to pass liability caps if the cars meet acceptable standards, whether that be sooner or later. Yet no major public figure has taken up this cause.

Hell, even I would give a driver-less car a go, even if it was a gay Prius, if it meant that I could continue to blog on the move or talk to my many, many tipsters.

There are people out there who don’t think we can trust computers to run our cars.

MOST of us don?t trust computers completely, and for good reason. Our smartphones freeze and our hard drives crash with disconcerting regularity.

Yeah and human drivers get drunk, have heart attacks, freeze, react irrationally…got the picture. Silly argument that should be dismissed.

Computers make most landing at Auckland Airport, or in fact many airports that have ILS. The thing is most passengers are blissfully ignorant of the fact that pretty much their?entire?flight has been controlled by computers while the human pilots watched DVDs on their laptops (Yes they do this, I know of at least one Air New Zealand pilot who does).

Instead of unleashing the dog that is Len’s rail dream, how about he unleash some innovation.