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You Don't Own, You Don't Even Drive: The Future Of Cars?

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2009 Toyota FT-EV Concept

2009 Toyota FT-EV Concept

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It's enough to make the car enthusiast's skin crawl. Visions of autonomous cars making their way along the highway while the occupants go about their daily business. If you love driving and cars, handing over control of your car to a machine is like handing over a child.

Bill Reinert, a mechanical engineer who led the Toyota Prius design team, sees driverless cars as part of our future though. When someone who made the disruptive hybrid technology mainstream makes predictions about the future, you're inclined to take notice.

Having passengered in an automated Prius between Mountain View and Burlingame in California, he even described the experience as fun: "You drive it hands on or hands off. Drive it like cruise control, and it trains itself on the routes you take... I was shocked, shocked to see how good that was" he said in an interview with Forbes.

The automated Prius is one of the cars developed by Google for the purposes of exploring driverless technology. One of their first projects was an automated Volkswagen Passat wagon, but now the technology is good enough for road use.

The car is equipped with video cameras, radar sensors, laser sensing technology and maps. The information is processed by Google's data centers and the car can be autonomously steered. They've already tested variants of the car all over California - down the winding Lombard Street in San Francisco, along the Pacific Coast Highway and around Lake Tahoe.

The cars still need operators at the moment (there are all sorts of legal issues involved in sending unmanned vehicles out into the wild) but the bottom line is, the technology works.

But would you buy one? The answer to that is, you may not need to. Reinert also predicts that in future, car sharing subscriptions might take over personal ownership for many people.

Zipcar is an example of the process in action, and several other companies such as Hertz with Connect and Avis with CARvenience are launching similar services. The Toyota/Scion iQ-based FT-EV concept is designed for just such a service. It's small enough to be parked in select locations around a city and booked by anyone who needs it.

The booking process should be easy enough too. With the ubiquity of smartphone applications used for booking airline or train tickets, it doesn't take a leap of imagination to see a similar service being used to book a car.

And if the car drives itself to your location, you need never take a break from your smartphone again. The driving enthusiasts have a silver lining though - now you will at least know there's something in control of the car...

[Forbes]
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