Next time you drive, you can just sit back and relax. Play with your iPhone or iPad, or use Google Apps to get some work done. Heck, your next car might BE a smart phone, but more about that in a minute.

Forget Wal-Mart, Google basically owns the world. It reinvented the search engine, pretty much owns Internet advertising, keeps bringing cool things like Google Maps and Google Earth to life, tried to break Microsoft’s desktop monopoly with Google Apps, outflanked Apple with the Android operating system for mobile devices, and even came out with their own phone. They’re all about software for the Internet and mobile devices, right?

Well, it appears that they view themselves in a much broader context. In October they announced that they have developed cars that drive themselves in traffic. I have to admit, that one came out of the blue! My first reaction was something like “What? Google? Cars? What?” My second reaction was a tinge of fear: “Is this the beginning of a play for complete world domination? They’re so big, yet so nimble! It seems they’ll stop at nothing!” But my third reaction was: “COOL!”

Now, I’m not a big science fiction buff, but, as a kid, who didn’t fall in love with the ideas of interstellar travel, “beam me up Scottie,” and flying cars? They’re all about freedom. Heck, the Jetsons had a robot maid and a microwave oven in one.

I’m still waiting for interstellar travel, Star Trek-like transporters and flying cars, and the Japanese are still working out the kinks on domestic robots. But a car that can drive itself? Now we’re getting somewhere. And I like driving.

Moreover, these things have actually been tested and really work. They’ve been driven over 140, 000 miles in California under all kinds of traffic conditions; including the severest test of driving skills known to humankind: the California freeway. Even in Santa Monica. And guess what? One accident. Human error. Caused when a test car was rear ended at a stoplight.

They say the technology is at least eight years away from market, but I’m curious to know how long it will really take to take hold, if ever. How long will it be before people will turn over their driving to a computer?

My guess? Never. Even though I’d feel a LOT safer if the rest of you were letting the computer drive for you. Me? I’m keeping my hands on the steering wheel.