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#1 2010-10-11 04:32:18

From: Austin, TX
Registered: 2008-05-26
Posts: 1,316

Cars that drive themselves

For decades we're heard that someday cars will drive themselves.  Well, Google has actually gone and done it.  It's still in testing phase, but it appears to work.  They've taken real cars out on the road with robot drivers, and a human who can override in an emergency.  Here's the article:

So what would a future of robot cars look like?  First, the laws would have to change to make it practical.  Current laws require a human driver.  If you've got to still sit there and pay attention to see if you need to override the computer, robot cars probably won't be very attractive to consumers.  Consumers might go for a robot car if it frees them from driving completely, but if they still have to be engaged, then there's probably not much point.  Next, let's assume that by the time these are commercially available (perhaps eight years from now) there's still plenty of gas to run them for a while, which is unlikely, but let's just imagine there will be.  So in a future with no legal or energy impediments, what are the downsides?  My guess is more cars or more driving, or both.  If you don't need a license, that's one less barrier to entry.  It opens the door to kids not old enough to get a license, or to drunk drivers who have had their licenses revoked.  Want to take a cross-country trip but can't stay awake to drive?  No problem, you don't have to.

So those are the obvious downsides, though I'm sure there are others that we haven't though of yet.  What are the upsides?  Safer roads, in all likelihood.  Yeah, computers can make mistakes, but people probably make *more* mistakes.  Human error is killing 40,000+ people on America's roads every year and maiming countless more.  The article also promises that since the cars would be less likely to crash, they could be built lighter, saving on fuel.  That's nice in theory, but I'm skeptical that the public is going to demand lighter cars just because they don't crash as much.

What are your thoughts?  Will robot cars help more or hurt more?


#2 2010-10-11 09:31:49

Registered: 2009-07-03
Posts: 56

Re: Cars that drive themselves

I'm putting it down as "help". Certainly, this will reduce the need for private ownership, and thus the number of cars manufactured, by making shared-car programs the cheapest and most practical way to drive.

Consider the added level of convenience to things like car2go when the nearest car can come and pick its passenger up, either on-call or on schedule. With shared-car rental becoming more common and economical (particularly when there isn't a need to insure against bad drivers in the program), peoples' driving-based transportation costs will become more directly and visibly tied to the number of miles driven, increasing the immediate, visible cost of motor vehicle use (despite being less expensive than personal motor vehicle ownership overall for all but the heaviest users).

There are other advantages to wide use of cars requested on a per-trip basis -- for instance, appropriate sizing; driving a truck 10,000 miles a year because 500 of those miles require it won't happen when you can order up the vehicle that's right for your immediate need. I'm even hopeful that cars being more commonly a shared resource should result in some cultural shifts removing the stigma around other kinds of shared-resource transportation systems, making this a stepping-stone towards cultural acceptability of high-density areas using completely different transportation solutions.

And, yes -- I trust cars driven by software (software that's been through the kind of development and testing rigor necessary to make it to production in this sort of use, anyhow) to be more predictable than cars driven by humans.

So -- I'm very much supportive of this kind of development.


#3 2010-10-13 12:59:25

From: Austin, TX
Registered: 2008-05-27
Posts: 143

Re: Cars that drive themselves

I wonder how the system would do without traffic controls...that would be interesting. Here's a couple clips of experiments and locations without signalization.

Part 1 -
Part 2 -

Overall, I see this as fitting in without intelligent transportation systems...and it's a given that it will be pursued. But I still think we're ignoring the need and pleasures of more simplistic technology, particularly for long-distance travel...e.g. high-speed trains.


#4 2013-02-28 02:54:13

Registered: 2012-01-26
Posts: 50

Re: Cars that drive themselves

Given the Nestande case; the literally hundreds of hit and runs locally; as well as the 35,000 or so deaths annually in auto collisions this got me thinking about the Google self-driving car. Last year it was reported to have gone 300k miles with only one accident, which happened to be the fault of the human driver in the other vehicle.

Once it is established that these vehicles will enhance safety for all road users as I'm convinced they will after initial skepticism I think they will have a huge impact on our laws, specifically what is considered avoidable and what is not, along with the realization that over 90% of accidents are due to human error. I could see effects like lower insurance for self-driving vehicles especially those drivers with records.  I could also see the benefit of a law requiring someone with multiple DWIs or another person who has a 'failure to stop and render aid' conviction be forced to drive such a vehicle or pay extra charges if they decide not to do so. Right now someone who has had their license taken away for multiple DWIs can request a hardship waiver so they can get to work and back.  This is a prime example of a very poor compromise between public safety and individuals providing their own transportation that could be remedied by this combination of legal requirements and automotive technology. Thoughts?

Yes, this is many years down the road and the first step is to get self-driving legislation passed at the state level.


#5 2013-02-28 02:57:04

Registered: 2008-06-01
Posts: 582

Re: Cars that drive themselves

Once self driving cars become considerably better than humans at driving, can handle every situation at least as well as human and be relatively inexpensive, we may find ourselves in a future where it's *illegal* to drive by yourself, as it's more dangerous.

Having fully automated cars would also allow them to do clever things like have intersections with no lights, where cars just rush through at top speed if there's no other traffic, or where they carefully time things to avoid other cars by inches, because computers can do things like that, especially when they can talk to each other.

Collisions would nearly become a thing of the past, only happening when there's a mechanical failure of some sort, a software bug that shows up, or when people attempt to drive by themselves.  And given that every computerized car will keep detailed logs about everything that happens, there will be no doubt about who's/what's fault it was.  Insurance rates for self driving cars will be much lower since there will be almost no collisions.
All is not perfect in this future, however.  Many people will be unwilling to give up their "right to drive" and will fight attempts to make self-driving illegal, even though it will clearly save lives.   As you said, I imagine that the first people who are forced to have self driving cars will be those with poor driving records, people with DWIs.  Perhaps teenagers will be forced to do so, if not by the state then by their parents.

Privacy advocates will hate all this with every fiber of their being -- and rightfully so.  As will many libertarians.

Another possible problem -- there may not be room for bicycles in this transportation network.  If automated cars can talk to each other and use that to do really cool things (like miss each other by inches), the powers that be may not be willing to allow unpredictable bicycles into this mix.  Or they'll be delegated to a separate network of roads -- perhaps prohibited from the high speed roads (and given their own separated lanes), but permitted on the lower speed local roads?  On the bright side, I assume that these self-driving cars will always do the right things when confronted by bicycles (though the cyclists may take advantage of this.  Many cyclists will run red lights now -- what happens when they *know* that cars will not hit them when they do?)

In any event, the cool thing about this future is that it's likely that many of us will live to see it -- I imagine it's just a few decades away, at least for the technical side of this (people may not be willing to give up their manually driven cars for many decades later, assuming that gasoline, alcohol or something similar is still available and cost effective to power them.  (I imagine the future will have a lot of electric cars as fossil fuels become too expensive to use as fuel.))


#6 2013-02-28 22:55:32

From: North Austin
Registered: 2008-05-27
Posts: 78

Re: Cars that drive themselves

.... Or even better, how about in the future we put humans into pods and extract their electric energy to run the system.  We could even plug their brain directly into a manufactured reality to pacify their minds and control their reality.  To hell with control freaks.  I bike for freedom.


#7 2013-03-01 10:17:48

From: Austin
Registered: 2011-04-30
Posts: 82

Re: Cars that drive themselves

Yeah, I just can't see any way this would turn out well.  I think bikes would get even more marginalized because they won't be in communication with the decision-making computers that are doing maximal effort to keep traffic fast.  And then I think it would just turn into a governmental power grab.  First the cars get accepted, then they get mandated, and then it becomes a crime to disable the controls.  *AND* it would become even easier to legally scapegoat the dead cyclists because they weren't part of the traffic system and thus *must* be at fault.

I go more with the Daniel Keys Moran pessimistic view of the government than with the Isaac Asimov optimism.

Last edited by savanni (2013-03-01 10:18:45)


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