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Self-Driving Cars

California gives the green light.  Is this the future?  No hands?

California Gov. Edmund G Brown Jr., front left, rides in a driverless car to a bill signing at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012. The legislation will open the way for driverless cars in the state. Google, which has been developing autonomous car technology and lobbying for the legislation has a fleet of driverless cars that has logged more than 300,000 miles (482,780 kilometers) of self-driving on California roads. (AP)

California Gov. Edmund G Brown Jr., front left, rides in a driverless car to a bill signing at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012. The legislation will open the way for driverless cars in the state. Google, which has been developing autonomous car technology and lobbying for the legislation has a fleet of driverless cars that has logged more than 300,000 miles (482,780 kilometers) of self-driving on California roads. (AP)

A green light in California this week for self-driving cars.  Not flooding the highways yet, no.  But on their way.  Cars where your hands are not on the wheel.  Your foot not on the brake.  Cars that will take you – one day, we’re told – where you want to go.  You snooze, they cruise… someday.

For now, it’s a mix of your eyes and theirs.  But everybody’s pushing for the whole enchilada.  Cadillac, Audi, BMW, Toyota, Google – yes, Google.  For some its sounds dreamy.  For some, unnerving.  And if they speed, or crash, who gets the ticket?

This hour, On Point:  here come the self-driving cars.

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us).

Alberto Broggi, professor of computer engineering at the University of Parma

Bryant Walker Smith, a lecturer at Stanford Law School.

From Tom’s Reading List

Newsday “The bill by Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla will establish safety and performance regulations to test and operate autonomous vehicles on state roads and highways.”

Christian Science Monitor “Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Tuesday that will pave the way for driverless cars in California. Driverless cars use computers, sensors and other technology to operate independently, but allow humans to take control at any time.”

BBC “The bill was signed at the headquarters of Google, which has been testing a fleet of 12 autonomous computer-controlled vehicles for several years.”

Video

Check out this video about Google’s self-driving car.

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  • Wm_James_from_Missouri

    Yes, self driving cars are the future. Large trucks are not far behind. No more DUIs or DWIs ! :)  I will be investing in breweries and bars, but seriously ; the non believer needs to go to wiki and read about Moore’s Law at :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore%27s_law

    _Mr. Ashbrook, you have had quite a lot of shows on computers and technology, much to your credit as well as NPR’s. However, I believe that people, in general, refuse to accept the fact that computer technology is almost to level of sophistication that will completely challenge the supremacy of humans as the dominant species on this planet. I would like to sight that the US is building a supercomputer that they hope will run at 10 ^ 18 instructions per second. ( Of course they will be using it to run simulations on nuclear explosions, what a waste ! ) Computer speeds at this level and beyond will begin to allow societal transitions that not on our radar, currently. Competitive economics guarantee that these machines will be built. If we in the US don’t, some other country probably the Chinese or Japanese, will. Therefore, shows such as this or the one on “Watson” are great entertainment but do little to bring a “game plan” to the table, that will ease the pain that will be thrust on labor and the business sector in general. I am suggesting that the press “force” our elected representatives to detail any and all survivalist type responses that we must take as a nation and as a species and routinely air said responses DAILY, so that we choose those representatives that will serve with intelligence, insight and vision. I follow this subject, enthusiastically, and am 99.999… % convinced in the concept of the singularity. Let me be clear, I am PRO singularity but am quite dismayed at the current mindset of those that control the conversations on the airways and the thinking of the American people. As always, I love your show and thank you for talent and service !

    • Jasoturner

      When you say “singularity”, do you mean a machine that is self-aware and conscious in the way humans are?

      I do find it interesting that, were computers “smart” enough to begin designing themselves, the rate of computational power growth would increase exponentially.  If one believes that consciousness is an emergent behavior of neural complexity, such a singularity would seem to be inevitable.

      Not to go totally off the rails here, but one has to wonder about how such a computer would address matters of morals, bound up as those things are for humans with biology, culture and history.

      Then again, morality may be irrelevant from a practical standpoint.  If a machine had, say, twice the (simulated) neural connections of a human being, why would Mr. Machine be interested in us any more than we worry about the thinking of a dog or a cat?

      I’ve never really thought about this stuff before, but it’s pretty interesting actually.

      • Don_B1

        @Wm_James_from_Missouri:disqus 

        Jasoturner (and others):

        I believe Wm_James is referring to the “technological singularity” of the emergence of greater-than-human super intelligence through technological means, as popularized by Ray Kurzweil (though initially by Vernon Vinge and others). See:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity

        for an introduction.

      • Wm_James_from_Missouri

        The word consciousness is not well defined but surly can be defined on a gradient and may be multidimensional.

        _As to the comment about computers designing themselves, well…, they have and are. Machines can be made to reconfigure their networks and search for the results of same.

        _Computer power IS increasing exponentially, that is the very essence of the Moore’s Law ( phenomena ) argument.

        _On the issue of morals: this is a complex subject and a subject whose dictums are in constant flux. I might note that we humans lack moral certitude and clarity. However, (as I have posted in the past) there are theoretical procedures that have been show by Kurt Gödel that act as truth proving algorithms ( see Gödel numbers and Gödel numbering, on wiki, to get started, if you want to learn more ). While this is not the same as a “ Moral Oracle”, it would be a good starting point.

        _ When it comes to the number of neural networks; a person might be able to argue that “more” is not always better. I refer you to a story about a man named ,Jason Padgett , who was mugged by robbers. After recovering from a concussion, he found himself able to understand sophisticated mathematics. There are other notable cases such as his, quite fascinating !

         

        http://search.yahoo.com/search;_ylt=AmS7Hg9Pr1in61yQACCe9J6bvZx4?p=man+mugged+now+math+genius&toggle=1&cop=mss&ei=UTF-8&fr=yfp-t-701

        _
        _
        _ Lastly, the singularity can be vaguely defined as; a time in human history when technological advances are moving so quickly that we will not be able to predict with “everyday” certainty the end result. It is a lot like asking ; “What is it like at the center of a black hole? “.

        PS I enjoy your post, I find you very perceptive on issues.

      • Wm_James_from_Missouri

        You may also consider going to Wiki and view a short list of emerging technologies at :

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_emerging_technologies

        Imagine a type of “mind” that could invent or describe billions of such devices and ideas. The entity might, with or without the help of human sympathizers, use an array of 3D printing devices to build similar objects. Try to imagine how such a proto-singularity event would change our world.

  • gemli

    No doubt about it, self-driving cars are very cool.  But if computer technology is advanced enough to drive our cars for us, it ought to be advanced enough to obviate the need for driving so much in the first place. 

    Many office jobs could be accomplished just as well by telecommuting.  Why clog the roads with cars to drive to work just to sit at a computer that could just as well be at home?  Not every job could be handled this way, but millions could. 

    It seems as though the savings in gasoline, time wasted in commuting, accidents, pollution, and highway maintenance would justify the effort and cost needed to perfect telecommuting systems.

    • Don_B1

      While face-to-face interaction is still valuable, computer conferencing is certainly making strong inroads on its necessity. As long as facial expressions can be captured for the “between-the-lines” communication, that will be the future of much business dealings.

      UPS saved millions by providing truck routes to drivers, organizing destinations to minimize left turns, which waste gasoline. That is also the reason streets are made one-way, to reduce the backups while vehicles wait to make a left turn.

  • AC

    can’t wait!

  • AC

    can you talk a little about the people who will worry about their ‘privacy’? I feel the arguments made in support of this technology will ultimately help with introducing ‘vehicle miles’ tax so we don’t have to rely on dwindling ‘gas tax’ revenues to maintain our transportation systems….

    • Don_B1

      While this technology is not necessary, it probably will make it easier to implement as the necessary use of GPS will make it a corollary.

      But a vehicle miles tax is the fair way to pay for roads and if the vehicle weight is factored in, then maintenance costs will be fairly apportioned. With the growing computerization of all kinds of other functions, from braking and engine control and odometer and speedometer implementations, the vehicle miles and roads traveled function would only require a GPS and some software.

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    People text, read newspapers, watch videos, do crossword puzzles and their make-up behind while driving, sometimes all at the same time it seems. Maybe it’s time to take out the nuts from behind the wheel.

    My concern as an mechanical, software & systems engineer is, that these are very complex control systems with millions of failure modes possible. What happens when an unforeseen cascade of failures occur? Faulty sensors can appear fine, computers go off to never never land and diagnostics fail to assess the situation.  Even worse – malfeasance abounds!

    Triple redundant safety interlock designs are not perfect as we have no shortage of engineering hubris! In the end, you cannot imagine what you cannot imagine which leads to mistakes, and mistakes are what good engineers call learning opportunities, but such mistakes can add new meaning to the blue screen of death.

    • AC

      there will be manual over-rides of course – no insurance company would go near you otherwise….

      • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

        “Manual control” is something of a misnomer… with electronic
        steering, abs brake systems and electronic accelerator pedals, human
        inputs become suggestions. This should give you pause for concern.

        When you throw a mentally disengaged person into a deadly situation, you’ve got a serious problem. A person paying close attention to a situation has a reaction time of something around one second. Maybe as low as 0.4 for a highly alert, highly focused person with exceptional reflexes. Under the influence of alcohol reaction time grows.

        Lost in thought of Sudoku or composing a memo or text… we’re talking seconds, if not ever: way too long. Faced with an unexpected deadly situation, that mentally disengaged person doesn’t have enough situational awareness to react properly if they don’t panic first.

        • AC

          you could write an alogorithm that would recognize the erratic behavior of a single car and manuever the surroundng vehicles out of the way – it might be better, but NO system will ever be 100% and 100% of the time.
          It’s that darn probability theory – it ruins everything!! >:(

          • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

            Probability is a two edged sword: it gives us comfort that we won’t be in THAT one car while it undermines our hope that we’ll win the lottery.

          • AC

            lol

          • Don_B1

            No one human will ever be 100% for any but a real short interval of time, either. There will be a point where computer control will make road travel safer than human control, and as shown with ABS braking systems, safer than all but race drivers are trained to be.

            The trick is to get beyond that point before mass implementation.

    • Jasoturner

       Kind of like in Jurassic Park where the dude warns that “life finds a way”, right?

      The architects of this world always design the perfect beast.  The engineers of this world tear their hair out trying to get said beast to behave…

  • http://www.facebook.com/leonard.bast.90 Leonard Bast

    As long as cars are powered by energy derived from fossil fuels, they represent the past not the future, and it doesn’t matter who or what is driving them.

  • Jasoturner

    Seems like an interesting intellectual enterprise, but totally unnecessary, not to mention impractical, in the real world.  Aside from liability, can you imaging the costs associated with actually deploying these things in commercial volumes, and then having to deal with the inevitable recalls of all those vehicles after the bugs and accidents start piling up?  Oh, man, not pretty.

    This tech would be great for the visually impaired if you could pair it with a Segway or something.

    • AC

      i think it would help flow; you would actually be able to increase travel speeds significantly if you kept the vehicles in the system in line with physics and get rid of the human factor of both selfishness and poor decision making…
      well, maybe i’m being naive, but i can’t stand some of the rudeness you see during a daily commute….

      • Jasoturner

        I  promise I will never be rude to you when I am driving.  I am a sucker for a pretty face…

        • AC

          even when i’m 80??

          • Jasoturner

             Even when you’re 80…

  • AC

    http://dc.streetsblog.org/2012/09/25/the-economist-dont-expect-driving-rates-to-rise-again/
     
    a variable twist to consider on transportation methods….

  • Mike_Card

    Would this need to be an all-or-nothing situation?  Could human-driven cars coexist in the same traffic flows with driverless vehicles?

    • AC

      humans are nincompoops tho; this past summer i saw 3 different accidents involving more than 3 cars – all because they travel at 75mph 2ft from one another’s bumpers. high school physics should have covered this – i don’t know what’s in their heads!!

      prob the system will allow for manual overrides i think, but that would just mess it up if too many people use it. people would be weaving & cutting one another off in no time, slowing down those who safely travel with the system

  • Mouse_2012

    So what happens when there’s a accident? Does my insurance goes up if my driverless car is to blame? Will it only go the speed limit or can it be set? If it can be set would you have to keep resetting it?

  • Mouse_2012

    Will the Car inform the driver if it’s running low on gas or pull over? how will it perform in stop and go traffic? Other cars cutting it off?

    • Don_B1

      When the iPhone (and Androids) have apps to inform owners that a Starbucks is nearby, there is no reason that the car cannot use the driver’s/owner’s cell phone to find nearby gasoline stations (hopefully electric recharge or battery replacement stations or even fuel cell replacement/recharging stations), even by price or vendor or both and signal the driver of the need and get confirmation as to when to “fill up.”

  • ttajtt

    Auto – lock, seat belts, windows up. locked sealed to deliver.  Machines taking lumber jobs, robots auto workers, self check outs now, = unemployment… or is it in name of the profit margin.

    • AC

      alas, the employment will be building, programming and maintaining these systems – we need to educate our citizens for this employment if we want to be ready…but no one wants to ‘invest’ in education for people over 18. i don’t know why – short-sighted?

      • ttajtt

        This employment takes our privet life away. it becomes a commercial. followed everywhere, spied, record psychology placed, by like you doing this to us. in-trapment ways to twist us in all this must come to pass. this aka freedom & liberty is not for we the little people. controlled slave ants.

        • Don_B1

          The use of cell-phone and computer internet traffic to “target advertisements” etc. is happening already and does not require self-driving cars to achieve it.

          • ttajtt

            you give us this we give that.

        • AC

          i don’t see it this way at all; first of all, w/7billion + people on the planet, what makes YOU so interesting to follow? Also, don’t you believe that humankind has any sense of self or will? All through-out history, when a people are beaten down, they eventually rise up – i think we have more power than you credit us for – but, sometimes i can be a naive optimist

          • ttajtt

            Capitalism works between the rich and poor. middle class is only a word. it was signed away early this presidency. besides who said follow me.

          • ttajtt

            You may have your belief freedom of speech,but one. But i do not have this belief freedom of speech via my way of life to live. Via money jobs…. have taking my way to live avoiding the second coming, and not causing it.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    Blue screen of death could take on a whole new meaning – or 12,000 car pile-ups in the same 30 seconds because people missed getting the latest firmware update.

    I would also like to know what detection technology and
    algorithms they’ve put in place for a kitty in the road? Or a moose? Or a lost child?

    • AC

      it would likely register immediately as an obstruction passing between a defined (but not necessarily visible) barrier…

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

        That’s not hard – it’s what it does with that information that will be difficult. Evasive maneuvers under the best of circumstances are difficult and a risk to the driver – but not taking the risk can be very risky as well. It’s a lot for a computer program to decide.

        • Expanded_Consciousness

  • http://www.facebook.com/Haas.Peter Peter Haas

    I was driven by the google self driving car set on an aggressive mode at the TED conference. We were taking corners with tires screeching and rubber being left on the road. Never scratched a wall or hit a cone. It was amazing! These things can drive better than the best humans. The future is almost here and I can’t wait for all the bad human drivers to get pulled out of the equation. Speed limits will go up and accidents will go down.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    I’d like to see how these perform under some very common scenarios – like a blown tire. Or someone else’s blown tire.

    Or maybe those big chunks of retreads trucks leave on  the highway.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Makes me want to install an EMP cannon on my hood.  I drive a stickshift precisely because I want to be in control of my vehicle.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/JXSANCUDPIKQSPID5KT2U4XK5Y TF

      I’m figuring someone has hit you by this point in your life (statistical guess on my point).

      Have you ever told the story of getting crashed into, and then heard from some well-meaning sort, “Greg, you gotta protect yourself”, by which they mean “You need to be in a 5,000 lb truck”?

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

        Safety isn’t the highest value in life.

        • http://profile.yahoo.com/JXSANCUDPIKQSPID5KT2U4XK5Y TF

          No, I’m agreeing with you. Some people are on the “arms race” thing to the point that they can’t imagine how when everyone drives a car one ton heavier, it leads to more injuries, more damage, less crash avoidance. (And needs bigger engines just to get along, and is less fun in corners.)

          But to them “safety” is just one thing: The ability to represent enough of a threat to someone so they don’t hit you.

          My few years on a motorcycle, before I got my car license, have made me a much better driver. And there are many times I am more aware of others’ motoring idiocy on the bike than in my car; I can then avoid becoming someone else’s crash.

        • Steve__T

           Don’t you think it should be?

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

             No.

          • http://profile.yahoo.com/JXSANCUDPIKQSPID5KT2U4XK5Y TF

            Well, there’s a few threads there.

            Absolute safety is one thing, and nigh unto impossible. But it’s really only something we think about in transportation when it comes to flying, because there’s something pretty final about being 5 miles in the air knowing that there are 300 people on a plane but not 300 parachutes. (And more to think about if you’re over the Atlantic Ocean.)

            Safety for myself, where I’d be the only one doing something to hurt myself (cleaning the gutters 2 stories up) is one thing. Having to depend on others is another.

            And part of me is more concerned about my not risking the well-being of other (innocent) people. I can live with whatever my stupidity visits on myself, but I don’t want to ruin someone else’s life. That’s what I think of whenever the daily Masshole-at-90mph passes me in the breakdown lane.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/JXSANCUDPIKQSPID5KT2U4XK5Y TF

    It’s just odd that we’re getting another hour about gee-whiz cars (a la the 1939 World’s Fair “Futurama” exhibit).

    Cars are already gee-whiz. Compared to the ’60s, a modern, nobody-is-impressed crossover returns the comfort of a luxury car, the payload of a pickup truck, the cornering of a sports car, the acceleration of a pony car, and the mileage of an economy car. And it can idle without rattling your fillings out, and its exhaust won’t give you lead poisoning.

    But to the car books it’s “yawn” and “let’s drool over the new Ferrari”.

    Meanwhile, the unglamorous future of driving is facing bridges, water mains, and roads crumbling, because all those things with cornerstones bragging “193x” to “196x” are wearing out.

  • ToyYoda

    If they ever perfect this technology, then the whole concept of the car could radically change.  I’d want an opaque shoe box car complete with a hot tub, a treadmill, and a soloflex machine, an LCD tv and a bar.

    My commute to and from work will be fantastic.  The number of man-hours that the work force will save will be amazing!

  • peterlake

    California’s had driverless cars for years: Asian women driving 40 mph in the fast lane.

  • ccbard

    Yielding to emergency vehicles?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    Big difference between computer assisted and autonomous computers.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Please tell me that the software won’t be programmed by Microsoft.

  • WorriedfortheCountry

    Very cool technology but ….
    …I’m not sure if I trust it.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    How many mistakes the human drivers make?  Who defines that?  Most traffic laws are designed to raise money for the county, not for safety.

    • AC

      who told you this? you’ve been lied too – this is so untrue!! transportation and road design is a tricky and well studied subject that completely obeys the laws of physics and involves loose ‘human’ variables to be built in because engineers know people will break the laws – you have to be higly qualified to design roads and ROW’s.
      here’s one to think about while you’re at a light, because so many people die yearly running red lights, you should notice now that once a light turns red, the next ‘go’ lane has to now wait longer for the ‘green’ to actually arrive because engineers KNOW people are dumb and keep driving through reds, so they programmed the pauses to be longer….there’s not enough police on the planet to police all the various stupidity and risky behaviors of most drivers … i suppose you could even include the police in those numbers..

      also, think about it – do you think gravity would just let you take a hairpin turn at 150mph w/o consequence? course not!

      • Don_B1

        Some jurisdictions allow cameras to take pictures of license plates as a car goes through a red light.

  • Thinkin5

    Who’s at fault if there is an accident? The car? Could a blind person or drunk person “drive” this car?

  • WorriedfortheCountry

    I’m always amazed at how many traffic jams are caused by rubbernecking.  You wait an hour in traffic and it was only a cop pulling over a speeder.

    If every car was automated then rubbernecking is gone.

    • Steve__T

      So would speeding I’m all for doing the limit and no more. But I’m sure that that would be the first thing people would want to over ride. ;)

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    So this terror from a science fiction movie will depend on satellites and mapping software?  How many times have all of us seen a GPS dingus tell us to go somewhere that doesn’t exist or to take a wacko route?

  • DrewInGeorgia

    You would think we could have figured out how to power our vehicles from renewable sources long before we would have engineered them to drive themselves. Guess not.

    I notice the frequency with which Cadillac has been mentioned thus far during the program and I find that to be fitting. Here come the driver-less limos to cart our bloated banksters around. No driver to pay, no worry of someone telling you what you don’t want to hear, one less reminder of the backs you’ve stepped on to reach your vaunted position…What’s not to love?

  • Government_Banking_Serf

    Tom, please pass the SOMA. Thanks

  • Scott B

    “Car, Wake me up when we reach Cleveland. Zzzzz”

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    So how soon before corporations dump the big rig drivers and just let the 18 wheelers drive themselves? Or just use lower qualified, lower paid drivers to “babysit” the vehicles as they travel?

    Outfitting these would be much more cost effective and much more likely to happen first.

  • Expanded_Consciousness

    Will the computer drive you off a cliff to avoid hitting a cat? Will it be programmed to make the moral choice and value the owner’s life (the person inside the car) over another person’s life, if a situation comes down to that choice?

    Thought experiments have shown that humans will make the moral choice to throw a rail switch that will result in a train killing 1 person versus 5 persons (people choice the 1 option, better to lose 1 life than 5). However, human’s won’t choose to push one large innocent person off of a bridge if that action can save those 5 lives (stop the train from killing the 5 individuals). So, humans do not always decide that 5 deaths is always worse than 1 death. How will the computer be programmed to morally reason?

  • Scott B

    Maybe the speed limit will increase for the driverless cars? 

    It’s interesting that we now have actual AUTOmobiles, over 100 years later. 

  • wiredsam

    Why all the expense and worry about retro fitting intelligence onto these manual dinasours?  Rethink the road-vehicle marriage into a smarter integrated form for the family!

  • Mouse_2012

    how about a call that can drive drunks home at night?

    Less traffic, could be a type of caddi service and protects the public.

    could be cheaper.

  • johnsloth

    We surrendered our cash-based society for the promise of greater security. Feel more secure these days? Bells & whistles to drive sales and dumb-down the species who will then buy more stupid crap we do not need.

    • Government_Banking_Serf

      Keeps the growth charade and lending bankers happy though!

    • Don_B1

      It was more convenience than security.

      • johnsloth

        I was there and paying attention… you? “Convenience” was certainly part of the allure but was eclipsed by the greater concern for a “safer” and more “secure” form of conducting business and collectively, we bought it hook, line and sinker.

  • wiredsam

    Seems wasteful, expenseive, incremental way to go. Why labor to bring intelligence to these dinasours over dumb roads?  Re-think the whole vehicle-road marriage into a bottom up smart energy efficient marriage of both!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    Part of learning to drive is getting hundreds of hours of actually doing it. How will we license drivers when this is in place? How many are actually going to remember how to drive when their car forces them to?

  • BHA_in_Vermont

    We would probably be a lot better off with “driverless” cars given all the idiots that think they have to get in front of everyone – jackrabbit starts, frequent lane shifts, on the brakes, then off. Drivers who do not pay attention to what is happening in front of them and rear end those who are, totally the other person’s car. 

    And I would be surprised if the “driverless” car isn’t BETTER at “seeing” pedestrians and bikes. People in cars are looking for other cars, blind to everything else. They look left to see if there is a car that will hit them when they pull out. But do they look right to see if someone is on the sidewalk about to step into the road? Not so much around here. Plus, the car’s technology won’t be blinded by the sun, fogged over windows, etc.

    • DrewInGeorgia

      The offensive drivers you mention seem to be all of us, I think it’s an inherent result of what we consider to be American Culture (Capitalism as National Religion). In our economic, judicial, and political system everything is determined by economic gain. Fear-Mongering and Obstructionism are often the most profitable motivators so why wouldn’t that translate into driving habits, purchasing habits, and social interactions? I’ve paid close attention to the driving habits of all around me since spending the majority of my time as a passenger the past few years and I’ve noticed something that seems to be a common thread: Most offensive driving appears to happen unconsciously. While riding with some of the most agreeable and non-offensive people you could imagine their behavior behind the wheel did not reflect their general disposition. ‘I’ll accelerate faster than you!’, ‘You’re not gonna pass me!’, ‘I’m gonna stop close enough to make you squirm. hee hee’, etc. were all present and didn’t appear to be intentional…just inherent.

      Sorry for the ramble, your post just made me think.
      Oh yeah, driver-less cars would rock but attentive defensive drivers would rock more.

  • Phillip Hanberry

    What would happen to state and local police forces?  If cars are automated, the assumption would be they are driving the speed limit.  If most of your local/city/govt police force’s income is derived from speeding tickets, whatever will the do? 

    • DrewInGeorgia

      Probably kick up the pace of the failed war on drugs.

  • Mouse_2012

    convoy thing sounds scary.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

      can you say flat tire? or stalling?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y6CO5C2HE4WM2OYGCDVWGPRXXM oldman

    Big question  – like seatbelts and airbags – will people at some point be required to purchase and maintain this expensive technology whenever they buy  a car?

  • sweetman

    If only we could have seen this dilemma when technology at the turn of the 20th century chose cars over rail! People want to read, eat, do crosswords, floss their teeth, etc. on the way to work. Imagine how sweet the roads, countryside and rail system would be (imagine no urban sprawl, no 10 lane highways packed with single-drivers?) Oh well, time travel is a different topic, so we’re stuck with autopilot cars. Interesting topic to try to make commuting less horrendous.

    • Don_B1

      The automobile manufacturers worked to get legislators to give vehicles the right-of-way at grade crossings and trolleys, etc. That “helped” people choose cars over public transportation, which accumulated the delays rather than the road vehicles.

  • wiredsam

    Why the expensive effort to implant intelligence onto these dinasour cars onto dumb roads? Go directly towards rethinking the car-road family into a smarter marriage…  not just smart cars, SMART ROADS !!!

  • AMsab

    National Braille Press is right in Boston, and is the organization that created the Braille version of Harry Potter. They deserve a LOT more attention and support.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    How about eliminate speed limits most places and enforce getting out of the left lane if you’re not part of the faster traffic?

  • Mouse_2012

    Now it sounds like Big Brother.

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    Bikes, dogs and toddlers!
    Take side roads out of the equation…on highways deer and moose are a serious consideration.

    Humans can observe and anticipate.

    • IsaacWalton

      Agree totally.

    • PeteJohnsonpolisci

      Of course, depending on the sensors (i.e. infrared cameras) and the algorithms used to control the vehicle, it may be able to sense a deer headed through a roadside thicket toward the vehicle long before a human would be capable of doing so.

  • jellydog88

    As an aging driver, I can tell my reflexes have slowed.  Having a driverless car would be great.  I could maintain independence but more safely.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    I don’t get a clear radio signal when I’m stopped under power lines.  This has a lot of room for error and interference.

    • Don_B1

      It depends on the frequency and modulation being used how well a communication system works in noise. Study Shannon’s Theorem on transmission theory.

  • Adam Lewis

    How do you deal with a mixed environment in which human drivers can take advantage of the quicker reaction time of the autonomous vehicle by, say, cutting it off constantly.

  • Government_Banking_Serf

    Lets cut to the chase and get some brain implants so Google can just make our lives Reeallly efficient.

    This seems like a horrible oversimplification of the unpredictability of human behavior (other drivers), and trust in computer technology.

    How about when the “Self Driving Car Mandate” comes down, because of course the system only works when everybody “participates”.

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    Faulty broadcasts from a neighboring vehicle pose and interesting problem that will have to be addressed in the shared data control model.

  • IsaacWalton

    Exciting…but all we’re talking about here is mini automated buses with people reading and talking and watching tv while the machine drives. If you’re going to take away the driver….take it away completely and let the cars negotiate themselves. Only allow these cars to enter this mode on specific speedways. I see no benefit of having a car drive itself in a neighborhood that has too many unpredictable (dogs, walking humans, cyclists) objects. As a caution, take a look at airplanes. Yes they do fly themselves but require the pilot for landing. Even then we have HUMAN airtraffic controllers monitoring the situation. I can see auto driving cars on highways with other auto cars (no man driven cars) driving around one another with humans still monitoring the activity.

    • Don_B1

      The most recent new airport radar systems allow for automated landing, but it is not installed most places yet, at least it wasn’t when I last read about it.

  • Yar

    More likely, we will have driver-less cars when energy gets too expensive.
    I have already seen a few on blocks in the front yards of rural Kentucky.

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    These days, you’ll still need a driver’s license to vote. ;^))

  • Karena Paleologo

    Why don’t we make the public transportation system in this country better so that we don’t have to have self driving cars in order to be able to do other things during a commute and still have transportation autonomy?

  • ConorYoung

    Depending on the technology, what if someone thinks they can replace a sensor themselves? I don’t think I could relax in my car knowing that someone may have gotten the idea they can service it themselves…

  • Scott B

    What happens when a driver, only experienced with self-driving cars, gets into a “dumb” car? Maybe they start texting and BAM! Or are they stuck there, as I have witness with people that can only drive automatic transmissions and find themselves trying to drive a standard tranny.

    Back in the 80′s I listened to an insurance person who had been handling the claim for a stolen RV. Cruise control was pretty new to RV’s, so he turned the cruise control, then got up to make a drink and of course the RV had to find the nearest cliff.
    At some point someone is going to assume a car’s more capable that it is, or conversely – the car’s is going to go dumb (maybe it can’t reboot, caught a virus or malware, something important gets damaged and the car is blind) and the drive might not be aware or able.

  • m turn

    I think in the end analysis, we have to realize what it will cost to develop and implement technologies like this. Millions or billions of dollars of R&D, plus an investment cost of 20-50 thousand dollars per car – increased regulation, public liability and the list goes on. Ultimately, when we look at the social and economic changes required, is this really any less radical (or cheaper) an idea than simply implementing a modern and functional public transportation system? Surely it would cost more in terms of energy constraints – I wonder if this is simply nothing more than the final solution to our laziness and obstinance. The statin drug for our years of overeating rather than simply a little exercise.

    Of course, on its face, an interesting idea, but from a detached sociological perspective, I wonder about the merits.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    What happens when the Google car only takes you to places that pay for ads on Google?

    • Bill Bodge

      That would be good for me.  Good idea.

    • Mike_Card

      Isn’t that what this is all about?  Google realizes that drive-time is down-time for web-surfing.  They can’t capture the eyeballs when the eyeballs are busy watching traffic or texting screens.

  • http://twitter.com/kikinola kiki

    There are too many comments to scroll through, so this might have been addressed, but I wonder what happens in case of equipment failure. For instance, what if there are 10 cars driving closely at 80 mph and the second in line has a tire blowout?

  • AC

    personally, i’m waiting for the startrek transporter beam, but i like this idea in the interim

    btw – if anyone wants to give me some money, i’ll start working on said transporter beam asap   ;)

  • rweinrib

    Has anyone talked about the implications for the visually impaired?

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/JXSANCUDPIKQSPID5KT2U4XK5Y TF

      Tangent: How many states require re-testing at X years already? (My knee-jerk answer is “not enough”.)

      Only by the grace of the almighty did an octogenarian neighbor become infirm enough to drive while he was still legally licensed. He went straight from the 60-year-old man who was fully okay to drive, to not renewing his registration, without a period of having a handicapped plate in between.

      That was a disaster in-the-making averted.

  • J Gehrer

    Everyone can go 70 – 80 mph? Gas mileage would plummet, and our dependence on crude would SKYROCKET.

  • Government_Banking_Serf

    We can finally become the ants we want to be.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Yet another set of shills for letting others run our lives.  Take responsibility and stand up for yourself.

    • Bill Bodge

      I don’t like driving behind old people.  Could be a good solution.

  • DrewInGeorgia

    No discussion of intentional interference or disruption of the vehicles operation? Remote controlled suicide bomb that doesn’t require the bomber to sacrifice themselves comes to mind. Is the car’s OS completely isolated? Seems doubtful given the amount of outside interaction required to make it work. I don’t like the ides of some cracker (malicious hacker) turning my 3,000 lb. hunk of metal with it’s on board supply of combustible liquid into a weapon.

  • 4jebsgirl

    Did I miss whether or not this is going to be a clean energy endeavor too?  Hopefully we are NOT talking about cars fueled by gasoline, right? -Susanna in Lunenburg MA

    • Bill Bodge

      Car will use less fuel if they don’t accelerate and decelerate as much.  Also we can spend money on better technology such as better batteries instead of the high build and maitenance cost of rail

    • DrewInGeorgia

      Of course we are talking about cars fueled by gasoline, we haven’t run out yet.

      Ridiculous isn’t it?

  • Scott B

    Human judgement isn’t so good – Drunk driving, texting while driving, putting on makeup, changing clothes, give the squabbling kids in the back seat a dope-slap (ala Click & Clack), shaving…   We’re not that bright sometimes.

    I can see the taxi lobby wanting rules so that drink drivers can’t get a hand-free ride home and cut into profits.  I think of the tales of my Great Grandfather getting lit at the bar and the horse knowing the way home.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    A car that can drive drunks home at night?  It’s called a taxi.

    • Bill Bodge

      A computer driven car.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=84000469 Rob Senn

    How is humanity reduced by not driving on their own? We existed for about 30,000 years without cars. Only in the last 100 years have we had the ability to drive. And, let’s not forget that excellent XKCD comic, depicting a road warning sign: “You’re in a box on wheels hurtling along several times faster than evolution could possibly have prepared you to go. Next 5 miles.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/dotknott Michaela Knott

    Disregard for the value of human judgement? GIVE ME A BREAK! I used to work for a company that ran red light monitoring cameras. Do you know HOW MANY accidents I saw at that job? Accidents that were caused by some humans “judgement” that they should continue through the intersection despite the color of the light.

    If we were all passengers in cars that actually OBEY traffic laws the roads would be MUCH safer.. We can’t rely on HUMANS to follow the rules of the road maybe we should give that privilege to something that will..

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       Those rules are mainly made to raise money for the county or city budget.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Wall-E, anyone?

    • DrewInGeorgia

      Someone earlier said something about conjoining the driver-less car with a (I’m assuming) symbiotic Segway (Hoveround, etc.). This is great and much needed for the truly disabled, I fear they won’t be the only ones using them though. The floating chairs immediately came to mind when I read the Segway comment.

  • Bill Bodge

    What about cab drivers and truck drivers.  Build a big gas tank and a truck can driver 24 hours.  Ultimately, these people will lose their jobs or be paid less to just sit there.

  • Mike_Card

    The spectrum of driver ability is just so broad.  I also wonder if the little “squirrel” cars are going to have to continue to share the road with the elephant 18-wheelers and busses; sounds even more scarey.
     

    • DrewInGeorgia

      Make all commercial freight (18-wheelers) driver-less too? That’s probably where it would head eventually. I think we’d be better served if we made all commercial freight electric as opposed to completely automated. Or we could use the opportunity to create a bazillion new infrastructure jobs to create a contained transportation network for commercial freight only. Or we could do both. How many of our energy, pollution, and traffic woes would just doing those two things eradicate? And all those Professional Drivers would still have jobs.

  • IsaacWalton

    I for one enjoy driving my car. I’m all for giving drivers more awareness of what’s happening ahead (possible accident) or driver is intoxicated or car ahead is overheating or driving erratically. But driving for me…just dumb.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    What happens when hackers decide to play with the software?

  • AshleyPhosphate

    The ability to get from A to B without having to pay attention to the road.  Sounds nice, but isn’t it already a reality (think TRAINS without as much leg-room)?  This is an attempt to reconcile our already compromised attention spans with the one-car, one-driver transportation model, while entirely avoiding the issues which ought to dominate any discussion of the future of American transportation: needlessly excessive fuel consumption, an already over-burdened infrastructure, and urban sprawl.  Please reconsider.  

  • margbi

    Isn’t this reinventing public transportation?

  • Call_Me_Missouri

    In countries like China where people are getting their first car and there is no Culture of Driving, these autonomous cars are a terrific idea.  They do not have the safety features built into their roads the way we do here in the US and having the cars drive themselves safely is very wise.

    In the US I agree with Tom, there is no way you are getting me in one of these things.  I still drive a stick shift that’s the kind of driving control freak I am.  

    The thing that they keep mentioning as if somehow this would be an acceptable trade-off is that these cars will cost WAY more than the $20K cars we’re buying now.  A lot of people can’t afford a new $20K car now let alone one of the autonomous ones.  So, unless those cars are going to cost the same or less than regular cars, this technology won’t go too far in the US.  Look at the $40,000 Chevy Volt.  ‘Nuff Said.

    • Don_B1

      I like all but your cost assumptions. The iPhone is only $600 and can take pictures and do limited character recognition, etc. The Chevy Volt has TWO power plants, one gasoline, one battery and the batteries are still expensive in both technology and weight.

      With the continuing increase in computer power, the capability to implement the algorithms necessary for an autonomous car is within reach.

      • Call_Me_Missouri

        Have you bought the Volt yet?

        I’m not saying that the car isn’t worth $40,000…  I’m saying that most people don’t make enough money to pay for a $40,000 car.

        It was the guest that said the autonomous car would cost WAY more than our current $20,000 car…  so your argument is with the guest.

  • http://twitter.com/BRIGHTdriver BRIGHTdriver

    I believe smartphones need to be re-imagined for the car and I am wondering how smartphones will be integrated into a self-driving future? I know companies like BRIGHTdriver and Waze are already enabling smartphone-based applications that drivers can use safely on their commutes. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brennan-Moriarty/100000655771831 Brennan Moriarty

    When buses are “self driving” -I suppose “autopilot” sounds a little  [too] Robocop… Well the bus driver who has issues? let alone the big rig gear jammer. or indeed the chicken who crosses the road when, oops, no, er… well when the rooster tells em to?
    If there are just 5% of vehicles are self drive, they could guide all the rest. Try this example. walking down a very busy pedestrian way, where people & persons… veer across the traffic or stop to talk in the middle of traffic… Well FOLLOW a mobility scooter -they usually have a narrow focus and push through like,,, [oh jeez] hmm?
    In the Future “the driver” can have a much more important role; the terms “host; insurance agent, police; therapist: MAYOR, leader, navigator and captain” will replace a litany of curse words, but it’s more of a transformation than a dis-placement; sort off like serving colonial respect to feminine attitude and civility. 
    The fail safe operator at the head of an actual road train would be quality peace of mind and comfort for all.
    on the line of social-factor “software” the idea of putting all the control freaks in a single car, around-table… is only a facade to the cause of their anxiety. when that fundamental vehicle of social policy is transported, “the cause of way” no-way? the masculine predator or the feminine panic? NO-WAY! Jose ;) Music, bells signaling all pedestrians and animals alike that freedom is coming through, you’ll be able to apply or register your case in the software of ultimate liberty and instigate that road map WITHOUT THINKING nor pray or neglect.
    The convoy of profile or rather destination of infatuation, finding your ideal mate 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brennan-Moriarty/100000655771831 Brennan Moriarty

    When buses are “self driving” -I suppose “autopilot” sounds a little  [too] Robocop… Well the bus driver who has issues? let alone the big rig gear jammer. or indeed the chicken who crosses the road when, oops, no, er… well when the rooster tells em to?
    If there are just 5% of vehicles are self drive, they could guide all the rest. Try this example. walking down a very busy pedestrian way, where people & persons… veer across the traffic or stop to talk in the middle of traffic… Well FOLLOW a mobility scooter -they usually have a narrow focus and push through like,,, [oh jeez] hmm?
    In the Future “the driver” can have a much more important role; the terms “host; insurance agent, police; therapist: MAYOR, leader, navigator and captain” will replace a litany of curse words, but it’s more of a transformation than a dis-placement; sort off like serving colonial respect to feminine attitude and civility. 
    The fail safe operator at the head of an actual road train would be quality peace of mind and comfort for all.
    on the line of social-factor “software” the idea of putting all the control freaks in a single car, around-table… is only a facade to the cause of their anxiety. when that fundamental vehicle of social policy is transported, “the cause of way” no-way? the masculine predator or the feminine panic? NO-WAY! Jose ;) Music, bells signaling all pedestrians and animals alike that freedom is coming through, you’ll be able to apply or register your case in the software of ultimate liberty and instigate that road map WITHOUT THINKING nor pray or neglect.
    The convoy of profile or rather destination of infatuation, finding your ideal mate 

  • Spencer Doidge

    Nice idea, but real users don’t maintain their cars. They ignore signs of trouble and try to wish them away. Garbage in, garbage out. Sensors will get dirty, break, and fail with or without warning and cause catastrophic failures. Maintenance will be prohibitively expensive, so people won’t do it. The lawyer says more accidents will raise maintenance cost, which will cause even more accidents.

    It would be cheaper and simpler to hire drivers for all the impaired folks who need to get around.

    The sustainability zip-car argument fails when you consider that we can call a taxi now but we don’t because it’s too expensive. The autonomous zip car will certainly cost no less than a taxi, and now the taxi driver is out of work.

    This is a case of engineers running amok and creating horrendously complicated solutions in search of simple problems. Simpler is better. Cars need to get simpler and easier to maintain, not more complex and expensive to fix.

    • Mike_Card

      I’m reminded of the experiment with the EV, during the 90′s.  It couldn’t be purchased, only leased; left the manufacturer with a leash that could be jerkled, rather than get clobbered for product liability decades later.

      Seems like the lease model will be used for the self-driving vehicles; meaning only a big, financially established company can afford to build and own the equipment.  Bye-bye, Tesla; good effort, but you’re a goner in that world.

  • curtcpeterson

    Very interesting discussion, but assuming this idea is new is hubris I’m afraid. Back in the ‘fifties, when the first turnpikes were being designed and built, an idea was floated to embed a strip in the center of highway lanes that would guide vehicles as they traveled. Drivers would control their individual autos on secondary roads, then become under management of the highway’s guidance system. It was thought to eliminate accidents, and front seats in the vehicle would reverse to face the back so occupants could carry on conversations, play games or do business perfectly safely without keeping their hands on the wheel or their eyes on the road. When the vehicle reached its destination exit the driver’s seat would spin around and he would take control again as he left the system.

    • Don_B1

      Popular Mechanix or Popular Science?

      • curtcpeterson

        Don_B1 – We’re tawkin’ sixty-years, here, old man, but I believe it would have been Popular Science due to the nature of the article. Just an educated guess. I remember the illustration showing how the seats would swivel around, and of the highway with arrows showing travel line of the vehicle along and off the pike at a ramp.
        Obviously it made an impression on me, and I’ve always thought of this when they say free-enterprise corporations are the best source of new technologies – I don’t think that’s necessarily so. Their best short-term interest is in keeping the same technologies going.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QNZNLKFZ5SXU6KBLI7VXIEP4SI Doobie

    if these ever become pervasive I imagine a certain segment of the population actively messing with users of these cars – trying to trip the safety features.  it’s the same with any new technology – someone will always figure out a way to subvert it, hack it… this just lends itself to mischief.

  • PeteJohnsonpolisci

    Regarding the caller who felt that self-driving cars were dismissive of human capabilities: the fall of another in a long line of anthropocentric beliefs.  i.e.: 1. Humans are completely separate from the animal kingdom… Wrong.  2. Humans are the only tool-using animals… Nope.  3. Humans possess self-recognition, nothing else does… Guess again.  He feels threatened because he is being told that there is yet another subject in which it turns out that humans are not alone in being  capable.  (Much less best at – I’ve seen people reading the newspaper while driving.  Who do you think is likely safer – a computer with 360 degree sensors or some bozo with his head buried in the sports pages?)  Welcome to the real universe, in which humans are not as significant as we like to imagine we are.                                                     “Who are we?  We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.” – Carl Sagan

  • Gorgh Smith

    ssdffsdfsdffsf
     

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