Brilliant technologies transform the magical into the banal. An idea that seems outlandish to one generation becomes commonplace to the next. So it has been with electricity, space flight and the internet. So it is likely to prove with driverless cars.
The past few weeks have seen a flurry of announcements. Singapore has launched the world’s first public trial of a robo-taxi service. Uber and Volvo announced that they would pioneer an autonomous taxi fleet in Pittsburgh within weeks. Ford said it would build its first mass-market driverless car by 2021.
To their backers, autonomous cars cannot arrive quickly enough. Conventional cars are inefficient, dangerous and dirty. They sit idle for 95 per cent of their lives, clogging up city streets and car parks. When moving, they smash into each other, killing 3,500 people every day around the world. Ninety per cent of accidents are caused by human error. Cars pollute the environment, accounting for 45 per cent of oil burnt.
The widespread adoption of fully autonomous and, still better, electric cars could therefore be a massive boon to mankind. It could lead to a far more efficient use of resources, save many lives and reduce congestion and pollution. Futurologists envisage small fleets of shareable, connected cars constantly whizzing around our cities picking up passengers on demand. McKinsey forecasts that 15 per cent of new cars could be fully autonomous by 2030.