Old Lady Opposition to Driverless Cars

by on August 14, 2012 at 9:25 am in Current Affairs, Economics, Science | Permalink

I think driverless cars will change the design of cities, revolutionize retailing, and greatly change our driving culture, soon for example you will need a license to drive…well, you know what I mean. The scale effects on this technology are tremendous, once it works for one car it works for all. The technology won’t be expensive and it will get better every year. The technology will also get better the more driverless cars their are. Once these cars become common, for example, I expect speed limits for driverless vehicles to be substantially increased.

I do worry about lawsuits in the early years. I am not worried, however, about the following attack on driverless cars which appears to be real although it seems like something from the Onion:

One of the reasons I don’t think this will work is that the technology will be offered first as an option, like cruise control, which will appeal most to the safety conscious. The elderly in danger of losing their license, for example, may appreciate a driverless car. Personally, I would like the driverless option for night driving and I would be much happier lending my teenager the car if I could say “but only if you use the Google option!” At first when there is an accident people will ask, “did he have the driverless option on?” But soon they will start to say “if only he had the driverless option on.”

I do think, however, that technologists should change the name to the electronically chauffeured vehicle. Electronically chauffeured vehicles will appeal to the affluent, the influential and the productive.

The ubiquitous Daniel Lippman gets the hat tip.

Andrew' August 14, 2012 at 9:51 am

The other day I found myself wishing Google could (develop the technology) ram through the inertial social resistance to telecommuting rather than making commuting a little more convenient. It also seems like it should be more in their baileywick. They also had a recent investment that escapes me that told me they’ve given up on tech.

AC August 14, 2012 at 10:31 am

I agree that telecommuting would be way cool, but what can Google do on the technological side? Most resistance seems cultural and a product of the fact that people prefer people that they see often, in person.

Andrew' August 14, 2012 at 11:06 am

Make Googledocs faster!

DK August 15, 2012 at 12:19 am

Googledocs is designed to benefit Google, not user. If Google were interested in doing what users really need and want, it would be making control type software fool-proof and ubiquitous.

jose August 14, 2012 at 11:14 am

The resistance to telecommuting is

a) Videoconferencing is still vastly inferior to face-to-face conversation. Geeks who do solitary, technical work underestimate how much social coordination and communication is necessary for most jobs.

b) People shirk. They do less work when telecommuting at home. They lie and say the don’t, but they do. There is a small % of the abnormal who stay just as focused and motivated while unsupervised at home. But most people, when they can slack off without consequences … do so.

The Original D August 14, 2012 at 11:18 am

Google Hangouts could double as a monitoring system. Require everyone to log in every day and keep the video on but muted.

Dan Weber August 14, 2012 at 12:32 pm

People shirk in the office, too. Managers usually care about “asses-in-chairs” time, but that’s a pretty crappy measurement.

Andrew' August 14, 2012 at 12:51 pm

I suspect the “people shirk” is more of a justification managers use because they prefer the current equilibrium of on-site rather than an actual problem with off-site work. And noone said that you had to pay telecommuters the same thing.

As I allude to below, I worked at a place where my work was used all around the globe. So, I was off-site from most of my influence. That was when I worked for a corporation. Ironically, now that I’m in a lab, my advisor still only uses the “asses-in-the-lab” indicator. It’s really just poor management.

Dent August 14, 2012 at 9:42 pm

I did telecommuting for one and a half years. It was hell for me. The boundaries between work time and leisure time dissolved completely. I was constantly stressed out, yet procrastinating. Never again.

mkt August 14, 2012 at 11:07 pm

Yup. That’s also why online education will only serve a niche and not replace mass education via bricks-and-mortar classrooms (blended with online technology). Telling an 18-year old to go to the computer and learn calculus will work for a few and fail for most.

john personna August 14, 2012 at 11:15 am

I’ve imagined a big screen TV on my wall, with a webcam, dedicated for telecommuting. I think that would make bosses comfortable and help widely distributed teams coordinate.

Andrew' August 14, 2012 at 11:20 am

(b) Videoconferencing is vastly inferior to things like Sametime or Netmeeting. Non-geeks think that when they are schmoozing they are doing work. The work only really happens after the extroverted manager comes back from the meeting and inform the geeks what they think the boss wants.

(b) “There is a small % of the abnormal…” These are called geeks.

Andrew' August 14, 2012 at 11:23 am

Hilarious (to me) story that I’ve said many times. My direct manager always double or triple-booked his calendar with meetings. He’d go to whatever one he thought was most important (i.e. best face-time) at the time. After about 3 years I realized that my manager had not once told us anything that had been discussed in these meetings. This was a highly successful manager.

Andrew' August 14, 2012 at 12:21 pm

I also did my best work collaborating with a guy 1000 miles away who I’d see in person once every two years or so. Now I “collaborate” through the academic journal system with people I’ll never meet and who often speak different languages. I’m not claiming it is for everyone. But neither are cubicles.

Tim August 14, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Telecommuting removes the need for mid level managers. Who are coincidentally usually the people who make telecommuting policies.

Eamon August 14, 2012 at 6:51 pm

Well, this seems like a pretty good start to Google doing what it can to boost telecommuting:

https://fiber.google.com/about/

TheCrankyProfessor August 14, 2012 at 9:51 am

Having just visited the Aged Ps, an advantage I see for the elderly driver is keeping UP to speed. My mother has recently gotten very pokey, and often hangs a few miles under the speed limit (annoying other drivers and ME). She’s otherwise still pretty competent – but I look forward to driverless cars!

Bill Harshaw August 14, 2012 at 12:50 pm

It’s hard to realize one’s driving skills are declining and to face the choice between giving up the license or increased likelihood of an accident and killing someone. I’m 71. I too can’t wait for driverless cars.

Ashpreet Sidana August 14, 2012 at 2:24 pm

I think the driverless cars could be dangerous too because how the car knows that who is crossing road and the car has to stop at the stop sign. How the driverless cars would know that it is the freeway and they have to speed up with the other cars. Its good idea too about the driverless cars and the advanced technology.

Ehm August 14, 2012 at 9:55 am

Some of the worst city designs are due to city designers accomodating cars and neglecting humans. Amazon is going to change retailing for good and most of grocery shopping will be delivered home soon.

Skip Intro August 14, 2012 at 10:34 am

Wow, this comment took me right back to 1998.

Andrew' August 14, 2012 at 11:01 am

1998 was simply ahead of its time.

Major August 14, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Just because you don’t like cities designed to accommodate cars doesn’t mean they’re bad designs. If people didn’t like them, we wouldn’t have been building them that way for 50 years.

Finch August 14, 2012 at 12:32 pm

As is discussed later in the thread, making cars better _increases_ the incentive to design cities around them. It doesn’t decrease the incentive.

Doc Merlin August 14, 2012 at 8:27 pm

Which is a good thing. Cars are a marvelous invention.

pgahtan August 14, 2012 at 10:09 am

who needs high speed trains? being chauffeured to work while executives prepare will be the way to go

Rahul August 14, 2012 at 10:09 am

To be fair the ad-video is less of an attack on driver-less cars than on Brandeis.

Brett August 14, 2012 at 11:09 am

Agreed, the argument in the Ad is more along the lines of “Why is Brandeis screwing around with driverless car legality issues when there’s unemployment afoot?”

Rich Berger August 14, 2012 at 10:13 am

How about “intelligently guided vehicle”? If this becomes widespread I won’t have to worry about all the morons who can’t keep from texting while driving.

Rich C August 14, 2012 at 11:47 am

How about “smart cars”, and tough luck for Daimler and their little Smart brand?

Your expression is a bit of a mouthful, like “electronically chauffeured vehicles.”

msgkings August 14, 2012 at 3:38 pm

The acronym will quickly be the term used: IGV or ECV (who ever says ‘sport utility vehicle’ in full?)

jeff morgan August 14, 2012 at 11:09 pm

I’ve read somewhere “all-passenger vehicle” and I like that heh.

I’m hoping that in the future, cars will be referred to as simply “automatic” and “manual” and using those words for transmissions will fade.

After a little more time, self-driving cars will simply be called “cars.” Non-self-driving cars will be called “manual cars.”

To solidify the chauffeur concept, your self-driving car’s software should have a human name too!

Aidan walsh August 14, 2012 at 10:16 am

Alex,

I dunno. I suspect that this experiment with AI will start to run into problems soon.

Rules of the road are often quite local and require drivers to notice a lot. For example the anthropologist Kate Fox is quite interesting on the invisible middle passing lane in Poland. The rules of jaywalking in New York, London and Rome are pretty different. A human being is quite capable of driving a car onto a train or ferry in England on the left and driving off on the right in France. I wonder how long before a google car can do that?

Perhaps they will be useful in simple environments like motorways?

Brandon T. August 14, 2012 at 10:24 am

For now, I’d be content with their being useful on…motorways…

joshua August 14, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Yes. Even if we just get cruise control smart enough to turn with the lane and change speed when necessary on the highway, that alone could save an abundance of both hours and lives.

brett August 14, 2012 at 11:11 am

It’s a work in progress, of course, but I think it’s worth noting that Google’s car did pretty well even in surface street situations where you get pedestrians wandering all over the place at different speeds.

Perhaps they will be useful in simple environments like motorways?

That will most likely be the introduction to auto-driven cars for most people: more advanced cruise control systems in new cars that can not only maintain speed, but also maintain a minimum distance behind another car and break suddenly if necessary.

Mo August 14, 2012 at 1:48 pm

When would anyone want their advanced cruise control to break? That seems like an expensive feature to put in.

Brett August 14, 2012 at 4:56 pm

“Brake”, wise guy. ;D. You got me.

JWatts August 14, 2012 at 11:15 am

“Rules of the road are often quite local and require drivers to notice a lot.”

The problem is that humans don’t,as a general rule, notice a lot. We don’t pay attention beyond the minimum required. All humans are pretty awful drivers. And as to the rules of the road being local, who do you think adapts better a machine programmed to automatically update to regional rules or an out of the area driver?

Anon. August 14, 2012 at 12:44 pm

If all cars are converted to driverless, then the local rules of the road will be irrelevant. The transitional period might be a pain of course..

Foobarista August 14, 2012 at 3:14 pm

I suspect there’ll end up being some clear marking or lighting to indicate that a car is being driven by a self-driving system. They’ll pedantically obey traffic laws, but won’t easily handle the customary but unspoken rules of the road (such as expecting that someone is light-running in California versus light-jumping in Utah).

As to switching formal laws (ie, going from UK to France), the car should handle this as easily as changing fonts in a word processing program; the car knows it’s in France and loads the “French law package” along with the map, etc.

Alex A. August 14, 2012 at 10:24 am

Interesting. So if Brandes had his priorities straight on the economy…he would *resist* making Florida an early leader in a revolutionary transportation technology?

kiwi dave August 14, 2012 at 10:37 am

that is only one of the dimensions of underlying stupidity in that ad (the fact that the main beneficiary of driverless cars will be elderly people is yet another)

Colin August 14, 2012 at 10:27 am

I agree with the rebranding, it’s amazing what it can do. It worked wonders for MRI devices… After all, magnetic resonance imaging sounds nice and safe (magnets are toys!)… Nuclear Magnetic Resonance is scary (it’s the same thing as an H-bomb!).

jmo August 14, 2012 at 10:30 am

I’m wondering if car makers will start to offer the option of fractional ownership of cars. Let’s say you have a 25 min commute, you have to drive the kids to something 3 evenings a week, etc. So, you buy a HondaCard for $399 a month and they provide 50 hours a month of use and agree to have a car at the location of your choice withing 10 min.

When you’re ready to leave work you just hit the Honda app on your phone and it shows you the vehicles available in your area, you pick the car you want (minivan for the drive to soccer, etc.) and you get a text a few min. later when it’s out in front of your office.

Finch August 14, 2012 at 10:58 am

It might let a family get away with one car, at the cost of driving it more.

I can imagine buying one car which I drive to work in the morning. It then drives home empty and is available for my wife all day. Then at the end of the day it drives to my office empty, picks me up and brings me home. It burns significantly more gas, but I only need to own one car. And gas is a tiny fraction of the cost of owning a car. And also, to the extent that age rather than mileage causes depreciation, you’ll get more use out of the asset driving it more in less time.

I’m not sold on sharing cars with strangers. One of the huge advantages of cars over public transit is that I own the car rather than the government, so I have an incentive to maintain it and keep it clean. My car is a vastly nicer place to be than any public conveyance I’ve ever been on. Beyond that, with kids there’s considerable setup whenever you want to use a new vehicle. My wife is not going to accept having to install the car seats, load a stroller, and stock her various cubbies with the detritus of motherhood every time she gets the minivan from her Honda app. My kids will object to not having their car stuff in place. Zipcar is fine when you’re 25 and want a car for a brief trip once a month.

jmo August 14, 2012 at 11:14 am

One of the huge advantages of cars over public transit is that I own the car rather than the government, so I have an incentive to maintain it and keep it clean.

Who’s talking about the government owning these cars? They’d be owned by Budget or Ford or NetJets or Hilton or any other provider that provides a clean product that’s used by the public.

My wife is not going to accept having to install the car seats, load a stroller, and stock her various cubbies with the detritus of motherhood every time she gets the minivan from her Honda app.

True – but maintaining a vehicle that is only used by you will, almost by definition, cost vastly more than when it’s shared by others.

Also, IIRC Volvo offers built in car seats. I’d assume that shared vehicles offered by Honda, Volvo etc. would be full of ingenious engineering solutions to the issues you’ve mentioned.

The Original D August 14, 2012 at 11:21 am

I don’t think he’s saying the government will own the vehicles. Rather, he’s making a comparison between owning a driverless car and public transportation.

A driverless car makes a lot of sense for scenarios like Finch’s.

jmo August 14, 2012 at 11:30 am

Rather, he’s making a comparison between owning a driverless car and public transportation.

I think he’s imagining that the shared cars would be dirty like a bus rather than clean like a rental car or hotel room. As someone who travels for work and as a result rents a car every week and stays in a hotel, I’d have to say that corporate America seems to have the cleanliness challenge under control.

Finch August 14, 2012 at 11:31 am

> Who’s talking about the government owning these cars?

I meant that as an aside, but rental cars aren’t exactly nice and well maintained either. True, they’re better than public transit.

> True – but maintaining a vehicle that is only used by you will, almost by definition, cost vastly more than when
> it’s shared by others.

You don’t have to use a car much to make owning cheaper than renting or leasing today. I’m not sure that will change. Zipcar makes sense for its current market. Zipcar for a family, or for a commuter, makes no sense. Automating the car doesn’t change that.

I don’t think there are engineering solutions to the shared vehicle problem. For many people the car is their home or office. There’s a lot of customization of the environment. Again, it’s a pain to install car seats, and the built-in ones are not general solutions – they’re just booster seats that suit kids of a specific age and size.

jmo August 14, 2012 at 11:53 am

I meant that as an aside, but rental cars aren’t exactly nice and well maintained either.

As someone who rents a car every week, I’d say you’re mistaken.

You don’t have to use a car much to make owning cheaper than renting or leasing today.

Because, if you rent a car to drive to work while yours is in the shop, it sits in the parking lot all day. If it was available for use by others during the day, it would be far cheaper. I have a rental today, I drove it from 8:10 to 8:30 this morning and will drive it from 6:30 to 6:50 tonight. The other 23 hours and 20 min it will sit idle. There is a lot of value in that downtime that autonomous cars could capture.

I don’t think there are engineering solutions to the shared vehicle problem.

I’m curious why you think a vehicle built from the ground up to be a shared autonomous vehicle wouldn’t be able to incorporate engineering and design solutions to the problems you’ve mentioned?

I think you’re thinking too inside the box, that an autonomous car would be just an Accord or Camry that could drive itself – I don’t think that would be the case.

Finch August 14, 2012 at 12:15 pm

> I think he’s imagining that the shared cars would be dirty like a bus rather than clean like a rental car or
> hotel room.

> As someone who rents a car every week, I’d say you’re mistaken.

I imagine them being rather like a rental car. I.e., maintained to the minimum standard. Smells kind of funny. The seat is not positioned for me, nor is the steering wheel, the mirrors, the HVAC controls, or vents. It doesn’t have my sunglasses nor my garage door opener. The radio presets are different. It doesn’t have my kid’s water bottle, nor the other one’s toys. The stack of quarters for parking meters. The box of tissues. My spare key. The stroller or car seats, adjusted just right. My EZ-Pass. My parking garage pass. My town facility sticker. My pocket knife and a football. It’s not the color or model I want. Sure, I agree, it’s better than the bus. Could I get by without this stuff? Yeah, on business trips I put up with it all the time. But everyday life? Install a car seat some time, and see if you want to do that four times a day.

Regarding your commuting example, cars have a few big regular users – they commute, they shuttle families around, and they are work vehicles. You could maybe share between a commuter and one of the during-the-day users, but you can’t do two commutes or two during-the-day uses, at least not very easily.

I think it might be possible to increase the utilization of cars with autodrive technology – I started out by giving an instance where I thought that was possible. But I don’t think it’s a big effect, and I don’t think we’ll move to renting rather than owning vehicles.

jmo August 14, 2012 at 12:33 pm

The seat is not positioned for me, nor is the steering wheel, the mirrors, the HVAC controls, or vents.

They already have cars that adjust all that based on what key-fob is used to unlock the vehicle. Why do you assume a purpose built autonomous vehicle wouldn’t already know what you like when it picked you up?

I don’t think we’ll move to renting rather than owning vehicles.

Obviously, a lot would hinge on the price and how much increased utilization can reduce the cost per mile for the consumer vs. owning.

Dan Weber August 14, 2012 at 12:45 pm

The problem with car sharing for commuters is that they all largely want their cars at the same time, i.e. rush hour.

I probably wouldn’t mind all the accouterments Finch describes for my daily commute if I weren’t driving the car. Making driving comfortable is really important when you are piloting, but if the computer was driving I’d probably just bring a laptop and not care about anything else.

I used to think that car-sharing would make an excellent “virtual second car” for a family, but Finch’s comments about needing to install car seats really sticks out. The SAHM won’t tolerate that. There have been moves for easy-install car seats, like the LATCH system, and while better than the old methods they still involve work. Maybe they’ll finally get as easy as they should be so you can put them in and out in 5 seconds.

Finch August 14, 2012 at 12:50 pm

> They already have cars that adjust all that based on what key-fob is used to unlock the vehicle.

I’m aware you can buy an S Class with some of the requisite features. You can’t customize a vehicle for work or family with any reasonable technology. I also note that rental cars generally do not have these features.

I think you are thinking “What works for me, a young single male, will work for everyone.” I think shared ownership makes sense for the current rental market, and not much else.

Major August 14, 2012 at 12:51 pm

jmo,

The reason your rental cars today are clean and well-maintained is because the rental company generally has lots of time to work on them between rentals. That’s probably not going to work if your self-driving rental car is rented out to other people while you’re at work, shopping in the mall, etc. It’s going to look more like a taxi or public transportation. I also think you also greatly underestimate how much people dislike sharing things they use frequently with strangers, and the emotional attachment most people have to their cars. It’s not just an object, it’s an extension of their body, an expression of their personality, a status symbol, and so on. Watch some car commercials. The pitch is usually focused more on the emotional and aesthetic appeal of the vehicle rather than its utilitarian transportation value.

jmo August 14, 2012 at 1:12 pm

I think shared ownership makes sense for the current rental market, and not much else.

You don’t think you’d see a move to more one car families- for the period outside the time when the kids are too small for the built in car seats? Would you use the autonomous car to drive you kid to hockey at 5am – rather than drive yourself? You don’t think it would be big with the elderly?

It would seem far larger than the current rental car market.

jmo August 14, 2012 at 1:18 pm

That’s probably not going to work if your self-driving rental car is rented out to other people while you’re at work, shopping in the mall, etc. It’s going to look more like a taxi or public transportation.

Presumably with several companies serving the market you’d have a choice and cleanliness would be one of the metrics you’d use to judge what company you preferred to purchase you car-share.

The “Mercedes” cars are always so big, clean and comfortable but they are $599/month. The “Kias” are loud and kinda dirty but they are only $199/month.

It seems like something the marketplace could work out.

Major August 14, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Taking rental cars out of service between rentals so they can be cleaned or maintained or customized to the standards of a privately-owned vehicle, and maintaining a large enough fleet of rental vehicles to be able to reliably satisfy demand without excessive waiting, is going to increase costs and reduce the supposed economic benefit of renting over ownership.

jmo August 14, 2012 at 1:54 pm

and maintaining a large enough fleet of rental vehicles to be able to reliably satisfy demand without excessive waiting, is going to increase costs and reduce the supposed economic benefit of renting over ownership.

That’s certainly true. Will the number make sense for everyone? Very unlikely. Will it be bigger than the current rental market? Very likely.

How it shakes out will ultimately left up to the market.

Major August 14, 2012 at 2:33 pm

Will it be bigger than the current rental market? Very likely.

I think it will likely increase the size of both the rental market and the ownership market. A lot of people who don’t currently own a car because they are unable to drive (too old, disabled, banned), or because they don’t like driving, or because driving/parking is too difficult in their current environment (e.g. dense urban cores) are likely to become new owners. Expansion of the rental market will probably come mainly from substitution of self-driving taxis for buses and trains, which will mostly disappear. At the margin, a small number of people may switch from owning to renting, but I doubt this will be more than a small part of the total market.

eddie August 15, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Finch’s comments about needing to install car seats really sticks out. The SAHM won’t tolerate that. There have been moves for easy-install car seats, like the LATCH system, and while better than the old methods they still involve work. Maybe they’ll finally get as easy as they should be so you can put them in and out in 5 seconds.

Assume for the sake of argument that cars can instantly and automatically install child car seats as soon as you touch the door handle while holding the car seat.

Now then: where are you storing your car seat when you’re not in the car, and how much fun will you have carrying the car seat back and forth between its storage spot and your self-driving-car’s pickup spot? Multiply that fun by the number of children you have. And don’t forget that you’re also carrying your briefcase or laptop bag or lunchbox or whatnot, and that the typical car seat is about as portable as a medium-sized dog being carried unwillingly by its collar.

Ted Craig August 14, 2012 at 10:58 am

Carmakers don’t sell cars to the public. They sell them to dealers, fleets, etc. They might sell them to companies that would offer fractional ownership like this. But selling fewer cars is basically in opposition to every automaker’s business plan.

jmo August 14, 2012 at 11:06 am

But selling fewer cars is basically in opposition to every automaker’s business plan.

It’s certainly possible the business plans need to change. RIM did well selling phones with e-mail capability to corporate IT departments. Looks like they bet on the wrong horse and will go bankrupt or be sold as a result.

Freethinking Jeremy August 14, 2012 at 4:26 pm

I’m surprised no one has mentioned Zipcar. It currently is a low-cost, high-convenience alternative to owning a car for urban dwellers (and some students). My total costs are about 100-150 a month. That’s less than insurance alone. And there’s no maintenance, no car washing, and no parking hassles.

Self-driving cars could eventually make Zipcar even cheaper and even more convenient.

Freethinking Jeremy August 14, 2012 at 4:30 pm

My mistake. I just noticed I scrolled past the comments mentioning Zipcar.

Major August 14, 2012 at 5:21 pm

In a world of self-driving cars, what would be the benefit of the Zipcar model over self-driving taxis?

harryh August 14, 2012 at 6:53 pm

You might get a bulk discount for purchasing a set number of hours in advance?

Freethinking Jeremy August 15, 2012 at 12:10 am

I actually do think self-driving taxis is a likely future as it would be cheaper than ownership and superior to Zipcar.

The comment I’m replying to was suggesting car-sharing as if it were new. Several comments after that doubted the car-sharing model and I accidentally skipped the comments that discussed car-sharing a little better.

Major August 15, 2012 at 3:38 am

I actually do think self-driving taxis is a likely future as it would be cheaper than ownership

It would also be cheaper if we shared communal kitchens and bathrooms and laundry facilities with strangers. But most of us don’t do that. We’re willing to pay the extra cost of having our own private ones, even though we use them for only a few hours a day, if that. People like having their own stuff. They like to know it will be available to them when they need it. They don’t like sharing it with strangers. This is especially true for possessions in which people have a signficant emotional and aesthetic investment, like their cars. Some people for whom ownership is a marginal proposition may switch to self-driving taxis. But I expect a larger number of people who don’t own cars now because they can’t drive or don’t like to drive will be induced to buy a car if it can drive itself.

Freethinking Jeremy August 15, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Major, you might be partly right. People buy Mercedes and BMW for emotional and social reasons. But they buy Honda and Toyota for superior functionality and low cost. When I look on the roads, I see a lot of Hondas and Toyotas.

In addition to lower cost, self-driving taxis will get the added benefit of avoiding maintenance, washing, and parking. This is going to appeal to more than just a small niche once they try it out. I grew up a Honda-driving suburbanite. Now that I’ve converted to Zipcars and taxis, I hope I never have to return to the burden of car ownership.

Kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry are a different issue. People don’t want to share for practical, not emotional reasons. If my sink and my stove appeared when I wanted them and washed themselves, I wouldn’t mind sharing them.

Major August 15, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Major, you might be partly right. People buy Mercedes and BMW for emotional and social reasons. But they buy Honda and Toyota for superior functionality and low cost. When I look on the roads, I see a lot of Hondas and Toyotas.

No, people buy Hondas and Toyotas for emotional and social reasons too. If minimizing cost was people’s primary concern, the roads would be overwhelmingly dominated by cheap vehicles. They’re not. The average price of a new automobile today is around $30,000. A large proportion of vehicles cost $40,000 or more. Minimizing transportation cost simply isn’t the priority you think it is. You’re projecting your minimalist sensibilities on to other people.

In addition to lower cost, self-driving taxis will get the added benefit of avoiding maintenance, washing, and parking.

No, taxi companies pass along the costs of maintenance, washing and parking to their customers in the form of higher fares. As I have explained, self-driving technology will likely substantially reduce parking costs. That’s one of the ways self-driving vehicles will reduce the cost of car ownership, making it affordable to more people.

Kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry are a different issue. People don’t want to share for practical, not emotional reasons. If my sink and my stove appeared when I wanted them and washed themselves, I wouldn’t mind sharing them.

If you shared communal sinks and stoves with other households, your cleaning costs would be lower, since they would be shared with the other households, just like the other costs of ownership (purchase, maintenance, etc.) . The possibility that a sink or stove would not be available when you want it also applies to taxis. Despite the huge number of taxis in New York, people there are always complaining about not being able to get a cab when you need one. That’s one reason why people like having their own private possessions — to guarantee availability on demand.
In order to ensure an adequate supply of taxis to meet peak demand without excessive waiting, a taxi company would need to buy many more vehicles than it needs at off-peak times, meaning that many taxis would sit idle for long periods of time. That will increase costs.

MTC August 14, 2012 at 10:43 am

Misguided priorities? Based on the apparent hazard driverless cars pose to elderly pedestrians I would argue Mr. Brandes has found an innovative technological solution to the growing costs of Medicare and the insolvency of Social Security.

Komori August 15, 2012 at 9:36 am

I suspect that elderly drivers pose a greater threat to elderly pedestrians than driverless cars do.

MattJ August 14, 2012 at 11:11 am

I can’t wait for this option to make it possible for me to turn all of my time-wasteful road trips into in-car sleepovers.

7 hours to a beach weekend on Friday night after work is rotten when it’s 6pm – 1am, trying to stay awake to drive safely, and also keep the girlfiend and her kids entertained. It would be great to time-shift the trip to 11pm – 6am, and let everybody sleep through the whole thing after having had a nice healthy meal at home.

john personna August 14, 2012 at 11:18 am

I wonder why something humans do so well and so cheaply gets so much attention as an innovation opportunity. Personally, I’d rather have a tub-and-shower cleaning robot.

The Original D August 14, 2012 at 11:22 am

Time value of commuting.

The Original D August 14, 2012 at 11:23 am

Or rather, the opportunity cost of commuting.

Nate August 14, 2012 at 11:27 am

~30,000 auto deaths in America per year says that humans aren’t very good at driving.

Andrew' August 14, 2012 at 11:35 am

Or that governments aren’t very good at managing roads.

Rahul August 14, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Nate’s hypothesis is more reasonable.

Ted Craig August 14, 2012 at 11:39 am

There were 190,625,023 licensed drivers in the United States in 2000, according to DOT. There were There were 1.09 fatalities for every 100 million vehicle miles traveled.

Ted Craig August 14, 2012 at 11:45 am

That second stat is for 2011.

jmo August 14, 2012 at 12:03 pm

30,000 deaths but 6.4 million accidents (in 2005). I could see, due to the adverse selection problem, it costing $50 to insure your autonomous vehicle but $5,000 to insure the vehicle that you can drive yourself.

Ted Craig August 14, 2012 at 12:20 pm

You’re still talking about 3 percent of all drivers.

Cliff August 14, 2012 at 11:48 am

It’s called a maid, guy

john personna August 15, 2012 at 9:26 am

Some people have services, but maids in the old sense went out with the Great War. Roomba did not displace maids.

Major August 14, 2012 at 1:10 pm

I wonder why something humans do so well and so cheaply

I think this is completely wrong. Computers will be able to drive much better than humans, massively reducing costs from accidents, congestion and stress, and freeing up human drivers to engage in recreational or productive activities instead of driving. They will also provide the benefits of car travel to people who today must rely on buses and trains to get around. Without the need to pay delivery drivers, personal deliveries of goods will also become cheaper and therefore more common. The benefits of self-driving vehicles will be enormous.

john personna August 15, 2012 at 9:27 am

As Ted says, 1 fatality for every 100 million vehicle miles traveled. Who’s being rational here? (We are all probably being generous in thinking that self-driving cars will beat that record in their first generation.)

Major August 15, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Who’s being rational here?

We are. You’re not. The cost of auto accidents is ENORMOUS. Auto insurance is a $200 billion a year industry. It’s not just fatalities, although fatalities alone are a huge cost (more than 30,000 people killed each year). It’s also hundreds of thousands of non-fatal injuries and billions of dollars in property damage. Self-driving vehicles will almost certainly greatly reduce this cost by greatly reducing the rate and severity of accidents. And that’s just one of their benefits.

Brian Donohue August 14, 2012 at 11:56 pm

I like driving.

Ryan Cooper August 14, 2012 at 11:22 am

“Electronically chauffeured vehicle” is good, but a little cludgy. Might work for a Lexus or BMW marketing campaign, but I don’t think you’ll get it to stick generally. Too long and pompous. Sounds like a Bernie Wooster phrase. “Driverless car” just has more bite, and too much of a head start.

I’d be interested to see if we could get it even shorter. “Autopilot,” has the advantage of being in wide use, but also the connotation with airplanes that it will just fly them in a straight line (though as I understand they are getting better and better as well). Perhaps “autodrive?” Imagine an ad: “The new Toyota Camry, now with our heavily tested autodrive system. Proven to increase safety by up to XX percent.” Follow with people falling asleep and the car saving them, hitting the brakes when they pull out in front of someone, and finally someone taking a nice nap while the car drives them through the night.

Any better?

Finch August 14, 2012 at 11:36 am

Doesn’t GM have “Supercruise” as the name for their enhanced cruise-control technology? I kind of like that.

Andrew Owen August 14, 2012 at 11:48 am

Why do we need a new name at all? I’m happy just sticking with “horseless carriage.” It seems we can be more certain than ever that there are no horses involved.

jose August 14, 2012 at 11:28 am

The Left seems to think robo-cars will kill suburbia.

It seems likely it will do the opposite.

Robo-cars will make driving easier. It will eliminate problems of fatigue, sickness, and intoxication that interfere with driving.

Therefore I predict robo-cars will:

1) Increase public intoxication. More people will be drunk/high in public. And they will get more intoxicated than today (ie binging) since there are fewer consequences.

2) People will drive more and consume more fuel. Longer drives are now feasible since you can sleep en route.

3) More single occupant long drives.

4) Longer distance family vacations. Cutting into air travel.

5) Boon to the suburbs and exurbs. A relaxing commute where you can nap, read the news, play a game, skype with the kids will make a 1 hr commutes easy to tolerate.

6) Harm public transportation. Robo-cars will be 10x better than buses, subways, or trains. No worries about criminals, crazies, or disease. You can relax, nap, skype. Wonderful privacy.

8 August 14, 2012 at 11:39 am

7) Hackers create the largest traffic jam in human history

Finch August 14, 2012 at 11:42 am

Yeah, no question people will drive more and accept driving longer distances for commutes and such. It will be a boon to suburbia. I think this is a great list of predictions.

I also think you’ll see a lot of vehicles driving empty just to move them to a more convenient or cheaper location. “Drive somewhere else and wait” will become an alternative to parking. With my office location, “drive home and pick me up at the end of the day” would be cheaper than parking even if the vehicle wasn’t used during the day.

And I do think the safety consequences belong on any list of predictions, since they’re such a huge potential positive.

Dan Weber August 14, 2012 at 12:53 pm

I’m imagining a nearly free parking lot just outside of each town. If the cars are good enough at working together, you could literally pack them in bumper-to-bumper and still allow someone to get their car out early in case of emergency.

Finch August 14, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Two miles from where I am right now, real estate is vastly cheaper than it is here. That’s true of a lot of nice locations.

My parking costs about as much as the lease on a C-Class.

Neil B August 14, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Good point. A parking spot in my condo building costs $35,000, which is the primary reason I don’t own a car any more. Presuming I could summon my car from an outlying area, that would make ownership that much less expensive, with service on par with my building’s valet service.

Mo August 14, 2012 at 1:59 pm

1) At worst, you’ll get a situation akin to the one in big cities with loads of public transportation and cabs (like NYC, DC or Boston).

none-one August 14, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Also note that the most intoxicated people in these places are usually the “bridge-and-tunnel” types.

Gabriel Rossman August 14, 2012 at 11:37 am

Best argument for the Google car is it will be a Pareto improvement over the current way to get to the Country Kitchen Buffet on Costello Avenue
http://www.southparkstudios.com/full-episodes/s07e10-grey-dawn

Collin R. August 14, 2012 at 11:46 am

Along with solar panels (ha,,,), this really could the most revolutionary thing in the marketplace. i am surprised you mostly mention the google technology being sold to consumers when the taxi cab possiblities seem endless. (Las Vegas possiblities are endless) I think Matt Y. once suggest the e-book really took off because there was so much consumer excess capital (book sittting on a shelf gathering dust), that it is no wonder e-books took off so quickly. Is there anything that the US has more excess capital than the average 2 – 3 car family? My second car gets about 3,000 miles on it per year. Think about it, where a lot families have multiple cars might be able drop a car because taxi cost fall to ~$1.25/mile. Now the suburbs can have good taxi coverage for families running errands.

CR

Major August 14, 2012 at 1:26 pm

On average, personal automobiles (not taxis, rental cars, etc.) are driven about 12,000 miles a year. So your 3,000 miles seems very, very low. I think most households will continue to want at least one car per adult household member. I don’t think the “excess capital” argument makes much sense. Most things we own are used for only a few hours a day, if that. That doesn’t mean it would make sense to switch to a rental model. People like having their own stuff, they don’t like sharing it with strangers, and they like having it immediately available to them when they need it.

Rationalist August 14, 2012 at 12:20 pm

On youtube this has 10 likes, 174 dislikes.

allen August 14, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Of the various, possible uses for autonomous vehicles unrestricted over-the-road use seems like the toughest proposition from a number of points of view – legal, operational, public perception. There are probably other problem areas but a lot has to be sorted out, I believe, before autonomous cars will be common on the roads.

A more likely scenario is the use of autonomously-driven vehicles in a more controlled setting. A mining operation for instance in which driver fatigue can have catastrophic consequences yet the pressure for performance is unrelenting.

Possibly within a factory shuttling parts between operations. That job is currently done mostly by conveyers and other inflexible transport mechanisms but autonomously-driven vehicles could do the same job while introducing greater flexibility and a quicker ramp-up of production.

Agriculture’s another possible use for autonomously-driven vehicles. The more so since things are already headed in that direction with GPS guidance and auto-pilots that help the driver maintain the optimal path without continuous operator guidance. “Precision agriculture”, in which precisely-targeted amounts of agri-chemicals, is another, natural springboard for autonomous vehicle control.

On public roads though I wonder whether non-technical problems will prove the greatest impediment to introduction.

SB7 August 14, 2012 at 12:56 pm

I do think, however, that technologists should change the name to the electronically chauffeured vehicle. Electronically chauffeured vehicles will appeal to the affluent, the influential and the productive.

I just learned yesterday that Google’s self-driving car program is technically called “Google Chauffer,” but it seems like not even people within Google refer to it that way. (From the unscientific sampling I’ve done of the three Googlers I know.)

Andreas Moser August 14, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Public transport offers everything in driverless cars that I need.

Major August 14, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Public transport is mainly for people who cannot afford a car or who for some other reason are unable to drive. Self-driving cars will essentially destroy the market for public transportation. Sorry, lefties.

Ted Craig August 14, 2012 at 2:44 pm

How will these people suddenly be able to afford cars?

Major August 14, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Most of them will probably switch to self-driving taxis, not buying cars. Public transportation costs about a dollar per passenger-mile. Self-driving taxis will almost certainly be much cheaper than that. Even if the costs were comparable, no one’s going to bother waiting around for buses and trains when they can get a door-to-door taxi ride for the same price.

But self-driving vehicles will also likely significantly reduce the direct financial costs of private car ownership, so more people will be able to afford their own car. Fewer accidents will mean lower insurance costs. Less congestion, more efficient routing and better driving practises will mean lower fuel costs. The ability of self-driving vehicles to drive off and find cheaper parking, plus the ability to park at valet-parking densities, will mean lower parking costs.

The Original D August 14, 2012 at 3:45 pm

A dollar per passenger mile? That’s way more than I pay. (Directly, I’m sure I’m subsidizing it somewhere, but I also subsidize roads.)

Major August 14, 2012 at 3:54 pm

A dollar per passenger mile? That’s way more than I pay.

That’s because bus and train trips are massively subsidized by taxpayers. Fares cover less than a third of the costs of public transportation.

MD August 14, 2012 at 6:07 pm

If my secretary’s bus fare wasn’t subsidized by my taxes, would I have to pay her more to afford a car/cost of parking that car?

Finch August 14, 2012 at 6:12 pm

> If my secretary’s bus fare wasn’t subsidized by my taxes, would I have to pay her more to afford a car/cost of
> parking that car?

Long-term, you could choose to locate in a lower cost area, such as a suburb.

Major August 14, 2012 at 6:19 pm

If my secretary’s bus fare wasn’t subsidized by my taxes, would I have to pay her more to afford a car/cost of parking that car?

Probably not, no.

MD August 14, 2012 at 8:02 pm

I’m in Los Angeles. I’m not sure where that low cost suburb is which is. Encino? SGV? San Pedro? Calabasas? Shit, then I’d have to move.

Finch August 15, 2012 at 8:56 am

Perhaps locating in Los Angeles was a mistake?

You also have to figure that she values the subsidy considerably less than it costs to provide, so even if you had to make it up, it would be much cheaper to do so directly.

Mike August 14, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Or for people who live in a small handful of big cities, which is basically the only market for public transportation.

Rahul August 14, 2012 at 3:40 pm

How does one provide public transportation in, say Montana, with 3 persons every sq. kilometer?

Finch August 14, 2012 at 2:57 pm

> How will these people suddenly be able to afford cars?

Presumably it will be cheaper to own cars if you don’t need to pay for urban parking. It will make car ownership a lot more reasonable for city-dwellers who would otherwise be a large part of the market for public transit.

Finch August 14, 2012 at 2:57 pm

That was meant in reply to Ted Craig @2:44.

Ted Craig August 14, 2012 at 3:01 pm

Parking is the lowest cost of ownership.

Finch August 14, 2012 at 3:09 pm

Not in a city, which is the market we’re talking about.

I pay about $4k a year and I’m not even in one of the nicer local garages.

Ted Craig August 14, 2012 at 3:14 pm

I seriously doubt this is what keeps most poor people from owning a car. Maintenance, fuel and the actual cost of the car do.

Finch August 14, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Is the public transit market mostly poor people? Around here it seems to be college kids and the low-end employed, at least during peak hours. Poor people, crazies, drunks, etc, are maybe 10 percent of the market, but that’s just me eyeballing it.

The regular folk on public transit are people who could afford a $500 monthly car budget if they lived and worked in suburbia, but since they live or work downtown, they need more like $1000 to make that happen. Remote parking and auto-retrieval would be a big win for people like that.

Ted Craig August 14, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Low-end employed are poor. And $500 seems unrealistic. A car payment would be around $400, then you still need to pay for fuel and maintenance.

Finch August 14, 2012 at 4:19 pm

> Low-end employed are poor.

Then we have different definitions of poor. They’re mostly office workers, based on their dress. They aren’t janitors and they aren’t going to chicken processing plants or something like that. They’re people who, if they chose to live or work ten miles from here could easily afford a four year old Accord. A significant fraction have IPads or designer clothes. I’m not saying poor people don’t use the subway, just that most of the people that do would meet a reasonable definition of middle class.

$400 gets you a new car, which isn’t necessarily required. A C-Class Mercedes is $369 a month to lease, maintenance included (albeit with a down payment which complicates things). I looked it up to compare with my parking bill. And $100 for fuel seems pretty reasonable. $500 seems high to me – I was trying to present an unambiguously acceptable number. Insurance might be a significant factor, particularly if you park in the city.

Ted Craig August 14, 2012 at 8:10 pm

A new car will be required until used cars come with a driverless system. And that lease is based on credit worthiness.

Finch August 15, 2012 at 9:02 am

Again, we’re talking about ordinary office workers here. They’re credit worthy enough for that lease.

Used cares will come with a driverless system about 3 years after new cars do. Are you arguing for fun here or do you really believe what you’re saying? Assuming driverless technology works out (which I think is a big assumption – I’m optimistic, but far from convinced) I think Major and jose have it right: it’s seriously good news for the car and it will greatly increase the car’s role in our lives. It will expand suburbs, increase driving, and wipe out public transit as we know it.

Major August 14, 2012 at 5:12 pm

People who can’t afford to buy a self-driving car will most likely switch to self-driving taxis. Self-driving taxis will most likely be cheaper than buses and trains are now.

Finch August 14, 2012 at 5:22 pm

I suppose it’s not obvious they will be _priced_ lower, given that they are not likely to attract the support of the subsidizers who may see them as a threat to their plans for humanity.

I don’t think that’s happened yet, but just wait for the caterwauling when people start seeing Ford Explorers driving around completely empty.

Major August 14, 2012 at 6:16 pm

I think it’ll be pretty obvious that self-driving taxis provide a vastly superior solution to the transportation needs of poor/disabled people than buses and trains, and that the political pressure to shift public subsidies from transit to taxis will therefore be overwhelming. The hugely expensive light rail systems that cities have been busy building for the past 40 years will be abandoned, like the old electric tram systems that were abandoned during the first half of the 20th century because they couldn’t compete with buses and cars.

Ted Craig August 15, 2012 at 9:47 am

I work with auto retail and finance. I can tell you the gap is much larger than you assume between new-car buyers and even late-model car buyers and the general public. Remember, the average car on the road is nine years old. And no, they don’t have the credit.

Finch August 15, 2012 at 9:57 am

A young girl in HR at my firm has a comparable BMW car and lease. Roughly $350 a month. She is a typical subway rider.

I don’t know where you live or operate, but in the kind of cities that have subways, people generally make more than they do in the rest of the country. When I used commuter rail and subways, my monthly pass plus parking in a commuter rail lot topped $300 a month, so many public transit riders are already paying something comparable.

Finch August 15, 2012 at 10:01 am

I should add that the firm pays for her parking.

Floccina August 14, 2012 at 5:03 pm

I would like the electronic driver option for driving on the interstates. Drives on the interstate can be very long and boring.

Sam August 15, 2012 at 6:23 pm

I have an opposition to driverless cars. I get carsick when I’m a passenger, but not when I’m driving.

JonF August 16, 2012 at 12:18 pm

My predictions:

We will not have true driverless cars in my lifetime (I am 45). We will have cars with an autodrive option, and they will become increasingly common. However by law all vehicles on public roadways will still require a driver/attendant in them who is capable of driving manually at need (hence not drunk, asleep etc.) This will certainly apply to commercial vehicles, so cab drivers, bus drivers, truck drivers etc will remain employed. Fuel prices will continue to increase so (barring conversion to cheaper alternate fuels) the notion of having empty vehicles driving around on their own will not be attractive anyway. Buses will remain the low cost choice for the urban poor. Commuter trains will remain the choice for commuters wishing to avoid traffic congestion. The future will be a bit different certainly, but dreams of technotopia do not pan out, and the wilder speculation here in this thread really belongs in a SciFi novel.
Before commenting please recall the time frame I am talking about. Your guess about things in, say, 2150, are as good a mine.

Major August 16, 2012 at 6:56 pm

However by law all vehicles on public roadways will still require a driver/attendant in them who is capable of driving manually at need

Why is this likely to be true for the rest of your life (say, 40 years)? I don’t think it’s likely to be true even for the next 20 years.

Fuel prices will continue to increase so (barring conversion to cheaper alternate fuels) the notion of having empty vehicles driving around on their own will not be attractive anyway.

But you can’t bar conversion to cheaper alternate fuels. And you’re ignoring improvements in the efficiency of vehicles that use current fuels. Switch from the average auto today (20 mpg) to a Toyota Prius (50 mpg) and your fuel bill goes down by a factor of 2.5. Switch to a 100 mpg plugin hybrid or electric vehicle, and your fuel bill goes down by a factor of 5.

Finch August 17, 2012 at 9:29 am

Fuel would need to be $20 a gallon for parking near my office to be economically superior to having the vehicle drive home empty and pick me up at the end of the day. And this is assuming the car needs to go all the way home and not to a dense lot just outside the urban core.

U August 17, 2012 at 9:58 am

Well, finally we can move towards automating everything and no longer having to work.

I mean, if we can land a rover on Mars using a computer program using a rather complicated sequence with no ability of human intervention and no previous testing, surely we can automate the production and delivery of all essential goods on Earth.

U August 17, 2012 at 10:03 am

BTW, I hope they make security the first priority, because someone who can take remote control of all cars during peak time would be able to wipe at least 10% of Earth’s population in a minute by simply having them accelerate endlessly while avoiding obstacles until top speed is achieved.

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