I was reading an article in Wired yesterday about Google’s self-driving car. The prototype is almost finished closed-track testing and will begin open road tests early next year. After reading this, I jokingly sent my friend a link to the article, saying that a car like that was exactly what I needed.
Self-driving vehicles aren’t exactly a new idea. DARPA has been running a competition of preprogramed vehicles for years. The difference is that the DARPA Grand Challenge courses are enclosed. To the best of my knowledge, they’ve never driven on public roads without an operator behind the wheel for back up. Google’s car is different. About the size of a smart car, eco-friendly, and entirely self-operating (it doesn’t have a steering wheel or pedals), Google’s new pet product has the potential to revolutionize the industry, especially for non-drivers like myself.
When I whip out my passport in a bar, I get a lot of strange looks. The thing is though, I don’t have a driver’s license. In fact, I’ve never had one. And chances are I won’t be getting one anytime soon. Here’s why:
Like most east coast cities, the one that I live in has excellent public transportation. 95% of the time I can get exactly where I need to go and run all of my errands without a car. I’m only one person; I don’t haul that many groceries, right? Then, for the few times a year I do actually need a car, I can usually call in a friend or grab a taxi. It’s honestly not that big a deal.
Money, Money, Money
I spend about $100 a month on bus and subway fare. Now before you freak out, compare my meager $100 to the costs of: buying/leasing a car, gas, maintenance, insurance, and parking. To put that in perspective for you, it would cost about $150 a month just to park a car in my apartment building’s secure lot, at least another $150 to park it every day at work, and then a little less for gas. I couldn’t tell you how much my insurance would be since I’ve never bothered to look it up, but a monthly car payment would be at least several hundred, too. It’s a rich man’s world alright, and I can’t afford to drive.
If I’m totally honest though, I’ll tell you that the real reason I don’t drive is because I don’t like cars. I took a few lessons about six years ago, when I was just old enough for a Learner’s Permit, and I never really took to it. Forgetting the part where I couldn’t figure out how to parallel park, I also just didn’t feel good behind the wheel. I found it difficult to focus on the cars in front of me, but was always hyper aware of any cars next to me. I felt unsettled, and a car is too dangerous to operate if you’re not confident in your abilities to do it properly. So, really, I’d rather someone else was driving, anyway.
In short, I don’t like driving, I can’t afford to drive, and I live in a city where driving is unnecessary. However, imagine a car sharing service with Google’s self-driving cars. I wouldn’t have to learn to drive, I wouldn’t have to pay for upkeep, and I could use the car just for those few times that I really needed it. It’d be like calling in my own personal, self-driving taxi.
Obviously there’s much more testing that needs to be done before this dream of mine could become a reality and there’s an enormous amount of legal issues involved, too. But you have to admit, it’s an interesting idea.