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Sci-Fi Transportation Technology

How Would Driver-less Cars Change Motoring? 648 648

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 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 JoshuaZ (1134087) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:13PM (#39968863) Homepage
    I think you may be underestimating what the technology can eventually do. If it becomes sufficiently advanced, automated cars should be able to do the same things that human drivers can. Moreover, in the short term, even in the US, the use of automation will probably be primarily highway driving and switch over to manual control in cities. Highway driving is much more easily automatable because there isn't nearly as much of any the problems you outline (which exist in the US also but to a lesser extent).

    As a side question, why are American cities planned without any personal touch, but so "professionally"?

    To a large extent this is just because they have been planned, whereas many older cities in Europe and Asia were built up well before modern city planning. There are other factors as well- cities that are planned well become less well-planned as time goes on. You see this in Europe with some of the old Roman cities. Also, when one didn't have cars and trucks, smaller alleyways weren't a problem, whereas many expanded American cities happened just as cars were showing up (remember the frontier in the US doesn't close until the 1890s). There's also just a long tradition in the US of careful planning, that's dates back to the very early settlements. New York was gridded out when much of the city was still wilderness, and that started a general precedent. There are some cities that aren't as carefully gridded (such as Boston) but many cities modeled themselves in a similar way to New York. Also, in much of the US land was pretty cheap. Gridding with big roads takes a lot of land up- when you have the room it is easier to do it.

  • Re:cheaper idea (Score:2, Informative)

    by Gordonjcp (186804) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:27PM (#39969111) Homepage

    The "fast lane" is really an overtaking lane. In civilised countries, you don't stay in it because you'll get ticketed. If you do stay in the overtaking lane and someone drives up your backside and hassles you to get out of the way, you get ticketed for causing an obstruction and they get ticketed for driving badly.

    It works.

  • 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 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 penix1 (722987) on Friday May 11, 2012 @01:41PM (#39969403) Homepage

    When they say "the end of insurance" they really mean "our profit margins are going to shrink drastically"

    You got it backwards there sport...Less accidents=less payouts=GREATER profit margins. Insurance has NEVER existed to pay out more than it takes in. That is why they raise your premiums with the first claim.

    And I don't see them reducing the premiums unless they gather a mountain of evidence showing it really is safer. I doubt we will see that in our lifetimes.

  • 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 utuk99 (656026) on Friday May 11, 2012 @04:23PM (#39972359)
    Most of the studies I have seen on it suggest that cell phone conversation is more distracting for two reasons. The one I see in all the studies is the person on the phone does not react to what is going on in the car. So they keep talking even if something dangerous is going where someone in the car will stop and not expect an answer if you are in a situation that requires more attention on your driving. The second one I have seen suggested, but not as often is that your brain requires more "processing power" to talk on a cell phone due to quality of voice and lack of body language. And yes you would think that looking at the person you are talking to would be more dangerous, but your brain and visual system is designed to take in a wide field with only glances to build on. Most accidents are not caused by a vision problem but an attention problem. See Inattentional Blindness [wikipedia.org]. And here is another study on cell phone vs passenger conversation [distraction.gov] (Sorry PDF).
  • by ElKry (1544795) on Friday May 11, 2012 @04:27PM (#39972421)

    Self-driving cars not only use a variety of sensors to assess the environment, but also have systems based on algorithms like SLAM (Simultaneous localization and mapping) to help them position themselves relative to the environment, and position landmarks relative to them. All kinds of sensors are involved, but especially laser range sensors which would prevent the kind of problems caused by GPS returning invalid results (the car won't just drive into a wall, it will avoid the wall and reduce the belief associated with the current location). GPS is just an extra sensor, not a bunch of set-in-stone instructions.

    They don't hit the pot hole because there are computer vision systems that, along with the range sensors, can make a reliable guess at whether that is a pot hole or not, and avoid it. Speed would be irrelevant as the computer can react faster, and more accurately than a human driver could.

    When it comes to this kinds of algorithms, sometimes they are *too* efficient, and you have to route around that: a good example is going around walls, in which the car might decide to hug the wall and take a turn very, very close to the corner - but this is not optimal as a) the driver would probably freak out b) Movement and location sensors are not perfect, you always have to consider actuator and sensor noise. So, the algorithms are complemented by a penalty for getting too close to objects, even if it wouldn't cause a collision.

    I hope that helps paint a broad picture of the system to make a bit more understandable.

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