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Transportation Google Technology

Will Speed Limits Inhibit Autonomous Car Adoption? 650

Posted by Soulskill
from the asimov's-laws-of-robotics-make-for-boring-drives dept.
Maximum Prophet writes "Here's a thought: at the start, only rich people will be able to pay for a completely autonomous car. Auto-autos will only go the speed limit. Rich people don't like to go slow. Ergo, there won't be any market for automatic cars. Wait, I hear you say. The rich guy will just modify his car to go faster. But, if you go over the limit it's a fine, but to mess with the safety systems of even your own vehicle is probably a felony. Much more likely: the rich will get new laws passed to make it legal for automatic cars to go much, much faster than human-driven vehicles."
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Will Speed Limits Inhibit Autonomous Car Adoption?

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  • for poor people (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:38PM (#40641333)

    Self driving cars will be the vehicle of choice for non-rich people. The cars will be programmed to do ride sharing to reduce costs. People who primarily use autonomous vehicles won't need to own a car. Basically they will be like mini-busses that don't follow set routes or schedules. They will be used by people who are taking the bus today.

    Rich people will own their own cars and pay the increased insurance rates to keep the option to drive manually.

  • by GameboyRMH (1153867) <gameboyrmh AT gmail DOT com> on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:39PM (#40641351) Journal

    Yep this is what's gonna happen until autonomous cars are ubiquitous. The real question is, once they are, will the speed limits be bumped up significantly and will traffic lights be phased out for synchronized high-speed dodging, or will we continue to tool around like grannies? In other words, will speed limits ruin the greatest potential improvement that autonomous cars have to offer?

  • by michaelmalak (91262) <> on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:39PM (#40641357) Homepage

    If you've ever ridden public transportation, you realize that by not being behind the wheel the need for speed as a passenger is greatly reduced. Similar situation for being a limousine passenger. Pont de l'Alma aside, celebrities for the most part relax while their chauffeurs work to preserve their licenses and future income.

    Now, the rich are always seeking competitive advantage; otherwise, they wouldn't be rich, right? I see the rich buying larger less fuel-efficient vehicles that have a full office inside -- or at least what appears to be a full office -- in order to conduct teleconferences during their trips.

  • by crow (16139) on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:42PM (#40641391) Homepage Journal

    This is just another law that will need to be adjusted. Self-driven cars will need to be able to drive with the flow of traffic to be safe, which may be above the posted speed limit. So the law should allow self-driven cars to exceed speed limits by a given amount if they detect traffic conditions that necessitate it. If an officer disagrees, the car will provide all the data necessary to validate or dispute the claim.

    Of course, once we all have self-driven cars, and speeding tickets cease to be a source of revenue, they'll have to reset all the speed limits to be what is really a safe speed to drive--or just eliminate the concept for self-driven cars once they prove to be able to self-determine a safe speed. That will happen at about the same time human-driven cars are banned from major highways.

  • by Animats (122034) on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:45PM (#40641453) Homepage

    Most people get the market case for automatic driving wrong. It's not for driving on freeways. It's for driving your car without you, to and from parking. You drive to where you want to go, and then your car goes off and parks somewhere. When you want your car back, you call it, and it comes to you. Malls, airports, and downtowns equipped for this will be very popular.

    Parking gets cheaper, because it can be further away, stacked higher, and not on high-value land. Automatic cars aren't bothered by having to drive to level 14 of the parking structure.

  • Re:designated driver (Score:5, Interesting)

    by schlesinm (934723) on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:48PM (#40641499) Homepage

    were I rich, I would be all over autonomous vehicle for a few reasons: 1) you can probably drive it yourself if you want to speed 2) I could hit the pub and get wrecked and have the car drive me home without worrying about getting arrested for DUI

    The way DUI laws are written currently, I wonder if you could get a DUI for being in an autonomous vehicle while intoxicated simply because you have the option of taking over control.

  • by drouse (34156) on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:53PM (#40641575) Homepage

    I could see people wanting the laws for autonomous vehicles to follow the laws for aircraft -- where parts and software have to be certified and it is illegal to use non-certified or modified parts. That path would make autonomous vehicles a lot more expensive (and have fewer "toy" features). []

    I think the real problem with autonomous vehicles is that there is a sizable percentage of people who would "bully" them. You know the thing is going to give you the right of way and slow down to keep a safe distance, so why not cut in front of them, etc. Then who wants a car with a pushover as an automatic pilot? But what lawyer would okay even a slightly aggressive autopilot?

    I'd say autonomous vehicles would be great for taxis in cities with large, dense urban areas ... but the taxi companies would fight that I think (unless they decided they could replace all the drivers with minimum wage button pushers).

    Maybe they would be big in Japan :-)

  • by icebike (68054) * on Friday July 13, 2012 @02:58PM (#40641653)

    I tend to agree that the technology for acceptable self driving cars is probably quite a ways off.

    The current crop of such cars are merely aimed at getting around safely and not running into anything. They don't currently notice that two lanes to the right they could be moving much faster, and are content to putz along in the slow lane following a city bus that stops every two blocks.

    They don't watch brake lights 4 cars ahead to provide clues about the need to slow down, and instead rely on slower speeds and (more than) adequate spacing. They don't yield to people in the next lane with their turn signal on indicating a merge, and again rely on excess space so that they are never in situation of failing to allow a merge.

    In many other ways, they drive like student drivers, except they do it ALL the time and never learn, never improve.

    But I disagree that these will appeal to the rich or to high end car owners. You don't buy a high end car to NOT drive it.
    If there is no environmentalism goodie-two-shoes angle, the rich won't buy this to park in the garage next to the unused Prius.

    Commuters. People who can put the commute time to good use, are the likely target market. Especially where that commute time is an hour or more.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 13, 2012 @03:02PM (#40641695)

    Oh please, I'm in my 40s and I love driving. Its very therapeutic. Then again my daily commute is opposite traffic and there are multiple back roads alternatives if I need them.

  • by narkosys (110639) on Friday July 13, 2012 @03:17PM (#40641911)

    This is where mod points would of come in handy. I agree completely. I am in my 40s and there is no way in Hel I would let a car drive me around. One of the reasons I prefer driving a manual over an automatic (dont' get me started on that flappy paddle bullshit either :P ).


  • by Joce640k (829181) on Friday July 13, 2012 @03:33PM (#40642121) Homepage

    How will pedestrians cross the street?

    I can't imagine autonomous cars being allowed in places where there's pedestrians. They'll be restricted to freeways.

    And even if they go slower than normals cars it won't matter. You can catch up on work, use the iPad, etc. while the car is driving along.

    Even if it's ten minutes longer I'm betting the commute will seem much shorter than before - because you'll be doing other stuff.

    It'll probably save a lot of gas, too.

  • by artemis67 (93453) on Friday July 13, 2012 @03:36PM (#40642157)

    Less cars on the road? Or more cars?

    If my car is autonomous, I can send it to get my wife to take her shopping, to the school to pick up the kids, run my son over to the football field, etc. My car will spend MORE time on the road as I dispatch it to take care of various tasks.

  • by Andy Dodd (701) <> on Friday July 13, 2012 @03:38PM (#40642191) Homepage

    One of the things that has been advertised as a big benefit for autonomous cars IS that much higher speeds are permissible while remaining safe. Similarly, much closer following distances are possible without compromising safety.

    Many of our speed limits are based on safety decisions made based on "typical" human reaction times. You can get a ticket now for "following too closely" based on the assumption that at speed X, you need Y feet of separation to be safe based on a reaction time of N milliseconds.

    The reaction time of an autonomous vehicle is far less than N milliseconts, permitting X to be higher and Y much lower.

    There have been, for example, "auto trains" of multiple autonomous vehicles operating with ridiculously small separation distances on test tracks.

    The problem is - how do you make the transition? A mix of autonomous and human-driven vehicles won't work well unless the autonomous vehicles obey the limits imposed on human-driven vehicles. So you need to segregate the human vehicles from the autonomous ones. This is really difficult in most places.

    There's one exception: In many metropolitan areas, highways have HOV lanes. HOV lanes are intended to increase the capacity (in humans per hour) of that lane. In quite a few areas, they have the secondary goal of reducing fuel consumption and emissions per user. (In some places, this goal has been prioritized to the point where vehicles that meet certain emissions/efficiency standards are permitted in HOV lanes with fewer occupants than the normal HOV limit - [])

    A big problem with current HOV lanes is, honestly, the humans. On quite a few business trips to Long Island, my coworkers and I met the HOV lane criteria during a time the HOV lane restrictions were enforced (usually the tail end/beginning end of that period when traffic was lighter than the peaks the HOV lane was designed for). In quite a few cases, there were enough HOV-eligible vehicles that the HOV lanes weren't any faster than the main lanes. In a few cases, a single vehicle meeting HOV eligibility but with a slow driver would render the HOV lane significantly slower than the non-HOV lanes of the highway.

    Autonomous vehicles would be the perfect solution to the remaining HOV lane problems. Most likely, the cost of autonomous vehicles will mean that the costs of them meeting above-average emissions/efficiency standards won't be that much more. (After all, Google's "open road" driverless vehicle is a Prius, which meets the "single occupant in HOV lane exception" requirements in many areas that have such exceptions for "green" vehicles.) - Autonomous vehicles can achieve significantly higher speeds at lower separations in a HOV lane, significantly increasing the lane's capacity significantly even for single-occupant vehicles.

    The problem is, of course - the transition. Making a HOV lane into an autonomous-only lane requires enough autonomous vehicles to justify it. It probably won't work with mixed vehicles at all - you don't get the speed/separation capacity benefits.

  • by KingMotley (944240) on Friday July 13, 2012 @03:48PM (#40642349) Journal

    The shift points in which your car will shift to the next gear as ganhadude says, is not insignificant as well. You are likely more efficient driving at a slightly faster speed if your car will shift up to the next gear. Say doing 55 with the car at 1400 RPM vs doing 60 with the car at 800 RPM. Not all cars shift at the same point, but most US cars are designed to do very well at 55 MPH.

  • by geoskd (321194) on Friday July 13, 2012 @04:13PM (#40642787)

    thats not entirly true, slower is not generally more efficient. take for example driving 50MPH in a 2nd or 3rd gear, this will cause more gas to be used than driving 75 in a low gear

    Driving at higher speeds is normally less efficient because parasitic effects (drag, friction, etc...) are proportional to speed, meaning the faster you go, the more energy you waste fighting these effects. The reason your typical Suburban assault vehicle gets better mileage on the highway is because when driving in traffic, you have to stop and slow down a lot which in conventional vehicles is a tremendous waste of energy.

    Notice that in a pure electric vehicle (like the Nissan Leaf, or Mitsubishi Miev), the highway mileage is worse. This is because pure electric vehicles use full regenerative braking which recovers most of the energy when a vehicle slows down or stops, so the parasitic effects are once again the most significant.

    Driving at a constant speed generally has less impact on fuel efficiency (as long as you're not using the brakes), than driving at lower speeds. There is some variation on this because engine efficiency has a significant role to play as well. I.C. engines generally do not have very good efficiency at very high or very low RPMs. This means that the transmission has engineered "sweet spots" in which the vehicle operates most efficiently overall. In modern cars, these are generally set to about 40 MPH and 65 MPH, being that these are the two most commonly used speeds (and the ones the EPA uses for their fuel efficiency measurements). In all, Changing the speed limits will have a significant downward effect on vehicle efficiency because modern cars have been designed, and customized to fit the current speed limits.

    As electric cars become more prominent, these limitations will mostly be eliminated (no gearbox means no tuning to specific speeds), leaving just the parasitic factors. This will mean that as cars become more efficient overall, speed will play a bigger and bigger role in mileage.


  • by Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) on Friday July 13, 2012 @04:34PM (#40643101)

    IIRC, roundabouts tend to result in having more accidents but the accidents that you have are much less serious. So they're a better choice for spreading risk.

  • by naoursla (99850) on Friday July 13, 2012 @05:28PM (#40643743) Homepage Journal

    The robot car might be able to recognize aggressive drivers and automatically report them to the highway patrol along with a video record.

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