Humans Need Not Apply
February 1, 2015 3:46 PM   Subscribe

Full of assumptions, still thought-provoking article about self-driving cars by writer Zach Kanter, How Uber’s Autonomous Cars Will Destroy 10 Million Jobs and Reshape the Economy by 2025.

Plus, The Robot Revolution by CGP Grey. Found in the two thoughtful reddit threads about the article.
posted by growabrain (193 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ooops, I meant to link to this third thread... Oh well
posted by growabrain at 3:48 PM on February 1, 2015


... And saving 30,000 lives per year in the process.
posted by leotrotsky at 3:53 PM on February 1, 2015 [19 favorites]


A near monopoly inside 15 years? I would take that bet in a heartbeat. Last I heard they still can't even drive in the rain.
posted by Justinian at 3:56 PM on February 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


Oh yeah, the idea that the vehicle fleet would drop by 90+% that quickly is absurd. It's true that cars spend most of their time parked but there's no particular reason to think that people wouldn't simply buy one of these cars and keep it parked most of the time. I think it's crazy naive to think that just because cars can drive themselves people will decide they don't need a car.

There's some magic step there I'm not getting.
posted by Justinian at 3:58 PM on February 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


Very interesting take.

Will autonomous vehicles completely transform the economy and the urban experience? For sure. But the idea that it will happen in the next 20 years (or even 30-40 years) is laughable.

By 2060-2070? Sure!

Though even by then there will still be a market for self-drive vehicles. So long as I can afford it I will always want to own a nice car of my own with a manual transmission and some decent horsepower. I don't think that will become a luxury product any time soon. For people like me with long commutes, or people who enjoy travel on the road (I greatly prefer driving to flying), cars will be in demand.

Very interesting read though!
posted by Old Man McKay at 4:02 PM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm not so sure it's laughable. Positioned as Elite Public Transit and I could see this taking off in a big way.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:06 PM on February 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


*begins whittling Sabots*

Just kidding. The chances of Uber's criminal operation continuing for 10 years are highly unlikely. I look forward to less-regulation-flouting companies running autonomous vehicles that aren't recklessly endangering and comply with actual laws.
posted by figurant at 4:06 PM on February 1, 2015 [9 favorites]


It's true that cars spend most of their time parked but there's no particular reason to think that people wouldn't simply buy one of these cars and keep it parked most of the time. I think it's crazy naive to think that just because cars can drive themselves people will decide they don't need a car.
I think you're underestimated how many people live in dense metro areas where owning a car is more of a burden than a convenience. A 90% drop overnight probably won't happen, no, but I do think sophisticated self-driving cars (which won't be "cars" in the conventional sense, in the same way that modern cars aren't "horseless carriages") will allow for greater Manhattanization of urban areas where it already sucks to have a car. There is definitely a market in dense, expensive, traffic-heavy metro areas.
posted by deathpanels at 4:08 PM on February 1, 2015 [10 favorites]


Job losses from self-driving cars is just a small part of the story, of course.

An Oxford research paper suggests that close to half of all current jobs may be lost to automation in the next 20 years.
posted by dontjumplarry at 4:08 PM on February 1, 2015 [16 favorites]


I think you're underestimated how many people live in dense metro areas where owning a car is more of a burden than a convenience.

I think there are some but I don't think it's 40% of the population much less 90+%. There are plenty of cities where owning a car is either necessary or at least desirable.
posted by Justinian at 4:10 PM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Don't forget all the vested interests (you know, the ones that own the political process) that will be fighting this tooth and nail. You don't destroy industrial sectors and profits without a bit of a kerfuffle...
posted by jim in austin at 4:14 PM on February 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


And if you can have the same door-to-door car service for a fraction of the cost of a car, you're going to see a whole lot fewer people seeing car ownership as necessary or desirable.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:14 PM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


This article is ridiculous. Of course Uber won't have a fleet of autonomous vehicles in 2025. Owning a fleet of autonomous vehicles means you have to invest in equipment, perform regular maintenance, and take overall responsibility and liability for those vehicles and the service they provide, and all those things are completely antithetical to Uber's business ethos.

The most likely scenario is they'll continue to connect riders with 3rd party independent contractors who provide autonomous vehicle services because disruption.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:15 PM on February 1, 2015 [50 favorites]


Frankly I'm surprised Uber hasn't been shut down for being a criminal enterprise. You can't aren't supposed to run what amounts to a taxi service without complying with laws regulating taxi service. All the autonomous vehicles in the world won't change that.
posted by Justinian at 4:16 PM on February 1, 2015 [31 favorites]


I can see it happening, and I think it's safe to bet on sooner rather than later. For most people, the cost of owning a car is an enormous monthly expense, and below a certain income level you're just sort of driving one broken piece of shit until it breaks and then taking out an extortion-like loan to buy another piece of shit. A lot of people drive without insurance because public transportation is so miserable as to be unusable, and they're one accident away from bankruptcy and maybe jail.

There are a lot of people who would ditch cars the moment something else became viable. I already have, and it's a pain in the ass, but the benefits of not owning a car outweigh the convenience of owning one, and I live in one of those cities where it is both easier and sometimes necessary to have a car.
posted by maxsparber at 4:19 PM on February 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


I don't believe that autonomous cars will destroy existing forms of public transport. Although some edges cases, such as rural buses, may be replaced, urban buses, trams, metros, trains, and so on, all have different use profiles than cars. For example, the relative speed and capacity of trains will be hard to replicate with any kind of car.

However, I can well see private car ownership dropping like a stone when autonomous cars become freely available.
posted by Thing at 4:23 PM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Most people do not own a car or truck. Ownership rates are in decline. Most millenials do not care about vehicle ownership. Cars cost about $10K a year to own and operate. Most people would rather do something more useful with that money. And cost of living is outpacing income increases, putting vehicle ownership even further out of reach. The final nail in non-autonomous vehicles will be skyrocketing insurance costs.

Autonomous vehicles are going to take the market as quickly as smartphones destroyed the flipphone market, or that CDs destroyed vinyl.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:24 PM on February 1, 2015 [13 favorites]


There's a lot of people who being relieved of the need to park their car would be a major bonus. Imagine paying a small fee (or having a subscription!) where you can have a car brought around to pick you up and drop you off at work. I think a lot of people would gladly lose paying for a car every 5-10 years and repairs just to be taken places and picked up on time. Imagine being able to send a car for someone, too, so you don't have to pick someone up at the airport at 3 am.

I'm not talking about the technological capabilities, of course, only the fact that many people would jump on it. A family may have one conventional car for axillary stuff, but day to day? This would be a great thing.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 4:27 PM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Sure cars are idle 90% of the time, but that other 10% is pretty much simultaneous.
posted by one_bean at 4:27 PM on February 1, 2015 [16 favorites]


I was being a little facetious with my last comment, but I can see a world where all cars are autonomous and Uber profits mightily with their current business model. Ridesharing becomes much easier when you don't even have to be in the car driving.

And of course everyone participating in this will have to get their own insurance and be responsible for keeping the car clean and in operating condition because Uber's a worthless parasite that's exploiting contract law to their own advantage.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:29 PM on February 1, 2015


Job losses from self-driving cars is just a small part of the story, of course.

Not to the people who lose their jobs. I think that should always be the lead when discussing these "marvelous" new technologies that are going to "improve" our society. What we are witnessing, we have witnessed before, the consolidation of wealth and the working class seeing their non minimum wage job options dwindle even further.
posted by Beholder at 4:31 PM on February 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


Morgan Stanley’s research shows that cars are driven just 4% of the time...The effects of the autonomous car movement will be staggering. PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts that the number of vehicles on the road will be reduced by 99%

Hmm, how can both of those numbers be correct? Surely if cars are driven 4% of the time, the maximum reduction of vehicles on the road would be 96%? Which sounds similar to 99% but in fact it is a four-fold difference in the number of cars.
posted by jcreigh at 4:31 PM on February 1, 2015


So, zero chance of unintended negative consequences if we adopt this really quickly? I don't think we can even imagine what such a large scale change is actually going to do to us, in terms of the full practical impacts, but I'm pretty sure it's coming either way, so we'll see.
posted by saulgoodman at 4:32 PM on February 1, 2015


Most people do not own a car or truck

Uh. If you mean "most people on the planet" that's kinda a trivial statement. If you mean "most adults in America/Canada" I believe you are incorrect.
posted by Justinian at 4:33 PM on February 1, 2015 [15 favorites]


90% is ludicrous. Unless there's some huge jump in the technology in the next couple years everyone who lives where it snows or needs to drive on dirt roads or pulls a trailer is going to need a normal car or truck. Urban people are not all people

There's a lot more to driving than going to work in the city.
posted by fshgrl at 4:38 PM on February 1, 2015 [8 favorites]


I think eventually 90% will certainly be capable of autonomous driving. You can still drive autonomous cars manually, after all. They are "normal cars".
posted by Justinian at 4:39 PM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Uber angle is an unnecessary derail, but I'm definitely onboard with the idea that autonomous vehicles are going to be widespread in just a few years, much faster than it may seem, because once you can have the convenience of transit anywhere anytime for less than the cost of private ownership, people are going to be leaving their personal cars behind in huge numbers, only hobbyists will care to own a car rather than get a slot as-needed by app.
posted by odinsdream at 4:43 PM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


There's still no way you're going to pick some random fleet car and hope it gets you into the mountains in the snow or pulls a heavy trailer. You have no way of knowing how it's been maintained, it would be lunacy. And you need speciality gear on the car/truck like snow tires or a tow package. What if you want to go backpacking and leave the car at a remote trailhead for 10 days? Will dogs be allowed? Can you sleep in it? What about emergency winter supplies that most people keep in their vehicles?

I bike to work, my car is for getting out of town. I really dont see a zip car like replacement and I've used zip cars quite a bit.

If they said 90% of commuting or urban driving in places with good weather and accurate Google maps, ok maybe. But they will need to solve the rain thing pretty fast.
posted by fshgrl at 4:44 PM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I bike to work, my car is for getting out of town

That probably puts you in a fragment of the car-owning population that is much, much smaller than 10%.
posted by yoink at 4:53 PM on February 1, 2015 [14 favorites]


Factor in that most Boomers will be more than happy to adopt this trend, not least so they don't have to pay insurance costs that increase as they age. Whether 90-year-olds can keep their licenses will be moot.
- I belonged to one of the first carsharing deals in the 00's, and you had to pay a monthly subscription, plus they would not let you take animals in the car, and encouraged people to snitch on each other.
- Uber is not all that relevant. My bet is that, given reports of their ethos, they will fold eventually, and a smarter company will emerge in their place.
posted by mmiddle at 4:54 PM on February 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


Whether 90-year-olds can keep their licenses will be moot.

I don't think that will prove to be true. It will and should be a legal requirement that someone with a valid license be seated in the driver's seat at all times while the autonomous vehicle is in operation. If you don't have a driver's license you can't be the sole operator of an autonomous car.
posted by Justinian at 4:56 PM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


90% is ludicrous. Everyone who lives where it snows or needs to drive on dirt roads is going to need a normal car.

Meh. Sounds like a software problem. I don't think it'll be a stretch to imagine computers that are better than humans in dealing with adverse weather conditions. I say this speaking as someone who was a passenger in a vehicle with moderate snow coming down today.

Not to the people who lose their jobs. I think that should always be the lead when discussing these "marvelous" new technologies that are going to "improve" our society.

I think our economic model (have a job, or go without) is more of a problem than anything else. Increased automation, efficiency of manufacturing, robotizing all sorts of processes (including hopefully fastfood) are threatening a ton of (largely undesirably, often dangerous) jobs. Guaranteed income will need to be part of the global conversation soon.

Cabbies like certain aspects of their jobs (setting their own hours, being their own bosses), but it's an economically fraught job (you might not make a living wage today, like uber you are often an independent contractor). Many people are driving a cab because of necessity, not because they want the job (similar to other jobs that increased automation may threaten - factory jobs, fast food jobs).

Public employment might be a stop-gap solution to the underemployment problem (yay, more infrastructure, maybe even publicly funded art again), but it's not a long term solution.

There will be other interesting problems that guaranteed income will bring (sense of self worth, keeping people meaningfully busy, etc), but we need to start having that conversation now.

For obvious reasons, America won't be a leader in this area though (shit, the US can barely convince it's population to give medical care to the desperate); the rest of the world needs to step up to the plate. Probably not Canada though, as long as Harper is in power.

But self driving cars as an inevitable disrupter of the economy - yup, this is going to happen; in our lifetimes.
posted by el io at 4:59 PM on February 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


If you don't have a driver's license you can't be the sole operator of an autonomous car

I suspect that in 20 years' time that will sound like "but of course it would be absurd to allow an automobile on the road without a man running ahead with a red flag."
posted by yoink at 5:02 PM on February 1, 2015 [31 favorites]


Obviously I don't agree with that analogy. I think you'll be required to be able to operate your car manually for the foreseeable future. Too much potential for problems otherwise.
posted by Justinian at 5:04 PM on February 1, 2015


When you need a truck to get to a trailhead in the mountains, you rent it or pay an enterprising local to drive you there. As long as it's <$10K a year, you come out ahead.

The change is going to be lightening fast. No one is going to turn their nose up at saving a fifth to a third of their post-tax income on driving.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:08 PM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think what we're seeing here is an illustration that Metafilter's userbase is not exactly representative of the NA population as a whole, and is much more likely than the average to be part of a demographic that could get by without owning a car.
posted by Justinian at 5:11 PM on February 1, 2015 [44 favorites]


And let me repeat: insurance rates on drivers are going to skyrocket. Driving is the single most dangerous, costly activity we take part in. In a sea of self-driving cars, you will be the most hazardous thing out there, by orders of magnitude. Insurance companies will take you to the cleaners, and rightly so.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:12 PM on February 1, 2015 [19 favorites]


There is an intrinsic good in reducing the need for human labor through automation, Beholder. Ain't hard to divide the remaining work out thinner by shortening the workweek. It's human employers, politicians, voters, etc. who choose to create unemployment, inequality, suffering, not the technology or the humans who invented it.

There are progressively more people who already "pick some random fleet car" for exactly those purposes, fshgrl, precisely because they can choose a fleet car designed for the specific role. And the car sharing company handles your insurance with their fleet insurance too.

Autonomous cars that drive themselves while completely empty help the car sharing company rearrange their stock, Justinian. If they need a "driver", then car sharing companies must mix customer social classes. I donno if the rich lady with a lotus being dropped off at her door really wants some punk with a mohawk behind the wheel, just because he was going to work as her neighbor's gardener.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:12 PM on February 1, 2015


I think one_bean's point up above is fairly important: autonomous cars will not reduce the overall number of cars on the road during rush hour, and thus unless more people move towards using mass transit exclusively or non-traditional work hours (admittedly both likely to happen to some degree), there's no way you'll see a 90% reduction in the number of cars total.
posted by thegears at 5:13 PM on February 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


Autonomous carpools can reduce the number during rush hour significantly, thegears, maybe not literally by 90%, but with more flexible hours, more working from home, reduced work week, etc.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:16 PM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think you'll be required to be able to operate your car manually for the foreseeable future.

Well, we'll see; and obviously we can't decide the issue at this point. There will certainly, initially, be a profound reluctance on the part of legislators to allow autonomous vehicles on the road with no licensed driver in them. My personal bet, though, is that once the (inevitable) early glitches have been overcome the cars will be be so staggeringly safer than human-piloted vehicles that such rules will come to seem absurdly antiquated.

On those occasions when, for whatever reason, the system breaks down, people will do precisely what they do now when the freeway gets blocked: sit and fume until someone fixes the problem. If it's just the sensors/receivers in your own car that die the system you rent from will send along a substitute car automagically.

I guess readers of Metafilter in 2035 will look back on this thread and laugh at at least one of us. Probably both.
posted by yoink at 5:17 PM on February 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think what we're seeing here is an illustration that Metafilter's userbase is not exactly representative of the NA population as a whole, and is much more likely than the average to be part of a demographic that could get by without owning a car.

No kidding.

I can see a world where all cars are autonomous

It will never be literally "all" -- all of our vehicles get used offroad and to drive in to those areas on unimproved, high-clearance "roads" (best case examples are Forest Service roads, but mostly they are abandoned farm and logging roads, or access roads we build ourselves). And like fshgrl says, add inclement weather and towing to that as well. The autonomous cars will work great for the majority of drivers in most situations, of course, but I wouldn't underestimate how many businesses (and government agency workers) require driving in those situations -- it may be a small percentage of the total miles driven by those people, but those few miles are critical to getting things done.

But for the majority of commuting and errand running and so on, autonomous vehicles will be great, as well as for semi trucks (at least on the highway, if not for the final bit of finding and negotiating the delivery, which will still need a human driver for the foreseeable future). And autonomous systems would need to be a lot more robust than they are now to function well in winter/mountain driving, for example, but I am sure they will get there eventually.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:18 PM on February 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


If there are autonomous cars, enough for Uber to "destroy" 10 million jobs ...

... there will be three times as many jobs created just to build and service these cars, as well as to change the infrastructure in cities.

In other words, this article is a giant heap of horseshit without a lick of real thinking. This is fucking trolling, pure and simple.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:37 PM on February 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


This isn't a problem with Uber. This is a problem with our current economic system. If we think of things as "bad" because of how many jobs they will destroy then we can never innovate or improve our efficiency in things because that will destroy jobs. Curing cancer, coming up with automated ways to deal with hard labour, will all put people out of a job. The problem that should be addressed is that our economic system can't handle that. Don't attack the innovation.
posted by I-baLL at 5:38 PM on February 1, 2015 [12 favorites]


It seems like fleets of autonomous cars suffer from the same problem as electric cars in this regard. They can't meet 100% of many peoples goals (outdoor activities in undeveloped areas, special needs like towing or mounting a sled deck, smoking in cars, privacy (an Uber set up will pretty well always have live tracking), business use (all those plumbers and electricians still need to carry there tools everyday) etc. ad nauseum. All these people need dedicated vehicles. And then once you have invested the fixed monthly costs the usuage fees are very low so why not use your own car.

five fresh fish: "No one is going to turn their nose up at saving a fifth to a third of their post-tax income on driving."

I can't imagine the Rolling coal types, hot rodders, Fast and the Furious crowds, etc are going to just give up cars. These people all see cars as an end not a means to an end.

And then there is the cost. I've been working three weeks out of every four away from home. So my car sits 3/4s of the time and I only use it for non commuting tasks. It's still cheaper for me to own a car than it would be to rent as needed. I'm sure if you live in some urban area and rarely venture outside city limits this sort of service would work great but that doesn;t describe way more than 10% of the population.
posted by Mitheral at 5:40 PM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Automated cars would require almost unthinkably widespread changes to every area of the transport network. To think that this will occur in the next ten years is pretty optimistic at best. Sure wish it would though, I think personal vehicle ownership is the shittiest shitty thing to ever shit a shit.

As far as making it unattractive to own a vehicle goes, people already pay absolutely ridiculous amounts of money to own, insure and fuel enormously expensive vehicles simply as a status symbol. Until it is literally illegal to own an extended cab dually diesel with a lift kit, stacks and a smoke-programmed chip, there will always be countless idiots willing to pay any price to own one. Vehicles are a ridiculous stupid status symbol, and they are very heavily entrenched in (Canadian, small city/rural) society.

I can't imagine what, say, Grande Prairie would look like without 50% of vehicles being 3/4 ton trucks used strictly as grocery getters.

My former employer had two amazing dudes working there. One bragged that he paid more for his truck than his home, and living in a trailer, he was probably speaking true. The other surveyed the office when he transferred here and made sure his truck cost more than anyone else's before he bought it. I am not making this up. Lonnie and Greg, this one's for you.

Safety wise, hell yeah let's bring on the automated cars. I've seen a shit lot of accidents in my life and maybe, maybe 5% of them were not the result of operator error/failure. People like my father will never trust a computer to drive their car though. Hell he won't put his sport ute into AWD in winter because he thinks he can react faster than the traction control computer and press the 4WD button when he needs it.
posted by Sternmeyer at 5:43 PM on February 1, 2015 [8 favorites]


Curing cancer ... will all put people out of a job. The problem that should be addressed is that our economic system can't handle that.

This is the same bad thinking, sorry.

If you cured cancer, there would suddenly be millions of new people, people that didn't die, who will be around to buy things, and we will need to employ people to build the things they will want to buy.

You know, when cars came around, all the people that cared for horses ... started building cars. Where did Detroit come from, anyway?

This is how economics works. The system doesn't need to change because it already knows how to do this.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:45 PM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Futurama 1939
posted by clavdivs at 5:49 PM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell: "Where did Detroit come from, anyway? "

Bicycle builders for the most part.
posted by Mitheral at 5:49 PM on February 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


Uber may or may not be a key participant in the driverless car move. But its amazing success altering consumer behavior and brushing aside regulatory obstacles will certainly be replicated.

The death of public transit is one of the under-heralded impacts. Almost everyone in my suburb drives to station and rides the train to the city. Almost none will ride the train once you can spend your morning drive on your tablet and it takes 30 minutes door to door because automated traffic is 70 MPH.
posted by MattD at 5:58 PM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you don't have a driver's license you can't be the sole operator of an autonomous car.

I dunno, I figure a majority adoption of autonomous cars is basically going to turn them into something more like the lovechild of an elevator and a ZipCar. Get in, push button, stare out window/read book/whatever until you arrive. I hope I'm around to see that day really take hold, because it's going to have a massive impact on urban design. I stipulate that there is going to be a point at which population density + offroad/bad road use is going to make autonomous cars useless in wild/countryside areas, and normal-driving would be necessary in some urban contexts too, probably. Conventionally-drivable cars are still going to be around forever.

As for concerns about emergency supplies etc, I'd think different models of cars would still be produced for different purposes. So through the winter in Vermont or something they'd carry winter emergency kits. I dunno.

Although I just realized I think some of us are conflating 'autonomous' and 'time-shared.' I'm quite sure there will be lots of privately-owned fully autonomous cars and they'll be a status symbol. I also think a large number of people will switch from public transit to a time-shared/on-demand model and overall private car ownerships will go down by a hell of a lot--and that will be less and less of a decrease the further you get from urban centres. That said, even if you live in a small town and drive elsewhere for work, it's pretty likely that you're not doing much driving that's out of the ordinary, so an autonomous car could still easily work: home, grocery store, work, vet, movie theatre, rodeo massage school, whatever. Along with no stress about that asshat tailgating you for the past 20 miles. Sharing a car might not make sense (although group sharing--3 cars between two families, say--might make sense), but autonomy still does.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:00 PM on February 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


"If you cured cancer, there would suddenly be millions of new people, people that didn't die, who will be around to buy things, and we will need to employ people to build the things they will want to buy." (emphasis mine)

Uh, no, mass production of goods is already becoming more and more automated.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/10/28/us-china-robots-idUSKBN0IH28O20141028

China has a huge robot boom right now and they're being used to wholly automate factories.

Labour is being automated out. I actually think this is a good thing but we need to fix our economic systems to be able to handle that.
posted by I-baLL at 6:11 PM on February 1, 2015 [10 favorites]


Frankly I'm surprised Uber hasn't been shut down for being a criminal enterprise. You can't aren't supposed to run what amounts to a taxi service without complying with laws regulating taxi service. All the autonomous vehicles in the world won't change that.

Uber made sure they were on the right side of the right politicians almost right away. The only places they have struggled are the few places where the officials are less corrupt.
posted by srboisvert at 6:22 PM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


80% of Americans live in cities. Urban areas have also been getting more, er, urban in the last few decades and that trend will likely continue as younger people tend to relocate to urban centers.

Personally I have little desire at all to own a car. Having a car doesn't mean freedom to me, it means huge amounts of money I can't spend on travel, food, clothes, or housing. Yes, there are some things I'd like to do that require a car, like getting to camping and hiking locations , but I am highly reluctant to buy one just for that purpose. I'm thirty and I think this is a generational thing. My parents are completely baffled by my carlessness, but the last time they lived in the city was 1980. They don't have to drive in modern traffic, paying $20/hour to park in some parts of downtown. Watching huge piles of traffic slug its way down the interstate at rush hour gives me a panic attack.

But I would totally pay for robots to drive me to the grocery store and back. Sign me up for the future, please!
posted by deathpanels at 6:32 PM on February 1, 2015 [9 favorites]


Urban areas as defined by that article seems to conflate more with Metropolitan areas than true urban cores. Remember, a lot of those areas still contain things like housing developments that are specifically designed to prevent mass transit and people passing through easily.
posted by Ferreous at 6:40 PM on February 1, 2015


Driving is the single most dangerous, costly activity we take part in. In a sea of self-driving cars, you will be the most hazardous thing out there, by orders of magnitude.

Self-driving cars are also safer for the drivers of other cars. So while I think you're partially right (the insurance market will focus on the remaining drivers) you're ignoring the other side: driving will become much safer.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:42 PM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


There's still going to be a need to insure the self driving cars. That burden will be passed onto the consumer. Cars still have physical limits to what they can do, they need X feet to stop at Y speed, things can still end up in front of cars that are closer than X. While it may be safer, it's not like lawsuits aren't going to be a major factor when a car managed and serviced by a company kills someone.
posted by Ferreous at 6:50 PM on February 1, 2015


If there are autonomous cars, enough for Uber to "destroy" 10 million jobs ...

... there will be three times as many jobs created just to build and service these cars, as well as to change the infrastructure in cities.

In other words, this article is a giant heap of horseshit without a lick of real thinking.


Ironic, since you pulled that "factoid" completely out of your ass.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:51 PM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Uber may or may not be a key participant in the driverless car move. But its amazing success altering consumer behavior and brushing aside regulatory obstacles will certainly be replicated.

What, like bicycle theft?
posted by figurant at 6:55 PM on February 1, 2015


Bicycle builders for the most part.

Actually, they were buggy and carriage manufacturers.

Before cars, Detroit's biggest industry was pharmaceuticals. In some parts of it, this is still true, if you count the unregulated ones.
posted by disclaimer at 7:05 PM on February 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


Having a car doesn't mean freedom to me, it means huge amounts of money I can't spend on travel, food, clothes, or housing

As has been noted, even if cars are autonomous that doesn't mean they won't be privately owned. I'd pay extra for a self-driving car, simply for the pleasure of being able to take naps on long highway drives (you know, the kind of trips that should be done in high speed trains, but of course we don't have those in the US). Whereas for going out drinking on the town, an autonomous Uber-equivalent would be fantastic -- both options will be in demand, but it's not going to be just one or the other.

Urban areas as defined by that article seems to conflate more with Metropolitan areas than true urban cores. Remember, a lot of those areas still contain things like housing developments that are specifically designed to prevent mass transit and people passing through easily.

To my eyes that's an argument for autonomous cars (either privately owned or rented) rather than hoping those people are going to suddenly start wanting to ride buses. We've built an urban form that demands private vehicles, but it doesn't demand that those vehicles be driven by a person.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:08 PM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think private cars will have an autonomous mode and a manual mode. The driver will pick the mode according to conditions and/or if they want to drive or not.
posted by disclaimer at 7:11 PM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I'd take the option of switching to autopilot right now for dense city driving and the occasional interstate nap, if I could switch back to manual operation on open two lanes through the Maine woods, endless farm-to-market straightaways through West Texas, the Sea to Sky Highway in British Columbia, the 101 down the west coast, and a few other places where to be in command of a responsive, well-engineered car that answers promptly to manual inputs is not a chore, it is like dancing.

I'm old. By the time this shit comes fully down I'll probably be ready for it if I'm still alive. But I'm going to stash a Miata in a garage somewhere I can reach by automagic carpet ride on the outskirts of town.
posted by spitbull at 7:23 PM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


As a motorcyclist (who sold his car a decade ago and never looked back), I'm curious to see how this shapes up for me and my ilk.
posted by Time To Sharpen Our Knives at 7:29 PM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think you'll be required to be able to operate your car manually for the foreseeable future. Too much potential for problems otherwise.

It may be that you just aren't aware of how much this technology has advanced in even the last few months. Google's project has already resulted in a fully autonomous vehicle that is able to work in completely real-world conditions, and is a much, much better driver than pretty much any human. Nobody has to sit next to the wheel to help it out. It is flat-out insanely good already.

By the time this has made it to the point where you can actually buy this service as a regular person (and yes, it will be a service, not your own personal car that you stick in your driveway for no goddamn reason), it will absolutely be as a passenger. That's the whole point. Call a car on an app because you need to go to the store. It shows up a minute later to take you where you want to go.
posted by odinsdream at 7:31 PM on February 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


In 57 years I've never owned a car. I've never even had a driver's license. An' I have my druthers, I never will.

I see mention of Uber in the FPP article as a distraction. The article is very much centred on the US. That's fine, but the US may not actually be the driver that determines how the world moves in years to come.

When in China, I was nearly run down several times by electric two-wheelers. Arguably, as Chinese become more prosperous they may upgrade their transport to 4 wheels. I'm not bringing electric vehicles in as a derail, but because they provide an example of how the US is actually already a follower, not a leader in adoption of new transport technology. Electric bikes in 2012: China 28 million, Western Europe 780,000, USA 105,000. Projected to 2018: China 42 million, Western Europe 1.5 million, USA 342,000. China also lacks the idiological and historical addiction to private ownership of vehicles. It's not hard to see Chinese and Indian adoption of shared low-cost, low-impact autonomous vehicles shaping the future of road transport.

On the impact of such vehicles on e.g. rush hour, remember that most roads run both ways. An autonomous car need not sit in a car park all day waiting for you to finish work. Although the inbound lanes may be clogged during rush hour, the outbound lanes are mostly clear. An autonomous vehicle can use that feature to run back out to the suburbs to fetch another worker. At present most cars fetch one person into the city in the morning and take them out again in the afternoon, but in the future one vehicle may fetch three or four people in and carry a different three or four back out. Simply reducing traffic volume to one third of current peak - a modest achievement, surely - would reduce travel times significantly.

I agree with disclaimer above that many models of autonomous vehicle, especially early on, will be switchable to manual mode, just as automatic transmissions did not drive manual transmissions out of existence. These will cover many of the edge cases where people need to occasionally go places "off the grid" (out to remote trailheads, to camps, and so on).

As for rev-heads, the automobile did not instantly kill off use of coaches and horses for people who liked such things. But those people could not stand in the way of mass adoption of the automobile.
posted by Autumn Leaf at 7:31 PM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


I do not wish to stand in the way, but I do not intend to go along for the ride.

Besides, climate change means more boats. I'm ok with driving a boat.
posted by spitbull at 7:44 PM on February 1, 2015


five fresh fish: Most people do not own a car or truck. Ownership rates are in decline. Most millenials do not care about vehicle ownership. Cars cost about $10K a year to own and operate. Most people would rather do something more useful with that money. And cost of living is outpacing income increases, putting vehicle ownership even further out of reach. The final nail in non-autonomous vehicles will be skyrocketing insurance costs.

Autonomous vehicles are going to take the market as quickly as smartphones destroyed the flipphone market, or that CDs destroyed vinyl.


Why do you think it'll be cheaper to have the service of a self-driving vehicle than it will be to own and pay for one now? It still burns gas and will still require upkeep that will be passed on to the customer. There will be a slight cost reduction because there won't need to be so many cars, but they'll also be much more complicated and more expensive, so that might balance out. Insurance will be less of an issue, but some aspects of it (such as protection from theft and vandalism) won't go away and some liability coverage will still be necessary.

Also, car ownership doesn't cost $10k a year unless you use it a lot (in case you'd spend a lot of whatever replaces it, too), you have a really bad driving record, you have to pay a fortune for parking or storage, or you keep up a very nice car. You certainly can do it for cheaper if you want to or need to.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:46 PM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm ok with driving a boat.

Compared to a car, robot boats are a piece of cake.
posted by odinsdream at 7:46 PM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


They'll come for you and yours next, spitbull.
posted by Time To Sharpen Our Knives at 7:47 PM on February 1, 2015


"YOU ARE IN VIOLATION!"
posted by clavdivs at 7:50 PM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


By the time this has made it to the point where you can actually buy this service as a regular person (and yes, it will be a service, not your own personal car that you stick in your driveway for no goddamn reason),

I'm just guessing, but I'd think that buying will make sense in the same low-density areas where buying a car makes sense currently, and the renting/Uber version will make sense in the high density urban cores where no one with any sense wants to deal with parking and where the density means that you can summon a car and it will show up in just a few minutes.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:53 PM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


It still burns gas and will still require upkeep that will be passed on to the customer.

We have a Leaf, which is an all-electric car. The only problem with this kind of car is the limited range. Even though most people don't drive beyond its 90 mile range in a day, it's still a bit of an inconvenience to charge it. If I had dozens of these stationed everywhere in the city and could cycle through them, this problem would go away completely. By having automated, networked EV cars in a fleet, you could even have smaller batteries to reduce cost and weight without adverse impact because you could centrally deploy them and route them intelligently. Instead of needing to facilitate one person's whole day of driving, you just need enough to get them from one stop to the next, then go charge somewhere for awhile.
posted by odinsdream at 7:53 PM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think private cars will have an autonomous mode and a manual mode.

Of course they will to begin with, but insurance premiums will kill off that option pretty quickly. Eventually it will be illegal to drive an old manual mode car on a public road. Also these cars will be unimaginably safer in off-road driving and bad weather.
posted by bhnyc at 8:06 PM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


> Also, car ownership doesn't cost $10k a year unless you use it a lot (in case you'd spend a lot of whatever replaces it, too), you have a really bad driving record, you have to pay a fortune for parking or storage, or you keep up a very nice car. You certainly can do it for cheaper if you want to or need to.

That turns out not to be the case. Unless you want to split hairs and argue that "over $9,000 per year median cost for a mid-size car" is what you really meant by "doesn't cost $10K".

Nor is it a binary comparison based on the assumption that everyone drives their car in to the centre. Even in low-density Melbourne, many people currently save money by driving their cars to their nearest train station and taking the train to work - if nothing else because the cost of their daily public transport is less than the cost of CBD parking!
posted by Autumn Leaf at 8:09 PM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Though even by then there will still be a market for self-drive vehicles. So long as I can afford it I will always want to own a nice car of my own with a manual transmission and some decent horsepower. I don't think that will become a luxury product any time soon.

Anyone who believes that insurance wont be offensively expensive for "manual" cars when self driving cars are licensed and in reliable use is delusional.

Think about it, it's almost pointless to even insure automatic cars once they've been around for a few years. you'll probably carry some super limited version of liability. Whereas just the liability for a manual car, with you driving it that can't react in an instant to say someone stepping out from behind a parked box truck is now comparatively MASSIVE.

And speaking of massive, i can foresee a huge incentive program way bigger than cash for clunkers to get people to trade in cars newer than say 20-30 years old for self driving cars, heavily subsidized(by the government AND insurance companies).

My prediction for a while has been that it will only make sense for cars that are older, or otherwise noteworthy/interesting. And it'll likely be super expensive or even difficult to get insurance unless you can prove it's not your primary car.

I can also see there being way, way less tolerance for minor ticket-able violations.


Now, owning a motorcycle will likely still be cheap and fucking rule because robots aren't going to kill you. I can see that getting way, way more popular as the everymans way to own and operate a manual vehicle.
posted by emptythought at 8:12 PM on February 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


That turns out not to be the case.

According to that Consumer Reports article, about half of that $9000 cost is depreciation. In other words, if you buy a $30,000 car, it loses about $5000 of value every year. I think most people don't think of that as part of their yearly expenses, they think of it as money they've already spent. If you do decide to think of the car as free, and its purchase price as smeared out over the car's life as a yearly expense, then cars get much cheaper to operate as they get older. Their $9,100 year calculation is based on owning the car five years. Cars nowadays are made really well. When was the last time you heard of somebody trading in a car after five years? The average age of a car now on the road is 11 years. Ours are 14 and 20 and there's no reason to think they're crapping out anytime soon.

None of which car cheerleading is meant to deny my enthusiasm for the day when a robocar will just come and pick me up and take me wherever I want to go.
posted by escabeche at 8:19 PM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Autumn Leaf: That turns out not to be the case. Unless you want to split hairs and argue that "over $9,000 per year median cost for a mid-size car" is what you really meant by "doesn't cost $10K".

Well, perhaps I didn't state it well. I meant that it didn't have to cost $10k. People spend way more on their vehicles than they have to (mostly by buying nicer cars and replacing them more often than they need to). But people could spend less if they really considered them to be an unnecessary expense, not something they actually liked and wanted.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:19 PM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Whether 90-year-olds can keep their licenses will be moot.

I don't think that will prove to be true. It will and should be a legal requirement that someone with a valid license be seated in the driver's seat at all times while the autonomous vehicle is in operation. If you don't have a driver's license you can't be the sole operator of an autonomous car.
--Justinian

Then you've just eliminated one of the great advantages of driverless cars. When my Mom was living alone (and far from me), she would often have to drive some distance for her doctor's appointments, and she hated driving, and possibly shouldn't have been driving at all. A driverless car would be a real boon to the infirm and elderly. It may be hard to imagine now (just like at one time the concept of a world filled with horseless carriages was difficult to imagine) but I think when these cars start getting on the road we'll start to see so many advantages that we'll wonder how we ever lived without them.

A friend of mine even suggested that cities and states would lose a large source of income--tickets--because these driverless cars would exactly follow the rules of the road, never speeding or making illegal maneuvers. Being on the road will, for the most part, be much safer with lots of driverless cars on the road. I'd certainly rather have a teenager let the car do the driving. We'd be safer if he just looked at his phone and texted to his friends.
posted by eye of newt at 8:28 PM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


An autonomous car need not sit in a car park all day waiting for you to finish work. Although the inbound lanes may be clogged during rush hour, the outbound lanes are mostly clear. An autonomous vehicle can use that feature to run back out to the suburbs to fetch another worker. At present most cars fetch one person into the city in the morning and take them out again in the afternoon, but in the future one vehicle may fetch three or four people in and carry a different three or four back out

That's an interesting thought, but I think it could be even better. I think the organization of car pools could be made very easy by the existence of a collection of automated, shared vehicles. You make a request on the app for a car, and what your destination is - let's say downtown. Three minutes later, your neighbour up the street makes a request for a car, and is also going downtown. One car gets you both, and takes you downtown, maybe even picking someone else up along the way.
posted by nubs at 8:32 PM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Unless you want to split hairs and argue that "over $9,000 per year median cost for a mid-size car" is what you really meant by "doesn't cost $10K".

Autonomous cars still depreciate, still need fuel and will still require maintenance.

If you aren't paying those things because you use a service, then the company you rent the car from will be passing those costs along to you. Plus a profit margin.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:42 PM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think one significant barrier to the adoption of autonomous cars will be the sight of me, on the highway, fast asleep in the driver's seat of an autonomous car.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:43 PM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nobody's talking about automated small-scale mass transit, which I think is just as interesting. Imagine a vehicle the size of a minibus, with room for (say) eight passengers. Every morning a fleet of them trawls through the suburbs for passengers, routing intelligently to pick people up outside their front doors with a minimum of waiting: if you're not there they leave, and you have to call if you want another one to come by. The vehicles' routing takes the passengers' destination into account - if someone's going out of the way they may be the only passenger. It's smaller than a regular bus, but since it's smart about pickups and dropoffs it will waste far less fuel. And the extra time taken for pickups and dropoffs will make it slower than an individual car, but the cost will be reduced because it's amortised between the extra passengers - and at peak period there simply may not be enough individual cars to get one immediately, anyway.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:45 PM on February 1, 2015 [10 favorites]


Compared to a car, robot boats are a piece of cake.


Oh, every week there's a canal...or an inlet...or a fjord...
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:48 PM on February 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


Unless there's some huge jump in the technology in the next couple years everyone who lives where it snows or needs to drive on dirt roads or pulls a trailer is going to need a normal car or truck.

One of the earliest self-driving vehicles from more than ten years ago, the TerraMax, was designed for off-road use by the military. I'm not sure why snow would be a problem except in the case of some sort of budget system with only visible-light cameras as sensors; in most cases one of the fundamental advantages is that a self-driving car is going to be able to see in fog or in blizzards where a human wouldn't be able to.

I was in the UK last year and I can never get over how much inconvenience drivers over there are willing to put up with - in particular, roads that are only a single lane when there's parking on both sides so that people going in different directions have to pull over to let each other pass. It makes me think that here in the US, once the cars are doing the driving themselves and are unable to be annoyed by things like this, municipalities in need of a quick cash infusion will begin selling off strips of road.
posted by XMLicious at 8:49 PM on February 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


Nobody's talking about automated small-scale mass transit, which I think is just as interesting. Imagine a vehicle the size of a minibus, with room for (say) eight passengers. Every morning a fleet of them trawls through the suburbs for passengers--Joe in Australia

Similar to the one Google just started running for its home city of Mountain View? The first thought in my mind when I read this was "I wonder if Google's long term goal is to make these driverless?"
posted by eye of newt at 8:51 PM on February 1, 2015


If these became ubiquitous, I might start biking more often. Just imagine, you can right ride in front of traffic and angry drivers can't do SHIT about it because the motherfucking FIRST LAW OF ROBOTICS (unless dumbshits have replaced the positronic brain with a model only legal on Mars or something)

'Course, that's tempered with weird and scary stuff like law enforcement backdoors, hackers, and a great part of humanity losing one of their last remaining complex manual skills and becoming even more Eloi-esque in nature.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:55 PM on February 1, 2015 [8 favorites]


You know, if companies could be trusted to actually cooperate and work to provide efficient solutions to problems, we could have good transportation for everyone right now with our current technology. Instead, we have the system we have. I don't see any reason to believe that autonomously driven cars will lead corporations to seek low-priced and environmentally friendly solutions; it could easily go the other way (for example, people accepting longer and longer commutes because they don't have to actively drive their vehicles).

In all honesty I think the most likely possibility is the status quo for individual transportation; people mostly buy and keep their own cars. Autonomous cars will be slow to infiltrate the market completely because of the high price and the very long tail of people that absolutely have to have a car and could never possibly afford a new car. Car-sharing services will exist, but will be priced abusively, like they are now. Automatic taxis will be priced like taxis now, because that's the price the market will bear.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:59 PM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


(you know, the kind of trips that should be done in high speed trains, but of course we don't have those in the US)

I have a vague vision of autonomous cars hopping onto car...cars on trains if that increases the efficiency of the trip.

I also see spaces for pedestrians and spaces for traffic becoming far more physically separated in urban areas--again, partly for efficiency (random pedestrian tripping into traffic would gum up the works). I hope this means pedestrians win.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:00 PM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's always worth following the money.

In Melbourne, not one of the world's cheaper cities, you can currently get 365 days of public transport for $1501.50. That's the cost of a whole year's worth of public transport, available 7 days a week. By comparison, $10/day early bird parking is presented as an OMG! good deal. (Actually a lot of places cap out at $10 per day. Monthly rates at the most convenient places run about $300, although you can save a lot - down to $90/month - by accepting inconvenient locations, exposed sites or lower security.) Working on 5 days per week as an early bird, you blow through $1500 in 30 weeks, or by renting a $300 spot monthly, in 5 months. And CBD parking is all you get for that money.

That's not a sunk cost that you can reduce by buying a clunker or by not changing cars every 5 years, it is the "nut" cost of living in the suburbs and working in the CBD, before you fold in the cost of gas, insurance, and maintenance, let alone the cost of buying the car. An autonomous car that doesn't need to be parked in the CBD makes all or almost all that cost go away!

Organisations making shared autonomous cars available would gain economies of scale in purchasing, maintenance and insurance. They could even save on the cost of gas versus what it costs you. Shared cars would cost these organisations less to buy and run than it costs you to buy and run your present jalopy. There's room there both for them to make a profit and for you to save money.
posted by Autumn Leaf at 9:05 PM on February 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think people are wrong when they assume that fully-automated driverless cars will drive down the price of travel.

In reality, robo-travel will become just slightly less expensive than traditional travel and the capitalists (the people who actually own the robo-capital) will reap enormous profits.

Remember that in a market economy, prices will rise to meet demand, and then prices will continue to rise, and demand will continue to rise, as the wealthy extract more wealth from the poor.
posted by Avenger at 9:05 PM on February 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


over $9,000 per year median cost for a mid-size car

Those Wikipedia pages refer to European costs; here's some American anecdata:

I have used Microsoft Money to track my finances for almost twenty years. I have a single data file filled with virtually every financial transaction I've done since May of 1996.

In that time, I've spent just under $80,000 on various automobile-related expenses, including depreciation, maintenance, gasoline, insurance, and taxation. And there was a two-year period during which I owned a car and a truck; That comes to less than $4000 per vehicle-year.

I've not been particularly cheap during that time; it's included three brand-new vehicles, one of which I just bought six months ago. I've gone on a fair number of road trips and have probably driven around 250,000 miles in that time.
posted by Hatashran at 9:12 PM on February 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


> It will and should be a legal requirement that someone with a valid license be seated in the driver's seat at all times while the autonomous vehicle is in operation.

Say, what? What, exactly, do you expect these people to do?

How often is an autonomous car going to have a problem that needs human intervention? If these cars are to work, the answer has to be "almost never".

Do you expect someone who's been driven by an autonomous car for thousands of hours to suddenly jump in in a moment, override the car and... do what? Steer to safety... in an instant?

Regardless of what you expect them to do, they won't be paying attention fast enough to respond accurately, fast. Humans can't do the job of sitting there for hours with nothing to do except wait for an accident. Even the most responsible human's attention would flag after the first hundred hours of vigilance - most people would stop in the first ten minutes.

When they first had horseless carriages, there were laws that they had to have a person walk ahead of them with a flag... this seems like that.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:13 PM on February 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


When they first had horseless carriages, there were laws that they had to have a person walk ahead of them with a flag... this seems like that.

I'm not sure what it symbolizes, but Home Depot still does this today when someone is driving a forklift around the store.
posted by Hatashran at 9:18 PM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Morgantown WV has the PRT which features driverless cars on a track which hold up to 20. They are on-demand but there are only 5 stops. Still it's been operating for 40 or so years and mostly solving a huge traffic problem.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:21 PM on February 1, 2015


"Remember that in a market economy, prices will rise to meet demand, and then prices will continue to rise, and demand will continue to rise, as the wealthy extract more wealth from the poor."

True. But it would seem like a large portion of the price of a car is maintenance, fuel and depreciation. And while that will be passed on to the consumer, they will only have to pay their 15 or however many minutes of that portion.

Have you ever used car2go? We could consider their model. From their website: "You simply pay $.41 per minute. And all without running fixed costs or deposits, parking charges, fuel costs, or recurring annual fees."

Seriously, you get in the car, drive it wherever and park it. This also includes insurance.
posted by Time To Sharpen Our Knives at 9:21 PM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


If these cars are to work, the answer has to be "almost never".

That's already how often an aircraft needs human intervention when not taking off or landing but they still require a pilot to be in the cockpit.
posted by Justinian at 9:21 PM on February 1, 2015


Time To Sharpen Our Knives: And while that will be passed on to the consumer, they will only have to pay their 15 or however many minutes of that portion.

You only pay for the fuel you use and the maintenance you cause to be necessary now. Depreciation mostly represents the car wearing out over time and becoming less usable, so that's mostly due to your use of the car, too.

The only difference is that with cars in motor pools, there will be fewer of them, so the portion of the maintenance and depreciation costs that occurs due to the passage of time (not actual usage) will be reduced. But, autonomous cars will be driving themselves somewhat to get from user to user, so that will increase costs. I don't know which will win out in the end.

The electrical-car comment above might represent a way in which these cars could be more efficient or cheaper, but it depends on companies implementing them in such a way as for it to work. I have little confidence in that.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:33 PM on February 1, 2015


So with automated factories, that 10 million laid off is an additional 3% raise in the unemployment rate... but I guess there's no worry, because that also means a more abundant guard wealth labor pool for the privileged elite.

Three things I predict to rain upon Uber's parade: teamsters, lawyers, and wind storms.

Teamsters: sure, taxi companies and the AFL-CIO may not be the most powerful of groups, but they will put up a fight- at least to make sure that every truck has a 'driver' to operate the vehicle in case of emergency. Of course, this effort might depend upon who is president when the nation sees a giant trucking strike....

Lawyers: who is liable for damages caused by a driverless car? Certainly, the software manufacturer may have deep pockets, but we still have the potential for class actions and product liability. Litigating out the 'save the trolley, kill the pedestrian' liabilities could take decades.

Wind storms: also, black ice, sleet, other freak weather conditions. A driverless car may be able to follow a guided route under ideal conditions, but how well can it react to rapidly changing circumstances?

I'm not a luddite by nature but I don't see how this will be net improvement of society. It seems like it's just going to be a pretext to drive ownership of transportation to the on-elites. And don't forget, a lot of people live in their cars. What happens when you can no longer have that most meager of mobile homes?
posted by LeRoienJaune at 9:36 PM on February 1, 2015


Justinian, experience shows that the pilot is worse than useless when the automation takes a dump at the wrong time. Part of that is due to excessive complexity and bad design in the automation, but most of it is simply that humans are physically incapable of inserting themselves effectively into the control loop quickly enough. You have to be doing the thing to be able to quickly react to unexpected situations with the thing. If you are just sitting there watching, it takes too much time to get up to speed with what's going on.
posted by wierdo at 9:38 PM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


> Curing cancer ... [Redacted] ... will all put people out of a job. The problem that should be addressed is that our economic system can't handle that.

This is the same bad thinking, sorry.

If you cured cancer, there would suddenly be millions of new people, people that didn't die, who will be around to buy things, and we will need to employ people to build the things they will want to buy.

You know, when cars came around, all the people that cared for horses ... started building cars. Where did Detroit come from, anyway?

This is how economics works. The system doesn't need to change because it already knows how to do this.


The thing to look at is how many jobs there are before the change and how many jobs there are after the change. And if you have taken a job away from a worker.

Curing a worker's cancer doesn't eliminate a job.

Replacing a worker's horse with a car probably doesn't eliminate a job, although a large number of stableboys, carriage makers, and blacksmiths were probably replaced by a smaller number of autoworkers and mechanics. (Replacing the horse with the tractor eliminated a massive number of farmhand jobs. Nearly all of them, really.)

Replacing Amazon warehouse workers with robots eliminates jobs. (And replacing brick and mortar stores with Amazon eliminates jobs.)

Replacing a factory worker with a robot eliminates a job.

Replacing a taxi driver or a truck driver with a robot eliminates a job.

You deleted "coming up with automated ways to deal with hard labour, " from the text you quoted above, perhaps because you found it a bit too inconvenient to address while telling us that economics works and the system knows how to do this.

But I do not see all those warehouse workers and factory workers going to retrain as robotics engineers. And maybe not even as farmhands, as we seem to have enough of them.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:41 PM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Morgan Stanley’s research shows that cars are driven just 4% of the time....The effects of the autonomous car movement will be staggering. PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts that the number of vehicles on the road will be reduced by 99%, estimating that the fleet will fall from 245 million to just 2.4 million vehicles.

That estimated reduction doesn't make a lot of sense to me. With morning and evening rush hour, I would expect that most cars are used for approximately the same 4% of the time.

Truck, bus, delivery, and taxi drivers account for nearly 6 million professional driving jobs. Virtually all of these 10 million jobs will be eliminated within 10-15 years

So is the autonomous car going to shoot packages at my door because it doesn't have a driver?
posted by cosmic.osmo at 10:44 PM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Autonomous cars can run together in a much faster, tighter pack. Inches apart. There are fantastic energy savings when drafting like that.

Re: insurance. I expect insuring autonomous cars to be inexpensive. There are no accidents: there are software failures and acts of gods. Software failure is a manufacturer liability. All "accidents" involving, say, random kid running out between parked cars are provably unavoidable by the blackbox: the laws of physics disallowed avoidance, hence no fault. True "could have been prevented" accidents will be rare.

If driving is still allowed, I expect it'll be limited to motorcyclists. Minimum danger to others, minimum impact on traffic density, wear and tear, parking requirements, etc.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:16 PM on February 1, 2015


So is the autonomous car going to shoot packages at my door because it doesn't have a driver?

No, you'll walk to the curb and take it out of the car, a few minutes after messaging your location to FedEx.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:17 PM on February 1, 2015


"Eventually it will be illegal to drive an old manual mode car on a public road."

See Rush's Red Barchetta and A Nice Morning Drive. ;)
posted by jeffburdges at 11:36 PM on February 1, 2015


five fresh fish: Autonomous cars can run together in a much faster, tighter pack. Inches apart. There are fantastic energy savings when drafting like that.

No, they can't. Even assuming the software drives literally perfectly with no reaction time whatsoever (which will obviously not be the case), there are unexpected events. Animals run into the road. Tires fail. Unexpected gusts of wind hit. Autonomous cars will need to leave space between them so they can react if the vehicle in front detects an emergency and hits the brakes.

Also, vehicles don't all have the same braking and stopping time. A truck can't stop as quickly as a car can, even if the truck is being driven perfectly, so it has to leave enough distance in case the car ahead suddenly detects an upcoming emergency. Even two cars of similar size will vary drastically and somewhat unpredictably based on maintenance history and build quality.

Actually, if I had to guess, I'd expect autonomous cars to drive further apart than human drivers, because drivers often overestimate their stopping ability and are driving unsafely, while the driverless car has no self-delusion and will probably be required to leave sufficient safety distance by law (if not, liability will force the issue).
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:49 PM on February 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


Time To Sharpen Our Knives: " But it would seem like a large portion of the price of a car is maintenance, fuel and depreciation. And while that will be passed on to the consumer, they will only have to pay their 15 or however many minutes of that portion. "

No. Those costs all accrue on a per mile basis on a commercial vehicle (it's only lightly used personal vehicles that depreciate faster from age than from mileage). Also most insurance costs, whether high or low, will accrue on a per mile basis because the built in, always on low jacking a shared autonomous vehicle will have will make that easy. So consumers will pay the full cost for their usage plus profits to the operating companies. They'll also have to pay for regular cleaning and low usage period (like overnight) storage (a cost that is hidden in suburbia in home ownership costs).

Whether it will be cheaper for most in the long run is probably unknowable (legislation will have a big impact on the costs). But it will certainly be more expensive for people like me who perform their own maintenance and most major repairs on vehicles that are essentially fully depreciated. I've only owned one car less than 10 years old and that vehicles was seven years old. I spent less than $2000 annually on my car for the last four years including net capital costs.

And there will be the problem of availability during surges. The average joe who needs to get to work is going to be screwed is his city is hosting the superbowl or something. Or even just experiences unusual weather. Or even just usual weather (if all the jokes I see on TV about trying to catch a cab in NY when it rains have any basis in fact).

LeRoienJaune: "Teamsters: sure, taxi companies and the AFL-CIO may not be the most powerful of groups, but they will put up a fight- at least to make sure that every truck has a 'driver' to operate the vehicle in case of emergency. Of course, this effort might depend upon who is president when the nation sees a giant trucking strike...."

Trucks will have drivers because you need someone to perform safety checks, install chains, spot trailers, connect and disconnect trailers, sometimes move cargo on and off the truck, maintain paperwork (bills of lading etc.) and all the other jobs that drivers do when they aren't actually driving. Most importantly a autonomous driverless truck is seriously vulnerable to hijacking with no equipment more exotic than a few card board boxes spread across the road.

LeRoienJaune: " A driverless car may be able to follow a guided route under ideal conditions, but how well can it react to rapidly changing circumstances?"

How does a driverless car respond to an unscheduled detour like that caused by mechanical breakdown or accident? There are lots of situations that require actual, thoughtful, decisions rather than just reaction during the course of a day and a driverless car has to be able to make those decisions. I'm guessing this would be handled by having the cars be able to call for help to central locations where a single employee sitting at a desk could handle a large number of cars.
posted by Mitheral at 12:30 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


One other nightmare scenario in the autonomous, self driving, use it as you need it, car service world. Assuming these things won't be operated as a public service it'll be a complete disaster when any company with significant market share goes bankrupt. That market share disappears from the local rental fleet over night and it'll take weeks for other providers to compensate.
posted by Mitheral at 12:43 AM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Honestly these self-driving-car-revolution discussions strike me as deluded. I drive a car made in 1997. It runs well, with a few problems that I have to keep an eye on to make sure it stays reliable. I'll probably be driving it for five more years or so, or maybe longer. Maybe until it dies. The car I get afterward will almost certainly be used.

My work frequently has me on the road late at night, in places I'm not too familiar with. The idea I'd be comfortable time-sharing with people I don't know is also sort of ridiculous.

Further, there are also matters of personal taste. I don't want to ride in a car the previous drunk occupant just puked all over. My car is one of the few places in the world that I feel comfortable. That's not because it's public, it's because it's private. It's sort of like saying, "Who needs a place to live? Property and upkeep, utilities, it's all so expensive. We should adopt a transient-airbnb model. Apodments. When you get tired, an automated one-room apartment is delivered to your location. You sleep, send your clothing off for laundry, and in the morning shower and go back to work. The Apodment is then made available to another bourgeois office drone! Who needs the commute?"

And that's just a couple of deal-breakers off the top of my head.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 12:52 AM on February 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


Honestly not trying to just be contrarian, and I know it's not really your point, but those Apodments sound nice and I would definitely get behind that idea.
posted by dogwalker at 1:16 AM on February 2, 2015


Car-sharing services will exist, but will be priced abusively, like they are now.

Dude what.

I hear this all the time and it simply doesn't make sense, and isn't true. I did the math fairly recently and if my partner rented a car2go every day to drive to and from work, it was still horrendously cheaper than owning a car.

Even if you assume the car cost $0 and sprung forth fully formed from pure will, just the costs of insurance, fuel, oil changes, maintenance, tires, etc add up to like double what renting a car for every single trip costs. Even if you roll in regular old school car rentals for longer trips and stuff, nope, still cheaper.

You can take this to total jokey extremes, like any time you'd use your regular car rent whatever makes sense. Drive a car2go to the uhaul office, rent a truck, do your thing, drop truck off, drive car2go home(or even take a lyft if there's not one nearby).

She has a nice newer nissan that doesn't really ever break too, and is basically a change-the-oil-or-a-belt car and likely has another 50k miles or so of that left in it, if not more. Still cheaper.

And you have to remember those sharing services roll in the insurance/liability/maintenance costs. A self driving car wont have nearly as much insurance to deal with, and if it's electric will need WAY less maintenance. Hell, they're testing out electric ones right now. They're going to go all electric before they go driverless/self driving, that's basically a given.

I expect the costs of these services to either go down or stay flat. If they keep going up, someone else will show up on the market and eat their lunch underneath the cute umbrella they left.

I'm interested to see how this works out. This is a huge transition, not just the self driving side... the sharing side. It's going to make the whole regular computers>tablets/smartphones transition look like a joke. Suddenly, owning something that's seen as an aspirational object and a marker of adulthood and a ton of other things, BS and not, will make utterly no financial sense and be a complete drain and overkill for most people. The majority of people who live in even medium sized cities will just have no legitimate reason to own a car. Tons of people will jump off, a few will stay and will be the equivalent of those people who buy a really nice laptop just to watch netflix and post on facebook.

I think the car companies see this coming too. Mercedes runs car2go. BMW has their own service as well. I think the future is going to look something like going to a dealership, picking a model, signing a lease-type contract that basically guarantees that within X areas that model of car with those capabilities will pick you up. The interior, and everything, will conform to your settings and features you bought. You can take it out of that area to anywhere. No ones riding around in coachbuilt bentleys. A silver lexus is a silver lexus. And these will always be clean, in tip top operating shape, and possibly even containing whatever you would have put in the car or even gone to pick up("come get me with a bottle of this champagne" type stuff will absolutely be a thing).

Uber is a joke, they'll die like atari or commodore did in the 80s and early 90s. All they'll have to say is "we were here at the beginning". Meanwhile, the big car companies who i'm sure are already thinking about this shit will still be around like IBM and HP to take this to its logical conclusion.

Cars nowadays are made really well. When was the last time you heard of somebody trading in a car after five years? The average age of a car now on the road is 11 years. Ours are 14 and 20 and there's no reason to think they're crapping out anytime soon.

There's this weird deep-seated cultural thing in at the very least america, and possibly elsewhere, that you have to have a new car. I even see it on here, where there's a large crowd of i-don't-really-drive bike commuter types. The idea that a 10 year old car is an old car, which i've seen people state over and over. Those gigantic yearly costs that include depreciation apply if you've bought in to that, which a lot of people have since it's really in there deep. But if you don't play that game, it's a lot lower.

It's still really weird to me though, how quickly people are sold on a car getting "old". It's definitely not a reliability thing anymore, and no one even seems to pretend it is. It's entirely an emotional thing, and a style thing.

I think this will work in favor of services like this though. Paying X a month/year to always have the newest Y model of car, with the ability to upgrade from an app at any time will pique peoples interest. Especially the type of people who want to trade in a car after 3 years, or just always lease so they can have a new car perpetually.
posted by emptythought at 1:35 AM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


I feel like no one on this thread has ever tried to get a cab on new years eve. I just any imagine waiting around for 10-40 minutes every time I want to go anywhere. Which you would have to do at peak hours unless we have the same number of cars we do now. Any reduction means waiting. And there's no way I'd share what amounts to a driverless cab with strangers here in my high crime city, so that's right out.

Also if they don't allow pets or have bike/ski racks then pretty much everyone I know is not interested. My bike lives on my car in the summer, we go after work most nights.
posted by fshgrl at 2:05 AM on February 2, 2015


"I feel like no one on this thread has ever tried to get a cab on new years eve."

I'm always working.

This being said, I can imagine car 'ownership' in a post-driver world might shake itself out in a multitude of ways. Any of which I conceive are better than relying on the taxis in the city I live in, which are (at least anecdotally) the worst.

Seriously. It's like they don't like money.
posted by Time To Sharpen Our Knives at 2:20 AM on February 2, 2015


I would like self driving taxis. I often suspect the drivers around here of being less than sober. Or blind. And waaayy too "friendly"
posted by fshgrl at 2:27 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Uber is a joke, they'll die like atari or commodore did in the 80s and early 90s.

Uber (or Lyft) will be absorbed by Google. That's when autonomous taxi service will take-off.

The big sea change will come with autonomous long-haul trucking. That alone has the potential of dumping almost 2-million people onto the unemployment roles.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:45 AM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you are one of those people paying 10,000 dollars annually for your car and you only use it to go back and forth to work then I can see it being worth it. 10 grand is ~833 dollars a month which in Calgary/Vancouver gets you about 2000 minutes. Travel back and forth to work 20 days a month and you have 50 minutes to make the trip and still beat break even. Considering the constrained size of the service areas 50 minutes is probably more than anyone needs. Mind you in both Calgary and Vancouver those service areas are well served by transit and a bus pass is less than a $100. Still, if you need a car in the wee hours or late a night when transit frequency slows down it would be a good deal.

However Car2Go in Vancouver and Calgary is 85 dollars a day. Using their service to go fishing, hiking, hunting, or visiting one the gazzillion federal, provincial, or forestry parks/wilderness areas even once a week would double my monthly car budget (leaving aside the complete inadequacy a FourTwo would be on any but the most well groomed logging roads or for hauling even my 60lb dory). Camping over night would blow my monthly budget in a single trip. And they slap on a 45 cent/kilometre mileage charge after 200 km to boot which I'm sure seems far in some places but is a drop in the bucket round trip around here.

All the cities I'm passingly familiar with that I checked their service is restricted to downtown cores. Geez in Calgary they have no service east of the Deerfoot or essentially south of Glenmore. Which greatly constrains the in in the morning, out in the evening flow of stock.

Which is to say while it is obviously cheaper for some people it's cost prohibitive for others and I don't see how that could possibly change. People whose usage requires exclusivity (even if defacto like my fishing or camping trip) on any kind of regular basis aren't going to be able to afford a car sharing service.

Also I really wonder how their service physically scales if it is to incorporate even 10% of the demand for transport in any particular city. With only a few hundred cars each in the half dozen cities I checked their parking use isn't really noticeable but that would change if they seriously ramp up.

Finally in several states the cars carry no Personal Injury Protection and in practically all jurisdictions the under-insured motorist protection limits are laughably low. A risk averse person is going to going to have to add those insurance costs to their monthly rentals. This is pretty cheap in BC though. The fleet insurance will be a wicked good deal for people with DUI or street racing convictions on their record though.
posted by Mitheral at 2:54 AM on February 2, 2015


On further reading in their FAQs you have to pass a driver's record check which I guess will keep out the high risk drivers.
posted by Mitheral at 2:59 AM on February 2, 2015


I think the future is going to look something like going to a dealership, picking a model, signing a lease-type contract that basically guarantees that within X areas that model of car with those capabilities will pick you up. The interior, and everything, will conform to your settings and features you bought. You can take it out of that area to anywhere.

Cars depreciate like crazy. What's going to happen to all those cars that are more than a couple years old and have a few dents and dings on them? You can only keep pushing them down to into your lower-tier service pools for so long before they're no longer profitable to operate. And then what? Rental car companies dispose of their old inventory in the used car market, and dealerships quickly sell cars that come off-lease. But if people are no longer buying cars, then what? How do you make room for the shiny new cars people expect to summon?

As mentioned up and down the thread, owning a car is a stupid investment, and the entire auto industry from dealerships to fleet vehicle services to individual buyers runs on the assumption that there's always some sucker out there who's willing to purchase your car after you've extracted whatever value you can out of it.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 3:20 AM on February 2, 2015


Well, just to say, my mother died in a car crash that was probably her fault. If I could go back in time and give her an autonomous car to get her home safely, I would pay any price.
posted by newdaddy at 3:29 AM on February 2, 2015 [6 favorites]


I think personal vehicle ownership is the shittiest shitty thing to ever shit a shit.

I'm only halfway through the page, but this has made my day. I shall endeavour to use it in committee meetings.
posted by cromagnon at 3:38 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


All "accidents" involving, say, random kid running out between parked cars are provably unavoidable by the blackbox: the laws of physics disallowed avoidance, hence no fault. True "could have been prevented" accidents will be rare.

But it won't take more than one, maybe two kids being run over to make the news and create a massive PR problem. Even beyond this, you seem to imagine a society where you can tell a parent, "Your child got himself killed running into the road and the math/black box proves it" and the parent, and other parents with worries, can be made to accept this.

More broadly, I think a lot of the discussion of automated cars misses the behavioral and cultural aspects of the automobile in the U.S. Look at the fight for bicyclists-on-the-road, for example, to see how the "reasonable" solution to a problem turns into an argument with the entrenched notion people have of "their car" as an extension of their autonomy.

The liability argument is similarly goofy. Do you really think businesses will allow their software and their coffers to become the potential subjects of major lawsuits, merited or otherwise? Again, there's PR to think of even if you don't assume someone will screw up or cheap out somewhere in the emerging marketplace.

A manual option will happen for at least a while, and maybe a lot longer, because it's psychologically easier, because it gives the manufacturers an out, and because the insurance companies would very much like to keep selling you insurance.

And this is without factoring in all the places where even 41 cents a minute is still no cheaper than "riding my bicycle" or even "taking mass transit." But that's $12.30 *each way* for a half-hour commute. I guarantee plenty of people will be willing to pay less and ride for longer.

None of this is to say it's a bad idea to get automated driving out there, but there's much to say about how a society and culture shift...and that doesn't actually work and has never worked the way engineering-minded and actuarial predictions do.
posted by kewb at 3:48 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


There are several false dichotomies here:

"This will be awesome in Manhattan, so the entire US will magically transition at the same time."

"This will never work for my rural/outdoor lifestyle, so it will never work anywhere ever."

"This can't work in the car-culture of the US so it can't work anywhere."

These are both true and false.

Your car is already smarter than you at many things. It can calculate how much fuel to inject per cylinder based on fuel energy density, external temperature, load on engine and phase of moon. It does this several thousand times a second. It can decide how hard to apply the brakes when you hoof the middle one (left one for automatic drivers.) They're getting better at changing gear by feeding topographic and GPS data to the cpus (yes, more than one) in the transmission.

Your car isn't a car anymore. It's not even a mobile computer. It's a dynamic network of integrated smart systems that happens to have a motor and wheels.

It can probably beat you at chess.

Why do you think that it won't be able to drive itself?

The hardest problems are legal and regulatory. And we will fix them the way we always do. Insurance.

The motor insurers are working *hard* on this problem. They know it is coming and they are responding. Entire new classes of insurance are being planned. Whole new repair and claim value chains are being invented.

Insurance is *big* business. They know what's coming. And they are preparing to embrace the tsunami and profit from it.

And more kilometers are driven outside the US than inside it. (Just.)

Think this can't work in Tokyo?
posted by Combat Wombat at 4:53 AM on February 2, 2015 [8 favorites]


I take NYCs excellent public transport to work but still have a car. It's necessary and different and also sweet.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:03 AM on February 2, 2015


So what I'm saying is: you're gonna have to pry my car away from me. I love driving and having a car. I travel all over the country in my car. If cars could drive themselves I'd get one with autopilot which I'd use maybe 20% of the time. I bet most Americans are dummies like me. So yeah it'll be a couple of generations. Hell you can still buy a manual shift because of baby boomers. Maybe individual ownership will go away in our lifetimes but probably not. Maybe if you're 21 right now.

Also Uber will not exist (as an independent company at least) in 2025. It's a shady badly run fad corp that will Groupon itself to oblivion in 10 years, imo.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:09 AM on February 2, 2015


$10,000 a year spread over 250 working days is $40 a day. Most people couldn't do their commute in an Uber for $20 each way. So the only way for this to work is for Uber or an equivalent to get significantly cheaper. Even if you get rid of the driver, is that more than 50% of the cost?
posted by smackfu at 5:48 AM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Wind storms: also, black ice, sleet, other freak weather conditions. A driverless car may be able to follow a guided route under ideal conditions, but how well can it react to rapidly changing circumstances?

Certainly as good as a human driver, if not vastly better.

Humans are absolutely awful drivers. Professionally-trained human drivers are slightly less awful drivers.
posted by odinsdream at 5:53 AM on February 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm afraid you missed the memo, kewb, but parents are no longer allowed to leave children unattended. It'll be firmly the parents responsibility if a robot car kills their kid, well all their other kids will be taken away to prove it at least. Anyone else notice the irony that, ay 17 your parents may not leave you alone for more than two nights, while at 18 the state can force you to kill or be killed?
posted by jeffburdges at 6:08 AM on February 2, 2015


All "accidents" involving, say, random kid running out between parked cars are provably unavoidable by the blackbox: the laws of physics disallowed avoidance, hence no fault. True "could have been prevented" accidents will be rare.

Having cars parked by the side of the road is about as reasonable as having campers and trailers parked in the middle of central park. It is just an incredibly wasteful and inefficient use of of public space and resources. As per the example above, it's a big safety hazard as well. If a vehicle happens to be on the side of the road you should assume that people are around it and you should adjust your speed accordingly.

An automated system will still probably be able to to hit pedestrians but if there is any such risk speed will be lowered so that no-one gets killed. The lethal "random kid running out between parked cars"-accident is totally avoidable. People just drive to damn fast.
posted by uandt at 6:16 AM on February 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


I too take NYC public trans to work every single miserable day, but you will face a fight if you tell me I can't own or drive my personal non-automated car any longer. Like PotomacAvenue, I love to drive. I look forward to it. Of course, I'm not poor, so my "rationality" threshold calculation is personal and privileged, but then so is my ability to live in New York City at all.

Some people like to go on Caribbean or European vacations. I love to put my car on the open road and just go. 100 miles of hairpin curved mountain two-lane is way more relaxing to me than any beach. 500 watts of surround sound make it my personal heaven and cheaper by far than AskMe-approved therapy.

Easily worth a few thousand bucks a year to me, I have it to spend, it's not a moral question any more than my choice to buy expensive guitars or expensive coffee.

It may be just transportation to some, and maybe a younger generation will never know my joy, and that's fine but it's their loss and I'm sure will be replaced by other irrational, inefficient, expensive passions. I've been a car nut since I was a little kid, loved driving since I was 19 and bought a 1971 Plymouth Sebring for $400 and learned my way around the engine bay, and now I'm a middle-aged guy with a good job who has worked hard for a long time and can afford a totally unnecessary, economically irrational new car with all the bells and whistles, so get off my lawn, and take your damn clouds and your self-driving Google Buggies with you.

Unless you care to race. And oh wait, I don't have a lawn. A lawn uses a lot of carbon to maintain. And money you could spend on rational things like organic kale and cage-free eggs and lovely furniture.

There are millions of people who love to drive and not all of them are poor or facing declining income. Cars still have emotional appeal. And as they get more obsolete, they will become a hobbyist pastime for the well off, which is fine with me. I have several expensive hobbies that are less meaningful to me. I'll rearrange.


We are all "depreciating" organically, way faster than our stuff. You have to be a certain age to really have that sink in. So have fun while you can, before the scolds tell you the only fun you can have is the fun they approve of as sufficiently rational and public spirited ... and safe. Always be safe. You might live forever.

Related: can you believe people pay double the price they need to just to get organic vegetables and cage free eggs? Or fly huge carbon-sucking airplanes to exotic islands just to lie on beaches in the sun?

Zoom zoom.

/rant
posted by spitbull at 6:17 AM on February 2, 2015


Anyone else notice the irony that, at 17 your parents may not leave you alone for more than two nights, while at 18 the state can force you to kill or be killed?

Right, but realistically the US hasn't had a draft since 1972 and ( I'm confident ) never will again because 1) it's unnecessary with the increasing automation of war-fighting 2) it'd be complete political suicide
posted by leotrotsky at 6:40 AM on February 2, 2015


So what I'm saying is: you're gonna have to pry my car away from me--Potomac

I too take NYC public trans to work every single miserable day, but you will face a fight if you tell me I can't own or drive my personal non-automated car any longer.--spitbull

Yikes! Is this the argument people are going to make against driverless cars?

"It's a government conspiracy to take away our guns cars! We have to stop them before they send out the UN troops with tow trucks!"

It isn't an either/or proposition
posted by eye of newt at 6:49 AM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Maybe autonomous cars will be better at dealing with some causes of fatality, but I imagine there are some that they will not be as good as human drivers in dealing with and some that will be unavoidable anyway (but will still cause law suits etc.)
I can think of some situations where they could make things less safe. Supposing autonomous cars make up 50% of the traffic on a three lane high way with a 70mph speed limit. The autonomous cars will be attempting to maintain a safe distance from other road users and drive along at or below the speed limit. Manual drivers who are frustrated by this situation will be able to weave between the cars knowing that the autonomous cars are not going to change lane, speed up or in fact do anything while they perceive the situation to be dangerous. So manual drivers will feel that they can take more risks. While the autonomous cars have those little radar things spinning on top they will be easy to spot.
The same effect could apply to terrible cyclists, unsafe pedestrians and motorcyclists. Autonomous cars are boring. There could be resentment for class based reasons.
posted by asok at 6:51 AM on February 2, 2015


I'm not sure why snow would be a problem except in the case of some sort of budget system with only visible-light cameras as sensors; in most cases one of the fundamental advantages is that a self-driving car is going to be able to see in fog or in blizzards where a human wouldn't be able to.

I think it's more that snowy roads requires driving on Hard Mode. Not just when it's snowing, but in the aftermath. Narrower roads, poorly delineated road boundaries, reduced traction, reduced visibility around corners due to snow piles, hills your car can't even climb. How to handle that safely without creeping along at 15 mph is difficult.
posted by smackfu at 6:59 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Again, I am completely convinced that eventually we will get to the point of having mostly autonomous vehicles, and maybe my uses skew a bit far towards the edge cases. But it will be a long time until there are autonomous vehicles that can handle a very typical work day for us, whereas it's trivial to tell a person something like "follow these tire tracks across that field, find the new access road, find the equipment parking area, hook up to the trailer with the ATVs on it, and then when you get back on the road turn on the flashing lights and lead the semi with the oversized load down to the main intersection," along with all the subtasks of navigation, selecting four wheel drive low as needed, avoiding flagged areas of special ecological or cultural sensitivity, and coordinating with the semi.

It's all possible and you can already see bits and pieces of that being operationalized (like with the DARPA vehicles) but it's a long way out, and an enormous amount of economic activity relies on things like what I've described. Urban commuting and highway cruising are both going to be solved first, but the more complex issues will take a lot more time to become viable.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:10 AM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Wind storms: also, black ice, sleet, other freak weather conditions. A driverless car may be able to follow a guided route under ideal conditions, but how well can it react to rapidly changing circumstances?

Because humans are such wonderful drivers in adverse conditions.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:45 AM on February 2, 2015


leotrotsky: ... And saving 30,000 lives per year in the process.

I feel like I should know this, but the ~30,000 deaths per year are strictly deaths on "highways," or also on local roads (which account for the significant majority of road miles in the US). And then there are serious injuries which are 10-20 fold higher than fatalities.

In short, when discussing safety on the roads, there's more at stake than 30,000 lives per year.


Thing: For example, the relative speed and capacity of trains will be hard to replicate with any kind of car.

But the relative speed of trains in the US is below that of cars in most cases, and there's the issue of "the last mile" (or five), which means the need to get from the final train stop to your final destination. Cars are generally seamless, providing door-to-door service whenever you want it. Only in major metro areas do trains beat out cars, due to congestion.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:53 AM on February 2, 2015


I think personal vehicle ownership is the shittiest shitty thing to ever shit a shit.

I appreciate cars as engineering objects, and I even like them as things, aesthetically. I enjoy driving (mostly). I also think cars are the worst invention in human history (yes, worse even than guns).
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:53 AM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


...whereas it's trivial to tell a person something like "follow these tire tracks across that field, find the new access road, find the equipment parking area, hook up to the trailer with the ATVs on it...

This probably describes less than 1% of driving conditions. The arguments against autonomous cars sound awfully similar to the arguments against EV cars. The fact that they cannot do 100% of every kind of driving isn't a point against them.
posted by odinsdream at 8:01 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


I suspect highway-able, public-road licensed internal-combustion motorcycles are going to be effectively eliminated in North America, Europe and Japan.'They're all ready a declining market share due to demographics; new sales of >50hp bikes are primarily to olds like me.
I'm guessing the end will come as a combination of preference for small bikes/mopeds, switch to electric, and prohibitive insurance and/or extended driver /training costs.
I look at my beautiful 1979 BMW R100RS, first of its fully-faired 100+hp factory superbike kind, and then at the electric Brammo (made in Oregon!) most likely to replace it once I'm walking again. The Brammo's operating costs, even with buying new li-on or better batteries in 5 years, are 30% of what the BMW's were as new (in adjusted dollars). But most electric bikes will be literally electric-assist bicycles and scooters, last mile and neighborhood errands solutions.
But I won't miss the toll of crippled or dead biker friends.
posted by Dreidl at 8:27 AM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


The arguments against autonomous cars sound awfully similar to the arguments against EV cars. The fact that they cannot do 100% of every kind of driving isn't a point against them.

Yes, I do think they are pretty similar, and we are mainly debating over how quickly these things will get to 95% of usage coverage. Excluding cost, electric cars like the Tesla Model S are probably at 80% or so. Autonomous cars are maybe at 40%?
posted by smackfu at 8:38 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


And let me repeat: insurance rates on drivers are going to skyrocket. Driving is the single most dangerous, costly activity we take part in. In a sea of self-driving cars, you will be the most hazardous thing out there, by orders of magnitude. Insurance companies will take you to the cleaners, and rightly so.

I suspect this is correct. Does that mean that enthusiast drivers and motorcyclists will have to give up that hobby for something more congenial to our bloodless future, like binge-netflixxing or instagramming photos of artisanal bone broth in mason jars?
posted by Svejk at 8:51 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Much of the discussion here is assuming "smart" cars in a "dumb" world, where there is only one-way communication, the car trying to read the surrounding environment.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is working on connected vehicle standards for V2V (vehicle to vehicle) and V2I (vehicle to infrastructure) connections.

Meanwhile ... "The Netherlands has just announced a five-year plan to make the country safe for autonomous vehicles and vice-versa, with a particular emphasis on trucks. Rules of the road will be redrafted, infrastructure built, and research funded." (IEEE Spectrum, June 2014)
posted by filthy light thief at 8:51 AM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


This probably describes less than 1% of driving conditions. The arguments against autonomous cars sound awfully similar to the arguments against EV cars. The fact that they cannot do 100% of every kind of driving isn't a point against them.

All those pickups you pass on the highway with logos from Acme Oilfield Services or US Forest Service or Smith Ag Supplies can't do their jobs without that one percent (or probably less) working perfectly.

The EV comparison is apt -- a short range EV will cover 98 percent of a family's use, but the last bit tends to be important enough to override that.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:52 AM on February 2, 2015


deathpanels: I think you're underestimated how many people live in dense metro areas where owning a car is more of a burden than a convenience. A 90% drop overnight probably won't happen, no, but I do think sophisticated self-driving cars (which won't be "cars" in the conventional sense, in the same way that modern cars aren't "horseless carriages") will allow for greater Manhattanization of urban areas where it already sucks to have a car. There is definitely a market in dense, expensive, traffic-heavy metro areas.
You're speaking of new sales opportunities, not displacements of current car sales. Most US cities have inadequate public transportation. So, you're actually overestimating how many car drivers in dense metro areas will abandon their cars - and overestimating how much of the population live there in the first place.
Manhattanization
Not everyone lives in NYC.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:10 AM on February 2, 2015


five fresh fish: The final nail in non-autonomous vehicles will be skyrocketing insurance costs.
Oh, shit yes.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:16 AM on February 2, 2015


Beholder: Not to the people who lose their jobs. I think that should always be the lead when discussing these "marvelous" new technologies that are going to "improve" our society. What we are witnessing, we have witnessed before, the consolidation of wealth and the working class seeing their non minimum wage job options dwindle even further
The automobile inarguably improved life for Henry Ford's employees. Cellphones have greatly improved life for many people, including added security for the elderly and women who have to walk alone at night.

Not everything is a nefarious plan to destroy the working class; not everything new is a blight on society, Ned Ludd. Buggy whip makers can and will get a new job. In fact, this thread has already pointed out what new jobs will be created.

And, since they won't all be in Detroit, no one will be forced to move to the first plane of Hell itself to find a job.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:26 AM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Is this the argument people are going to make against driverless cars?

It is already a thing. Environmental regulations have put a crimp in the hot rod and customizing markets and along with safety regulations severely curtail the import of interesting vehicles from out of country. Honestly the import regulations are kind overbearing so they have a bit of a point there. The american government should say that a domestic market car from selected markets (say the eu, Japan, Canada and Australia) automatically meets american standards with the exception to other driver safety items like lights and bumpers. At least for single personal use import with maybe a no resale rider. These cars aren't gross polluters or crazy unsafe they just don't meet the specific letter of the american regs. But of course they won't because protectionism.
posted by Mitheral at 9:28 AM on February 2, 2015


escabeche: When was the last time you heard of somebody trading in a car after five years? The average age of a car now on the road is 11 years.
These two sentences are not incompatible. If you sell a car after five years, someone else begins driving a 5yo car. This process continues until the poorest car drivers end up buying cars at the end of their lifetime, and the average lifetime is 11 years. QED. (Also, I have neighbors who wouldn't dream of owning the same car for five whole years - just as I wouldn't dream of buying a brand-new vehicle.)
posted by IAmBroom at 9:37 AM on February 2, 2015


The invention of America's love affair with the car.

Self-driving cars will worsen traffic.

It's tragic how many people are so devoid of imagination they cannot conceive of a society and an environment that is not built primarily around the automobile.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:43 AM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Justinian: That's already how often an aircraft needs human intervention when not taking off or landing but they still require a pilot to be in the cockpit.
Apples are not oranges. Landing an aircraft >> harder than parking a car >> driving a car to a destination >> driving a trolly >> driving a train.

There are many metros that require "drivers" to be in the "cockpit" of modern, fully-automated trains. They do not add to the safety of the vehicles in any quantifiable way. That is already true.

If a car is safe enough to be trusted by legal authorities to navigate "driverlessly", then there will already de facto be nothing for the driver to ever do. This is like one of those "but what if you were in an accident with a lion in your car, and you couldn't get your seatbelt off because a micrometeorite had soldered the release shut, and that is why I never use seat belts!" ideas. Wear the fucking seatbelt. And automated driver systems are already safer than half the commuters I drove to work with today.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:46 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


What I long for in autonomous cars is cars that can drive themselves -- literally drive themselves empty. That would REVOLUTIONIZE zipcar or car2go type services. My family only needs one car 99% of the time, but that extra one percent is a fucker, so we keep a crappy beater pickup around just for that one time a month we need a second car. If I could replace that crappy beater pickup with a subscription service that would send a car to my house when I needed one? I would be ALL IN. Because then, that second car could be a ForTwo when my husband's bike was in the shop, a pickup when I needed to get bunk beds home from Ikea, a minivan when I wanted to take a multi-family trip to the zoo. . . just text the car service what kind of car you need and when you need it by, and it zips up to your front door. Going to a show downtown? Have your car let you off at the door and then go park itself in a grotty parking lot in the industrial district until you whistle it back.

This is pretty much my dream.
posted by KathrynT at 9:49 AM on February 2, 2015 [6 favorites]


In fact, this thread has already pointed out what new jobs will be created.

The first comment you link to is not trumpeting new jobs created by the autonomous vehicle revolution, but rather implying the contrary. Read it again.

The second comment is, to quote itself, a giant heap of horseshit. Making shit up doesn't count as "pointing out" anything.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:53 AM on February 2, 2015


Most uses for autonomous cars would work just fine with Uber / taxis. So I guess people just want cheaper taxis?
posted by smackfu at 9:55 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


An autonomous car is way less likely to try and sexually assault me than a taxi or Uber driver. I don't think I have one female friend who uses those services heavily who hasn't had at least one creepy-to-frightening experience with them.
posted by KathrynT at 10:07 AM on February 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


The arguments against autonomous cars sound awfully similar to the arguments against EV cars. The fact that they cannot do 100% of every kind of driving isn't a point against them.

No ones arguing against autpbot cars as a thing. They will be useful. The implementation time frame and the idea that all manual driving will be illegal and that no one truly needs a car is what's being argued.

I don't live a rural lifestyle, I live in a city. But unless autonomous cars, lime I said allie pets, bikes, skis, muddy boots etc and can take me camping and hiking they won't work for my lifestyle.

It's not like I'm a survivalist. Conservatively I'd say 98% of people I know use their cars for one of these purposes. Mefi is heavily skewed towards sedentary, home bound sorts (which is fine) many of whom openly disdain the outdoors and refuse to believe other people really need to be more than 100 yards from a coffee shop (which is kind of eye rolly) and it's not remotely representative of the larger world.
posted by fshgrl at 10:44 AM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Part time autonomous cars and autonomous taxis sound great to me, to clarify. The idea we'll all be shuttled around in interchangeable pods which automatically reduce vehicle number s95% in 10 years does not seem at all feasible.

For starters, prime commuter slots are going to cost a fortune if that does happen. And the Google cars still can't drive in the rain.
posted by fshgrl at 10:51 AM on February 2, 2015


I just hope we get the Microsoft augmented reality goggles with adblock before we get our city centers get choked with self-driving advertising trucks.
posted by ckape at 11:48 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Self-driving cars will worsen traffic.

To complete that headline for less dishonesty: "If they accelerate the same way trains do."

In other words "if we deliberately design self-driving cars so that they perform very badly, they will make traffic worse." Next in DUH!-News: if we make buildings with roofs made of tissue paper, rain will destroy them! THE HOUSING INDUSTRY IS MADE OF LIES!
posted by yoink at 11:55 AM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


I suspect autonomous cars might more likely follow the fly-by-wire model of aircraft control. The pilot, or the driver, tells the car via the controls what it wants to do, and the car does it, and if it is unsafe or dangerous the car doesn't do it.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 12:24 PM on February 2, 2015


It's tragic how many people are so devoid of imagination they cannot conceive of a society and an environment that is not built primarily around the automobile.

Look, America is large. The state I live in, Texas, is freaking huge all by itself. If you want to get anywhere in less than a week, you need a vehicle. I would happily take trains for long trips, but even just going from my house to the store is several miles of hills. Even with no cars on the road, it would be a looong trip on a bike and then how much could I haul home?

I lived in NYC happily carless, except for those times, like grocery shopping or taking a baby out in terrible weather, that a car would really have helped. They are useful things. That's why they're so popular and important to us.

Build a transporter or some other substitute that allows me to get to the drugstore at midnight when my kid is sick, and I will happily adopt it.

Having said that, driverless would be fine with me. Sharing would be a little less fine, because I really enjoy my singing-along-to-the-radio time in the car. In the car is almost the only time all day that I am totally alone. It's nice. Also, for a lot of people cars act as a kind of mobile closet, for things like reusable grocery bags, extra bottles of water, napkins in the glovebox, and so on.
posted by emjaybee at 12:32 PM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Like I said...
posted by entropicamericana at 1:07 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just a reminder that the original article said this would happen in 10 years. Does even the most optimistic person think that is true?
posted by smackfu at 1:08 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Kanter is a lot more optimistic about the upsides than I am. Widespread autonomous electric cars will have many advantages but it will do a number on Canada considering that a huge chunk of our economy is based on oil & gas and another huge chunk is based on automobile manufacturing.

The makers of these new cars and the service providers will do well but there will be tons of people out of work as a result. This would be a great opportunity to revolutionize our economy but more likely than not it'll end up in a lot of good jobs disappearing in one part of the world and a few new billionaires being minted in another.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:12 PM on February 2, 2015


Just a reminder that the original article said this would happen in 10 years. Does even the most optimistic person think that is true?
posted by smackfu


I'm pretty optimistic in general, but I don't think 10 years is realistic. Perhaps in a decade it will be something more and more common among the "already haves", but as far as wholesale adoption - I don't think so
posted by Golem XIV at 1:33 PM on February 2, 2015


I think private cars will have an autonomous mode and a manual mode. The driver will pick the mode according to conditions and/or if they want to drive or not.

This assumes that there'll be a mass market for (a) people who feel a need to own their own dedicated car, rather than having an account with a robotaxi firm, and (b) those wishing to pay the premium of having a vehicle with both manual controls and autonomous capabilities (which would add to the complexity and expense of building such a car; or to put it another way, not having to put in a steering wheel, transmission controls, brake pedals and the myriad other controls and displays in a car would cut the costs of building vehicles to the point where the alternative becomes a premium option, especially when the economies of scale no longer apply to it).

I suspect that manual motoring will be a niche activity, catered to with an industry of premium-priced specialist manufacturers, and eventually regulated off the public roads (where well-behaved robocabs mix it up with cyclists, pedestrians and playing children) and onto specialist tracks, or at least remote and sparsely populated areas. The insurance will probably also be more like extreme-sports insurance than the typical car insurance today.
posted by acb at 2:06 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


This assumes that there'll be a mass market for (a) people who feel a need to own their own dedicated car, rather than having an account with a robotaxi firm

A robotaxi firm... Heh. Outside of major cities and maybe their suburbs, I doubt such a thing could exist. 30-40% of the US couldn't get phone service without it being largely subsidized by the government, and don't get me started on internet access. How much robotaxi service do you think the residents of Texline TX, Pease MN or Nucla CO might expect to enjoy ?

I can see cars with autopilots being popular. I just can't see Robotaxis taking off in the way many here seem to envision them.

I sort of think many people in this thread really have no idea how big and how sparsely populated most of America really is.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:52 PM on February 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Fifteen percent of Americans live in rural areas. We're not an agrarian nation.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:07 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


I sort of think many people in this thread really have no idea how big and how sparsely populated most of America really is.

Yeah, but the "sparsely" part of that is also telling you that if the discussion is "what will most people do" then those people don't really make much difference to the conclusions.

The vast majority of people in the US (81%) live in cities and city suburbs. If those people are mostly served by autonomous vehicles in the next 20/30 years the impacts will be profound. Massive reductions in wasted fuel use, for one thing (an extraordinary amount of gas is wasted in looking for parking spaces, for example--something that would simply cease to be an issue in a world of autonomous vehicles; similarly cars could form into cooperative "trains" on freeways/highways to reap huge benefits in terms of aerodynamic efficiency). Massive reductions in congestion for another (see the 'train' effect above, and imagine cars moving through a city cooperatively, coordinating route selection and traffic flows so as to maximize network efficiency).

If the 20% living out in the country still drive their own pickups much of the time that won't prevent these changes from having an immense impact.
posted by yoink at 3:09 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sure, if you live, say, on a cattle station in the Australian outback or somewhere, chances are you'll have your own car (or, more specifically, a 4-wheel-drive of some sort with decent cargo capabilities). Mind you, in that case, you'll probably also have your own electrical generator, water supply and satellite uplink.

If you live in a rural town of, say, 100 people, chances are there'll be a robotaxi or two in the town. (It'll park itself on the street or in a car park when not in use, charging from a kerbside power point, and will phone for an engineer if its systems fail a health check or it's overdue for maintenance.) If you run the general store or a farm, you may well have your own dedicated vehicle, but if you just need a car from time to time, the robotaxi may well fulfil your needs more than adequately.
posted by acb at 3:38 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]




The vast majority of people in the US (81%) live in cities and city suburbs.

20% of the US lives in Major Metro areas, and another 34% in the areas surrounding them.

The rest (~46%) live in micropolitan areas or rural (50,000 or less). The census defines "urban" as any cluster of greater than 2500 people, but that doesn't account for density - Delta CO with 27 people per square mile is as urban as Newark NJ at ~4500.

The US is literally pockmarked with these little blink and miss'em towns and nearly half the country lives in them.

I live in the biggest "city" for 200 miles in any direction, and it's ~50,000 people.

The Census might say it's urban, but, man, Urban, it aint.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:53 PM on February 2, 2015 [7 favorites]


"Rental car companies dispose of their old inventory in the used car market, and dealerships quickly sell cars that come off-lease. But if people are no longer buying cars, then what? How do you make room for the shiny new cars people expect to summon?"

When and if cars are self driving, the very concept of 'car' is going to change. It will be as recognizable to you now as your iPhone (or Nexus or whatever smartphone you think is the best) would have been in the 90s.


"I suspect highway-able, public-road licensed internal-combustion motorcycles are going to be effectively eliminated in North America, Europe and Japan."

Though I imagine there will be a tremendous amount of grandfathering, relegating motorcycles to that class of vehicles possessing funny license plates.

And by imagine, I mean hope.
posted by Time To Sharpen Our Knives at 4:04 PM on February 2, 2015


Buggy whip makers can and will get a new job. In fact, this thread has already pointed out what new jobs will be created.

But do we need new jobs for the buggy whip makers? The world will become increasingly less labour-intensive as more things are automated. For a while, the abolition of manual (“working class”) jobs was soaked up partly by a growing service industry, but now computers are about to replace a lot of desk jobs, and eventually a lot of professional jobs. The jobs that are left may be ones filling the gaps where the machines cannot go, or it's not economical to put them; putting on a Google Glass-style headset and solving captchas/running around Amazon-style warehouses/putting your gloved fingers in a patient's abdominal cavity and doing exactly what the expert system voice in your ear tells you to do. But eventually, even those will go.

If we see full employment as an end in itself—as something essential to human dignity in the neo-Calvinist work ethic, as a disciplinary tool for keeping order in society, or something like that—we may see bullshit jobs created which serve no purpose but to keep people busy and out of trouble. This could be something a simple as digging holes and filling them again, or some kind of complicated state machine comprised of verifiable, cognitively laborious processes transforming some form of paperwork from one state to another. Or we may end up being given a basic income and watched over by machines of loving grace, with the dividend being that, even if most people just spend their time playing and socialising, a significant minority will create value by making art, writing Wikipedia pages on things they care about or doing things not motivated by profits or survival.
posted by acb at 4:17 PM on February 2, 2015



If you live in a rural town of, say, 100 people, chances are there'll be a robotaxi or two in the town. (It'll park itself on the street or in a car park when not in use, charging from a kerbside power point, and will phone for an engineer if its systems fail a health check or it's overdue for maintenance.) If you run the general store or a farm, you may well have your own dedicated vehicle, but if you just need a car from time to time, the robotaxi may well fulfil your needs more than adequately.


Have you lived in a small town? This is a bit unrealistic, to put it mildly.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:33 PM on February 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Have you lived in a small town? This is a bit unrealistic, to put it mildly.


Similar things were once said about electrification and telephones.
posted by acb at 4:50 PM on February 2, 2015


Similar things still are said. Visit eastern Kentucky for an example of why that is.
posted by Golem XIV at 5:07 PM on February 2, 2015


That small town robotaxi would be used for every illegal and immoral use I can think of, hahaha. Sadly the engineer will probably stop coming after the 10th time the local kids lure the robotaxis to a kegger and blow them up. I'm thinking the inner city projects might have similar issues, or anywhere with largely unsupervised teens.
posted by fshgrl at 5:14 PM on February 2, 2015


A lot of people here scared of change.

Speaking as someone who grew up in the country and still loves the country (which is why I live downtown and not some McMansion-laden suburb), I'm tired of letting a small minority of people dictate policy because of some misplaced romanticism and nostalgia for a way of life that mostly never was, certainly isn't, and probably wasn't that great in the first place.

Most of these rugged, self-sufficient individualists living in the country couldn't hack it if they couldn't make it the monthly couple-hour drive down to the nearest Costco and load up the horse trailer with cheap consumer crap from China and overly processed food.
posted by entropicamericana at 5:40 PM on February 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


yoink: "(an extraordinary amount of gas is wasted in looking for parking spaces, for example--something that would simply cease to be an issue in a world of autonomous vehicles"

That all depends on how much deadheading they do. It's not like every single trip is going to have a useful return trip. A robo taxi that brings a commuter into town at 6, 7 and 8 AM and then takes them home at 3, 4, and 5 pm is going to make twice as many trips compared those three people each having a dedicated vehicle. If they can't find someone heading the other direction (which seems likely at least part of the time) then they are burning gas while not actually transporting anyone. If you think single occupancy vehicles are bad for the environment zero occupancy vehicles should be making your head asplode.

How this plays out would seem to be essentially impossible to predict as many of the variables (like price per mile for the customer, availability, regulatory environment) aren't even in the planning stages.
posted by Mitheral at 7:00 PM on February 2, 2015


I bet the net energy consumed by a single-occupancy vehicle using ten daily trips (there-back, there-back, there, back, there-back, there-back) to transport three commuters will still be less than the energy costs of three multi-occupancy vehicles plus their garage space.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:33 PM on February 2, 2015


acb: Buggy whip makers can and will get a new job. In fact, this thread has already pointed out what new jobs will be created.

But do we need new jobs for the buggy whip makers? The world will become increasingly less labour-intensive as more things are automated.
Yes.

That Utopia you dream of will not happen in our lifetime, and even if it does, we can't pretend believing it will happen is reason enough not to care about the displaced unemployed.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:14 AM on February 3, 2015


then they are burning gas while not actually transporting anyone.

Gas? I don't think so. The robo cabs will be quick-swap battery powered.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:33 AM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Of course they will to begin with, but insurance premiums will kill off that option pretty quickly. Eventually it will be illegal to drive an old manual mode car on a public road. Also these cars will be unimaginably safer in off-road driving and bad weather.

You really think the goal of the insurance industry is to make everyone safer? Of course not. It's to make profit. If you effectively take all the risk out of driving, there will be no need for the auto insurance industry as we know it. That's not a bad thing in itself, of course, but in practice, it means the death of a massive, entrenched and highly-profitable industry that employs hundreds of thousands if not millions of people directly and indirectly. The death of commercial driving isn't even a fraction of the overall potential economic "disruption." Driver education. Pizza delivery. I doubt anyone has taken the time to do a thorough, disinterested analysis of the full economic impacts. Because why on earth would we want to try to really know and understand exactly what we're about to do before we do it? Only old ladies and children worry about such things.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:59 AM on February 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


A robo taxi that brings a commuter into town at 6, 7 and 8 AM and then takes them home at 3, 4, and 5 pm

But that's entirely unrealistic. The very tidal nature of commuting means that there will, of necessity, be more taxis floating around in the suburbs in the mornings and evenings than during the day. I mean, sure, we could for no good reason whatsoever program every taxi to return to some arbitrarily defined "home" station after every trip, but that doesn't make a lot of sense, does it? There will be high demand in the city center during the day, so the taxi that took you into your office at 6AM is most likely to stay in the city until you go home at 3PM--and in the meantime, instead of sitting idly in a parking garage (vast waste of city space and an eyesore to boot), it will be taking people on trips around town.

There really is no possible way that a fleet of computer-coordinated robo-taxis could end up having a less efficient pattern of usage than privately owned cars. Heck, even human-driven taxis are more efficient (and generally cheaper--and that includes paying a driver) than private ownership.
posted by yoink at 10:10 AM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Because people disproportionately flow into central business districts in the morning and flow out in the evening; if the goal is to have current levels of convenience while still reducing the number of cars on the road then the remaining cars are going to have to make more trips.
posted by Mitheral at 2:57 PM on February 3, 2015


Or they will have to be multiple-occupancy. I'm pretty sure more people would use public transport if a bus would arrive at your door five minutes after you placed a call. That's almost certainly achievable if you have a constant stream of small vehicles making the same (or a similar) trip each day: one of them will have capacity, and it won't take much for it to make a small detour.

Also, your "level" of convenience excludes things like parking, which in urban areas can be expensive and time-consuming. It's already more convenient for me to take a cab into work than to drive; once I factor in parking it's even cheaper! (Public transport is far cheaper than that, but I'm comparing apples to apples here.)
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:37 PM on February 3, 2015


Muliply occupancy-wise, Mercedes makes awesome 12ish people transporters. Luxurious compared to a taxi, let alone a bus. A great way to travel.

The autocab will try to pick you up with commuters you've liked/not disliked, and most of the time it'll work well because we're creatures of habit.

Edit: heck, maybe it'll increase our sense of community. You'll forever be "bumping into" people who have the same patterns as you. Fewer strangers, more acquaintances when car sharing is done right.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:08 PM on February 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


A related problem is that companies like Uber and other sharing economy businesses effectively replace middle management with software, creating a silicon ceiling that the contractors can't penetrate.
In the long run there’s always something for people to work on and improve, but the introduction of this software layer makes we worry about mid-term employment 5-20 years out. Drivers are opting into a dichotomous workforce: the worker bees below the software layer have no opportunity for on-the-job training that advances their career, and compassionate social connections don’t pierce the software layer either. The skills they develop in driving are not an investment in their future. Once you introduce the software layer between “management” (Uber’s full-time employees building the app and computer systems) and the human workers below the software layer (Uber’s drivers, Instacart’s delivery people), there’s no obvious path upwards. In fact, there’s a massive gap and no systems in place to bridge it.
posted by zamboni at 6:41 AM on February 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


That is a very interesting link, zamboni. It dovetails nicely with my (Philip Bobbitt-derived) notion that one of the reasons (maybe the primary one!) the social contract appears to be eroding over the past few decades is that computers mean less and less military manpower is needed. The owners simply don't need us to fight their wars anymore, so they have no need to placate us. Perhaps the future is a very small number of people commanding Kill Decision-style drone forces. Reinhardt still falls into the handwaving trap ("In the long run there’s always something for people to work on and improve..." Maybe, but how many people?), but a good read nonetheless.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:20 AM on February 4, 2015


Near-future tech promotion/PSA from USDOT -- Connected Vehicle: The Future of Transportation. None of this is about self-driving vehicles, rather it is about informing drivers with various cues (visual display, vibrating seats, audio tone). There's also some information about technology that could be available for truckers and transit users.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:44 AM on February 4, 2015








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