Pros and cons of driverless cars

The interior of a Tesla Model S in autopilot mode. Alexandria Sage / Reuters
The interior of a Tesla Model S in autopilot mode. Alexandria Sage / Reuters

While the latest Ferrari supercar roaring along Sheikh Zayed Road might seem to bear scant connection to the primitive three-wheeled motorised carriage invented by Carl Benz in 1885, the concept of the car itself – a self-powered vehicle controlled by a driver – has remained essentially the same for 131 years.

But are we about to see the first real breakthrough? For years, cars have been doing more of the driving for us, through innovations such as cruise control, anti-lock brakes, alarms if we veer out of our lane or even ways of alerting the driver if he or she begins to nod off. But the idea of cars that need no driver at all has now moved from the realm of science fiction to reality.

The UAE has been identified by nuTonomy, a US-based software company testing robot taxis in Singapore, as an ideal place to trial this new technology. These advantages include support at the highest levels, with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, saying in April that he wants driverless transport to account for 25 per cent of journeys in the emirate by 2030.

However, as with the introduction of any technology, the teething phase has been marked by accidents, including at least two fatalities. Tesla Motors, a pioneer of electric vehicles, has been at the forefront of this technology but after a fatal accident in the United States in May, its autopilot supplier Mobileye broke ties with the company, accusing it of “pushing the envelope in terms of safety” by treating a driver-assistance system as if it was a driverless one.

All this shows the high levels of prudence and caution that will be required before these vehicles can take to our roads. However, we ought to remember that most new technologies we feel like we cannot live without once faced teething problems – until 1896, Britain required all cars to be preceded by a person with a red flag to warn of its approach.

When the ingenuity that has driven driverless technology so far can be used to fulfil its considerable potential, there is the prospect of huge gains when it comes to road safety in the UAE.

Published: September 15, 2016 04:00 AM