Travel by bubble - the next big thing

It's not hard to think up a whole range of implications of the latest in smart ideas from Google.

As the online search engine of choice for most of us, the internet giant has already changed how people see the world. Now, it is hoping to save lives and perhaps even the planet, rolling out 100 "driverless" cars for testing in California.

If the idea catches on, the world could be on the cusp of the greatest change in personal transportation in a century.

The steering wheel, brakes and accelerator-free bubble being tested by Google has a top speed of 40kmh, thick foam rubber bumpers and room for two people.

Rather than "driving" the vehicle, a passenger simply enters the destination, sits back and enjoys the ride: no doubt watching a video, googling up information or checking the office emails during the journey. It looks curiously like a cable car without the restrictive wire - and would be no more taxing to ride in, all going well.

Google is not the only large company dabbling in the "autonomous car" playground. Other large vehicle corporations are also working on prototypes too.

The advantages? Well, fuel economy for starters. And safety. As long as you are sober enough to open and close the door and key in your destination, it should be just fine to zoom off home after a night on the town. If you're not actually driving, you could hardly be prosecuted if caught drunk behind the wheel. [And of course, there is no wheel in the first place].

One downside is equally obvious. Kiwi petrolheads are among the world's greatest car-lovers. They would probably sooner lose their partner than the thrill of driving.

And Google or whoever was driving the sat-nav system would need to be up with the play. Tripping through quake-altered Christchurch under GPS instruction can already be a challenge.

Set sail for the Garden City itself from Nelson and you might end up stalled and cold halfway between St Arnaud and Hanmer on Molesworth Station. It wouldn't be the first time that's happened, thanks very much Tomtom.

The futuristic bubbles will not appeal at all to your old-style Kiwi bloke. There'd be no room to store the chainsaw for starters, let alone bring home the butchered half cattlebeast from Trev's down the road. Diehard petrol heads might even decide to wage war on them. If so, they'd be sitting targets.

However, they are likely to go down a treat with the growing, and ageing, Generation Geek. These stateless citizens of cyber-land would view opting out of the Ford v Holden row in a fibreglass bubble-car as the ultimate in cool.

Clearly the future is, well, just around the corner . . . hurtling toward us a lot faster than the Google driverless car can manage.

The Nelson Mail