The pod eased into the stream and he drank to his last day driving
November 6, 2017 2:34 PM   Subscribe

A brave journalist sees the bittersweet vision of the end of his job and his industry. Building on the many fascinating discussions [fp btw, hello to all] here on the cars that will drive themselves, Bob Lutz of Automotive News takes a guess at the near future of the automotive industry. Bring on the pods.
posted by breezytimes (59 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
When driving is outlawed only outlaws will drive.
posted by Xurando at 2:44 PM on November 6 [2 favorites]


But of course this vision of "pods" is much too uniform. Change on a large scale doesn't tend to happen in one swoop. I can imagine places, like the Chicago suburbs, where the pod vision makes a certain amount of sense. Here in the city, if we don't have cars, why not just have better public transit? And out in the country, I can imagine regular cars and trucks holding on for a long time. His vision rests on the assumption that legislatures will outlaw human drivers, but this is America. I think driving is too central to a certain independent ethos for it to vanish.
posted by mai at 2:50 PM on November 6 [7 favorites]


My kids just turned 5 and they always ask how old they have to be to drive. I actively avoid answering the question because I'm not sure they'll ever learn. I have a love/hate relationship with driving. I won't miss the 5 hour drive to visit the in-laws at all. I'll be crushed the day I can't take my impractical, 2-seat convertible for a drive to look at fall foliage.
posted by Defective_Monk at 2:53 PM on November 6 [7 favorites]


It saddens me to say it, but we are approaching the end of the automotive era

Saddens? Literally 10,000s of lives will be saved every year. Fuck cars.
posted by leotrotsky at 2:54 PM on November 6 [39 favorites]


But of course this vision of "pods" is much too uniform. Change on a large scale doesn't tend to happen in one swoop

It does when human-driven cars all become prohibitively expensive to insure. That said, I can imagine self-driving conversion kits to become a thing.
posted by leotrotsky at 2:56 PM on November 6 [1 favorite]


Somehow, this Adam Ruins Everything clip (especially the end) seems relevant here. As does the fact that the author (who, let's remember, has investment in this issue) is glossing over the issues that autonomous vehicles still have.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:56 PM on November 6


Unfortunately, I think this is the demise of automotive retailing as we know it.

muaha

muhahahaha

mauhahahahahaha aaaaaaah haaaa hahahaha harrrrrrrrr

* koff *

I will dance on their graves
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 2:57 PM on November 6 [6 favorites]


I totally disagree with this. Autonomous cars are coming, and the first order effect will be that people will spend more time in their cars. A two-hour commute is brutal now, but if you can eat breakfast, watch the news, and catch up on email, it will be a very attractive option if it means your house can be twice as big for the same price. And everyone else will do that, so traffic will explode. If you're spending 4 hours a day in your car, you'll want it to be as personal as possible- with a desk, coffee machine, maybe an exercise bike, a big TV, a fold out bed. Cars will become extended living spaces. I think it will be very very good for the manufacturers.
posted by miyabo at 2:57 PM on November 6 [16 favorites]


Here in the city, if we don't have cars, why not just have better public transit?

Because suburbs and winter and racism? It’s why we don’t have it now, and those factors won’t change.
posted by leotrotsky at 2:58 PM on November 6 [12 favorites]


I think driving is too central to a certain independent ethos for it to vanish.

Even to the extent that it is not - I just got a contract gig working at remote radio towers in the mountains. These sites are often at the end of bad un/poorly maintained roads. The Waymo AI gets befuddled by a plastic bag in the road, whats it going to do with a smallish rockfall or washout on a shelf road in BFE ?

My dad spends his summers working on a ranch fixing tractors and such. He'll drive into town, get some parts, and then drive back to the ranch, where he'll have to drive across a large field to get to the broken thing. How will the AI handle avoiding irrigation ditches hidden under hay 2 feet tall ? At this point, the AI can't even go where a traffic cops points to.

Point is, there is a lot more to driving than just commuting from your gay space condo to your gay space font colorpicking office - and I'm not convinced that the people who wrote an AI that keeps showing me ads for things I already bought will reliably deal with the more complicated edge cases.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:06 PM on November 6 [17 favorites]


I was just thinking the other day about how autonomous cars might extend independence for the elderly and disabled. Can't remember how to get to/from the doctors? Your car can? Macular degeneration - it's okay, your car can see fine! Overly rosy, I'm sure, but it got me thinking.
posted by dbmcd at 3:06 PM on November 6 [9 favorites]


Bob Lutz the former GM vice chairman? Not sure calling him an automotive journalist is really accurate.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 3:15 PM on November 6 [15 favorites]


15 to 20 years — at the latest

Whenever I see futuristic predictions like this, I remind myself that Bladerunner takes place in the year 2019, and 2001 is set in... 2001.

It's really hard to predict when something like is going to become reality. I generally take the prediction and add 20-30 years to them.

However, the nature of the change seems plausible to me. If there's a weak link in this projection chain, it's probably that there would be more resistance at legislative levels in taking all vehicles off the road to get things rolling. Too much change in too short of a time.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:20 PM on November 6 [3 favorites]


Maximum Bob doesn't even hit on the biggest point of the revolution, the complete and total change to the makeup of our cities and suburbs when parking spaces are no longer needed. Virtually overnight everywhere will have a surfeit of land. What happens then? I don't know, outside of the value of commercial land falling off a precipice due the excess of inventory.
posted by Keith Talent at 3:22 PM on November 6 [1 favorite]


Motorways, freeways, autobahns etc... yeah they are going to become robotised very soon. But gnarly little windy back roads that follow old droving routes... that's a bit more difficult. Also city centers with these fleshy things wondering around that don't indicate their intentions clearly. That's a very hard AI problem. On the other hand your pod may just take you the mile or so to your nearest mass transit station and then again at the other to your destination... and kept well away from pedestrians. It's all very up in the air at the moment (... talking of which, where's my jetpack/personal drone?!)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:24 PM on November 6 [1 favorite]


Antigravity fields will solve all of those problems. I predict 5-7 years, tops.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:26 PM on November 6 [1 favorite]


I think Mr. Lutz is thinking the change will come much quicker than it will - there are a lot of challenges to handle. The LIDAR modules are still very expensive, and the processing requirements are extreme (keep in mind that all of the easy improvements in CPU design were done decades ago). Most people would be surprised to know that if you add up all the electronics in a modern car, it would cost less than the tires. This even applies to electric cars.

However, when the change does come, I think that people will have subscriptions for transportation - the (let's use his terminology) pod will arrive at your home, you get in the pod, and it takes you where you want. There will be different tiers of comfort and features, based on how expensive your subscription is. If you need to be somewhere at a certain time, the pod will know when you need to leave based on traffic.

Parking lots will be replaced with refueling/recharging stations. Like planes, pods are only making money when they are moving so they will not be stationary too much. Maybe at night, when there is less customer demand, they will be used to deliver small packages...

There will be a long overlap where both cars and pods will be around. I can say that anyone who wants to get a career as a chauffeur better think twice though.
posted by coberh at 3:27 PM on November 6 [3 favorites]


Hey, he wrote a fairly ballsy article that predicts the end of his industry. Whether "journalist" characterizes him rightly or not, he's one of the first to be as bluntly direct about the second- and third-order effects. If you agree with the premise, it's instructive to think about those derivative effects. No gas stations on every corner -- probably not a bad thing, considering the spills and vapor emissions. No car dealerships? How about overall fewer miles driven due to efficiency of occupancy? Will we need all those roads? Maybe our communities can start walking around on the streets freely, knowing that the pods won't drive them over in the mad dash to drop their kids off and make the train?

Maybe we just won't need all that tarmac and hardscape. Think of all those parking lots that could revert to grassland and parks.

If you don't buy into the premise, that's fine. It's hard to see that trucking and public services won't go first though -- too much money to be saved. Once the fleets go autonomous, the rest seems obvious.
posted by breezytimes at 3:28 PM on November 6 [10 favorites]


I think when you are extrapolating the timeline for autonomous vehicles it's instructive to know the history. The first Darpa Grand Challenge was a little more than a decade ago and none of the vehicles could finish an offroad traffic free course. Today we have commercial available kinda self-driving vehicles. Pretty remarkable how short the timeline has been.
posted by Keith Talent at 3:38 PM on November 6 [5 favorites]


Fully autonomous "pods" would be for more than just people movers. The size of the load shouldn't affect the transport efficiency very much.

My sports equipment pod or vacation pod could arrive separately, or stay in the draft right behind my riding pod. A purchase order for a business could be it's own pod, not a skid on an 18 wheeler trailer.
posted by jjj606 at 3:38 PM on November 6


Hey, he wrote a fairly ballsy article that predicts the end of his industry.

An end that he has bet on himself as a car company executive.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:39 PM on November 6 [1 favorite]


That vision certainly leaves a lot of people without transportation options. People who can't afford to pay for a pod every day, going back and forth to work...low-paid work.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:39 PM on November 6 [7 favorites]


Everyone will have 5 years to get their car off the road or sell it for scrap'
Bob Lutz


I seriously doubt it. Our government won't even ban Assault Rifles after mass shootings. The issue will be framed as job protection and pols will bow to the auto industry, not to mention the army of car/truck fetishist who'll howl at the moon like a werewolf. And, motorcyclist, of course, and even bicyclist might raise a stink out of roads being designated pod only. And the banking industry will lose billions on car loans, and they own both parties.
posted by Beholder at 3:48 PM on November 6 [4 favorites]


We will always have cars that require drivers. It's humans that become obsolete in 15-20 years. After that, we are forced to adapt the cars for cephalopods, who - not surprisingly - absolutely kill it driving stick.
posted by The Great David S. Pumpkins at 3:51 PM on November 6 [10 favorites]


So lets get this straight: You all think a first world solution which disempowers individual liberty and which is as high tech and premium priced for consumers as possible is a great thing that will be happily embraced and enforced? I mean... at least the dream of my jetpack, hoverboard and flying car all allowed for heavy doses of individualism.

I am a democratic socialist and I see so many non-greater good, servant/slave to technology aspects to this that I shudder to think how many civil liberties people are willing to lose for a corporation's utopian cash stream which likely discrimates segments by racial and socioeconomic lines because machine learning generally reflects learned bias and premium services will be leveraged to further dismantle the middle class, segmenting the haves from the have nots.

Yeah. If the 41 years I have spent on the earth have taught me anything: take the greatest ideas and pervert them until they break civilization... that is how we unfunction as society.
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:54 PM on November 6 [13 favorites]


the complete and total change to the makeup of our cities and suburbs when parking spaces are no longer needed.

I've heard this before, but never understood it. Most people will still be traveling during a few hours of the day, which means tons of cars must be sitting somewhere the other hours of the day (unless they are just circling aimlessly, DropCar-style, which would get incredibly expensive). Maybe the parking lots could be in less desirable neighborhoods, but they still have to go somewhere.
posted by miyabo at 4:00 PM on November 6 [2 favorites]


15 to 20 years — at the latest

Nobody sells fully autonomous vehicles today. There are 5 various levels of automation, but there are very few cars at level 0; almost every car has level 1 (ABS or cruise control) and there are level 2 (multiple system control - eg cruise with lane following or automatic parallel parking) vehicles out there, there isn't any level 3, let alone level 4.

Level 3 is the uncanny valley of autonomous vehicle technology - the vehicle can drive itself under most circumstances, but must return control to the driver under certain cases. The problem is that people suck at multitasking. Right now, if you do something other than driving, you're cognizant that it's a distraction - you'll tune the radio or update the GPS, but you'll only look away briefly and you will pick your spot to do it. In level 3, people start thinking of themselves as doing other than driving the vehicle -- imagine you're finishing an email when someone comes in your office. You'll finish the email, or at least the sentence or thought, before acknowledging them. In level 3, the person coming into your office is a situation on the road.

But let's assume we skip level 3 entirely, and start selling level 4 vehicles. That isn't tomorrow, or next year. Does every car coming off the line have AV as an option? Right now, you can buy a Lexus LS or a Toyota Camry, which are both high quality sedans that are the same size made by the same company; the Lexus LS costs 3 to 5 times as much. One reason that people buy higher end cars is luxury names and so on; the other reason is that luxury cars get nicer features. The first AV sold will not be a base model compact hatchback on a mainstream brand; it'll be an option package on a luxury SUV, and it will take something like 15 to 25 years for autonomous vehicle technology to make it all the way down the product line; this is how long other features have taken in the past, like airbags, backup cameras, GPS (before cellphones overtook it) and so on. Safety features tend to take over more quickly, with legislation.

So it's some years before the first car is autonomous, and then two more decades before every new car comes standard -- potentially; you can still get cars with manual transmissions, 78 years after the mass introduction of the autonomous transmission. It takes a long time for cars to get off the roads. I have some data kicking around from a large state, and if you want to put cars 15+ years old off the road, that's 18% of the fleet. If you push back to 20+ years, that's still 7.5%; even at 30 years, there's still 2.1% of the fleet. You need to go 40 years to get down to 1% of the fleet, which I note is 26 million vehicles -- 37 times larger than the the Cash for Clunkers program in 2009 (which cost 3 billion dollars). And, of course, this disproportionally affects the poor - households with incomes under $25K are 75% more likely to own a car 15+ years old, and 84% more likely to own a car 20+ years old.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 4:04 PM on November 6 [9 favorites]


As office space becomes more expensive, the corporations eventually realize that it's cheaper to have you work in company-provided pods that you lease from them. So they do actually drive you around in circles all day until they drop you off in a random neighborhood at the end of the day. Then it's up to you to find a place to sleep for the night, musical chairs style. Usually, an inflatable temporary home that you also lease from the company and put up in pod park spaces that you - that's right - lease from the company. The revolution begins when people realize they are literally paying the corporations for the right to work for them. Unfortunately, the revolution is also leased from the company.
posted by The Great David S. Pumpkins at 4:13 PM on November 6 [11 favorites]


Maybe the parking lots could be in less desirable neighborhoods, but they still have to go somewhere.

The point is, they don't have to be near the destination spots. You can have multi-tier parking garages and cars that drive themselves to the nearest open space - and those garages can hold more cars than current ones do, because they don't need space for sloppy driving techniques. They can even double- or triple-park cars, because the software could move vehicles out of the way as needed.

It's not that "we won't need parking spaces," but we won't need a number of spaces equal to the number of patrons in a business, within a block or two of each business. Corporate work centers can have parking a mile or two away, where the cars take themselves after dropping off employees; even shopping centers can have parking several blocks away from the stores, and again, those spots don't need to be configured for human driving patterns; cars can stack closer than is safe for us.

And if the cars aren't single-user vehicles, one that drops off one person will go fetch someone else on a different errand; the pool of necessary cars shrinks to "people in transit right now" rather than "people who will need to be in transit at some point today."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:34 PM on November 6 [6 favorites]


His vision rests on the assumption that legislatures will outlaw human drivers

My uncle has a country place
that no one knows about.
He says it used to be a farm
before the motor laws.
posted by octobersurprise at 4:59 PM on November 6 [10 favorites]


I can only think that people who write articles like this (or even believe that it describes a near future) live and work in cities and large suburban areas.

My regular travels take me on roads that not only don't have lines, but often don't have shoulders.
I pass through several non-signal controlled (no lights, no stop sign, no line) intersections.
Farm vehicles are a regular occurrence, with "safe to pass" being indicated by a wave from the cab, not road conditions or legality.
We don't have fancy on-ramps where vehicles can merge into a 100mph "train", we have side roads that become highway where the funding started and become not-highway where the money ran out.

And I don't even live in the country, where gravel roads are the norm, often 1 and half lanes, with an established, but non-codified right of way prevails.
Where gates may be closed, necessitating detours on roads that don't exist on google maps.
Where it isn't unusual in the winter to come across a down tree or washboard, required a little creative trailblazing to continue.

Hell, how does an autonomous car handle parking in grass field behind the barn, where direction is provided by a teenager on a horse?

I mean, sure, some of it can be worked around.
You could paint reflective lines at every intersection, controlled or not.
You could have "semi-autonomous mode" where I have some method to point the vehicle down something it doesn't think is a road.
Maybe steering is available under a certain speed or on certain roads.
Perhaps the sensors of these vehicles will be so good, they can just wander the field on their own until they find a spot.

Mile long auto-trains traveling at 150 mph, magic pods dropping you off at your office door, drinking coffee while you are whisked to your destination, it makes great article fodder, but it's a long way from how I and most of my neighbors use vehicles.
posted by madajb at 5:17 PM on November 6 [6 favorites]


The issue will be framed as job protection and pols will bow to the auto industry, not to mention the army of car/truck fetishist who'll howl at the moon like a werewolf.

Right... just like Big Horse and the army of bicycle fetishists kept cars from taking over the roads over a century ago, right? No, the pols will just talk about how many jobs are created for the auto cleaners. GM's market cap right now is about $60 billion, Apple's is at $900 billion. Tim Cook could write a check for GM, right now.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:37 PM on November 6 [2 favorites]


Lifts used to have attendants, remember that? and car accidents killed 1.25 million people around the world in 2010. I think this is very perceptive, though I think the end of the process is more like 60 years away than 20.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:02 PM on November 6


Sure, and people still use horses for work.

The vehicles, however, will no longer be driven by humans because in 15 to 20 years — at the latest — human-driven vehicles will be legislated off the highways.

The tipping point will come when 20 to 30 percent of vehicles are fully autonomous. Countries will look at the accident statistics and figure out that human drivers are causing 99.9 percent of the accidents.
ROTFL. The USA can't even ban semi automatic hand guns. It took the US 30 to 70 years (depending on whether you want to measure from the first EPA actions or the first actions in the 1920 in recognition that something should be done) to ban lead in gasoline for road vehicles and you can still buy it for non road use.

Bob's vision of a pool of on demand vehicles doesn't really seem to work for my usage. I need my car essentially twice a week for 3 hours of continuous driving. Four days of that week I'm an hour from any sort of town. For 5 months of the year that drive is over three high mountain passes meaning I carry chains in my car along with cold weather supplies (blankets, food, water, clothing) because I could be trapped at some highway rest stop an hour from any sort of civilization for a couple of days if I'm lucky and along the side of the road if I'm not. Not owning my car means I load and unload that equipment every time I call for a car and find someplace to store it at work.

On the other hand one of my grandfather's used to get blind drunk and then let his horse take him home from the bar and he adjusted to owning a car instead of a horse.

Also it pretty much ignores the artisan (in the classic meaning) use of vehicles. You think your plumber, electrician, roofer, timber cruiser, catering company, sewage sucker, photographer, landscaper, or drywaller are just going to call up some random pod every time they need to go some place with their 10Ks of dollars worth of tools, equipment and supplies?

Maybe both those things will become the new normal after the paradigm shift but I really doubt it. Car rental agencies have been around since most people were as likely to commute by horse as by car and they don't account for even a rounding error on miles travelled per year by automobile.

Keith Talent: "Maximum Bob doesn't even hit on the biggest point of the revolution, the complete and total change to the makeup of our cities and suburbs when parking spaces are no longer needed. Virtually overnight everywhere will have a surfeit of land. What happens then? I don't know, outside of the value of commercial land falling off a precipice due the excess of inventory."

I don't see this really. The places with the worst parking problems also tend to have the worst rush "hours" (in quotes 'cause lots of places the hour is 3-4 hours twice a day with a minimum in the middle but still not free flowing). I can't see this being better when cars are travelling not only to the occupant's destination but also to parking facilities at a significant distance from the destination. And then back again 8 hours later.

leotrotsky: "It does when human-driven cars all become prohibitively expensive to insure."

Insurance doesn't work that way; it isn't punitive rather pricing depends on claims. Sure self driving cars may be cheaper to insure in the future but that doesn't make human driven cars more expensive. In fact the latter might get cheaper to insure as well (though not to the extent of self driven cars) if the automated cars managed to avoid accidents that would have otherwise been caused by the human drivers.
posted by Mitheral at 6:15 PM on November 6 [1 favorite]


I wonder if with the added efficiency how many decades of fuel we can reclaim from tar by tearing up the excess, unneeded roads.
posted by Annika Cicada at 6:59 PM on November 6


I was just thinking the other day about how autonomous cars might extend independence for the elderly and disabled. Can't remember how to get to/from the doctors? Your car can? Macular degeneration - it's okay, your car can see fine! Overly rosy, I'm sure, but it got me thinking.

Many of them get ride credits that they use for taxis. For them, the pod cars represent one less contact with a human being, someone to chat with on their way to wherever they are going.
posted by Beholder at 7:33 PM on November 6


I didn't mention before but I actually got to ride in one of the fully autonomous Ubers earlier this year. It uses LIDAR to find the curbs, it doesn't need the painted lines at all (unlike a Tesla).

It was dark and rainy, but the car had no problem staying in its lane and avoiding pedestrians and cyclists.

Two problems: first, when a bus in front of us stopped for a very long time, it was not capable of going around and the Uber engineer in the driver's seat had to take over. Second, we got honked at a few times because even though we were in the middle of the lane, oncoming traffic was creeping into our lane (because it was dark and no one could see the lines).

I think we're more like 5-7 years away from having practical consumer Level 4 cars, but they'll actually be even better than people think they are.
posted by miyabo at 7:51 PM on November 6 [2 favorites]


Many of them [disabled or elderly people] get ride credits that they use for taxis. For them, the pod cars represent one less contact with a human being, someone to chat with on their way to wherever they are going.

This might be the situation elsewhere, and that sounds great!—but I just want to offer another perspective, as a disabled person who can't drive. In the major Canadian cities we don't have ride credits: we have disability-specific bus transit, and it is not convenient or easy, especially for a disabled/elderly person who has to balance a lot of needs.

This is the way it works in my city: since the routes aren't direct—the buses detour to pick up everyone from their homes—it often multiplies the time spent in transit by 2x or 3x (e.g. 90 minutes for what would normally be a 30 minute drive). This might be merely a hassle, but can be devastating for someone like me, who has chronic pain and fatigue and might only have 2-3 hours of energy in a day, total.

Buses are also not guaranteed to be on time, either to pick you up or drop you off; the pickup window is any time within 30 mins, and you must be waiting by the door. You have to book in advance, preferably three days. If you prefer to take a cab, that comes out of your own pocket, it's not covered.

By comparison, requesting a pod car that will arrive on time, drive right to my destination, get me there before my appointment starts, and not require me to chat politely to a taxi driver when I'm getting a migraine? That sounds amazing.

So, selfishly, I'm hoping self-driving cars become a thing during my lifetime; it would give me independence and reduce my isolation significantly. I think it would do the same for a lot of similarly disabled folks.
posted by fire, water, earth, air at 8:52 PM on November 6 [8 favorites]


Nobody sells fully autonomous vehicles today.

Nobody sells fully autonomous vehicles for the open road today: at about 20:30 in this Deutsche Welle documentary published late last year—Robotics - Impacting the workplace—see an operational German shipping container seaport where there are autonomous vehicles somewhat like a flatbed truck with no cab which cranes drop the cargo containers onto as they're offloaded from the ship, which then drive the containers across the port to the next stage of their journey.

So, the impact on the job market has already begun.
posted by XMLicious at 8:56 PM on November 6


I think any argument that super-human driving software is a long way off should address what makes driving more difficult to automate than playing go.

Simulating an entire city of traffic, pedestrians and bizarre obstacles would be feasible for google.
posted by Coventry at 9:13 PM on November 6


You know, Lutz comes across here in that familiar way of an older person who sees the world changing, doesn't like it, and says everything is going to shit.

Here's Jeremy Clarkson (of TopGear fame) reviewing an Aston-Martin V12 Vantage by saying, essentially, "It's wonderful but the world is changing and things are going to be terrible."

Just recently I was listening to a podcast (Autoweek, if you care) and the hosts were talking about the shift to electric cars and how it (somehow) reflects the world losing interest in doing great things.

I've been into cars since I was a very young kid, know some motoring journalists, and I think it's fair to say I watch the industry closer than most people. It's clear to anybody paying attention that things are getting ready to change dramatically. Most every major manufacturer has announced plans to start selling very large numbers of electric cars in the next three to five years. It feels like the last days of absolute dominance and, for the first time, it appears that internal combustion passenger vehicles are about to enter a long decline.

It's possible to take this in a variety of ways. I like to think that there's so, so much cool stuff ahead that I'm excited to see. My primary worry is that I adore classic cars and I worry that, by the time I'll be able to afford some of the ones I'd really like to own, all the support infrastructure will have gone away. But it's also true that I don't make my living being an expert in internal combustion and I don't really base my identity on that.

Lutz is a guy who has based his entire career on a particular era of technology. When that goes away, or even threatens to go away, it tends to make you question things like the value of the things you labored to bring into the world, or to be angry about the things that made your work, and possibly you, obsolete. I'm sympathetic but I like to think I can recognize old man yells at cloud syndrome too.

In the long run it doesn't really matter. The world will almost certainly be better off with transportation systems that are more environmentally friendly, safer, and are usable by a wider variety of people. Cars are cool but we lived without them for an awful long time and there's lots of other cool stuff too.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:27 PM on November 6 [2 favorites]


"I was just thinking the other day about how autonomous cars might extend independence for the elderly and disabled. Can't remember how to get to/from the doctors? Your car can? Macular degeneration - it's okay, your car can see fine! Overly rosy, I'm sure, but it got me thinking."

One of the hard problems of special education is that special ed students have a lot more transit needs, and idiosyncratic transit needs, because there's often one school in the area with an ASL classroom, or a severe-and-profound classroom, or whatever. They may need to go to off-site therapy or medical appointments as part of their routine schoolday. (Also, US education in general has also been trending towards "choice" programs and schools, where kids pick from among several junior highs and high schools in their district that are maybe arts-focused or STEM-focused or IB program or whatever, which also increases transit needs. I'm not 100% convinced this is a long-term trend, but a lot of education experts think it is.)

So when I see autonomous cars, I go "yes!!!!!" because this will solve such a big issue for school districts. A full-size school bus costs around $110,000 (not handicapped accessible) and has a service life of 10-15 years (a few states let you go to 20 years if you can keep passing inspections, but this is madness due to maintenance costs). A short bus with wheelchair access starts at around $85,000. (Again, 10-15 year life.) They GUZZLE diesel -- gas is so expensive for a school district that a lot of even very small districts engage in sophisticated commodity purchase contracts to fix their price for diesel. Many special ed students require a full-time attendant (for medical or behavioral needs), so they may be the ONLY KID riding a short bus with two paid adults (driver and attendant). In some areas, school districts already contract with taxi companies to transport students who are single-student transit or two- or three-student transit. My old district, being the sole large urban district in an area surrounded by rural districts, and so containing the only ASL classroom within a 90-minute radius and the only autism programs and the only severe-and-profound program and so on, had up to 45 short buses arriving from outlying rural districts with ONLY ONE STUDENT ABOARD every day.

You've got a $60,000 autonomous car that can accommodate a wheelchair, run on unleaded gas or even (praise the lord!) electricity? HAVE I GOT SOME INSTITUTIONAL PURCHASERS FOR YOU. Badge 'em like a bus, paint them school bus yellow, pay the attendant to ride with the student (as you have to anyway), and be able to transport SINGLE students for hella cheaper -- on a fixed route, on well-marked AI-able roads. (Or, last mile to the student's house, it can be specifically trained on that driveway or the student can be taken by parents or local school bus to a central pickup point or the attendant can drive the last mile or there are many options.) Even a $100,000 autonomous vehicle that could be used for student transit, because of gas savings due to smaller vehicle and/or ability to hook up to the electrical gird and/or lower salary cost, would potentially be an attractive option for small school districts, when their other option is an $85,000 bus and two adult salaries plus the cost of hauling a big empty bus around.

(Also a totally obvious use case for autonomous cars will be specialized sleeping cars where a cushy SUV-sized pod with a comfy bed inside will come to your house and take you on your 8 or 10 hour road trip while you sleep. Like a Pullman train car! Or the Orient Express! But a car! With cost savings for being on the road in the middle of the night when all the commuters are NOT on the road!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:42 PM on November 6 [10 favorites]


Wait wait... i just realized an unintended advantage of autonomous pods. Does this mean that we can go back to the 1970s bourbon lunch since our designated driver is a sober robot? I mean, a large amount of corporate substance abuse policies have been written with a safety slant. Yes, there is still.a risk of compromised decision making, but traffic accidents related to alcohol should go to a negligible number meaning that there is the ability from a safety perspective to return to the office Christmas party of yore.

What I am really asking is this: is Annhauser-Busch InBev working on a rival Automated Car? Once again... a $900B mega corp could eat this $50B corp, but... there is one hell of a perverse lobbying set that you can get out of automated vehicles.
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:15 PM on November 6 [2 favorites]


before the motor laws.
posted by octobersurprise


First time I had a perspective from Red Barchetta seated in reality.

Time to play the whole catalogue.
posted by filtergik at 3:27 AM on November 7


I doubt bans would come from government, for all the reasons of political cowardice people talk about above.

I think it will happen though, through insurance. The first company to offer driver less discounts will mark the beginning of the end for human drivers. And I think Lutz is right on one thing, when it happens it will be quick, less than a decade.
posted by bonehead at 5:56 AM on November 7


I still find it hard to believe that self driving cars will be 100% safe and easy-peasy THIS quickly.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:17 AM on November 7


The article is predicting things happening a bit too soon, but some of the ideas within are valid.

There are always a lot of replies from people that their [special niche case] means autonomous cars won't work. Most likely there will be a variety of autonomous cars. From the low end taxi-like pods, to pickup trucks where a human driver can take over for offroad use, to high end luxury vehicles. Rich people love their exclusivity, and what will be more exclusive than owning your own, personal luxury car?

It's also not going to happen overnight. As others have said, it will creep into certain industries where it can replace human drivers. In our own personal vehicles it will most likely happen like features creep into new cars today. Cruise control and lane keeping will gradually become autonomous cruise while on the highway. That will eventually gain enough sophistication for the car to drive itself.

I think the timeframe of ~20 years mentioned above is more accurate. I have features in my car today that either didn't exist or were only in luxury cars 20 years ago. I think autonomous driving will first appear as a feature on a car, and gradually will be accepted over a longer period of time.
posted by Fleebnork at 8:10 AM on November 7 [2 favorites]


Waymo has announced driverless taxis in Phoenix. Unlike the ones that are currently running, there won't be an employee in the drivers seat who can easily take over. There will still be an employee in the passenger seat monitoring the car for the time being.
posted by miyabo at 8:14 AM on November 7 [1 favorite]


100% safe and easy-peasy

I have bad news for you about human-driven cars
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 8:31 AM on November 7


There are autonomous vehicles operating in London and DC, delivering takeout. Little six wheeled contraptions that navigates crowded sidewalks to and from the customer's location.

Self driving vehicles aren't coming in the near future. They're already here.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:36 AM on November 7


I used to think that the idea of self-driving cars in my lifetime was laughable. Then google acquired a company and set up google maps in 2005. Twelve years later I can get directions to anywhere on the planet, I can virtually drive damn near anywhere as well. I can walk through museums and hike nature trails, I can even noodle around on various other astronomical bodies.

If Google can do that in one decade, with tech at it's current state I can't imagine we couldn't have cars capable of driving themselves in two.
posted by nushustu at 10:14 AM on November 7


"Twelve years later I can get directions to anywhere on the planet"

Some exceptions to this.... no South Korea, for example!
posted by Grither at 12:55 PM on November 7


I totally disagree with this. Autonomous cars are coming, and the first order effect will be that people will spend more time in their cars. A two-hour commute is brutal now, but if you can eat breakfast, watch the news, and catch up on email, it will be a very attractive option if it means your house can be twice as big for the same price. And everyone else will do that, so traffic will explode. If you're spending 4 hours a day in your car, you'll want it to be as personal as possible- with a desk, coffee machine, maybe an exercise bike, a big TV, a fold out bed. Cars will become extended living spaces. I think it will be very very good for the manufacturers.

Please tell me Winnebago is not going to seize the opportunity to corner the automobile market in this utopian future.

Please.
posted by hexaflexagon at 1:40 PM on November 7


>I will dance on their graves<
It will be a rather large crowd, with booze and good music...
posted by twidget at 2:28 PM on November 7


Kudos for Lutz for getting how fast technology gets adapted when it's only a little bit better or cheaper than the alternative. Self-driving cars fit every regular use for cars better. At least a little bit cheaper to operate, and hugely cheaper for applications where you pay drivers. At least a little bit safer, and hugely safer for tired or tipsy or very young or very old drivers-turned-passengers. At least a little bit faster (for a constant degree of safety) and hugely faster in traffic jams. At least a little bit more convenient, and hugely so for long commutes, etc.
posted by MattD at 5:04 PM on November 7


Time to play the whole catalogue.

celebrate it
posted by thelonius at 5:43 PM on November 7


Everyone in this discussion thread is talking about autonomous self-driving cars, but the article's author is focused on something different: the amalgamation of individual cars into "trains" that can move very rapidly as a unit over longer distances.

This requires some car AI but not as much as self-driving. You have to be able to join and leave the packs as necessary, but that still allows for puttering around town on your own.

Really, his prediction is more like "self-driving highways" -- and since I'm dreading a long interstate trip to California this winter, I say bring it on. THE ROADS MUST ROLL!
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 8:07 PM on November 7




Why of course people will see the light and completely prohibit dangerous, expensive, dirty products once the need for them has been eliminated, just as we have done with guns, smoking and booze.

Should I live to 2050 (I won't, baring some other as-yet-unseen breakthrough) there will certainly be 'autonomous only' lanes, but I'll bet good money that in the US at least, due to some lobbyist or pressure groups efforts, I'll still be able to disengage the AI and drive like an idiot like god and John Wayne intended.
posted by kjs3 at 1:49 PM on November 8


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