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Guess who is driving you home tonight

By Lucy Hunter Johnston

No longer will arguments about whose turn it is to be the designated driver rage across the country every Saturday night. Now, the driver is... er... the car.

Google – who else – has reinvented the (steering) wheel and unveiled plans to start road-testing a fleet of 100 self-driving cars as early as this summer.

The vehicles are guided only by a smartphone app and a start/stop button. They won't have a steering wheel, accelerator, or brake pedals, because "they don't need them".

Instead, sensors, cameras and GPS software will detect nearby objects at a distance of "more than two football fields in all directions".

And if that doesn't reassure you, they have a top speed of 25mph, the bonnet is made from foam two feet thick and the traditional glass windscreen has been replaced with shatterproof plastic, just in case the computer fails and the car crashes.

In a blogpost, Google wrote: "We started with the most important thing: safety ... Just imagine. You can take a trip downtown at lunchtime without a 20-minute buffer to find parking. Seniors can keep their freedom even if they can't keep their car keys. And drunk and distracted driving? History."

Tom Cheshire, Sky's technology correspondent, sees a bright four-wheeled future.

"The promise of Google's self-driving car is extraordinary," he says.

"Instead of spending time fuming at the wheel, 'drivers' would be free to get on with work or watch a film... Most cars are used only intermittently.

"But self-driving cars would be cars on-demand, a Netflix for wheels – or a cross between services like Zipcar and a taxi company like Hailo or Uber.

"Beyond the consumer applications, self-driving lorries would also revolutionise freight transport."

Google's cars have already logged 10,000 miles driving around California's Mountain View and have yet to crash, or receive a single ticket.

But the main issues – perhaps rather obviously – are attitudinal: is the world ready to give up the wheel? Are the safety concerns just too great?

What do you think?

Would you be perfectly at ease in a car without a human driver? Do you welcome the age of the machines?

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