The word “automobile” entered the English lexicon from French in the late 18th century, a compound of the Ancient Greek autós (αὐτός) which means “self” and the Latin mobilis which means “movable”. Originally referencing how manmade vehicles transitioned from relying on external sources of power, such as horses, to being powered by their own engines, it seems ironic now that the word foreshadowed in itself the advent of truly “self-driving” vehicles.
Self-driving vehicles are becoming more and more of a reality in the automobile industry today. To qualify as fully autonomous, a self-driving vehicle must be able to both chart a path from point A to B and navigate the route by itself safely, free from human intervention. Currently, these works-in-progress rely on a combination of sensors which read the external environment (i.e. cameras, radar, lidar etc.) and artificial intelligence (AI) to make sense of the feedback to do so.
Companies developing self-driving cars range from Audi to Google, though Google’s Waymo in partnership with Lyft has already launched their own fully autonomous commercial ride-sharing service, Waymo One. The service is ongoing testing but is currently available in the US cities of Phoenix, San Francisco and soon, Los Angeles.
The tech race to make cars self-driving is very much in line with the rise of Web3 and Big Data, where data is not only decentralised but also harnessed to power machine learning and AI – the digitisation of manual processes into automatic ones and the further obscuring of layers and layers of hardware into smooth, clean surfaces which operate multitudes of softwares seamlessly through a touch of a finger.
Self-driving cars are nothing short of a technological wonder, but at the same time, they problematise the definition of what makes a good car. Sustainability, road safety, and comfort are aspects of car-making all car makers aim to excel in. Yet, the removal of the driver themselves seems to transform the car into a whole other beast. Perhaps then, the question we should be asking in the world of luxury motoring is not what makes a good car, but what makes a beloved car.