Would you let your car drive you to work? Abandon road rage forever. Send an email while at the wheel, read the paper, read this blog in fact. Letting your car do the driving is a long-cherished concept that seems to have come of age in the wake of Google's latest announcement.
Sabastian Thrun, Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University and Director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory is one of the prime movers in the field of driverless vehicles and responsible for the Google car. Plus he's the co-developer of Google Street view.
The Stanford Stanley car won the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge, widely recognised as the benchmark for this kind of technology, by driving successfully over a 132 mile course full of twists, tunnels and obstacles. At one point along a section of road with a sheer drop on one side and rock face on the other.
It's round about this time when the idea of a car that you don't have to control yourself begins to sound good
Thrun's vision embraces a moment in the not too distant future when we could simply hop into the drivers' seat and say to the car 'I wanna go to Los Angeles'. To this end Google's modified Prius not only made this journey without driver, it made it in heavy traffic, coming on and off the highway repeatedly and along some of the most steep and twisting roads on the west coast.
Tell your car to drive you to work while catching up on news on the way, send it back home to pick up your kids and take them to school, get the car to take your Dad to the vet with the dog then get the car to pick you up after work.
What's more you can ask your car to be a boy-racer or an elderly lady driver, nosing in front of road rivals or conceding space politely. How about a whole range of driving personalities for different members of the family? Log in to the shared car pool driverless Audi and it'll know who you are, how you like to drive and where you're going - perhaps even dispense a latte macchiato while playing your favourite Rihanna album.
From the Lexus that parks itself to the Prius that delivers your pizza, the tech convergence of radar sensors, on-board video cameras and laser range finders with advanced mapping make the self-driving car a viable possibility. Prompted by some terrifying road-safety statistics and addressing issues of urban transport behaviour, the decider will surely be the question of trust. What technological progress often overlooks is emotional context. The mythical joys of the open road are deeply ingrained and will undoubtedly prove a greater hurdle to overcome than the design challenges inherent in a car that never gets lost.
Sebastian Thrun will be at TEDx Brussels on December 6