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Only in America – the Driverless Car.

Writers and filmmakers have always dreamed about cars that drive themselves – take Herbie, for example. Now scientists are getting in on the act and GM has come up with a “driverless car” – a car that really drives itself in much the same way that a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) flies without a pilot.

Yes, you did read that right. GM have made a car that doesn’t need a driver. What’s more, the head of the driverless car project at General Motors, Raj Rajkumar, sounds pretty confident that this vehicle will be on our roads by 2015. So far, GM have managed to create a prototype, based on a Chevrolet Tahoe, that has been photographed whizzing around a test track. And they’ve taken it beyond the test track, apparently. This highly modified Chevy (it’s got a whole heap of gadgetry stuck on the roof) has been driven (or, more correctly, has driven itself) along public roads in California and managed to cross the Golden Gate Bridge without any untoward incidents.

The motivation behind this self-driving car is, apparently, safety. The idea is that a machine doesn’t get distracted by cellphones or kids in the back, suffer from Lead Foot Syndrome or misjudge a curve, and therefore drives within the speed limit and drives safely.

However, my personal opinion is that URVs (unmanned road vehicles – I made that term up) won’t be as popular as electric cars. Those of us who like to drive will hate these vehicles as things that spoil our fun – a self-driving car sounds about as bland and as boring as a food concentrate that delivers all the nutrients of an old-fashioned Sunday dinner straight into the stomach without the pleasures of taste and texture. And others of us who can take or leave driving are likely to be sceptical about leaving our safety completely in the hands of electronics. Electronics are wonderful when the work but I, for one, would not like to be a passenger in a driverless car that suddenly decided to go haywire at 100 km/h. And we’ve all got stories about when GPS navigation decided to send us along some peculiar route. What’s more, can these driverless cars detect and react to roos on the road, as often seen in the Outback? But then, on the other hand, we’ve all flown in planes with an autopilot function, so you could say that this is the motoring world catching up with aviation, which has had autopilot and UAVs for years. GM says that the car has got a manual over-ride, similar to the autopilot function in planes, so that is reassuring.

The brains behind the driverless car seem to be raving about how you can check your email, use your phone, read the paper and catch up with some paperwork while the car drives itself (it will alert you when it wants you to take over, apparently). Speaking for myself, I’d say that a vehicle that lets you do all this while you commute has already been invented: it’s called a bus.

What are your thoughts?  Would you want a self-driving car or do you prefer to be well and truly behind the wheel?