Last week, I sat behind the steering wheel of a car that drove itself at 70mph or so down a French highway through rain and heavy spray – while experiencing a virtual world through a virtual-reality headset.
The surreal experience was part of a test in the Renault Symbioz demo car – a one-off prototype designed to showcase the electric, autonomous and connected technologies the firm hopes to have in production cars by 2023.
It wasn’t the first time I’ve been in a self-driving car, but previous outings were at far slower speeds on quiet roads (and without the VR weirdness). Since my ride, several friends and family kept asking one question: was it scary? Well, honestly, it really wasn’t.
It helped that there was a Renault engineer in the car clutching a 1980s arcade machine-style controller, ready to take charge of the Symbioz at any hint of trouble. But, truthfully, the Symbioz proved a very competent highway driver. It maintained speed, was a smooth ride and reacted intelligently to other traffic. I’ve been in many cars with people whose motorway driving scared me more than the Symbioz.