DRINKING AND DRIVING INTO THE FUTURE
Might I tell you about a beeping instrument in a vehicle testing lab in southern California that has the promise of making every country in the world almost accident-free? Or about the Google car that has cautiously driven over 1,000,000 miles on autonomous mode which is equivalent to about 75 error-free years of driving the vehicle?
The use of technology by the innovative human brain is so marvellous that it makes me want to believe in miracles. Only that these happen in the real world.
And while the faraway lands across oceans and continents are investing huge sums of money and resources into development of technology, we Indians too are hopeful for what the future will bring to us. There is no distinct line that divides technology and popular culture so even when as a country we’re doing little to make driving safer, the future generations will be able to reap the benefits of self-driving cars that focus on driver & pedestrian safety. If things go as predicted, the developing countries will see a road revolution by 2050; and India needs it more than anybody else. One third of all road accidents are caused due to drunk driving, and drinking & driving is prevalent in all the states including the capital city.
As a country, India overall has the highest accident rate but the lowest rate of conviction. Even as the roads are plagued with frenzied driving every night, the conviction rate in the capital is a mere 9 per cent. Drunken driving is a bailable offence in India which may fetch you a penalty of Rs 2000/- or a prison sentence that lasts for 2 months, but most offenders get away with bribing the cop with a 100 rupee bill. Now try to imagine self driving cars which ensure safe driving even when you’re drunk. So a late night at the bar wouldn’t have to be a planned event that involves calling a cab or staying over at a friend’s. There will be less instances of rash driving and even lesser traffic jams. This powerful technology will reflect positively on people’s lives and all of society as a whole.
Talking of companies who are the biggest investors in this idea, General Motors seem to be at the top of their game. Another company by the name of Lyft (which is about 14 times bigger than Uber in the ride-hailing sector), has opened their own research centre in Pittsburgh to study autonomous vehicles and their implications. 15 other companies have invested in building a fake city in Michigan to study autonomous driving programs. Tesla has already integrated and tested partially automated driving on highways and seems to be promising more than google’s self-driving software. As per plan, something is on its way in 2020.
It is true machines would never be half as good at humans in making split second decisions. They would never take us to unknown destinations and might take the fun out of trips for driving enthusiasts. Driving a car like you own the road will always have its charm and that would never get outdated, but having a backup of a robot-like driver which is integrated into your steering wheel will make life far simpler in times of need. So one day, I’d just have to hop into my car and mumble,
“Take me home, batman!”