Archives For: Self-Driving Cars


A reader writes:

Just a quick response to the question: My mother is 88 years old. She’s in great shape for 88, very self-sufficient. But she’s not really physically fit to drive and thankfully gave up her car keys willingly about 8 years ago. Many “seasoned citizens” are decidedly NOT willing to give up their keys, and it’s a terrible battle within families when it’s time for Grampa to give up driving for good.

My mom feels very stranded and many times wishes she could still drive. She loves the idea of a self-driving car, it would give her back some of the freedom she gave up when she stopped driving. She’s doubts she’ll live to see the day when self-driving cars are a reality, but I can see how it can really improve the lives of elderly folks, as well as the handicapped.

Another agrees – and expands the argument:

Autonomous cars will be a boon for aging populations.

Read On

Kaid Benfield and Lee Epstein aren’t convinced that intelligent vehicles and automated highways are a good thing:

While it may be conceivable for bright engineers, planners and designers to come up with ways to fit such systems carefully and properly into people-first, walkable urban environments, at a minimum that fitting needs to be done as the systems are conceived and tested rather than as an errant afterthought. Likewise for the possibility that these systems will exacerbate sprawl: there are policy approaches that can moderate the spread and extension of highways, and/or to keep sprawling growth to a minimum – but, again, the track record is not inspiring. These policies need to be considered, developed and adequately applied concurrently with the application of the new technologies, before the damage is inevitable. …

[J]ust because it’s high tech doesn’t make it better.

Read On

Self-Driving Sticker Shock

Jan 11 2013 @ 8:08pm

Drive-thrus may take awhile to adjust to self-driving cars:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVrJ8DxECbg%5D

Owen Thomas argues that a "a true self-driving car is far from hitting the market" because "the massive array of sensors Google has to install in its cars alone costs $250,000 or more." Timothy Lee disagrees:

Obviously, most people can’t afford the monthly payments to buy a $300,000 self-driving car outright. But lots of people could afford to buy 10 or 20 percent of a $300,000 vehicle’s time. And most people don’t use their cars more than 10 or 20 percent of the time. So many modestly affluent consumers will find it practical to sell the BMW and just take a self-driving taxi everywhere they go.

Bill Howard describes how Audi and Toyota are taking a more incremental approach:

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When A Robot Rear-Ends You

Dec 27 2012 @ 7:31am

Who is liable when a self-driving car gets in an accident? Russell Brandom navigates the tricky legal situation:

Many of Google's planned features may simply never be legal. One difficult feature is the "come pick me up" button that Larry Page has pushed as a solution to parking congestion. Instead of wasting energy and space on urban parking lots, why not have cars drop us off and then drive themselves to park somewhere more remote, like an automated valet?

It's a genuinely good idea, and one Google seems passionate about, but it's extremely difficult to square with most vehicle codes. The Geneva Convention on Road Traffic (1949) requires that drivers "shall at all times be able to control their vehicles," and provisions against reckless driving usually require "the conscious and intentional operation of a motor vehicle." Some of that is simple semantics, but other concerns are harder to dismiss. After a crash, drivers are legally obligated to stop and help the injured — a difficult task if there's no one in the car.

As a result, most experts predict drivers will be legally required to have a person in the car at all times, ready to take over if the automatic system fails. If they're right, the self-parking car may never be legal.

A Computer With A Conscience

Nov 29 2012 @ 10:12am

Nick Carr's hypothetical:

So you’re happily tweeting away as your Google self-driving car crosses a bridge, its speed precisely synced to the 50 m.p.h. limit. A group of frisky schoolchildren is also heading across the bridge, on the pedestrian walkway. Suddenly, there’s a tussle, and three of the kids are pushed into the road, right in your vehicle’s path. Your self-driving car has a fraction of a second to make a choice: Either it swerves off the bridge, possibly killing you, or it runs over the children. What does the Google algorithm tell it to do?

He concludes that we "don’t even really know what a conscience is, but somebody’s going to have to program one nonetheless." Earlier Dish on machine morality here.

(Hat tip: Jacobs)

A World Without Drivers

Oct 25 2012 @ 10:28am

Adrian Wooldridge imagines the consequences of driverless cars:

When people are no longer in control of their cars they will not need driver insurance—so goodbye to motor insurers and brokers. Traffic accidents now cause about 2m hospital visits a year in America alone, so autonomous vehicles will mean much less work for emergency rooms and orthopaedic wards. Roads will need fewer signs, signals, guard rails and other features designed for the human driver; their makers will lose business too. When commuters can work, rest or play while the car steers itself, longer commutes will become more bearable, the suburbs will spread even farther and house prices in the sticks will rise. When self-driving cars can ferry children to and from school, more mothers may be freed to re-enter the workforce. The popularity of the country pub, which has been undermined by strict drink-driving laws, may be revived. And so on.

(Hat tip: Reihan)

The Cars Of The Future, Today

Sep 6 2012 @ 2:41pm

It looks like self-driving cars are coming to California. The Economist assesses the technology:

Getting a car to drive along an open road without crashing into other vehicles is one thing. Getting it to handle a complete journey on its own—including navigating junctions and roundabouts, responding appropriately at pedestrian crossings and avoiding obstacles on the road—is rather more difficult. To build such a machine costs around $1m for the car, kit, software, and brainpower, says Jonathan Sprinkle, co-leader of an American-Australian team that entered a driverless vehicle in the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge, a robotic-car contest sponsored by the research arm of the American Department of Defence. Because modern engines, drivetrains, and brakes already receive their instructions via electronic signals, there is surprisingly little need for additional mechanical parts.

What is needed, however, is an array of extra sensors to make cars more aware of their surroundings. Mapping nearby features, spotting road edges and lane markings, reading signs and traffic lights and identifying pedestrians is done using a combination of cameras, radar and lidar (which works like radar, but with pulses of light rather than radio waves).

Lightening The Commute

Jul 30 2012 @ 8:19am

Other reasons to look forward to driverless cars – they would be both safer and greener:

Self-driving technology could greatly reduce the risk of accidents, leading to far-lighter cars and slashing fuel consumption and emissions by more than a factor of 10 in some cases. 

Tim deChant nods:

One reason fuel economy stalled for decades was the increased mass each engine had to haul around thanks to more stringent crash standards. Engines became more powerful and more efficient in that time, but they also had to do more work. Lighten the load and you’ll release all that pent up efficiency.

Automatic Automobiles

May 16 2012 @ 8:50am

Alexis Madrigal waves goodbye to the manual transmission:

Nowadays … more than 90 percent of American cars come with automatic transmissions. And the deskilling of teen drivers, I'm sure, has begun. One more skill, like efficient rotary phone dialing, will go missing and more more system will become a little easier to use and more opaque.

Relatedly, Adam Ozimek lays out how self-driving cars will become a reality.

A Blind Man At The Drive-Thru

Apr 2 2012 @ 8:48am

Google Car user #0000000001:

The big picture:

Steve Mahan is 95 percent blind. And yet he was able to get into a car and drive apre-programmed route from his California home to a Taco Bell restaurant. Mahan was driving a Google autonomous car.  For people like Mahan, who are visually impaired, this technology is liberating in a pretty fundamental way. It gives him the freedom of mobility, and the ability to be independent. While it will take a few more years for these vehicles to be widely available to the public, the video [above] gives us a glimpse of what the future will be like. 

Walter Russell Mead uses the breakthrough to bash high-speed rail:

Why drive to a train station, park, pay for a ticket, wait, hop on a train, sit for a while, then hop back in a car or other train when you get close to your destination, when you can just take a nap while your self-driving car carries you safely—and directly—to your destination?