Driverless cars may have pent-up demand...someday

Let’s take a trip back to the future. Remember autonomous cars?

A few years back, there seemed to be a lot more talk about the day when our roads would be populated with smart vehicles that drive themselves down smart roads and hold smart digital conversations with each other.

In 2007, I watched a driverless Chevy Tahoe named Boss cross the finish line in a 55-mile race sponsored by the U.S. government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

But it wasn’t until this week that I got the impression there might be at least a trickle of pent-up demand for these vehicles.

As I was leaving work on Tuesday, I held the door open for another person who was leaving the building. It was a hot day, and she was visibly tired. As she headed for her waiting car, she said to me: “I just wanna push a button. I don’t want to have to drive.”

By instinct, I blurted out: “Wait 20 or 30 years.”

I’m still trying to figure out why that time frame immediately came to my head; maybe I was thinking of all the predictions we heard 20 years ago about fuel cells.

Who knows? Perhaps autonomous driving for average people will happen sooner. Some of the base technologies are already here: adaptive cruise control, accident avoidance systems, wireless communications and all kinds of sensors. Plus, work is under way to make the nation’s roads more “connected” technologically.

Now, as for whether the average driver would be willing to give up control and let the car take over? That’s another story.