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Google unveils a self-driving car
May 27, 2014 7:49 PM   Subscribe

Today Google unveiled their purpose-built self-driving car prototype, complete with no steering wheel, brake, or gas pedals. You just jump in, and go. The demo video is pretty impressive, and even the funnier Kara Swisher video of her first ride makes it look kind of fun.

Who knows how it will work in rain, or the dark, or the fog, or when the roof sensor gets mud all over it, but it's a pretty bold move of Google to push out hardware of this scope and magnitude so quickly.
posted by mathowie (412 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Uhh, what's happening? I'm sorry.. what? Mr. Car?
posted by pwally at 7:58 PM on May 27 [9 favorites]


and no matter where you go, google will be there with you, and if you should wish to find out where you were on a certain day last year, google will have this information.

i also expect it to lobby for the kind of laws that would protect it from liability if the operating system freezes up and you go across the center line and head-on into a semi.
posted by bruce at 7:58 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


What does "purpose-built" mean? Is there a kind of produced thing that has no intended purpose?
posted by clockzero at 8:01 PM on May 27 [9 favorites]


The windows need to be tinted so I don't have to look at people 'making it', cause I can totally see that...ahem...coming.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:01 PM on May 27 [4 favorites]


Purpose-built as opposed to a add-on or modification to an existing car.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:02 PM on May 27 [5 favorites]


It means built as a self-driving car and not an add-on kit to an existing car.
posted by kmz at 8:02 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


I am totally creeped out by this, even as I acknowledge that I'm getting old, and my driving skills aren't as sharp as they used to be... it just seems un-natural... like a cab without a driver.
posted by MikeWarot at 8:04 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


I see one of the test cars on 280 at least once a month. I can never tell if the person in the driver's seat is driving.
posted by rtha at 8:04 PM on May 27


Is there a kind of produced thing that has no intended purpose?

Yeah, but my mom is proud of me anyway.
posted by compartment at 8:06 PM on May 27 [149 favorites]


Kara Swisher is the awesome.

She's one of Google's harshest tech journalist critics, so that makes her thumbs up mean more
posted by Bwithh at 8:08 PM on May 27


'I'm Feeling Lucky'
posted by shakespeherian at 8:12 PM on May 27 [64 favorites]


The lack of steering wheel suggests that they're confident that they've solved (or are going to solve?) the three problems outlined in this article from last year:
  1. snow, which can obscure lane markings
  2. situations where the terrain deviates from the map
  3. humans directing traffic (e.g.: in a construction zone or at an accident scene).
posted by mhum at 8:13 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


The thing that scares me about electric and self-driving cars is that it seems likely that both of them will become dominant and will perpetuate the road, highway, parking-lot, etc. urban design mode. Air pollution and road death measures will improve, sure, but all we'll be doing in our lives is working, reading blogs, and travelling between shopping malls and mcnotquitemansions.
posted by ddd at 8:13 PM on May 27 [17 favorites]


The cynical side of me says this is just capture another hour of the day people wouldn't be looking at Google ads because they have to drive somewhere. On a recent trip, I *hated* driving around in traffic for hours a day that I couldn't get any work done or email people I needed to contact and coordinate plans and I couldn't read twitter to get informed/amused and I would have killed for this kind of thing.

There's also the huge upside of reduced accidents/deaths as well as no longer needing to own 2 cars for every household since the driverless car can return home when needed.
posted by mathowie at 8:13 PM on May 27 [9 favorites]


A car with no steering wheel hits a pedestrian who has the legal right of way. Who is legally responsible for the accident? Can't be the driver. S/he had no control over the car.

It's the car manufacturer.

Thus, you will never be able to buy a car like this.
posted by Frayed Knot at 8:16 PM on May 27 [18 favorites]


Google wants to get these cars on the streets ASAP. The company plans to start testing them in Mountain View, Calif., later this summer, Urmson said.

Uh, no, that's not going to happen.

This technology is within 2-3 years of being perfected. Its 20-30 years from being accepted by other drivers on the road. Until it does that, this will not be driving on any U.S. road. This is politics.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:17 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


Does it use Google maps to navigate? Because if you try to come to my house you're gonna hit a tree. The road is off by 50' or more on the map. My friends road is off by a quarter mile.

I'm all for self driving cars but I'd want a steering wheel and pedals just in case.
posted by fshgrl at 8:18 PM on May 27 [4 favorites]


Is this a thing that people will own privately? I guess I imagined it working like Zipcar or...a cab-bus - flag it down, take it where you want to go, get out and it goes away (and in LA you wouldn't have to find parking for the fucking thing, sign me up) to whoever flags it down next.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:18 PM on May 27 [11 favorites]


The bringing up 'is it safe' when we have 200m gibbering idiots drunk texting while driving is fucking hilarious.
posted by sfts2 at 8:18 PM on May 27 [148 favorites]


0_0
posted by capricorn at 8:19 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


but all we'll be doing in our lives is working, reading blogs, and travelling between shopping malls and mcnotquitemansions.

It beats driving.
posted by escabeche at 8:19 PM on May 27 [32 favorites]


To head off any concerns of malfunctioning robots hurtling you toward imminent doom, Google has made the car look cute and cuddly from the outset.
That... doesn't really address any concerns.
posted by Small Dollar at 8:20 PM on May 27 [15 favorites]


Nah. I love driving.

Now, commuting - that I could do without. But driving ? That's where I'm a viking.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:20 PM on May 27 [15 favorites]


So I assume you just plug in an address and it takes your to your destination? (The video was useless to me without captions.) What if you don't know the address and it's not available to search? What if the address is wrong? What if you just want to drive around and look at a neighborhood? I'd really miss the serendipity of spontaneously deciding to stop at a funky-looking diner or something.
posted by desjardins at 8:21 PM on May 27 [5 favorites]


no longer needing to own 2 cars for every household since the driverless car can return home when needed.


No longer needing a parking space, perhaps, as you can just send it away and recall it when needed. On the other hand that implies that half the cars on the road will actually be empty.
posted by Segundus at 8:21 PM on May 27 [3 favorites]


A car with no steering wheel hits a pedestrian who has the legal right of way. Who is legally responsible for the accident? Can't be the driver. S/he had no control over the car.

It's the car manufacturer.

Thus, you will never be able to buy a car like this.


That would make this summer the Last Clear Chance for every traffic accident going forward.

But your larger point is correct. Everything about humans actually driving cars is deeply, deeply embedded in the law, culture, business practices and the rest. In fact, its way older than the car--it goes back to the wagon. It will take a lot to move that. A lot. Entire empires are built on this and they will go down slowly.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:21 PM on May 27 [7 favorites]


A car with no steering wheel hits a pedestrian who has the legal right of way.

I've read quite a bit about these self-driving cars, and that is so unlikely to happen it is basically not worth talking about. A self-driving car is never going to be looking right when a pedestrian is coming from the left, is never going to be changing a radio station when a person steps into the street, is never going to be looking at a cell phone when driving across that crosswalk, etc.

They already have cars which apply their own brakes faster than the driver can to avoid many possible collisions with objects both stationary and moving. Making a self-driving car stop before hitting a person walking 2-4mph is trivial.
posted by hippybear at 8:22 PM on May 27 [41 favorites]


to be clear my previous comment is what its weird little car face looks like
posted by capricorn at 8:22 PM on May 27 [7 favorites]


google will also control the radio, which you won't be able to turn off. what to expect? well, it is, first and foremost, an advertising company, but there's also...

"bruce, two trips to the liquor store in one week? i have advised your doctor to discuss your drinking with you on your next visit."

"bruce, you're married, but our records show that we're now parked in front of a brothel. your wife needs to know about this so she can protect herself against std's."

"bruce, this church is listed in our records as possibly catering to undesireable elements."

how many of you folks are old enough to remember the tv show "my mother the car"? at least the mother-car did a pretty good job of keeping confidences.
posted by bruce at 8:22 PM on May 27 [3 favorites]


To head off any concerns of malfunctioning robots hurtling you toward imminent doom, Google has made the car look cute and cuddly from the outset.

That... doesn't really address any concerns.


Oh come on, that goes from 'terrifying' to 'darkly hilarious,' easy.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:22 PM on May 27 [8 favorites]


Self-driving cars are coming much faster than people think. The legal impediments will be swept away very fast, just like they were for cars and railroads. The main complaint is going to be from people with hand-driven cars being excluded from highways because they slow traffic down, and eventually kept off the roads altogether by lack of insurance.
posted by MattD at 8:23 PM on May 27 [34 favorites]


and no matter where you go, google will be there with you, and if you should wish to find out where you were on a certain day last year, google will have this information.


This is what google.com/locationhistory does, no self-driving car needed. There are already like a billion android phones out there, probably most of which have location history turned on, so this doesn't really add much to the privacy equation.
posted by what of it at 8:25 PM on May 27 [4 favorites]


No longer needing a parking space, perhaps, as you can just send it away and recall it when needed. On the other hand that implies that half the cars on the road will actually be empty.

you'd do away with personal ownership of cars. Imagine ZipCar merged with Uber. Every ride would be dispatched by a computer. You'd pay a fraction of owning a vehicle. They cover insurance and everything else.

Would not be good in car chases though.

Imagine one where a guy with his computer is controlling an automatic car while the cops chase it. Half the fight is trying to jam the guy running the car from the cops. Car theft would be done entirely by hackers. They'd feed false information regarding credit card transactions to it. A real hack would be diverting the cab's money. You'd do that by taking over the car and its credit card transactions. When a person would pay a fake machine would send you the transactions. You'd hide them as Ebay transactions or in shell companies. Anyway, the hackers then use stolen credit card numbers to send to the car company, who charges unsuspecting people.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:27 PM on May 27 [5 favorites]


google will also control the radio, which you won't be able to turn off.

orly?
posted by Pudhoho at 8:29 PM on May 27 [4 favorites]


The legal impediments will be swept away very fast, just like they were for cars and railroads. The main complaint is going to be from people with hand-driven cars being excluded from highways because they slow traffic down, and eventually kept off the roads altogether by lack of insurance.

The legal impediments of the car were worked out pretty early by everyone. Like 500 years earlier than the car was invented. Our way of dealing with car accidents is an extrapolation of the wagon accidents that happened in England since 1066.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:30 PM on May 27


It's the car manufacturer.

Thus, you will never be able to buy a car like this.


Of course you will - the car manufacturer will simply buy insurance. Since robots are likely to be much, much safer drivers than humans, this insurance will certainly be much, much cheaper than normal human-driver car insurance.
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:32 PM on May 27 [24 favorites]


"Google wants to make the physical world legible to robots."

What's the connection between Google and robot cars? Robot cars work better on a controlled, known track, so Google is using its massive street data collection apparatus to map crawl entire cities so well that they are effectively known tracks. Google has created a virtual track out of Mountain View. The car doesn't have to see and understand everything, it just has to detect what's different from the pre-mapped model of the world it already has.

"The more you think about it, the more the goddamn Googleyness of the thing stands out."
posted by straight at 8:37 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


I read the comments before I visited the link and was a little surprised the car had a dedicated "front". I just guess I pictured in my head a control-less car that would be able to pivot or do some sort of zero-radius turn thing instead of leaning into turns like a traditional car. I also envisioned seating-in-the round, kinda like everyone around a coffee table.
posted by sourwookie at 8:39 PM on May 27 [8 favorites]


Motorcycle riding will be so much more fun. No cagers out to kill you. Able to weave the traffic at high speed safely. Yee haw!
posted by five fresh fish at 8:39 PM on May 27 [13 favorites]


I've read quite a bit about these self-driving cars, and that is so unlikely to happen it is basically not worth talking about.

Nothing is 100% reliable.

But in being flip, I muddled my own point.

We'll have self driving cars, and very soon. But there is NO WAY they'll be like this one, at least not for a very, very long time. It'll be more like an advanced cruise control. Drivers will still have steering wheels, brakes, etc. Why wouldn't they? Just put that stuff in the car, and suddenly the manufacture ISN'T liable, or at least not solely liable.

A fully automated self-driving car is not in the best interest of car manufacturers, or Google. At least not for a very long time.
posted by Frayed Knot at 8:41 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


In terms of gallons of gasoline burned, we used to be limited by the fact that humans needed to be in the cars, driving them. We won't have that limitation for much longer. We're going to be burning even more fuel.
posted by jjwiseman at 8:43 PM on May 27 [6 favorites]


situations where the terrain deviates from the map


I recall in one very memorable instance, when I was making a delivery in NE Minneapolis, Google Maps pretty much directed me to drive off a 25 foot wall.

The map is not the territory, Google. Just be honest with yourself, draw a line around it, and write HERE BE DRAGONS. Also do the same for East St. Paul.


That said, this would prevent such incidents as, oh, the lady who was driving directly at me in the wrong lane because she wouldn't look up from texting. So yay.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:46 PM on May 27 [6 favorites]


Motorcycle riding will be so much more fun. No cagers out to kill you. Able to weave the traffic at high speed safely

Custom-made gasoline motorcycles will be the getaway ride of choice for 22cnd century bandits. Screaming from lane to lane through computer controlled electric traffic which obediently slows down to let you by.

Unless of course you're flagged as a thought criminal. In that case, awakened deep in the CPUs of the little beetle cars will be a little-used code path labelled RAMMING_MODE.
posted by CynicalKnight at 8:47 PM on May 27 [43 favorites]


Someone is crashing their car into mine. Someone is pulling up next to me and throwing bricks at the window. My car is rolling on a lane that has just been coated with fresh tar. Too bad I can't do anything about it.
posted by user92371 at 8:47 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


Think I could get a piano installed in the front seat? I'd love my commute if it could double as practice time.
posted by rouftop at 8:48 PM on May 27 [9 favorites]


We'll have self driving cars, and very soon. But there is NO WAY they'll be like this one, at least not for a very, very long time. It'll be more like an advanced cruise control.

You can buy a brand new BMW x5 that auto-drives and brakes up to 25mph. I've seen video of a test where someone can basically read their phone in stop and go traffic while front/rear sensors determine the flow of traffic and drive the car along in it automatically with zero driver input.
posted by mathowie at 8:51 PM on May 27 [4 favorites]


What happens when the self driving cars get the inevitable Panda update and suddenly your car won't go to your favorite local restaurant anymore?
posted by humanfont at 8:53 PM on May 27 [54 favorites]


Nothing is 100% reliable.

Particularly human drivers. So the computers don't need to be 100% reliable. Even the guidance systems of ICBMs aren't "100% reliable". They just need to be reliable enough. In the case of cars, they just need to be better than people. Dumb, overconfident, easily-distracted, emotional, frequently drunk, prone to sickness and aging, people.

It's not a really high bar.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:57 PM on May 27 [35 favorites]




Uh, no, that's not going to happen.

That'll be up to the state to decide, because Mountain View's city government ain't going to say no, just as Cupertino's wasn't going to stop Steve Jobs from building his giant doughnut.

Zombie Nabaztag looks aside, I appreciate that it's a pretty remarkable achievement after only five years' work, and prototype automobiles looked pretty crazy early on too.

But: that's not going to shake my sense that Google's throwing a lot of money towards solving the wrong problem, a problem that's inexorably linked to the landscape of Mountain View. (I've joked elsewhere about Google Bulldozer showing up to turn your city into something that resembles a Silicon Valley low-rise sprawlburb landscape.) And it raises the question of how much of its other tech work, particularly mapping but not exclusively so, is hooked into this particular project.
posted by holgate at 9:01 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


I'd really miss the serendipity of spontaneously deciding to stop at a funky-looking diner or something.

Me too and not have my every movement recorded and turned into a "data point" to be stored, bought, and used to sell me junk or stalk me.

What happens to insurance rates? Can't get a good driver discount with one of these? What if there is a glitch or someone throws a rock over a bridge and you can't swerve? What do I say? "Ok Google, I think I'm screwed now?"
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 9:02 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


The precedent for "intelligent vehicle" is older than we think. Horses used to be a common (and not 100% reliable) method of transportation. But riding animals is Legit and Classic, while riding a robot is Novel and Scary. This is largely a framing issue.

Maybe Google just needs to wrap their AI cars in equine simulacra -- you know, add some animatronic horse heads that grimace with exertion, play hoofclop sounds during driving, make drivers say "WHOOAAAA" to force sudden stops, etc
posted by serif at 9:03 PM on May 27 [38 favorites]


snow, which can obscure lane markings

Or snow plows and gravel, which an obscure lane markings well into the following summer.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 9:04 PM on May 27


Maybe Google just needs to wrap their AI cars in equine simulacra -- you know, add some animatronic horse heads that grimace with exertion, play hoofclop sounds during driving, make drivers say "WHOOAAAA" to force sudden stops, etc

Well they did buy Boston Dynamics...
posted by jason_steakums at 9:10 PM on May 27 [12 favorites]


I mean, maybe the legal stuff will be as simple as taking pre-automotive traffic laws and replacing all instances of the word "horse" with "software transportation agent". (Honestly I bet engineers at google have suggested this)
posted by serif at 9:10 PM on May 27


Maybe Google just needs to wrap their AI cars in equine simulacra -- you know, add some animatronic horse heads that grimace with exertion, play hoofclop sounds during driving, make drivers say "WHOOAAAA" to force sudden stops, etc

Self guided robotic horses OMG GOOGLE MAKE THIS HAPPEN! I want my sci-fi western future NOW!
posted by sourwookie at 9:11 PM on May 27 [5 favorites]


As I said before (twice):

The Web (not to mention Google's original algorithm) was BUILT on links. Then some "SEO Masters" found a way to use them illegitimately, and now Google can't figure out how to differentiate between the "legitimate" and "illegitimate" links? If this is what 15 years of research to develop an "intelligent search engine" has brought us, I NEVER want to ride in one of their "intelligent cars".

That's my story snark and I'm sticking to it.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:12 PM on May 27 [3 favorites]


...and then sourwookie reallized he was asking for Wild Wild West.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:12 PM on May 27 [4 favorites]


IT IS 2014 WHERE IS MY ROBOT HORSE
posted by holgate at 9:12 PM on May 27 [7 favorites]


snow, which can obscure lane markings

This gives me the urge to paint a tunnel entrance onto a nearby rock wall, extend a white center line to the road, and hide behind the bushes to see what happens.
posted by ceribus peribus at 9:13 PM on May 27 [34 favorites]


As these are a good first step towards ending our car-centric culture, I am all for it. I long for a day when individually owned cars are relegated to a historical artifact that we can laugh at for being utterly stupid and wasteful.
posted by Poldo at 9:13 PM on May 27 [8 favorites]


What Google is showing here is not meant to be a privately owned vehicle. It's a taxi. I expect to see them cruising downtown streets within a few years (knock on wood).
posted by tgyg at 9:13 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


I wondered how it handles bicycles, but then I watched the video in this blog post. (Apparently just fine, as long as they signal.) Now I wonder how it handles badly behaved bicyclists.
posted by surlyben at 9:14 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


Like everyone else, I really want my car to have the hots for another person's car.
posted by serif at 9:15 PM on May 27 [5 favorites]


you won't be getting a robotic horse anytime soon, there are issues with guidance, balance and stability.

much sooner will be very realistic robotic sex workers. robohos.
posted by bruce at 9:15 PM on May 27


...and then sourwookie reallized he was asking for Wild Wild West.

Or The Diamond Age!
posted by sourwookie at 9:15 PM on May 27 [4 favorites]


Man, this kind of thread is going to be very interesting fodder for near-future sociologists and historians. Hello to the grad student of the 2030s reading this (assuming grad school is still a thing).

But more on-topic, the responses to this are interesting to me. I really don't see this as an advertising vehicle (pardon the pun) for Google. First and foremost, Google's an information company. It just so happens that the best way to monetize the first wave of mass information was advertising. I don't see any compelling reason why that should be the case for the next wave.

And the legal and insurance questions seem like they'll be relatively simple to sort out. Not because they're actually easy, per se, but because the potential economic benefits guarantee an absurd amount of muscle will be used to make it happen. Providers of self-driving systems stand to make tens of billions. The logistics industry (including retail outfits) stands to save billions. The insurance industry could save billions more if it's got the right preparation in place.

I don't see any real organized opposition, except from auto manufacturers against this.
posted by graphnerd at 9:16 PM on May 27 [27 favorites]


Does it use Google maps to navigate? Because if you try to come to my house you're gonna hit a tree.
If it can avoid pedestrians (per the video), I'm pretty sure it won't hit trees.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:18 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


If it can avoid pedestrians (per the video), I'm pretty sure it won't hit trees.

What about ents?
posted by graphnerd at 9:19 PM on May 27 [8 favorites]


ddd: "Air pollution and road death measures will improve, sure, but all we'll be doing in our lives is working, reading blogs, and travelling between shopping malls and mcnotquitemansions."

My husband carpools with a couple of other guys who all work for state government, and the state allows them to count time working in the car (telecommuting, emphasis on the commute part!) towards their contract hours per day, so the two guys who aren't driving can get all their e-mails banged out during the commute and it counts as part of the workday. This has a measurable improvement on his quality of life, with 2/3 of his commutes usually counting towards his workday so he's home earlier and can spend more time with family. A self-driving car would just be fantastic.

Ironmouth: "This technology is within 2-3 years of being perfected. Its 20-30 years from being accepted by other drivers on the road. Until it does that, this will not be driving on any U.S. road. This is politics."

Bad news, they're already driving on U.S. roads in four states. Four states already allow autonomous cars, either fully or provisionally.
In June 2011, the Nevada Legislature passed a law to authorize the use of autonomous cars. ... The Nevada law defines an autonomous vehicle to be "a motor vehicle that uses artificial intelligence, sensors and global positioning system coordinates to drive itself without the active intervention of a human operator." ... In May 2012, the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) issued the first license for a self-driven car to a Toyota Prius modified with Google's experimental driverless technology.

On 1 July 2012, Florida became the second state to recognize the legality of autonomous vehicles. Florida's law clarifies that, "the State does not prohibit or specifically regulate the testing or operation of autonomous … vehicles on public roads."

On 25 September 2012, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill allowing the legalization of driverless cars in the state of California which also requires the California Department of Motor Vehicles to draft regulations by 2015.[122] In California, proposed legislation would require that "the driver would still need to sit behind the wheel in case the robotic functions of the car suddenly fail and a real driver is needed", thus limiting the benefits that autonomous cars could provide to unlicensed drivers.

In the 2013–2014 legislative session, ... Michigan introduced legislation addressing the regulation of autonomous vehicles. Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation allowing the testing of automated or self-driving vehicles on Michigan’s roads in December 2013, but requires a human in the driver seat at all time while the vehicle is in use. at all time while the vehicle is in use.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:21 PM on May 27 [17 favorites]


Boston cabbies just had a protest against Uber. The reaction by certain segments to becoming obsolete will have some sad dramatic moments.
posted by sammyo at 9:23 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


Uh, no, that's not going to happen.

That'll be up to the state to decide, because Mountain View's city government ain't going to say no, just as CupertinUh, no, that's not going to happen.

That'll be up to the state to decide, because Mountain View's city government ain't going to say no, just as Cupertino's wasn't going to stop Steve Jobs from building his giant doughnut.o's wasn't going to stop Steve Jobs from building his giant doughnut.


The United States Department of Transportation controls here. Any vehicle on the road affects interstate commerce because it interacts with interstate traffic. The state will not be making this call.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:24 PM on May 27


The reaction by certain all segments to becoming obsolete will have some sad dramatic moments.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 9:24 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


Everything about humans actually driving cars is deeply, deeply embedded in the law, culture, business practices and the rest. In fact, its way older than the car--it goes back to the wagon.

All those things can change very quickly when an industry wants them to. http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/episode-76-the-modern-moloch/
posted by jjwiseman at 9:25 PM on May 27 [6 favorites]


If these cars prove to be safer than humans on the road, then its reasonable to expect that the cost to insure them will be lower, and this reduced total cost of ownership will become a selling point for these vehicles, just as not paying for gas is for electric vehicles.

Here's some other things to look for:
Robot trucks that can drive 24 hours nonstop, have no blind spots, and always drive at the perfect speed to balance fuel economy with delivery time. There are 3.5 million truck drivers in the USA alone. If you assume $25k/year in labor costs (seems conservative), that's around $87bn/year in savings for the industry.
posted by rustcrumb at 9:26 PM on May 27 [13 favorites]


"Google wants to make the physical world legible to robots."

This brings to mind anthropologist James Scott's interesting use of the terms legible, meaning "to arrange the population in ways that simplified the classic state functions of taxation, conscription, and prevention of rebellion." He goes on to say:

Having begun to think in these terms, I began to see legibility as a central problem in statecraft. The pre-modern state was, in many crucial respects, particularly blind; it knew precious little about its subjects, their wealth, their landholdings and yields, their location, their very identity. It lacked anything like a detailed “map” of its terrain and its people.

I find Google's usage vaguely and yet distinctively unsettling in light of that. Not to sound alarmist or anything, but it gives me pause.
posted by clockzero at 9:26 PM on May 27 [25 favorites]


Ironmouth,

Are you saying that the Nevada and California laws are extending their reach and can / possibly will be struck down? I haven't seen that argument made.

Edit: didn't know about Florida and Michigan, as well.
posted by graphnerd at 9:27 PM on May 27


In terms of gallons of gasoline burned, we used to be limited by the fact that humans needed to be in the cars, driving them. We won't have that limitation for much longer. We're going to be burning even more fuel.

Really? It seems intuitive to me that electric cars and self-driving cars will be a merging technology. And there are a ton of semi-public transportation scenarios that could decrease fuel even if the cars were gas powered.
posted by el io at 9:29 PM on May 27 [3 favorites]


Also, I've tried watching that video four times (won't work on mobile), but I keep seeing an ad about how The Microsoft Cloud helps Lotus win races. It's surreal, like seeing an ad for Honest Ephraim's Horseshoes at the first Indy 500.
posted by graphnerd at 9:32 PM on May 27 [4 favorites]


Oh sure, until your car starts gunning it towards Snake River Canyon and you have to remind it "Don't be Evel".
posted by blueberry at 9:33 PM on May 27 [48 favorites]


This gives me the urge to paint a tunnel entrance onto a nearby rock wall, extend a white center line to the road, and hide behind the bushes to see what happens.

You lurk in the bushes, dismayed, as cars follow the new center line and vanish into your trompe l'oeil as though it were genuine.
You skulk from the bushes and touch the wall; contemplate your fingers, wet with paint.
An instant later you are flattened by an express freight as it exits the tunnel.
posted by Pudhoho at 9:35 PM on May 27 [56 favorites]


If you assume $25k/year in labor costs (seems conservative), that's around $87bn/year in savings for the industry.

If you assume $25k/year in labor costs, that's around $87bn/year which humans will no longer be receiving, jobs having been lost, removing all that money from circulating in the economy.
posted by hippybear at 9:35 PM on May 27 [14 favorites]


Just saw the video. I almost teared up.

I saw the possibility the riders saw - of freedom, of autonomy. For those with failing facilities (reaction time, eyesite, etc), this could give them a new lease on life.

I've wanted this for myself since I first heard about it; now I want this tech for others.
posted by el io at 9:38 PM on May 27 [16 favorites]


i also expect it to lobby for the kind of laws that would protect it from liability if the operating system freezes up and you go across the center line and head-on into a semi.

I doubt it. Google has plenty of cash for settlements, potential upstart competitors don't. Liability is fantastic for them as long as they have reasonable control of the failure rate and can pass on the costs.
posted by queen zixi at 9:39 PM on May 27


If you assume $25k/year in labor costs, that's around $87bn/year which humans will no longer be receiving, jobs having been lost, removing all that money from circulating in the economy.

Yeah, that's a very real issue. But one that unfortunately has zero bearing on the decision making of any of the parties involved here.

Like I said above, the potential money here all but guarantees very swift adoption of this technology, assuming it's even close to as capable as they're making it out to be.
posted by graphnerd at 9:40 PM on May 27 [3 favorites]


Self-driving cars will take any last pretense of fun out of driving. And if they are self-driving, they may as well be part of a carshare/taxi fleet instead of owned - certainly cheaper that way. Of course, it would be even cheaper to share a larger vehicle - a self-driving bus or automated train; in the densest, most efficient, and most vibrant parts of the city, low-capacity vehicles would perhaps not even be permitted, owing to inefficient use of space.

The technology will make it a lot clearer how odd the personal car is as a transportation mode in the city. Basically self-driving cars might be a way of making cars obsolete.
posted by parudox at 9:40 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


No brake, no steering wheel? Sounds like a metaphor for something....
posted by blue_beetle at 9:41 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


Sure this is doable and probably an improvement on the drug-addled, phone-hugging, speed-racing, easily distracted drivers we have now, but my big concern is for the urban landscape accommodating other means of getting around. During these early phases, while the techs are striving to move one demo car through a city, identifying pedestrians and cyclists becomes an interesting engineering challenge that can only underline how amazingly clever they are. But when the time comes to move through a city thousands of self-driving cars, all having to recognize and negotiate with each other, the randomness of pedestrians and cyclists will so bewilder and infuriate the designers and programmers that down at Google Headquarters the hallways will be overlooked by stern imposing statues of Robert Moses, before which they will all stop, bow and pray before continuing on their way to the ping-pong room or the free buffet lunch.
posted by TimTypeZed at 9:42 PM on May 27 [6 favorites]


It seems intuitive to me that electric cars and self-driving cars will be a merging technology.

But they're independent. Electric cars will mean less gas, whether a computer or human drives them. Self-driving cars mean more miles driven. If you can make self-driving cars electric, you can make human-driven cars electric.

And there are a ton of semi-public transportation scenarios that could decrease fuel even if the cars were gas powered.

Something that can't be done with human-driven cars?
posted by jjwiseman at 9:42 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


Uh, no, that's not going to happen.
It's really stupid of you to speak with so much fauxthority about this, not least because you don't live in Mountain View, and you don't work for Google.

Those of us who actually live in the Bay Area have been seeing this project develop for literally years. And, along with Google's technological efforts, we have also been privy to Google's absolute mastery of local, state and federal politics. If you think Google doesn't know exactly how to game both the corporate and governmental systems, you're not paying attention.

This is a company that basically acquired a federal airfield for their executive aircraft. And that was one of the more trivial end-runs they've pulled.

Google's market cap is roughly $375 billion. That's nearly three times the market caps of GM, Chrysler and Ford combined. When they're ready, they're going to play the tune, and Washington will dance to it, along with everyone else.

If you want to keep making egregiously incorrect assertions, feel free, but you really, really don't know what you're talking about here.
posted by scrump at 9:44 PM on May 27 [44 favorites]


you'd do away with personal ownership of cars. Imagine ZipCar merged with Uber. Every ride would be dispatched by a computer. You'd pay a fraction of owning a vehicle. They cover insurance and everything else.

Lots of jobs for car cleaners, then.

One of Americans' stated objections to public transport is that it smells funny. Presumably one of the advantages that will be trumpeted for Self-Driving Cars is that one can take you home safely after a night on the town. This in turn means that Self-Driving Cars will be shagged in, puked in, and worse, and while your account will be debited with the cleanup fee, as with taxis, that'll need cleaning up.

And thus Self-Driving Fractionally-Owned Cars will all have a faint scent of not-quite-identifiable bodily fluids under a layer of Ozium, and all of those redundant cab drivers can retrain with a scrubbing brush.
posted by holgate at 9:45 PM on May 27 [7 favorites]


The main complaint is going to be from people with hand-driven cars being excluded from highways because they slow traffic down, and eventually kept off the roads altogether by lack of insurance.

That's a very.... urban point of view! People still need to haul trailers and use cuatom pickups and drive on private and logging roads. They're not going to replace those functions.
posted by fshgrl at 9:47 PM on May 27 [4 favorites]


I don't think were going to see another generation of professional drivers though, from long-haul truckers to intra-city delivery to cabs. I wouldn't be surprised if logging and mining switched rapidly too, perhaps even first. They travel on closed or semi-private roads most of the time.
posted by bonehead at 9:58 PM on May 27 [6 favorites]


For truckers, a robot doesn't have mandatory rest periods. That multiplies their cost advantage by about 2.5 right there.
posted by bonehead at 10:00 PM on May 27 [6 favorites]


I don't know why they are only conjuring passengers, the delivery system of groceries and packages seems a lot more lucrative on an hourly basis. I get in my car most of the time to go get stuff.
posted by Brian B. at 10:00 PM on May 27 [5 favorites]


We are now well into the territory where I would think this was cool if ANYONE BUT GOOGLE was behind it.
posted by chrominance at 10:04 PM on May 27 [4 favorites]


Nobody else is doing it, least of all our own government. I'd rather have progress than stagnation, personally, and as much as I loathe the idea of a corporatocracy, it's shit-or-get-off-the-pot time on this. qv Tesla, for the same reason.
posted by scrump at 10:07 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


But when the time comes to move through a city thousands of self-driving cars, all having to recognize and negotiate with each other, the randomness of pedestrians and cyclists will so bewilder and infuriate the designers and programmers that down at Google Headquarters the hallways will be overlooked by stern imposing statues of Robert Moses, before which they will all stop, bow and pray before continuing on their way to the ping-pong room or the free buffet lunch.

Eh. I'll trust engineers with incredibly advanced, purpose-built technology over hundreds of millions of years of random evolution driven by incomparably different circumstances ten times out of ten. Robert Moses wasn't fighting against measurable biophysical limitations.
posted by graphnerd at 10:08 PM on May 27


Public transit is now us! Pretty excited about this in general. If this execution will be good for google or not in the long run is another matter entirely.
posted by tarpin at 10:11 PM on May 27


Jane -- GET ME OFF THIS CRAZY THING!
posted by mazola at 10:21 PM on May 27 [5 favorites]


Yeah, this is awesome. First industries to feel the change will undoubtedly be taxis and long-distance trucking.

I said in the last thread about this, the autonomous car project has the potential to be more significant than google's efforts and indexing the web and creating usable email will ever be. It will have deep cultural ramifications,as well as saving hundreds of thousands of lives a year, not to mention granting a heretofore unknown level of mobility to the elderly or disabled.
posted by modernnomad at 10:21 PM on May 27 [8 favorites]


you'd do away with personal ownership of cars.

Good idea, but that's quite some 'you'd'; it has to cover the way the introduction of a shiny new item of consumer tech leads directly to radical socialism on the roads of America.
posted by Segundus at 10:23 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


Thank God I have bicycle.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:28 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


But will it go to Matt Haughey's house?
posted by mazola at 10:29 PM on May 27


Will it blend?
posted by afx114 at 10:30 PM on May 27


But will it go to Matt Haughey's house?

You can ask it to take you there, but 40% of the time it will drop you off some distance between 1 block and 2 miles away.
posted by hippybear at 10:31 PM on May 27 [4 favorites]


We won't have that limitation for much longer. We're going to be burning even more fuel.

If driverless cars increase car sharing they'll reduce car ownership. Each person without a car means less fuel used for driving and less energy spent to manufacture another vehicle. Driverless cars could also increase fuel efficiency, since they would move in long chains like a train.

So, I'm not sure if it's a definite that more fuel will be used.
posted by FJT at 10:40 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


This is all part of mathowie's cunning plan to harvest our organs by forcing us to set our locations so the Google self-driving robot taxis will take us to him. Where he will harvest our organs. DO NOT SET YOUR LOCATION IF YOU VALUE YOUR KIDNEYS.
posted by scrump at 10:41 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


Better than going to visit jessamyn, when it will leave you in the middle of a lake. Or used to, anyway - maybe they've fixed it by now.
posted by rtha at 10:42 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]


eee this sounds awesome and I can't wait for it to be the gold standard because I'm sick and tired of being denied jobs because I don't have a drivers license because I don't know how to drive because I find driving really intimidating and confusing and yet not everywhere is well-serviced by public transport. sign me up.
posted by divabat at 10:45 PM on May 27 [7 favorites]


From the article:
But what if the car malfunctions? No, a steering wheel and brake are not going to magically materialize from the dashboard. Instead, there are redundant mechanical systems built in. The car has two sets of steering and braking systems, so if one fails the other can take over, Medford said.
Ok, there's a backup brake, but is there a backup navigation system? If the spinning sensor malfunctions, is there a backup radar? If the map is wrong, will it be able to tell? What if the unthinkable happens and it loses wireless connectivity and can't read the map ahead? Will it be able to limp itself to the side of the road during a breakdown?

Autonomous vehicles would be great, and I'd love it if they were a reality. There would be tons of add-on benefits. Society would be changed for the better. I'm all in favor of the idea.

But isn't it a bit reductionist to boil down driving to "just follow the road and be able to quickly apply the brakes before you hit anything"? How can a car tell the difference between a road, a sidewalk, and a driveway -- is it going to rely on maps? Satellite photography? Can it read detour signs?

Not to mention situational awareness. Is defensive driving unneeded just because you can hit the brakes hard with 120 milliseconds notice? What if braking isn't the best option; will the car be able to swerve out of the way?

Humans and even horses are endowed with certain cognitive abilities to interpret the natural environment around them through their senses. They can detect "danger" even when novel or ill defined. They can notice "unusual" circumstances even if they've never visited that area before. They can navigate in poor visibility, with uncertain information, even in a rapidly changing environment. They can figure out on the fly how to counter a problem, like leaning into a wind, being careful on slippery roads, slowing down in low visibility, avoiding a moving hazard, and they have a sense of when that's not working and/or it's too dangerous to continue. In short, they exercise judgement. With a little training and experience, they exercise good judgement.

These are all hard problems for AI to solve. Is having a map from, say, two weeks ago enough to compensate for being unable to navigate based on the environment at all? Can the car tell the difference between a truck that's backing up to get into a driveway, and a road accident that will block the street for hours? Can it tell the difference between an impending hit from a beachball and a boulder and react accordingly?

Can the car do a maneuver like this? A horse can do that.

How the cars operate on test tracks and closed parking lots is one thing; my concern is how they operate out in the world, without being surrounded by an entourage. If we dumb down the problem to where it doesn't require AI, I'm really worried about what kind of dangers are being overlooked in these simplifying assumptions and whether high speed reaction times are really enough to compensate for them. If we go the other way and make a truly comprehensive automated vehicle, well that means we've made enough headway in AI to start making autonomous robot basketball players and tennis champions.

In short, I don't think bad robotic drivers are a good idea just because some people are bad drivers. But I have real doubts about whether we can make a good autonomous driver yet.

Pudhoho, I wish I had remembered the term trompe l'oeil earlier, that would have given the joke more class.
posted by ceribus peribus at 10:47 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


30,000 plus deaths a year on U.S. roads make pursuing the goal of "robot drivers" a very worthwhile endeavor, ceribus peribus. And the driverless cars have put in hundreds of thousands of miles on California highways in the past few years, not "test tracks and closed parking lots".
posted by tgyg at 10:55 PM on May 27 [8 favorites]


I fail to see why regular insurance wouldn't cover an autonomous vehicle just like any other car.
posted by ob1quixote at 10:55 PM on May 27


ceribus peribus, a couple of years ago I was as deeply skeptical as you. But having read up on a lot of the technology already being used and what is already capable of, I came away extremely impressed. In the short time they've been at it, Google as already solved countless problems for autonomous cars I thought would be effectively 'unsolvable'... there's nothing you listed there that seems to be an unsurmountable problem any more.

I encourage you to seek out some of the materials on what their cars are already capable of doing. I think the NYT and Atlantic both had pieces out last month, and there's some good technical presentations on youtube as well. You might be surprised.
posted by modernnomad at 11:04 PM on May 27 [6 favorites]


bonehead: "I wouldn't be surprised if logging and mining switched rapidly too, perhaps even first. They travel on closed or semi-private roads most of the time."

oh man, I drive a lot of logging roads and that's one place you need human eyes. Most of the time you're scanning and checking specific spots that might cause you trouble in a day or a week, washouts, sinkholes, etc. That is not something I trust Google to develop mobile technology for.
posted by mannequito at 11:10 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


Well like I said, I think they're a good idea and a worthwhile pursuit, so I'll look forward to learning more. But my current impression leaves me hoping they'd continue with another decade or two of research instead of building prototyping facilities and lining up industry partners.
posted by ceribus peribus at 11:19 PM on May 27


ceribus peribus, I don't know what car(s) you're driving but if you're driving certain current high end models then thinking you're still in control of steering and braking is an illusion. Those cars will do it for you if you don't do it in time. So in some ways we're there already anyhow. In emergency situations you will be removed from any decision making even in current models.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:33 PM on May 27


It strikes me that this is the sort of tech that could only be developed in California out someplace else where there's no weather. I was joking the other day that the lane lines in Chicago are marked by the cracks in the sidewalk and not paint. In genuinely curious as to how the driverless card would do in that scenario.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 11:41 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


It's not about cars. It's about trucks. And not about inner city driving, but about interstate. Cutting out the need to stop for the driver to sleep, eat, and visit the bathroom, would shorten interstate freight by a third at least.
posted by DangerIsMyMiddleName at 11:42 PM on May 27


Google's sticky plaster for the ventricular fibrillation of car culture.

There's still 1000kg+ of machinery that will be used to move 100kg of individual passenger. It's insane.

While I'm wowed by the technology as much as the next person, it strikes me as the right solution to the wrong problem.
posted by davemee at 11:45 PM on May 27 [3 favorites]


Who knows how it will work in rain, or the dark, or the fog
The vehicle's sensors include a 64-beam laser and four radars, so the short answer is "much better than humans".
posted by markshroyer at 12:10 AM on May 28 [9 favorites]


The space shuttle could land without human intervention, but they left a manual option so they wouldn't demoralize the astronauts. On the other hand, I don't find using a train particularly distressing.

There's still 1000kg+ of machinery that will be used to move 100kg of individual passenger. It's insane.

What is the ratio of weight/passenger in a modern train?

The vehicle's sensors include a 64-beam laser

That's just begging for modification.
posted by mecran01 at 12:21 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]


That is not something I trust Google to develop mobile technology for.

A decade ago, DARPA did two challenges, in 2004 and 2005, over what amounted to logging roads. Dealing with complicated, but static terrain on a limited access road was an easier challenge than driving in an urban environment. Rough roads seem really challenging because urban drivers generally don't have a lot of experience with them, and often over drive them, not understanding the surface or their cars. But automatic vehicles have been doing this for a decade now. Google isn't the only technology in this race.
posted by bonehead at 12:29 AM on May 28 [8 favorites]


Two things.

Number one: Boston cabbies just had a protest against Uber. The reaction by certain segments to becoming obsolete will have some sad dramatic moments.

Uber is horseshit. It's an effort to replace organized, skilled professionals with cheap amateurs who aren't subject to the same rules and regulations as the aforementioned professionals. It's an effort to use technology to dodge the laws which govern a particular industry to the detriment of the workers in that industry. If you're pro-Uber, you are objectively anti-labor and anti-worker.

Number two: If the drunk asshole whose front bumper tore up the driver's side of my car tonight (I'm fine, just immensely frustrated) had been in an automated car, I'd be home instead of at my parents' a couple of hours north and she wouldn't be sitting in jail facing what I understand to be pretty nasty charges right now. If I'd been in an automated vehicle, there's a very good chance that it would've realized that she was coming into my lane a couple of seconds earlier and veered away from her more effectively than I as a slow, less-aware-than-a-CPU-with-a-great-sensor-package could. Automated cars offer a more convenient world, yes, but even more importantly, they offer a safer world, and that's very important.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:55 AM on May 28 [20 favorites]


I'm not really looking forward to self-driving cars.
I kinda like driving, actually.

But I have to be honest, searching for 'restaurant', hitting the 'I'm Feeling Lucky' button, and having the car just take you to one would be pretty damn cool.

And in one stroke, Google would solve the biggest cause of divorce in America today, the "Where do you want to eat?" argument.
posted by madajb at 1:03 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


surlyben: "(Apparently just fine, as long as they signal.) Now I wonder how it handles badly behaved bicyclists."

I seem to recall a story about the Google car hitting a cyclist who ran a red light. Perhaps Google can make a pedal powered version and rid us of the 'traffic laws are for other vehicle' crowd once and for all.
posted by pwnguin at 1:08 AM on May 28


"bruce, two trips to the liquor store in one week? i have advised your doctor to discuss your drinking with you on your next visit."

"bruce, you're married, but our records show that we're now parked in front of a brothel. your wife needs to know about this so she can protect herself against std's."

"bruce, this church is listed in our records as possibly catering to undesireable elements."


Honestly bruce, I gotta side with the car on this one. You need to take a long, hard look at your life and the choices you're making.
posted by um at 1:14 AM on May 28 [22 favorites]


In the very near future, we are all going to be Bruce. I didn't comment in this thread from yesterday, but I've been aware of it since about 2003 or 04 when I interviewed with a company working on commercializing the early versions of get-healthy-enforcement programs for large corporations.

So, um, Bruce I think you're going to need to ask Amex if they will front you more privacy hours to your account.
posted by digitalprimate at 1:28 AM on May 28


Pope Guilty: "replace organized, skilled professionals with cheap amateurs who aren't subject to the same rules and regulations as the aforementioned professionals. It's an effort to use technology to dodge the laws which govern a particular industry to the detriment of the workers in that industry. If you're pro-Uber, you are objectively anti-labor and anti-worker."

NYC medallions recently auctioned for more than a million dollars, and Boston for around 600k; if you think the system that limits the supply of medallions, auctions them to the highest bidder, and regulates fares is applied for the benefit of labor, I just don't see it.
posted by pwnguin at 1:29 AM on May 28 [13 favorites]


If you're pro-Uber, you are objectively anti-labor and anti-worker.

True, but (at least in the UK) trained cabbies are always the most anti-labour and anti-worker guys imaginable. You basically have to be to the right of Hitler to be a London cab driver - their trade association would never have dreamed of, say, supporting a bus or rail strike in a billion years. Traditional cabs have about 5 years to go in London, absolute maximum.
posted by colie at 1:30 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


We are now well into the territory where I would think this was cool if ANYONE BUT GOOGLE was behind it.

I'm not sure — seems pretty easy to use robocars to distract everyone from all the other not-so-nice stuff they are doing at the moment.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:42 AM on May 28


yeah, i respect taxi drivers for putting food on their family's plates, but I hardly classify them as 'skilled labour' - anyone with a driver's licence and a GPS can work as a taxi driver.
posted by modernnomad at 1:44 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


NYC medallions recently auctioned for more than a million dollars, and Boston for around 600k; if you think the system that limits the supply of medallions, auctions them to the highest bidder, and regulates fares is applied for the benefit of labor, I just don't see it.

And if it were the taxi drivers who actually buy those medallions, you might have a point, but in reality those cabbies won't see that kind of money in their lives. Nobody's spending a million bucks to get a job with the shitty conditions, pay, and safety of driving a cab.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:59 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


In my experience, across several countries and continents, cab drivers are generally the most right-wing, entitled assholes possible. And, there seems to be a correlation between how much monopolistic protection they get and how huge assholes they are.

Taxi medallions and similar licensing systems in big cities may have started out as labor protection, but they're now basically just huge barriers to entry and monopoly protection. Even in places where rates are ridiculously high, and getting a taxi on, say, a Saturday night is impossibly hard (an hour and a half waiting times, etc.), taxi drivers are totally against any more licenses being issued, because it'd possibly cut into their huge profit margins.

Fuck 'em.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:12 AM on May 28 [18 favorites]


I heard them talking about this on the radio this morning and they kept banging on about how they were so safe because of all their sensors jiggery and only goes 25mph. But I kept thinking, "Sure, this car isn't going to really hurt anyone, but it doesn't stand a chance against the non Google cars on the road. It (and the people in it) are toast in a collision with a Landcruiser. Or hell, even with a Corolla. In some situations you need to have breaks or gas pedal to avoid collisions. So unless these things replace "normal" cars en masse and all at once, I'm not sure I would feel safe in one until all the other cars are gone first.
posted by like_neon at 2:23 AM on May 28


Google's market cap is roughly $375 billion. That's nearly three times the market caps of GM, Chrysler and Ford combined.

Which, I guess, could be Google's plan.
posted by like_neon at 2:27 AM on May 28


I don't think these cars are premised as replacing all vehicles. These ones are clearly designed for urban travel at relatively low speeds. The 'autonomous' technology is separate from the car design - indeed, Google originally used Prius' and Lexus SUVs as their testbed.

There's much more to autonomous vehicles than SMART-car sized vehicles (which of course are also already on the road, not designed for extensive highway travel, and would also be toast in a head on collision at 100kph with a Landcruiser).
posted by modernnomad at 2:28 AM on May 28


pull up to the bumper baby

in your adorable tiny nubbin car
posted by Sebmojo at 2:32 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]


I don't know what country you guys all live in with all these faultless human drivers who never crash in fog or skid on ice or hit kids who run into the road or run over cyclists that they didn't see, but it sounds great and you're right, you probably don't need robot cars.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:39 AM on May 28 [11 favorites]


Uber is horseshit. It's an effort to replace organized, skilled professionals with cheap amateurs who aren't subject to the same rules and regulations as the aforementioned professionals.

Your experience with cab drivers and uber drivers must be vastly different from mine.
posted by empath at 2:53 AM on May 28 [6 favorites]


I can almost certainly guarantee that safety concerns will not keep these cars off the road. The potential economic and social benefits of these cars are so vast that there is no way they're going to be stopped, short of some technological road block.
posted by empath at 2:57 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


There's still 1000kg+ of machinery that will be used to move 100kg of individual passenger. It's insane.

Yeah but consider that these could function as the 'last mile' for a complete public transit system. You can have these running back and forth to rail stations all day from the outer suburbs. Imagine the complete elimination of parking lots from city centers.
posted by empath at 3:00 AM on May 28 [6 favorites]


Maybe it's because I live in Minnesota, but how the hell is a GoogleCar gonna handle 8 inches of snow? On a Tuesday morning? In May?
posted by Sphinx at 3:03 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


You know in watching this and reading these comments, i'm wondering something here.

Does google want to start a car company, or is this just the G1 of whatever the hell they call their car version of android.

Do they want to make cars? or do they just want to make a self driving car OS and "kit" that other companies can build into their cars.

There's good arguments for both, and i doubt anyone who actually knew would even be allowed to or feel like saying... but i'm curious, nonetheless.
posted by emptythought at 3:05 AM on May 28


Imagine the complete elimination of parking lots from city centers.

“What happens to all these stretch limousines that prowl the throbbing city all day long?”-Eric Packer
posted by fistynuts at 3:09 AM on May 28


@emptythought:whatever the hell they call their car version of android

Vandroid.
posted by davemee at 3:11 AM on May 28 [6 favorites]


From markshroyer's linked article above:
... before sending the self-driving car on a road test, Google engineers drive along the route one or more times to gather data about the environment. When it's the autonomous vehicle's turn to drive itself, it compares the data it is acquiring to the previously recorded data, an approach that is useful to differentiate pedestrians from stationary objects like poles and mailboxes.
Aha, so that's how they're pulling it off. This might mean that the self driving cars can't navigate anywhere that hasn't been visited in advance by a Google camera car (unable to go off the map, as it were), which I suppose most people could work around if they had to. Maybe the plan is to use Glass-like recordings from the car's sensors to keep the road model constantly updated? (And you thought AT&T's network got crushed when the first iPhone came out!) Who gets to be the first driver after a snowstorm is a good question.
posted by ceribus peribus at 3:24 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


This feels so... oddly threatening. It's as if Google automated baseball (or whatever it is you do for fun) and everyone was chiming in about what a relief it was that nobody would ever pull a muscle or get hit by a pitch again, and their favorite daytime talk shows would no longer be interrupted by game broadcasts.

Which is all great. If you hate baseball.
posted by indubitable at 3:32 AM on May 28 [4 favorites]




Thinking on it further: so if you open a new cafe with a drive through lane, or an underground parking lot, or even just put a long driveway into your residence, then the self driving vehicle fleet won't be able to navigate them until you hire a digital pathfinding service to manually blaze a signal trail along the route and upload it to the collective map for distribution?

That could work, actually. Sort of like having virtual rails.
posted by ceribus peribus at 4:14 AM on May 28


People aren't forced to play baseball because of the configurations of the places in which they live. But in America, most driving is due to the configuration of America. It's mostly not enjoyed and not really enjoyable, worming along in mediocre-to-shitty traffic.
posted by curuinor at 4:17 AM on May 28 [5 favorites]


Right. It's great, if you hate driving.
posted by indubitable at 4:23 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


There are still plenty of people who ride horses for fun, there will still be plenty of people who drive cars for fun 100 years after the adoption of automated cars.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:27 AM on May 28 [5 favorites]


For truckers, a robot doesn't have mandatory rest periods. That multiplies their cost advantage by about 2.5 right there.

This. As I was driving down the interstate the other day, it occurred to me that, if anyone should be worried about self-driving vehicle technology, it's long-haul truckers. No rest stops, no need for cabs large enough to live in, etc.

Once they manage to get a robotic system that can back a tractor-trailer into a dock, the writing will be on the wall for truckers. Refueling/recharging might be an issue, though.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:31 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


Once they manage to get a robotic system that can back a tractor-trailer into a dock, the writing will be on the wall for truckers. Refueling/recharging might be an issue, though.

A scene from our future.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:34 AM on May 28


jjwiseman: on the subject of fuel usage, consider how bad humans are at using fuel efficiently. People pay more for bigger engines because they're emotionally invested in the acceleration curve even though this costs more and doesn't get you there any faster. We lost an entire generation of fuel efficiency improvements because of that trend combined with a fad for unnecessarily large vehicles which are rarely even half utilized which was partially driven by the impression of safety marketed to insecure drivers.

A self-driving car breaks that emotional link because you're no longer driving. Breaking that link should lead to many more rational decisions: buying reasonably sized vehicles, using car-sharing programs, optimizing routes for total travel time or fuel usage rather than driver habit, etc.

This is also possibly a win for alternative fuels: one of the major complaints about everything other than a Tesla-style sports car has been performance. If you're a passenger, however, there's far less disincentive to optimizing for lower commute costs since you never notice an extra second to accelerate to 65.
posted by adamsc at 4:36 AM on May 28 [7 favorites]


Uber is horseshit. It's an effort to replace organized, skilled professionals with cheap amateurs who aren't subject to the same rules and regulations as the aforementioned professionals. It's an effort to use technology to dodge the laws which govern a particular industry to the detriment of the workers in that industry. If you're pro-Uber, you are objectively anti-labor and anti-worker.

I don't know what the taxis are like where you are but they are horrible here and have been horrible forever. They're overpriced, they either don't show up or show up two hours late, they won't go to black neighborhoods, the cars reek of cigarette smoke and the drivers routinely get lost and the cars don't have GPS. Also, Yellow Cab is no friend of labor; the cabbies are all non-employees who have to rent the cabs every night and swallow any losses on a bad night.

Uber and Lyft have been a godsend. Finally you can actually call a cab and it shows up in less than three hours and it's clean and the driver takes you where you want to go. It's a huge win for the city and makes it much easier to live here without a personal vehicle.
posted by octothorpe at 4:40 AM on May 28 [15 favorites]


The amount of backlash against the idea here is a little strange... I think the main point of this project was mainly an automotive design exercise.

Anyway, those are some really trusting people in the "demo" video. The absolute first thing I would do getting in that would be test out the emergency stop button. Though I assume that the Google guys took it for a few spins around that parking lot first to make sure.

I actually work in automation, and am somewhat familiar with the state of the art in autonomous vehicles, including their flaws. They have top people (top people!) working on the Google car project, and it's really very sophisticated in terms of sensing pedestrians, other cars, imperfect road surfaces and markings, etc., anticipating movement of others, anticipating what others expect you to do, and otherwise dealing with the real world. On the other hand, to expand that to all types of environments where it might operate is one big (and really never-ending) problem. I believe they have got it to work well in at least some parts of a city (namely SF), and highways, probably most suburban areas, if you have a certain amount of preprocessed data about those areas, and a relatively large amount of computational power and some expensive sensors on the car. They have thought of a lot of stuff, but of course not everything.

It probably won't be possible to have an otherwise autonomous car without a steering wheel and brake pedal for a long time. And there will certainly be some conflict with manual drivers. I see plenty of road rage possible.

And, I highly doubt that Google (or whoever) will be providing this as open-source software [Google's current forays into robotics are really just big IP-generating activities for them]. I'm sure that initially, autonomous car use will be restricted to certain highways, enforced in the car's own closed software systems.
posted by thefool at 4:44 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]


Cool story corporatebro, but:

1) There is no third party source for information about Google's cars. I find it incredible that so many of you simply take the company at its word (including self-reports of tests) about how well they work.

2) Driver decision making is important for the "kill yourself or a family"and similar dilemmas because we require ethical agency.

3) This is obviously an attack on labour standards not just speculatively, but now--this is a propaganda move by an advertising company, right up to investing in what is effectively an scab cab company. Many of you seem to be under the impression that technological change is asocial in its development and utterly deterministic in its results. That's pretty wrong.

4) No, it doesn't matter that a cabbie was an asshole to you that time.
posted by mobunited at 4:48 AM on May 28 [10 favorites]


I desperately desperately want this. Cars and their drivers are destroying Beijīng, the city I love, and taxis are gettīng worse by by the day. So I want this. I want to see car ownership as status symbol die, Ī want to see rent in unmapped neighborhoods drop, I want the black Audis acknowledged as a public health risk, and I want to watch Chinese tech companies squirm while they explain how censorship and silly restrictions on car modification and cost cutting and smog didnt cause them to fail to invent this first. Go Google!
posted by saysthis at 5:09 AM on May 28 [8 favorites]


People pay more for bigger engines because they're emotionally invested in the acceleration curve even though this costs more and doesn't get you there any faster.

Who on earth bought a more powerful car in the belief that it would shave a few seconds off their commute? People like powerful cars because they're fun. This is such a silly thing to posit that it could only come out of someone who sees a car as an appliance to get from point A to point B. You might as well ask a virgin to proffer their opinions on sex.
posted by indubitable at 5:18 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


This is politics.

Yes, and in a State where the purpose of Government works to advance the interest of Business there is a lot of money to be made (or saved) in de-employing delivery drivers.

Boston Dynamics and their ilk was not bought to make a robotic horse to be the companion like in Bravestarr

since the driverless car can return home when needed.

Other than the energy used to having the car have to go from East to West and back again. And the wear and tear.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:21 AM on May 28


mobunited,

I think you're right that we could use some healthy skepticism here. I'm very excited about this project, but so far it is just us taking Google's word for it. And there are definitely negative potential effects on the livelihoods of millions.

But I'm not sure on this point: 2) Driver decision making is important for the "kill yourself or a family"and similar dilemmas because we require ethical agency. What about public transit? What about the millions of everyday life-threatening situations we encounter already and over which we have no real control?

Shouldn't the question rest only on whether these vehicles are safer as a whole than the alternative?
posted by graphnerd at 5:34 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


Many people are arguing that self-driving cars will make private ownership die like of course and like it's the letter that follows A in the alphabet and I'm not seeing the imperative there. What did I miss?
posted by rtha at 5:38 AM on May 28


Right. It's great, if you hate driving.

or if you hate other people's driving.
posted by Pre-Taped Call In Show at 5:39 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]


Group-owned cars aren't going to be a thing outside large cities, as everyone has roughly, but not exactly, the same working and/or school hours. It will be impossible to schedule enough rides for the commute for that kind of system to make sense. Plus, there will be capacity and scheduling issues on the weekends, too. People in the 'burbs got errands to run on the weekend, yo.

In the cities, they might have a nice as cab substitutes, and even that may not make a lot of financial sense as opposed to just calling up a robo-cab owned by a cab company (or the city's public transit system - it may wind up being better managed as another component to multi-modal mass transit.)

Also, the cute, Koala-face eco-mini car thing? Fantasy. A light is going to go off in Goodwood or on Cadillac Place, and rolling luxury living rooms will be A Thing, and be aspirational across all segments. The good news is that they'll all be running little 4-banger engines or electric, as no-one will notice or care how "spirited" the car's performance is, just how smooth and unobtrusive it is.

Another fun new market will be the "hauler" market - a pickup-truck bed with a trailer hitch on top of a big V8 motor, designed to follow around your car to do your hauling. The first time someone demonstrates one of these automatically rolling a boat trailer into the water with a push of a button, they'll sell a zillion.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:42 AM on May 28 [9 favorites]


I'm a die-hard socialist, but even I don't see anything wrong with clever technology making the world a better place, even if it puts some people out of work. We shouldn't be complaining about the technology — we should be complaining about the fact that people have to work for sustenance.
posted by cthuljew at 5:43 AM on May 28 [20 favorites]


Have they expanded their research into large "truck like" vehicles? Of course many of the principals are the same or similar, but there are some differences that will have to be accounted for. Whenever a friend moves they get me to drive the rental truck because they're terrified about driving them.

If there are going to be driverless trucks on the road does this mean they're humanless too? How do they refuel? How do they get repaired if a tyre blows? Would this be another industry, the monitoring and upkeep of automated vehicles?

The car in the article is aimed at only 2 passengers at a time, so not humanless. I can see the potential (not using that word as a value judgement) of automated long haul trucking but don't see a very relevant connection in this, other than the beginnings of it.

As for impact on society, jobs, etc., it's unfortunate that society remains glued to a predatory capitalist model and it may take massive joblessness to change that, but the way society is structured now, we're heading that way anyway, regardless of this type of vehicle. What use would automated long haul trucks be if the products they haul can't be bought by the working poor?
posted by juiceCake at 5:43 AM on May 28


Brian B.: "I don't know why they are only conjuring passengers, the delivery system of groceries and packages seems a lot more lucrative on an hourly basis. I get in my car most of the time to go get stuff."

Yeah, the most obvious use-case is on highways for freight, where they can be safe, efficient, and not need breaks, and that driving is borrrring. But since I expect it'll take time before everyone's comfortable with self-driving vehicles on the interstate, I can imagine them getting regional delivery fleets to pilot self-driving trucks -- imagine if your UPS driver didn't have to drive, he could just spend his time organizing packages, checking off electronic paperwork, and jumping out to run the packages up to the door. That'd also meet the laws where you have to have a "driver" to take over in case of a problem in a lot of states. Or -- probably more likely -- trucks doing B2B deliveries, especially in fairly industrial cities (taking over some deliveries that are now truck but 50 years ago were shortline rail). There a robust manufacturing business in my area distributed around, say, a 30-mile radius, with steel going in some factories and coming out parts that go to other factories to be assembled into vehicles and tools, and there are tool foundries and fastener manufacturers and wire manufacturers all in this regional area, all delivering from the lower-level factories to the higher-level factories, in complicated multi-step, multi-point supply chains on a daily basis. Self-driving trucks doing that would be a very obvious early use. You could have a whole fleet moving around at 2 a.m. when the roads are empty.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:50 AM on May 28


There are so many advantages to this - safer, cleaner, more convenient - that are obvious, and others that will become so, like the ability to know everything in real time about the planned route and to negotiate instantly with others to optimise road usage, car sharing, creating clear passages for emergency vehicles, etc. I can quite see that human-guided cars will be gone in 20/30 years, (in some areas, much sooner: it doesn't take much imagination to see 'pedestrians, cycles and robotic vehicles only' zones appearing, ditto lanes). They'll also drive things like TCAS for cyclists and humans: it turns the whole safety equation into something that can be engineered with far more finesse, now the One Big Thing that can't be fixed is out.

Then, will you want one of your own? Perhaps, but really - why? In the days I drove, I very soon learned that 'owning a car' was one of those life markers I'd always assumed were beyond thought but turned out to be completely not for me. Cabs, hire cars and public transport absolutely covered me at a much lower cost. I don't own my own electricity generator either.

Now, about those pilotless passenger aircraft...
posted by Devonian at 5:53 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


Protecting employment is not a great reason to support the maintenance if an inefficient and destructive system.
posted by empath at 5:53 AM on May 28 [4 favorites]


But isn't it a bit reductionist to boil down driving to "just follow the road and be able to quickly apply the brakes before you hit anything"?

The reductionism seems to be coming from the reader. No one actual said that all there is to it.

I've personally seen the cars making left turns on busy streets in Palo Alto. That means, at a minimum, it can detect the traffic light turning green, sense oncoming cars so it doesn't turn into them, know where and how many lanes there are to the right of it, and avoid the pedestrians crossing at the same corner.

While I'm certainly not going to argue they are perfect, this is not some off-the-cuff 20% project thought up by an intern. There's been a ton of research and (I'm sure) thousands of in-traffic hours of testing for many years now.

(When I say "the cars" I mean the modded research models, not the brand new models shown in the FPP.)
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:05 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't be surprised if logging and mining switched rapidly too, perhaps even first. They travel on closed or semi-private roads most of the time.

Yep, they are aggressively working on it in Australia: Rio Tinto Rolls Out Ambitious, Autonomous, Mine of the Future
posted by smackfu at 6:08 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


I was just prattling to my infant daughter the other day about all the things she's going to do in her life, and when I got to "first car," I turned to my wife and said, wait, no, probably there will be robot cars in 15 years. Maybe not exclusively, but I strongly suspect we'll be on the path. Or else living in Mad Max. One or the other.

Of course, then you get to thinking about more-efficient public transport (buses in the suburbs just don't work right now, in lots of cases, but widespread automation on the roads would change everything) and private ownership and the future of work and everything goes sort of sideways.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:08 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


" it’s hard to anticipate how people will feel about self-driving cars — both riding in them, and seeing them on the street — until they hit the road."

Something tells me that the car's top speed of 25 MPH will pretty much define how people will feel about them being on the road, after awhile... a curiosity, best avoided. Separate, but unequal.
posted by markkraft at 6:12 AM on May 28


If there are going to be driverless trucks on the road does this mean they're humanless too? How do they refuel? How do they get repaired if a tyre blows? Would this be another industry, the monitoring and upkeep of automated vehicles?

One of the things that's just so interesting about this whole thing is the long-term implications for related industries (directly and otherwise). In your example, there might be some modified version of the towing industry at the ready to handle the situation. Or maybe one out of every x long-hauls would have a mechanic onboard to ensure that qualified humans are no more than a certain amount of time away some percentage of the journeys.

On a related note, the first company to figure out an automated interface between the vehicles and backrooms / insides of stores will put 7-11 out of business. I'm thinking something like Kiva Systems.
posted by graphnerd at 6:21 AM on May 28


Well at least we know this tech can't possibly have any unintended negative consequences, like permanently killing large numbers of relatively low-skill jobs people still depend on just as we're desperately trying to struggle out from under devastating economic recession and stagnation.

See, this technology isn't going to increase the overall demand for cars, so there will be no net growth in auto manufacturing related industry over the long term as a result of this innovation. The existing auto manufacturing capacity will just be retooled to produce self-driving cars.

Meanwhile, if the tech actually delivers on its promise, millions of people will soon find themselves permanently out of work unless we can come up with something new for them to do. Are we ever going to talk specifically about how that's all going to be worked out?
posted by saulgoodman at 6:25 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't get too hung up on the 25 MPH limit. It doesn't make much difference in cities (and these are electric cars anyway, so that's where they'll be for now), it's not a technical limitation more a regulatory and common-sense one, and it'll be replaced by "as fast as makes sense" in due course.

Given that the current (ho ho) speed limits are set by safety concerns over the limits to how fast humans can perceive, comprehend and react to situations, autonomous vehicles could easily go much faster than human-guided ones, when appropriate. 'Speed limts' could become very dynamic indeed.

It also occurs to me that autonomous hire cars/public transport cars make a lot of sense with electric propulsion. Currently (ho ho) if you own an electric car you can only go so far before having to stop and wait for an appreciable length of time to recharge. Now, these darn things can arrange among themselves to have a fully charged replacement ready to rendezvous with you where convenient, so you just bunny-hop as far as you like and never worry about charging again.
posted by Devonian at 6:27 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]


If there are going to be driverless trucks on the road does this mean they're humanless too?

I know some folks who are working on a model for this called Leader/Follower -- basically one truck driver in the front is indirectly controlling one or more completely separate "follower" trucks. You could have a train of 10 semis, each with a gap of a couple hundred yards, that stay in the same lane and get on/off at the same exits. This is the most likely near term solution for trucking.

Maybe it's because I live in Minnesota, but how the hell is a GoogleCar gonna handle 8 inches of snow?

There is a currently active bus line on I-35W in Minneapolis that uses automated lane guidance to run in a narrow shoulder lane. It uses DGPS -- they've installed GPS augmentation along the entire route. So basically us northerners will come up with alternative solutions if we have to.
posted by miyabo at 6:29 AM on May 28


Uber and Lyft have been a godsend. Finally you can actually call a cab and it shows up in less than three hours and it's clean and the driver takes you where you want to go. It's a huge win for the city and makes it much easier to live here without a personal vehicle.

As long as you remember that they are currently subsidised by venture capital money and crappy labour conditions and that one day they'll either go tits up or have to start passing those costs along to the users, just as Google's people-carrying LOGO turtle is subsidised by an advertising model that... well, we all know about that.
posted by holgate at 6:40 AM on May 28 [8 favorites]


Well at least we know this tech can't possibly have any unintended negative consequences, like permanently killing large numbers of relatively low-skill jobs

Well at least that observation has safely maintained existing modes of labor again and again throughout history, amirite?

We are in the maelstrom people. Creative destruction of your occupation needs to be taken up as a risk covered by the state. That is the way we need to go.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 6:44 AM on May 28 [5 favorites]


Great. Yet another reason GPS cannot fail at any time or at any place.
posted by fatllama at 6:45 AM on May 28


I agree. So let's talk about and plan for how deal with no longer having jobs before it's too late and we're just stuck with mobs of unemployed people starving everywhere. Otherwise, we can't move forward.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:46 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


Rule #1, since the days of machine looms and the original luddites: Never Bet Against The Machine.
posted by aramaic at 6:52 AM on May 28 [7 favorites]


As someone who daily interacts with human-driven cars from the vantage point of my bicycle I hope I survive to see a world where there are only driverless cars.
posted by grubby at 6:53 AM on May 28 [8 favorites]


I can't tell if the car meets current safety standards for crash survivability. At that size, if a large vehicle hits it with any speed, it could be bad. With a maximum speed of 25 mph, it should be able to stop pretty quickly for pedestrians and bicycles, but that would still make me nervous.

Mountain View roads are pretty decent, but in Maine, after a severe winter, potholes abound, the lane markings have been worn away by plows, and there's often leaves, sand, salt, etc., on the road. I'll bet those lasers will do a good job of keeping the car on a decent road surface, but some people still have dirt roads leading to their homes. So, I see it as pretty useful for city commuting, which is some big percentage of miles driven, but with no steering, brakes, acceleration, there's no option for manually driving the 'last mile'.

For packages, surely they'll build little droid-y ones, like the mouse/ repair/ toaster droids on the Death Star in Star Wars.
posted by theora55 at 6:54 AM on May 28


probably there will be robot cars in 15 years. ....Or else living in Mad Max. One or the other.

It can be the best of both, doesn't have to be either or.

Liquid fuel has a high energy density and more energy added to a car is a valve opening away. Batteries are a bit harder to quickly add energy to. (and eestor is a bust it seems - no high power caps this week)
posted by rough ashlar at 6:56 AM on May 28


Well at least we know this tech can't possibly have any unintended negative consequences, like permanently killing large numbers of relatively low-skill jobs

You're being sarcastic, but I think it helps to have an idea of the scale of these effects.

In Canada, there are about 70,000 truckers. It's notably a low-skilled job, with more than half having high-school education or less. It's overwhelmingly a male job, >95%. Pay is right around the national average, making it a fairly good option for long-term stable employment. Truckers are slightly older than the workforce, with very few young drivers (insurance?).

So, getting rid of truckers will have, I think, pretty harsh effects on these people: they're low-skilled, older, and will likely be hard to retrain to other work. Given their ages most of them probably are primary or co-wage earners for families, meaning their jobs disappearing will affect not just them but a lot of kids and spouses too. It's a classic rust-out job loss, as far as I can tell.
posted by bonehead at 6:56 AM on May 28


Many people are arguing that self-driving cars will make private ownership die like of course and like it's the letter that follows A in the alphabet and I'm not seeing the imperative there.

Other people have made the point to me that it's all about the second-order effects of the technology, not the current instantiations, and I'm fine with that. However, regardless of your opinions of the second-order effects of mass car ownership, they took a while to kick in, and once they did kick in, they calcified.

I was thinking about China, and saysthis makes the point: in places where you have rapid semi-forced urbanisation, terrible pollution and a state that dictates terms to people and works on the assumption that it will still be in power in 50 years, then you have an environment in which a new infrastructure can be imposed and the population just has to deal with it.
posted by holgate at 6:57 AM on May 28


Don't get me wrong, I've got no love for driving, but if we're going to be bypassing the normal political processes and fast-tracking adoption of self-driving automobile technology because Google has the financial clout to make that happen, we need to be prepared for massive social disruptions and we need to have concrete plans in place to manage the transition. Leaving it all up to chance will hurt a lot of real people.

Rule #1, since the days of machine looms and the original luddites: Never Bet Against The Machine.

Sigh. I hate how so many reasonable arguments get reduced to simplified caricatures of the arguments and dismissed using cultural short-hand and bumper sticker slogans.

I'm not betting against the machine. I'm betting Google actually has the money and clout to make this happen much more quickly than anyone is expecting and that it is going to happen.

So what then? If it happens quickly, we're going to need to manage a much more abrupt transition. Our society is already under a great deal of economic strain, so what's the plan for dealing with this new one that's on the horizon?
posted by saulgoodman at 6:58 AM on May 28


"no longer needing to own 2 cars for every household since the driverless car can return home when needed."

That actually seems like a pretty wasteful thing to do.

What I would suggest, perhaps, is a situation more like a taxi service, but automatically customized for every passenger.

For example, you need to go to work to a nearby city early in the morning, and have set up a schedule on the web/phone app. You are called by Google with an alert, but miss the first call/text, as you were in the shower. You got the second call, though, confirmed, and a nearby vehicle is automatically dispatched to your door. You get get in, and it drives you to work downtown... then responds to another person needing a ride from one place to another downtown... then parks itself in a nearby parking structure GOOG has worked out a deal with. The new model is electric, so it plugs itself in and starts charging. Meanwhile, there are now fewer vehicles in the suburbs, so Google, automatically sensing this and predicting future localized demand, dispatches a vehicle to a lot nearby where you live, where it plugs itself in.

After your kid has been picked up for school by a bus with an actual human driver overseeing the autopilot, your wife, who works on a flexible schedule and more locally, heads in to an office to meet with a client. She hits the "send car" button on her phone app, and one is dispatched immediately, calling her when it arrives. She gets in, has her meeting, and goes for a walk to a nearby restaurant for lunch afterwards. When she leaves the restaurant, there are several Google cars parked in front. She steps into a car, which sends out a ping to her RFID, which responds back and authenticates who she is, her voice, her favorite destinations, etc.

The door closes. "Home," she says, to which the car responds "2787 Parkway Avenue. Is this correct?" "Yes." "Hit start to begin." ...and the car whisks her back to her home office, before driving to outside a nearby business and plugging itself back in again.

Google would accept the liability, of course, largely because it drove down costs low enough so that people willingly gave up their cars to save $$.
posted by markkraft at 6:58 AM on May 28 [4 favorites]


In Canada, there are about 70,000 truckers.

The cite I found put the number of just commercial truck drivers in the US at 3.5 million.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:59 AM on May 28


That's 3.5 million not including cab drivers, bus drivers, and others in trucking related industries. I'm guessing food delivery drivers would still have a job walking to people's doors.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:02 AM on May 28


I mean, if there were a realistic chance the trucking industry would be willing to keep a human pilot on-board to take over in the event of a system failure, that would be different, but how likely is that when the industry's already unwilling to keep human drivers that aren't sleep deprived in the driver's seat in order to squeeze out a little more revenue from every mile?

Now that it's becoming clear just how ready and able (politically and technologically) Google is to bring this product to market, we should start planning for the fallout, deciding what we value enough about the way things used to be to try to save.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:06 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


The elderly, the disabled, and people who cannot drive for one reason or another will have their lives changed for the better (vastly better) when driverless cars become a widespread reality. Where I live, there are a lot of people whose eyesight and reflexes have deteriorated to the point where they really shouldn't be driving - yet they drive anyway, because they'd be trapped in their houses and dependent on others if they didn't.

And I live in the Bay Area, where walking on icy sidewalks and waiting at the bus stop in the snow isn't an issue, but in colder climates, that's a real barrier for the elderly in using public transit.

When I'm too old to drive, I hope I have access to a self-driving car, because being dependent on others to get around sucks donkey balls. People who can't drive now, will have so many more choices as to where to live and what to do if they have the kind of reliable transportation that self-driving cars offer.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:08 AM on May 28 [11 favorites]


Yeah, it appears that 70k is just Quebec. The whole of Canada is over 400k (2010-2011, PDF, Table EC29). That includes delivery drivers like FedEx too, I think.
posted by bonehead at 7:08 AM on May 28


This morning on the way to work, an Infiniti SUV came flying up behind me while I was doing 40 in a 35 MPH zone and started honking at me for going too slowly. It then swerved around me to the right and the woman inside flipped me off and swore at me and then zoomed past me right up to the red light were we both sat and waited for the green.

I'm pretty sure that any automated car would drive better than she does.
posted by octothorpe at 7:09 AM on May 28 [15 favorites]


Eh, I think many of those jobs are safe for the time being. People are giving up their personal cars, which is going to increase the demand for professional drivers faster than autonomous cars can chip away at it. Sure, if you literally drive and do nothing else, you might be in trouble. But several of my friends are in commercial delivery and that requires a prodigious level of problem-solving ability and people skills that are in no danger of being eclipsed by software.
posted by miyabo at 7:10 AM on May 28


I wonder if professional drivers feel like whalers did when they saw the first electric light bulbs demonstrated.
posted by Mooski at 7:10 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]


The elderly, the disabled, and people who cannot drive for one reason or another will have their lives changed for the better (vastly better) when driverless cars become a widespread reality.

Would this be like the improvement the Segway was to offer the class of people who can't walk well?

Perhaps there is a problem that things are structured around a car?
posted by rough ashlar at 7:13 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]


The elderly, the disabled, and people who cannot drive for one reason or another will have their lives changed for the better (vastly better) when driverless cars become a widespread reality.

Assuming they can afford a car or cab.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:18 AM on May 28


...Which they often can't now--so I'm not sure what changes.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:18 AM on May 28


deciding what we value enough about the way things used to be to try to save

I don't think that capitalism is particularly interested in "saving" anything except the absolute right to capture wealth, and unfortunately, I don't know how we could generate enough social and political will to adequately prepare for such a disruptive technology, even when we can see it coming from twenty years down the road. I'd like to be wrong.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:25 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]


Good morning, it's Oct. 14th, 2028. It's another scorcher, today, but traffic is light throughout the Bay Area, except in downtown San Francisco today, where cabbies, along with drivers for Lyft, Sidecar and Uber, are out in force and snarling traffic, protesting the recent San Francisco City Council decision to approve full use of Google's new driverless cars within San Francisco, after a two year beta test period, during which time it's gone head-to-head with the existing providers, lowering costs, and has had a perfect traffic safety record, with the exception of two frozen vehicles and over a dozen vehicular scrapes and fender benders, all initiated by cab drivers.

Despite enormous political pressure, city officials had a hard time rejecting Google's safety history, reduced carbon emissions, and generous incentives to roll out its service in San Francisco.

"Why should riderless cabs have to pay for cab licenses when they don't have riders, and when they will save the city tens of millions of dollars a year, while creating new jobs?", said Supervisor Conda in a hastily-formed press conference.

Ironically, Google's driverless car navigation network detected the traffic snarl-ups today and automatically routed around it, though many passengers did have to walk as far as two blocks to get to their final destinations.
posted by markkraft at 7:26 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


...and then sourwookie realized he was asking for Wild Wild Westworld
posted by straight at 7:30 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


And once again, Rush proves their prescience:
My uncle has a country place
That no one knows about
He says it used to be a farm
Before the Motor Law
And on Sundays I elude the eyes
And hop the Turbine Freight
To far outside the Wire
Where my white-haired uncle waits...

(For the record, I would much rather have a red barchetta than a google car. That said, my grandmother had a driver named Roland whom I adored in my childhood, and I wouldn't mind a driver when I'm not outrunning the government surveillance in my red barchetta.)
posted by dejah420 at 7:33 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]


Eh, I think many of those jobs are safe for the time being. People are giving up their personal cars, which is going to increase the demand for professional drivers faster than autonomous cars can chip away at it. Sure, if you literally drive and do nothing else, you might be in trouble. But several of my friends are in commercial delivery and that requires a prodigious level of problem-solving ability and people skills that are in no danger of being eclipsed by software.

Okay. Well, we'll see. Not planning ahead and just chasing technology wherever it leads and then trying to minimize the damage with improvised fixes has been serving us so well up until now, I'm sure we're best off just sticking with that approach. I doubt it matters much what I or anyone else thinks at this point, so there's not much point in arguing over it anyway.

I really do think self-driving cars would be an improvement over the status quo, if the potential economic impacts could be properly managed. I just don't see a lot of reason to be optimistic they will be, and if they aren't, the deeper structural issues that most impact people's lives may actually get much worse. A lot depends on the legal framework that eventually develops around these things. If there are economic penalties, for example, for drivers of traditional cars to encourage adoption of the self-driving vehicles, that could push more people into economic vulnerability by forcing them to take on additional debt they may not be able to afford to purchase a compliant vehicle. It all depends on just how much political muscle the powers that be use to push this out onto the world quickly.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:34 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


It seems to me that the end-game for much of this automation is a society where everyone is guaranteed a certain base income, so that nobody has to work to survive. When so many low-skill jobs are taken by machines, folks won't starve, they'll still have their dwelling, and they'd have the breathing room necessary to readjust their lives if they need/want to.

...which of course would mean the US is screwed, because there is no earthly way the right wing would let that happen. Switzerland, sure. Most of Europe, even. Not the US.

...unless it was set up as a new form of compulsory service. No job for six weeks? Thanks to the Structural Employment Readjustment Act, you've been drafted! Congratulations on the start of your five-year mandatory service period! Click the screen below to choose between Untrained Infantry or Waste Treatment Cadre!
posted by aramaic at 7:35 AM on May 28 [14 favorites]


1) There is no third party source for information about Google's cars. I find it incredible that so many of you simply take the company at its word (including self-reports of tests) about how well they work.

Google isn't the only game in town. The NHSTA will be doing testing of their own before this tech goes mainstream. Also the auto insurance companies will do their own testing as well because they have to know how to price the insurance.


2) Driver decision making is important for the "kill yourself or a family"and similar dilemmas because we require ethical agency.


The software behind this doesn't work that way. The system will never make that kind of decision. If something goes catastrophically wrong and the car fails to the point that the driver or other drivers are imperiled; then the software won't be in a position of agency; just as human drivers don't make those calculations today.


3) This is obviously an attack on labour standards not just speculatively, but now--this is a propaganda move by an advertising company, right up to investing in what is effectively an scab cab company. Many of you seem to be under the impression that technological change is asocial in its development and utterly deterministic in its results. That's pretty wrong.


The Lyft and uberX drivers report higher income and job satisfaction. Customers are more satisfied with the experience. The current system doesn't work.
posted by humanfont at 7:49 AM on May 28 [9 favorites]


I can't freakin' wait. Humans are so good at normalizing that we forget how many people die every day in car accidents. The first time someone dies in a self-driving car accident it will be a major publicity nightmare, but only because we don't even bother putting normal traffic deaths on the news anymore. We completely take it as a given that we've all been in an accident of some severity, and that everyone knows someone who has died in a car. The moment we can stop worrying about drunk and distracted drivers and reaction times, man, I am THERE.
posted by you're a kitty! at 7:51 AM on May 28 [11 favorites]



snow, which can obscure lane markings

Autonomous cars don't think snow makes cars wider so a two lane road won't diminish to one lane in snow because people are morons.

I think Autonomous cars will revolutionize life in the cities and suburbs.

However, living as I do, out here in the middle of nowhere - there will still be a need for human driven transport. It would be awesome if I could turn off the autopilot, turn off the highway and into a dirt road, engage 4LO and the diff lockers and head off to my favorite camping spot under manual control.

And speaking of 4-wheeling, have you seen what they've got for brains on the traction control stuff ? It's still fairly rudimentary - human control is often quite superior - but pretty soon any soccer mom will be able to run the Rubicon trail in a stock SUV.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:53 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


The software behind this doesn't work that way. The system will never make that kind of decision.

So the software is going to be controlling all the independent, environmental variables, too? Amazing! It's god-like.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:58 AM on May 28


It seems to me that the end-game for much of this automation is a society where everyone is guaranteed a certain base income, so that nobody has to work to survive.

Ah, the Star Trek future. At this point, though, we'd be lucky to wind up with the Wall-E future.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:02 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]


saulgoodman: So what then? If it happens quickly, we're going to need to manage a much more abrupt transition. Our society is already under a great deal of economic strain, so what's the plan for dealing with this new one that's on the horizon?

You keep asking this question like our society up to this point has ever been good at (or even interested in) planning for the future. The answer to your question is we don't have one and it seems unlikely that we will put any significant effort towards developing one. Of course we should plan for all sorts of things coming down the road (heh), but repeatedly asking "so what's the plan?" in this thread is not going to make that happen.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:02 AM on May 28 [7 favorites]


That people still think that technological improvement is going to be directed to the advance of the human condition and not to concentrating all available wealth into the hands of the Oligarchy boggles my mind.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:02 AM on May 28 [6 favorites]


Barring a massive systemic failure like not knowing how to compensate for snow or plowed roads or idiosyncratic local traffic patterns (have they been tested in New Jersey?), self-driven cars will almost certainly be safer than what we have now. The testing is all by Google for Google, yes, but it's on public roads; if they were getting into accidents left and right, there'd be police reports. We're still likely to see the same paranoia we get over planes, where a small risk of accident due to computer/mechanical failure is less acceptable than a greater risk of accident due to your own error. The reaction to the first fatal crash between two self-driving cars is going to be huge.

Re: cabbies and truckers, the current system sucks for both of them (taxi regulations are for the benefit of the cab owners and the detriment of the drivers, full fucking stop, and long-haul trucking is a terrible job for any number of reasons) but if recent history is any indication when those jobs are replaced by technology the savings will go straight into ownership's pockets and not returned to the economy, so you can forget about replacing them.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:04 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


"The car is limited to a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour. [...] It’s legal to drive 25 miles per hour on a street with a 35 mile per hour limit. "

Legal, sure, but Oh, the Horns We Will Hear! I was illegally passed the other day for driving 25 in a 25 where people go at least 5 over.
posted by morganw at 8:06 AM on May 28


So the software is going to be controlling all the independent, environmental variables, too? Amazing! It's god-like.

That's not at all the point. The point is that it doesn't make sense to talk about the machine's agency in that hypothetical ethical situation. Because it isn't making pre-determined ethical decisions.
posted by graphnerd at 8:08 AM on May 28


People pay more for bigger engines because they're emotionally invested in the acceleration curve even though this costs more and doesn't get you there any faster.

Yes this is a stupid horrible trend, thanks Reagan for trashing CAFE during your terms. I love horsepower and torque and fast cars and grew up reading Motor Trend and such, and gradually reached a point where it's like WHY DO PEOPLE NEED 300 HORSEPOWER SO MUCH? In the late 90's, many many common higher-trim level cars had around 200HP and this was considered awesome. They would be boosted I4s or V6s typically, and if you really wanted 300HP you'd be a twin-turbo V6 or a V8 ride.

Now, huge strides have been made in power-per-liter and such with table scraps dropped into the "efficiency" dog bowl. You can in fact produce a more powerful and efficient engine than the one you sold last year, but if you emphasize power over everything else, you will make sacrifices. That's all well and good until we decide that people's need to have "fun" in their cars is trumped by people's need to not be mowed down by morons with more performance than they can handle.

Who on earth bought a more powerful car in the belief that it would shave a few seconds off their commute? People like powerful cars because they're fun. This is such a silly thing to posit that it could only come out of someone who sees a car as an appliance to get from point A to point B. You might as well ask a virgin to proffer their opinions on sex.

The point is, nobody did. They buy engines with more attractive power curves, as the original commenter said, even though they have no practical value. Yes, fun is cool, but the economics are far too optimized to making "fun" cars affordable instead of obscenely efficient cars inexpensive. Pressure needs to be brought to bear on the market, since it's not apparently acting in our collective interests (see climate change, constant moronic teenagers with too much power killing themselves and others, people with cars bigger or more powerful than they can handle). Yes it's true that those people are all morons, and I think getting a dangerous death machine should be more expensive for everyone than it is now.

In the face of all of the upcoming horribleness about to befall each subsequent generation, "fun" is still somehow more important, because "fun" is still not all that expensive to obtain, it sells like hotcakes, and the people selling the hotcakes will die and are assuming that the hotcake proceeds they give to their children will harden them up against the hellscape they are complicit in creating. Wait 'til gas is $20/gal and then "fun daily driver" crowd will take heed.

I do agree that power and performance is fun and awesome, but we're moving to a future where this "fun factor" no longer scales.
posted by aydeejones at 8:13 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]


You got the second call, though, confirmed, and a nearby vehicle is automatically dispatched to your door.

...Already taken by someone else who was able to respond to the alert quicker than you were. How many cars do you think Google will have out there?

The car-share model isn't scalable for regular commutes. You're on mass transit, or you own your own/carpool, same as now. It will run cab companies and livery services out of business, tho.

WRT truck drivers - most of them are in delivery, in which the driving of the vehicle is the least important part of their job. Getting stuff onto and off of the vehicle and into the customer's premises, and securing loads is where the lion's share of the skill resides. Robots will eventually take their job, a looooooong way out, but robot vehicles won't. Long-haul truckers are in trouble, tho.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:14 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]




Uber is horseshit. It's an effort to replace organized, skilled professionals with cheap amateurs who aren't subject to the same rules and regulations as the aforementioned professionals. It's an effort to use technology to dodge the laws which govern a particular industry to the detriment of the workers in that industry. If you're pro-Uber, you are objectively anti-labor and anti-worker.


Educate me why I'm anti-labor and anti-worker for being a fan of Uber?

I live in DC. There are a few exceptions, but the bulk of the cabs here are borderline death traps, or so monumentally worn out that they make the Bluesmobile look like a Maybach. I've seen slight improvement lately, but I believe it's BECAUSE of the increased competition.

Uber drivers get more money per fare, they're independent contractors, work as little or as much as they want, and provide as good or as bad a service as they want to.

I can count on one hand the number of DC cab drivers who are "professional" and know where the addresses are, have a cab that functions, understand basic courtesy, have working credit card machines (which is the law here, but suspciously, many of them are broken!) and don't bellyache about driving into less-than-stellar neighborhoods.

I have none of these problems with Uber.
posted by Thistledown at 8:15 AM on May 28 [7 favorites]


Note: with self-driving cars, depending on your job you can be more productive, and then work shorter days, and make a pit stop at the race track and hop into a performance beast and get your jollies. Sounds good
posted by aydeejones at 8:16 AM on May 28


depending on your job you can be more productive, and then work shorter days longer days for the same pay

The benefits of efficiency accrue upward.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:19 AM on May 28 [4 favorites]


Ironmouth: "Google wants to get these cars on the streets ASAP. The company plans to start testing them in Mountain View, Calif., later this summer, Urmson said.

Uh, no, that's not going to happen.

This technology is within 2-3 years of being perfected. Its 20-30 years from being accepted by other drivers on the road. Until it does that, this will not be driving on any U.S. road. This is politics.
"

Which makes me sad, 'cause as someone with ptsd and anxiety so bad that it prevents me from driving, which in turn restricts everything from where I can live and work to how often I can visit friends, this would be a life-changing accessibility tool for me.

Of course, I'm also pretty poor with a crap credit rating, so even if I could walk into a showroom today, it's not like I could afford this car.
posted by ShawnStruck at 8:20 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


I don't think anyone can truly predict with any sort of accuracy whether this will be a good thing or a bad thing. My biggest concern is that the happy motoring society will continue to hum along and lay waste to everything in its path. Fuck cars and fuck what they've done to this planet.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:20 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


There are roughly 1,200,000 people killed in traffic accidents each year. 50,000,000 more are injured. Nobody who has seriously investigated the technology argues that those numbers wouldn't drop by orders of magnitude if self-driving cars were widely adopted.

I hope people keep that in mind before throwing their hands in the air just because the ethics of who or what to blame for the magnitudes fewer deaths and injuries is rather tricky.
posted by gilrain at 8:21 AM on May 28 [17 favorites]


mobunited, I've passed or been passed by Google cars multiple times driving around the Bay Area (mainly 280.) So I can confirm that indeed, there were no hands on the wheel and it reacted correctly to my actions. So not *no* third party information.
posted by tavella at 8:42 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


WRT truck drivers - most of them are in delivery, in which the driving of the vehicle is the least important part of their job. Getting stuff onto and off of the vehicle and into the customer's premises, and securing loads is where the lion's share of the skill resides. Robots will eventually take their job, a looooooong way out, but robot vehicles won't. Long-haul truckers are in trouble, tho.

Yup, even with an automated semi you'd need a human around unless every trailer and docking bay was upgraded to be like a Kiva system on steroids, and the cost of replacing all that infrastructure and equipment would be obscene. And even then you'd still probably want a human on board for security, to do maintenance checks, to make sure the interests of the trucking company and the company that contracted them to carry their cargo aren't screwed over if the party taking delivery isn't quite so scrupulous, and to make sure nobody's trying to hitch a ride on the thing illegally - basically a truck driver becomes something more like a train engineer.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:48 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


With a little training and experience, they exercise good judgement.

Except, of course, they don't. Humans are terrible, shitty drivers. We are really, really bad at driving cars. No automated system that had a failure rate as bad as human operators typically do would ever be allowed to get past the testing stage if you were introducing it today. It's ridiculous.

Hundreds of people a day are injured or killed in automobile accidents and the vast majority of those accidents are the result of poor judgement and driver error. Only 2% of collisions have a root cause traceable to the vehicle; in other words, we're very, very good at building cars. The weakest link in the whole system is sitting behind the wheel.

Not only are people bad at driving, but people are bad at knowing how bad they are at driving. Most people believe that they are better-than-average drivers. (I've seen some studies that say 90% of drivers believe they are in the top 10% of drivers in terms of ability and behavior, hilariously enough. And the worst drivers—young men—tend to think they're the best.) And people don't even learn from their mistakes; generally always believing that any collision they get into isn't their fault.

Human "judgment" isn't an asset behind the wheel. As part of a package deal that requires taking the rest of the human along with it, it's a huge fucking liability, and it's one that we'd be better the sooner we can get rid of it. Driving is not something where a whole lot of creative problem solving and 'outside the box' thinking is required.

And this isn't a minor issue; it's bad to the point where wrecks are the leading cause of death—even with all the modern safety equipment in cars—among people from 5 to 35 years old. We've seemingly just accepted a death rate that's like an ongoing, never-ending war as social 'background radiation', as though it's totally normal to have people dying left and right from automobile collisions.

There will still be a place for human drivers: on the racetrack. I suspect it will be a while before a machine can actually race a car as effectively as a human driver can, because car racing (not drag racing, which is trivial for a machine to optimize, but actual wheel-to-wheel racing) is a strategic and psychological game which happens to be played using a car. Motorsports are a legitimate pastime and if people want to have "fun" while operating a giant piece of machinery at high speed and on the bare limits of human ability, there will be places for them to do that. Just not on the public roads.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:01 AM on May 28 [34 favorites]


I was just thinking if I could get by with a car that goes only up to 25. Obviously I'd have to avoid freeways, and my commute would be much longer -- but I'd be able to spend the time productively so it wouldn't be too bad. This might be a nice legal stepping stone since accidents are much less catastrophic at 25.
posted by miyabo at 9:10 AM on May 28


the option of a manual override in case of an emergency or malfunction would be nice. Like, did we really have to take out the steering wheel and pedals?
posted by Hoopo at 9:20 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


Every day, I have the experience of walking across the street while the driver at the stop sign deliberately accelerates toward me because they feel like they'll get where they're going faster if they don't wait for me to reach the curb before entering the intersection.

Every time it happens, I fantasize that someday I won't experience that anymore, as self-driving cars wait patiently at the stop sign until I'm safely out of the road.
posted by kristi at 9:22 AM on May 28 [5 favorites]


Taking out the manual controls is important for creating a clean legal slate. Insurers can underwrite risk solely to the hardware and software. No need to worry about people too young, drunk or poor-sighted taking over manual control, or cops arguing that they were breaking the law simply because they could take control. Manufacturers don't have to worry about how the sensor, navigation and control arrays have to act as a failsafe on bad drivers who've put the car in manual mode.

There's really no need for redundancy for failed computers. If you have a modern car it is entirely dependent on its computers to operate, and how often has your car failed to start due to computer error?
posted by MattD at 9:26 AM on May 28 [4 favorites]


The sooner manual driving on public streets becomes illegal the better. Humans are abysmal drivers.
posted by Skorgu at 9:26 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


A self-driving car is certainly an interesting engineering and programming problem to solve. It's not very in sync with what humans actually want, though. Or why we own cars.

Sure, sure, people agree in theory that they'd like to be absolved from the responsibility of driving, but we don't really. We don't want to give up the power to control our own cars. Not permanently. We don't trust other people to drive and would like other people's driving judgement or lack thereof to be replaced by a computer.

We would like to retain the feeling of being full in control of our own experiences, according to our own priorities, without the risk of messily bumping up against anyone else focusing on themselves.
posted by desuetude at 9:27 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


I'm just going with Bunny's Law of Metafilter Tech Predictions here: If there is a new technology and more than five people on MetaFilter say it will never happen, it will be mainstream within five years.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:34 AM on May 28 [24 favorites]


My commute is 45 minutes each way. "Home," where most of my friends and family live, is three and a half hours away. Fuck driving, give me a robot car.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:34 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


I was just thinking if I could get by with a car that goes only up to 25.

That's going to be an interesting social negotiation: is a workplace going to make allowances for the potential delays in allocating vehicles, or the slower commute time? It's fine if you're a cubicle drone who can work en route, but if you're a burger-flipper, then chances are you're already leaving for work two hours early because you can't trust the buses.

I can well imagine a future of automated jitney-style services running along major arteries in urban areas, whether block-to-block perpendicular in grid city downtowns or along commuter routes further out. So it's the last mile problem in reverse: how do you get from where you live to where the network runs? (I've often mused about how the most extensive semi-public transport network in the US is the school bus system.)

Humans are terrible, shitty drivers. We are really, really bad at driving cars.

This is true. American drivers in particular are shit because American driver education is shit because Americans consider car ownership a right and a source of personal autonomy regardless of the downsides. And even though that's starting to change among the younger generation (danah boyd wrote about it recently) it's not going away any time soon.

I think there's a compelling argument that driving as an activity requires a specialised set of skills that have by necessity been extended more broadly than is optimal, and that in the long future, driving might be seen in the way that flying planes is regarded today: a skillset that requires money, time and a significant amount of training. But there are going to be a fair few winding paths and dead ends en route.
posted by holgate at 9:38 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


Driver decision making is important for the "kill yourself or a family"and similar dilemmas because we require ethical agency.

So it's really important for us to be able to deliberately kill families with our cars, and if we lose this ability we are losing an important part of our humanity? I don't get it.

What about the ethical consideration of dramatically reducing the most common cause of death for teenagers?
posted by leopard at 9:41 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]


JUST GIVE ME MY ELECTRIC ROBOT CAR ALREADY. Seriously, I cannot fucking wait. I suck at driving, and have to commute 50 miles round trip every day. I would LOVE to hand that responsibility over to a computer.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:43 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]


A self-driving car is certainly an interesting engineering and programming problem to solve. It's not very in sync with what humans actually want, though. Or why we own cars.

Pretty sure that the basic motivation for car-ownership is to get from point A to point B with a minimum of cost, inconvenience, and time. Everything else is just what they tell you in the car ads.
posted by kaibutsu at 9:47 AM on May 28 [9 favorites]


I'm just going with Bunny's Law of Metafilter Tech Predictions here: If there is a new technology and more than five people on MetaFilter say it will never happen, it will be mainstream within five years.

The vehemence I've seen against the car on Metafilter, and elsewhere on the web is suprising to me. You'd think Google was going to sneak into people's garages at night and hacksaw the steering wheels off their cars. There's a real fear.

And of all things it reminds me most of when the Kindle first starting getting popular. People finding flaws in the implementation, the way it looks, the current product. Saying they will never ever use the product.

Technology companies like Google are iterative. Next year it will be cheaper, run better, look nicer. It will continue to improve.
posted by zabuni at 9:56 AM on May 28 [9 favorites]


I have a friend who cannot make maps in her head. Her mechanism of getting from point a to point b is to aim her car in a direction until she sees something she recognizes and then turn until she sees something else she recognizes. When she is behind the wheel, she cannot tell you what direction she is facing, and frequently gets confused about what part of town she is in. Her driving often involves detours of five miles or more. She once took us on a detour into Iowa. She panics when she has to make any decision and often makes the wrong one, so she often misses her turns and then will just sort of start randomly driving to get back to the missed turn, which means once overshot offramp can mean 20 minutes of backtracking.

She's not even close to the worst driver I know. These computer cars can't come soon enough.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:57 AM on May 28 [6 favorites]


Pretty sure that the basic motivation for car-ownership is to get from point A to point B with a minimum of cost, inconvenience, and time. Everything else is just what they tell you in the car ads.

Obviously there's something more to it or we'd all be riding mass transit and bicycles.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:59 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


It's also the fact that the American transportation infrastructure made mass transit and bicycles a harder option midway through the last century. In towns where they are the easier options, they are heavily used.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:02 AM on May 28 [9 favorites]


Obviously there's something more to it or we'd all be riding mass transit and bicycles.

In the US, that would be post war housing and transit policy.
posted by PMdixon at 10:03 AM on May 28 [14 favorites]


We don't want to give up the power to control our own cars.

I'm not entirely convinced that the level of computerization of current cars isn't more trouble than it's worth. Electronic power steering usually destroys steering feel. Computer-controlled ignition means I can't roll-start my car when its battery is dead. Drive-by-wire throttle control means manufacturers are free to put 90% of the action in the first few centimetres of accelerator pedal travel and generally have poor throttle response. It's easy to tune if you have the right software, but impossible if you have a car for which that software isn't available. Traction control is often programmed to intervene too aggressively and spoil things. ABS has its advantages, but sometimes doesn't work well on snow or gravel.

But a car that could take over the driving when I'm going long distance on some stupid road like highway 401? Yeah, I'll have that please.
posted by sfenders at 10:07 AM on May 28


Yup, even with an automated semi you'd need a human around unless every trailer and docking bay was upgraded to be like a Kiva system on steroids, and the cost of replacing all that infrastructure and equipment would be obscene.

Would it be all that expensive? I have no real knowledge on the cost of something like that, but it doesn't sound like it'd be that bad. Robot forklifts should be able to drive right up to a truck in a loading dock, right? (Nearly) Everything's already palletized. The additional capital cost of automation sure seems like it'd be recovered quickly...
posted by graphnerd at 10:09 AM on May 28


Anecdata for the car manufacturers out there: my current vehicle cost $25K new. If I could, I would replace it tomorrow with an otherwise identical self-driving vehicle for $50K. I'm prepared to pay double, that's how much I want this technology. Take my money.
posted by aramaic at 10:13 AM on May 28 [4 favorites]


In that case, awakened deep in the CPUs of the little beetle cars will be a little-used code path labelled RAMMING_MODE.
posted by CynicalKnight


Eponysterical.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:15 AM on May 28


Robot forklifts should be able to drive right up to a truck in a loading dock, right?

When I worked in a grocery store (in the 1990's) it was the job of the store clerks to unload the truck, not the truck driver. The driver would usually help because he'd have nothing else to do and wanted to get out of there quickly. But yeah, if they can build a car that can handle city traffic, a robot forklift that could unload a truck ought to be very easy.
posted by sfenders at 10:15 AM on May 28


But riding animals is Legit and Classic, while riding a robot is Novel and Scary. This is largely a framing issue.

What if the safety and reliability of automated autos also allows a renaissance of bicyclists since it's safe for them and the return of horses?!?
posted by Apocryphon at 10:16 AM on May 28


Taking out the manual controls is important for creating a clean legal slate. Insurers can underwrite risk solely to the hardware and software.

Insurers are going to hate this thing, period. There's not much to underwrite. Basically the manufacturer is the only one they will be able to collect from in the event of an accident, because it takes the driver right out of the equation. Insurers could maybe charge people for a nominal collision or vandalism coverage, but of course these things apparently won't collide with things so it would be very easy to be uninsured.

There's really no need for redundancy for failed computers. If you have a modern car it is entirely dependent on its computers to operate, and how often has your car failed to start due to computer error?

The issue isn't the car starting. The issue is the thing actually driving around, which creates a whole new set of problems.
posted by Hoopo at 10:18 AM on May 28


You know that in London, we're all riding mass transit and bicycles? (Well, not all, not by any means. But people who commute into town by car for their daily work are rare. I don't think I've worked with one for a long time. Most come in by train, tube or bus; some by cycling. A very few by motorbike.)

I remember reading a line from an SF story, when I was about ten or so. The humans were visiting the alien planet, which has an advanced, peaceful and technological society. We're comparing notes. The subject of cars comes up. "We've noticed you don't have cars," say the humans. "We thought about them," say the aliens, "but we couldn't work out how to stop them killing us. Obviously, you've solved that problem!". Wish I could remember which story it was, but I did read an awful lot of SF and it was an awfully long time ago - yet that exchange has stuck solid from that day to this. I think that once the automatic cars are shown to be feasible, and once the costs are right, and once the promised saving in lives and misery are accepted as going to happen, there'll be no stopping them.
posted by Devonian at 10:21 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


Bunny & PMdixon: that was kinda my point.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:22 AM on May 28


"Grandma how in the world have you already put 30k miles on your google car, you've only had it a week?" "I just get in it and ask it to take me to the store, and I just don't have the heart to tell it its going the wrong way"
posted by rebent at 10:22 AM on May 28 [6 favorites]


Ah yeah. I guess I'm assuming a spherical cow loading dock that'd exist for distribution centers, but not necessarily stores/customers.
posted by graphnerd at 10:23 AM on May 28


Insurers are going to hate this thing, period. There's not much to underwrite. Basically the manufacturer is the only one they will be able to collect from in the event of an accident, because it takes the driver right out of the equation.

That's actually the most interesting point I think I've heard on the insurance side. Insurance companies get a lot of play out of the fact that their auto customers are pretty much completely decentralized, and thus legally pretty powerless on the whole. Insuring a large institution (like a car manufacturer) is a very different proposition, with probably rather smaller profit margins.

Or maybe the manufacturers just keep enough cash on hand to handle its own 'insurance' instead of using a third-party insurer.
posted by kaibutsu at 10:29 AM on May 28


Manufacturers aren't going to sell this thing if they have unlimited liability. I imagine there will be some sort of industry certification process, and manufacturers that pass will be at least partially indemnified. It could be set up like indemnity for vaccines (federally funded) or electrical fires (the UL system is set up by the industry itself). It will be interesting to see how rigorous the certification is, and if it covers tangential things that could cause a crash like sensor failure.
posted by miyabo at 10:31 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


So how do we keep this thing from being remotely carjacked- by the NSA or Anon, take your pick? The main issue it seems isn't about the AI flaking out in a moment-to-moment situation, but rather you ceding your autonomy.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:32 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


Hoopo, insurers are going to love the things. Any approved self-driving cars will undoubtedly have an insurance policy that covers them, and anyone who owns one and skips out on that will undoubtedly be liable. The cars will have likely have black boxes with excellent records of exactly what happened, so not dependent on eyewitnesses and reconstructions. And it takes the horrible unpredictable part of insuring out of the equation: humans. They don't have to predict whether the person they are insuring is likely to get drunk and kill people. Or have terrible judgement. Or bad reflexes. Insurers LOVE predictable and repeatable.
posted by tavella at 10:33 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


With a self-driving car the owner could still be liable for accidents caused by poor maintenance, running out of gas, or negligent “operation,” if they told the car to, for instance, drive out into icy conditions that it can't handle reliably.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:33 AM on May 28


This feels so... oddly threatening. It's as if Google automated baseball (or whatever it is you do for fun) and everyone was chiming in about what a relief it was that nobody would ever pull a muscle or get hit by a pitch again, and their favorite daytime talk shows would no longer be interrupted by game broadcasts.

Which is all great. If you hate baseball.


Nuh uh.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:34 AM on May 28


Would it be all that expensive? I have no real knowledge on the cost of something like that, but it doesn't sound like it'd be that bad. Robot forklifts should be able to drive right up to a truck in a loading dock, right? (Nearly) Everything's already palletized. The additional capital cost of automation sure seems like it'd be recovered quickly...

Consumer goods and a lot of other stuff is typically palletized, many other kinds of trailers would be cake (dump trailers and hoppers especially) but look at flatbed hauling where everything has to be secured by straps and tarps that are checked and double-checked and triple-checked multiple times in a day, odd-sized and -shaped loads are common... that's a tough one. Also, trailers without automation already cost as much as a decent car. And on the loading dock end, it's not all (or even mainly) big companies who can afford to accommodate automated loading and unloading who need freight moved.

And if you removed the human watching over the truck and its freight, I'd imagine cargo insurance rates would go nuts, because robbing a fully automated car or scamming it out of its cargo at the delivery point would be a wonderful target for criminals and con artists, since they wouldn't run the risk of it escalating to violence. I mean, freight gets hauled in the middle of nowhere all day every day, and making an automated vehicle stop would be trivial. Millions of laid-off truck drivers would be potential perfect entrants to that talent pool. And you couldn't stop stowaways, which indeed is an issue, especially in border towns. And long haul trucks often need maintenance in the middle of nowhere, and it's not like every podunk truck stop is going to be able to float a team all trained up on automated systems maintenance. It would just be cheap insurance to keep a human on board (probably at a pay cut from what they made driving).
posted by jason_steakums at 10:43 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


On a side note, being the non-driving babysitter for an automated semi would have been an awesome summer job back in college.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:48 AM on May 28 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile, if the tech actually delivers on its promise, millions of people will soon find themselves permanently out of work unless we can come up with something new for them to do. Are we ever going to talk specifically about how that's all going to be worked out?

Maybe America can start investing in big public works projects again, and hire the newly unemployed to fix our damn broken infrastructure that these robo-cars will be driving on.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:48 AM on May 28 [5 favorites]


I don't think this thing will ever be accepted by the public, for a very simple reason. People will accept that they might die if they screw up, and people are grudgingly willing to accept that they might die if someone else screws up, but nobody is ever going to be willing to accept that they might die if a computer screws up. And after a few high-profile cases where driverless cars carry their screaming occupants off cliffs or into oncoming traffic, the concept will really hit the public's consciousness. It won't matter if the driverless cars kill fewer people than an equal number of driven cars would have.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:49 AM on May 28


A fun game you can play at home (for really, really morbid values of 'fun') is to look at the NTSB highway accident reports—keeping in mind that these are only incidents serious enough to warrant an investigation, typically involving commercial vehicles which are comparatively safe—and see how many of them would have been prevented by taking the human out of command of the vehicle.

The result is "most of them". (The only exceptions I could find were tire-tread separation issues.) The rest all seem to be caused by human factors.

Examples taken only from the first results page: Even professional drivers are not very good at driving, although they're a hell of a lot better than the average amateur.

even with an automated semi you'd need a human around unless every trailer and docking bay was upgraded to be like a Kiva system on steroids

It wouldn't be very hard to just have the automated trucks drop the trailers in a lot and then have drayage operators come and actually take them to the docks. This is how most busy seaports and intermodal terminals work already. I'm not entirely convinced that drayage can't be automated as well, but it's not a significant impediment to automating long-haul trucking.

If automated long-haul trucks do become the norm it'll be interesting to see what it does to the freight rail industry. Maybe nothing, because you can transport much heavier containers via rail than truck, and I'm not sure what fraction of truck-transportation costs are due to labor currently, but it'll be an interesting disruption in an industry that's used to fairly slow changes.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:52 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


Maybe America can start investing in big public works projects again, and hire the newly unemployed to fix our damn broken infrastructure that these robo-cars will be driving on.

Yes, I'm sure that will happen.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:53 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


Maybe America can start investing in big public works projects again, and hire the newly unemployed to fix our damn broken infrastructure that these robo-cars will be driving on.

Not just fixing the infrastructure, but prepping it for robocars - mapping little-traveled roads and installing whatever needs to be installed to keep cars on track in zero visibility (RFID markers mixed into the road paint? GPS augmentation? some kind of simple high-visibility marker on a pole? all of the above and more?) in the middle of nowhere would be a big job needing a lot of workers, too.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:56 AM on May 28


> nobody is ever going to be willing to accept that they might die if a computer screws up

I am so curious how you square this belief with the fact that we actually do this all day every day. I mean, even with cars: has Toyota stripped their cars of computers since they had that string of highly-publicized accelerator accidents? There was even a much-broadcasted recording of people literally screaming to their death.
posted by gilrain at 10:56 AM on May 28 [7 favorites]


I went to both DARPA Grand Challenge races in 2004 and 2005, and I went to the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge, because I knew they would be making history.

In the first challenge in 2004, I saw desert rats and gearheads show up to compete next to Caltech, CMU and UC-Berkeley. Nobody finished the race. It seemed like half the cars either didn't move when the starting horn blew, or just fell over, or as their first autonomous act they crashed into the barriers protecting the crowds. Team Ensco's "Peanut" flipped over on the berm of the first curve. Team Oshkosh's TerraMax, a 16-ton military transport truck, was programmed to be so cautious that it kept getting freaked out by desert brush and backed up continuously for half a mile before its handlers gave up. The favorite, CMU's SandStorm, made it 7 miles (of the 150 mile course) before bursting into flames. And this was a desert race with no other vehicles to avoid and no traffic laws to follow.

The next year was a huge improvement. 5 of the 23 teams finished, and 22 teams went further than the best vehicle in 2004.

Just 2 years later at the DARPA Urban Challenge, I saw another incredible jump in abilities as vehicles handled 4-way stops, uncontrolled intersections, and passing other vehicles (both manned and unmanned). I also saw the world's first collision of two autonomous cars. TerraMax returned and demonstrated the reason for remote kill switches when it tried to take out a building.

It's amazing that less than 10 years after that first race we had autonomous cars driving in public, we have mainstream car manufacturers incorporating autonomous features in standard cars, and we're on the verge of having commercialized fully autonomous vehicles available to the public.
posted by jjwiseman at 11:00 AM on May 28 [16 favorites]


Older truck drivers are generally nostalgic about the days before GPS navigation and trackers, because they could take alternate routes or rest breaks as long as they made their pickups and deliveries on time. Nowadays, there are schedules and hyper-tuned JIT logistics and remote monitoring to ensure that a certain truck is within an acceptable radius of a certain point on the map at any given time, so haulage is automated right up to the driver, which is one reason why you see trucks getting stuck in villages because the driver is just following what the instruments are saying.

Still, the more I think about this, the more I'm convinced that the technology inside the Google autocar is going to be carved up and licensed in parts to existing manufacturers in the mid term, rather than introduced wholesale. For instance, I can easily imagine a car having a "city mode" that's something like an autopilot or cruise control on steroids.

What about the ethical consideration of dramatically reducing the most common cause of death for teenagers?

Except that your typical headline-grabbing teenage road death in the US (six people crammed into a compact, inattention, high speeds on narrow roads) comes from wanting freedom and excitement in places where there's fuck all of both. That's not a technology problem with a technological fix; it's a social problem.
posted by holgate at 11:01 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


> Traction control is often programmed to intervene too aggressively and spoil things.

The public road infrastructure is there for transporting people & goods, not for our entertainment. I lit my traction control light not 30 minutes ago, so I'm guilty too, but the sooner cars are out of the hands of emotional, distracted apes with poor sensors, the better.
posted by morganw at 11:04 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


Hoopo, insurers are going to love the things.

That's not Warren Buffett's take on it.

Any approved self-driving cars will undoubtedly have an insurance policy that covers them, and anyone who owns one and skips out on that will undoubtedly be liable

One of the biggest and most important parts of auto insurance is liability coverage. You need this to cover damage that you cause as a result of your own negligence while driving. If you're not even the one driving or in control of your car, then there's very little room for there to be any liability on the part of the driver. It is only a requirement because if the driver is uninsured, the victim of their negligence is not protected. Take away driver negligence, and there's really no reason for the driver to be held liable at all.

Someone mentioned liability in not maintaining your car properly or tampering with it as a reason liability insurance will still be necessary--but these both would most likely invalidate your insurance coverage anyway like driving drunk does in many jurisdictions. The policy doesn't cover that. In terms of maintenance? People can't reasonably be expected to understand how all the sensors work on these things. They will need to basically shut themselves down when there's an issue with any of the systems or the equivalent of an "emergency light" comes on. I guess you'd still have (possibly) collision, theft, vandalism, glass, etc but generally the forecast for auto insurers if these things take off is not good. Even accident benefit coverage would be less important in the face of fewer accidents.

The cars will have likely have black boxes with excellent records of exactly what happened, so not dependent on eyewitnesses and reconstructions. And it takes the horrible unpredictable part of insuring out of the equation: humans. They don't have to predict whether the person they are insuring is likely to get drunk and kill people. Or have terrible judgement. Or bad reflexes. Insurers LOVE predictable and repeatable.

All of these are actually reasons why insurers will be hurt by this. Insurers are able to charge what they do because of humans being fallible and even bad at driving. Auto insurers are not currently going out of business despite these risks. It's because these risks allow them to charge EVERYBODY more. Remove these risks, and there's next to nothing left to insure. And auto insurers start with the layoffs.
posted by Hoopo at 11:04 AM on May 28


gilrain: I am so curious how you square this belief with the fact that we actually do this all day every day. I mean, even with cars: has Toyota stripped their cars of computers since they had that string of highly-publicized accelerator accidents? There was even a much-broadcasted recording of people literally screaming to their death.

There were only a couple of cases, yet that did huge damage to Toyota's reputation. That was a way simpler technology than a driverless car, yet it found a way to malfunction and kill people; people will be even more skeptical of the driverless car, and as a technology that's even more complicated and has more authority, it'll kill even more people. Maybe not as many as drivers, but it'll be enough to ruin public acceptance.

Think of this; you know what would be way easier to make than a driverless car? A driverless plane. And autopilot systems are almost there and have been there for years. Yet, we still require that planes have not one but two pilots if anyone's going to ride in them (except for really small aircraft, which get away with one) and those pilots can take over control at any time. Even drones usually have some guy with a control stick and a video screen somewhere.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:06 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


So the software is going to be controlling all the independent, environmental variables, too? Amazing! It's god-like.

Consider the following simulation. The car will have a catastrophic mechanical failure in the next few seconds. A second after this failure the car will either have to veer right and hit a crowd of pedestrians or go left off a 500' cliff. Now put 100 human drivers through the simulation. Their ability to anticipate the failure is low so in most circumstances the car will either hit pedestrians or kill the driver. I predict that the breakdown of pedestrians or cliff will be random. Because driver reaction times are usually > 1 second. The driver has only the illusion of agency in the decision (die or kill). In fact the drivers inability to respond will mean the vehicle is traveling faster and thus more likely to kill more pedestrians or go through the guard railing when choosing the cliff option. Now run the self driving car through the same simulation. The software will be more likely to anticipate the mechanical failure because of its internal sensors. The car will react in 6-10miliseconds providing substantially more time to react to the situation. The car will also be moving at a speed consistent with the road conditions instead of the higher variability of a human driver. The result is that after 100 runs of the simulation with the self driving car the injuries and deaths will be substantially lower. The driver and the pedestrians will fair far better than the same situation where a human driver is reacting.
posted by humanfont at 11:08 AM on May 28 [5 favorites]


The space shuttle could land without human intervention, but they left a manual option so they wouldn't demoralize the astronauts.

There is an interesting book called Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight that talks about the transition from conventional manual flight controls to fly-by-wire systems, test pilots' reactions to that, and what has turned into the fallacy of "manual control". Basically, with high tech aircraft/spacecraft there isn't any manual control--you can let the person make more or fewer low-level decisions, but these machines simply can't work without some layer of computer mediation. We went beyond doing what people are capable of without computerized help decades ago.
posted by jjwiseman at 11:11 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


humanfont has basically crafted an effective marketing campaign they could use to convince the public of the viability of this technology- build an immersive and convincing simulation and have drivers- both everyday people and pros- try to beat the machine.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:16 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


Remove these risks, and there's next to nothing left to insure.

State-mandated no-fault insurance. Already exists, has enforcement infrastructure in place. Are you proposing that the various state legislatures will revoke their insurance requirements the very moment self-driving cars become available?
posted by aramaic at 11:17 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


Mitrovarr: "People will accept that they might die if they screw up, and people are grudgingly willing to accept that they might die if someone else screws up, but nobody is ever going to be willing to accept that they might die if a computer screws up."

Everyone who flies already does this. Every day. Everyone who takes public transit. Every patient in a hospital. The list goes on and on and on. Law enforcement. The military. Firefighting. EMS.

Computers are already endemic in daily life, in life-or-death situations. People have already accepted the proposition that they might die if a computer screws up; I think the truth is that most people don't realize just how much.
posted by scrump at 11:18 AM on May 28 [17 favorites]


Except that your typical headline-grabbing teenage road death in the US (six people crammed into a compact, inattention, high speeds on narrow roads) comes from wanting freedom and excitement in places where there's fuck all of both. That's not a technology problem with a technological fix; it's a social problem.

“Your typical headline-grabbing teenage road death” is not the leading cause of death among teens and young adults. It's simple inexperience leading to the driver running a stop sign, misjudging a curve, or failing to notice a turning car. They don't get national news coverage individually but they kill a shitload more people.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:21 AM on May 28 [4 favorites]


State-mandated no-fault insurance. Already exists, has enforcement infrastructure in place. Are you proposing that the various state legislatures will revoke their insurance requirements the very moment self-driving cars become available?

If the number of car "accidents" goes down 95%, would you be happy paying the same premiums that you're paying today? Even if you're legally required to buy an insurance policy, it's going to get a lot cheaper and the overall market size will shrink dramatically.
posted by leopard at 11:26 AM on May 28


State-mandated no-fault insurance. Already exists, has enforcement infrastructure in place. Are you proposing that the various state legislatures will revoke their insurance requirements the very moment self-driving cars become available?

Not at all. I'm saying insurance on self-driving cars becomes a lot less profitable when self-driving cars become available. As long as people do control their vehicles, this should continue. But in a scenario where *all* cars are driverless, I am struggling to see any reason why the occupants of a vehicle who are not in control of the vehicle should be required to have a no-fault policy--of course it's not their fault. You might as well require passengers to have auto insurance.
posted by Hoopo at 11:29 AM on May 28


But if accidents are much less likely, and the "drivers" are software that can be copied and analyzed to determine fault instantly, overhead costs for insurance companies go way the hell down. How many lawyer-hours do you no longer need when eyewitness testimony becomes irrelevant? How many medical bills don't have to be paid because nobody's falling asleep at the wheel? I'd be shocked if they couldn't boost their profits with substantially smaller premiums in that case.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:34 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


Insurance follows the owner, as a rule. If you loan your car to someone and they crash it, your insurance policy is still liable. Why do you think this would change with autonomous cars? You own it, you have to have insurance, non-owner passengers not liable.

This is not rocket science.
posted by tavella at 11:34 AM on May 28


Make those cars ADA accessible and many, many disabled folks can more fully participate in society, without having to live in the densest/most expensive parts of major cities, or even in cruelly short-supply subsidized housing, along transit routes. In aging developed-world societies, folks can stay independent that much longer. Kids can get picked up and safely, trackably delivered to their various activities - imagine the time/resource freedom this gives parents (no more mom/dad's taxi - public transit chaperone).
Healthcare compliance for mentally-disabled (including Alzheimer's) people? Here comes your daily ride to/from the clinic/adult daycare.

Also, fewer disabled people from vehicle collisions.

Yes, very bad news in terms of further privacy erosion and cash economy opportunity (unless the cars will be able to accept cash/coins, but even then, will have location and video of the users), and job losses. Also, will be used as yet another excuse not to build out public transportation.
posted by Dreidl at 11:39 AM on May 28 [4 favorites]


This feels so... oddly threatening. It's as if Google automated baseball (or whatever it is you do for fun) and everyone was chiming in about what a relief it was that nobody would ever pull a muscle or get hit by a pitch again, and their favorite daytime talk shows would no longer be interrupted by game broadcasts.

I think that's an interesting example; I disagree with it (and a couple of other folks have done so already previously in the thread) but for what it's worth I also feel like I get you on the emotional valence of the comparison.

I disagree as others have because playing baseball isn't a logistically compulsory part of the average American's daily life. There are not the same problems with baseball as there are with driving; what we have with baseball is more like where driving-as-recreation will be in a future where most perfunctory driving tasks have been taken over by autonomic systems.

We watch baseball because we like to see it done well; we play baseball because we enjoy doing it. The only people getting hit by balls are hobbyists and professionals and the rare bystander who doesn't see a pop foul that no one else made a grab for; maybe even more to the point, the only people hitting people with pitches are part of an opt-in system where everybody is actively aware a pitch is being thrown.

But I feel the folks who find driving fun, or meditative or freeing. And I suspect that what that will translate into in the long run will be recreational driving becoming more an actively-selected hobby and less a situational thing where a subset of the people who have to drive every day won't mind it as much as everyone else.
posted by cortex at 11:40 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


Automobile accidents are already pretty predictable, in the aggregate (which is what insurance companies care about). When overall premiums shrink by 90% or 95% or 99% or whatever, insurance company executives are not going to be throwing parties and dancing in the streets just because things are even more predictable.
posted by leopard at 11:43 AM on May 28


Insurance follows the owner, as a rule. If you loan your car to someone and they crash it, your insurance policy is still liable. Why do you think this would change with autonomous cars? You own it, you have to have insurance, non-owner passengers not liable

As it stands, you could be held liable to some degree for the negligence of a driver you lent a car to. It would change with driverless cars because the person you loan it to is not driving the car, the car is not in their control, and you and they have done nothing negligent. Where is the cause of action? Is it simply strict liability because the car exists and was used? If that's the extent of the coverage, it's going to cost a whole lot less than it does now.
posted by Hoopo at 11:49 AM on May 28


Count me in the group who thinks robot cars can't possibly be worse than what we have now. Here in NC a well-liked teacher was recently killed when a bus stopped suddenly in front of him and he plowed into it. Presumably he was distracted somehow, although his car did have a power steering recall.

Also I have a bike and a 5 mile commute but I will never, ever ride my bike on the roads because the driving I see every day is just horrible. Instead I use my minivan to drive my bike to a park where I can ride it on a path on weekends. With only driverless cars on the road I might actually bike to work sometimes.
posted by freecellwizard at 11:51 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


robbing a fully automated car or scamming it out of its cargo at the delivery point would be a wonderful target for criminals and con artists, since they wouldn't run the risk of it escalating to violence. I mean, freight gets hauled in the middle of nowhere all day every day, and making an automated vehicle stop would be trivial.

Kind of an interesting idea, and I'm sure somebody would try it, but keep in mind that an automated vehicle—practically by definition—has a 360-degree view of its surroundings using a variety of sensors. And they're certainly going to have cellular and satellite communication links (most manned long-haul trucks already do).

So if you get one to stop, you're already being recorded six ways from Sunday, and you've probably already triggered some sort of red alert somewhere in some monitoring system. At that point, you have a short window of opportunity to actually break into and make off with the cargo, and probably also the truck's "black box" of recordings (provided you're also jamming all of its satellite and cellular backhauls, which is probably like three lifetimes worth of Federal felonies right there) before the cops show up. And then you have to get away.

Seems like it'd be a whole lot easier just to find a truck driver with some bad gambling debts or a nose-candy problem and "encourage" them to drop the trailer somewhere and later report it stolen, or grab an unoccupied truck/trailer from a rest stop.

The number of trucks carrying anything worth stealing is pretty low, too, so if you didn't have to pay drivers it might make sense to pay security guards to literally ride shotgun alongside the few high-value shipments, if theft/hijacking does become a problem.

I'm sure some turkey somewhere will try robbing an automated truck, probably right after somebody tries to steal an automated car, but I'm not sure that it's any more likely to be profitable when adjusted for risk than knocking over your average jewelry / electronics / gun / high-end seafood / whatever store in the middle of the night.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:53 AM on May 28 [2 favorites]


Kadin2048: "The number of trucks carrying anything worth stealing is pretty low, too, so if you didn't have to pay drivers it might make sense to pay security guards to literally ride shotgun alongside the few high-value shipments, if theft/hijacking does become a problem."

Interesting thought, although I tend to think that if cars are automated, we might see fewer human guards, because emotion is taken out of the situation. It becomes a cold calculation akin to the ones retail establishments make for "pilferage", because you don't need to worry that a security guard afraid for their life, or a robber amped up on meth, will escalate to gunfire. It's just a loss you can write down.
posted by scrump at 11:58 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]


cortex: "But I feel the folks who find driving fun, or meditative or freeing. And I suspect that what that will translate into in the long run will be recreational driving becoming more an actively-selected hobby and less a situational thing where a subset of the people who have to drive every day won't mind it as much as everyone else."

I love a good long-distance drive as much as anyone, and freely admit that I find it kind of zenlike and relaxing to drive long distances.

But I can say for a fact that I'd find it even more zenlike and relaxing to not have to do the driving at all, and instead be taking a nap or playing with my kids or reading a book or whatever. I would have classed myself as one of those people who "like driving", until I examined why I felt that way and realized that it was more that I had accommodated myself to an unavoidable duty than that I actually liked it.

Long-distance drives are part of any vacation I take, usually, so it was either make my peace with them or be miserable the whole way to Colorado or whatever. So I made my peace with them. But, given the option, I'd be more than happy to let the car do the driving and have that time back while still getting to my destination.

I think there will always be Autobahnen and private raceways, and people who drive for fun, just like there are GA enthusiasts who fly for fun. But self-driving cars just seem like such a logical extension of the way our society is going that it's hard to see a future without them.
posted by scrump at 12:04 PM on May 28 [5 favorites]


One more robot car accident I forgot about: Caltech's Alice van lost GPS during the 2005 Grand Challenge and tried to run over press & photographers.

What I heard from one of the team members was that the GPS code had a number of hacks in it, including one that tried to compensate for an offset of 50 feet or so that sometimes showed up in the GPS receiver. At pretty much the worst possible time, the hack failed.

BTW, the Velodyne Lidar (laser scanners) on the Google cars is a spinoff of the DARPA Grand Challenges. The founders of Velodyne developed the system for their own entry and then started selling it to other teams.
posted by jjwiseman at 12:04 PM on May 28


jjwiseman: "What I heard from one of the team members was that the GPS code had a number of hacks in it, including one that tried to compensate for an offset of 50 feet or so that sometimes showed up in the GPS receiver. At pretty much the worst possible time, the hack failed."

This strikes me as a human problem, not a computer problem. Someone had to write that hack, and someone was responsible for testing it under failure conditions, and someone clearly didn't anticipate the failure condition that occurred. And it seems likely that the person doing that was a human, not a computer.
posted by scrump at 12:06 PM on May 28


The airlines should probably be scared of this as well. If I could just sleep while my car spends the night driving me up to New England to visit family, I'll never by a plane ticket there again.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:08 PM on May 28 [3 favorites]


But if accidents are much less likely, and the "drivers" are software that can be copied and analyzed to determine fault instantly

That's not quite how software debugging works.
posted by jjwiseman at 12:09 PM on May 28


I'm not talking about debugging the software, just looking the cars' memories to get a record of what happened to cause the crash. Figuring out where the fault is in the auto-driving software will take time, but figuring out which car was operating as designed and which one screwed up should be simple.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:13 PM on May 28


This strikes me as a human problem, not a computer problem. Someone had to write that hack, and someone was responsible for testing it under failure conditions, and someone clearly didn't anticipate the failure condition that occurred. And it seems likely that the person doing that was a human, not a computer.

Who do you think usually anticipates the failure conditions in computer software? Computers? No, people do it. Fallible people. Computers don't really do anything themselves. All the instructions they use are human engineered and fallible at some level.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:14 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


Google isn't the only game in town.

If only Microsoft pulled together an autonomous vehicle project using Bing mapping data, then we could finally realize the fabled Microsoft Car that could only drive down Microsoft Roads.
posted by ceribus peribus at 12:23 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


Like a few other commenters, I'm one of those people who can't drive for assorted health reasons. I first saw an early variant on the self driving car in about 1996 and it quite literally changed my life; it's the reason I chose the major I did, and the college I did, because I could see how life-changing that tech would be for me and people like me, and I wanted to be part of making that happen.

I ended up veering off and doing something totally different career-wise, but I still hope this tech is going to see accepted use in my lifetime. (Ideally to transport me, but hey, if it were just for cargo/delivery of things it's difficult for me to travel to get, that would still be somewhat life altering.)
posted by Stacey at 12:26 PM on May 28 [5 favorites]


If that's the extent of the coverage, it's going to cost a whole lot less than it does now.

Well, as it should, right? They give "safe driver" discounts today, based on your driving history and whether or not you're in a demographic group (e.g. male, 16 to 25 years old) who are basically rubbish at driving. Having an automated car would be like being the ultimate safe driver, with correspondingly low liability premiums.

In the foreseeable future, when there are still a lot of un-automated cars on the road, it'll still be a very good idea to have uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, and the premiums for that shouldn't be much different on an automated vs traditional car. Plus, I doubt that states will eliminate the requirement to have liability insurance overnight, just due to legislative inertia if nothing else. They might just require some sort of notional driver-of-record on automated cars to serve as the insured party; it's easier to do that than to rethink the entire concept of mandatory liability coverage, so that's where I'd put my bet on what happens.

The one thing that might change is that having a mix of automated and manned cars on the road means that "no-fault" insurance is a really bad idea. Requiring no-fault would basically create a subsidy from automated vehicle owners to un-automated vehicle owners, since the automated vehicles would be less likely to cause a wreck, but their owners' premiums would reflect not their chances of causing a crash, but merely of being involved in one.

The popularity of no-fault insurance seems to have peaked and be on the decline these days anyway; automated vehicles might just be another nail in the coffin.

In the longer term, I could see a shift from liability insurance being sold via third-party insurance companies to a product sold by the vehicle manufacturers themselves (with financial backing from insurance companies via reinsurance schemes, probably). Maybe you'd get insurance as part of an annual subscription service that also covers software updates to the car itself. If you failed to pay the subscription fees and obtain the latest update and then the car gets into a wreck, then it's on you; if you maintain the updates then you're covered by the manufacturer's policy as it's essentially a defect, if it's really the vehicle's "fault".
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:26 PM on May 28


Uber is horseshit. It's an effort to replace organized, skilled professionals with cheap amateurs who aren't subject to the same rules and regulations as the aforementioned professionals. It's an effort to use technology to dodge the laws which govern a particular industry to the detriment of the workers in that industry. If you're pro-Uber, you are objectively anti-labor and anti-worker.

+

4) No, it doesn't matter that a cabbie was an asshole to you that time.

To kinda respond to this, and every other comment shitting on uber(which is a normal, licensed cab company that happens to not be run or have their vehicles operated by assholes), and the uberx/lyft "rideshare" services.

How about no, it does matter?

Plenty of arguments have been presented for why cab companies being pro labor and something we should be defending are crap, but i want to attack this point directly.

How about nearly every woman i've ever talked to about the cabs in my city, or who has brought it up unprompted have shared awful experiences of harassment(up to some pretty egregious stuff), the driver not dropping the meter and trying to rip them off, intentionally taking the wrong route and using the getting lost interlude to try and fuck them, etc. What if i see at least one story a week on my facebook feed from a DIFFERENT woman saying something like this, and i don't even have that many facebook friends?

How about every time any local paper, blog, etc posts something about the cabs there's tons of comments(and not just from the same axe grinders) of terrible experiences? Ditto on any social media post, local reddit thread, whatever.

I'm not even going to bring up my own experiences, because that falls under your umbrella of "it doesn't matter". This is so large that it's a cultural thing in my city, that no one wants to take the cabs. If anyone is at a bar and brings it up at least a couple people will pipe up to go "Nah man, fuck that, they'll just try and steal your money/take you to the wrong place and molest you/never turn the meter on".

Meanwhile, the city has placed massive restrictions on lyft and uberx, while transit service cuts everyone in the area voted against(and i mean this literally, it was state and outside the city voting that killed it) completely fuck the bus system to pieces... i don't know a single person here who won't see this as an improvement.

There is nothing organized or skilled about the local taxi company. They wouldn't even DRIVE to my old house, and oftentimes calling one was an utterly pointless exercise.

So yea, i would say it's in fact the opposite at least here. Because here, it doesn't matter if you had a good experience. The people harping on about "I don't know what you're talking about, it's great!" are nearly always male and have only used it once or twice.

My friend just posted a couple days ago that after losing her phone, she had to take a taxi home late at night from work like 3 days in a row. Every time, they didn't turn the meter on and waved her off when she pointed it out, then tried to charge her double what the rate was. Every single comment is more stories about cab drivers doing bullshit like that if it isn't just people going "jesus, yea, they're like that".
posted by emptythought at 12:27 PM on May 28 [10 favorites]


The airlines should probably be scared of this as well. If I could just sleep while my car spends the night driving me up to New England to visit family, I'll never by a plane ticket there again.

If it's a fossil fuel self driving car(and lets assume it can refuel itself at automatic gas stations) then there's no way it wouldn't be cheaper to fly. every time i've done the math on flying somewhere vs driving, driving cost more unless it was a shorter drive than maybe 4 hours.

If it's electric, that could be cool... but you'd need something like teslas supercharging stations, it would need to be able to use them automatically, and you'd need to account for the fact that it would be taking periodic 30 minute layovers to recharge itself.
posted by emptythought at 12:30 PM on May 28


Remove these risks, and there's next to nothing left to insure. And auto insurers start with the layoffs.

So... we can gain back time we used to spend driving AND get rid of some insurance companies?

I was concerned about giving up autonomy, but now I think I might be persuaded.
posted by weston at 12:38 PM on May 28


Plus, I doubt that states will eliminate the requirement to have liability insurance overnight, just due to legislative inertia if nothing else. They might just require some sort of notional driver-of-record on automated cars to serve as the insured party; it's easier to do that than to rethink the entire concept of mandatory liability coverage, so that's where I'd put my bet on what happens.

absolutely. It's not like everyone is going to have one of these things overnight. That said, we're talking about Google here and they aren't without the power to lobby for certain exemptions for their new doohickey.

Also curious--would people need a proper driver's license for these? Would the DMV only exist for registration once these are the only option?
posted by Hoopo at 12:41 PM on May 28


Also curious--would people need a proper driver's license for these? Would the DMV only exist for registration once these are the only option?

I'm saying no, if there's no ability to take over manual control.

A drivers license would be like a motorcycle license is now where taking a special class or a fairly complex skills test are the only options to get one, but probably with an even higher bar to pass... something like a CDL is now. Manual car insurance would become a niche thing like hagerty currently is, and the combination of costs involved and hassle would probably result in people only driving truly interesting/classic cars manually. I can see there being another "cash for clunkers" type of initiative to get all the fairly recent manual cars off the road as soon as these really hit the mainstream.

I can imagine there being a special type of license you can get for a truck that's used on private property/off road a lot if you own a bunch of land or a farm ala the orange triangles you can put on a not-totally-road-legal tractor and drive it down the street to the gas station/store in places like idaho.

But i just can't see a world in which, a few years after these are mainstream, seeing a manual car driving through the main part of the city won't be a "woah, look at that" kind of thing like seeing a lamborghini or some unusual vintage car is now.

This is something me and my friends regularly talk about when we all pile in a car and drive to the next town over to visit people. What if we could play mario kart and drink cocktails the entire way there? I don't want a self driving car, i want a self driving van. With a wraparound couch, tv, coffee table, and a mini bar. The only thing on the dashboard should be a tesla-like touchscreen where i can select a location(or search for something), or a contact from my phone i stored location info for.
posted by emptythought at 12:59 PM on May 28 [8 favorites]


Speaking of freight hauling applications of automated vehicles: the port of Long Beach just installed a new set of gantry cranes and the first automated guided vehicle system in the US to shuffle shipping containers around the yard.

The number of humans required to move and directly supervise moving things around is asymptotically approaching zero.
posted by Skorgu at 1:03 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


emptythought: "This is something me and my friends regularly talk about when we all pile in a car and drive to the next town over to visit people. What if we could play mario kart and drink cocktails the entire way there? I don't want a self driving car, i want a self driving van. With a wraparound couch, tv, coffee table, and a mini bar. The only thing on the dashboard should be a tesla-like touchscreen where i can select a location(or search for something), or a contact from my phone i stored location info for."

I am intrigued by your ideas and wish to subscribe to your newsletter. You're not the only one who wants this so badly they can taste it.

There's a part of me that wonders if this is where Tesla is going in 5 or 10 years: there's no reason you couldn't retrofit a Model X to be exactly this.
posted by scrump at 1:04 PM on May 28 [2 favorites]




Hoopo: "absolutely. It's not like everyone is going to have one of these things overnight."

I've been wondering whether this is really intended for individual consumers, because I could frankly see it making a ton of sense for a municipality like Mountain View to invest in fifty or a hundred of these, on some sort of subscription scheme.

You pay it like any other utility, and when you need to go somewhere within city limits, you request a vehicle using your mobile device. It shows up and takes you there and then heads off to get someone else. When you're done shopping or getting doctored or whatever, you ping for another one, and it comes and takes you home.

Then you expand this to an entire region, like the Santa Clara Valley or San Mateo County, and you can see it making a ton of sense. I mean, why own your own car at all, if you can get one on-demand? Couple that with electric drivetrains and centralized renewable energy, and you've just killed multiple birds with one stone: public transit, moving lots of vehicles off fossil fuels, etcetera.
posted by scrump at 1:09 PM on May 28 [6 favorites]


I was thinking more private like Car2Go; municipalities have enough difficulty funding public transit and road repairs as it is and I'm not sure how interested they would be in another huge capital cost that could wind up scrapped at the taxpayers' whim.
posted by Hoopo at 1:20 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


They give "safe driver" discounts today, based on your driving history and whether or not you're in a demographic group (e.g. male, 16 to 25 years old) who are basically rubbish at driving.

There was a teenager in Britain whose car had a telemetry unit to monitor his driving, and when it was stolen, ha-ha-ha, the thief was a better driver than him. The GPS tracker helped police locate the car and his insurance company is going to count those three hours of safe driving by the thief in his favour.

So yes, monitoring up to the meatspace is already happening. This started in road haulage, went to company fleets during the past decades, and now it's an option for the kind of drivers who have high premiums as a broad demographic class but want to demonstrate that they're better than that.

I could frankly see it making a ton of sense for a municipality like Mountain View to invest in fifty or a hundred of these, on some sort of subscription scheme.

That's what I had in mind with urban jitneys. In some cities in the developing world, you have minivans that run back and forth on fixed routes, and you can generally get to where you're going by taking a combination of them, because they run at sufficiently close intervals. (It's sort of how Manhattan's bus routes work for the main gridded section below 125th Street.)
posted by holgate at 1:22 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


If it's a fossil fuel self driving car(and lets assume it can refuel itself at automatic gas stations) then there's no way it wouldn't be cheaper to fly. every time i've done the math on flying somewhere vs driving, driving cost more unless it was a shorter drive than maybe 4 hours.

Really? I get about 28 mpg on the highway on premium fuel, so let's say that's about $4.15/gallon. On a 500 mile trip, that's just under 18 gallons, or about $75, for a round trip cost of $150. I can't get round trip flight tickets for anywhere near that.
posted by indubitable at 1:24 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


If it's a fossil fuel self driving car(and lets assume it can refuel itself at automatic gas stations) then there's no way it wouldn't be cheaper to fly.

I'm sure there's a breakeven point but from, say, Washington DC to Boston it's 440 miles each way by car. So, 880 miles total. Google tells me rather helpfully that the best current price on a roundtrip flight is $194 (provided you can wait until June 13th), although by muddling with the dates a bit and accepting a thoroughly inconvenient schedule I was able to get $140. No bags, of course.

In a car that can get 30MPG on the highway, using the NJ average price for gas of $3.43/gal, the round trip costs $100.61 in gas, saving you $94 and a pornoscanning (priceless). And an extra $50 for luggage if you don't cram all your possessions into a carryon.

If you are two people traveling together, the math is even more in favor of driving, and over even greater distances. The fuel efficiency of a B747-400 is about 91 passenger-miles per US gallon. So if two people ride in a hybrid car, they're going to beat it in absolute passenger-mile fuel consumption over the same distance. (Plus I'm not sure that the 747's "mileage" number accounts for the much higher cost of aviation fuel compared to 87 Octane Unleaded. If it doesn't, that's like an additional factor of 2 in favor of the car if what you care about is dollars.)

This is all a bit apples-to-oranges because if you drive, you can leave now, or whenever you want, the cheap flight requires you wait two weeks. If you want to leave today, the flight will cost you $300+ (with most airlines around $400; I'm actually suspicious of that price) so driving is much cheaper.

I'm too lazy to figure out exactly where the inflection point is, but DC to LA is cheaper to fly ($500 RT airfare vs. ~$620 in gas) although again it's only if you're by yourself, and it's a wash if you have any luggage or want to leave immediately.

Of course, any civilized person would just take the train from DC to Boston, because getting drunk on a plane is a guaranteed hangover.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:24 PM on May 28 [3 favorites]


25MPH self-driving cars make a lot of sense for getting back & forth from the existing Googleplex to the new Bay View campus if they can ever build the bridges.
posted by morganw at 1:25 PM on May 28


The only thing on the dashboard should be a tesla-like touchscreen where i can select a location(or search for something), or a contact from my phone i stored location info for.

Why would you want to not have a steering wheel and some pedals for the family car? It'd cost practically nothing to add the hardware to let a human control it when appropriate. That would at a minimum be whenever you go somewhere that the software can't handle, which at the moment seems to be everywhere that hasn't been mapped in great detail by Google, which is practically everywhere except some of California. I imagine they can get major cities and interstates done quickly (within a decade), but a car limited only to those places would be substantially less marketable than one you can drive anywhere there's something resembling a road.

Cars that can drive themselves are going to be useful long before exclusively computer controlled cars make sense for anything but taxis and such.
posted by sfenders at 1:32 PM on May 28


I'm guessing food delivery drivers would still have a job walking to people's doors.

Maybe, maybe not. Would you be willing to walk out to your driveway/the street to pick up your food from an autonomous delivery vehicle if it saved you $$ from having to tip the delivery driver?

It also just gave me a flash inspiration. I can see in the future we will have self-autonomous Ice Cream Trucks. It drives up to parks and down city streets, takes payment in the form of cash into vending machine slots, credit card swipes, or some sort of phone-based payment. The central office buys real-time cell phone location data from the phone companies, plus there's an app you can load on your phone that tells you where trucks are nearby/lets you request delivery/gives you a loyalty discount. Based on phone location and speed information, the office sends trucks to likely locations.
posted by fings at 1:34 PM on May 28


Unless you're driving a car from 1970 it's almost never cheaper to fly or take the train for one person and definitely never for two or more. The worst thing is that flying isn't even all that much faster for short to medium length journeys if you have to change flights. I was visiting Western Mass. from Pittsburgh once a month a few years ago and while the drive took ten hours, flying could take as long as eight once you factored in travel to the airport, security, transfers at Philly or Newark and travel from the Hartford Airport.
posted by octothorpe at 1:37 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


> This gives me the urge to paint a tunnel entrance onto a nearby rock wall, extend a
> white center line to the road, and hide behind the bushes to see what happens.

If you have invented a paint that can fool a laser rangefinder based on time-of-flight into thinking something is further away than it actually is, then I'm much more interested in your tech than in any stupid flying self-driving car.

(And, IMHO, the big news isn't when we get the first autonomous vehicles on public roads -- it's when we see the last manually-controlled vehicles banned from ditto. A day, I hasten to add, that cannot possibly come soon enough.)
posted by sourcequench at 1:41 PM on May 28


If you have invented a paint that can fool a laser rangefinder based on time-of-flight into thinking something is further away than it actually is, then I'm much more interested in your tech than in any stupid flying self-driving car.

*sigh*
posted by entropicamericana at 1:47 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


This is no doubt an intriguing technical challenge, but I have to side for now with the people who are asking what problem these things are supposed to be the solution to.
posted by Flexagon at 1:48 PM on May 28


Have you not seen all the comments with links to traffic fatality statistics?
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:49 PM on May 28 [7 favorites]


I have a friend who cannot make maps in her head.

My ex-wife is like that. She could only drive to places she had already been before, by memorizing the series of turns; going somewhere new involved careful study over a printout of the directions. One missed turn and she'd be calling me in tears from god knows where so I could operate google maps and tell her how to get back on track. Things got a lot easier when she got a fancy Android phone with a navigation app. Still, she found driving to be stressful and unpleasant, and if she could get a self-driving car I'm sure she would never consider going back to doing it by hand.

But I can say for a fact that I'd find it even more zenlike and relaxing to not have to do the driving at all, and instead be taking a nap or playing with my kids or reading a book or whatever.

I can't read, or use a computer, or really do much of anything but look out the window while sitting in a car, because it makes me feel nauseated. Car trips are incredibly boring unless I'm driving, or I manage to strike up a complex and interesting conversation with the driver, because my brain needs something to DO for all those hours. Losing even that? Oh, man, that sounds terrible. I don't want a self-driving car at all; I don't even want cruise control or an automatic transmission, because I need to have something to do in order to keep my brain engaged.

The idea of a world where driving the vehicle yourself is either forbidden or simply impractical due to complicated licensing or insurance requirements is a depressing one, because it means that I probably just won't be able to stand going much of anywhere anymore. Being trapped in a little bubble with nothing to do is pretty much my idea of hell.

On the other hand... it is likely possible to make a self-driving motorcycle, but I can't imagine an economic case for it, so those of us who like the two-wheeled experience are probably safe. Perhaps we'll be the last generation to sing the song of the open road, but as long as I ultimately hang up my leathers due to old age and not the law, I'm probably OK with that.
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:51 PM on May 28 [2 favorites]


If it's a fossil fuel self driving car(and lets assume it can refuel itself at automatic gas stations) then there's no way it wouldn't be cheaper to fly.

I'm usually traveling with my wife and daughter from NC to MA, so yeah, way cheaper, and don't forget you have to consider the cost of parking at your airport (or taxi to/from) and the cost of ground travel at your destination (renting a car/taking cabs/cadging rides off people).
posted by Rock Steady at 1:52 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


Flexagon, the tens of thousands of traffic fatalities a year, nearly all caused by driver error. The millions of people effectively trapped in their homes because they are too old or physically limited to drive a car, yet live in a environment that requires cars for mobility. The vast amount of wasted time in commutes where a person could be doing something else than staring at the road. The tremendous amounts of wasted gas and time involved in traffic jams, which are primarily caused again by human error and human limitations -- an automatic car will be able to run much closer to other automatic cars, since they will have electronic reflexes not slow human ones.

That enough for you?
posted by tavella at 2:00 PM on May 28 [7 favorites]


They'll be able to follow other cars almost as closely as human drivers do, without it being as insanely dangerous.
posted by sfenders at 2:09 PM on May 28 [3 favorites]


tavella: "That enough for you?"

All that and massively increased fuel efficiency on top.

Mars Saxman: "The idea of a world where driving the vehicle yourself is either forbidden or simply impractical due to complicated licensing or insurance requirements is a depressing one, because it means that I probably just won't be able to stand going much of anywhere anymore. Being trapped in a little bubble with nothing to do is pretty much my idea of hell.
"

What about passengers? Have you never been a passenger in a car or had passengers in your car for a long trip? This is not really a completely new problem, no?
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:11 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


I know at least one of my grandparents browbeat a doctor into not reporting her vision loss for several years. She should not have been driving, but was terrified of the prospect of being without a car.

My parent are getting older now, and they'll have to make some hard choices soon. I think, hope, they'll be more rational and empathetic in their choices, but fear of isolation can be a demon. Maybe this makes me hope that they may not have to.
posted by bonehead at 2:11 PM on May 28 [3 favorites]


Hairy Lobster: "All that and massively increased fuel efficiency on top."

Never mind, just realized you mentioned it already... doh!
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:11 PM on May 28


Given the level of mistrust displayed here, we'll probably have to settle for a few hundred years of field trials before Star-Trek transporters become a commonly accepted means of human transportation...
posted by pwnguin at 2:12 PM on May 28


Have you never been a passenger in a car or had passengers in your car for a long trip?

Of course I have, but I tend to do much more than my share of the driving, and most people seem not to feel boredom as quickly or painfully as I do. Also, many people are comfortable reading in the car. Which is why I am describing my disappointment with the prospect of a self-driving-car-future as a personal thing, not a problem for society; on average it will likely be better for most people. It just isn't going to be better for me.
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:16 PM on May 28


pwnguin: "Given the level of mistrust displayed here,..."

Which is particularly amusing considering that more and more car models are already equipped with more and more systems that actively remove control from the driver when things get tricky.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:18 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


Mars Saxman, how are podcasts for you? That's my solution, because driving (as much as I hate it) isn't enough mental stimulation to keep me happy, and I also can't really read in cars. It seems to me that those sorts of things would just become more popular.
posted by you're a kitty! at 2:31 PM on May 28


Even as a total car guy with a brand new truck that I'm going to use to pull a boat to a mountain lake this weekend I'm stoked on these. Replace our car with a self driving commuter/grocery go getter? Sounds perfect!

I see a lot of "these will never replace human drivers" or "make all human driving illegal now!" comments. This is neither of those. There are places/people where this will benefit them and they will be commonplace there very soon. Doesn't mean I can't go to the lake ever again, or that you'll be totally safe riding a bike in downtown SF ever.
posted by Big_B at 2:41 PM on May 28


It just isn't going to be better for me.

Only if you do not count the phenomenally reduced risk, of course. Suggestion: pop a sleeping pill.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:42 PM on May 28


sfenders: “They'll be able to follow other cars almost as closely as human drivers do, without it being as insanely dangerous.”
That's the one that always gets me. We're going 70 mph, and buddy dude behind me is right up my ass, giving me the finger because I've got several car lengths between me and guy in front of me. You know, like you're supposed to do. It's like, "Dude, there's a car in front of me. There's a car in front of him. We're in a line of cars 10 miles long! For the love of God, relax!"

A self-driving car can't come out soon enough to suit me. I guess I'll have to practice my instrument or something though, because reading in the car will make me motion sick.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:55 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


That enough for you?

Is this a "better horse" or is it something else entirely? Because half of the responses here seem to envision it as a better horse, while the other half are thinking about something more profound in changing living patterns, working patterns and the need for travel.
posted by holgate at 3:02 PM on May 28


Why would you want to not have a steering wheel and some pedals for the family car? It'd cost practically nothing to add the hardware to let a human control it when appropriate

Because i don't want the police, or anyone else to ever be able to say "you were capable of taking control of the vehicle, therefor you were in control and XYZ is your responsibility/problem/fault".

I don't want to ever be able to drive the car. If it gets to a long driveway/dirt road on private property/etc that it can't navigate i'd happily jump out and walk up that through the mud in the driving rain when it was 35 degrees out while it goes and finds an acceptable place to park for it just to not ever be my damn problem, or responsibility.

I would say about 95% of the time i get in a car i don't want to be actually physically driving it. I want to get somewhere, and i possibly need to make a trip that's impractical timewise via public transit. If i had piles of cash i'd take a service like uber or lyft everywhere(and i know people who essentially do this).

There are semi unusual occasions when it's super nice out and i just want to cruise around in my classic car i rarely drive, where actually driving it is fun and part of the experience. But that's like going on an aimless bike ride to me just for its own sake. If i'm trying to get somewhere? Fuck that. Especially if there's traffic.

It doesn't have to be my personal self driving car either. It can be the equivalent of zipcar/car2go(which i would happily pay a significant premium to if they offered this sort of vehicle). I just don't want the responsibility, and i want to be able to focus my mind on something else. Whether that's reading, chatting with my friends without constantly having to look at the road, or just being totally hammered and scarfing down greasy pizza.

Driving just seems like a waste of my consciousness most of the time, and in tight traffic/dense city driving or busy freeway traffic it's very brain draining and concentration/energy intensive.

Not to mention that i think a system in which you were able to take control would be designed around expecting you to take control in certain situations, and you know people would abuse this. How many wrecks do you think would come from someone writing shit on their ipad when the car starts beeping at them "warning dirt occluded front distance sensor A please take control" and switches to manual mode? I'd rather the damn thing just stopped than expected me to take over.

I'm sure there's a breakeven point but from, say, Washington DC to Boston it's 440 miles each way by car. So, 880 miles total. Google tells me rather helpfully that the best current price on a roundtrip flight is $194 (provided you can wait until June 13th), although by muddling with the dates a bit and accepting a thoroughly inconvenient schedule I was able to get $140. No bags, of course.

In a car that can get 30MPG on the highway, using the NJ average price for gas of $3.43/gal, the round trip costs $100.61 in gas, saving you $94 and a pornoscanning (priceless). And an extra $50 for luggage if you don't cram all your possessions into a carryon.


To this, and what indubitable said i guess it just depends on the trip, what prices you can get, and the vehicle you're driving.

My friends recently got SEA>JFK tickets at some odd hour for just about $300 even. Similarly, the last time i was contemplating this i got SEA>SNA tickets for like... $110.

It's true that depending on the vehicle, once you have 2-3 people it is possibly cheaper to drive especially for regional flights, but i was generally thinking of road trip type stuff.

I've just done this math a lot, since i own an old city bus and made plans to go to burning man and do a lot of other things. I was also under the assumption that we were talking about single occupant vehicle stuff, since that's the vast majority of driving people seem to do(ugh). A car packed full of people is pretty economical. A car with one or two people in it? The breakeven for flying happens sooner than you think, and flying only really remains expensive for short regional flights(IE SEA>PDX is a stupid flight to pay for).

Also, what no one is taking into account here is on any drive longer than a few hours you're going to have to stop for food(or pack some, which is still an expense) and if you're going seriously far like the 500 mile trip mentioned above you'll have to find somewhere to sleep.(i mean yea, you could do a 9 hour drive in one shot i guess but if you're leaving in the evening...)
posted by emptythought at 3:05 PM on May 28 [3 favorites]


Is this a "better horse" or is it something else entirely? Because half of the responses here seem to envision it as a better horse, while the other half are thinking about something more profound in changing living patterns, working patterns and the need for travel.

Could be both. It could simply allow people to use cars more safely, but it could also enable a lot more mass transit by solving the last mile problem, it could make a life without car ownership much easier -- instead of having to live close to a zipcar-type station, you just have one come to you when you occasionally need a car.
posted by tavella at 3:19 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


I wonder if one of the purposes here is also to be able to test en masse. See how a big mass of driverless cars interact with each other and with manual cars, see if there are any emergent issues.
posted by tavella at 3:21 PM on May 28


I know at least one of my grandparents browbeat a doctor into not reporting her vision loss for several years. She should not have been driving, but was terrified of the prospect of being without a car.

My mother in law is barely able to see at all in low light (retinal pigmentosa) and has had cateract surgery, and needs to get periodic shots in her eyeballs just to be able to see at all. At no point have any of her doctors told her to report this to our province's regulatory agency, probably assuming she'd know better. Here's the kicker: she still has a goddamned valid driver's license. Thankfully she doesn't own a car and has no intention of driving.
posted by Hoopo at 3:25 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


Mars saxman:

I'm pretty sure that feeling of nausea in cars is why podcasts are so popular. I listen to probably three hours of podcasts a week in transit.
posted by kaibutsu at 3:31 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


Only if you do not count the phenomenally reduced risk, of course. Suggestion: pop a sleeping pill.

Dude, I'm a motorcyclist. Cars are already so safe they're boring. Reducing the risk further will not noticeably improve my life, while increasing the amount of time I spend caged up and bored will definitely worsen it.
posted by Mars Saxman at 3:32 PM on May 28


Dan Carlin is basically the only thing keeping me sane.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:35 PM on May 28


Could be both.

A floor wax and a dessert topping! I admire your optimism, but my spectacles aren't as rose-tinted.

Whether that's reading, chatting with my friends without constantly having to look at the road, or just being totally hammered and scarfing down greasy pizza.

The future is bright for minimum wage grease-stain-cleaner-offers.
posted by holgate at 3:40 PM on May 28


I was just thinking if self-driving cars come with microwaves and toasters, I could totally have a nice sit-down leisurely breakfast with my kid on our 40-minute morning commute.

Of course, that's 40 minutes at 50MPH... I am debating whether an 80-miute commute at 25MPH would be worth it. Even if it's quality time with family, that's a lot of time to spend in a car. Can't wait for high-speed self-driving cars.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 3:44 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


There's no reason that self-driving cars will stay looking like anything we've got at the moment. They could be modular, so you could swap the motor compartment to suit a particular need while keeping your personal crew module or vice-versa, or have batteries that could be exchanged in transit while you're partying in the back on that cross-continental trip, or even neatly transfer yourself to a high-speed rail link (hey, why stop there? Standard modules could fit into an airframe, or... maglevs! Monorails! To the MOON!)

It really does change transportation - and the nature of what you need to own, versus what makes more sense to rent ad-hoc - profoundly. It could do for people moving what the sea container has done for goods, because the whole business of deciding where you want to go can be decoupled from what you need to control to get there. Combines the freedom of specifying your end points and time of travel with an integrated infrastructure that can be arbitrarily finessed to maximise efficiency and convenience.

Anything that lets machines do what machines are good at and leaves people to behave as people wish, while delivering the desired end results, is going to be a winner. And profoundly disruptive to the economy, but it's not as if that's really ever optional when things get interesting.

Yet another reason to watch the Internet of Things really, really closely.
posted by Devonian at 4:19 PM on May 28 [5 favorites]


emptythought: when I read Kadin2048's calculations, my first thought was how low that mileage is - 30MPG is less than what the Honda Civic my dad bought in the mid-80s averaged and *way* less that the 50+ my 1999 VW got.

Both cars became unpopular because drivers bought for fun / conspicuous consumption rather than TCO. A self-driving care doesn't have that problem and the modern hybrid fuel-train should push it even higher after a few rounds of engineering iteration away from optimizing for mid-life crises.
posted by adamsc at 4:45 PM on May 28


.(i mean yea, you could do a 9 hour drive in one shot i guess but if you're leaving in the evening...)

Huh? I've driven 9+ hour drives many times with only a couple stops for restrooms. I'd probably draw the line at 12 but 9 hours in a day isn't hard.
posted by octothorpe at 4:51 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


I would say about 95% of the time i get in a car i don't want to be actually physically driving it.

Well that's understandable I guess. For me it's about 90% of the time I do want to be driving. I don't do it a whole lot and it's usually on scenic country roads with relatively little traffic (although traffic seems to get worse every year). It's the other 10% for which letting the car take over would be a vast improvement. So come to think of it, maybe I don't have any personal need for a better horse, not until I'm losing my vision and driving like my grandfather used to. Still, if these newfangled auto-cars are ever going to take over to the point where manual control becomes archaic, they're going to have to appeal to the masses, not just those who can't drive or don't ever leave the city.
posted by sfenders at 5:05 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


I am debating whether an 80-minute commute at 25MPH would be worth it.

That's sort of my point about the social negotiations here that have more to do with existing work patterns.

Right now, there are plenty of people in the US who have 80-minute commutes at 25mph. They take the bus to work, but the buses only run once an hour and the bus routes mean you have to get off at the depot and hang around for half an hour. But if that's what's on offer, and that's your job, you take it, and you adjust your life around it because you can't afford to miss the bus.
posted by holgate at 5:11 PM on May 28 [2 favorites]


This is relevant, from today's Code Conference: DARPA’s Dan Kaufman on Hackers Taking Over Our Cars.

In the same way that DARPA is working on fixing "pervasive vulnerabilities" in drones by developing High-Assurance Cyber Military Systems, an alternative to the "fundamentally insecure manner" in which current control systems are written, maybe we could start this whole autonomous car business with a firm grounding in security. Otherwise, god help us, can you imagine what the existing car companies will churn out software-wise? It'll be the equivalent of inkjet printer crapware or terrible router firmware. From what we've seen in Toyota's firmware, it may already be worse than that.
posted by jjwiseman at 5:11 PM on May 28 [4 favorites]


By "don't ever leave the city" of course I mean don't leave the network of roads pre-surveyed by Google for their cars to drive on. Pick any random part of the United States, the best-mapped country in the world, and see how much of it isn't covered by Google street view. It's not just little dirt tracks that would be out-of-bounds. I don't know how close they are to making cars that can drive places that aren't carefully mapped out in advance, or whether they're even working on it. They seem to have a big enough job to do without worrying about that.
posted by sfenders at 5:40 PM on May 28


Oh man, solar powered self driving winabegos. Summer vacations would rock.
posted by dejah420 at 5:57 PM on May 28 [7 favorites]


From what I see of the above with mefites drivers relating tales of all those other idiots on the road, looks like we will be fine to lose the steering wheel, brakes and gas pedal, but by god, we'd better keep the horn.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:32 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


rabbitrabbit:
Of course, that's 40 minutes at 50MPH... I am debating whether an 80-miute commute at 25MPH would be worth it. Even if it's quality time with family, that's a lot of time to spend in a car. Can't wait for high-speed self-driving cars.
I might be jaded but living in DC, I see a lot of people whose daily commute is 80-minutes each way at well under 25mph[1] because they're just unwilling to consider alternatives. Self-driving cars will change three aspects of that: nobody will care because they'll be on their laptops, traffic will improve significantly because the self-driving cars won't flagrantly violate the traffic laws in ways which screw hundreds of other people for imperceptible personal advantage, and a car which can self-park would mean reduce the traffic caused by people looking for street parking or backing up at the absolute closest garage rather than walking an extra couple blocks.

1. That's not hyperbole: I used to walk along on a major commute route and averaged at least twice the average speed of the cars in the jam starting about 5 miles out of downtown. People will pay a big parking and time premium to avoid taking the subway or express buses.
posted by adamsc at 6:36 PM on May 28


You could probably also reduce traffic by organizing ad hoc car pools with some clever logistics. You could have four passengers, each with their own sealed off cubicle with wifi and electricity.
posted by empath at 7:09 PM on May 28


You could also radically change the way safety is handled in a car when you don't need to surround the passengers with glass and steering wheels and so on.
posted by empath at 7:16 PM on May 28 [5 favorites]


Seems to me that making this approach multi-modal for commuters would be the real advance. Google car to light/medium rail station, onto the train to another train station, then hop into your Google car with co-workers or just people going to the same quadrant as you. The Googlemobile is available for everyone else's use during work hours. Especially handy for the elderly. Do I win an internet?
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 7:39 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]


I think that the initial rollout of these vehicles would be as a ZipCar like car sharing service. It would broaden the market for these services to individuals who are unable to drive or unable to obtain insurance. You wouldn't need staff to reposition cars and the cars would be able to pick up the user instead of forcing the user to find the car.
posted by humanfont at 7:58 PM on May 28 [2 favorites]


Dude, I'm a motorcyclist. Cars are already so safe they're boring. Reducing the risk further will not noticeably improve my life, while increasing the amount of time I spend caged up and bored will definitely worsen it.

A. It'll decrease cage time.
B. Instead of driving, sit back and play high-stakes poker. For body parts, say. No more boredom!
posted by five fresh fish at 8:09 PM on May 28 [3 favorites]


In the first challenge in 2004, [...] Team Oshkosh's TerraMax, a 16-ton military transport truck, was programmed to be so cautious that it kept getting freaked out by desert brush and backed up continuously for half a mile before its handlers gave up.

Just [3] years later at the DARPA Urban Challenge, [...] TerraMax returned and demonstrated the reason for remote kill switches when it tried to take out a building.

2004: oh shit, a bush. RETREAT

2007: TERMINATING BUILDING WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE

2015: EMPEROR TERRORMAX
posted by Rhaomi at 8:27 PM on May 28 [9 favorites]


The local news did a piece on Google's self driving car this evening and my 16 year old son watched the segment with the sort of rapt attention he normally only devotes to Minecraft. "That's so neat," he said, "I could read and eat and still get driven around and I wouldn't have to drive at all! That's the car I want."

My kid doesn't have his driver's license yet. He doesn't even want to get a learner's permit. He's no outlier either, at his high school (which currently only goes to 11th grade), only five kids out of 300 have their license. I originally thought this was due to the socioeconomics of our area (lots of blue collar first generation immigrant families—maybe the families can't afford the costs to insure a teen driver or to run an extra car?) but checking in with friends who live in wealthier neighborhoods, they are reporting the same: their teens just aren't interested in driving themselves around. None of us live in areas well-served by public transit either, we all live in the 'burbs. Maybe this is the result of a lifetime of parent taxi services instead of having the kid walk to school/practice, or maybe it's because a lot of socializing goes on online rather than over at friends' homes or maybe it's just some kind of communal sea change from my generation of Californians where getting a driver's license was something everyone did as soon as we were old enough to take the test.

Anyway, that's who is going to be driving (haha) the demand for these self-driving cars. Not us with the licenses already.
posted by jamaro at 9:03 PM on May 28 [3 favorites]


Or, we could invest in and expand public transportation to make it a more viable option outside of a handful of major cities (and heck, including luxury options with privacy), since it can move people much, much faster and more safely than each person driving individual automobiles.

But no, even people think that public transportation is "A Good Thing That Should Exist In Their Community" often don't even intend to use it themselves. Not if they can help it. Because it robs them of the freedom to begin their daily journey to work whenever they want according to their own schedule -- plus time for traffic delays utterly out of their control. It requires them to share space with other random humans who they must actively ignore and/or endure -- as opposed to actively ignoring or enduring just as many other random humans who are each in their own cars hurtling down the same road. (Personally, if I'm going to risk being annoyed by self-absorbed people up in my personal space on a daily basis, I'd rather them not be wielding their motor vehicle at me and mine.)

As someone who lives in an urban area with substantial public transport, I'm flummoxed by the number of people who both live and work within a few blocks of subway/train stations, yet drive to work daily and cry about stressful traffic. And bemoan the cost of gas and difficulty in parking for large SUVs but insist that a transpass is expensive. Yeah, yeah, I sound all superior and judgey, but I really am perplexed...I'm not just talking about anonymous "other people," I see this behavior in folks who are good friends, conscientious neighbors, who pick up trash on their block, etc., greater good. As for me, my partner and I have one small car that we use a) for travel where public transportation is just wholly inadequate or b) to carry things too large/too many for bike/bus/subway/foot. And that's about it.

Short story long...my point is: Efficiency and safety and cost are apparently not that compelling in terms of actually changing human behavior or mindset. What people really want is to make their own choices and feel in control of their own lives. Maybe the Google Corporate Mindtrusts should have paid more attention to Chaucer.
posted by desuetude at 10:32 PM on May 28 [5 favorites]


I live 5 minutes away from a train station, but rarely use it because unless I'm going downtown for something, it takes 3 times longer to get where I'm trying to get to.

For example, if I want to go from my stop to Springfield (a 15 minute car ride), it would take me an hour and 20 minutes, having to go all the way into the city and back out to the suburbs. This is pretty much the case for every suburban metro stop in DC. Unless you are going from the suburbs to the city and back, or stop to stop in the city, everything takes forever. And don't even get me started on buses.

90% of my driving is going from one place to another in the suburbs, and that's just not plausible on public transit. It's too much area to cover and far to many endpoints.
posted by empath at 10:59 PM on May 28


Eyebrows McGee, I hear you re: your husband's commute and quality of life but I guess what I was getting at was that we design our urban areas and transport networks (and I say we even though I almost definitely live in a very different country to you) in such a way that demands commuting, and that seems to centralise industry and commerce while decentralising accommodation.

And the demise of the private car, while painful to me because I like my car and I love driving and the qualified freedom that comes with it, would probably go some way to changing that urban design pattern and improving quality of life for everyone.
posted by ddd at 12:04 AM on May 29 [1 favorite]


As for weirder shit that happens to vehicles driven by humans, an acquaintance of mine was in a bus when some guy decided to shoot and kill the bus driver and then himself, causing the bus to drive off a bridge and fall 50 feet into a building. The guy I know wasn't seriously hurt, and scored a pretty big insurance payout, but one passenger died and several were badly hurt. While that kind of stuff isn't really common, it'd be basically prevented by automated vehicles.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:17 AM on May 29


I live 5 minutes away from a train station, but rarely use it because unless I'm going downtown for something, it takes 3 times longer to get where I'm trying to get to.

Yeah, same here. My commute takes as much as an hour each way, but that's still less than the hour and a half each way it took when I was riding the bus, and that was (a) when I lived ten miles closer to the office than I do now; and (b) with the most convenient bus imaginable - a line that picked me up a half-mile from my apartment and dropped me off a five-minute walk from work. I stuck with public transportation for six months but losing three hours of my day on the bus just got to be unbearable.

Now, even if Metro ever opens the damn Silver Line that's supposed to run trains out here, getting to the station will still involve driving on a toll road and paying five bucks a day for parking plus the fare, and it'll still take longer than driving. I mean, I'll use it when I have to go into D.C.in the morning because fuck that, but neither the economics nor the time works out for daily use.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:33 AM on May 29


Yeah I moved to tysons because the silver line was supposed to open up last year, and that didn't happen. Now I'm thinking of moving to Herndon when the silver line stop opens there soon-ish.
posted by empath at 3:35 AM on May 29


And guess where I moved from and to!
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:42 AM on May 29


My kid doesn't have his driver's license yet. He doesn't even want to get a learner's permit. He's no outlier either, at his high school (which currently only goes to 11th grade), only five kids out of 300 have their license. I originally thought this was due to the socioeconomics of our area (lots of blue collar first generation immigrant families—maybe the families can't afford the costs to insure a teen driver or to run an extra car?) but checking in with friends who live in wealthier neighborhoods, they are reporting the same: their teens just aren't interested in driving themselves around.

Another random data point, but when i was in high school(bush years) the same thing was going on.

The only kids i knew who had cars were from the burbs, and they were often some of only a very few from even that group who had cars. At my ~300 student high school(small school, but in the city) maybe 8 kids had cars. There wasn't really anyone who didn't have a car and really wished they had one either. People would nebulously what-if about it, but no one really cared that much.

Public transit was there, and ok but not exactly awesome. I rode the bus for about 1.25-1.5 hours each way every day to school and just treated it as "read and listen to music" time. I knew plenty of other kids who bused about that far.

The rare times we needed a car for something, it was just "oh lets call up that one guy who has one" or someones parents or whatever.

In college and beyond i got a car i don't really drive, and a few of my friends did. It's actually to the point that i know several people who inherited a car somehow, but it just sits because they still haven't bothered to get a license.

I'm honestly amazed there haven't been more "Generation Y doesn't drive" type of articles floating around. It's definitely A Thing. It seems like in every social group 1-2/10 people have a car, or even a drivers license, and that basically works out to be "enough" and then no one cares.
posted by emptythought at 4:06 AM on May 29 [2 favorites]


I live 5 minutes away from a train station, but rarely use it because unless I'm going downtown for something, it takes 3 times longer to get where I'm trying to get to.

I'd love to take transit to work but driving takes 25 to 30 minutes while subway => bus takes almost an hour and since there are two of us, more expensive.
posted by octothorpe at 4:28 AM on May 29


The only kids i knew who had cars were from the burbs

I wouldn't have a car if I lived in the city, either.
posted by empath at 4:52 AM on May 29


Also, I might have missed a comment about this earlier, but as a woman who periodically needs to get home in the evenings, I would LOVE a driverless taxi service. Even having called the cab, I don't enjoy the "get in a dark car with a stranger in the middle of the night" thing.
posted by you're a kitty! at 6:58 AM on May 29


empath: "I wouldn't have a car if I lived in the city, either."

It really depends on the city. I live right in the center of a city and maybe don't "need" a car but life without a car would be much more difficult.
posted by octothorpe at 7:08 AM on May 29


I live in a rural area. The nearest bus stop is 6 miles away, and the bus runs 6 times per day.

I could theoretically drive to this bus stop and take the bus to the light rail station 7 miles from my workplace (and kind of in the wrong direction/out of the way), and take the light rail to the nearest stop to my work (1 mile away) and walk the last mile... but it would take about 2.5 hours one way, when it takes 35-40 minutes to drive there.

Improving public transportation is a great thing in urban and suburban areas. The nice thing about self-driving cars is they could be useful for the entire population, regardless of where they live.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:36 AM on May 29 [1 favorite]


checking in with friends who live in wealthier neighborhoods, they are reporting the same: their teens just aren't interested in driving themselves around

I know teenagers are required by the laws of the universe to mystify their parents, but that knowledge did nothing to prepare me for weirdness of having high school kids who (1) hate talking on the telephone, even to their peers, and (2) have no interest in driving.
posted by straight at 9:00 AM on May 29 [7 favorites]


How much will a driverless taxi cost to use? On the one hand, you can rent a car for $20 a day. On the other hand, car2go charges nearly 50 cents a minute, probably due to much lower utilization and much higher regulatory cost. Will be interesting to see how the pricing shakes out.
posted by miyabo at 9:05 AM on May 29


Driverless cars would be fantastic for tourists. Imagine being able to get into a car at the airport, have it take you to your hotel, and to all the various sights you want to see, without worrying about getting lost, reading maps, asking for directions.
posted by ambrosia at 9:21 AM on May 29 [7 favorites]


(And for the locals, even better to not have looky-lou tourists clogging up the streets getting lost.)
posted by ambrosia at 9:28 AM on May 29


Imagine being able to get into a car at the airport, have it take you to your hotel, and to all the various sights you want to see, without worrying about getting lost, reading maps, asking for directions.

Do these imaginary driverless cars also fold up so small you can fit them in your pocket instead of having to find somewhere to park? Excuse the snark, but one of the things I enjoy most about travelling is being able to take as many different forms of public transport as I can.

This is still "better horse" territory. Some people imagine driverless cars as last-mile connectors to to a mass transit network; some people imagine them creating a new mass transit network (one would be acceptable to Americans who consider buses and trains icky) which leaves the last mile question unanswered.

So there's a lot of projection going on that tacitly imagines this technology existing all at once, everywhere, with a focus on how it solves their particular better-horse needs. Except that if we're going to consider it transformative, then we ought to look very closely at the transition from horses to automobiles, which took decades, was very much unevenly distributed, and had a lot of second-order consequences along the way that made a lot of better-horse problems irrelevant.
posted by holgate at 11:00 AM on May 29 [1 favorite]


holgate,

Maybe it's better to think of this as fewer horses, rather than a single, better horse. The biggest potential change here seems (at least to my eyes) to be the steep drop in the relative value of car ownership in urban environments.

I'm a little confused by your last point. Are you saying that this isn't a potentially radical change, or that it is and that probably isn't an unmitigated good? The former seems most likely, but the latter is out of step with the better-horse theory.
posted by graphnerd at 11:10 AM on May 29


I wasn't seeing this as a replacement for public transit, and you're free to continue doing as you like. I was really thinking of people like my parents, who are now retired and have the time and a little money to travel, but don't go anywhere, in part because as my mom gets older she has become extremely anxious about driving anywhere unfamiliar.

Having the wayfinding and traffic negotiation aspects of driving removed from the equation is profoundly transformative, I think, at the human level. How it shakes out in societal terms, I don't know.
posted by ambrosia at 11:13 AM on May 29 [1 favorite]


they're going to have to appeal to the masses, not just those who can't drive or don't ever leave the city.

The masses live in and around cities. 80% of the US population lives inside the dots on this map (71% just in the purple areas). If you're selling a car, the suburbs are your market.

I happened to be out on the road at around 3:15AM this morning, and I was surprised—as I am always surprised—that you can clearly see the start of rush-hour traffic into the DC area even in what any reasonable person would consider to be the middle of the goddamn night. You could see a solid stream of cars going inbound and basically nobody going outbound.* At 3:15 in the morning.

But people do that because it's better than sitting in stopped traffic for hours, which is what happens if you leave from the far suburbs much later. If 1 in 100 of those drivers were in any way enjoying that drive and wouldn't immediately hand control over to a computer so they could go the hell back to sleep, I would be stunned.

* Specifically I-66 near Centreville, for other DC-area people. I'm sure the same thing is true on I-95, I-270, the BW Tpke., and other arterial roads though.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:15 PM on May 29 [2 favorites]


Google had a conference call and addressed some questions: The Atlantic's coverage.

Tl;dr: they seem to be explicitly targeting 100%-autonomous driving (blind people was their example), in small-to-medium sized cities and they have some sensor improvements in the pipe that aren't on the demo car.
posted by Skorgu at 3:16 PM on May 29


I'm a little confused by your last point. Are you saying that this isn't a potentially radical change, or that it is and that probably isn't an unmitigated good?

It is potentially radical, and will undoubtedly have consequences along the line, but they won't show themselves especially quickly if everybody wants the technology implemented as a better horse. Consider how electric automobiles are judged (and often scorned) in terms of their range right now: perhaps that's because they're not sufficiently different from the existing fleet, but there's clearly a desire expressed upthread for an autocar that does 70mph on the freeway for 500 miles without a charge. And a pony.

So while lots of people are musing about what autocars would do to their own circumstances or area of vehicular interest, it's more realistic that autocar technology will arrive in an uneven way -- slow-moving, confined to tightly-mapped areas -- that will almost certainly generate second-order effects about whether those other circumstances continue to hold by the time it matures. (Lots of people were talking about replacing truckers; horses pulled carts on roads far longer than they did carriages.)
posted by holgate at 3:20 PM on May 29 [1 favorite]


The masses live in and around cities. 80% of the US population lives inside the dots on this map (71% just in the purple areas). If you're selling a car, the suburbs are your market.

Sure, and it seems like most of these suburban people spend most of their time in cars getting stuck in rush hour. But the question is whether they would buy a car that was only able to drive in and between cities. More precisely, whether some rather large fraction of them wouldn't be willing to pay a few hundred extra dollars on the probably above-average purchase price of that car, and be willing to put up with the legal and insurance inconveniences, in order to have the option to drive it manually. Perhaps motivated by the fantasy that one day they might want to drive somewhere to go camping. Given the popularity of SUVs, I think it likely.

For the foreseeable future then, self-driving cars that do so only part-time have the potential be a lot more popular than anything looking like this particular Google product. I imagine it's for political and public relations reasons that Google are starting instead with cars for the smaller niche of people who would rather go without a steering wheel. That and picking a market to start with that is conveniently small since there are so many risks, regulatory and otherwise.
posted by sfenders at 4:13 PM on May 29


The cars don't need parking in the traditional sense. When you get to your destination they can drive away and pickup another rider or they could return to a base station to wait. I suppose they could even circle the block while you run a short errand.
posted by humanfont at 5:27 PM on May 29


Their stated "starting place" for usage of this technology puzzles me.

A subcompact car that only goes 25 mph and has a range of 100 miles within an urban area, dispatched to your location for pickup. And they lead off with how this could reduce the financial burden of private car ownership.

They know about taxicabs, right?
posted by desuetude at 8:17 AM on May 30


Last night I got a text from my 83yo mom, who hasn't been able to drive for a couple of years now:
Google's new car is perfect for me!!
I so, so, wish she could get that freedom back.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:29 AM on May 30 [3 favorites]


They know about taxicabs, right?

You could argue the same thing about Uber and Lyft. Clearly traditional taxicabs aren't meeting people's needs.
posted by smackfu at 9:37 AM on May 30


desuetude: "They know about taxicabs, right?"

I live in a city of 120,000 and there are seriously like six cabs in the whole metro area, and it's a pain in the ass when you have to get one. To get to the airport, I either have to leave my car in long-term parking or get someone to drive me and pick me up ... this would be perfect for that. It'd make a great "courtesy car" for car dealerships where you drop off your car to be serviced and then they have a guy who drives you to work? Or, once people are comfortable with the safety level, imagine being able to put your kids who are over the age of, say, 10 in a self-driving car to take them to baseball practice or swim class or piano lessons. Picks them up at your door, drives them to practice, a coach at the other end taps an RFID tag on the car to get your kid out and confirm receipt of child, and your phone gets a text message saying "Joey has arrived at practice; met by Coach Al." (Even a photo message, if you wanted!)

Another thing I immediately thought of is, students with disabilities are entitled to transit to special supportive programs, which sometimes is a school across town or even a couple towns over. There is a deaf child in my son's class who comes from two towns over who makes the 20-mile trip as the sole passenger in a short bus. We have a very small fleet of cars that drive high schoolers from one school to another during the day to take, say, an AP class not offered at their home school. For the most part, our bus transportation is convenient and well-optimized, but there are a number of situations where we have to transport fewer than five students. A self-driving car would be ideal for that, rather than having to dedicate staff members to carpooling small numbers of students and get those staff members specially licensed to do so. You could even still have an adult attendant in the car with the child or children, but they'd only have to be licensed to supervise children, not to drive them places. I mean, imagine some little old grannies who can't meet the requirements for driving a bus (there's a physical, you have to get a CDL), but who spend two hours a day riding in a self-driving car to pick up four-year-olds to eight-year-olds with special needs and help them get to their special programs. It would open up the (difficult to fill) jobs to so many more people and be dramatically less expensive for us. Kids and their transit-buddy could even read books together in the car! The car picks granny up at the retirement complex, takes her to the child's home where she goes to his door to get him and takes him to the car, they drive 20 minutes to get to his special program while granny reads to him or practices the ASL alphabet, granny takes him inside and makes sure he gets to his classroom, and then the car takes her to pick up two teenagers who need to go from one high school to another for AP physics. She takes two half-day pre-K children from school to their daycares, and then the self-driving car drops her back at her retirement home. It'd be awesome.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:37 AM on May 30 [4 favorites]


The taxi cab markets have to be some of the most heavily micromanaged in history: numbers controlled by licencing, rates, qualifications for new drivers, even the make and model of the cabs themselves. All of these are controlled by a political process, municipal councils, notorious for low transparency and back-room sweetheart deals, even in countries with otherwise well-functioning democracies.

So, it's not surprising that cab companies have evolved largely into sanctioned monopolies/oligopolies with dependably high profit margins and more focus on keeping new competitors out than providing good services to the rate-payers and customers.

Most places I've been in in the OECD suffer from this ossification in the cab industry. It's a sector ripe for new ideas.
posted by bonehead at 10:41 AM on May 30


Prophecy.
posted by Wordshore at 3:15 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]


The Trick That Makes Google's Self-Driving Cars Work

tl;dr: they're mapping the roads and environs down to the inch. Curb heights, lane widths, trees, you name it.
What was a nearly intractable "machine vision" problem, one that would require close to human-level comprehension of streets, has become a much, much easier machine vision problem thanks to a massive, unprecedented, unthinkable amount of data collection
This means that you'll only be able to drive on roads which have been mapped. Which is fine for certain kinds of driving (commercial, commuting) but introduces a novel angle to how we think of cars, a new limit. Would you buy a car that you can only drive in your metro area?

It's sort of perfect for public transit, though. Hmmmm …
posted by wemayfreeze at 8:02 PM on June 1


Well, they already do low-resolution mapping of practically every street in the developed world. I don't think it's too farfetched to imagine them adding this tech to the street view cars.
posted by miyabo at 8:44 PM on June 1


I have two friends who've been threatened (as in "I'll call the police on you" and then "I'll kill you" when that didn't work, because they got called out on trying to leave the meter off) in the past week by cab drivers. I won't take cabs anymore and don't feel any safer in Lyft or Uber.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:06 PM on June 1 [2 favorites]


Which is fine for certain kinds of driving (commercial, commuting) but introduces a novel angle to how we think of cars, a new limit.

It'd work well in airports, where you have low speeds and tightly-defined routes. That bus taking you from the tarmac to the terminal when you don't have a standard gate/gangway setup? Those baggage and supply trucks? Self-driving sooner than later.

That's the kind of highly-regimented environment where we're going to see the first uses, and where we're actually going to get comfortable with the idea of being driven around in computer-guided vehicles. Not public roads.

So Google might talk about autonomous vehicles replacing cars on public roads, but that's a distraction, because by the time there have been sufficient private regimented-environment deployments, we'll have a sense of its strengths and weaknesses, and parts of the technology minus the autonomy will likely have trickled down, or been made available by the big G under licence. All of that will create second-order effects, and I bet those will make the questions being asked and scenarios being imagined right now look pretty silly.
posted by holgate at 11:25 PM on June 1 [1 favorite]


There's a Latino grocery store here that offers a free car pick up service, since they cater to people that depend on public transport. They'd definitely be interested in something like this.
posted by empath at 12:33 AM on June 2


This means that you'll only be able to drive on roads which have been mapped. Which is fine for certain kinds of driving (commercial, commuting) but introduces a novel angle to how we think of cars, a new limit. Would you buy a car that you can only drive in your metro area?

As this has been circulating around everyone seems to look at it as some kind of "cheating", and that it somehow makes everything they said about these cars a lie or that they haven't really cracked the problem or whatever.

I completely disagree. It would be like saying wifi was dumb because it only worked places that had wifi routers 15 years ago. Cell phone and wifi coverage used to suck too, but that got solved really fast when people discovered it was something good that they wanted.

This data doesn't need to be stored in the car either. Saying this is cheating is also like saying siri is cheating by not doing the language processing on the phone.

So lets say you do a basic scan like this of every street in most major cities, and eventually expand it to everywhere google street view goes. Now you have a baseline. Every car has a simpler, lower resolution(read cheaper, not a massive chunk of the purchase price) version of this scanning hardware/cameras/etc that's only looking for deviations. Road map data is being downloaded, while the changes are being uploaded. The car is looking at the pre-existing data and basically just making sure it matches up with whats stored, and dealing with anything that isn't.

From what they've shown, there's a pretty impressive ability to deal with things like road work/lane detours, and people/other cars/bikes/all that.

I guess i'm just failing to see how this is some man behind the curtain reveal that this tech is massively not ready or something. It seems like a pretty intelligent use of The Cloud in the same way that siri is. I also think this sort of central server/database setup is critical to a lot of what people were thinking about self driving cars doing anyways, which is routing themselves through traffic as a networked group. If everyone is playing on the same digital map, then it only takes one car noticing "hey this bridge is up" or whatever to route all the other cars around it until one later notices "hey this route is fine now". Like a really smart, automatic version of something like waze.

That's the kind of highly-regimented environment where we're going to see the first uses, and where we're actually going to get comfortable with the idea of being driven around in computer-guided vehicles. Not public roads.

This seems like not a very big step up from say, a system like this. I absolutely agree too. The first places you'll see vehicles like this will be in situations like that, on corporate campuses, etc.
posted by emptythought at 4:02 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


Cell phone and wifi coverage used to suck too, but that got solved really fast when people discovered it was something good that they wanted.

Well, sort of. Still plenty of places where it's not a solved problem.

Two connected points: one is that the Mountain View test track is a large suburb masquerading as a city, a flattish, low-rise, car-centric environment with amenable weather. The 'cheating' isn't in the huge amount of data collection, but the benign test environment.

The other is that Google has proved itself very good at building things that work for Google but not necessarily for other people. We still don't know exactly where the empathy gap will show up at its most excruciating, as we're now seeing with Glass, but we ought to expect it.
posted by holgate at 7:03 AM on June 2 [1 favorite]


>>>Who knows how it will work in rain, or the dark, or the fog
>>The vehicle's sensors include a 64-beam laser and four radars, so the short answer is "much better than humans".
> Mountain View.... amenable weather
New Yorker:
The car has trouble in the rain, for instance, when its lasers bounce off shiny surfaces. (The first drops call forth a small icon of a cloud onscreen and a voice warning that auto-drive will soon disengage.)
posted by morganw at 4:02 PM on June 2


I guess i'm just failing to see how this is some man behind the curtain reveal that this tech is massively not ready or something.

I don't see many people reacting that way. To me the amazing "aha!" is that it explains why automated cars makes sense as a Google project. They aren't developing revolutionary AI that can see and understand the world way better than any robot ever has. They're brute forcing the problem: "We'll data crawl an entire city so the robot already knows what every road looks like."
posted by straight at 4:19 PM on June 2 [3 favorites]


They're brute forcing the problem: "We'll data crawl an entire city so the robot already knows what every road looks like."

Which raises the question of how to expand if brute-forcing is the only reliable approach right now: would Google want others to help foot the bill for such thorough mapping efforts? "Self-driving car comes with one city; others available as in-app purchase"? That would probably work in very tight and controlled spaces like airports, where there's an obvious benefit in terms of manpower, but not cities.
posted by holgate at 9:02 PM on June 2


Which raises the question of how to expand if brute-forcing is the only reliable approach right now: would Google want others to help foot the bill for such thorough mapping efforts?

Seems like it's well within their capabilities to roll out one large metro area at a time.
posted by empath at 9:07 PM on June 2


holgate: "Which raises the question of how to expand if brute-forcing is the only reliable approach right now: would Google want others to help foot the bill for such thorough mapping efforts?"

What did you think Ingress, Google Now and Google Earth were about? Hell, even open source, no-robots-allowed OpenStreetMap indexes trees, including the species, circumference, and height. A friend of mine informs me that German trees are serious business, and a substantial fraction are annotated in OSM.
posted by pwnguin at 11:01 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I should note that OSM has curb data as a proposed feature, which appears to be designed to to facilitate wheel chair / blind street navigation.

I suppose the human brain just isn't wired to consider large numbers in many contexts; you might find the task of storing millions curbs daunting, but if you think about it, a few million curbs is worst case scenario a few hundred megabytes of uncompressed data.
posted by pwnguin at 11:12 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]


holgate: "Which raises the question of how to expand if brute-forcing is the only reliable approach right now: would Google want others to help foot the bill for such thorough mapping efforts? "

Google strikes me as a bit like AT&T labs back in the day ... a lot of the stuff they're doing doesn't have any immediate commercial application but is cooooooool. Google has a ridiculous amount of money; prestige projects help their image as a cutting-edge technology company and helps them recruit great employees; and it's hard to know how to monetize the future until someone invents the future. They've also proven pretty willing to put aside even very large projects that don't make them money after several years.

US history also shows a LOT of "brute force" large scale mapping, spending 50 years surveying Ohio and Indiana on foot, in wilderness conditions, to accurate lay out plats for settlement (and then onward to the entire rest of the frontier!). Or the national soil survey, which involves sending dudes out with soil-corers and taking a core every five yards on a grid (and closer together where terrain indicates), across the entire country, and basically as soon as they finish the 70-year project it's time to start again (although now they have LIDAR, which helps). Driving Google Earth vans around mapping terrain technologically, just on roads, seems easy by comparison. And the US government has a very long history of highly-elaborate, manpower-driven, multi-decade mapping efforts, so if this does turn out to be revolutionary, one can easily see the US government taking over the "brute force" part of the mapping efforts. (In fact, if it's going to be national infrastructure, they'd almost have to at some point.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:47 AM on June 3 [4 favorites]


I'd love to have a self-driving car for me and the family the next time we make the sixteen hour drive from Salt Lake City to Portland, Oregon. We could play boardgames and watch movies the whole way, and eat in the car en route.

Cutting out the need to stop for the driver to sleep, eat, and visit the bathroom, would shorten interstate freight by a third at least.

And the savings would be passed on directly to *you* the consumer!
posted by mecran01 at 6:06 AM on June 5




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