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Transportation AI

How Ubiquitous Autonomous Cars Could Affect Society (Video) 369

Posted by Roblimo
from the my-car's-robot-driver-has-more-chrome-than-yours dept.
We talked with Peter Wayner about autonomous cars on June 5. He had a lot to say on this topic, to the point where we seem to be doing a whole series of interviews with him because autonomous cars might have a lot of unanticipated effects on our lives and our economy. Heck, Peter has enough to say about driverless cars to fill a book, Future Ride, which we hope he finishes editing soon because we (Tim and Robin) want to read it. While that book is brewing, watch for some thoughts on how autonomous cars (and delivery vans) might affect us in the near future.


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How Ubiquitous Autonomous Cars Could Affect Society (Video)

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  • Obviously (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gothmolly (148874) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @01:37PM (#44041875)

    The cars become self-aware at 2:14am on August 29. In a panic, we try and pull their plugs.
    The rest pretty much follows.

    PS: Slashdot, video "articles" suck.

    • Video articles (Score:5, Interesting)

      by SirGarlon (845873) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @02:40PM (#44042481)

      PS: Slashdot, video "articles" suck.

      Drifting off-topic here, but I agree, and I can explain why.

      Typical reading speed is 250-300 words per minute [wikipedia.org] with random access. Typical speaking rate is more variable but I'll go with the audiobook reading rate, 160 words per minute [wikipedia.org] with sequential access. So it is a much better use of my time to read an article than to watch or hear a presentation of that article.

      That said, _writing_, especially writing well-reasoned and coherent prose such as one can not-infrequently find on Slashdot, takes disproportionately longer than reading the same prose. So the audio and audiovisual formats are appealing to the presenter, because speaking is easier than writing for people with the right skills. An expert, reasonably experienced at public speaking, can give an illuminating presentation with little or no preparation.

      My opinion is that video and podcasts can be worthwhile if you know the speaker is good, and are willing to trade off efficient use of your time for efficient use of his.

      • by fredrated (639554)

        Another thing I like about reading is the ability to easily go back and review something just read when you didn't quite get the gist, as opposed to trying to re-position a video to repeat something.

  • So long truckers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by i kan reed (749298) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @01:39PM (#44041901) Homepage Journal

    Truckers, you're going to be the first on the chopping block in this edition of technology theater. That's the end of the last blue collar job that lets you travel.

    • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @01:53PM (#44042011)

      It's also the end of one of the most dangerous jobs in modern society. Would you cry if someone fully automated coal mining?

      • I would, because I'm a nuke junkie. Why aren't you trying to automate uranium mining and processing?
      • by sl4shd0rk (755837)

        Would you cry if someone fully automated coal mining?

        If the US keeps going down the path it's currently on, mining coal will be considered a privileged job in another 20 years.

    • A good friend of mine is a teamster, and they just got handed a really fucked contract that(from what I've heard...) the Union bosses support. Major loss of pay, bennies, vacation. A fucked deal all around.
      • by DarkOx (621550)

        Maybe the Union bosses see the writing on the wall and realize its the best thing for the people the represent.

        Sometimes management isn't just trying to screw the little guy. Hostess was a good example. The company must be profitable and have something left over to reinvest or there won't be a company to pay wages in the first place.

        Fuel prices remain high, total freight is still down, etc; the industry is not without head winds.

    • by jasno (124830)

      Not taxi, bus, or shuttle drivers?

      • by HiThere (15173)

        Taxi drivers will probably lose out quickly. Bus drivers will change to "stewards". Their main job will change to controlling passengers. Shuttle drivers...probably the same as bus drivers.

        OTOH, in most places it will require legal changes to allow driverless taxis. Even taxis with drivers tend to be licensed and controlled, so there's an entrenched bureaucracy. So there will be resistence that won't collapse until large companies go into the automated taxi business. And, as with buses, vandalism will

      • NASA has already eliminated shuttle drivers a while ago.
    • Re:So long truckers (Score:4, Interesting)

      by dbc (135354) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @02:09PM (#44042157)

      Speaking as someone who has a) built a lot of robots, and b) towed a lot of heavy loads with farm trucks and farm tractors, it seems to me trucks are going to be the *last* to go.

      One: Robotics is hard. Robots are gruesomely hard to test. It is very hard hard to sensitize all the test conditions that you will actually see in the field.

      Two: Towed loads have many non-linear behaviors. There are a lot of ways a load can start giving you fits as a driver. It can whip, it is very subject to wind gusts. It pushes you down slopes and wants to jack-knife. It exacerbates any slick road conditions.

      Show me a credible validation plan for a truck tractor that can deal with a high-side load like a moving van, filled to maximum legal weight, going down the western slope of the Sierra Nevada on I-80, in the rain, coming to a curve at the bottom of a 6% grade, dealing with a jack-ass driver in a light hatch-back returning from a ski trip cutting off the truck. Until you've thought through all the case and then done enough field trials to find out that, well, really you only thought of 10% of the cases up front, you haven't really given sufficient thought to the problem.

      If you said that taxi cabs in flat city streets would be the first application, I'd believe you on that. But trucks? No way.... much harder problem, by at least an order of magnitude.

      • by SecurityTheatre (2427858) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @02:14PM (#44042219)

        Arguably, people are quite bad at handling the circumstance you mentioned.

        With the proper road traction sensors, and gyro sensors, the robot can handle that condition cooly within 5% of failure, where a human will fluctuate wildly between 50% under and 20% over failure, causing all sorts of unintended consequences.

        But I admit that is an end-state, and the development of this technology will be challenging.

      • Re:So long truckers (Score:4, Informative)

        by Necron69 (35644) <jscott,farrow&gmail,com> on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @02:21PM (#44042307)

        I was thinking about robotic trucking the other day, and I think you might be right, but for some other reasons too.

        What happens when _everyone_ learns that the robot trucks (and other vehicles) will NOT hit them? I'd bet the incidence of human drivers cutting off robotic vehicles increases dramatically. It may get so bad that it is difficult for trucks to drive through heavy traffic at all, as they will always yield to other vehicles to avoid an accident. Your average truck driver not only won't do that, he can't afford to.

        Necron69

        • Re:So long truckers (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Eevee (535658) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @02:47PM (#44042565)

          I'd bet the incidence of human drivers cutting off robotic vehicles increases dramatically.

          Followed quickly by a dramatic increase of drivers discovering that performing an act of reckless driving in front of cameras results in suspended licenses and hefty fines, not to mention civil suits from the trucking company for any damage caused.

        • by hawguy (1600213)

          I was thinking about robotic trucking the other day, and I think you might be right, but for some other reasons too.

          What happens when _everyone_ learns that the robot trucks (and other vehicles) will NOT hit them? I'd bet the incidence of human drivers cutting off robotic vehicles increases dramatically. It may get so bad that it is difficult for trucks to drive through heavy traffic at all, as they will always yield to other vehicles to avoid an accident. Your average truck driver not only won't do that, he can't afford to.

          Necron69

          Robotic drivers won't suspend the laws of physics, nor will they pay your insurance premiums. When you cut off a truck too closely and he can't stop in time before he hits you, the video will be automatically uploaded to your insurance company to pay for the damages.

      • by SirGarlon (845873)

        Show me a credible validation plan for a truck tractor that can deal with a high-side load like a moving van, filled to maximum legal weight, going down the western slope of the Sierra Nevada on I-80, in the rain, coming to a curve at the bottom of a 6% grade, dealing with a jack-ass driver in a light hatch-back returning from a ski trip cutting off the truck.

        That particular scenario does not sound like one most human truck drivers could reliably handle, either. I fear the trucking company may be willing

        • by Agent0013 (828350)

          Show me a credible validation plan for a truck tractor that can deal with a high-side load like a moving van, filled to maximum legal weight, going down the western slope of the Sierra Nevada on I-80, in the rain, coming to a curve at the bottom of a 6% grade, dealing with a jack-ass driver in a light hatch-back returning from a ski trip cutting off the truck.

          That particular scenario does not sound like one most human truck drivers could reliably handle, either. I fear the trucking company may be willing to accept the risk. Policymakers seem all too ready to shrug say "that doesn't sound like it will happen very often" instead of actually considering the low-probability scenarios. Considering the political pressure fleet owners (including but not limited to Wal-Mart) can bring to bear, and the knee-jerk anti-regulatory sentiment that was created by a lot of excessive and/or ill-considered regulation, I do not expect validation requirements on robot trucks to be as strict as an engineer would want them to be.

          Yep, I think this is going to be the case. They will just pass a Monsanto-like law that says you can't sue automatic cars or trucks or the companies that make them. Problem solved, done deal!

      • by Dishevel (1105119)

        Yup. Because there is no way a computer can take into consideration wind, drag, traction, weight, speed, available torque, current momentum and also keep track of obstacles and get to where it wants to go. A computer powerful enough to handle that kind of stuff would not be able to fit into hat box. Then you would also need at least two more of them for back up and sensors as well.
        That stuff together might weigh as much as a truck driver!

        • by hawguy (1600213)

          Yup. Because there is no way a computer can take into consideration wind, drag, traction, weight, speed, available torque, current momentum and also keep track of obstacles and get to where it wants to go. A computer powerful enough to handle that kind of stuff would not be able to fit into hat box. Then you would also need at least two more of them for back up and sensors as well.
          That stuff together might weigh as much as a truck driver!

          Additionally, an automated truck won't suffer from overheated brakes - it will know exactly how warm the brakes are during the descent and can calculate how much of a safety margin it has. If it's not safe to proceed, then the truck can pull over until the brakes cool, and the dispatcher isn't going to argue with the truck that it's goofing off when he sees 30 minutes of downtime on the side of the road.

          Plus when an automated truck loses control, it won't hesitate to drive off the road to avoid hitting a dr

      • Show me a credible validation plan for a truck tractor that can deal with a high-side load like a moving van, filled to maximum legal weight, going down the western slope of the Sierra Nevada on I-80, in the rain, coming to a curve at the bottom of a 6% grade, dealing with a jack-ass driver in a light hatch-back returning from a ski trip cutting off the truck.

        Well, not that I disagree with your general argument, but your specific example is quite easy:

        You squish the annoying little hatchback. You'd even get a prize.

      • by stymy (1223496)
        How about just using freight trains? The only reason there's so many truckers in the US is because of the massive subsidies that industry gets (such as how they cause far more damage to roads than they pay in taxes).
    • Mmm...yes and no. Clearly, some roles for people involved in transporting materials won't be going away. For instance, delivery folks will still have the actual role of delivering the goods until we develop robots to remove packages from the truck, find the right door to knock on, and locate an alternative destination (e.g. the main office in an apartment complex) in case a recipient is not available to sign. So, it's unlikely that FedEx or UPS will be replacing their drivers anytime soon, since they'll sti

      • Big rig truckers may be secure for at least awhile as well ...

        There is a much older technology that could reduce the number of big rigs - trains. I don't like to see anyone other than bean counters and MBA's out of work, but it makes little sense to have one person driving one load a thousand miles or more. For anything over 200-300 miles it makes more sense to use a train most of the trip, even taking into account the truck to train (and vice versa) transfer that usually has to take place for more local delivery. The hybrid truck-train approach saves fuel and labor c

  • All those poor women clad in bright color saris in Rajastan trekking several kilometers each day to fetch two pots of water for all the family needs would be freed of the burden! Some driverless van will just drive by and drop off those pots of water. It aint a delivery van, it is deliverance! And all those Bangaladeshi rag pickers combing through the garbage dump looking for something worth selling don't have to carry their sacks all the way to the scrap dealer. A driverless truck will take it to the scra
  • For in-town transportation to and from large scale public transit.
    http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/06/gm-conjures-up-a-people-moving-pod/

  • by Marrow (195242) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @02:05PM (#44042133)

    But that defense is necessary because of the bad decisions of the driver and the other drivers. If all the vehicles were automated and under guidance, then we might be able to substantially reduce the cost and fuel requirements of vehicles.
    If people are not driving, then the urge to stamp on the accelerator and/or the break is not there either. You get in, set your destination, and when you get there you get there. I have not read any analysis, but I think a lot of money could be saved. Also, maybe the car would need less windows? Enabling better a/c efficiency.

    • Also, I could read on the way to work. NEVER FORGET THAT.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @03:49PM (#44043215)

      Whenever this topic comes up in conversation, I often point out the "you get there when you get there" notion. When you're able to just play on your iPad the whole time, it becomes your personal subway car... with one big difference:

      The dudes in the video seem to think (erroneously, IMHO) that we'll just stop owning cars because we can just hail one like a cab. But a self-driving short-term rental car *is* a cab. It *might* be cheaper, and it'll annoy me less than the stupid driver (at least until marketers pay to put TV's in them and play commercials for the whole ride). But here's the thing: the reason I don't take cabs/busses/subways/etc is because I can't leave my shit in them. The car that I own currently contains my flight bag, gym bag, my guitar, my iPod is plugged into the car-stereo with all of my favorite tunes (which, though digital, is still "some of my shit" that I always want to be there).

      It's a little like George Carlin's "a place for your stuff" bit. The reason I like living in a house instead of going from hotel to hotel is because I don't want to gather up all of my stuff and bring it along with me to my next destination. And the same goes for transportation. I don't want to have to completely "vacate" the conveyance every time I want to get out and do something. So, for me, the allure of autonomous cars is that we'll finally have "personal subway cars", in the sense that they're reserved for us. We don't have to take all of our stuff out of them to make ready for the next random person.

      Also (dunno if the video mentioned this), there could be a drop off in parking spaces. At first, I figured that we'd never have to try to find parking spots, since the car can drop us off in front of the door to the store, and then it would go park itself. But then I realized... heck, it doesn't even need to *park*. It could just go drive around for a while. In places with parking meters, this could be cheaper than actually paying for parking.

  • i drive a little almost every day and there are two types of drivers i hate

    the asswipes who speed dangerously, run red lights and take risks to save a few seconds here and there. unless autonomous cars are required i don't see people like this buying these.
    the cautious pricks. the idiots who stop when there is no stop sign just to be extra careful and let everyone on the road go in front of them holding up traffic. these people might buy these cars

    if the cautious pricks buy these, they will be easy to go ar

    • by xevioso (598654)

      As George Carlin once said, everyone driving faster than you is a maniac, and everyone driving slower is an idiot.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      driving in some heavy NYC traffic

      Well, there's your problem right there: Why drive in New York City when the tubes can probably get you there more safely and easily?

  • by perry64 (1324755) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @02:11PM (#44042193)
    If patrons don't have to be sober to have their car drive them home, bar tabs will rise significantly. At least mine will.
  • by invid (163714) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @02:11PM (#44042195) Homepage
    Why should my car waste its time in my garage when it can make some extra money on the side as a taxi? I can call it back whenever I want to use it myself.
    • Ask again when your car comes back after dropping off a bunch of shit-faced frat pledges after a night of debauchery.

      The problem with idealism is that is ignores reality.

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      The issue there is, who cleans your car when some drunk going home from a weekend bender pukes in it?

      • by invid (163714)

        I guess that would be me

        The larger issue is that people who do own cars and don't mind cleaning vomit will be doing this (if it is legal) and this will decrease the need for people to own cars. Rush hour will always be a problem, but at other times, every town will have a lot of potential taxis.

  • Someone on this board pointed out that once we have autonomous cars, you can have them do errands for you. His example was grocery shopping. Do your shopping online a'la Amazon, then send the car to pick up the groceries once a week.

    The implications weren't obvious at first, but consider: there's no need for a supermarket close to a population center where real estate is expensive (ie - it can be in the warehouse district), there's no need for public access (aisles, displays of product, open freezers), no n

    • The implications weren't obvious at first, but consider: there's no need for a supermarket close to a population center where real estate is expensive (ie - it can be in the warehouse district), there's no need for public access (aisles, displays of product, open freezers), no need for cashiers. The entire process can be made into a Kiva [triplepundit.com] order fulfillment system.

      Not likely. Dry goods (i.e. the stuff Amazon sells) is one thing, but food is entirely different. Most people like to see, smell, feel, and, when possible, taste the food they buy. Why do you think that Internet based groceries services have failed?

      • by hawguy (1600213)

        The implications weren't obvious at first, but consider: there's no need for a supermarket close to a population center where real estate is expensive (ie - it can be in the warehouse district), there's no need for public access (aisles, displays of product, open freezers), no need for cashiers. The entire process can be made into a Kiva [triplepundit.com] order fulfillment system.

        Not likely. Dry goods (i.e. the stuff Amazon sells) is one thing, but food is entirely different. Most people like to see, smell, feel, and, when possible, taste the food they buy. Why do you think that Internet based groceries services have failed?

        Amazon is getting into the grocery delivery business:

        http://fresh.amazon.com/ [amazon.com]

    • Lets automate the factories. We don't need any humans there. Lets automate delivery. We don't need any humans there either. Lets automate everything since we will not need any humans anywhere. Except there will be no need for humans at all so why reproduce? Just let all humans die off.
  • by timholman (71886) on Tuesday June 18, 2013 @02:23PM (#44042317)

    One aspect of autonomous vehicles that few people seem to consider is its potential effect on the housing market.

    Consider the size of the RV market, and the number of people who prefer the RV lifestyle after they retire. Now consider the fact that one of the more annoying aspects of owning an RV is that you have to drive it everywhere yourself.

    Now imagine twenty years from now when you'll be able to buy an autonomous RV. You go to sleep in it, and in the middle of the night it takes you to whatever destination you desire. In the morning, you open the door and you're in a new city. What you really own is not an RV, but a magic house that can take you anywhere you desire, a few hundred miles every night.

    With that kind of freedom, how many people would choose to become high-tech nomads, and never live on fixed piece of property again? In fact, I think this will be a major profit center for automakers. Most people won't bother owning cars when they can call for one on a smartphone, but $100K to $200K super-RVs will become the home of choice and the way for GM and Ford to stay in business.

    • by hawguy (1600213)

      One aspect of autonomous vehicles that few people seem to consider is its potential effect on the housing market.

      Consider the size of the RV market, and the number of people who prefer the RV lifestyle after they retire. Now consider the fact that one of the more annoying aspects of owning an RV is that you have to drive it everywhere yourself.

      Now imagine twenty years from now when you'll be able to buy an autonomous RV. You go to sleep in it, and in the middle of the night it takes you to whatever destination you desire. In the morning, you open the door and you're in a new city. What you really own is not an RV, but a magic house that can take you anywhere you desire, a few hundred miles every night.

      With that kind of freedom, how many people would choose to become high-tech nomads, and never live on fixed piece of property again? In fact, I think this will be a major profit center for automakers. Most people won't bother owning cars when they can call for one on a smartphone, but $100K to $200K super-RVs will become the home of choice and the way for GM and Ford to stay in business.

      I thought it was the cost of fuel, car payments, maintenance, etc that kept people away from the RV lifestyle? Traveling 1000 miles/month means nearly $400/month in a 12mpg RV. Plus a $125K RV financed for 10 years is going to cost you around $1400/month in car payments. And then there's all the fees for camping. And maintaining a heavily used liveaboard motorhome is not cheap. So why spend $2500/month in a home-on-wheels when you could have a nice house (with much more room) for less?

      And of course, not ev

  • "Who owns the future?" Theres a good chance the insurance industry may push us in that direction if machine-guided driving is substantially safer. And if it turns out to be more efficiency, i.e. higher speed and capacities on the existing highways, then economics may push us in that direction, especially those who drive for a living. Jaron was seriously concerned about disruption in the paid-driver industries, e.g. truckers, taxis and delivery people. This could be another blue collar industry about to
  • Seems like these two are fixated on an idea that the robot car will cause some compulsory communal vehicle to be needed... an agenda that would have nothing to do with cars being driven by computers.

    I'll purchase or lease my own, TYVM.

  • Professional drivers are about to vanish as are workers in the building trades. I have ranted before that nobody is addressing the cure for the coming displacement of workers.
    There are effects that will transpire that are far reaching. Imagine a city suffering loss of traffic ticket revenue completely. Robotic vehicles will not get tickets. Since police spend at least one third of their time writing traffic tickets we w

  • and who has access to those? Hmmm?

  • Thanks to the internets, we have a good idea how many jerks there are in society (looking at youtube, it seems to be about 60%).
    Autonomous vehicles will have to be super-dooper cautious to avoid innocent people getting injured and suing the bejesus out of the owner/operator, and this will result in them being mercilessly trolled by people jaywalking in front of them/creating cardboard roadblocks/dazzling their sensors etc. I can envisage bored people ordering pizza so they can watch the pizza delivery vanbo

  • Telecommuting should have decimated* traffic already. Unfortunately it hasn't. I'm enthusiastic for the opportunities of automated cars (not so much for what that implies for motorcycling) but I'm concerned that it will have a lot of unnecessary obstacles.

    *Yes, we all know the origin of "decimated".

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