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Tags:   Fun,   Cars,   Motoring,   Computers

By Mila Camilleri   -  June 17, 2014

The prototype for Google’s revolutionary self-driving car was recently unleashed onto America’s roads, but we have to admit that we expected something a little more futuristic when it comes to its aesthetics. You know, like in the movies. What Google have debuted looks more like a retro toaster with four wheels. In any case, the whole concept of a self-driving car got SWAG thinking… how would a driverless Google Car fare in Malta?

As we know, our country is known for its moon-surface roads and zero driving etiquette. A lack of indicating, young people driving too fast, old people driving too slowly, everyone ambling along in the outside lane – when there is one, double-parking, runaway horses and taxi drivers who shouldn’t have a licence… we could go on. To be fair, it’s not just Malta. You hear stories of much worse going on in countries such as India for example.


Whatever the case, the boffins behind the Google Car had better develop a system that can cope with chaos if they want their product to be successfully integrated into the Maltese road system in the future.


There are plenty of zebra crossings for the local public to make use of, but why walk an extra 10 metres when you can cross on the corner of a busy road? Unless the Google Car has a sensor that can detect semi-suicidal jay-walkers, se jkollna problema, Houston.


Pictures show that the Google Car seems quite low-slung, a bit like a pimped Japanese import you might see (and hear from miles away) being driven at Hal Far on a Sunday afternoon. So unless Google plans on opening a centre specifically to handle the tsunami of complaints about cracked chassis, burst tyres and horse manure-clogged wheels, they’d better raise it a couple of inches.


It also appears that the prototype doesn’t have windscreen wipers. With the amount of dust and pigeon poo we find on our cars every morning, we don’t see the no-wipers thing going down too well. On the other hand, not having wipers will prevent junk flyers advertising the next party being stuck to the windscreen on a Saturday night.


We mustn’t forget our infamous roundabouts. The Google Car had better be equipped for sharp turns and merry-go-round manoeuvring. It would be disastrous (albeit hilarious) if it toppled over like a domino within minutes of touching down on our island.


It would be a good idea for Google to include a life raft option, for residents of Msida and Qormi and anyone else who drives through there frequently. This little car looks light enough to take a ride along the Lazy River known as Valley Road after a storm.


With the people inside unable to directly control the car, a flawlessly up-to-date GPS is one of the Google Car’s most important features. But in Malta, we know very well how easy it is to suddenly find that our usual route has been suddenly closed off, whether for road works or because it’s time to put the lights up for the local festa. A ‘cannot compute’ error message is the last thing you’d want to see when you’re already late for work and still have to get through the hell that is the Santa Venera tunnels at 7:30am.


All is not lost though; the Google Car does have positive attributes that will improve our lives. With fewer hotheads and distracted mobile phone users behind the wheel, the number of accidents should, on paper, be greatly reduced. Drunk driving would also be a thing of the past. With no controls to fiddle with, your only job would be to strap yourself in and choose a destination. If your body won’t even cooperate to do this, the seats seem comfortable enough to curl up and sleep on.


If it does come to Malta, teenagers can happily say bye-bye to spending ridiculous amount of money on driving lessons and multiple tests. The rest of us will be able to get out of chauffeuring nanna to and from the bingo and the kids to and from private lessons, ballet and muzew. Just plonk them in the car and send them on her own.


We all know what a nightmare it is to find parking in places like Sliema or Valletta, but we wouldn’t have this problem anymore as we’d get out of the car at our destination and let it drive around looking for it’s own parking. Or maybe there will be a way to programme it to send it home again and come back for us when summoned.


The car will even be able to solve the problems caused by clueless karozzin drivers travelling at 5 kph, blocking entire lanes and leaving massive trails of traffic behind them. Seeing as drivers won’t have to worry about changing gears or even steering, they should theoretically not suffer from frustration and road rage – they'd just sit back and relax until the journey’s over.


Overall though, it looks like the Google Car will need some serious reinforcement if it were to survive the beating it would be subjected to on our roads. If we manage to get our act together and prevent roads being closed on a whim and people from double parking to get their daily dose of pastizzi, the self-driving car would certainly make the entire traffic situation in Malta better.


But this technology still has a long way to go before becoming a feasible option in the US, let alone Malta, so it seems like we’re going to be facing a few more years of driving ourselves, swearing and near-death experiences for some time to come. By then Google might have actually made their car attractive to look at, arguably its current most important limiting factor especially to a community that likes to showoff as much as ours does...


A Google promotional video about the car


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