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November 18, 2013 3:28 AM   Subscribe

Auto Correct — Has the self-driving car at last arrived? From The New Yorker, November 25, 2013.
posted by cenoxo (173 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Cool, but how is it legal to take an experimental car on the road?
posted by Segundus at 5:28 AM on November 18, 2013


I'm so looking forward to this future. There's no way that a computer could be worse than most of the drivers out there.
posted by octothorpe at 5:38 AM on November 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Levandowski is an engineer at Google X, the company’s semi-secret lab for experimental technology. He turned thirty-three last March but still has the spindly build and nerdy good nature of the kids in my high-school science club. He wears black frame glasses and oversized neon sneakers, has a long, loping stride—he’s six feet seven—and is given to excitable talk on fantastical themes. Cybernetic dolphins! Self-harvesting farms! Like a lot of his colleagues in Mountain View, Levandowski is equal parts idealist and voracious capitalist. He wants to fix the world and make a fortune doing it. He comes by these impulses honestly: his mother is a French diplomat, his father an American businessman. Although Levandowski spent most of his childhood in Brussels, his English has no accent aside from a certain absence of inflection—the bright, electric chatter of a processor in overdrive. “My fiancée is a dancer in her soul,” he told me. “I’m a robot.”


Welcome to the island of misfit toys.
posted by three blind mice at 5:40 AM on November 18, 2013


I said this in a different thread, but I do honestly believe that given another 50/60 years of progress the vast majority of cars will be driverless. When they get to a certain standard the drop in deaths on the road will be stunning. Humans are pretty great, but we're not that good: we get tired, we have headaches, some of us are downright irresponsbile. The kind of bugs a machine will have will be more terrifiyng in some respects in that they will be harder to understand, but they will also be much rarer.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 5:47 AM on November 18, 2013 [11 favorites]


argh! just too much of this stuff: "Slender and tan, with clear blue eyes and a smooth, seemingly boneless gait, he looks as if he just stepped off a dance floor in Ibiza."
posted by Auden at 5:51 AM on November 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


The thing that is really making me hopeful for self-driving cars is remembering how I drove when I was seventeen and knowing that, when I have kids, they will probably do the same thing and are likely to get themselves killed.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 5:51 AM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think it could happen a lot sooner than that. I always think of how many trucking and taxi jobs will be lost. UPS and Fed Ex delivery guys will be OK for a while, but only until someone engineers a robot to carry packages the last 15 yards to the house.
posted by Aizkolari at 5:51 AM on November 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Reminds me of the Peter Thiel profile they had, and the Elon Musk stuff as well. I'm really extremely happy that there are such intelligent people working on such important things, but the amount of blinding privilege makes me queasy.

At one point, he offered Smart’s girlfriend and future wife five thousand dollars to break up with him until the project was done. “He was fairly serious,” Smart told me. “She hated the motorcycle project.”

Like I read that, and I don't give a fuck about the girlfriend part. It indicates non-standard but not necessarily evil priorities. But the part where he has five thousand dollars to spare for a pet project was exasperating. Self driving cars, is great, but I'd still much rather see even failed attempts at giving the middle and lower classes a living wage and future.
posted by tychotesla at 5:53 AM on November 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


said this in a different thread, but I do honestly believe that given another 50/60 years of progress the vast majority of cars will be driverless.

I'd put it closer to 15 to 20 years. The article really shows how fast the technology is evolving.
posted by octothorpe at 5:54 AM on November 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


At one point, he offered Smart’s girlfriend and future wife five thousand dollars to break up with him until the project was done. “He was fairly serious,” Smart told me. “She hated the motorcycle project.”

Like I read that, and I don't give a fuck about the girlfriend part. It indicates non-standard but not necessarily evil priorities... But the part where he has five thousand dollars to spare for a pet project was exasperating.


Oof, I do -- completely fucking with someone else's life for your pet project and thinking you're entitled to do so just because you can give five thousand dollars to someone who needs it more than you do is completely screwed up.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 5:56 AM on November 18, 2013 [11 favorites]


Jeez, maybe my comment is just a big derail. It's what I start thinking about every time I read one of these profiles though.
posted by tychotesla at 5:56 AM on November 18, 2013


Cool, but how is it legal to take an experimental car on the road?

Varies by state - some states, like Nevada, explicitly permit self-driving vehicles, in others it's more ambiguous, but usually not prohibited, especially with a driver able to take the controls.

I'm so looking forward to this future.

Self driving cars will see a drastic reduction in carbon emissions. If the driver's aren't driving, the vehicles will always observe the speed limit, and accelerate in as smooth and fuel-efficient fashion as possible. The 55mph limit was originally mandated to conserve fuel nationally, and has been overturned in recent years by drivers who's new cars cruise as comfortably and controllably at 85 as an early '80s Motown Boat could at 45mph. Take driver frustration out of the picture, and people will be cool with 55mph again.

More, if you're not flogging three hundred firebreathing ponies with your heavy right foot, you'll stop caring if your next passenger sedan only comes with a 110hp motor. The computer takes care of merging and passing, you don't care how anemic the throttle is, you got Spongebob on the passenger entertainment system. Without performance as a quality metric, actual quality, measured in vehicle longevity, becomes the new engineering goal. This means less waste and fewer resources required to build each vehicle.

The bad news for the poor and working class - they're going to be expensive at first, and it will take longer for reasonably priced used models to reach them. It will remove some jobs - getting a career as a trucker, an autobody repairer and taxi driver will be a lot tougher.

The good news for the poor and working class - They're not going to have to pay the Poor People Tax, in the form of bullshit traffic fines over real or imagined violations. Driving While Black will be much more explicitly racist, and therefore done much less often. Car insurance rates will fall through the floor where even poor drivers can actually afford it.

So, yeah, these things can't come soon enough.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:59 AM on November 18, 2013 [18 favorites]


Car insurance rates will fall through the floor

You have more faith in insurance companies than I do. I expect insurance rates to remain the same (or dip slightly) for self driving cars, and go UP for human drivers.
posted by fings at 6:05 AM on November 18, 2013 [22 favorites]


Take driver frustration out of the picture, and people will be cool with 55mph again.

I see someone has never driven across Nebraska before.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:05 AM on November 18, 2013 [12 favorites]


I'd put it closer to 15 to 20 years. The article really shows how fast the technology is evolving.

And it's already in place in a lot of newer cars for the most part. Lane drift warnings? Emergency braking if an object is sensed? GPS? Self parking and electric steering assist? They don't have too much more to put into cars before it's just a matter of getting the computers to where they need to be.
posted by azpenguin at 6:08 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Driverless Cars Are Further Away Than You Think
posted by Brent Parker at 6:09 AM on November 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Car insurance rates will fall through the floor

You have more faith in insurance companies than I do. I expect insurance rates to remain the same (or dip slightly) for self driving cars, and go UP for human drivers.


I think you both need to think bigger. You assume 1) people will still own individual cars (why bother when my ride comes to me? Wouldn't a car-share service be cheaper and more efficient?) and 2) people will need to own car insurance. (If I'm not driving, but the car is, why would I need to buy car insurance? Wouldn't a crash be a manufacturing defect?)
posted by leotrotsky at 6:09 AM on November 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


The 55mph limit was originally mandated to conserve fuel nationally, and has been overturned in recent years by drivers who's new cars cruise as comfortably and controllably at 85 as an early '80s Motown Boat could at 45mph

And doing 70mph, today's cars burn less gas and pollute less than a 1970 era car, even when you equalize mass and horsepower produced at the output shaft.

I expect insurance rates to remain the same (or dip slightly) for self driving cars, and go UP for human drivers.

100% correct. Indeed, I also expect a vastly increase licensing regime for human drivers -- something we should have had all along. It's truly sad seeing the average level of competence of, say, UK drivers -- who aren't that good -- then compare them to the average level of US drivers, who are frankly horrible.

If you want to see what good drivers look like, you go to Scandinavia.

But I digress. In 25-30 years, if you want to be able to control a car on public roads, I expect a much higher standard of driving ability to be tested for *and* a much higher insurance requirement. I also expect tickets for causing congestion.
posted by eriko at 6:11 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Take driver frustration out of the picture, and people will be cool with 55mph again.

Uh, no. I'd expect the opposite: if cars were self-driving with almost instantaneous reactions and accident avoidance, the speed limits could be safely raised on most divided highways. Right now the limiting factor is human, and robot cars would eliminate the drunk, tired, or "oops I forgot my glasses" drivers that we have now.

The other week I was driving between states on rural interstates with very little traffic, and I was thinking about how nice it would be to engage the "autopilot" and just kick back for the trip while the car took care of the driving. It would combine most of what makes taking the train nice, with the flexibility and convenience of the personal automobile. I'd definitely buy one if that was the case. The best would be a self-driving minivan -- you'd have the space to relax, eat lunch out of the cooler, or even take a nice long nap, all while cruising along.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:15 AM on November 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


Now: What stops driverless cars.

1) The public refusing to give up driving and voting out anybody trying to favor them.

2) Cost, period, if they never get over the initial hump.

3) The initial cost of insurance. When driverless cars are outnumber, the insurance cost on them may be much higher, since they will have to dodge the much larger number of human driven, and thus less competently driven cars. This will be worse in places like the US than places like Finland, where the human driven cars are more competently driven and there are fewer of them.

Where I would expect to see them first.

1) Taxis and car-shares -- if you don't own the car, why should you get to drive the car?

2) Rentals, for the same reason.

3) Public transit, though there will be huge push back from unions, and I'm torn here -- this will directly put lots of people out of work. However, it would also be a huge cost saver for public transit, and potentially allow expansion of these networks.
posted by eriko at 6:16 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Uh, no. I'd expect the opposite: if cars were self-driving with almost instantaneous reactions and accident avoidance, the speed limits could be safely raised on most divided highways

Far more important would be to raise the capacity. If all cars were self driving with instant reaction, etc., you could run much tighter packs without the density wave happening when a human hits the brakes for no reason, and thus, get more cars through a lane in a given time.

Increasing the speed limit helps with that as well, but reducing the intervals helps more -- and the reason rush hour traffic crawls is that at a certain density, humans can't go fast in a car, and computers could.

Of course, if something goes wrong, it'll be a blood bath. One of those and self driving cars will probably be banned from highways.
posted by eriko at 6:19 AM on November 18, 2013


You assume 1) people will still own individual cars (why bother when my ride comes to me? Wouldn't a car-share service be cheaper and more efficient?

This works great... so long as everyone has staggered office hours. It might increase carpooling, but availability during hours of peak use is the biggest obstacle to the "car-sharing everywhere!" model. It's no substitute for proper mass transit or personal transportation.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:20 AM on November 18, 2013


2) people will need to own car insurance. (If I'm not driving, but the car is, why would I need to buy car insurance?

If you own the car, you need it at the very least to replace the car.

If you rented the car, you need it at the very least to replace the car, since the person you rented it from wants it back.

And, of course, if you hurt anybody else in that wreck, there's going to be tort in play, and if you're involved, wouldn't you want insurance, just in case someone establishes you missed an update and therefore, you're at least partially at fault?
posted by eriko at 6:20 AM on November 18, 2013


Who is going to make up for the hundreds of millions in lost revenue from traffic violations? Or will it mean increased tolls, potential road taxes, laid off police officers, etc.

Not that those things aren't insurmountable, but I never hear them discussed in the driverless car discussion. Just curious.
posted by Debaser626 at 6:26 AM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


argh! just too much of this stuff: "Slender and tan, with clear blue eyes and a smooth, seemingly boneless gait, he looks as if he just stepped off a dance floor in Ibiza."

Kind of nice to see it written about a man, though.
posted by Etrigan at 6:26 AM on November 18, 2013 [12 favorites]


Things we'll see when all cars drive themselves:

- Kids going to school, dance class, music lessons and so on, on their own in the car.
- People using the smallest car necessary for the journey they are actually making rather than (like me) going shopping in a car optimised for transporting 2.4m lengths of garden decking.
- Children playing in the road; everyone crossing the road without looking properly.
- Rich people paying a large premium to have their OWN car instead of a shared car, just so they can leave their gym clothes in the back, OMG!
- More people walking, cycling and exploring the countryside without a great deal of planning, because they figure they can just give up when they are lost or tired and have a car come get them.
- The revitalisation of rural pubs.
- People renting out their garages and drives to the car company (decreasing the wait time for car users on their street).
- Massive investment in algorithms that analyse usage patterns and position unused cars optimally to reduce the average wait time.
- Better quality of life for low income families with one working and one stay at home parent.
posted by emilyw at 6:27 AM on November 18, 2013 [17 favorites]


Of course, if something goes wrong, it'll be a blood bath. One of those and self driving cars will probably be banned from highways.

This is the thing I find unmanageable about self-driving cars. How do you protect the road from rogue, self-interested agents? We already have asshole human drivers who cut others off expecting them to defensively yield, and I think it's naive to assume that someone won't build an AI that does the same to other, more cautious AIs.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:31 AM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


The problem with these 15-to-20 years predictions is: what then happens to the hundreds of millions of cars and other vehicles we already have? You can't just compel everyone in America to purchase a new car, plus, of course, many people genuinely enjoy driving. So, how do these driverless cars cope with a road which also has bedrivered cars on it? What's their reaction time, and is it better than ours (and able to distinguish between "driving out of the way of an out-of-control car onto the shoulder" and "driving out of the way of an out-of-control car over a cliff")?
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:33 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the medium term I can see it as a feature on some cars and then only allowed on certain long predictable stretches of highway. Maybe state or federal highways will have some sort of "autopilot allowed" RF signal that alerts you that autopilot is allowed on that stretch.
posted by ian1977 at 6:34 AM on November 18, 2013


So, how do these driverless cars cope with a road which also has bedrivered cars on it?

That's a good question. And what kinds of emergent behavior will develop when the population of self-driving cars becomes significant? Will we see the remaining human drivers become more careless/aggressive because they're surrounded by super-human AIs who automatically react to whatever stupid thing they do?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:38 AM on November 18, 2013


- The death of any roadside store that gets their business through serendipity and drive-by curiousity rather than SEO.
posted by gwint at 6:39 AM on November 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


- A continued lack of any funding for decent public transit.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:40 AM on November 18, 2013 [21 favorites]


How do you protect the road from rogue, self-interested agents?

1) Software has to be approved and tested by the NHSTA before being approved for road use.
2) Surprise, rather than scheduled, vehicle inspections at decent random intervals, where the inspection station makes sure the NHSTA-approved software is loaded and operating according to spec.

It's a lot easier protecting the road from hot-rod AI's than from the lead-footed or distracted humans we've currently got, who cause bloodbaths everyday.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:40 AM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Some countries/states/provinces/territories will be faster to adopt than others. Where the slogs are long and monotonous -- across deserts, across snowy wastes, across wide flat plains -- and the emergency vehicle response times are high and rest stops few and far between, companies will send out big automated road trains in convoys that are maintained by helicopter in emergencies.

A seriously big road train might be preceded by a zippy little automated scout car that warns people and animals off the road, sends warnings back to the road train about upcoming road conditions, and makes sure the road train has plenty of time to slow down or stop as needed.

Ships are also going to go this way. Why on earth send a human crew if the ship is smart enough to find its own way to its destination?

And then planes, which are already capable of automated end-to-end flight.
posted by pracowity at 6:41 AM on November 18, 2013


But the part where he has five thousand dollars to spare for a pet project was exasperating

Not really a pet project. It was a corporate sponsored research project at a major university for a military-funded contest with a multi-million dollar prize. And not only that, the potential for the technology is in the hundreds of billions of dollars. You don't necessarily get into a position like that because you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth. It takes a lot of hard work and study and ambition and drive. And yes, luck. The fact that he had an extra few grand to throw around isn't the problematic part there. It's how he chose to spend it. (Or at least, consider spending it)
posted by empath at 6:43 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is the thing I find unmanageable about self-driving cars. How do you protect the road from rogue, self-interested agents? We already have asshole human drivers who cut others off expecting them to defensively yield, and I think it's naive to assume that someone won't build an AI that does the same to other, more cautious AIs.

1. Who would write this? 2. How would they be able to afford the extensive testing to make sure it works properly, and the liability insurance in case it doesn't?

In any case, I suspect the demand for such a program wouldn't be there anyway, as the aggressive territoriality of people drops significantly when they move from active drivers to passive riders.

The problem with these 15-to-20 years predictions is: what then happens to the hundreds of millions of cars and other vehicles we already have? You can't just compel everyone in America to purchase a new car, plus, of course, many people genuinely enjoy driving.

You drive them out via cost-prohibitive insurance premiums, and towards car-share programs. There will also be, finally, political will for better mass-transit as a result.

What's their reaction time, and is it better than ours (and able to distinguish between "driving out of the way of an out-of-control car onto the shoulder" and "driving out of the way of an out-of-control car over a cliff")?

The answer to this is obviously yes, particularly with super accurate maps.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:44 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Of course, if something goes wrong, it'll be a blood bath. One of those and self driving cars will probably be banned from highways.

It's already a blood bath out there. From the article: "... worldwide, car accidents kill 1.24 million people a year, and injure another fifty million." I find it hard to imagine that robots could do a worse job driving than that.
posted by octothorpe at 6:47 AM on November 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


what then happens to the hundreds of millions of cars and other vehicles we already have?

Cars aren't forever---the replacement time is about a decade. Automatic cars will have to contend with human drivers on the road for that decade, and likely for the forseeable future. I imagine there will be a large portion of refuseniks and late-adopters, just as there are with any major technology change.

The real answer is, I suspect, closer to 50 years from large-scale introduction, after a generation or two of people, not technology.
posted by bonehead at 6:49 AM on November 18, 2013


Will we see the remaining human drivers become more careless/aggressive because they're surrounded by super-human AIs who automatically react to whatever stupid thing they do?

The roads will be covered with robot vehicles with very fancy monitoring equipment. They will be able to send high-resolution still and video of other vehicles to the local police, along with reliable data on speed and direction. If people are dicks, they will be shut down.

Hell, robot vehicles will be able to share data with other robot vehicles, including robot police vehicles and unmanned cargo vehicles that could be deputized to set up roadblocks.

People will be forced to drive like robots.
posted by pracowity at 6:53 AM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Self-driving cars represent such a dreary, pessimistic sort of futurism.

There are all sorts of good things about self-driving cars, from safety benefits to ecological advantages, but at the core of it, we regard driving as an unpleasant chore and, rather than dealing with the problem of the unpleasant chore itself, seek to treat the symptom as if it's the problem.

There's already a way to have the advantages a self-driving car—live in a city, or in a suburb or small town with decent rail. Work where you live, or move to where you work.

I love to drive, but I hate commute-driving above almost all things, so I've shaped my working life by taking commuting not as a necessary, unavoidable annoyance, but rather as a factor in shaping my decisions about how to govern my life. I picked my last two jobs in a process that included both their suitability and the fact that I could get on a train at the end of my street, read a book for a half hour, and get off the train with a ten minute walk to work. Probably could have made more elsewhere, but time and calm have value.

Because I worked in a field that had variability to it, I picked up a motorcycle, took classes to learn to use it properly, and had a commuter vehicle that gets great gas mileage and is free (and easy) to park. Lately, I'm freelancing again, poking around in search of another good regular job, and my best options are the ones that are close—I've got a prospect in a field that I'd sort of written off, but it is within a six minute motorcycle ride or a twenty minute bicycle ride, and my time is worth more than my idealistic notions of what I want to do.

We already have excellent self-driving cars, in the form of buses, trains, subways, and other public transit, but rather than maximizing an extensive pre-built infrastructure, we're noodling around with an overcomplicated solution to an awfully simple problem. What if, instead of building heavy "light" rail, we made a serious effort to revive the railcar, and schedule enough of them that people could actually use them? The downside to my happy rail commutes was that the MD MARC commuter rail network ran four trains in the morning from my town to my workplace, then one in the mid-afternoon, and three return trains. If we had smaller, more efficient railcars instead of heavy rail, we could run a train every half hour in the rush hour commute and one each hour.

The problem with all this, though, and why I find the self-driving future so dreary, is it's really tied to our innate disdain for ourselves and our ability to adapt. We think no one will want to use public transportation because freedom (er, or some variation on the theme), though you are enslaved to your car, self-driving or otherwise. We think the future will necessarily be like today because today looks a fair bit like yesterday, but *cough* internet. Why can't we work to build a future with less cars, more transit, more bicycles, more localized live/work environments instead of just an automated version of our grim present?

The old saw, for the US, is that we're just too dispersed and mobile for those things to work...except our population mostly lives in cities and exurbs, and if we're actually mobile, we could choose to live near where we work.

Or, we could sit in self-driving cars caught in Beltway traffic, going to jobs we hate that pay us enough to buy the fifty-thousand dollar "econobox" that we need to take us to the jobs we hate that pay us enough to buy…

Screw that future. I'm taking the bus.
posted by sonascope at 6:53 AM on November 18, 2013 [16 favorites]


I imagine there will be a large portion of refuseniks and late-adopters, just as there are with any major technology change.

If insurance companies raise your insurance about tenfold because you're one of the only loose cannons on the road, you won't last long. Only the rich will be able to afford it, and then the government will just say fuck it and force everyone to switch to automatic.
posted by pracowity at 6:56 AM on November 18, 2013


People will be forced to drive like robots.

Which is to say very efficiently and safely.
posted by Aizkolari at 6:58 AM on November 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


Or, we could sit in self-driving cars caught in Beltway traffic, going to jobs we hate that pay us enough to buy the fifty-thousand dollar "econobox" that we need to take us to the jobs we hate that pay us enough to buy…

What traffic? Networked cars will automatically take alternate routes around congestion, making traffic jams almost completely a thing of the past.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:59 AM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


some more:

- Pricing tiers based on response time. Since I work flexitime, I'll pay less for a plan where my ride to work shows up unpredictably (but still calls me half an hour beforehand so I can get out of bed).
- Great deals on in-car advertising for restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, vodka and condoms. The complete mass automated equivalent of a concierge who is bribed by all the local businesses.
- The death of the petrol station as a place to get snacks at 2am, or bad last minute anniversary presents.
- Investment into vastly increased throughput in filling stations.
- Death of filling stations at supermarkets.
- The death of the truck stop as a place to get an excellent fried breakfast
- Substantially increased density in many business and retail parks; more public green spaces between buildings where car parking would have been.
- The eventual death of the seatbelt.
- No more visible controls or mirrors inside cars.
posted by emilyw at 7:01 AM on November 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


What traffic? Networked cars will automatically take alternate routes around congestion, making traffic jams almost completely a thing of the past.

And if everyone takes the alternate route? What if there aren't enough alternate routes?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:02 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Networked cars will automatically take alternate routes around congestion, making traffic jams almost completely a thing of the past.

That explains why my streaming video never bogs down or buffers endlessly.
posted by sonascope at 7:06 AM on November 18, 2013 [11 favorites]


Relevant: In May 2012, Brad Templeton, consultant to Google's Self-Driving car group, gave a lecture in Washington DC that addressed most of the technical questions being asked here.

For those with very little time, the minutes are here. For those with about an hour to kill, the video is here. If you do have the time I strongly recommend it. It was a great talk.


(Sadly, there's no transcript. I'm a member of the Society to which this was presented; I should see about making a transcript.)
posted by seyirci at 7:10 AM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


On walking to work some of us don't like stepping over puddles of pee to get to work. Others don't like getting catcalls and harassment from the friendly people who hang around on the corner. And the great thing about busses is you can be stuck with someone who thinks you're there to give him a blow job, or someone who screams about the mind control chop in his brain, or someone with bedbugs crawling off him, for a good hour or more.

Yeah, cities and busses are just fucking wonderful.
posted by happyroach at 7:11 AM on November 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


And if everyone takes the alternate route? What if there aren't enough alternate routes?

The thing is that robot cars will not make traffic worse. They can only make it better. Humans cause traffic jams by driving aggressively, bumper to bumper, weaving in and out, etc. If you try to leave enough space between your car and the one in front so you don't have to stop and start, some dickhead will just cut in front of you. Robot vehicles don't have to drive like dicks, and can in fact be made to share data and work together to keep traffic flowing smoothly. Robot vehicles can share data on which ones are taking alternate routes and so on, making it possible to do some load balancing on all routes.
posted by pracowity at 7:19 AM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


That explains why my streaming video never bogs down or buffers endlessly.

Do you have a Roku? I've got a Roku. It streams video from a few dozen different streaming services online. It never bogs down or buffers endlessly.

If you're talking about the near-monopoly Youtube service, accessed via a general purpose browser rather than a dedicated client, yeah, Youtube sucks. Self-driving cars will always be terrible in Manhattan, too. But if the highways were as smooth and effortless as watching a show on Netflix, Amazon or PBS Kids on my Roku, I would be a very happy commuter.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:21 AM on November 18, 2013


On walking to work some of us don't like stepping over puddles of pee to get to work. Others don't like getting catcalls and harassment from the friendly people who hang around on the corner. And the great thing about busses is you can be stuck with someone who thinks you're there to give him a blow job, or someone who screams about the mind control chop in his brain, or someone with bedbugs crawling off him, for a good hour or more.

Yeah, cities and busses are just fucking wonderful.


obviously the problem is with public transit, not our complete failure as a society to deal humanely with indigent and mentally ill people
posted by theodolite at 7:22 AM on November 18, 2013 [21 favorites]


There will also be, finally, political will for better mass-transit as a result.

Nobody likes mass transit.

The waiting. The cost. The morons who argue with driver over the cost. The sights smells and sounds of other people. The uncomfortable shit smeared seats,

In my car, I get a nice comfy chair that has only ever known my farts. I can blast the music and no freak with a CIA mind control implant tries to touch me.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:23 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wonder what the unexpected consequences of self-driving (or partly self-driving) cars will be. For one, I imagine it'd be very easy to carjack a Volvo that follows Asimov's laws of robotics and brakes when there's a human in its path.
posted by acb at 7:24 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


The thing is that robot cars will not make traffic worse. They can only make it better.

If they replace transit with magical robot cars, they will absolutely make it worse. The DC Beltway is not backed up solely because of zipper delays and aggregate response time errors—it's backed up because it's a little narrow ribbon of road used by too many people. Replacing transit with robot cars, which is what will happen in a robot car future, will just drop many, many more drivers into that bottleneck. For it to work at all means locking out human-driven cars (poor folks), which isn't very futuristic to me unless you're aiming for a dystopia.
posted by sonascope at 7:25 AM on November 18, 2013


Nobody likes mass transit.

I like mass transit.
posted by pracowity at 7:25 AM on November 18, 2013 [42 favorites]


Nobody likes mass transit.

Call me nobody, then, because I like it and have used it whenever I can for thirty years.

I don't like that it takes a back seat to highway funding, I don't like that schedules are limited, because of highway funding or a general lack of intellect in the planning boards, and I don't like when it's treated as a redheaded stepchild to the almighty car, but I like it because of people and not in spite of them.

Do we really want a world where we've automated all human contact out of existence? It sounds absolutely dreadful to me, even as someone who is introverted in unfamiliar settings and who borders on agoraphobia in some respects, and it just makes the world smaller and more predigested in every way. I guess that's more efficient, but I am not a product—I'm a spark.
posted by sonascope at 7:31 AM on November 18, 2013 [19 favorites]


- In-car sales of breakfast, snacks, coffee, vodka and condoms. Most of these cars will have only one person in, so that leaves plenty of room for the coffee machine.
- Teenagers getting these things to drive round and round the block while they engage in heavy petting and/or illegal drinking.
- Sales of "car use plans" which are payable monthly and include X miles of peak-time driving and Y miles of off-peak.
- Companies that buy unused return journeys from other companies, and then resell them dirt cheap via a HitchHike app which has a big Thumb button that you press and then stand by the side of the road in the rain.
posted by emilyw at 7:31 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


For it to work at all means locking out human-driven cars (poor folks)

Nah. For one thing, robot cars don't have to be expensive. Technology is cheap and getting cheaper. And there can also be car-pooled robot cars, robot taxis, robot vans, robot buses, and robot trains offering various levels of service at various costs, maybe with the drivers replaced by guards who make sure you are safe in your robot public transport vehicle. Combine this with expanding bicycle routes and, thanks to automated cars replacing meathead drivers, safer bicycle routes, and there's no reason to think poor people will be hurt by this.
posted by pracowity at 7:34 AM on November 18, 2013


Nobody likes mass transit.

Not true! Lots of people do, but of course it depends on the quality of the mass transit system.

My wife and I went on a week-long vacation with friends living in Chicago a couple months ago and relied exclusively on public transportation while we were there and it was awesome! We took trains and buses everywhere (with two kids) and had nothing but good experiences with one exception (we got stuck on one especially crowded bus that was kind of miserable, but the problem there was this particular route was under-served--basically, there weren't enough buses on that particular stretch of route, I suspect because it was a poorer area).

Also, when I used to visit Germany we'd use mass transit (buses mainly) and hoofing it almost exclusively to get around in town, and it was so much better than driving.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:37 AM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


For it to work at all means locking out human-driven cars (poor folks), which isn't very futuristic to me unless you're aiming for a dystopia.

Surely they'll have some kind of self-driving time-shared bus for those who can't afford their own robocab? They already have similar (human-driven) dial-a-bus services in sparse suburbs (Melbourne, Australia had them years ago). Add computers to the mix and it becomes a cheap service which will pick you up at A and drop you at B, though usually not as quickly as a car that's not also carrying other people. Book in advance (or schedule a season pass of home/work commutes) and the price drops, and the routing efficiency could also increase.

(The problem of how short the journey is becomes one of economics; of balancing minimising spending on extra vehicles/trips versus minimising time spent waiting by passengers. They could also have different classes of tickets, with higher tiers offering higher routing priority.)
posted by acb at 7:38 AM on November 18, 2013


If the driver's aren't driving, the vehicles will always observe the speed limit

I'm not sure about that. I've driven on roads where a small group of cars going as slow as the speed limit would be actively dangerous to the cars around them (frex, the Jersey Turnpike back when it had a 55 limit but traffic moved at 70-80). I'd bet that the driver program would have some ability to keep up with traffic even when that meant speeding, up to some other limit.

Driving While Black will be much more explicitly racist, and therefore done much less often.

More good news for the nonwhite: your automatic car will be unavoidably covered with cameras, so any interaction with police will be extensively filmed.

why bother when my ride comes to me? Wouldn't a car-share service be cheaper and more efficient?

OTOH, that would transform Monday evenings from "biscotti goes to dog agility class" to "I take out all the crates and other dog stuff, put them in the car share that shows up*, tie everything down, set up the fans and such in summer, put in all the other dog related stuff, and send her on her way." That is, assuming she doesn't for-real need me to go with her to help her undo all that stuff in 20 minutes when she's at the dog agility place. And then do it all over again a couple of hours later when she'd done, and then undo it all all over again when we arrive at home.

*I assume that the car share would have some flag that says "Client requires at least X ft^3 of enclosed cargo space and cargo door." If not, well that's another problem.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:39 AM on November 18, 2013


Wow, it's all Popular Mechanics circa 1955 in here.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:45 AM on November 18, 2013 [15 favorites]


I'd bet that the driver program would have some ability to keep up with traffic even when that meant speeding, up to some other limit.

I doubt that federal highway authorities would allow self-driving systems to be deployed that willfully broke the law.
posted by octothorpe at 7:50 AM on November 18, 2013


obviously the problem is with public transit, not our complete failure as a society to deal humanely with indigent and mentally ill people

Sexual harassers aren't mentally ill; they're just assholes. Likewise some large subset of people who piss on sidewalks are just some mix of assholes and/or drunks rather than being straight-up mentally ill.

And frankly I'm not sure what even a more humane but still American-ish society would do with the large numbers of people out there who are mentally ill enough to be an inconvenience to others, and mentally ill enough to avoid treatment for their illness, but not mentally ill enough to be obviously dangerous.

Do we really want a world where we've automated all human contact out of existence?

Because obviously women who want to avoid being sexually harassed even more than they already are have exactly that as their goal.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:52 AM on November 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


I doubt that federal highway authorities would allow self-driving systems to be deployed that willfully broke the law.

When the alternative is rolling roadblocks moving 20 mph under normal traffic speeds, something's going to give.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:57 AM on November 18, 2013


I doubt that federal highway authorities would allow self-driving systems to be deployed that willfully broke the law.

Would a self-driving car have to stay under the speed limit at all times, or just under the speed limit + the margin for error above which drivers are prosecuted?

Even if the former, the computer has an advantage: better sensors, faster response times and more accuracy. In an 80 zone, it could keep a steady 80 more often than a driver who'd go up and down. It could respond to changing conditions in a more agile way. Even if it were handicapped by facing stricter speed limits, it's not clear whether unaided human drivers would get from A to B faster.

(Of course, there's also the possibility of relying on the computer to handle starts/low-speed negotiations like intersections, and then disengage it and take advantage of the slack of being able to gamble with the speed limit once cruising.)
posted by acb at 7:57 AM on November 18, 2013


—Do we really want a world where we've automated all human contact out of existence?

Because obviously women who want to avoid being sexually harassed even more than they already are have exactly that as their goal.


It may not be the goal, but it will be a result. I can't help but think that a generation of socially stunted men whose primary understanding of how to treat women and other people comes from preprocessed media instead of actual social settings will almost certainly not be paragons of chivalry in the real world, as well.

Honestly, though, is sexual harassment really why we need self-driving cars? Or pee avoidance, or smell avoidance, or annoying conversation avoidance? If that's all true, why aren't we working on those things, which is as simple as education, propagation of cultural norms, and a consensus that we want a culture of civility instead of magical robot cars that'll solve all our symptoms and leave the problems to fester in the dark?
posted by sonascope at 8:01 AM on November 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Why can't we work to build a future with less cars, more transit, more bicycles, more localized live/work environments instead of just an automated version of our grim present?

That's trying to solve a lot of problems that involve a lot of tough political, logistical, and infrastructural issues instead of trying to solve one easily defined technical problem (cars requiring a human driver). Cars already exist and have pros and cons. Driver-less cars would at the very least cut down on the ridiculously high death and injury rates they have, and could probably help the overall transit system become less dependent on everyone owning their own personal car that they by default use for all transportation even when it's not the best option.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:06 AM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I doubt that federal highway authorities would allow self-driving systems to be deployed that willfully broke the law.

No, but how much slack might they give manufacturers of 'performance' vehicles who complain that the 'driving/riding experience' they're selling is incompatible with the standards?

Given the current state of car marketing, you can't expect that the AI driving a Honda Civic will be roughly the same AI in a Ford Mustang. Some high-end car manufacturer is going to test how close they can skirt the regulations in order to sell a car that's visibly more aggressive and macho than all the others.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 8:09 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Honestly, though, is sexual harassment really why we need self-driving cars? Or pee avoidance, or smell avoidance, or annoying conversation avoidance? If that's all true, why aren't we working on those things, which is as simple as education, propagation of cultural norms, and a consensus that we want a culture of civility instead of magical robot cars that'll solve all our symptoms and leave the problems to fester in the dark?

Self-driving cars will replace human-driven cars and taxis. It's unlikely to start competing with mass transit at the low end of the market (or the high-efficiency bulk market, i.e., subways under congested cities, high-speed rail, airliners).
posted by acb at 8:16 AM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Much as with the carpooling lanes seen in some urban areas, I foresee autodriving cars being integrated alongside regular cars in a parallel way, with lanes designated to those who wish to kick back with a book and some tunes while their car makes its automatic way along, conforming to speed limits etc. while the older, non-autodriving cars use the rest of the lanes, with the autodriving ones eventually supplanting all but perhaps one lane. This could work well on big interstates, especially those with controlled access. I could get behind having this option for long trips which tend to be terminally monotonous anyway, and hence more dangerous. It'd be great to nod off and wake up to an alarm letting you know that a hundred miles have passed, your exit is ahead and it's time to wake up and take over for the fun parts of the drive.
posted by kinnakeet at 8:21 AM on November 18, 2013


And frankly I'm not sure what even a more humane but still American-ish society would do with the large numbers of people out there who are mentally ill enough to be an inconvenience to others, and mentally ill enough to avoid treatment for their illness, but not mentally ill enough to be obviously dangerous.

I don't know either, and as a non-American I'm not even going to attempt to guess. But it does seem sad to hear the sentiment that public transit and walking are mostly reserved for the harassers, mentally ill, those who shit on seats and piss on pavements, and everyone who's too poor to avoid all that by driving. There's nothing wrong with public transit, in and of itself; problems only arise when it's seen on a political and structural level as What The Poor/Undesirable People Do, So Basically Who Cares.

We don't have the world's best public transport system in the UK by a long way, but as a non-driver (dislike cars, dislike driving, visual impairment that's not severe enough to legally prevent me driving but would make me worry about safety) I'm grateful for what we do have. Last long-distance trip I took was on this line, where I got to sit back and admire the scenery while someone else handled getting the vehicle from A to B and I didn't have to worry about parking or traffic jams or other people on the roads. When I visit my folks at Christmas, it'll be a 3-hour journey for one that takes 4 in a car, with more gorgeous scenery, a table, a power point for my laptop and someone coming round to offer tea and coffee and wine and mince pies. If I want to head the three miles from my office to the centre of town for lunch, the underground will take me there in six minutes, no hassle with parking or traffic jams or other people on the roads driving like maniacs. Public transport already is my self-driving car, basically.

There are deep issues with the way we do public transport here (my problems with the Glasgow underground alone are enough for an 8000-word rapidly-deleted FPP). And of course I've had problems with crowded trains and people being loud/annoying/outright harassing. But I don't think the answer to issues with public transport is better robot cars, whatever other problems they're a solution to.
posted by Catseye at 8:22 AM on November 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


The death of any roadside store that gets their business through serendipity and drive-by curiousity rather than SEO.

Don't worry. Since the windshield won't be needed for driving when the autopilot takes over, it will double as an advertisement display device, and those roadside stores will be able to purchase ad time on it, along with a single-click option to have the car drive to them.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 8:28 AM on November 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


First the cars will be able drive themselves, then pretty soon they'll be cooking for themselves, meeting other cars, and starting little car-families. Just you wait.
posted by oulipian at 8:30 AM on November 18, 2013


What about privacy, will every road-trip now be monitored? It's seems to me the cost of autonomous cars is the autonomy of their passengers.
posted by elwoodwiles at 8:35 AM on November 18, 2013


What about privacy, will every road-trip now be monitored?

All those people own phones already. Their privacy was exchanged for convenience quite some time ago.
posted by emilyw at 8:36 AM on November 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


What about privacy, will every road-trip now be monitored? It's seems to me the cost of autonomous cars is the autonomy of their passengers.

Only when the local police have been granted the most rubber stampy of secret warrants.

Or if you just broke up with your cop/lover.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:37 AM on November 18, 2013


You can answer the question of insurance rates by turning it into "How will insurance companies maximize their profits?". That means we're going to see the following scenario with self-driving cars in accidents:

"Were you driving the vehicle? Were you in control of the vehicle at the time? No? Then we won't pay out. We will however put four points on your record and raise your insurance rates accordingly."

And just wait until the spammers figure out how to hack the transmissions between cars; continual ads for male enhancements and dating services. Assuming they don't manage to lock the car doors until you agree to buy a product. A new clever version of carjacking will emerge when hackers learn to stear cars to deserted lots to be stripped and passengers robbed.

And the nice thing about manual driving is that if you have a heart attack while driving prior kind of notice when you careen across five lanes of traffic. In an auto-car it will calmly go on to it's destination while you expire, then wait with the exit signal beeping, and the usage rate meter touching to be charged to your next of kin...
posted by happyroach at 8:38 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


For it to work at all means locking out human-driven cars (poor folks), which isn't very futuristic to me unless you're aiming for a dystopia.

Your solution upthread, though: "There's already a way to have the advantages a self-driving car—live in a city, or in a suburb or small town with decent rail. Work where you live, or move to where you work." also locks out vast swaths of poor folks. People can't just do that. Cities with that kind of infrastructure aren't just lying around dotting the middle of the country, and it's not for lack of trying but because public transport investment is a pretty tough sell in any city, and drastically more so in a city of less than 100,000 people. And the list of reasons why people aren't just moving to cities that do have half decent public transport is long, but "can't afford it" is pretty high up there.

Cities like that, a driverless subscription service with a mix of sedan, van and bus-sized vehicles would be a massive boon. The ever-shrinking job prospects in smaller cities will be hugely ameliorated by a transportation system that lets you interview for and take a job with a two hour commute and finish your sleep on the way to work - one of the best features of trains, with a tiny fraction of the infrastructure costs. You can transition to a new life in a new city with better prospects without a huge upfront vehicle cost. Live in a food desert? Now you don't have to shop in one. Want to do your own home repairs or build some DIY furniture because hiring a pro or paying the retail cost is absurdly out of your budget and you don't want some cat-vomit stained, smoke-marinated garage sale furniture? Call up a driverless truck and hit up Home Depot. Just want to get the hell out of town for your own sanity for a few days? Easy. Go to a new city, go to a national park, go reconnect with that childhood friend you've lost touch with, just go. Freedom you've never had.

The money you're not spending on a piece of junk money pit of a car can go straight towards your quality of living. It's a huge, huge cost for the kind of freedom a vehicle can give you right now, and if you have to buy cheap you'll only see the tiniest sliver of that freedom anyways, because you need to share the car with the rest of your family, because you can't afford gas or maintenance, because the more you drive it the more you risk your 15-year-old, 200k mile "new to you" car just breaking down completely and leaving you worse off than the last time you had no transport with all the money you've dumped into it.

It's a nightmare to own a car right now, for most people. Even if your experience with vehicle ownership is a great deal better than what I've described, it's so far from ideal. The fix is to change the game entirely: the smart endgame isn't that everyone gets their own driverless car, it's that nobody has to buy a car again.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:38 AM on November 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


> A continued lack of any funding for decent public transit.

Several of the messages up above sound like people hoping self-driving cars will morph into a back-door route to public transport, on roads instead of rails.

Anybody working on a driverless metro bus as proof of concept?
posted by jfuller at 8:39 AM on November 18, 2013


- The death of any roadside store that gets their business through serendipity and drive-by curiousity rather than SEO.

1. Tell your car what you want right now and let it take you there: "A cozy pub with Guinness and my favorite music."

2. Tell your car what you are always on the lookout for and let it make suggestions: "There's a yard sale coming up on the right."

3. Set your car on random "Sunday drive" mode within certain parameters such as "Nice place for lunch around 12:00, back home by 4:00."
posted by pracowity at 8:40 AM on November 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


The visibility problem is a huge technical hurdle, though. Blizzards, especially.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:41 AM on November 18, 2013


If that's all true, why aren't we working on those things, which is as simple as education, propagation of cultural norms, and a consensus that we want a culture of civility instead of magical robot cars that'll solve all our symptoms and leave the problems to fester in the dark?

I have three answers to that.

1 - "we" are working on those things. There are a plenty of people trying to fix those problems, and plenty of Metafilter posts about them. This one happens to be about something else.

2 - You call them simple, but the problems you mention are *hard*. Establishing a culture of civility isn't something one person or company, can do - we can only act in the way we think is right and hope the rest of society follows. One company certainly can invent a driverless car.

3 - There's no profit in education, propagation of cultural norms, or a consensus that we want a culture of civility. There is massive profit in researching driverless cars.
posted by Turbo-B at 8:43 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Only the rich will be able to afford it, and then the government will just say fuck it and force everyone to switch

I don't think you understand the relationship between the government and the rich.
posted by Ned G at 8:51 AM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


By the way, an automated driver does not necessarily mean a vehicle with no person in charge; a bus that drives itself could employ a conductor/guard/bouncer instead of a driver, and you would be willing to pay a bit more to know your chances of being bothered on the bus just went way down.
posted by pracowity at 8:53 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Honestly, though, is sexual harassment really why we need self-driving cars? Or pee avoidance, or smell avoidance, or annoying conversation avoidance? If that's all true, why aren't we working on those things, which is as simple as education, propagation of cultural norms, and a consensus that we want a culture of civility instead of magical robot cars that'll solve all our symptoms and leave the problems to fester in the dark?

Why not both?
posted by jason_steakums at 8:53 AM on November 18, 2013


Self-driving cars don't compete with transit very much at all in congested urban areas (i.e., the areas where meaningful transit exists), for one simple reason: there is not enough space for everyone who uses transit to take their own car. That is the simple physical reality of our built environments and it is wholly unaffected by your stupid and offensive stereotypes of the bus riding demographic.

But I'd love access to a self-driving car for occasional out-of-town trips. I rented a car for a quick twp-night trip this weekend and I would have given anything to have let a computer drive it; the five hour return trip through driving rain and 30-mph winds with standstill traffic on the interstate was both grueling and mindless, total robot work.
posted by enn at 9:05 AM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


The case against cars in one GIF
posted by gwint at 9:06 AM on November 18, 2013 [9 favorites]


My uncle has a country place
That no one knows about
He said it used to be a farm
Before the motor law
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:07 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


> The case against cars in one GIF

If only each of those people didn't selfishly insist on occupying a separate body, we could smush them all down into one seat.
posted by jfuller at 9:24 AM on November 18, 2013


There are already self-parking cars on the market, as well as cars that automatically stop backing up when there's an object behind them. That's how people will get used to the idea of self-driving cars. Me, I would LOVE to have a self-driving car share; we could then get rid of our second car, which we drive about twice a month and which is a beat-to-hell pickup truck, and trade it for a "second car" car-share which could be a Smart car or a 4-person sedan or a minivan or a truck or whatever I happened to need that day.
posted by KathrynT at 9:25 AM on November 18, 2013


It also seems possible that this could really help in more rural areas; if you could have driverless vans instead of enormous buses with drivers that could really increase public transportation in a lot of places. I assume that would be really tricky but it could work eventually.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:27 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


How do you protect the road from rogue, self-interested agents?

The same way we do now -- with police who monitor the roads and hand out tickets.

Only at about the same time that self-driving cars become a reality, I suspect it will become possible to remotely monitor the roads and just send you your tickets in real-time electronically.

The DC Beltway is something like 80% covered by surveillance cameras today -- they're called "traffic cameras" -- and it's a fairly simple matter of upgrading them to a higher resolution and putting better road lighting so that Automatic Plate Recognition will work at long distances. You could have software analyze the traffic patterns and look for normal AI behaviors and pick out "aggressive" behaviors for ticketing, which would also probably be pretty good at spotting human drivers on roads where automatic control is mandatory.

There's always the possibility for fraud at the margins, e.g. people stealing plates and putting them on a different car and then driving that car aggressively, hoping that the ANR system will send the tickets to the original plate owner, or creating spoofed plates, etc., but you can do that sort of stuff today. There's always going to be a place for police to chase down and punish people who try to pursue their own self-interest at the expense or risk of others.

I'm not quite as bullish on how soon we'll see completely autonomous vehicles though. You can make a car today that will drive itself in ideal conditions, but it falls apart pretty quickly in non-ideal scenarios. Add heavy fog, or just some sort of traffic condition outside the computer's defined parameters, and you could get a really rough ride. So I think we'll have machine-assisted human driving for quite a while, where the machine is billed as a sort of safety feature, like overgrown ABS or cruise control. I don't think we'll get fully autonomous high-speed driving until the cars can communicate reliably with each other or with a road-control system to coordinate them all. That would be a huge advantage over a human driver because it would let the car anticipate things that are outside its actual sensory bubble (which humans can do, with stuff like Waze or Google Maps, in a limited way).

And as I've said earlier, one of the real advantages of machines is that they can be upgraded, while humans are very hard to retrain as the state-of-the-art changes around them. But I think there's a mistake whenever we do a straight-line extrapolation based on initial advances in a technology: some of the biggest problems towards making it marketable are in the last 5-10%, and we haven't started to get down to them yet.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:28 AM on November 18, 2013


as simple as education, propagation of cultural norms, and a consensus that we want a culture of civility

So...not even the teensiest bit simple, is what you're saying?
posted by yoink at 9:28 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


If only each of those people didn't selfishly insist on occupying a separate body, we could smush them all down into one seat.

*golf clap*

Bra-vo.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:31 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


If that's all true, why aren't we working on those things, which is as simple as education, propagation of cultural norms, and a consensus that we want a culture of civility instead of magical robot cars

...and so the guy says "Okay, fine, I wish for an end to sexual harassment of women and for the sweeping changes to millennia of male-dominated culture, the radical restructuring of hundreds of millions of people's beliefs and preferences on the issue, and the fundamental reorganization of society that that would entail." And the genie sighs and says, "Let me look at that map again?"

It's hardly surprising that people who anonymous civil society doesn't treat very well might welcome respites from anonymous civil society.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:31 AM on November 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


There is a lot of crazy salesmanship from Google on self-driving cars, and this article feeds into that with bare discussion about other companies in the same field but full hagiographies of individual Google engineers. I think that self-driving cars are a great idea, but I could do without the endless Google boosterism. Your first self-driven car is more likely to have been developed by some nameless engineer in Munich than some whizkid from Silicon Valley.
posted by Thing at 9:40 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


—as simple as education, propagation of cultural norms, and a consensus that we want a culture of civility

So...not even the teensiest bit simple, is what you're saying?


It's simpler than inventing a completely new transportation network in a country that shows very little will for such things, reworking laws and infrastructure across the entirety of a huge and disparate nation, and convincing the people to surrender a very basic form of control in exchange for benefit that could be achieved in lots of more practical ways, yes.

I'm a gay gay who was born in a country in which it was illegal to be who I am, and who now lives in a place where I can marry, where I can be in the army, and where my rights are protected and where my existence is valued by my neighbors, so you'll forgive me if I don't take the standard negative view of humanity. I have nieces who have opportunities their mother never had, and who have resources to call out mistreatment that their grandmother would have never dreamed of. To hear the protests about how intractable these things are, you'd pretty much want to just throw up your hands, climb into your robot car, and give up, but fortunately, everyone doesn't feel that way. I sure don't.
posted by sonascope at 10:01 AM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


>> For it to work at all means locking out human-driven cars (poor folks)

> For one thing, robot cars don't have to be expensive.


But surely as people move to robots, the human-driven cars dumped on the market will get cheaper & cheaper until they're made illegal and junked.

What will happen to 1st generation robot cars? It might not just be software that needs an upgrade, but sensors. Sensors cost more than cars residual value = more junk.

> Combine this with expanding bicycle routes and, thanks to automated cars replacing meathead drivers, safer bicycle routes

Bicycling will be made illegal. Crossing streets at unmarked crosswalks will be made illegal. Stop signs will go away and pedestrians will have to use a mobile phone locator beacon + cross-request-app to cross streets.

How much tolerance will robo-car users, already traveling under the speed limit, have for being stuck behind a cyclist? No option for a fast too-close pass when the cyclist is riding the left edge of a bike lane that's crowded on the right by car doors.

Maybe cyclists will be able to get mobile beacons, insurance and licenses that will be revoked if they leave the bike lane. The poor department store bicycle-shaped-object sidewalk & salmon riders that currently make up the majority of bicycle commuting miles who are already left out of infrastructure discussions will be hurt by the coming circumscription of "free travel."

This [PDF] analysis of the MIT v. Cornell robo-car collision is from 2007, so fully 1/2 of the way back through robo-car development history. It tells me that robots can remain fully aware all the time, but their senses are pretty shitty. In aggregate, it makes for safer driving, but the more the road is stripped of confusing chaff, the better.
posted by morganw at 10:09 AM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's simpler than inventing a completely new transportation network in a country that shows very little will for such things, reworking laws and infrastructure across the entirety of a huge and disparate nation, and convincing the people to surrender a very basic form of control in exchange for benefit that could be achieved in lots of more practical ways, yes.

The whole point of the current driverless car push is that it won't do any of those things, though (as the article says, "Almost from the beginning, the field divided into two rival camps: smart roads and smart cars."; the former camp is not what we're talking about here). It's being engineered to work on the existing transportation network and infrastructure under the same legal regime. And no one is seriously advocating a "surrendering" of control, at least not until the technology shows considerable improvement over the current system.
posted by Etrigan at 10:17 AM on November 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


If that's all true, why aren't we working on those things, which is as simple as education, propagation of cultural norms, and a consensus that we want a culture of civility

Would there be any people in this culture? Because that's not what people are actually like.

Do we really want a world where we've automated all human contact out of existence?

Is this an option? Because, yes.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:21 AM on November 18, 2013


1. Who would write this? 2. How would they be able to afford the extensive testing to make sure it works properly, and the liability insurance in case it doesn't?

Who would write it? Tech-savvy hacker types. The kind that are furious that something they bought and paid for doesn't let you tweak it. Like iPhones for example. Who would want it? Lots of people, I'm sure. Likely among them the type that likes spoilers and ground effects and noisy exhaust systems. I suspect testing would be poor to non-existent, and a lack of liability insurance doesn't even hold back drivers (and a lot of other people) from doing dangerous or questionable things right now. I can see zero chance that some people won't try and tweak an automated driving computer system.

Anyways, personally I don't see manual driving going away unless it's mandated. People like driving and a lot of them think they're really good at it. All those sportscars you see on the road? Do you think they value their vehicles specifically for getting from point A to point B, or because of how they feel while driving it? Yeah it's technically an offense, but people that buy these cars like to see what they can do when they think they have an opportunity. I just can't see the North American car market collectively saying "thank goodness, finally we have safe vehicles that follow the speed limit and take control away from us!"

Bicycling will be made illegal. Crossing streets at unmarked crosswalks will be made illegal. Stop signs will go away and pedestrians will have to use a mobile phone locator beacon + cross-request-app to cross streets.

I highly doubt these cars will be incapable of sensing and avoiding pedestrians or cyclists by the time they roll out. Pretty sure they detect and warn of hazards already.
posted by Hoopo at 10:22 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know either, and as a non-American I'm not even going to attempt to guess. But it does seem sad to hear the sentiment that public transit and walking are mostly reserved for the harassers, mentally ill, those who shit on seats and piss on pavements, and everyone who's too poor to avoid all that by driving. There's nothing wrong with public transit, in and of itself; problems only arise when it's seen on a political and structural level as What The Poor/Undesirable People Do, So Basically Who Cares.

I have been using mass transit regularly for the last... 40? years, living in 5 different cities in the US and visiting many others, and I have to say that, while mass transit is disproportionately used by the poor, they are mostly people, like everyone else, whoa re just trying to get somewhere. There are mild aggravations of crowding and delays and the occasional asshole, but I've only had (or witnessed) a handful of serious incidents, and I used to ride a line that connected several government service centers and mental health facilities (as well as my home and work and a major entertainment zone). The place where mass transit starts failing is when it is not funded well enough for routes to run often enough. I will admit that it's stressful to worry about catching the last bus or having to schedule work around when bus/train routes run.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:22 AM on November 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's simpler than inventing a completely new transportation network in a country that shows very little will for such things, reworking laws and infrastructure across the entirety of a huge and disparate nation, and convincing the people to surrender a very basic form of control in exchange for benefit that could be achieved in lots of more practical ways, yes.

But they don't need to do that, they can grow market-by-market and product-by-product and go where the demand is. These things are being built specifically to use the existing infrastructure. And if they go with a bus/cab fee kind of business model it avoids both the problems of consumer buy-in and a large infrastructure footprint, and becomes more of a cab service with an Enterprise Rent-A-Car lot footprint.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:23 AM on November 18, 2013


If only each of those people didn't selfishly insist on occupying a separate body, we could smush them all down into one seat.

Well sure, post-singularity once we are all uploaded, of course you'd use a body-share program for the times you need physi-presence. Who'd want to go through the expense of maintaining a body just for themselves when you don't need it 98% of the time?
posted by fings at 10:26 AM on November 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I highly doubt these cars will be incapable of sensing and avoiding pedestrians or cyclists by the time they roll out. Pretty sure they detect and warn of hazards already.

I don't think the issue with pedestrians and (to a lesser extent, IMO) cyclists is a fear that the self-driving cars won't be capable of detecting and avoiding them. The fear is that they will be too good at it, and pedestrians, without the fear of a collision, will feel free to jaywalk to such a degree that traffic becomes essentially gridlocked in some locations. I do think it's likely that cities will crack down on jaywalking if self-driving cars roll out, because I don't think it's plausible that we're going to not use a technology that would save tens of thousands of lives a year, in addition to other benefits, because people want to jaywalk.
posted by dsfan at 10:28 AM on November 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


There's also the moral quandary of whether the cars will be programmed to drive into a ditch to avoid hitting a kid who runs out into the road.
posted by straight at 10:39 AM on November 18, 2013


jfuller: "Anybody working on a driverless metro bus as proof of concept?"

We've had driverless trains in London for a while now. FWIW, there's apparently only been one crash, in 1991, since it opened in 1987, and one of the trains involved was being driven manually - though I can't find a confirmation of whether it was the driver's fault.
posted by Drexen at 10:42 AM on November 18, 2013


Metafilter: more humane but still American-ish
posted by Segundus at 10:43 AM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


The whole point of the current driverless car push is that it won't do any of those things, though (as the article says, "Almost from the beginning, the field divided into two rival camps: smart roads and smart cars."; the former camp is not what we're talking about here). It's being engineered to work on the existing transportation network and infrastructure under the same legal regime.

Except that it won't exist on the existing transportation network/infrastructure under the same legal regime, because self-driving cars are not legal. In fact, the tangle of legislation to deal with a mixture of self-driven vs. human-operated vehicles on the road is on a par with healthcare reform, not just a simple checkbox that says self-driving cars are now legal.

I'm a little surprised that so much of this comment thread comes down to a belief that human behavior is intractable and unalterable, while a World's Fair-era magical realist corporate-fueled fantasy that completely glosses over the actual technical, legislative, and psychological complexity of something like this is pretty much taken as a natural and simple thing.

I just came back from running errands on my motorcycle. The roads had missing signs and markers, worn-out fog lines, absent center lines—what's the robot to do here? Just cling to the ragged edge of the asphalt, which is any of a dozen shades of grey to almost white to reddish or sparkly? If there's an intersection and the yield sign is missing, leaving no sign at all except for the sort of easy judgment call a person makes, what's the robot going to do? At the base of a big hill, there's a stretch of sandy gravel that is visually absolutely indistinguishable from asphalt, which I know is there because I can see where a trail of it has flushed out in the rain to the other side. Can the robot see this?

In the rolling hills and fields around where I live, it's deer rutting season, and I can catch a movement, way off in the distance, mixed in with the brush on the farm, that means several deer are moving, and I know that I need to adjust my riding to deal with the potential for deer launching themselves into the road, even if there are none to be seen anywhere closer. Can a robot car do that, or are we just supposed to hit the deer and thank Our Ford for our supersafe car?

Of course, the robot car could just say "hey, it's your job now," but are drivers who are used to being ferried around by their synthetic parents really going to be skilled drivers? Brains that don't get used start to atrophy.

Mind you, there's all sorts of point to this research as an augmentation to human-driven cars, but we seem to be interested mainly in the be-all-end-all of wanting to be passive in a box rather than being awake in a box. Mileage may vary, most certainly.
posted by sonascope at 10:46 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


sonascope: "we seem to be interested mainly in the be-all-end-all of wanting to be passive in a box rather than being awake in a box. Mileage may vary, most certainly."

I'm more interested in not being killed by a box, whether I'm inside it or outside it. It would also be nice to be able to occupy myself how I liked in a box, rather than having to constantly be responsible for my own and others' lives when I'm in a box.
posted by Drexen at 10:50 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Except that it won't exist on the existing transportation network/infrastructure under the same legal regime, because self-driving cars are not legal.

They are in Nevada. And they are in a lot of other places under various not-intractable-and-unalterable legal regimes. The fact that some laws will have to be put in place to deal with this is not the huge barrier that you seem to think it is.

In fact, the tangle of legislation to deal with a mixture of self-driven vs. human-operated vehicles on the road is on a par with healthcare reform, not just a simple checkbox that says self-driving cars are now legal.

No, it won't be simple. But really, "on a par with healthcare reform"? For someone who professes such scorn for the supposed "belief that human behavior is intractable and unalterable", you're surprisingly cynical about this point.

In the rolling hills and fields around where I live, it's deer rutting season, and I can catch a movement, way off in the distance, mixed in with the brush on the farm, that means several deer are moving, and I know that I need to adjust my riding to deal with the potential for deer launching themselves into the road, even if there are none to be seen anywhere closer. Can a robot car do that, or are we just supposed to hit the deer and thank Our Ford for our supersafe car?

From TFA:
Dolgov was riding through a wooded area one night when the car suddenly slowed to a crawl. “I was thinking, What the hell? It must be a bug,” he told me. “Then we noticed the deer walking along the shoulder.” The car, unlike its riders, could see in the dark.
posted by Etrigan at 10:55 AM on November 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


Bicycling will be made illegal. Crossing streets at unmarked crosswalks will be made illegal. Stop signs will go away and pedestrians will have to use a mobile phone locator beacon + cross-request-app to cross streets.

The experimental cars have already advanced WAY past needing that. Google already has autonomous cars driving around Nevada right now in normal traffic, on completely normal streets. There is a huge amount of computer vision and 3d sensing going on -- better than a human can provide. The car can look in every direction at all times, never blinking, never getting distracted, with reaction times faster than you have. Even at this early stage, you'd have to try *much* harder to get hit by an autonomous car than a human-driven one.
posted by the jam at 11:07 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Google already has autonomous cars driving around Nevada right now in normal traffic, on completely normal streets.

Also, VisLab's autonomous car has driven through downtown Parma. I've driven in Italy, and if your robot car can deal with that, then it can drive anywhere.
posted by Etrigan at 11:13 AM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I just came back from running errands on my motorcycle. The roads had missing signs and markers, worn-out fog lines, absent center lines—what's the robot to do here? Just cling to the ragged edge of the asphalt, which is any of a dozen shades of grey to almost white to reddish or sparkly? If there's an intersection and the yield sign is missing, leaving no sign at all except for the sort of easy judgment call a person makes, what's the robot going to do? At the base of a big hill, there's a stretch of sandy gravel that is visually absolutely indistinguishable from asphalt, which I know is there because I can see where a trail of it has flushed out in the rain to the other side. Can the robot see this?

In the rolling hills and fields around where I live, it's deer rutting season, and I can catch a movement, way off in the distance, mixed in with the brush on the farm, that means several deer are moving, and I know that I need to adjust my riding to deal with the potential for deer launching themselves into the road, even if there are none to be seen anywhere closer. Can a robot car do that, or are we just supposed to hit the deer and thank Our Ford for our supersafe car?


In addition to what Etrigan said about the deer, these problems are why the timetable is like a decade at the most optimistic for widespread rollout - these problems do exist, but they're being solved. It's not a new transportation paradigm based around today's robot cars, but tomorrow's.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:18 AM on November 18, 2013


Wow, it's all Popular Mechanics circa 1955 in here.

And I like it!
posted by Aizkolari at 11:19 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


A technology doesn't need to be perfect to be useful. Hell, a driverless taxi system that can do nothing more than drive people to subway stations using well mapped and maintained city roads would be useful enough.
posted by empath at 11:26 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


It’s surmounted by a spinning laser turret and knobbed with cameras, radar, antennas, and G.P.S. It looks a little like an ice-cream truck, lightly weaponized for inner-city work.

More than anything, this tells me that self-driving cars will be playthings of the super-rich. Simply the upkeep and maintenance will be prohibitive for anyone who isn't in the elites to think about keeping such a vehicle on the road. The other use case would be things that can be used to put workers out of jobs - self-driving buses and taxis and so forth. But I can't see it working out to where individual driverless cars will ever be a socially normal thing. It'll be the elites in their driverless Lexuses and Mercedes and the rest of us relegated to non-robotic cars or public transit.
posted by graymouser at 11:39 AM on November 18, 2013


We already have cars that you don't have to drive yourself. They're called buses, and if everyone used them, they would go everywhere.
posted by threeants at 11:41 AM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


self-driving cars will be playthings of the super-rich

Only inasmuch as cars with AC or electric windows were once playthings of the super rich; or mobile phones that could check your email.

The super-rich will be the early adopters, who will fund the development of the mass market versions following on a decade or so later.
posted by emilyw at 11:44 AM on November 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think you guys are not getting that the use case here is not sales to individuals, but solving the last mile problem for mass transit. The point is that with a driverless car system, it opens up possibilities for a lot of people to not own cars. Imagine something like Uber with a lot more cars at one third the price. You click a button on your phone, a car is at your house in a few minutes, drops you off at the nearest metro, and goes to get the next guy.

There are millions of people that live in cities with well lit and well marked roads that would prefer not to own a car if it were a little bit more convenient. No dealing with finding parking, paying for insurance, filling the tank, getting your car inspected, blah blah blah.

It doesn't have to be for everyone for it to have a huge impact in a place like DC where there is a lot of un walkable suburban sprawl between sparsely spaced metro stops. I'd get rid of my car in a heartbeat if we had a service like that that could drive me the fifteen minutes to the nearest metro from my apartment, and then drive me the ten minutes to get to work on the other end.

It seems like it would be almost criminal to actually BUY a driverless car just to have the thing sit uselessly in your driveway 22 hours out of the day. The technology is meant for sharing.

The only downside I think, is rush hour, because there wouldn't be enough cars to drive everyone at once, and maybe the introduction of these things will be enough for corporations to finally start distributing working hours better.
posted by empath at 12:03 PM on November 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


As a commercial for the Dodge Charger put it two years ago, “Hands-free driving, cars that park themselves, an unmanned car driven by a search-engine company? We’ve seen that movie. It ends with robots harvesting our bodies for energy.”

Wait, seriously? Dodge is mounting scaremongering attack ads?
posted by anazgnos at 12:07 PM on November 18, 2013


Although, now that I think about it, it would be fairly trivial to car pool with these things. You could have individual cubicles in the thing with wifi and desks and pick up four people at a time. Wouldn't be that hard to come up with an algorithm to efficiently pick people up. Since you won't need clear sight lines through the car, like you do with a human driver, you can split up the interior so you don't even know if there are other passengers in the car.
posted by empath at 12:08 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


human behavior is intractable and unalterable [...] a World's Fair-era magical realist corporate-fueled fantasy

This dichotomy captures about 50% of it — the standard techno-utopian libertarian "disruption" shtick we see elsewhere — but you're missing a big piece when you turn to anti-convenience analog curmudgeonry in this case. The current car system entails a huge amount of what in other contexts we'd call "structural violence" — there's a huge externality, measured in thousands and millions of lives, to human-piloted cars. The driving argument here (heh) should be safety, not convenience — any means, including high-tech ones, are worth supporting if they address the death toll. Relatively ephemeral arguments about human psychological alienation or the pleasure of the driving experience or whatever are only worth indulging after you've thought that through.
posted by RogerB at 12:09 PM on November 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


We already have cars that you don't have to drive yourself. They're called buses, and if everyone used them, they would go everywhere.

At the risk of derailing into whether or not people should live outside of densely populated urban areas, for a lot of places a bus system is just not going to be practical because people who need to go somewhere and the places they need to go are so spread out. Where I live, work and have family, the infrastructure is all built around cars, so even though I personally dislike driving there's not really a reasonable alternative.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:11 PM on November 18, 2013


Like, just for a second, consider how much of the design of an automobile is based on a few assumptions -- that it's owned by an individual, that it needs to be able to drive long distances, that there is a driver which needs to see the road and control the vehicle, that it needs to be versatile enough for various uses. You can have hyper specialized automatically driven vehicles with all kinds of form factors, with drive by wire control systems, that it would be impossible for a human to use. You have coups, sedans, stretch limos, party buses, cargo carriers, pizza delivery cars, mobile office-spaces. Open up your imaginations a bit and try to stop thinking of Priuses with lasers on top.
posted by empath at 12:18 PM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


You people claiming that robots can't replace humans because of (fog/bad line painting/elk/X) have obviously never driven with commuter traffic, in which a significant proportion (probable majority) of drivers are zombies. They arrive at their destinations with nary an idea as to how they got there. Driving on complete autopilot, they are certainly no more capable than a robot. And at least the robots are always paying attention.

Self-driving transportation is going to be revolutionary. It changes everything.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:36 PM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


>> Crossing streets at unmarked crosswalks will be made illegal. Stop signs will go away and pedestrians will have to use a mobile phone locator beacon + cross-request-app to cross streets.

> The experimental cars have already advanced WAY past needing that.


dsfan explained that the problem isn't that robo-cars will hit jaywalkers, but that errant peds will slow the cars down too much. The result? Better anti-jaywalking enforcement. Equip the robo-cars with cameras and send photos supplemented with rangefinder metadata directly to the police. Hell, equip them with license plate readers to rat out bad human drivers doo.

Once all cars are self-driving, we can do away with stop signs. Cars will know what other cars are approaching intersections and they can negotiate turns or even slow & speed so no one needs to stop completely. Think of how much fuel and wear&tear we'd save!

What's better for the greater good can become a form of mob rule.
posted by morganw at 12:37 PM on November 18, 2013


I think the obvious solution is instead of getting rid of drivers, get rid of passengers. With automation getting rid of half the jobs in the next couple decades, there won't be much of a need for commuting, either for the ex-workers subsisting at home on Soylent, or the poor shlubs slaving away in debtors prisons. And that's the best case scenario. More likely most of us will be too busy fighting over a dry spot under a bridge to worry about commuting.
posted by happyroach at 12:38 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nobody likes mass transit.

Driving: no matter how skilled I am, no matter how careful I am, today might be the day I kill someone. Also, parallel parking.

Subway: after a 1-3 minute wait, a magic box driven by a robot arrives to whisk me to my destination. Every time I take it I feel like I'm in some sort of Jetsonian future. Zero traffic, no parking and it's even faster than driving.

One thing my car doesn't do: transform into a boat. Here in Vancouver we've got the Seabus. I admit, it only comes every 15 minutes, but then you get to ride on the ocean in a boat with great views of downtown, the mountains, the forest and a nifty looking working industrial port. This is what a bus ticket buys you.

This is what underfunded public transit looks like.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:43 PM on November 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


Although, now that I think about it, it would be fairly trivial to car pool with these things. You could have individual cubicles in the thing with wifi and desks and pick up four people at a time. Wouldn't be that hard to come up with an algorithm to efficiently pick people up. Since you won't need clear sight lines through the car, like you do with a human driver, you can split up the interior so you don't even know if there are other passengers in the car.

On the individual cubicles thing, the entire side of a driverless bus could just be doors, each opening only into a little private cubicle with roll-up partitions in case you want to share a larger cubicle with friends.

Like, just for a second, consider how much of the design of an automobile is based on a few assumptions -- that it's owned by an individual, that it needs to be able to drive long distances, that there is a driver which needs to see the road and control the vehicle, that it needs to be versatile enough for various uses. You can have hyper specialized automatically driven vehicles with all kinds of form factors, with drive by wire control systems, that it would be impossible for a human to use. You have coups, sedans, stretch limos, party buses, cargo carriers, pizza delivery cars, mobile office-spaces. Open up your imaginations a bit and try to stop thinking of Priuses with lasers on top.

Also, there are better passenger safety solutions that become doable when the form factor changes. Much more isolation from the outside than a pane of safety glass, better airbag arrangements, more options for crumple zones. And they could pull off safety maneuvers that people can't: think about an icy road failsafe where, in a loss of control, the car can deploy external airbags and a device from underneath that puts high-friction, large surface area ice brakes down on the icy road itself to get you down to a manageable speed or full stop quickly while turning on flashers and broadcasting a warning signal over the local wireless communication network to give other robocars a heads up - tricks that a human driver couldn't pull off in a panicked situation. Actual crazy Mach Five stuff.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:43 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


All I know is that I see the Google self driving cars on the 280 freeway frequently...and everytime all I can think about is getting in front of it and deploying a chaff countermeasure to see how the spinny radar thingee on top will react to thousands of little metal strips suddenly appearing on screen. It's just like playing Spy Hunter except I have to imagine the music in my head.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 12:59 PM on November 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


No, it won't be simple. But really, "on a par with healthcare reform"? For someone who professes such scorn for the supposed "belief that human behavior is intractable and unalterable", you're surprisingly cynical about this point.

Well, we went from drunk driving being a sort of laughed-off normal thing to an intolerable thing awfully quickly, and we did the same with seatbelts and we're doing the same with text-driving and other modern atrocities. Teaching people not to be assholes is surprisingly easier than telling people they can't drive a car anymore, or that they can't use a particular road anymore, which are not just projections, but things the smart car people actually say we ought to do. That's political more than behavioral, and my prediction is that it's going to be slightly less difficult than gun control, though I'll happily yield to the majority here and revisit this in twenty years or so.
posted by sonascope at 1:12 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


telling people they can't drive a car anymore, or that they can't use a particular road anymore, which are not just projections, but things the smart car people actually say we ought to do.... my prediction is that it's going to be slightly less difficult than gun control...

Good to see that America's rich vein of gun-control FUD is being repurposed into other areas.

"Sergey Brin can have my car when he pries it from my cold, dead hands!"
posted by Etrigan at 1:23 PM on November 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is a country beset by paranoia, alas, with a major centrist libertarian weirdo American-dream-bullshit element that has a shocking amount of power over the public discourse (which is where all those post-Connecticut notions of gun control went, alas). Maybe I'm wrong, and people will just hand over their F150s without a peep, but I think the notion that robot cars are simpler than something usefully in-between has some reality distortion fields at work.

Mind you, we're also beset by ridiculous Robert Moses-style destructive projects in which the world of the future is imposed by bulldozer over an existing working landscape and starry-eyed futurists say things like "cities will be built around this device" in reference to the Segway.

Listen to what people say about electric cars for reference. They drive far less miles daily than the range of most of 'em, but what's the complaint? Range, range, range. Paranoia and mythos are harder to challenge than behavior, largely because paranoia makes one think that having their paranoia questioned just proves their fears.
posted by sonascope at 1:32 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hope that this does happen in 15-20 years or 30. Definitely in 40. In 40 years, I'll be 70. Fuel economy and less-stressed drivers are fine and all, but you want to know who would benefit the most from this? Grandma and Grandpa, that's who.
posted by ghostiger at 1:38 PM on November 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Maybe I'm wrong, and people will just hand over their F150s without a peep...

The number of people who are actually seriously advocating the abolition of human-driven automobiles is roughly equivalent to the number of people who are actually seriously advocating the abolition and confiscation of privately owned firearms -- which is to say, so small as to be statistically zero, and all of them heavily predicated on "If X and Y and Z happen, then it would be kinda nice to eventually someday maybe have a society where these things are so ludicrously out of the mainstream that no one really cares about them."

You're crying about something that is so far afield of what is actually going on anywhere that it looks like you're just trying to get people's robotically-driven goat.
posted by Etrigan at 1:39 PM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


dsfan explained that the problem isn't that robo-cars will hit jaywalkers, but that errant peds will slow the cars down too much

Also, while the restrictions and requirement for gps on bicycles and pedestrians will be sold as a traffic flow and safety measure, they will also come in handy in social control. Consider how easy it will be to disperse something like Critical Mass when every participant automatically gets a ticket for unsafe vehicle operation. Likewise pedestrians could be routed away from protest areas.

There's going to be a lot of interesting social control tricks that can come into play with automated cars. Bear in mind that the cars will have a profile of every person that uses them.

"Ms. Johnson, a Daniel Willis has requested transportation to your house. You are on record as having an injunction against Mr. Willis. For a mere 59 dollars per month, you can join our Secure Destinations program, which will secure your neighborhood against..."

" The destination you entered, TRADER JOE'S is in a legal dispute with iCar Inc. Please select another destination."

"I'm sorry, Morningside is listed as a private community. Please enter your access code."

which will lead to...

"The destination you entered is in the city of Montecito, California. You are a Class 3 Citizen, and I am unable to transport you to that destination without a guest permit. Please enter guest permit now."

Just imagine all the fun the corporations will have...
posted by happyroach at 1:44 PM on November 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Maybe I'm wrong, and people will just hand over their F150s without a peep, but I think the notion that robot cars are simpler than something usefully in-between has some reality distortion fields at work.

Before you go back to this again, can you please cite where driverless car enthusiasts have suggested banning human driven cars?
posted by empath at 1:50 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're crying about something that is so far afield of what is actually going on anywhere that it looks like you're just trying to get people's robotically-driven goat.

I'm not "crying" about anything and as I'm not making this personal, I'd would very much enjoy the same respect, thank you. I'm expressing a concern and I'm lamenting that we're arguing for a ridiculously complicated solution to an already-solved problem. The claim that transit doesn't work because it [smells, is a harassment zone, forces us to deal with other humans, is something no one in their right mind would like, et cetera] just seems like a weird way to wave off a system that is already in place, already works, and could be made to fulfill all the fever dreams of robot car enthusiasts for a hell of a lot less money and disruption isn't crying—it's calling for pragmatism over nonexistent solutions to symptoms rather than problems.

I'm also not even remotely saying that the paranoia out there is my paranoia, lest one conflate the acknowledgment that such a thing exists with my own thoughts on the matter. If you think cars are not an arena in which the crazy is strong with Americans, I suggest you venture into some gearhead forums sometime.
posted by sonascope at 1:51 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


How far in the future are self-flying cars?
Anyone remember that in the future all mail and packages were to be delivered to your house by pneumatic tubes? Instead, we got email. And UPS.
posted by Cranberry at 2:02 PM on November 18, 2013


You're crying about something that is so far afield of what is actually going on anywhere that it looks like you're just trying to get people's robotically-driven goat.

Except half the people in this thread are predicting the abolition of regular cars by the year 2040 though?
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:08 PM on November 18, 2013


Except half the people in this thread are predicting the abolition of regular cars by the year 2040 though?

I'm sorry, what?
posted by empath at 2:21 PM on November 18, 2013


Self driving cars will be GOOD for transit. It will be easier for buses to run in traffic on high-use roads when they don't have to wait for idiot drivers to get out of their way, and suburban and rural areas could be more easily served by a whistle-up autonomous service (either carshare, privately owned SDC, or even a public transit system) that would take you to a transit hub. Right now, if I want to take the bus downtown, I have to either walk a mile to the bus stop (not so easy in the rain, with small children, or in the dark) or drive to the park and ride, which necessitates owning a car that can stay parked at the park and ride all day, as well as having the city land devoted to a massive parking lot. In addition to that, I'm driving into the city once a week or more, because I have rehearsals in the city in the evenings and by the time I'm coming home, the buses are running every hour at best.

If I could whistle up a car to take me to the bus station which would then toodle off to go help someone else, and then whistle up a similar vehicle to take me all the way home if the bus schedule wasn't convenient, I would absolutely 100% bus in to rehearsal instead of driving my car. And maybe if the Metro didn't have to run buses all the way out to me or even more distant suburbs, they could afford to have their core lines run more often.
posted by KathrynT at 2:37 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm expressing a concern and I'm lamenting that we're arguing for a ridiculously complicated solution to an already-solved problem.

It's not solved for me, otherwise I wouldn't own and drive a car. A self-driving car would make my life better in actual concrete ways and people are working on projects that may make that happen eventually. Nobody is working on getting bus service going to take me from a small town to another small town 20 miles away, and if very few people are making that trip at the same time as me it might not be feasible to ever run such as system.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:39 PM on November 18, 2013


The claim that transit doesn't work because it [smells, is a harassment zone, forces us to deal with other humans, is something no one in their right mind would like, et cetera] just seems like a weird way to wave off a system that is already in place, already works, and could be made to fulfill all the fever dreams of robot car enthusiasts for a hell of a lot less money and disruption isn't crying—it's calling for pragmatism over nonexistent solutions to symptoms rather than problems.

There are all kinds of uses in all kinds of places for which public transit is a poor to fair option at best. As has been pointed out many times already, much of our existing urban infrastructure was designed around the personal automobile, for example. Significant percentages of the US population live in low density suburbs and have multi-focal transportation needs (ie, instead of just needing to go home/work/home, which is a fairly simple problem to solve with a bus, they need to go home/daycare/work/lunch/work/shopping/daycare/pharmacy/home. Easy with a car, and easy to do on foot or public transit if you live in a very dense city, but basically impossible by bus in most suburban, exurban, and rural locations.

But even if we all agree that buses are great and people should ride them more, there is still a considerable amount of driving that would be improved with automation. Long rural interstates is an obvious one, as are the massive commuting pressures on urban and suburban arterials.

Being able to safely deal with erratic human drivers will simply be a design constraint for at least the first few decades of robot cars, though I can imagine a future point where robot cars become the norm and human drivers are limited to specific routes for special needs. Already the millennial generation are getting licenses and buying cars at unexpectedly low rates -- those non-drivers are going to be perfect customers for robot cars.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:42 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Robot cars will drive in a more fuel-efficient way, but I expect the total number of miles driven will go up--When driving/riding in a car is easier, it will be done more frequently and maybe for longer periods of time. And eventually, it will become legal and common for cars to drive themselves without having a human onboard--at which point there will be even more miles driven.

What I'm saying is, I'm worried this will lead to more energy use overall.
posted by jjwiseman at 3:10 PM on November 18, 2013


[...] Yeah, cities and busses are just fucking wonderful.

How precious. Yes, cities and buses are full of urine and weirdos -- it's a fact! Do you go outside, or are the sounds of small animals and smells of dead things too unbearable? :-)

Some of us don't like having useful space eaten up by parking lots and (N+1)-lane highways that will never relieve congestion or demand.

Some of us wonder why there are people who talk like you do, but then want to drive "downtown" and demand their bridges and tunnels and parking lots (rather than funding for better public transit). Perhaps it is for the sweet smell of urine and entertainment value of mentally ill people...

Some of us would rather not have to walk in gravel along the side of roads because no one thought to make a damn sidewalk, let alone create a way for a lone human being to cross a damn road because "only *those* people walk (or take the bus, train)".

I like the idea of driver-less cars as an improvement to driving in general, especially commercial driving, but any help to transit will be incidental. The thing that bothers me about this project is that I've seen where Google lives. The Silicon Valley is a fucking wasteland of car culture. The SV needs more public transit badly, not more wet dreams from people who live the big box beige carpet lifestyle.
posted by smidgen at 3:30 PM on November 18, 2013 [12 favorites]


What's stopping robot cars and vans and minibuses, rented by the mile, from BEING public transit? Isn't the basic meaning of "public transit" that it's affordable and you don't have to own the actual vehicle in order to use it?
posted by emilyw at 4:15 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


The super-rich will be the early adopters, who will fund the development of the mass market versions following on a decade or so later.

The ordinary rich and well-off who prioritise novelty fund most of the development of the mass market. The super-rich, at best, buy as many per capita as the middle class, and at worst spend their money on the equivalent of platinum-plated Vertu phones running antiquated Android builds on a creaking ARMv6 core.
posted by acb at 4:31 PM on November 18, 2013


> If you think cars are not an arena in which the crazy is strong with Americans, I suggest you venture into some gearhead forums sometime.

e.g. Mandatory ‘Big Brother’ Black Boxes In All New Cars From 2015 [warning: info wars link. clicking this will put you on the FEMA camp round up list for 2017]

(and a more reasoned investigation of Event Data Recorders. This is a preview of the privacy vs. safety discussion just getting started)
posted by morganw at 4:55 PM on November 18, 2013


e.g. Mandatory ‘Big Brother’ Black Boxes In All New Cars From 2015 [warning: info wars link. clicking this will put you on the FEMA camp round up list for 2017]

And then there are the Computer God Frankenstein “Smart Meters” they want to put on YOUR electricity supply to turn you into a COMMUNIST GANGSTER SLAVE.
posted by acb at 4:59 PM on November 18, 2013


Also, while the restrictions and requirement for gps on bicycles and pedestrians will be sold as a traffic flow and safety measure, they will also come in handy in social control

Wait, why will bikes and pedestrians be required to have gps? Automated driving systems don't need everything around them to have operating gps systems.

Also a lot of places in the world are currently discouraging and slowing vehicle traffic in downtown cores through various strategies. Generally speaking I don't think automated cars are going to represent a complete 180 where all of a sudden pedestrians are a nuisance. Slowing down traffic downtown in many places is not necessarily a bad thing. Like maybe you have a parking lot just outside the City core and people have to walk or take a train for 5 minutes into downtown proper. This doesn't have to go all worst-case-scenario.
posted by Hoopo at 5:03 PM on November 18, 2013


What's stopping robot cars and vans and minibuses, rented by the mile, from BEING public transit?

A few things. The basic problem is that they are still cars, and vans and minibuses already exist where people are willing to fund them -- no robots needed, and no advantage to using a robot.

The "public" in public transit is important. Public transit should serve the public good, in the same way health care does, or the maintenance of the highways and traffic signals. While this does mean cheaper transportation for people who need it, it also means removing cars from areas where they are clogging the system, shifting away from focusing on where your car goes to where *you* go, which is much healthier and cheaper for towns and cities.

I like the idea of having a ZipCar-esque public facility available, but it can't be the first choice, esp. since Zipcar already exists. "Renting per mile" is something people might do if they want to do a long haul trip or perhaps cart around something heavy, just like they use Zipcar now, but no one will do it as a daily trip, and they really shouldn't.

Also, fully robotic buses and vans will not happen anytime soon. I still think these are a pipe dream, they have a problem with on and offloading and exceptional circumstances that an individual robot car with a human "driver" to take over does not. That is, you will always need a human operator because humans board the buses.
posted by smidgen at 5:15 PM on November 18, 2013


You could still have a human operator, they'd just be more like a security guard and even more attentive of health and safety concerns on the bus.
posted by jason_steakums at 5:27 PM on November 18, 2013


I think this is a no-brainer, but I'm not sure why everyone is jumping forward to the Jetsons all of a sudden. This will be something that will supplement regular human driving. Think of it like an advanced form of cruise control; all you have to do is grab the wheel or hit the brakes to take control...at least, that's how I imagine they will do it. Each car will probably have a little Black Box, something that records the exact times and locations, so if there's a crash, there will be a record as to whether the driver or computer was in control. Which insurance companies will absolutely need to know.

The basic technology is really not that advanced--scanners that monitor the environment and a computer to crunch those numbers, plus GPS integration. And I don't think it will add cost to the production of cars, but of course early adopters will pay a lot more.

This is very cool stuff. In 1970, we couldn't have forseen the rise of personal computers, cell phones, the Internet. I think will be the next Big Thing to add to that list and will revolutionize a lot of things in the coming decades.
posted by zardoz at 5:29 PM on November 18, 2013


The Jetsons stuff is more like "in a few decades, it could be going this way," or at least that's where I'm coming from with it. It's an interesting tech for that kind of thing because once you jump the purely technological, not unreasonable hurdles of driving in bad weather and no need for human-controlled backup, it unlocks so many paths to a completely new relationship with transportation.
posted by jason_steakums at 5:33 PM on November 18, 2013


And eventually, it will become legal and common for cars to drive themselves without having a human onboard--at which point there will be even more miles driven.

That is when transportation is utterly revolutionized. It would make no sense to own a car: a car will come to you when beckoned. No need to tie up tens of thousands of dollars in purchasing and insuring an object that sits idle, unused, almost all the time. Only wealthy fools will own a car.

Besides which, the end of the working class is bearing down on us. Mass unemployment is our future. You won't need a daily driving car, and wouldn't be able to afford one, because you won't have work...
posted by five fresh fish at 5:56 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


What's stopping robot cars and vans and minibuses, rented by the mile, from BEING public transit? Isn't the basic meaning of "public transit" that it's affordable and you don't have to own the actual vehicle in order to use it?

I suspect the ADA would be a barrier to simply replacing buses (with wheelchair lifts, etc) with robot cars. You could definitely still go that path, but you'd need a much more complex vehicle fleet and a lot of thinking about meeting the needs of current public transit users. I ride the bus once in a while, and a significant percentage of the transit users are pretty high-needs -- the bus drivers do a lot more than just steer the vehicle. Your robot transit car/van will need to be able to deal with wheelchairs, non-English speakers, people who can't read, and the nice old guy who sometimes forgets where he is going but it's ok because the driver knows where to let him off. On top of that, probably three quarters of them are too poor to buy or otherwise unable to operate a smartphone.

A more flexible automated fleet of robot vehicles would actually probably serve their needs much better than a small fleet of buses on fixed routes, but there's an awful lot of planning and more than a few lawsuits that would have to go into this before this approach could adequately meet the needs of the transit dependent populations, much less the needs of a whole new set of users.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:30 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not a single Total Recall Johnny Car reference? Get it together, metafilter
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 6:32 PM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


In 1970, we couldn't have forseen the rise of personal computers, cell phones, the Internet.

1945
posted by thelonius at 7:58 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


...nor a jot or tittle about Harald Belker's driverless maglev cars in Minority Report (2002).

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posted by cenoxo at 8:03 PM on November 18, 2013


sonascope: "If we had smaller, more efficient railcars instead of heavy rail"

Actually, the rules that have required US passenger railroads to operate absurdly heavy railcars are poised to (finally) be relaxed in about a year or so.

That being said, you're not going to see any railbuses operating on freight lines (like the ones that MARC uses). American freight railroads are surprisingly busy, and it's pretty tricky to safely coordinate a passenger rail system with a heavily-used freight line. When you've got one-car trains, you're really just better off offering a bus service. (Of course, Americans are also seemingly incapable of designing good bus routes, so good luck with that one).

Personally, I'm still sad that nobody ever tried to replicate or improve the Morgantown PRT. Fixed-guideway PRT could have totally been a thing, and we pretty much dropped the ball, even after successfully building a working system.
posted by schmod at 8:51 PM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like the idea of having a ZipCar-esque public facility available, but it can't be the first choice, esp. since Zipcar already exists

Zipcar still has the problem that the car is sitting idle when you're not using it. Even if you're just driving it to the grocery store and back, that's still time that's being wasted and a parking spot being taken up at the grocery store, etc. And you still have the problem of how you get to the zip car lot to begin with.

Zipcars + automatic driver is an absolute no brainer. It's not like you have to invent some amazing new system. Zipcar just needs to buy cars with automatic drivers.
posted by empath at 9:21 PM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


People keep grumpily mentioning buses as if buses could not be automated as well, and save many cyclists lives.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:03 AM on November 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


In the history of autonomous vehicles, let us not forget the original self-driving, renewable-energy, 4WD model:
When you were doing your Milk Route you never drove your horse. The horse knew the route, all the stops, turns and turn-arounds and did them all without assistance. When the route was finished, she put her head down and headed for the stable, and woe-betide anything that tried to interfere with that! One day after finishing our route, down by “The Tannery Houses”, Queen was taking us back while I did my book work. I heard some men hollering in a foreign language behind us. After a bit when I got a chance I snuck my head out the door and looked back… in horror! We were coming around that long curved grade well past the Motor Park, nearing the Silver Bridge. What I saw when I looked back was a freshly laid asphalt road (on our side) with a barrier across our side. The horse merely went around the barrier (that thing shouldn’t have been across our road when I’m going to the stable and that guy yelling in Italian waving that flag, what was his problem?) Every place where one of her big feet came down, a big round chunk of asphalt came flying up. I quickly got her on the left side of the road and kept going, after all we were both heading for the stables!

On another ‘returning to the stables’ incident, I decided to stop and make a collection at our Pentecostal minister’s residence, on that Salvation Army Hill (going up this time). I had trouble getting away from the chatty pastor’s wife, and when I returned to the street the horse and wagon were gone! I went back into the house and phoned the dairy to report the missing rig. Ken was laughing when I told him, because the horse and wagon had just arrived at the unloading dock… without a driver! Queen had gone up the hill, made a right turn at the top, then made a left across two lanes (remember Highway 11) and continued to the Dairy. I wonder what the drivers she cut off thought!
Emissions were a problem, though:
...by the late 1800s, the problem of horse pollution had reached unprecedented heights. The growth in the horse population was outstripping even the rapid rise in the number of human city dwellers. American cities were drowning in horse manure as well as other unpleasant byproducts of the era’s predominant mode of transportation: urine, flies, congestion, carcasses, and traffic accidents. Widespread cruelty to horses was a form of environmental degradation as well.

The situation seemed dire. In 1894, the Times of London estimated that by 1950 every street in the city would be buried nine feet deep in horse manure. One New York prognosticator of the 1890s concluded that by 1930 the horse droppings would rise to Manhattan’s third-story windows. A public health and sanitation crisis of almost unimaginable dimensions loomed.
Shit happens with every new technology, so watch your step: The Ethics of Autonomous Cars.
posted by cenoxo at 4:34 AM on November 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Shit happens with every new technology, so watch your step.

Thank you for succinctly expressing what I think whenever I hear from the "technology will solve everything and usher in a magical utopia" crowd.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:30 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hope Google at some point sets up test environments - highways, urban/suburban roads, etc, all devoid of real cars and people - and runs through all the scenarios in that Ethics of Autonomous Cars article plus a bunch of Danger Room-esque obstacles and traps, with remotely-human-controlled cars standing in for human drivers being unpredictable in the mix, and a bunch of those pop-up civilian cutouts like in those fictional police training shooting galleries in movies, just putting packs of the cars through a gauntlet of chaos, with streaming video of all the tests online. I'd be glued to the feed for days.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:10 AM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd be glued to the feed for days.

You might want to look for footage of the DARPA Grand Challenge events, especially the "urban" one from 2007.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:25 AM on November 19, 2013


Yeah, that's basically what the DARPA Urban Challenge did (I drove out to Victorville and watched it firsthand):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0NTV2mbJhA&t=1m40s

It included such danger room hazards as multiple other autonomous cars and human-driven cars, an EMI-generating Jumbotron display, and 4-way stops. Luckily there were fast hands on the kill switches.
posted by jjwiseman at 11:36 AM on November 19, 2013


I had forgotten about this quote from one of the DARPA traffic vehicle drivers: “...this was not a game of horseshoes, having participated today for more then seven hours with the bots as a traffic vehicle driver you get a real taste of the what ifs when you are face to face with a vehicle like Terramax, I had to take evasive action to keep from getting run over today.”

Hopefully that's now a purely historical perspective from the early days of autonomous vehicles...
posted by jjwiseman at 11:43 AM on November 19, 2013


Oh man, that stuff's great, they're like adorable dumb metal animals. Thanks! They should put them on a speedway and have devs in the pit stops pushing live code updates to tweak the algorithms while racing.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:43 AM on November 19, 2013


DARPA Challenge...Department of Defense...hey, if you could take the humans out of a tank, you could make them lower profile...wait a moment, I'm describing Ogres -- the Ogre Mk I to be precise. And look at that, these cars even have the "conning tower" sensor suite with their spinning laser scanner turret!

Living in the future is weird.
posted by fings at 2:23 PM on November 19, 2013


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