Are Driverless Cars Pure Science-Fiction?
The growing inventiveness of technology is making it feel ever closer to having a friend constantly on hand, to help you out when you need it the most.
Technology is getting smarter all the time: cooking gadgets can tell us when our food is cooked, mobile phones can interpret voice commands and computers can suggest new sites we might like based on our browsing history.
But are we as comfortable about embracing technology when it comes to our cars? Many people eschew automatic transmission vehicles because they like the feeling of control. Does this mean driverless cars will always be pure science-fiction or could they eventually take their place on the roads?
We take a closer look at the facts.
Technology has gradually invaded our cars and for the most part we haven't really noticed the creep of automation which is now taken for granted.
Windscreen wipers which automatically sense rain, car doors which unlock if you have the key in your bag and parking sensors are all part of a normal specification and most consumers actively look for these kinds of features.
However, technology has already advanced further than this to act almost as an extra pair of eyes in the car, helping drivers to stay safer on the road.
Forward collision warning systems can alert drivers if a bicycle or another vehicle is in front of the car, and can even apply the brakes automatically to prevent an accident. Blind spot monitoring looks out for other cars when a driver is about to change lanes and sends out a warning.
Smart cruise control does more than simply hold the car at a given speed; it detects other vehicles around it and slows down or speeds up accordingly.
A lane departure warning system is also available to help drivers who may nod off, sounding a loud alarm if they drift out of their lane.
Out of the drivers who trialled these types of advanced technology in testing, around three quarters admitted they would like them fitted to their own car.
Taking it one step further
Increasing functions which take the control and initiative away from the driver is one thing, but truly driverless cars are something very different.
Could they ever be a reality? According to Google, the answer is yes.
The internet giant is currently working on a radical project which it hopes will mean that within the next 12 months, around 100 driverless cars will be legally on the roads. They will be able to accommodate two passengers and the 'driver' will simply press a button to start and finish the journey.
The driverless cars will use a combination of methods, including radar, cameras, sensors and predictive computer programmes which will forecast how other road users will react, as well as feeding data in the system in real time.
These cars will be limited to a top speed of 25 mph and won't be on sale to the general public. Not yet...
More testing needs to be completed on closed and private roads before Google can confidently release its prototype onto the road. However, it also needs to cross the hurdle of legality.
Current driving laws don't make provisions for driverless cars and questions of safety as well as legal liability need to be addressed before technology can move on. Authorities all over the world are conscious of the need to clarify the laws sooner rather than later and it's anticipated that the first drafts will be hammered out before Google is ready to launch next year.
We already rely on technology within our cars more than we perhaps realise but few people could have guessed that the next big step is so close to becoming a reality. Google is just one of a number of manufacturers considering driverless technology; the main difference is that Google has been so open about its plans.
There's still some work to be done before driverless cars will be seen on the road, and much more again before they become available to purchase. However, the science-fiction cars which can drive without human intervention are creeping every closer and before too long, they could be a mainstay on our roads both home and abroad.