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Will Our Cars Become Our Chauffeurs? 792

Roland Piquepaille writes "According to this long article from EE Times about the 'Self-Navigating Vehicle,' the answer is a resounding yes. Many car experts think that autonomous vehicles which avoid collisions and communicate wirelessly with other cars will be the norm in two to three decades. In the meantime, the enabling technologies for self-navigating cars are emerging, from sensors embedded in the brake or accelerator pedals to more powerful computers. Already, partial solutions exist for adaptive cruise control or for staying in a highway lane. One day, we'll be able to do something else than driving our cars through traffic jams, saving us about two hours per working day. This is the future that engineers are building, but will you accept to be driven by your car? So many people like driving that the concept of a completely autonomous car might be delayed for psychological reasons, not technical ones. This summary contains selected details of the original article."
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Will Our Cars Become Our Chauffeurs?

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  • urban legends (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kalpol ( 714519 )
    Like that guy who set his RV on cruise control and went in the back to make a sandwich? I smell disaster.
  • This would be great (Score:2, Informative)

    by scaaven ( 783465 )
    I can't wait for the time when people don't over-break during a slowdown. It's the #1 cause of a traffic jam.
    • by kherr ( 602366 ) <kevin@pupp[ ]ead.com ['eth' in gap]> on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:23PM (#10855562) Homepage
      In my commuting it's become clear to me that most humans shouldn't control vehicles. Too many of them drive erratically, creating traffic flow problems by changing speed and weaving between lanes.And there are the idiots who think there's only accelerate and brake. Few seem to understand coasting is a way to slow down without causing a compression wave from your brake lights. Commuting would be so nice if we all had mass transit or Johnny Cabs [att.net].
    • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:37PM (#10855766) Homepage
      no the #1 cause of traffic Jams are tailgaiting and cutting people off.

      Person A is driving a safe distance from the car in front of him, person B is certianly more important that A so he pulls into the space in front of A causing A to slow down. CDE are all only 3-6 feet from A sothey JAM on their breaks because they can not simply slow down but must now PANIC stop in order to not hit the car in front of them.

      THAT is the cause of traffic jams, espically the ones where there really is no visible cause.

      In otherwords, very poor driving.
    • I wonder whether the increasing price of gasoline will change people's behavior enough to drastically change the single-occupant vehicle. Will people still buy a house (or take a job) where they have to commute an hour to get there, buring a couple gallons of gas in the process. Would $2/gallon gas curb this appetite? $3/gallon? $4/gallon? $10/gallon?

      Are Single-Occupant-Vehicle commutes less common (or simply shorter) where gas is much more expensive (i.e. the whole world outside of the USA and Oil pr
  • by eln ( 21727 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:05PM (#10855297)
    It's one thing to trust a computer to do your taxes, it's quite another to trust one to hurl you down the street at 80 mph without killing you.
    • I'd trust a well written, tested and proven piece of software more than I trust some of the drivers I've seen.

      I'm already trusting computers with my health, flying, etc.

    • Really? Personally I would trust a computer to deliver me safely to my destination a lot more than I trust someone else to not hurtle their car into me at 120kph.

      I think if properly tested, computerized vehicles would make far better driving decisions than a lot of people I know.
    • It's one thing to half-ass test tax software knowing you can just issue an update, it's another to heavily regulate and spend millions upon millions in carrying out extensive tests to insure the safety of those using it.

      They won't just create this technology and throw it at us saying, "Have at it!"
    • Re:But how deep? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Slarty ( 11126 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:12PM (#10855396) Homepage
      Yeah, and you know that the first time there's a significant crash that can be blamed on the computer (whether it's true or not), safety folks will raise holy hell, and who knows what'll happen then to the whole concept then?

      Although this argument never held much water with me. Consider all the tired drivers, drunk drivers, old people, teenagers, and in general crappy drivers on the roads. There's like, what, 60,000 deaths a year due to car crashes, and that's nearly all human error. Can't imagine computers doing worse job than we're doing already.
      • by Wolfger ( 96957 ) <wolfgerNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:31PM (#10855692) Homepage
        If autonomous vehicles save 60,000 lives per year, and result in 6 wrongful death lawsuits per year, do you really think we will ever see an autonomous car on the road? I really, really doubt it. Americans would rather let 60,000 die than forgo those 6 lawsuits, and companies would rather let 60,000 die than pay out on those 6 lawsuits.
      • Re:But how deep? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by interiot ( 50685 )
        The argument doesn't hold water financially or legally either... we already have safety features in the car (eg. ABS brakes, airbags, etc.) which manufacturers could be sued over if they fail, yet manufacturers still include them for various reasons. It IS possible to include new safety features and still make money despite the lawyers.
      • Re:But how deep? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Random_Goblin ( 781985 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:59PM (#10856115)
        wasn't the robot road project cancelled in the US for exactly that reason, depite the fact that they can make robot cars/roads safer than most current human drivers, there is the whole problem of blame in the case of failure.

        I saw an intersting Open University TV program about this issue a while back. Over 60% of the code was to deal with exceptions that happen less than 1% of the time.

        Their major stumbling block? Anything their software couldn't cope with, there was no point handing control back to the human, because they wouldn't be able to react fast enough either.

        The sight of 20 strech limos moving in absolute (down to the fraction of an inch) synch was very impressive... a bit un-nerving, but very impressive.

        I think the problems facing robot cars are more to do with psychology than engineering. Look at how much fuss is raised over a train crash that kills people "not in control of the vehicle" therefore innocent compared to the number of people who die in car wrecks "in control" therefore less innocent.

        I realise this issue is conflated with the number of deaths in an instant too, but i think one of the key "shock" factors is the helplessness of the passangers
        • Re:But how deep? (Score:3, Insightful)

          by caswelmo ( 739497 )
          The advantage of moving in small steps is that it allows the human psyche time to adapt as well. Currenty, I don't see a problem at all with trusting adaptive cruise or audible warnings. After a couple years of that, I probably wouldn't see a problem moving a little further (harder braking, swerving to avoid collisions?). From there the small steps just keep adding up.

          I currently find it hard to believe that cars can drive themselves effectively on city streets. I don't see much of a problem (technical

          • Actually the biggest problem right now is the cost of implementation. Highway markings and video detection are not good enough across enough of the country to reliably introduce a system right now. Non-video guidance, which is technically capable and is the basis for most of the technology demonstrations you see, is usable now, but the infrastructure installation costs are too high for large areas. What you will see over the next 10-30 years are HOV/Toll lanes that are installed and restricted to autono
      • MADD is the answer (Score:3, Interesting)

        by cat_jesus ( 525334 )
        It's really easy. Show the MADD women that no one will die ever again because they got hit by a durnk driver and they will make sure auto-piloted vehicles will be mandatory.

        I for one would love an auto pilot for my vehicle. I could catch up on my reading on the way to and from work and get there a little faster. Want to take a road trip? Get in the car and sleep all night wake up in Florida.
    • How about trusting it to land a plane at several hundred km/h? How about trusting it to hurl you down the atmosphere at a few tens of thousands km/h?

      Quite frankly, I'm more worried about being killed by your jerking knees than a computerized car.

    • by oostevo ( 736441 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:14PM (#10855429) Homepage
      Have you flown recently?

      For much of the flight, a computer is controlling the aircraft with the pilot and copilot only monitoring it.

      I'd think if computers were safe enough to work in three dimensions controlling vehicles with a multitude of control surfaces, in two dimensions with only gas, brake, and steering, they'd be at least safer than most drivers on the roads today.

    • by TiggertheMad ( 556308 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @02:02PM (#10856146) Homepage Journal
      A computer doesn't drink and drive. A computer doesn't drive badly. A computer doesn't drive emotionally. A computer isn't 16 and driving with a new liscence. A computer doesn't get tired. A computer doesn't drive when it can't find it's glasses. A computer doesn't get distracted by chatting with passengers, listening to music, putting on make-up, watching DVDs, drinking coffeee, or taking phone calls. A computer doesn't race with it's friends.

      Computer sensors could (in theory) operate in darkenss, fog, snow, or rain far better than a human could.

      Considering that driving is usually a fairly mechanical activity, I think that this would be a good thing to automate. Plus, a coumputer could be programmed to drive in a more fuel efficient fashion. It could moniter traffic situatons and rout around them. Because it doesn't drive eratically, drive times become more predictable. As more cars become automated, driving becomes safer for everyone. This stupid weight escalation shit of buying an SUV becasue it is 'safer' can end.

      There will always be some people that like driving a car. There are people that still enjoy knitting, even though there is no real need to make your own sweaters anymore. For most though, I think that a car is a source of freedom to go anywhere they want, and not so much a pleasure to drive. For those people, it wouldn't matter who drove, just that they got where they wanted to go.
  • by gowen ( 141411 ) <gwowen@gmail.com> on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:05PM (#10855301) Homepage Journal
    One day, we'll be able to do something else than driving our cars through traffic jams,
    America, may I introduce you to the concept of useable mass, public transport.

    Public transport, this is America.

    Have a nice day.
    • by hal2814 ( 725639 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:14PM (#10855427)
      Useable, mass public transport is a pipedream in the rural area where I live. If nobody is willing to run cable TV to us or even deliver a pizza, I doubt anybody would be willing to run a train rail. It just isn't economically feasable.
      • But most people in such rural areas don't have a 2 hour commute through heavy traffic, so the point is largely moot.
      • OK, I have some tangential issues to vent here...

        One current problem is that people want to LIVE in rural areas even if their jobs are URBAN, and this is a selfish position. I live near where I work and feel my quality of life is better without the traffic congestion, and so have traded the bigger home for the ability to walk to a bus stop.

        However, I am tired of the heavy traffic around my neighborhood as commuters race down our side streets trying to get to their suburban homes faster. They don't reali
      • So, um, isn't the point of living in the middle of nowhere that it is relatively inaccessable.

        If you want services, more to a populated area that has them. And don't bitch about your taxes.

      • Believe it or not, in Japan and European countries where mass transit is the norm, there are still rural areas. If you were planning to commute across a major metropolitan area, you would first drive (or ride your bike) to a mass transit station outside of that area, park your car, and ride to your destination.

        It isn't an all-or-nothing system.
      • Actually, trains aren't economically feasible most places they exist. Modern traffic patterns show a railroad line being capable of caring about as many people as half a highway lane at many times the cost. One study showed it would be cheaper for the city to lease a Lexus for every person who road the rails than to keep dumping money into supporting it's subway system. It's only in the most densely populated places (New York, Tokyo, London, Paris) where trains make economic sense.

        Trains are cool. Peop
    • by Zeelan ( 533372 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:29PM (#10855658) Homepage
      You do know that one of the first applications for computer driven equipment will be mass transit? First it will be all the trains and busses that will be run by computer. If one were to look into the future.... As the technology inproves people will be given wifi flagers with built in GPS systems... the transit system will be built around small four person automated transports that will go around picking up and dropping off people. Basicly driving you from a pickup on the street in front of your home to where you work. Hell, with some built in AI you could even program in your destination and the system could pick up other people going to where you work from the same area and drop you all off at once. Now that is a mass transit system that I could really use very very well. Zeelan
    • by Vadim Grinshpun ( 31 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:40PM (#10855824) Homepage
      The parent is not quite as insightful as people apparently think.
      Consider the fact that the distances one typically covers in the States are quite a bit greater than almost anywhere in Europe or the UK. Most areas are not that densely populated, and thus do not have many -- or frequently serviced -- transportation options. As a result of this, public transport is not nearly as well-developed or as efficient as the equivalents in other countries. It's not terribly convenient to use public transport to go anywhere unless you can stay within city limits all the time. That happens to be much less feasible in the states than in Europe.

      Here're a couple of examples to illustrate my points.

      1. I have to commute about 12 miles (~19km) to work every day. Time by bus+subway+bus: 1 hour
      Time by car: 20-40 minutes, depending on traffic.
      Multiply by 2 (commute back home) -- the difference is between 40 and 80 minutes per day, an hour on average.

      2. I have to drive about 220 miles (~350km) to see my parents who live in another city every month.
      Time by public transportation:
      bus + subway+intercity bus+subway = 10 min + 20 min + 4 hrs + 1 hr = 5.5 hours.
      By car, the trip takes 4 hours door-to-door.

      Again, multiply by 2 for the way back, and we have about a 3 hour difference. Seeing as I typically go late Friday night or early Sat. morning, and come back on Sunday, 3 additional hours of time that I can spend with my family makes quite a difference. So does not having to be aggravated by crappy buses ;)

      I hope this somewhat illustrates my point. And just to make things clear, I'm not talking about some tiny towns in the middle of nowhere--the above trips concern Boston and New York.

      • Let's set aside the question of whether it makes sense for people to live twelve miles from their primary occupation. Not everyone finds the idea as silly as I do, and I respect that.

        The problem with your post is, you're comparing the convenience of a car to that of the current mass transit system, not the sort of mass transit system we could have if, say, one person in ten could give up their cars altogether and put that money into a serious system. For the purposes of this discussion, a "serious
  • Benefit Number One (Score:4, Insightful)

    by swordboy ( 472941 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:06PM (#10855308) Journal
    As much as I hate to admit that it might be a step forward, think about the time saved if all cars began moving as soon as the light turned green (instead of waiting for each car in front of another).

    That would shave lots of time right there.
    • Benefit Number Two (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Another would be for long drives. I'll admit that when I have to drive three hours to see family there are dozens of other things I would rather be doing: reading, working on the laptop, and playing with my kids, etc. That is when having a feature like this would make me all the happier.
    • The time savings wouldn't come from quicker starts as much as from the reduced distances between cars. Currently, as cars take off, they introduce "bubbles" into the flow, reducing the rate of cars per traffic light cycle. With automated range control, the distances between cars would be much smaller, leading to a higher traffic density and thus better throughput.

      All this is moot, since it would just spur more suburban development until the congestion rises back to some equilibrium level of annoyance. Bui
  • by johnpaul191 ( 240105 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:06PM (#10855315) Homepage
    it's been around for years and it cost under $2 a ride
    • And it limits your cargo-carrying capacity, ignores your schedule, subjects you to a bunch of wack jobs who can't afford any other kind of transportation, who may or may not be carrying a bunch of communicable diseases. Don't sit in the very front or the very back; the elderly sit in front and the mentally handicapped sit all over. Lots of those people have hepatitis and shit like that, because they are not equipped for the real world and they spend a lot of time going in and out of mental health organizat

      • by avdp ( 22065 ) *
        Lots of those people have hepatitis and shit like that

        You'll be allright as long as you don't have sex with them on the bus, or exchange blood samples.

        No seriously, you are paranoid. Anytime you get out of your house you're going to be exposed to all kinds of people and germs. Unless you're an hermit or live in a bubble, it can't be avoided. I don't know Santa Cruz (or even where it is) but there are billions of people in the world that take public transportation daily (granted, few of those in the

      • I say all this as a Santa Cruz native who used to work at County Health there, first as a MIS employee and later as a security guard.

        Were you downsized or what?

        You had me with this part, "And it limits your cargo-carrying capacity, ignores your schedule..." and then it all went psycho after that.

        You're right about service in smaller areas being bad/nonexistent though.

  • How could they wreck such a large industry! Do the cars have no feeling? No sense of right and wrong? Stupid cars! I say that we enact legislation to protect this industry vital to the nations industries.
  • I mean, what's the purpose otherwise? I can easily see, unfortunately, a future where even being driven by your car, it's STILL illegal to be over the DUI limit.

    Why, soon, I'll have to get out of my car to smoke too!
  • by Ars-Fartsica ( 166957 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:07PM (#10855332)
    Drive around any large city these days, its total chaos. Jams used to be the exclusive domain of California, now they are in any city of a half million or more.

    Having automated transport systems removing the human (idiot) factor will be essential to prevent utter gridlock in the future. The only other alternative is to stop immigrating people faster than we can expand the infrastructure they use. Yes this ultimately is the problem - highway construction cannot keep pace with US population growth.

    • The only other alternative is to stop immigrating people faster than we can expand the infrastructure they use.

      You know, natives also have babies. Not everything is an immigration problem. Population growth = immigration + births - deaths. Should we sterilize every third person?

      And we've had self-driving cars for hundreds of years. They're called trains.

    • No, that's not the problem at all. The problem is no one wants to pay for new highway construction until the traffic problem is already so bad that the highway to be constructed will be obsolete before it's even finished. If city planners designed construction projects 30 or even 50 years into the future, and the populace actually funded these projects things would improve.
    • I don't buy into this doom and gloom scenario of utter gridlock. I've heard it before many times. When traffic gets too heavy to get to work in a reasonable (according to your employer so it's a bit more than you probably consider reasonable) amount of time, your business will probably move out of the city and to a less populated area. This is happening in droves in Atlanta where businesses are moving to Norcross/Duluth, Marietta, and Alpharetta.

      And we won't even have to shoot illegal immigrants as they
  • by scotay ( 195240 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:07PM (#10855335)
    They don't let me fly the plane, or drive the train or Trailways. I would give up driving my car in a second, and get back to the important stuff like drinking and smoking pot.
    • I'm not sure why this is flamebait? It makes perfect sense to me.

      Being driven in my own car sounds like the pefect solution since most gridlock is actually caused by bad driving. Driving too close has been proven to cause traffic jams due to the wave effect (can't remember what its called in this situation) as people have to break to a stop rather than simply slowing down gradually. And the other big factor is the idiots who have to cut in too late or avoid moving out of closed lanes until the last minute.


  • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:08PM (#10855340)

    In the USA, the risk of lawsuits will surely delay this kind of thing for a long time to come.

    Sadly, that will probably mean more people get hurt in the long run.

  • by Tibor the Hun ( 143056 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:08PM (#10855348)
    Take an '83 Monte Carlo on a snowy/icy road, and pretty soon the car will be going all by itself, ignoring all user input "suggestions"...

    Not that bad once you get used to it, really.

  • Lenny: Hey look, Homer has one of those self driving cars!

    (Car crashes)

    Carl: Yeah, one of those American self driving cars.
  • by samspock ( 762514 )
    I don't want my car to drive me on the highway but I would love it if it could drop me off a the curb, go park and pick me up when I push a button. Automatic Valet!
    • This is a good point. What's to stop people from sending their cars (without driver) to pick someone up somewhere. I can see it now, driver dummies to trick the car into thinking there's a responsible adult in the car!
  • by Fnkmaster ( 89084 ) * on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:09PM (#10855365)
    This is one of the few areas where I see the legal barriers as nearly insurmountable. What happens when the automatic driving system screws up? Whose insurance kicks in? Who assumes responsibility? It seems like the liability to automobile manufacturers who installed such systems would be huge. Would an insurance company really be willing to underwrite a system like this? Are you willing to assume responsibility yourself for the failure of an automated driving system?

    Furthermore, you need black boxes and monitoring/recording systems - how do you know who was driving in an accident, the autopilot or the human driver?

    Sure, planes have "autopilots" but there's very little stuff in the air to avoid, and lots of air traffic controllers and rules to basically make flying in a straight line in your own empty area of airspace possible.

    Technical and psychological issues aside (and those issues are still huge), unless the system was flawless and perfect (which it won't be) I see the legal morass here as nearly insurmountable.
  • Many car experts think that autonomous vehicles which avoid collisions and communicate wirelessly with other cars will be the norm in two to three decades

    Hmm, okay...but my flying car already does that. Since I only have to pop my food pills in the rehydrator for about 10 seconds, I have much more time in the morning and so I'm not in as much of a rush to get to work.

    ...which is working for Jet & Teleport Inc, by the way. If my job isn't taken over by an automaton....

  • I didn't tell my car to speed, it was the pentium floating point bug!

    Officer, I tried to stop for pedestrian in the cross walk, but then my car got the BSOD.

  • by TellarHK ( 159748 ) <tellarhk&hotmail,com> on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:10PM (#10855371) Homepage Journal
    If you have those two hours to get to work and back, you can bet your ass that you'll be encouraged by the boss to "take advantage of the time" and be doing something related to your job in the car. They might not be able to enforce it legally, but the pressure out there will be high enough that I suspect many, many people will find themselves in a position to either accept it, or be worrying that they'll be the next guy out the door when layoffs come up.
    • Not exactly a new situation though, is it?

      Here in Europe a huge proportion of people commute on the train, often for more than 2 hours a day.
      Usually a resonable arrangement is made with your employer. Many people really enjoy the quite time to get work done balanced with meetings in the middle of the day.
  • First you have to have an autonomous car that can work with other autonomous cars, AND cars that are not autonomous. Its not like everyone will wake up at the same day and have autonomous cars. And those cars have to be better than those that aren't autonomous. Will I be able to force my car to speed if I'm running late? Then maybe I'm better off doing my own driving. How will the car handle it if some moron is driving like a maniac around me? How will it avoid being smacked around if he tries to cut
  • Auto-commute! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by theluckyleper ( 758120 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:11PM (#10855385) Homepage
    To drive me to work in the morning, it would be great! Roll out of bed, into the car and sleep all the way there. Just need some kind of horizontal-auto-shower and auto-dressing units, and I'm all set!

    Who needs consciousness?
  • "...saving us about two hours per working day."

    An hour commute? Man, I thought my 2.5 mile/10 minute commute was unbearable.

    Think globally, work locally.
  • If a system like this means that my car could drive me to the local MegaMall for Christmas shopping, drop me at the front door, and then come pick me up when I call it, then count me in.

    I just hate Christmas shopping traffic.
  • Heh, I'm all for autodriven cars...as long as it's the other guy! As for me, I'll continue driving myself around. Why? It's more fun for me that way! ;)

    Seriously, the best solution to our traffic problems has already been mentioned, public transit. If we'd ever get the public mass transit religion, the toll authorities would go broke...heyyyy...
  • I, for one, love driving. But I would use this for my commute to/from work. While buses and other forms of public transportation are great, the schedules or routes sometimes cause problems that make it unusable

  • ..who says, "Hi. You're in a Johnny Cab!"

    That would be bad ass.
  • Drivers Licenses? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MoeMoe ( 659154 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:16PM (#10855467)
    So what happens now when I get carded at the bar?

    Not to be paranoid, but if something like this happens, then that's just more incentive for Big Brother to give each of us a universal ID card with built-in RFID tags, free of charge...
  • ...when it is idiot-proof.

    Specifically, since there are a plethora of idiots on the road that for some reason completely unknown to me have actually managed to get licensed to operate a road vehicle, the real dangers are not so much with other automated vehicles or even the unexpected deer crossing that the article mentions, it's the drivers on the road that don't actually know how to drive that are the real problem.

    While it's all very well and good to say that these people shouldn't be on the road (th

  • I take the train and subway to work in NYC every day... I don't even think about driving in Manhattan during the daytime.

    During the weekends, I enjoy going for a nice drive.

    So what happens with the people who drive for fun? Do they get a special lane, a special highway, a special car?

    This idea will never happen. Too many people enjoy driving for this to really catch on.

  • autonomous vehicles. . . will be the norm in two to three decades

    Didn't they say that two to three decades ago? I'd love to see this happen, but I can see manufacturer liability and the American love of being independent on the open road (and damn the consequences for the environment) being significant barriers to adoption, at least in the US. Especially so if there's any sort of infrastructure investment requirement, such as modifications to the roads themselves....

  • by Safety Cap ( 253500 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:21PM (#10855542) Homepage Journal
    Most municipalities (and small towns) get their revenue from traffic tickets. If you make cars that never break the law, then bye, bye revenue!
  • Loss of freedom (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DunbarTheInept ( 764 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:32PM (#10855703) Homepage
    The problem I see with this isn't so much the loss of fun associated with driving, but the loss of freedom. I would ONLY favor an automated driving system if it did not do any of the following things:
    1 - Require a centralized control or regularly downloaded from some centralized source in order to work properly (i.e. map data from a city's traffic management server, or something like that).
    2 - Allow the government to effectively disable the car by remote (which would be easy if #1 was true - just mandate that only authorized vehicles could access the server).
    3 - Become mandatory (or effectively mandatory by raising insurance rates to punitive levels for those who don't use it).
    4 - Become a means of legistlated vendor lock-in for the previously established auto makers. (In much the same way that the DMCA is a legistlated vendor lock-in for previously established movie and music companies.) If cars that don't have these features are not allowed on main roads anymore, and to get the features approved requires a lot of red tape and is tied to some Intellectual Property of some sort, that effectively prevents any small competitor from trying to get started in the auto-industry, or any hobbiest trying to customize a car.

    I like the technology, but given the government's unwillingness to consider the needs of the little guy, or the importance of a level playing field in business (and hobbies, dammit!), I say there is an extremely high likelyhood that this would be implemented in a way that will stifle freedom more than is minimally neccessary (I do understand that some small stifling of freedom is a natural unavoidable consequence of a denser population, but this will be implemented in such a way that it stifles it a lot more than it has to, I can guarantee it.)

  • by worktheweb ( 219135 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:35PM (#10855749)
    I bet you'll see automated vehicles get access to their own lanes, sort of like HOV lanes are set up now for ride-sharing traffic. In the Washington DC area they are discussing having HOV-like lanes that you pay to have access to them instead of requiring ride-sharing. You get reduced traffic ... for a price. Automated driving will be a similar convenience and there will be people willing to pay for it, at least initially.

    By breaking them out of the normal traffic situations the navigation computers will be able to avoid having to deal with the random actions of normal drivers and be easier to trust during the roll-out. Once you get into the city autopilot will go off and you'll be asked to start driving. Over time when the system is perfected and the market is more fully penetrated you'll see autopilot everywhere, but it will probably start on dedicated for pay lanes first.

    My $0.02

  • I would love this (Score:4, Interesting)

    by FJ ( 18034 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:46PM (#10855911)
    Lots of people will want to promote public transportation instead of this. While public transportation works in some situations, it is impractical in many areas. Rural & subdivisions typically don't get good public transportation service because a bus will only go downtown.

    Where I work I go from one subdivision to another area outside of town. I tried to use the bus to save myself time. I would have had to drive 3 miles to a bus station (there are no sidewalks & heavy traffic so I couldn't easily walk), take a bus downtown, switch to a different bus to take me back out of town, then go to work. Taking the bus would have taken me at least 3 hours to commute each day. Driving takes me about 45 minutes.

    The people who I think would benifit the most from this would be the elderly. Lots of senior citizens can't drive and some really shouldn't drive. This would allow them to be much more independent and could delay the eventual move to an assisted living community. With the US population aging, this could be a big deal.

    It also solves other problems. Nobody would be convicted of DUIs. Accidents due to bad weather (fog, heavy rain...) would be reduced. No more falling asleep at the wheel. No more drivers crossing the median.

    Some interesting things could happen too. Could the car run erands without me? Could the car could take itself to the mechanic for an oil change or maintenance? Could it refuel itself while I'm working? If I order a pizza, could the car pick it up? Could it pick up a kid from school, take him to the dentist, & return him without a parent taking time off from work?

    Of course, lots of small communities use tickets to increase their budgets. If the cars don't speed or violate traffic, some budgets would feel the impact. Mechanics would also need to be more technical. Odds are the small one-man mechanic business would suffer because of the cost of the diagnostic & repair equipment.
  • The core problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Have Blue ( 616 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:48PM (#10855942) Homepage
    This is the core problem, and the reason it will probably not happen for a very long time:
    • All drivers are human: Acceptably efficient and safe. "Good enough" for most purposes, accidents do occur but not that often.
    • Some drivers are human and some are computers: Confusion and unpredictable responses on both sides, terrible traffic conditions and accidents much more likely.
    • All drivers are computers: Very efficient and safe. accidents rare.
    The second stage is an unavoidable part of the transition to the third, but no one wants to move from the first stage to the second. Until we have a good process for that, we won't get self-driving cars anytime soon.
    • We already have some non-human managed car control: cruise control. Now at the moment, that's simply mechanical (well, silicon, but not observing the outside - it'll happily drive into the car in front!).

      So in the first stage of AI control, we make computers only do the simplest task: 'cruise control plus'. They stay at a specified speed or minimum distance from the car in front, so very little unless the vehicle in front slows down or someone cuts them up. They don't even stay in lane, the driver can c
  • by serutan ( 259622 ) <snoopdoug@@@geekazon...com> on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:52PM (#10855992) Homepage
    The article focused only on the technology, but think about owning a self-driving car. When you get to work, why should it sit out in the parking lot all day when it could drive itself home and ferry the rest of the family around, then come pick you up? Most families could get rid of one of their cars. Leased auto-driving cars could take themselves out at night for fueling and scheduled maintenance. Taking it a step further, why I foresee a time when few people will actually own cars. Most of us will subscribe to services that maintain fleets of robo-cars, which we flag one down with our cell phones like cabs. If you take the paid driver out of the picture the scheme might be feasible. Especially if the rate of accidents goes way down and insurance rates plummet. The biggest losers from this technology could be the car companies themselves, selling fewer cars, and insurance companies charging lower premiums.
  • by dentar ( 6540 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @02:19PM (#10856342) Homepage Journal
    They were called "trains."

  • by K-Man ( 4117 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @02:19PM (#10856347)
    One of the key aspects of the automobile, in contrast to other forms of transportation, is that it is more deadly to anyone getting in the way or disobeying the unwritten rules of the road. It's like the Mafia - they don't have to kill everybody, just enough to send a message.

    Now, if suddenly we have cars which don't run red lights, and which stop every time for pedestrians or dogs, cats, etc. which appear in front of the vehicle, chaos will ensue.

    Imagine walking down a crowded sidewalk. You're constantly being blocked, jostled, and otherwise impeded by people who show little concern for your presence, because you're not a threat.

    If the motor-death equation is suddenly removed, the same situation will occur on our sacred highways - walking, bicycling, and other un-American forms of transportation will take over the streets!
    • Actually (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bmajik ( 96670 )
      a semi is following your Mini Cooper at an approved computer controlled distance (i.e., very close, since you sold this concept to the public based on the computer perfectino of reaction time and understanding of vehicle stopping times / capabilities)

      A child jumps in front of your car.

      Please describe an algorithm that does the right thing.

  • by Thuktun ( 221615 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @02:20PM (#10856365) Homepage Journal
    ...it's that I don't trust the other cars on the road. When your car bases some of its navigation decisions on wireless messages received from other cars, who can guarantee another car (or something pretending to be another car) isn't LYING?

    On a rural road, I could easily imagine thugs with a computer emitting signals that fake a deer-sighting or accident-ahead event, causing you to pull over and slow down. You are then easy prey to carjacking or simple robbery.

    This is similar to spam and envelope/header forgery. For a long time, email software trusted everything that was said in the SMTP transaction and the email header. We're still dealing with that today, slowly adding features to try to limit email's exploitability.

    Since car navigation presumably affects the passengers' lives, you can't simply add wireless warning protocols to the navigation computer without thinking seriously about how much it should trust those signals.
  • by pylonz ( 831167 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @02:24PM (#10856389)
    I teach car control as part of a high-speed driving course at a local race track. One day I was on the skidpad with a student driving his new Boxster. I put him into several oversteer situations, and he gracefully corrected out of each one. Then I noticed the PSM (Porsche Stability Management) light was on. I turned off PSM and found that the driver could not correct to save his life - literally.

    Many modern cars are already taking us out of the loop somewhat. In many cases that's a good thing.

    When cars become autonomous. I'll be combing /. for a hack around it.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @03:08PM (#10857022) Homepage
    Wasn't that article referenced on Slashdot previously?

    As one of the Grand Challenge team leaders [overbot.com], I follow this subject rather closely. It's actually a rather stupid article for EE Times. They have canned pictures of MEMS accelerometers, a picture of an ordinary SUV going through water lifted from early Grand Challenge materials, and the inevitable "car talking to satellite" drawing. There's little mention of the real problems. It's not about compute power.

    Automatic driving needs either more intelligent visual processing than anything we have now, or better sensors than we have now. I think we'll get the sensors first.

    Visual processing can detect big things like other cars, but detecting a pothole is tough. Stereo doesn't really profile ground all that well. You need edges for the correlator to lock up.

    True range sensors are more useful. Existing scanning laser rangefinder devices are marginal, but there's better stuff coming. The mechanically scanned devices are too clunky. All solid state devices do exist. I've seen some impressive demos on an optical bench, and that technology will be fieldable soon.

    Submillimeter radar also has potential, but it's not here yet. Millimeter radar, however, works fine and is quite useful for seeing anything bigger than a bicycle.

    Incidentally, although they don't publicize it, the CMU Grand Challenge vehicle didn't really use Itaniums. Yes, Intel donated Itaniums, and the press releases say they were used, but the Itaniums were damaged before the main event and were replaced with ordinary x86 machines.

  • PRT (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Ian Bicking ( 980 ) <[ianb] [at] [colorstudy.com]> on Thursday November 18, 2004 @06:08PM (#10859292) Homepage
    PRT (Personal Rapid Transit) offers many of the advantages of a car (direct, no-stop transport that isn't shared), but automated. It's basically a very small (up to 3 person) train on a small elevated track.

    I can understand why people balk at public transportation -- there are a lot of problems with it. It's slow and it just doesn't scale; in "good" public transit places, it's only good because traffic and parking has crippled car use.

    PRT can scale better than typical public transit, when you consider both the density of service, and total trip time. Hopefully a more technical-minded crowd can get over the naive idea that big trains can necessarily carry more people. If you just consider a track with one car per second (1 person per car) -- a very conservative density -- vs. a traditional train with five minute headways, the traditional train doesn't look so hot. Especially when you consider the effort in supporting a 40 ton car (that's just one traditional train car) vs. a 1 ton PRT car (and hopefully they could get that weight down considerably as technology improves); the PRT tracks should be way cheaper, and ultimately cheaper than roads. They couldn't actually replace roads, but they could make expansion unnecessary, or even make contraction of roads possible (e.g., removing lanes), and reduce the load on roads so they don't deteriorate as quickly.

    PRT is meant to work with urban areas the way they are, not just the way we wish them to be. And the technology itself doesn't require any breakthroughs, even taking into account safety issues.

    Anyway, I really hope something comes of it. Some links: SkyWeb [skywebexpress.com], the PRT company that's furthest along; Citizens for PRT [cprt.org]; Advanced Transit PRT Page [washington.edu] for a bunch of links and academic studies about PRT.

Statistics are no substitute for judgement. -- Henry Clay