It may not be in the too distant future that our beloved MINIs will be able to take the strain of the commute or the battle of a cross-country journey to visit the in-laws. In parallel with the car manufacturers’ efforts to build the perfect electric car, is their desire to build an autonomous vehicle or as we all know it: the “driverless car.” Such is the pace of development to allow for the ones and noughts of our digital world to provide data to a vehicle; it no longer is outside the bounds of processing to provide a vehicle with its whereabouts and surroundings.
Technologies such as GPS, digital imaging, radar, sonar and high-speed communication allow input from the outside world to be processed and acted upon. Maps of our road network allow for expert navigation, calculating the best route from A to B; so too the ability for traffic jams to be a thing of the past. Human drivers no longer need to allow for a safe braking distance; nose to tail carriages of cars stretching for miles eliminate the need for more and more lanes to be constructed.
BMW as the owner of the MINI brand have thrown their cap into the ring by announcing that they hope to have an autonomous car in production by 2021. BMW are suggesting an electric self-driving crossover SUV as their show vehicle – not a MINI, thankfully. Such is their confidence in the ability for the car to be totally self-governing, the interiors of the concept cars are decked with comfortable tables and chairs; touch screens abound.
Now I have gone on about how the future is preparing for our driving pleasure, is it not just a little bit clinical? Driving is a human challenge that thrills us with speed, mobility, power and above all, a little bit of danger. Letting computers take over will remove the fun, confining human drivers to race tracks and suitable safe areas. Keeping pace with computer-controlled vehicles on public roads will not be possible for our slow human brains. The future of self-driving cars is assured. It will happen and, no doubt, will ultimately make our roads safer. Our increasing appetite for cars will out-number the road space available. Spending money on developing robot cars is far more cost effective than building new roads.
Let us hope that BMW leaves our MINI alone for the short term and allows us to continue modifying and customising our personality on wheels. Allan Gregory’s Blade; Sue Thorns’ Sulley, and Denise Harris’ Banksy, naming but a few, will just not exist. In truth, why own a vehicle at all? Just push a button and hop into the car that responds to your command. Let us hope it takes just a little bit longer before the boffins get it right.
Words : John Smethurst | Photos : MINI UK