The winding road to fully automated cars passes more milestones
December 27, 2017 1:23 PM   Subscribe

Driverless cars became a reality in 2017 and hardly anyone noticed. As Timothy B. Lee notes on Ars Technica, "there are now actual driverless cars on the roads in Phoenix. That’s a big deal." In fact, Waymo has a pilot program that is currently running in Chandler, AZ, thanks in part to a 2015 executive order from Gov. Doug Ducey that guided Arizona to be "hands off" with the burgeoning autonomous and connected vehicle industry, making Arizona a test bed for technology, despite having no in-state auto manufacturing. Earlier this year, Uber’s self-driving cars started picking up passengers in Tempe, AZ, after California ordered Uber to shut down its new self-driving car service in San Francisco.

To be clear, these driverless vehicles are essentially at Level 4 automation, operating driverless "in certain circumstances."

The Ars Technica article notes that snowy conditions may prove challenging, which aren't found in sunny Arizona, but that "we can expect Waymo to methodically attack each of these limitations in the coming months and years." John Rosevear with The Motley Fool (via Business Insider) reported on Oct. 30, 2017 that Waymo is on this, as it will be "expanding its test fleet to the metropolitan Detroit area specifically to gain experience with driving in snowy and icy conditions." But Rosevear notes Waymo is not unique here:
In fact, Waymo is almost certainly joining a crowd: There are likely to be several companies testing prototype self-driving systems on the roads of southeast Michigan this winter, including General Motors, Delphi Automotive, and others.
And then there's pedestrians in busy cities. As suggested by Jean-Louis Gassée on Monday Note, Level 5, or complete automation in all situations, is "not likely to happen any time soon," citing Chris Urmson (Google’s Director of Self-Driving Cars from 2013 to late 2016) who said in he said it may be "as long as 30 years" for Level 5 when he spoke at SXSW in March 2016.

Then again, there might be a different solution beyond complex systems to track pedestrians and figure out with varying levels of certainty as to where they'll move, like those early efforts to signal to others that a driver wanted to turn.

And if you're wondering with the Federal government is in all of this, here's Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) Resources from U.S. DOT, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is stating technology can save lives [as] 94% of serious crashes [are] due to human error. On Sept. 12, 2017, USDOT and NHTSA announced their joint release of Automated Driving Systems (ADS): A Vision for Safety 2.0 (PDF), voluntary guidance for the industries involved with autonomous on-road vehicles.

[Previously: The long, winding road to fully automated cars]
posted by filthy light thief (117 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
Americans have been losing jobs to machines for years, but I think seeing driverless cars is going to highlight the issue in a way seeing self checkout lanes never will, and anytime I think of self driving cars, I also think of universal basic income. I see the two subjects as being joined at the hip.
posted by Beholder at 1:29 PM on December 27, 2017 [15 favorites]


Level 6 self driving cars IMHO are a lot farther off than most think (I agree with Urmson), but self driving trucks will come first.

It's a much easier problem to solve -- worry only about highways and long haul trucking, then have way stations outside of cities where the "last mile(s)" human drivers hop in to navigate the treacherous city streets. It will also eat the jobs of some 1+ million people in the US alone.
posted by benzenedream at 1:43 PM on December 27, 2017 [12 favorites]


I keep wondering what's to stop people (like protesters, or just random jerks) from standing in front of the cars to halt their progress.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:45 PM on December 27, 2017 [3 favorites]


I keep wondering what's to stop people (like protesters, or just random jerks) from standing in front of the cars to halt their progress.
I think the GOP's been working on that one by legalizing running protesters over for committing "economic terrorism".
posted by CrystalDave at 1:49 PM on December 27, 2017 [23 favorites]


I keep wondering what's to stop people (like protesters, or just random jerks) from standing in front of the cars to halt their progress.

The same thing that stops them today, right? If you stand in front of a car you (most likely) won't get run over. You will just make someone real mad, and probably be violating some kind of small law that you could in theory be arrested for if you continue being sufficiently annoying.
posted by value of information at 1:52 PM on December 27, 2017 [4 favorites]


snowy conditions may prove challenging, which aren't found in sunny Arizona,

The Fins do it.

The Russians do it.

The nerds do it.

Germans too.

Google (Waymo) also.

Even Tesla is working on snow.

(just a quick search of /r/selfdrivingcars, which is quite a good ongoing news filter for current sdc articles)
posted by sammyo at 1:57 PM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


Yes, truck transport is where I expect automation to go first. A convoy of automated trucks with one human supervisor to take care of fueling and anything unexpected.
posted by tavella at 1:58 PM on December 27, 2017


It will also eat the jobs of some 1+ million people in the US alone.

But this is the fault of a dumb economic system that requires "work", not the fault of the tech.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 2:07 PM on December 27, 2017 [16 favorites]


Yes, truck transport is where I expect automation to go first. A convoy of automated trucks with one human supervisor to take care of fueling and anything unexpected.

This is also known as "Interstate 5".
posted by maxwelton at 2:09 PM on December 27, 2017 [3 favorites]


How can we be this close to driverless cars and still not have safe driverless trains mastered? Shouldn't trains be a lot easier ?
posted by mumblelard at 2:10 PM on December 27, 2017 [8 favorites]



Yes, truck transport is where I expect automation to go first. A convoy of automated trucks with one human supervisor to take care of fueling and anything unexpected.


It's also called a train.
posted by Keith Talent at 2:12 PM on December 27, 2017 [20 favorites]


At this point it's looking like sensors (LIDAR) that are cheap, available and good (there's a joke in there) may be the biggest issue. A $80k laser with mirrors spinning at 10 rotations per second that is perhaps going to ship in dozens or hundreds of units will slow the widespread adoption. There a bunch of companies burning through VC funding to come up with a solid state device (no moving parts!) with the accuracy of the current devices, there is some suspicion that Waymo has some tech but they are generally rather quiet.

It also takes the equivalent of a very high end gaming system to analyse the the image of a nanny pushing a baby carriage into the street at sub second latency, big physical boxes (seem to fill the trunk) and a high power requirement. Nvidia and Intel are releasing new chips and boards but that's yet another tech pipeline.

The tech is here, very cool, will save lives, will let me read a nice novel on the road, will change industries. We have good (google), cheap will come with tech economies of scale (chips get cheaper) but hard to know when the (fast) roll out will occur.
posted by sammyo at 2:19 PM on December 27, 2017 [2 favorites]


Phoenix is made for driverless cars. Aside from the weather, it's a great big grid, hugely spread out, and both man and nature have done everything in their power to drive pedestrians and bicyclists off the streets.
posted by darksasami at 2:25 PM on December 27, 2017 [12 favorites]


How can we be this close to driverless cars and still not have safe driverless trains mastered? Shouldn't trains be a lot easier?

Driver pay is a very big chunk of the cost of moving a ton a freight by truck, but (I'm guessing) driver pay is a tiny fraction of the cost of moving a ton of freight by train. There's a clear payoff to made from automating trucks.
posted by Western Infidels at 2:31 PM on December 27, 2017 [4 favorites]


Driverless cars became a reality in 2017 and hardly anyone noticed.

I wonder if this is part of the strategy to cultural acceptance. The number of people I've talked to who are worried about this is pretty high, in terms of thinking it will cause more accidents. Being able to come at a later time and say that "we've actually been doing this for awhile, and here are the accident stats" could be a pretty powerful argument in favor of broader adoption.
posted by SpacemanStix at 2:37 PM on December 27, 2017 [6 favorites]


There a bunch of companies burning through VC funding to come up with a solid state device (no moving parts!) with the accuracy of the current devices

Yeah, this is already been happening with structured light systems like the Kinect and and the new iPhone face recognition sensor.

I know these aren't nearlyu as accurate as a full LIDAR scanner, yet, but this is how they'll do it, using structured laser light and maybe DLP/DMD light processing MEMS chips or advanced holographic diffraction gratings for beam splitting instead of a scanning mirror/laser/camera combo.

So where you see a bunch of awkwardly bulky sensor packages on self driving cars now, in the future it'll be a barely noticeable row of small bumps on the bumper and roofline, not unlike parking assistance radar and camera packages as found on higher end cars right right now. (As much as cyberfetishists everywhere want a bunch of giant LIDAR scanners strapped to their Autoduel deathmobile and branded with the word SICK on each one, it's not going to happen like that.)

One thing I'm very curious about is how people will handle dirty sensors. There will probably need to be some new laws added to the motor vehicle code in the sections reserved for keeping your windows and lights clean and how that can expose you to charges if you get in an accident or something.
posted by loquacious at 2:37 PM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


From what I understand, there may not be a driver in the driver's seat in very limited cases, but there are safety drivers in the car who have computer controls to assist the "driverless" vehicle. Nobody is turning true driverless cars loose on the streets.

Beware the corporate hype.
posted by JackFlash at 2:40 PM on December 27, 2017 [7 favorites]


No, driverless cars did not become a reality in 2017.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 2:44 PM on December 27, 2017 [10 favorites]


pilot program

pilotless program, surely...
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:46 PM on December 27, 2017 [9 favorites]


Nobody is turning true driverless cars loose on the streets.

Just a suburb of Phoenix, and yes, limited at the moment, but it is sans-safety driver in that one instance.

the company has been operating its autonomous minivans on public roads in Arizona without a safety driver — or any human at all — behind the wheel.
posted by sammyo at 2:50 PM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


behind the wheel

Note the qualifier.
posted by JackFlash at 2:52 PM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


Driverless Cars Could Make Transportation Free for Everyone—With a Catch (Judith Donath for Citylab, Dec 22, 2017) -- Want a gratis ride? You’ll just have to stop at some stores along the way.

Similar but different ideas: How free self-driving car rides could change everything (Matt McFarland for CNN Money)
It's Saturday night, and you're planning an evening out. You fire up a ridesharing app to head out to your favorite restaurant.

But then an ad appears, offering a free ride to a new Thai spot on the other side of town.

Suddenly, you're reconsidering plans: Why pay for a ride to one neighborhood when another is totally free? Ultimately, your favorite restaurant could lose a customer.

Scenarios like this may play out in the coming era of self-driving vehicles. The cost of offering fully autonomous rides could be so low that businesses will be tempted to subsidize the rides to boost their bottom line.

According to experts, the move could have big implications not only for businesses but for cities, public transportation systems and car owners.
The future is uncertain, but there certainly will be ad-supported free rides (maybe).
posted by filthy light thief at 3:04 PM on December 27, 2017 [8 favorites]


You know, if you've got a set of cameras on the trucks, and drive by wire set up for the AI's use, you could probably also drive them remotely in a pinch. It's not quite commanding drones from your home office, so latency might require remote drivers be stationed nearby, but you wouldn't have to stop or divert the truck for human driver to board in the typical case at least. A lot of the shipping hubs are conveniently located near highways anyways.

But yea, lets avoid turning the street from I-35 to Wal-Mart into a pedestrian kill zone.
posted by pwnguin at 3:18 PM on December 27, 2017 [2 favorites]


...and anytime I think of self driving cars, I also think of universal basic income. I see the two subjects as being joined at the hip.

Not to worry. Dr. Global Capitalism will be able to separate the twins, though one of them (UBI) will almost certainly die during the operation.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:18 PM on December 27, 2017 [9 favorites]


ad-supported free rides

I'm not looking forward to how they plan to enforce that, so to speak. I assume it will be with the legally loudest blaring sound and brightest most offensive lights on the most screens possible. Like a mobile Times Square.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:49 PM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


I for one am very ready for this reality.

Still shaken from the serious accident (or more accurately, collision) I saw just minutes ago while walking the dog. Preventing the bulk of that? I will accept many tradeoffs.
posted by mosst at 3:52 PM on December 27, 2017 [10 favorites]


The cost of offering fully autonomous rides could be so low that businesses will be tempted to subsidize the rides to boost their bottom line.
One might hope the analogue would be that the cost of offering fully autonomous rides will be so low we'd all rather pay cash than pay in time spent on advertising. Not having to watch a commercial in transit is worth more to me than the alternative could possibly be worth to an advertiser. (Sadly, the present state of online and mobile media suggest most people disagree.)
posted by eotvos at 3:58 PM on December 27, 2017 [3 favorites]


xkcd
posted by sammyo at 3:58 PM on December 27, 2017 [2 favorites]


No, driverless cars did not become a reality in 2017.

Are you calling fake news on this? I was in Phoenix. I saw the cars drive. The people in them? There were none.

You can’t explain that.
posted by Construction Concern at 4:01 PM on December 27, 2017 [22 favorites]


I’ve seen cost breakdowns that show the driver’s piece of the per mile operating expenses of a big rig in the neighborhood of 25 percent. That still leaves 75 percent of the cost (more than half of that reminder is fuel) and that’s somehow too cheap to meter?

Electric vehicles and cheap electricity will have the far bigger impact on cost per mile versus eliminating the driver, but we rarely hear that future of transport described as too cheap to meter. I’m missing something, probably.
posted by notyou at 4:19 PM on December 27, 2017 [3 favorites]


You know if you have a driverless truck going city to city with an empty cab that only gets used once you get there you could sell those seats to passengers. Stop paying drivers, get paid instead seems pretty cost effective. Could be way cheaper for the passenger than greyhound and private too.
posted by subtle_squid at 4:37 PM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


Driverless cars aren’t going to matter when certain cities get hit with major migrations of people due to climate change or just because people want to live in urban areas, and suddenly they’re looking at tens or hundreds of thousands or even millions more people and congestion is so bad that rush hour lasts all day.
posted by gucci mane at 4:38 PM on December 27, 2017 [2 favorites]


My guess is, just considering commercials in transit is optimistic: I would think that cars will follow you around and shout advertisements and subsidized ride offers at you.
posted by XMLicious at 4:53 PM on December 27, 2017 [4 favorites]


Keith Talent: It's also called a train.

Which requires very expensive single-purpose, inflexible infrastructure and right of ways. Being able to run with the low human overhead of trains on regular highways is quite different.
posted by tavella at 4:58 PM on December 27, 2017 [5 favorites]


I got to ride in one of the Uber ones, on a very stormy night in Pittsburgh.

In one area, we got honked at because other cars were shifted a few feet out of the lane since they couldn't see the lane line, and we were maintaining the exact center of the lane using LIDAR.

In another spot, we sat waiting when a truck stopped to make a delivery in front of us, and the Uber engineer accompanying us explained that the car would sit there forever unless he manually drove the car around the stopped truck (and he did).

So it "worked" in the sense that we weren't at risk of hitting anybody, but if the Uber engineer hadn't been in the car, it would have been a much more inconvenient and irritating short trip.

I wonder if it will turn out to be like Roomba. They were terrible and primitive for more than 10 years after their introduction, and during that time it was faster and easier just to vacuum the floor yourself. (Which is demonstrated by businesses not using Roombas.) The technology has gotten far better and a $500 Roomba is probably a good replacement for a human with a vacuum by now, but public perception is still so negative that it may take a few more years for people to realize that.
posted by miyabo at 5:00 PM on December 27, 2017 [13 favorites]


I like the idea of improved safety, but I don't even see cyclists mentioned in any of these articles. Are they (we) even being taken into consideration in the programming? We don't behave/look like cars and we don't behave like pedestrians. I've heard of lane-assist cars resisting crossing the center line to safely pass a cyclist with sufficient room. I think that we will probably get to a point of AVs improving safety, but in that interim learning period, I worry.
posted by misskaz at 5:11 PM on December 27, 2017 [8 favorites]


Electric vehicles and cheap electricity will have the far bigger impact on cost per mile versus eliminating the driver, but we rarely hear that future of transport described as too cheap to meter. I’m missing something, probably.

Probably that we've already been burned by the "too cheap to meter" promise once before. No one with any sense of history is going to believe that one.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:13 PM on December 27, 2017 [5 favorites]


I'm not looking forward to how they plan to enforce that, so to speak. I assume it will be with the legally loudest blaring sound and brightest most offensive lights on the most screens possible. Like a mobile Times Square.

Robotic versions of the slap-chop guy will pitch dodgy products to you whilst staring at your boobs and/or junk.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 5:17 PM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


but I don't even see cyclists mentioned in any of these articles

If you go back to the Atlantic article on Waymo, it's fairly clear that they are modeling cars, cyclists, motorcycles, and pedestrians as distinct things with different expectations for how they might act. I don't think it's possible to get as far as they have without taking cyclists very seriously.
posted by allegedly at 5:34 PM on December 27, 2017 [5 favorites]


Like I say every time this comes up; automated cars will bring good and bad, like most things, but how you judge that will depend on who you are. For me, I think this is one of the worst things that will come to define the new dystopia.

Of course you will be tracked everywhere you go, that's not even an option, but I believe they will come to dictate where you can go. When you consider advertising, insurance, etc. I can't see how having your own manual controlled car will be anything but an extravagance for the wealthy at some point.

Good luck getting that car to take you to the protest downtown.
posted by bongo_x at 5:37 PM on December 27, 2017 [11 favorites]


Which requires very expensive single-purpose, inflexible infrastructure and right of ways. Being able to run with the low human overhead of trains on regular highways is quite different.

This will sound snarky, but what exactly are highways if not "very expensive single-purpose, inflexible infrastructure and right of ways"?
posted by hoyland at 5:39 PM on December 27, 2017 [26 favorites]


I've been watching the development of these things for about fifteen years and I've gone from being really enthusiastic about self-driving cars to being pretty sceptical that they'll be ready for general use within the next twenty years. It's been a decade since the DARPA Urban Challenge which blew me away at the time but progress since then has seemed to be painfully slow. The Uber cars that are all over Pittsburgh still need a human driver behind the wheel who has to take control at least once a mile.
posted by octothorpe at 6:03 PM on December 27, 2017 [3 favorites]


I would think that cars will follow you around and shout advertisements and subsidized ride offers at you.

Oh, man, like trying to intentionally walk somewhere in a city isn't already bad enough.

Of course you will be tracked everywhere you go, that's not even an option, but I believe they will come to dictate where you can go. When you consider advertising, insurance, etc. I can't see how having your own manual controlled car will be anything but an extravagance for the wealthy at some point.

Good luck getting that car to take you to the protest downtown.


This has already happened in Seattle, at least in the form of the Link refusing to stop at stations near SeaTac airport when there was a massive protest gathering in opposition to the flight and Muslim travel bans. And, related, good luck getting a regular medallion cab or even an Uber to drive you right up to or into a protest.

John Brunner also addresses this in, I believe, Jagged Orbit or Netrunner. Except that the automated mass transit for the plebes is actually a lot worse than self driving cars, it's basically Elon Musk's hyperloop concept, except as an extremely complicated packet based switching network. For humans. You get into a little solo or multi-person pod and pretty much mail yourself to your intended destination, and you're zipped through the network like a piece of extremely high velocity old fashioned pneumatic tube mail.

And of course it routes around civil unrest and whatnot, and if I remember correctly it's presented as this veiled-friendly "Oh no I can't deliver you there right now, Citizen. It's much too unsafe/dangerous at those locations.' And people (read: dissidents) get lost all the time. Like, their packet/pod is dropped and just lost in the system. Unable to be found. Just like how losing a piece of mail. "Whoops, sorry. These things happen."

If I'm remembering correctly there's a bit of side story and exposition how there's rumors and stories about how pods/packets will get lost in the stream and basically get stuck circulating in a packet loop as the passenger(s) slowly starve to death. Or the pod exceeds occupied velocities, turning whoever is inside to goo. Then eventually that pod will leave the loop, end back up in circulation and presents it's macabre contents to some unlucky passengers as though it were empty.

I think I'm going to keep riding my bicycle. Please don't kill me, robot cars.
posted by loquacious at 6:09 PM on December 27, 2017 [27 favorites]


It's a much easier problem to solve -- worry only about highways and long haul trucking, then have way stations outside of cities where the "last mile(s)" human drivers hop in to navigate the treacherous city streets. It will also eat the jobs of some 1+ million people in the US alone.

And this is why Democrats, if they gave a damn about the working class, would step in with legislation to ban driverless vehicles in all but the most limited circumstances, but Democrats have figured out that staying just to the left of Republicans is good enough to get elected, but not enough to upset corporate donors.
posted by Beholder at 6:11 PM on December 27, 2017


I read a book called Version Control last year in which a near-future driverless car causes all kind of heck, and this whole thread makes me very anxious.
posted by lizifer at 6:21 PM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


pretty sceptical that they'll be ready for general use within the next twenty years.

I'm also skeptical that it's about to happen as soon as people seem to think (or more truthfully, trying to sell). Actually, I don't think it's ever going to happen the way most people talk on the internet, I think it will be corrupted and changed by the time the technology is truly ready.
posted by bongo_x at 6:22 PM on December 27, 2017 [2 favorites]


Cadigan's Synners still convinces me with its vision of ad-supported semiautonomous cars and the least regulation needed to keep them running (mostly).

Plus also instaparty and $FOO-porn.
posted by clew at 6:31 PM on December 27, 2017


I am most excited by the potential for driverless vehicles to improve mobility and independence for the elderly, disabled, and those who can't drive. Some non-drivers live in areas where public transit, paratransit, Lyft, kind neighbors, etc. are easy to come by. Others are not so lucky. I'm thinking of a friend who had low vision and wound up living in the suburbs. Her husband, who did drive, worked away from home much of the time - so Friend was left relying on an elderly neighbor whose driving abilities had deteriorated, or on paratransit and taxis (vouchers were free for people with low vision) which were not reliable.

I know how much people love to be Luddites about this stuff around here but I think there can be good coming from driverless cars, too, in the form of fewer shut-ins.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:48 PM on December 27, 2017 [12 favorites]


I'm also skeptical that it's about to happen as soon as people seem to think (or more truthfully, trying to sell). Actually, I don't think it's ever going to happen the way most people talk on the internet, I think it will be corrupted and changed by the time the technology is truly ready.
--bongo_x

All the 'skeptical that it's going to happen', not just with commenters here, but journalists, including several car journalists, is really really blowing my mind.

How can you be skeptical that it is 'going to happen', when, in fact, it is already happening? It is here, now. The only question is how far and how fast this will spread elsewhere.

People are closing their eyes and plugging their ears and saying "I don't see you."
posted by eye of newt at 6:49 PM on December 27, 2017 [9 favorites]


And this is why Democrats, if they gave a damn about the working class, would step in with legislation to ban driverless vehicles in all but the most limited circumstances, but Democrats have figured out that staying just to the left of Republicans is good enough to get elected, but not enough to upset corporate donors.

We already have one party standing across history yelling, “Stop!” We don’t need two.

We need to be concerned about counteracting the negative effects and consequences of tech (via job training, education, basic income, etc), not try to stop it altogether, particularly when in this case it can save literally 10s of thousands of lives every year.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:54 PM on December 27, 2017 [29 favorites]


I don't even see cyclists mentioned in any of these articles. Are they (we) even being taken into consideration in the programming?

Couple years ago saw a talk by then head of the google program Chris Urmson, one live example was a messy intersection at night with a cyclist zigzaging through traffic, he said he would have probably hit the bike, but the SDC identified it as a cyclist and avoided.
posted by sammyo at 6:58 PM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


How can you be skeptical that it is 'going to happen', when, in fact, it is already happening? It is here, now.

They aren't being skeptical about it happening. They're expressing skepticism about the rosy timeframe for it achieving ubiquity, as well as pointing out some very real drawbacks that need to be considered and dealt with.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:59 PM on December 27, 2017 [7 favorites]


>>It will also eat the jobs of some 1+ million people in the US alone.
>
>And this is why Democrats, if they gave a damn about the working class,
>would step in with legislation to ban driverless vehicles in all but the
>most limited circumstances...


That's a curious way to look at it. If we're going to be giving people jobs that don't need to be done, why don't we find something more interesting for them?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:11 PM on December 27, 2017 [10 favorites]


I think I'm going to keep riding my bicycle. Please don't kill me, robot cars.

These days I'm mostly a pedestrian rather than a cyclist (and a driver for anything long-distance), but I am almost certain that I would feel far safer walking or riding on a street full of robot cars. Even if they were shitty robot cars and didn't tend to see cyclists and walkers, they would at least be predictable. I walk through a busy intersection every day, and it is nerve racking how random drivers are.

I'm always having to do those little calculations: will he actually slow down? is she going to look up from her phone in time? With self-driving cars, I am hopeful that they would, say, stop reliably at red lights, which human drivers miss with some frequency.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:21 PM on December 27, 2017 [9 favorites]


... I don't even see cyclists mentioned in any of these articles.

Hey guys, found the cyclist!
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:23 PM on December 27, 2017 [3 favorites]


How can you be skeptical that it is 'going to happen', when, in fact, it is already happening? It is here, now.

What is here now? There are no driverless cars that don't have backup drivers in the vehicle to help them out.
posted by JackFlash at 7:33 PM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


How can you be skeptical that it is 'going to happen', when, in fact, it is already happening? It is here, now.

Can I call a totally autonomous car right now and have it show up at my front door and then drive me to my office? In any weather? At night? Can it fuel itself? Is it insured? Is it legal? Is it economically viable? The answer is no, there's no such animal in December of 2017.

I'm totally confident that such a thing will exist at some point in the future and probably within my lifetime but it's not "happening" right now.
posted by octothorpe at 7:35 PM on December 27, 2017 [6 favorites]


How can you be skeptical that it is 'going to happen', when, in fact, it is already happening? It is here, now. The only question is how far and how fast this will spread elsewhere.

By that criteria we have robot butlers and personal rockets now.

I can't even find an article about a Segway from the last few years.

I think there could be a benefit, like the Segway, for certain applications using self driving cars. As for them being ubiquitous, I'm not sure I see the upside for the average person, but a lot of potential downside if they become the norm. There's no free lunch.
posted by bongo_x at 7:39 PM on December 27, 2017 [3 favorites]


JackFlash wrote...
What is here now? There are no driverless cars that don't have backup drivers in the vehicle to help them out.

Construction Concern wrote...
Are you calling fake news on this? I was in Phoenix. I saw the cars drive. The people in them? There were none.

There seems to be some difference of opinion here.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:42 PM on December 27, 2017 [2 favorites]


There seems to be some difference of opinion here.

Did you read the article linked previously? It says:

"Fully self-driving cars are here,” Krafcik said, according to a copy of his speech provided by Waymo. There are some caveats, of course. A Waymo employee will remain in the vehicle for now. But instead of being in the front seat, that employee will likely sit behind the driver’s seat."

Even Waymo says that a safety driver will remain in the car. For how long? Who knows? But for now there are safety drivers in the vehicle at all times. Those are the words of Waymo CEO John Krafcik. Is the CEO lying?
posted by JackFlash at 7:58 PM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


Upside for the average person? Fewer collisions from human error, both when you're inside and outside the car. No DUIs. People with mobility impairments (which, across our lifetimes, is probably most of us) can travel freely. You can do interesting or productive things instead of driving. Cars can park in places other than downtowns, freeing up a tremendous amount of space for meaningful human activity. That’s just to start.
posted by mosst at 7:59 PM on December 27, 2017 [5 favorites]


What I'm really interested in is how they'll handle road code differences and changes to the code over time. if it's relying on machine learning it needs to be retrainable easily enough for every state/country and change. I mean it's doable but they need to make it an intrinsic part of the system .
posted by WaterAndPixels at 8:01 PM on December 27, 2017


The thing that blows my mind when we talk about these vehicles is that they don’t exist in a vacuum. It’s either self-driving cars or human operated cars (or walking or mass transit or bikes, all of which are my first preference, but they don’t work for all situations so setting those aside from now). Accepting human operated cars is a TREMENDOUS risk. So many people die every day - drivers, passengers, pedestrians, bikers, construction workers. Until we can replace these cars with something better (including the types of automation like self braking), we are allowing that to continue. No progress would be a terrible choice. Or do people not see how dangerous and destructive today’s cars are because we’ve just normalized it so much?
posted by mosst at 8:04 PM on December 27, 2017 [12 favorites]


Upside for the average person? Fewer collisions from human error, both when your inside and outside the car. No DUIs.

Those are only true if nearly or everyone has them.

People with mobility impairments (which, across our lifetimes, is probably most of us) can travel freely.

That seems the best and most likely use to me.

But what I mean is, if society went fully to self driving cars, and inevitably you wouldn't own them, what would be the advantages or fundamental differences from mass transit? It seems like it would just be more wasteful.

Let's say Lyft has self driving cars. Might as well pick some other people up on the way. Make bigger cars to handle this. Drive the most common, most efficient routes more often. Constantly drive those routes and pick up people as you go. Meet your driver at the street because it's more efficient. Now you have buses.

I think self driving mass transit is probably where this will end up. Rich people will have cars.
posted by bongo_x at 8:14 PM on December 27, 2017 [5 favorites]


I'm still trying to figure out how, when all the corporations have eliminated all the jobs, there will be anyone with any money to buy the things they are wanting to sell.

Eliminating the consumer doesn't seem like a good long-term corporate strategy.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:20 PM on December 27, 2017 [7 favorites]


We already have one party standing across history yelling, “Stop!” We don’t need two.

Oh, that's something a well fed economist would say. The same economist who extolled the virtues of a borderless economy. It's easy for them to rationalize this attack on the bottom rung when their job isn't threatened. Anything which puts millions of people out of work is not progress, especially when the people being left behind are (as usual) mostly working class, minorities, and women.

Take a look at who's driving those city buses, school buses, cabs, street sweepers, and dump trucks. It's not White men with college degrees. It's the Democratic base. It's our allies.
posted by Beholder at 8:24 PM on December 27, 2017 [4 favorites]


The government of Saudi Arabia invested $3.5 billion in Uber. The actual government of the country, not private citizens who happen to be Saudis.

"See honey? You don't need to drive. Or walk. Or take public transportation. I will use this app to control your pickup and drop-off in a driverless car where you will not interact with any men."
posted by mrmurbles at 8:25 PM on December 27, 2017 [8 favorites]


I have to dodge multiple distracted people almost every time I get in the car. People merging onto the freeway busy texting. Swerving out of their lane because they're looking at their phone. Not noticing the light is red because they're dealing with their screaming child in the backseat. Dudes who think that turning right means they don't have to look for a bicycle. People randomly deciding that they need to merge across 3 lanes of traffic at once to turn left in front of you. I've been run off the freeway and onto the shoulder by sleep deprived long haul truckers twice now.

As far as I'm concerned, from a safety perspective, even if these self-driving cars were terrible at it, it'd be really hard to do as badly as human drivers do now for 80%+ of use cases. Maybe the human driver has to take over for the blizzard or the dirt road or whatever edge cases the technology isn't quite up to snuff at yet. Machines are great at doing predictable, repetitive, boring tasks, and humans are simply quite awful at it, and the sooner they can take over from us the better IMO.
posted by Feyala at 8:26 PM on December 27, 2017 [8 favorites]


I think self driving mass transit is probably where this will end up

I live about 2 miles from a train station. It's a bit far to walk, and there's no parking at the station (even for bikes), so I never really use it. A self driving van that just scoots around the neighborhood at low speeds and takes them to the train station would be incredibly useful and would probably greatly increase transit ridership.
posted by miyabo at 8:37 PM on December 27, 2017 [4 favorites]


can't wait for the piles n piles o' poo in the backseats of these driverless cabs! (and no, having cameras in them won't make a bit of difference.)
posted by wibari at 8:52 PM on December 27, 2017 [6 favorites]


But what I mean is, if society went fully to self driving cars, and inevitably you wouldn't own them, what would be the advantages or fundamental differences from mass transit?

Well, as currently constructed, my municipality owns and operates the mass transit system. I don't know about you, but being beholden to Uber or fuckin Waymo for my very ability to get to my job or go about my day gives me the absolute creeps. If we are headed to a driverless car society, the minimum I need to see to get on board is:

1. It is managed and regulated as a public utility, with extremely limited sharing of data that can identify and track passengers.
2. We are absolutely sure that the externalities don't exceed those of a well-constructed public transit system in terms of carbon emissions, costs to operate and maintain, and accessibility.
3. Reasonable fee for service enforced, with strict limitations on advertising, similar to public transit now. No 80 decibel blaring ads.
4. It delivers you to your selected destination in a transparent and predictable manner.

I think that ideally self-driving cars would be limited in use, in a mixed transit system featuring light rail, buses, and personal transport including walking and bikes. I'm extremely leery of how Waymo and Uber will put such technology to use, given Uber's track record of grayballing enforcement and regulators. Pedestrian safety is a great benefit, as is accessibility for limited mobility individuals, but data is going to need to be handled very carefully, and owners/operators governed very closely.
posted by Existential Dread at 9:28 PM on December 27, 2017 [13 favorites]


I mean, if I lived in a socialist country or even a functional democracy, I could imagine being excited about self-driving cars. I can still feel some of that in moments, like when I'm exhausted and I have a long drive home.

But I don't live in a remotely reasonable country. I live in the United States of America, which is already dystopian in many ways for many people and which threatens to become even more dystopian in all sorts of ways.

I think it has always been myopic and dangerous to believe that research and technological development were somehow neutral and intrinsically beneficial, but that seems more and more glaringly clear. I'm not trying to say that science is bad, but that questions about prioritizing avenues of inquiry and deciding how to design and manufacture technologies are and always have been economic and political questions. As are questions about who will control access to those technologies and who will profit from them.

I think it would be totally possible for self-driving cars to be designed, manufactured, and used in such a way that they would benefit humans as a whole--and, widening the scope, also benefit the ecological webs that we're embedded in and rely on for our survival. But given what Silicon Valley has already done (and how the government has responded/failed to respond) I feel highly skeptical that the technology will be structured and implemented in such a way.

If you are interested in persuading skeptical folks, it's probably important to address these questions and concerns. And of course, in the real world beyond the shiny techno-utopian dreams and the narrowly conceived engineering models, the questions of social responses and potential economic devastation are both highly relevant and also have logistical implications.
posted by overglow at 9:30 PM on December 27, 2017 [9 favorites]


For my comment above, my first couple sentences came out maybe a bit more combative than intended, and I think bongo_x and I are on the same page. Sorry about that.
posted by Existential Dread at 9:44 PM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


I was pretty sure we were, but I'm easily confused.
posted by bongo_x at 10:33 PM on December 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


I am alllll for self-driving cars, and I wish my “radical cred” wasn’t put into question for saying this. Driving freaks me out. The few lessons I’ve had made me feel like TOO MUCH INFORMATION I’M GOING TO MURDER SOMEONE. Yet I’m sick & tired of a billion job ads where I could do 99.99% of the requirements, but they require a car & license for some reason (driving isn’t even the job), and no amount of “I can get around somehow” will get them to budge. (Some of these jobs involve carting around props and tech, which is hard to do on public transit.) Driverless cars means MORE jobs for me.

Also my dad is dealing with vertigo but he’s in a city where public transport is a joke, cabs may as well kidnap you, and he doesn’t trust Uber. Instead he still drives people around himself even when he knows he’s PUTTING EVERYONE AT RISK OF DEATH. Driverless cars would solve half his problems easy.
posted by divabat at 11:06 PM on December 27, 2017 [7 favorites]


The same thing that stops them today, right? If you stand in front of a car you (most likely) won't get run over.

If you stand in front of a car now it will have a driver who might berate you, agressively drive around you, reverse or pull an illegal u-turn, or even possibly run you over. But a self-driving car might not even have a passenger in it. What's it going to do, honk and flash some lights? Instruct someone in a cubicle to call the police, who might not arrive right away?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:13 AM on December 28, 2017


cabs may as well kidnap you, and he doesn’t trust Uber

Honestly if your dad is really a danger on the road, he needs to get over himself and consider one of those two options.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:16 AM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't trust cabs in that entire country too (they have actually tried to kidnap me before) and I think Uber tried to double-charge him at some point with no recourse, hence his distrust. (Also, it's still relatively new in that country, so I don't know what the uptake is like.) I get what you mean, but I also get why he feels like his options are limited, and self-driving cars would do SO MUCH.

(The vertigo thing is really new and it came with a lot of yelling from me when I found out)
posted by divabat at 12:26 AM on December 28, 2017 [3 favorites]


I keep wondering what's to stop people (like protesters, or just random jerks) from standing in front of the cars to halt their progress.

Pretty much the same as it is today.

Actual people are in these driverless cars, or in the cars behind them. They want to get where they are going. If you stand in the road to block traffic, someone will get out, open the trunk, get out a tire iron, and beat your ass. Or just shoot you. And if the driverless car has a manual override, people in that car could override you.
posted by pracowity at 12:56 AM on December 28, 2017


How can we be this close to driverless cars and still not have safe driverless trains mastered?

We do in some environments - the London DLR is driverless and a lot of the Underground and many other light/underground rail systems is ‘driverless’ in the sense that the driving is automated but there are drivers on board doing some of the work (like controlling the doors). But, we don’t have the same kind of self-destructive cultural infatuation with trains that we do with cars.

I am one of the self-driving car target markets in a way - I can’t safely drive myself due to visual impairment - but, I’m not as bowled over by the promise of them as I could be. I do look forward to seeing them and seeing a massive drop in the number of traffic injuries and deaths, this is excellent! As a method for moving people around, though, private individual cars have limits in terms of efficiency, energy, pollution, road-space, and public health and community issues, none of which will be addressed by removing the driver. Safer cars is good, but we also need more money and attention going to alternatives to cars.
posted by Catseye at 1:25 AM on December 28, 2017 [3 favorites]


> I saw the cars drive. The people in them? There were none.

Or were there?
posted by ardgedee at 2:24 AM on December 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


private individual cars have limits in terms of efficiency, energy, pollution, road-space, and public health and community issues, none of which will be addressed by removing the driver.

Private cars are inevitable. People will not give up their cars. Just ask, for example, all the women who use their cars as a secure way to get themselves (and often their kids) around without worrying about weird strangers. Telling them to give up private cars for the sake of efficiency would be like telling them to live in communal homes for the sake of efficiency.

But a lot of people would be happy to not have to drive those private cars when they could be doing other things as passengers in their own cars. There is a subset of drivers who treat the road as a race track, and they won't be happy riding along in a car that doesn't let them compete with other drivers, but to hell with those guys.

So you keep the secure private mobile compartment with the private storage compartments for carrying your shit around every day, but you get rid of the crazy human behind the wheel.

And you make buses that drive themselves, but you replace the driver with a conductor/bouncer to keep passengers feeling safe. That would improve things a lot for people who don't have their own cars and could lure some people out of their cars. School buses would also be a lot better with an arrangement like that.
posted by pracowity at 2:38 AM on December 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


I’m not telling people to give up private cars! I’m saying that private cars have limits, and those limits mean we need to invest more time, energy and thought than we otherwise do into other forms of transport.

Just ask, for example, all the women who use their cars as a secure way to get themselves (and often their kids) around without worrying about weird strangers.

I am a woman, though, and I have a kid and no car and so rely heavily on public transport. I find it interesting that it’s often easier for people to envisage totally revolutionising artificial intelligence to achieve cities full of self-driving cars, than it is to imagine public transport that’s safe for women and kids (which most of the transport I/my kid use already is).
posted by Catseye at 3:02 AM on December 28, 2017 [15 favorites]


"Too cheap to meter" is only true if measuring and analyzing costs more than the thing being measured. There are very few things in a car which are too cheap to meter in that sense, because many of the attributes (fuel, mileage, speed) that contribute most to total cost of operation are extremely cheap to meter, in fact effectively free because they have been metered for decades -- gas gauges, odometers and speedometers have been put in cars for longer than any of us have been alive and are mandated by law. Electronic monitoring of tire pressure, electrical systems, fluids pressures, and so on are not necessarily mandated by law but they are built into your car anyway because they are effectively cheap and beneficial, whether or not you are the beneficiary. For example, your local full-service quick-stop auto shop franchisee couldn't operate as efficiently they do, with the relatively low reliance on master mechanics, without being able to pull codes off the engine computer before they've put your car on the lift. So that data's being collected anyway and the only thing a driverless car's owner-operator needs is a radio link to stream that data to their network operations center. Which, again, cheap technology that's been in use for years.

Aggregating and analyzing that data for engineering purposes has also been done for longer than we've had computers to help with it, so we've gotten very good at doing it efficiently, to the extent that the easily-measurable data can be used to reliably predict the aspects that are very difficult and expensive to measure, such as wear-and-tear on engine or drivetrain components.

The other side of "too cheap to meter" is that this presumes an entrepreneur-driven technology will not want to know as precisely as possible what all operating expenses are. Amazon's business model is a good comparison here: They can charge extremely low prices without taking losses because of (among other factors) their heavy reliance on (and understanding of) available data to ensure profit margins are reliably maintained even when they are razor-thin. If something is expensive to meter now but appears to have an effect on profit, they're going to measure it anyway, just to find out how relevant it actually is and whether the cost of metering can go down as scale goes up.
posted by ardgedee at 3:05 AM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


Eliminating the consumer doesn't seem like a good long-term corporate strategy.

Who needs consumers if you have slaves? Or robots? Or both?

That's kind of the hidden or not so hidden truth of this dance we call capitalism and consumerism. It's not really about jobs or economic growth or even the American Way or bettering everyone equally... pick whatever way of life we've been living in the modern developed world, really.

That hidden truth is that they (they being corporations/boardmembers) don't really care about consumers. I mean, buying things. They care about the resource extraction and looting of materials from the land and converting it into money as a form of concentrated power. This power is spent on leisure or acquiring more power. Or more land. Or more resources.

Getting people to make and buy too much crap out of the extracted resources is essentially the same functional thing as serfdom and the Enclosure Movement and land ownership - it's basically slavery with extra steps.

Look, I don't really mean to be too grim but the future isn't necessarily a boot stomping on a human face, forever.

It might actually be the oligarchs and elite finding relative immortality, lounging around being served the purest cocaine by robot sex slaves on their hyperyachts in the kind of relative, God-like paradise beyond the wildest dreams eco-tech fetishists and 70s dystopian science fiction movies.

I know that's a lot to unpack from self driving cars, but that's part of the automation cliff we seem to be facing. We've already spent the last 10-20 years trying to redefine what a job is or even means for a lot of people, too.

For better or worse, I don't know how much concepts like "jobs" or "consumers" are going to be useful in the future.

I do think it would serve us well to stop thinking of ourselves as consumers. This has always been weird and dehumanizing.
posted by loquacious at 4:41 AM on December 28, 2017 [11 favorites]


Driverless trucks for cargo/shipping/freight seem like ideal targets for large-scale theft - like the great train robberies of the Old West. Having passengers wouldn't add much security, since they're not going to have the same investment in protecting the company's property as drivers do today. Riders could even be useful accomplices, depending on the setup.

You know, if you've got a set of cameras on the trucks, and drive by wire set up for the AI's use, you could probably also drive them remotely in a pinch. It's not quite commanding drones
Sounds like a horrifying new mod of Desert Bus.
posted by cheshyre at 6:00 AM on December 28, 2017 [7 favorites]


tavella: Yes, truck transport is where I expect automation to go first. A convoy of automated trucks with one human supervisor to take care of fueling and anything unexpected.

Keith Talent: It's also called a train.

tavella: Which requires very expensive single-purpose, inflexible infrastructure and right of ways. Being able to run with the low human overhead of trains on regular highways is quite different.

hoyland: This will sound snarky, but what exactly are highways if not "very expensive single-purpose, inflexible infrastructure and right of ways"?

State transportation guy here - yes and no. Train tracks are very limited, and the majority of rail miles are owned by seven companies (the Class I lines), who don't share their plans for investments and development with anyone for fear of losing a competitive edge. And use of the rails is also limited, given that the rail companies are invested in both the infrastructure and the "rolling stock," or the trains themselves, as a means to charge others to carry goods (passenger rail is rarely a money-making endevour in the US, which I'll get to in a moment).

Roads, on the other hand, are paid for with public funds (for the majority of road miles), for the purpose of broad and diverse access for all users. Some roadways, like interstates, are limited access and use, but non-motorized vehicles are allowed on some interstates, and they're considered another vehicle on other roadways (though other roadway users and police don't always remember this). Heck, roadways can even be used for emergency (and non-emergency) aircraft takeoff and landing.

As for inflexible, "flexibility" is relative. Roads can be widened or narrowed with some ease, depending on the available right of way, amounts of use, and political will. For example, wide roads can be re-striped and ta-da you have a road diet with a median for turning and new bike lanes. Depending on the road, getting a driveway to access the roadway can be relatively easy or an arduous process, but generally it's a lot easier than trying to get a a rail siding to get onto a rail line from an adjacent property. Developing a new road or rail line is hard in either case, as you need to get the land, evaluate and avoid or mitigate potential impacts, before you invest in actually developing (and later maintaining) the infrastructure.

The easiest thing is developing walking or biking paths, but those aren't "lifelines for the economy" or whatever you want to call the major road and rail networks.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:40 AM on December 28, 2017 [7 favorites]


I see autonomous vehicles around almost every day down here... have yet to see one without an actual driver, but I guess that's not how it works?
posted by ph00dz at 7:49 AM on December 28, 2017


Back to trains: there are various reasons the US sucks at passenger trains, but regional density is the biggest hindrance as I see it. In metro areas, rails make sense, when you factor in the "invisible" costs of owning and operating a ton of single occupancy vehicles, but we Americans do love our "freedom" (to be stuck in traffic that crawls along, hour after hour).

I for one would love to see a major investment in buses, but I'd take more investment in any of the "big four" transit options (buses, bus rapid transit (BRT) with designated lanes, light and metro rail transit). But there's still the stigma of mass transit in most places, and the rub that most individuals don't factor all the costs into each of their personal vehicle trips. Add in the stress of traffic, and the "useless" time where you have to pay attention to traffic instead of reading a book, watching a video, or sleeping, mass transit is wonderful.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:51 AM on December 28, 2017 [5 favorites]


mosst: I for one am very ready for this reality.

Still shaken from the serious accident (or more accurately, collision) I saw just minutes ago while walking the dog. Preventing the bulk of that? I will accept many tradeoffs.


The safety industry standard term is "crash" or "incident," because "accident" implies a lack of fault. There have been more than 20,000 roadway fatalities per year in the U.S. since 1925, with that figure climbing to the 30,000s by 1930, then it waffled about a bit for decades until 1963, when that figure passed 40,000 fatalities per year, quickly climbing past 50,000 in 1966, and only dropping to the 40,000s starting in 1981, and the annual number of roadway fatalities finally got back below 40k per year in 2008.

Then there are the fatality rates per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, which were tragic in the 1920s, first recorded at 24 per 100 million VMT, dropping quickly to 15.77 per 100m VMT in 1926, then below 10 per 100m VMT in 1946, and below 5 per 100m VMT in 1970, below 2 in 1991, and in the low 1s since 2009. The fatalities per 100,000 population figures rates have roughly tracked with these after the 1930s. And none of this is tracking serious injuries -- as we have fewer deaths, we still have more than 2.5 million Americans going to the emergency department in 2012 due to motor vehicle crashes .

In short: we're getting better, but roadways have been really dangerous for a long time, and most of that is because of other people. Because of these sorts of statistics, and so many anecdotal experiences of people driving recklessly, now often because they're on their phones, I am more than ready for "good enough" technology to replace people behind the wheel. While I agree that more use of rail would be better, but I already said that.


ph00dz: I see autonomous vehicles around almost every day down here... have yet to see one without an actual driver, but I guess that's not how it works?

As JackFlash has pointed out, there are still a lot of people involved somewhere in autonomous vehicles at this point, because the systems aren't perfect and any major crash means a major setback to the already tenuous public support for autonomous vehicles. Public outcry could lead to restrictive legislation, when companies really want their test vehicles on the road to build public support and make their vehicles the new normal.


loquacious One thing I'm very curious about is how people will handle dirty sensors. There will probably need to be some new laws added to the motor vehicle code in the sections reserved for keeping your windows and lights clean and how that can expose you to charges if you get in an accident or something.

Watch these adorable, tiny wipers clean a LIDAR sensor
posted by filthy light thief at 7:56 AM on December 28, 2017 [9 favorites]


Or out of work drivers can retrain as sensor washers.
posted by notyou at 8:06 AM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


There are plenty of short-to-medium distance automated rail systems, including my favorite, which just had its first (minor) accident last year.

In the States we have been dragging our heels on positive train control (autopilot/speed governance) which requires thousands of transmitting stations. Decades of industry resistance and snafus have slowed the implementation.

OTOH, driverless cars are meant to be a self-contained product produced at scale with a relatively short lifespan. They're nimbler both physically and organizationally, and since cars are 10x-20x more dangerous than trains, there's more room for improvement. (Although counter-intuitively, buses are 5x safer than trains)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:19 AM on December 28, 2017


cars are destroying the world, and while electric and/or driverless cars will no doubt be safer than humans, the sooner we get over the whole car thing entirely, the better off we will be
posted by entropicamericana at 8:47 AM on December 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


regional density is the biggest hindrance as I see it

Yup. The US is really spread out.

But there aren't actually that many people in most of the spread-out area. It's totally reasonable for every single adult human in Wyoming to have a car. But outside of extremely rural areas (like where I'm from!) cars are a transportation half-measure enabling shitty inefficient low-density suburbs half-full of terrified consumers who can't imagine living otherwise, huddling in fear of physically interacting with anyone or being more than twenty feet from the mini-house/tank of their SUV.

I'll readily believe driverless cars might be safer than human drivers, but the proof is in the pudding. In the interim all the companies working on driverless are promoting an inefficient form of transportation that relies on public investment/risk for the sake of (promised, eventual) private profit. They're doing their level best to work around all the various regulations that ensure the people who use the roads pay for them.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:58 AM on December 28, 2017 [5 favorites]


I can't even find an article about a Segway from the last few years.

Segways didn't go away, though, and the same basic technology got used by other people to make those hoverboards that were the teen sensation of 2015. It's a cautionary tale on a bunch of levels, but the one most relevant here is probably that even if something like this seems like an utter failure at first, if the core idea is sound someone will find a way to make a cheap version 10 years later that becomes wildly popular.
posted by Copronymus at 11:17 AM on December 28, 2017


cars are destroying the world,

No, overpopulation is destroying the world. Talking about fossil fuels is just a distraction.
posted by Beholder at 12:55 PM on December 28, 2017 [3 favorites]


overpopulation is destroying the world

nah. this could only be true if you assume the future where everyone is living like wealthy americans.
posted by wibari at 1:37 PM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


I was reading some in-depth article the other day about the navigation software in these things, and how it already goes far beyond just avoiding bicycles or predicting their immediate trajectories, to model rudimentary intentions of the bicyclists and pedestrians, what they're trying to do, how they might change their minds in the near future while crossing the road, what pets or people pausing in the middle of the road are doing, etc. And I realized -- if this is where they are already with billions of dollars and the smartest computer scientists on tap in the near future... Crap, the hard AI problem is probably going to first be solved with a sentient car. The future we deserve.
posted by chortly at 1:55 PM on December 28, 2017


Watch these adorable, tiny wipers clean a LIDAR sensor

Jeeze, man, can you mark that NSFW or something? My robot boss just walked by and I think he saw that.
posted by loquacious at 2:15 PM on December 28, 2017


"I see autonomous vehicles around almost every day down here... have yet to see one without an actual driver,"

And there we have it. It's currently all hype and nonsense in the pursuit of venture capital.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:52 PM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


Like the moon landing! Also a ploy by the lunar-industrial-automotive complex, to sell moon roofs.
posted by XMLicious at 4:04 PM on December 28, 2017


Sounds like a horrifying new mod of Desert Bus.

You say that like Truck Simulators aren't a popular Steam category.
posted by pwnguin at 4:14 PM on December 28, 2017


The Ars Technica article notes that snowy conditions may prove challenging, which aren't found in sunny Arizona...

I guess they mean southern Arizona? In northern Arizona I've been snowed-in and ice-roaded-in (I don't have chains) several times. Do they test such vehicles in northern Arizona? A city like Flagstaff gets plenty of snow on an average year [this year is not average], for example. I guess outsiders just think of saguaro cacti when they think of Arizona? Every few years there is light snow on some saguaros, so even that stereotype does not preclude snow.
posted by RuvaBlue at 4:19 PM on December 28, 2017 [2 favorites]


Crap, the hard AI problem is probably going to first be solved with a sentient car. The future we deserve.

I want vehicles with AI that makes them act like friendly dogs. Like a little autonomous ATV that acts like a good doggo that can be your partner out in the woods? Amazing.
posted by jason_steakums at 4:37 PM on December 28, 2017


@RuvaBlue, I was thinking the same thing. They need to drive just 3 hours north of Chandler to hit snow and mountain roads.
posted by gucci mane at 5:31 PM on December 28, 2017


Would also like to see how well they drive during monsoon season and in haboobs.
posted by gucci mane at 5:32 PM on December 28, 2017


Just waiting till you're on your commute to work and your car automatically pulls over to let Mr Moneybags car pass as he has paid a premium for his trip.
posted by 92_elements at 4:36 AM on December 29, 2017 [3 favorites]


Just waiting till you're on your commute to work and your car automatically pulls over to let Mr Moneybags car pass as he has paid a premium for his trip.

See, now I kind of want to see a robot BMW M5 ripping through traffic at 150 MPH while a sea of econoboxes and self-driving rideshare cars automatically part like the Red Sea just in time in front of it and then smoothly closing up behind it.

Can you imagine how terrifying it would be to ride in it, too? You'd probably have to darken the windows, put on a movie and try not to watch it.
posted by loquacious at 5:38 AM on December 29, 2017 [3 favorites]


> Electronic monitoring of tire pressure, electrical systems, fluids pressures, and so on are not necessarily mandated by law but they are built into your car anyway because they are effectively cheap and beneficial, whether or not you are the beneficiary.

As far as tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) are concerned, they were first introduced in high-end luxury vehicles like the Porsche 959 and Corvette in the late 80's/early 90's, but an act of Congress in response to the Firestone tire debacle made them required for all new light motor vehicles in 2007.

Similarly, the NHTSA will require all new vehicles sold have backup cameras after May 2018.

Looking backwards, this can be traced back to the original (Federal) seat belt law in 1966. Before that, cars were not required to have seat belts at the Federal level, so it was entirely possible to buy one that did not.

Not to be a cynic, but I put more faith in government regulation of our new self-driving car overlords in the new utopian future than I do corporate benevolence. Because it was "cheap and beneficial" doesn't resonate well with me, especially if I'm not the beneficiary (which probably means I'm the product). Sorry.

In particular, Uber's self-driving car project was kicked out of San Francisco for various reasons, but the video of their car totally blowing through a red light ON THE VERY FIRST DAY right in front of the MOMA completely tanks the notion that these things should be allowed on public roads, in any capacity without a driver sitting in the drivers seat, without passing a battery of regulations which haven't been written yet.

That happened a year ago, and I'm sure they've made progress on the technology itself, but that memory and the video will live for many years to come.
posted by fragmede at 12:28 PM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]


Tell Me No Lies: "That's a curious way to look at it. If we're going to be giving people jobs that don't need to be done, why don't we find something more interesting for them?"

Or just tax driverless trucks at a rate equal to driver compensation and then distribute that cash to the unemployed. Why make them ride along with a driverless vehicle when they could sit on their sofa or a park bench to the same effect.

mosst: "Cars can park in places other than downtowns, freeing up a tremendous amount of space for meaningful human activity."

Not necessarily a win as it'll increase congestion and extend the length of time streets are congested.
posted by Mitheral at 5:10 PM on January 1, 2018


Depends on how cars wait. Driving around endlessly seems like a terrible solution to "it's so hard to find parking." Increased vehicle and road wear, increased fuel consumption.

If cars become autonomous taxis, they can queue up in a holding pen or parking lane anywhere, taking off as they're requested. To ensure your car will be there when you want it, you can schedule it. But if cars are owned, they could still park at some semi-distant space, perhaps even with lower overhead than current stacked parking lots. In other words, there are options besides "keep driving until requested."

Baidu Could Beat Google in Self-Driving Cars with a Totally Google Move -- By building the Android of autonomous vehicles, Baidu thinks it will make them smarter and safer. (Rachel Metz for Technology Review, January 8, 2018)
Baidu, China’s giant search company, is a relative newcomer to the fast-growing autonomous-vehicle market, having begun work on its self-driving cars only about five years ago. Google started working on its self-driving-car project (now known as its Waymo business) back in 2009, and since then a number of tech companies and car makers have also invested heavily in the technology.

In an effort to catch up quickly, and raise China’s profile as an AI innovation center, Baidu is eschewing the secrecy that normally surrounds self-driving cars: as Google did with its Android smartphone operating system, it’s offering Apollo free to anyone who wants to use it.

Apollo 1.0 was released in July, and Baidu started testing Apollo-running cars on public roads in late 2017. Baidu hopes companies that use Apollo—it has 90 partners so far, including car makers like Lincoln owner Ford, car-component makers like Continental, and chip makers like Nvidia—will then contribute data that it can use.
Apollo's website is apollo.auto, or you can go straight to Github, where the main build is introduced with a choice quote: "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."
-- John F. Kennedy, 1962
posted by filthy light thief at 3:01 PM on January 8, 2018 [1 favorite]


To ensure your car will be there when you want it, you can schedule it. But if cars are owned, they could still park at some semi-distant space, perhaps even with lower overhead than current stacked parking lots.

That was what I was getting at though. If currently rush hour lasts from 7-9 and 4-6 having cars head out of core areas instead of parking now means rush hour lasts from 7-11 and 2-6. Admittedly that will be bimodal, in and out but still sucks if you get caught up with it. And because people won't have to drive it's likely, IMO, that people will live even farther away because they can sleep/text/eat during their commute.
posted by Mitheral at 3:49 PM on January 8, 2018


And because people won't have to drive it's likely, IMO, that people will live even farther away because they can sleep/text/eat during their commute.

I'm pretty sure I saw somewhere on mefi an estimate that you could run a small trailer decked out with a bed, noise isolation and climate control around the highway for 8 hours a day for cheaper than renting an apartment in the bay area. I forget if it was a self-driving car thread or a 'the rent is too damn high' thread.

In our dystopian future, the only place you commute to after you get off work is back to work over night.
posted by pwnguin at 11:45 PM on January 8, 2018 [2 favorites]


The hard AI problem is going to be kids punking the AI cars, just like all the hard AI/system problems have been.
posted by notyou at 11:56 PM on January 8, 2018


Or people using adversarial image recognition patches to murder their enemies.

These are small image patches that when shown to image recognition software trick it into thinking they're seeing a toaster instead of a banana or a rifle instead of a helicopter, or otherwise screw with visual recognition.

Hand out a bunch of trippy looking stickers and all of a sudden the autonomous car sees a road instead of a human.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:24 AM on January 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


GM Will Launch Robocars Without Steering Wheels Next Year (Alex Davies for Wired, Jan. 12, 2018)
After more than a century making vehicles for humans to drive, General Motors has ripped the heart out of its latest ride, and is now holding the grisly spectacle up for all the world to see: A car with no steering wheel. And it plans to put a fleet of these newfangled things to work in a taxi-like service, somewhere in the US, next year.

And no, this robo-chariot, a modified all-electric Chevrolet Bolt, doesn't have pedals either. This is GM's truly driverless debut, a car that will have to handle the world on its own. No matter what happens, you, dear human passenger, cannot help it now.

Terrifying? Maybe. But it's also a major step in GM’s aggressive bid to maintain its big dog status as the auto industry evolves away from individual ownership and flesh-and-blood drivers. And it’s just the beginning for the Detroit stalwart. “We’ve put together four generations of autonomous vehicles over the course of 18 months,” says Dan Ammann, GM’s president. “You can safely assume that the fourth generation won’t be the last.”
This lack of in-car controls are pending Federal approval. More from Wired in their re-cap of "this week in the future of cars."
posted by filthy light thief at 12:51 PM on January 12, 2018


Brilliant New Headlights Use a Million Pixels to Talk to the World -- New technology from Texas Instruments could make today's dumb headlights spotlight hazards, avoid blinding oncoming drivers, and even spell messages in light. (Eric Adams for Wired, Jan. 15, 2018)
Eventually, these headlights could become essential for autonomous cars. “The chipset was developed to support adaptive driving beam headlight systems, but is capable of being programed to project information on the road,” says Brian Ballard, TI’s exterior lighting manager. A driverless car won’t have hands to tell that man waiting at the curb that it’s safe to cross the street. Headlights that can project a crosswalk, or even write out “Go for it!,” could fill the communication gap and encourage the public to accept these crash-preventing vehicles onto their streets.
This is but one way to address concerns raised by Jean-Louis Gassée (from the OP) and others, about cars failing to include some sort of ad hoc "priority movement agreement system" that pedestrians and bicyclists develop with motor vehicle drivers - the head nod, the hand wave, or staring straight ahead as if the person or people on the side of the road don't exist.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:15 AM on January 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


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