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Sci-Fi Transportation Technology

How Would Driver-less Cars Change Motoring? 648

Posted by Soulskill
from the drivethrus-harder-drivebys-easier dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "BBC reports that as Nevada licenses Google to test its prototype driver-less car on public roads, futurists are postulating what a world of driver-less would cars look like. First, accidents would go down. 'Your automated car isn't sitting around getting distracted, making a phone call, looking at something it shouldn't be looking at or simply not keeping track of things,' says Danny Sullivan. Google's car adheres strictly to the speed limit and follows the rules of the road. 'It doesn't speed, it doesn't cut you off, it doesn't tailgate,' says Tom Jacobs, a spokesman for the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles. Driver-less cars would mean a more productive commute. 'If you truly trust the intelligence of the vehicle, then you get in the vehicle and you do our work while you're traveling,' says engineer Lynne Irwin. They would mean fewer traffic jams. 'Congestion would be something you could tell your grandchildren about, once upon a time.' Driver-less cars could extend car ownership to some groups of people previously unable to own a car, including elderly drivers who feel uncomfortable getting behind the wheel at night, whose eyesight has weakened or whose reaction time has slowed." Another reader points out an article suggesting autonomous cars could eventually spell the end of auto insurance.
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How Would Driver-less Cars Change Motoring?

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  • by DontBlameCanada (1325547) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:04PM (#39968719)
    Any municipality that allows cellphone use while driving is, essentially, endorsing driverless cars. If someone gets engaged in a deep conversation on the phone, their driving skills drop below that of someone with 0.08% blood alcohol...
    • by X_Bones (93097)
      Any municipality that allows cellphone use while driving is, essentially, endorsing driverless cars.

      You're not seriously suggesting that driverless cars will have the same reaction ability as someone talking on a phone while driving, are you? If so, um, no. If not, what's your point?
    • by IrrepressibleMonkey (1045046) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:12PM (#39968849)

      If someone gets engaged in a deep conversation on the phone, their driving skills drop below that of someone with 0.08% blood alcohol...

      I'll drink to that! I made this very argument quite recently, but the idiot Judge still took my license...

    • by Khashishi (775369) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:22PM (#39969035) Journal

      Maybe we already have driverless cars, but I prefer driverless cars that have an actual robot control system.

    • by Znork (31774)

      Of course, the same applies even more to passengers and children in particular. It's much harder to ignore physical presences than it is to ignore a voice. And it's even harder to ignore a physically present person that actively tries to direct your attention to something beside the traffic, such as pointing and exclaiming 'look at that!'.

    • by Cro Magnon (467622) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:48PM (#39969557) Homepage Journal

      Any municipality that allows cellphone use while driving is, essentially, endorsing driverless cars.

      Or maybe population reduction.

  • by HeLLFiRe1151 (743468) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:08PM (#39968777)
    There are too many other things insurance pays for besides hitting another car. For example hail storm damage, tree falling on your car or an unavoidable cow jumping in front of you on a bind corner. Not to mention cruising at 50 miles an hour and hitting an ice patch or getting hit by that guy who still actually likes to "drive" his truck.
    • by DragonWriter (970822) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:36PM (#39969319)

      There are too many other things insurance pays for besides hitting another car.

      What is being discussed as the end of is (though perhaps not clearly enough identified as) automobile liability insurance. This is, in practice, often bundled with other forms of insurance that also relate to automobiles, but usually only the liability part is mandated for operating on public roadways (and its usually, by far, the most expensive part), and the mandatory liability coverage is used as the wedge to sell the other coverages.

    • by StikyPad (445176) on Friday May 11, 2012 @02:07PM (#39969945) Homepage

      Well, right, you hit the nail on the head with that last part. As long as there are manual overrides -- and there will *always* be manual overrides -- there will be people who use it to game the system. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if human drivers actually drive more recklessly because they know that the automated vehicles around them will always yield, always be aware of the vehicles around them, and always avoid collisions. This would provide a huge disincentive for people to use automated vehicles, especially in rush hour traffic where they're needed most, because the automated vehicle wouldn't be aggressive enough, and the manual driver wouldn't be hindered by the same set of programmed restrictions as the automated vehicle. If people see a measurable advantage to driving manually, they will continue to do it.

      In light of that, I can only think of one way this will work long-term and large-scale, and that's by making manual driving illegal on public roads except in emergency situations. (The penalties for noncompliance could be much more stringent than they are for reckless driving today, because intent would be a given.) I'm afraid anything less will only encourage people to drive like even bigger assholes than they already do.

  • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:09PM (#39968781)
    While driver-less cars would allow some people who currently cannot drive to have their own car, it will raise the price of cars so that some people who now can afford to own a car would not be able to afford one. It would also mean that someone other than you would ultimately determine where you could go. For example, only the cars of those authorized to go to certain places would even have the roads to those places in the maps in their cars. Since driver less cars will need to receive roadmap updates, you might discover that a place you went to yesterday was no longer accessible.
    • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:18PM (#39968955)

      And alternatively again, while some people wouldn't be able to afford a car that they have now, some families will be able to get by with fewer cars. Imagine a world where my wife goes to work 30 minutes before I do, and sends the car back for me to use; then I send it to pick up my teenager from school, who sends it back to my wife, who picks me up on the way and we all go home. If we're postulating a world where trust is high enough to read and do work while in the operator's (I hesitate to say driver's) seat, there's a very small jump from there to the car that can go to a destination sans passengers entirely.

      And of course, that says nothing about how it would revolutionize the statistically very dangerous world of truck driving (though I suspect the truck drivers might not be too happy about that, I'm sure they can get a lobby together to make sure that entirely autonomous semi's never get approved).

      Since driver less cars will need to receive roadmap updates, you might discover that a place you went to yesterday was no longer accessible.

      I don't think anyone is seriously considering cars without some kind of manual override. Though in the long term I suppose it's possible.

    • by Khashishi (775369)

      I think you are trying too hard to disaparage the technology.

  • Sounds great (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tthomas48 (180798) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:09PM (#39968797) Homepage

    I think this will be mostly the end of private cars for the majority of us. It seems ridiculous now, but once people start looking at the cost of owning a car versus a well priced car service I think the transition will be fast. Especially among the young.

    We'll probably be able to get by with a fleet of super-effecient driverless taxi cabs. I image paying a couple hundred bucks a month to have car come and pick me up whenever I need one.

    You could get even more efficiency by offering a reduced rate for those willing to share a car. The system could efficiently route, pickup up multiple passengers and dropping them off.

    • Re:Sounds great (Score:4, Insightful)

      by SJHillman (1966756) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:18PM (#39968951)

      A good point... a fleet of driverless cars could pick up a person, take them to work, then go ferry around other people when your own car would just be sitting in a lot unused. Of course, snowy weather might might it impractical as a driverless car now has twice the distance to go (first to pick you up, then to where you want to go) and thus twice the chance of getting stuck, going off the road, etc. Hertz and Enterprise would be all over this.

      • Re:Sounds great (Score:4, Interesting)

        by russotto (537200) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:31PM (#39969211) Journal

        A good point... a fleet of driverless cars could pick up a person, take them to work, then go ferry around other people when your own car would just be sitting in a lot unused.

        Would be nice, but doesn't work, because there are times ("rush hour") where everyone is trying to use their vehicle at once. Given that, either the fleet companies would need to have enough cars to cover the peak (which would be prohibitively expensive), or you'd find you couldn't get a car when you wanted one (which, after it occurred a few times, would set you shopping for a personal vehicle).

        • Re:Sounds great (Score:4, Insightful)

          by tthomas48 (180798) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:59PM (#39969779) Homepage

          Wouldn't work is a bit strong. Currently there's pretty much one car for every person in the US to get to work. That's a huge fleet. Even if you you did simplest blocking you could have 6:00am, 6:30am, 7:00am. 7:30am, 8:00am, and 8:30am slots. Most commutes are less than 30 minutes. With that incredibly simplistic system you just replaced 6 cars with 1. But by dividing the number of cars by 1/6th you've reduced cars on the road, so you've reduced traffic. And by reducing human error you've reduced traffic. So perhaps it'll only take 15 minutes to get those passengers to work. Now you can have 12 slots.

          Add on top of that economic incentives to move your commute to a less popular time (perhaps $1.00 extra per day if you want to leave at 8am), and the numbers start getting very, very feasible.

        • Re:Sounds great (Score:4, Interesting)

          by CCarrot (1562079) on Friday May 11, 2012 @02:21PM (#39970239)

          A good point... a fleet of driverless cars could pick up a person, take them to work, then go ferry around other people when your own car would just be sitting in a lot unused.

          Would be nice, but doesn't work, because there are times ("rush hour") where everyone is trying to use their vehicle at once. Given that, either the fleet companies would need to have enough cars to cover the peak (which would be prohibitively expensive), or you'd find you couldn't get a car when you wanted one (which, after it occurred a few times, would set you shopping for a personal vehicle).

          Ah, but most of the problem with 'rush hour' is that the majority of those cars are only carrying one, or maybe two passengers.

          A city-wide routing system should be able to plan a route to pick up a dozen or so people who are starting from / traveling to similar places, and get it all done in one vehicle. To prevent it from being just like a bus ride, subway or shared taxi (congested, noisy, kids beside you blaring their youtube videos, people breathing down the back of your neck, etc.), all the designers would have to do is build cars/vans that had segregated one / two / four person compartments, each with it's own external door (think a stretch limo with several doors on each side and a wall down the middle). Then you just swipe your pass/phone/whatever to confirm it's you, get in and relax, ignoring any other pickups or drop-offs until you get to your stop (car could 'bing' you at your stop, in case you dozed off).

          Higher end services could even stock a mini-bar in each compartment, for those who want to unwind a bit before dinner. :o) Or, better yet, you could have the car 'pick up' dinner for you before coming to pick you up (just send it to your local restaurant and have them place it in the compartment reserved for you).

          The possibilities are intriguing, that's for sure...

  • by rolfwind (528248) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:10PM (#39968803)

    'It doesn't speed, it doesn't cut you off, it doesn't tailgate,' says Tom Jacobs, a spokesman for the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles.

    Anybody who equates breaking the speed limit as automatic excessive speeding is a tool. The speed limit on my local highway is 55mph, the average speed is close to 70. It's a safe speed. Many areas put an artificially low speed to collect tickets at will.

    In fact, it would be highly dangerous to go 55mph. You'd get rear ended in no time not to mention road rage.

    There is a good rule in driving: when in Rome, do as the Romans do. The rules say one thing, but the reality is, most of the time, that it's far safer to go with the flow than to fight it. Any driving system that doesn't adhere to this within reason is one I don't want to step foot in.

    First, accidents would go down. 'Your automated car isn't sitting around getting distracted, making a phone call, looking at something it shouldn't be looking at or simply not keeping track of things,' says Danny Sullivan. Google's car adheres strictly to the speed limit and follows the rules of the road.

    I wouldn't know about that. My Mac gets the spinning beachball of eternal limbo often enough.

    • by Bigby (659157)

      Once all/most cars are automated, they would be able to go 100+ mph in areas traditionally 50 mph and 150+ mph in areas traditionally 65 mph. This is of course weather permitting and the road isn't flagged as craptastic.

    • by dkleinsc (563838) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:34PM (#39969273) Homepage

      when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

      You've quite clearly never driven in Rome.

    • by SlippyToad (240532) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:45PM (#39969497)

      The speed limit on my local highway is 55mph, the average speed is close to 70. It's a safe speed. Many areas put an artificially low speed to collect tickets at will.

      So are you the asshole who tailgates me through the "no fly zone" on I-65 and then gets pulled over by Indiana's finest 2 miles down the road after you whip past me in a rage?

      Your logic is garbage. I follow the speed limit because I am not paying $150 for a ticket. You can pay that, but I'm not fucking speeding so you can be more comfortable.

    • by Ichijo (607641)

      In fact, it would be highly dangerous to go 55mph. You'd get rear ended in no time not to mention road rage.

      In the presence of lawbreakers like the ones you describe, driving is unsafe at any speed. But don't worry, getting rear ended with a closing speed of 15 mph (the difference between 55 and 70 mph) is much safer than a side impact collision or a head-on collision.

      On the Autobahn, it's perfectly safe to drive the speed limit while others whip around you at tremendous speeds. The reason is because slow

  • Since in real life the first car goes first when the light turns green. Then a split second later the second car would start moving. A moment later the 3rd and so on. So movement at red lights propagates down the line of cars like a wave. With this technology all the cars could move together in a group.
    • Which is how drivers should be driving anyway... it's just one more example of "computers are programmed better than human drivers are trained". I bet computers would remember their turn signal more often too.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        It is impossible to do this in a human system. If I am the 4th car in line and just start going and the 3rd person does not, then I rear end him and get the citation. So I have to hesitate to be sure he truly is going before I match his speed.

        The turn signal thing I TOTALLY agree with. How freaking lazy is it to just change lanes without signalling?

  • Pretty funny: all those "advantages" can already be had by using public transportation. Cheaper too. Kind of easy to overlook nowadays.

    S

    • by SJHillman (1966756) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:22PM (#39969033)

      The only public transportation that even comes close to all of the advantages of an automated car is taxis... individual vehicles that go from Point A to Point B. Buses, subways, etc all fail hard when you start talking about suburbs, rural areas, etc. Automated cars would be able to handle all of these and more.

    • by ArcherB (796902) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:32PM (#39969233) Journal

      Pretty funny: all those "advantages" can already be had by using public transportation. Cheaper too. Kind of easy to overlook nowadays.

      S

      Well, they were not comparing it to public transportation. They were comparing driverLESS cars to cars with drivers. If they were comparing it to public transportation, they would have mentioned things like, you can leave directly from your house, you can change your mind mid trip, you can leave whenever you like and not be tied to a bus schedule, there are no transfers, you can make impulse stops at stores and restaurants, you car does not have "hours of operation", and many many other advantages to driving your own vehicle as opposed to public transportation.

      Eventually, though, this system will be much like public transportation, except with the advantages I listed above. There will be routes designated for driverless travel. For example, the freeways may have a driverless lane, much like an HOV lane, whereas you may have to man the steering wheel while in neighborhoods. Efficiency will be greatly improved with constant speeds and drafting. Maybe not to the level of public transportation, but certainly better than now. It may even be possible to put rails on these roads to power electric vehicles, which would surpass public transportation (it would be more efficient as your vehicle does not have to stop and every single stop and then start back up again). The way I see it, driverless cars could be better than public transportation in every way, maybe with the exception of efficiency.

      In the end, our cars will be more like a small bedroom, living room or office. We'll have a couch and a TV/monitor or a desk with a computer or whatever you want. There will be no steering wheel, gas pedal, or designated seats. If the system works well enough, we won't even need seat belts. Every car will be like a limo without a driver. I don't know if any of us will live to see that day.

    • by w_dragon (1802458) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:36PM (#39969313)
      Please, tell me how public transit can get me from my front door on a minor city street with no bus service to my parents' house outside of a small town about 30 miles away. Public transit is a fantastic option if you live in a large city and don't leave it very often, but it's no where near good enough to replace a car for a lot of people.
  • ALCOHOL! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gurps_npc (621217) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:12PM (#39968847) Homepage
    They left out drunk driving. It goes away when your car can drive you home from the bar.

    This is in fact the most important feature of the driver-less car. Particularly for teenagers.

  • by grimmjeeper (2301232) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:13PM (#39968861)

    Ending Congestion? Seriously?

    Will driverless cars magically create more capacity on the roads so that there is enough space for all the cars that want to drive on the same road at the same time? Because that would be a neat trick.

    • Glad to see someone brought this up.
    • by godrik (1287354) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:27PM (#39969115)

      Well, ending it entirely probably not. But it might seriously decrease it. While automatic/magic drivers will not increase the capacity of the roads, it will use roads much more efficiently and predict traffic pattern. The driver-less car are less prone to accident which are a primary cause of traffic jams. They will remove the wave patterns in traffic caused by starting at a traffic light with some delays between each car.

    • by Daetrin (576516)

      Will driverless cars magically create more capacity on the roads so that there is enough space for all the cars that want to drive on the same road at the same time? Because that would be a neat trick.

      Yes. When all the cars are automated speed limits can be raised and the cars will travel in convey formation, each car inches away from the one in front of it. Since each car will know what all the other cars are doing (presuming the system is well designed of course) when the first car see something it needs to slow down for it can instantly tell all the other cars in the pack and they will all slow down together, so no need for stopping space inbetween them. So you'll have more cars packed in a smaller v

    • There are problems with people noticing brake lights, stopping and then resuming flow that computers will not have. MOST of the traffic problems are with people stopping, starting and not knowing how to merge with traffic and other drivers not letting them merge. All of these things will go away and while the actual capacity of the road won't change, it will seem like it has increased because people will get off the roads quicker and the capacity is used more efficiently.

      Phantom traffic jams can last for ho

    • by ArcherB (796902)

      Ending Congestion? Seriously?

      Will driverless cars magically create more capacity on the roads so that there is enough space for all the cars that want to drive on the same road at the same time? Because that would be a neat trick.

      No, but they would end the caterpillar like motion of congested freeways. Many feel that this is the cause of traffic. One car hits his breaks, so the car behind him does, as does the car behind him and the next car and the next car until the whole thing stops. This is why traffic can remain backed up for hours after the stalled car that started the whole thing has been cleared.

      I've seen a simulation [traffic-simulation.de] that shows it pretty well.

    • by Xenkar (580240)

      Computer-controlled cars can safely drive bumper to bumper where as humans typically require two to three seconds of following distance to drive.

      Computer-controlled cars won't brake randomly and thus cause traffic jams. They won't play Looky Lou to every damned automobile accident or road construction site.

      Now I enjoy driving. I enjoy the feeling of counter steering before I go through a corner without braking at speeds that would make most car drivers cringe. But I'll gladly give that up or go to a private

  • And the driver-less car isn't drunk. I can do the drinking and not worry.

  • by Chas (5144)

    Yeah! RIIIGHT!

    Call me when you catch the tooth fairy.

  • I have a much cheaper solution. Anyone going 45 up the onramp or going 60 in the fast lane or basically anyone driving a Buick and causing a 10 mile backup behind them should be detected and pickedup by a giant robot arm and dropped on a county road instead of the highway. Getting rid of dumbasses that can't drive would effectively double the overall throughput of every highway, guaranteed.
    Also, automation would do nothing for cement trucks and large equipment, which cannot easily be robotized and would
  • One thing we'll never have is autonomous cars driving fast or flying through uncontrolled intersections inches apart from each other, because unfortunately it scares the shit out of people.

  • (X) Requires immediate total cooperation from everybody at once

    A truly automated roadway will *require some politician, at some point, to pull the trigger and kick every other car off the road.
    America is a loooooong way away from that happening.

    *Unless you think a parallel system of roadways is a viable idea.

  • You can get drunk and still get home (with your car) without getting arrested!

    Hell, you can go bar-hopping and no one has to stay sober!

    I can't friggin' wait!

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      You can get drunk and still get home (with your car) without getting arrested!

      Uh, no.

      Maybe in the distant future, but the existing cars still require a driver ready to take over when the computer screws up. Not only does that mean you can't get drunk, but it means that you'll probably get into a disastrous crash when the autopilot fails (see AF447).

  • Same old same old (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 0123456 (636235) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:19PM (#39968959)

    I remember when flying cars were going to solve all our problems.

    Back in the real world there are a few tests followed by hype followed by 'this invention will solve every problem we currently have!' followed by glowing endorsements of the first release followed by a huge collection of new problems discovered by the early adopters followed by a new technology that will 'solve every problem we have with the last new technology that turned out to be nowhere near as magical as predicted!'.

    Yeah, these cars will be better in some circumstances but they'll be worse in others and they'll create new problems of their own. They certainly won't bring an end to insurance because they will hit things and they will crash and they will leave you with a huge payout to the victims if you're not insured.

  • They almost got it right when they said people would see vehicles as a service provider.

    Driverless cars mean vehicular multiplexing. A car that can transport people on its own is wasting resources sitting parked in a garage.

    First, services will spring up that allow you to rent your personal car out while you are at work (that provide insurance against internal damage). Then services will spring up that operate fleets of vehicles (taking advantage of economy of scale for maintenance). Then people will realiz

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      If I wanted to wait for a vehicle to turn up every time I had to go somewhere I'd take a bus.

  • by HangingChad (677530) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:21PM (#39969005) Homepage

    On April 21, TrafficNet became self-aware and decided to play a giant game of bumper cars.

  • End of traffic jams? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Joiseybill (788712)

    How anyone thinks this will be the end of traffic is beyond me.
    and +1 insightful for first 2 or 3 that if this happens, it will be the end of personally-owned vehicles.

    Traffic is a result of ( volume of cars) > (capacity of road).
    Unless these driverless cars can also change work schedules, the majority of people will still be hitting the roads at the same time.
    Heck, we can see this now. In any larger city, we all know how internet performance degrades after 4PM when the tweens & teens get home from

    • by Hatta (162192) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:51PM (#39969625) Journal

      Traffic is a result of ( volume of cars) > (capacity of road).

      It's not that simple. The number of cars on the road depends on the average speed of the cars. The slower cars go, the longer they'll be sitting on the road taking up space.

      But as the number of cars increases past a certain point, the average speed decreases. People get nervous driving in tight formation, for good reason. This leads to roads never actually being used at capacity.

      If instead we had driverless cars that would form into packs that move at the speed limit, even when the road is nearly saturated, we'll get more cars off the road faster thereby reducing congestion.

      Nifty, huh?

    • by dkleinsc (563838) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:51PM (#39969633) Homepage

      Traffic is a result of ( volume of cars) > (capacity of road).

      That's not the only cause of traffic jams. Some other causes, just off the top of my head:
      - Lanes ending, either due to construction or accident.
      - Major exit ramps onto another road with traffic issues. Not only does that screw up the right lane, it also screws up the next lane over with the jerks who drive past the line of cars waiting and then try to force their way into the line.
      - A single slow driver can wreak significant havoc just by cruising down the right lane at 45 mph. The reason is that now the not-quite-as-slow 55 mph driver pulls into the next lane over to pass them, forcing the 60 mph driver into the left lane, leaving the 75-80 mph drivers going insane behind them.
      - Sun glare and other natural conditions slowing down drivers, especially timid drivers.

  • Google is testing this on the Las Vegas Strip. I'd thought they'd be spending more time in the emptier parts of Nevada. Actually, though, automated driving in congested areas at moderate speeds may work out well. Automated vehicles can have sensor coverage in all directions at all times; humans are limited in that. Computers can react faster than humans, and don't get distracted.

  • by b0bby (201198) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:54PM (#39969703) Homepage

    I think if these take off (and I hope they will) we'll see a substantial increase in miles driven. Not just from people sending their cars back home to get someone else (it will be a while before they allow unoccupied driverless cars, I imagine), but from trips which were previously too tedious. If I can come home from work on Friday evening, get in my self driving car with the family, and wake up in Orlando or Cape Cod, I'm much more likely to take such trips over a weekend. I bet it would double the miles I put on in a year; if everyone was doing that type of thing, it'd put a big strain on gasoline supplies. Hopefully their introduction will tie in to increases in efficiency.

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