Hands off the wheel

A few years from now, all we’ll need to do to get somewhere is hop in the passenger seat – and the car will do the rest.

Spirit of Berlina 521 (photo credit: www.spiritofberline.eu)
Spirit of Berlina 521
(photo credit: www.spiritofberline.eu)
On November 22, 1900, Emil Jellinek bought the first Mercedes car in Cannstatt, Germany. Jellinek, a Jewish entrepreneur who lived in the era of horse-drawn wagons, had a vision that one day he would drive a “horseless carriage.”
Just 14 years earlier, engineers Wilhelm Maybach and Gottlieb Daimler had built a four-wheeled carriage with an engine bolted to it. Three years later, they succeeded in constructing a prototype of the world’s first four-wheeled automobile that was powered by a four-stroke engine.
Their company, Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft, advanced quickly and successfully, partly due to Jellinek’s demand for an extremely fast car. Jellinek was so excited about the new car that he bought 36 of them! As a gesture of gratitude, the company agreed to name it after Jellinek’s 11-year-old daughter, Mercedes.
IN NOVEMBER 1923, the US Patent Office granted a patent to publisher and inventor Garrett Morgan for his three-position traffic signal.
This was not the first traffic signal – one was in use in London in 1868. Morgan was the son of two former slaves, and by working hard he was able to start his own newspaper, which became one of the most powerful black periodicals in the country. One day when Morgan witnessed a fatal accident at an intersection, he noticed that the traffic signals had only two positions: stop and go, with no time in between for drivers to react when they changed.
Morgan came up with a great idea: he designed a signal that had an interim warning position, so that when people saw it, they could either quickly pass through the intersection or come to a stop.
Sadly, millions of people have been killed at intersections around the world even after the three-position traffic light came into use, since drivers don’t always abide by the rules.
IN AUGUST 1888, Bertha Benz, the wife of German engineer Karl Benz, decided that since her husband was terrible at marketing his new invention, a three-wheel automobile which he had patented two years earlier, she needed to take action for him. Without even telling him (she left her husband a note), Bertha took the third prototype Karl had built and, with her two teenage sons, drove from Mannheim to visit her mother in Pforzheim, 104 kilometers away.
The trip wasn’t easy. In the end, this journey didn’t just turn out to be the first long-distance trip in a motorized automobile in history – it was also the first automotive test drive. Karl listened to all the mishaps that occurred during Bertha’s trip and then made multiple changes to his invention, which significantly improved the car’s functioning.
One hundred and twenty-five years after Bertha Benz’s maiden trip, and 90 years after the invention of the first three-position traffic light, although millions of people have died or been injured in traffic accidents around the world, the car has also changed our lives tremendously for the better.
We’ve expanded our horizons, and the freedom of movement and mobility has opened up endless possibilities. Today, it is hard to imagine a world without cars.
The newest innovation in today’s automotive industry is self-driving cars.
They can automatically stop at red lights, prevent cars from going over the speed limit, slow down when they detect traffic lights changing to yellow and when cars in front of them decelerate.
The biggest obstacle to a future in which automated vehicles will be the norm, however, is how they obey traffic laws. In most countries, they were written in the days when carriages were horse drawn, and when drivers were responsible for 100 percent of accidents.
In the US, Nevada, Florida and California were the first states to surrender to the Google lobby (and the huge amount of money that Google invests there) and approve the use of automated cars on public roads. The UK has also followed suit, and recently amended traffic laws for this purpose. It’s common for laws to lag far behind technological inventions.
MANUFACTURERS OF automated cars are fearful of malpractice suits that could be filed against them in cases where accidents and injuries occurred – or weren’t prevented – by the new technology.
The nature of the automobile market is likely to change once automated technology pervades the motor industry. Currently, safe driving depends on a driver’s actions. In the future, people will view cars as a means to getting somewhere, and less as something they want to privately own. Once it becomes easier to reach a place by clicking on a smartphone app, owning a car will no longer be a necessity – it will become a luxury.
In the future, every person, regardless of age or health status, will be able to use a car just like we use an elevator today. Automated cars will reduce the number of accidents, pick routes more efficiently, pollute considerably less, and will be more energy-efficient. As a result, there will be fewer traffic jams, and no problem finding parking spaces (since the cars will drive themselves to a parking area after they let the passengers off).
On the other hand, once we no longer need drivers to get places, automobiles will become just another tool that we use to provide a service. People will stop purchasing cars, just ordering a car in the way they now order taxis. The concept of private ownership will be completely different.
GOOGLE IS already busy developing a driverless car called Google Chauffeur.
Moving and storage companies estimate that one-third of their cost is drivers, and are therefore interested in technology that could lead to automated trucks and buses. The combination of Google Chauffeur and Google Street View, which provides panoramic views from positions along many streets in the world, is expected to be very powerful.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.