By Madeline Roth
In further evidence that British people are total daredevil badasses (see James Bond and Harry Potter as exhibits A & B), the U.K. government announced today that they’re planning to let driverless cars on public roads by next January. Umm... what? How can a car be driverless, you ask? We break it down for you:
1. They Already Exist
You know how an airplane can be set to autopilot? Same goes for cars. A “driverless car” refers to a car that can steer, accelerate, indicate and break on its own. Technology... it’ll blow your mind, man.
2. They Can Watch You
But while airplanes don’t have too much traffic to deal with in the sky — other than the occasional, doomed bird — cars have a ton of other things to think about (innocent people like us, for instance). That’s why one traffic-managing technique for driverless cars is “computer vision.” It attaches cameras to the cars that take 360-degree images of anything and everything in the car’s vicinity. So yeah, it can see you scarfing down donuts on your way to work.
3. They Still Have To Follow The Law
But what if one of these megabot cars gets pulled over for running a red? It’s not like a cop can arrest a driver who isn’t there, right? That’s a kink that’s still being worked on. Self-driving cars aren’t off the hook — they’ll still have to comply with all traffic laws — but the British government’s still trying to figure out where responsibility would sit in case accidents happen. And insurance companies are turning into Nervous Nellies over the whole debacle.
4. They’ll Be Coming Stateside Soon
Never one to be outdone, the U.S. is getting on board, too. Or more specifically, Google is. All hail the G. In May, the tech tycoon said it has plans to manufacture 100 self-driving cars that don’t have steering wheels or pedals — just a stop-go button. They’re currently being tested at Google’s California headquarters, and could hit the roads as early as this year.
5. They’re Smarter Than You
Google’s prototype of a driverless car includes some crazy-smart technology. First, the car can be “summoned” from your smartphone so that it’ll pick you up from wherever you are. Like an Uber without the creepy, over-talkative driver. Then, when your ride’s over, a message pops up on the screen to remind you not to leave any of your stuff behind. So “I forgot it in my car” is no longer a valid excuse, folks.
6. They're Not Made For Ridin' Dirty
Sorry, but you're not going to look as tough as you think driving one of these suckers. For now, Google's car can only reach speeds up to 25 miles per hour — hardly fast and furious. Plus, one look at these little guys will prove it wasn't built with Vin Diesel in mind — Google purposely made the front of the car look like a friendly smiley face. Aww, how adorb!
7. The FBI’s Not On Board
So you’re convinced that driverless cars are totally awesome, right? Not so fast — they may seem like the next big thing, but so far, the FBI isn’t budging on this one. It’s saying driverless cars could be used as "lethal weapons," and would make it possible for criminals to “multitask” by taking their hands off the wheels. True that. Bottom line: it’s going to take a lot of back-and-forth arguing before these robot cars become a regular thing on the roads. Bummer.