Self driving cars? No thanks.

posted at 11:31 am on April 20, 2013 by Jazz Shaw

I’d heard rumors about this, but hadn’t paid too much attention to it previously. It seems that the idea of “self driving cars” – made more famous by Google – is picking up steam and may be commonplace in little more than a decade.

The consensus among auto industry technologists, gathered in Detroit this week for Society of Automobile Engineers World Congress, is that by the middle of this decade, cars that can largely pilot themselves through traffic jams will be offered for sale. By 2020, cars capable of taking over most of the work of high speed driving could debut, and by 2025, fully autonomous vehicles might hit the streets in meaningful numbers…

[A]uto makers – and safety regulators in the U.S. and Europe – say they’re serious about pushing more autonomous braking and steering systems into cars and trucks, for one overriding reason: Most humans are depressingly bad drivers.

Really? Did none of you people watch Will Smith’s seminal work on the subject, I Robot? As soon as those cars figure out what a bunch of defective, inferior rejects we all are they’ll be running down pedestrians and flinging themselves into walls at maximum speed in no time. Still, for some reason, Dr. James Joyner seems willing to kneel down before our new automotive overlords.

It’ll be a while before this trickles down. While I’d be willing to pay some reasonable surcharge for this technology, I doubt I’ll ever buy a brand new car again. I’ve only done it for myself twice and not since 2001. (My late wife, on the other hand, insisted on having all the latest gadgets, so we bought two brand new vehicles for her.) Still, it tends to take a decade or so for the gee-whiz gear to migrate from an upcharge on a BMW to standard on a Kia.

Regardless, once these technologies are perfected, there’s going to be a heavy impetus to make them mandatory. Once robo-cars become standard, it’s going to be difficult to justify letting humans drive themselves in traffic.

I have an immediate and visceral response to this prospect and it’s completely negative. (And it has nothing to do with the issues others are already having with the Google car ruining their lives.) I probably inherited it from my father. Our younger readers probably don’t remember this, but there was a time when power steering and power brakes were newfangled, optional features on cars. My dad hated them, and resisted getting a car with either for some time.

I think it’s something to do with the basics of human nature and the desire to keep direct control of our fate as much as possible. Dad liked the idea of a pedal you pushed that directly moved a linkage which applied pressure to the breaks. He liked turning a wheel which was directly, mechanically connected to the axle. The idea that some higher tech gizmo was standing between him and the mechanism – a gizmo which could fail at any time and leave him without control of the vehicle – was disconcerting. I tended to agree, though I gave up and adopted them quickly enough.

But a robot car that essentially does all of the driving and makes all of the decisions in quickly evolving, potentially life and death situations? When you combine that with Joyner’s prediction that the government would steadily move to mandate this technology because we simply can’t be trusted with the responsibility, I get a screaming case of the heebie jeebies. No thanks, Google. You and Skynet can take your fiendish plots elsewhere.

EDIT: (Jazz) Yes, I’m leaving “breaks” in just to remind me that I’m far from perfect. Thanks.


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Think of it as autopilot.
I’ve seen the way some people drive — a car that drives itself defensively and actually follows the rules of the road would be a vast improvement.

Count to 10 on April 20, 2013 at 11:36 AM

I can’t tell if you’re joking, but self-driving cars would be awesome. Especially in hours of horrendous traffic we have.

happytobehere on April 20, 2013 at 11:37 AM

There are going to be ZERO cars where you are unable to disable this feature. This will be an optional feature that you have to enable to use.

thphilli on April 20, 2013 at 11:37 AM

I am shocked – shocked – that conservatives are deathly afraid of new things that might benefit society as a whole but would change things in the process.

triple on April 20, 2013 at 11:38 AM

Kinda difficult to assign personal liability should one of these self-driving cars skip up over the curb and wipe out the sidewalk cafe patrons on Rodeo Drive…

“Oops, minor software glitch”…ain’t gonna cut it.

coldwarrior on April 20, 2013 at 11:39 AM

Pass. Besides, there won’t be more cars on the streets with gas about to jump.

nobar on April 20, 2013 at 11:39 AM

Here’s a nice rule of thumb: if you live somewhere where you enjoy driving, you don’t need a self-driving car. The rest of us would love one.

happytobehere on April 20, 2013 at 11:40 AM

I am shocked – shocked – that conservatives are deathly afraid of new things that might benefit society as a whole but would change things in the process.
triple on April 20, 2013 at 11:38 AM

I’m shocked that conservatives value personal control over govt regulation. Shocked I tell you!

nobar on April 20, 2013 at 11:42 AM

I am shocked – shocked – that conservatives are deathly afraid of new things that might benefit society as a whole but would change things in the process.
triple on April 20, 2013 at 11:38 AM

I think I’m pretty conservative and I very much look forward to this technology.

happytobehere on April 20, 2013 at 11:43 AM

I might buy an auto-drive as a second vehicle. I’d put a keg where the steering wheel used to be and a cot in place of the back seat. Good for long trips.

petefrt on April 20, 2013 at 11:44 AM

Dad liked the idea of a pedal you pushed that directly moved a linkage which applied pressure to the breaksbrakes. He liked turning a wheel which was directly, mechanically connected to the axle. The idea that some higher tech gizmo was standing between him and the mechanism – a gizmo which could fail at any time and leave him without control of the vehicle – was disconcerting.

Yeah. Really, the only question is how deep you like your illusion of control. There are hydraulic lines that can break, gears that can jam. All those “mechanical linkages” are also prone to failure. If you want control, walk.

More to the point, the real danger is one over which you will never have control — the lunatics driving the other cars on the road. You can be the world’s most competent and responsible driver, possessed of reflexes at the limit of human capacity and uncanny situational awareness… and you will still die if some moron t-bones you through a corner.

Tech will fail — and we will still have a wheel to grab when it does. Still have brakes to pump.

In the meantime, you will never, ever have the robotic alertness and patience of your cruise control. Your batlike reflexes will never be even a thousandth of the reflexes of your airbag.

So use tech where it’s useful. Bumper-to-bumper traffic? Let the sonar and computers take care of the speed control, and (with enough cars equipped) a traffic jam becomes a train. Let your brakes handle imminent collisions themselves, before the airbag even has a chance to deploy. You may still crash, but you’ll have time to dump megajoules of destructive energy into your brakes before the event.

Let the GPS take care of the exits, as long as it’s live and up-to-date. ;) Yes, I know there are steps to take before that’s the case… but they’re on a decade horizon. Do you remember how things were a decade ago?

Use things that work. Don’t worry — fear of lawyers will keep the dangerous ones off the road long before you have a chance to sneer at them.

Cheers.

Prufrock on April 20, 2013 at 11:45 AM

There are going to be ZERO cars where you are unable to disable this feature. This will be an optional feature that you have to enable to use.

thphilli on April 20, 2013 at 11:37 AM

At least for the first few decades, anyway. At some point, they might be so ubiquitous that people are allowed to “drive” them without a license, after which there will be versions without any manual controls, and maybe even eventually laws against driving manual on highways or public roads (because the speed and density of traffic will require faster-than-human responses).

Count to 10 on April 20, 2013 at 11:48 AM

I think it’s something to do with the basics of human nature and the desire to keep direct control of our fate as much as possible.

Exactly!

And for those who hail the ‘new technology’, remember the recent spate of ‘self-accelerating’ Toyotas?

GarandFan on April 20, 2013 at 11:48 AM

As long as the idea is strictly limited to hearses, I’m ok with this.

OldEnglish on April 20, 2013 at 11:51 AM

Meh, once these cars are finally implemented we’ll look back on the insane number of traffic deaths we had every year and wonder how we tolerated it for as long as we did.

happytobehere on April 20, 2013 at 11:51 AM

And for those who hail the ‘new technology’, remember the recent spate of ‘self-accelerating’ Toyotas?
GarandFan on April 20, 2013 at 11:48 AM

You mean the scare that was made-up nonsense?

happytobehere on April 20, 2013 at 11:53 AM

Kinda difficult to assign personal liability should one of these self-driving cars skip up over the curb and wipe out the sidewalk cafe patrons on Rodeo Drive…

“Oops, minor software glitch”…ain’t gonna cut it.

coldwarrior on April 20, 2013 at 11:39 AM

Well, if it is less common that someone having a stroke or heart attack while driving and doing the same thing, the insurance company will pay it, include the risk in everyone’s premiums, and then harass the programers.

Count to 10 on April 20, 2013 at 11:53 AM

Exactly!

And for those who hail the ‘new technology’, remember the recent spate of ‘self-accelerating’ Toyotas?

GarandFan on April 20, 2013 at 11:48 AM

You mean the people manually pressing the wrong peddle and then blaming the car? Yeah, this would reduce that kind of thing, too.

Count to 10 on April 20, 2013 at 11:55 AM

I would love to have one now. Driving is mostly boring, let the robot do it.

Ars Moriendi on April 20, 2013 at 11:56 AM

After Boston the first thing that self-driving cars brings to mind is self-driving car-bomb.

agmartin on April 20, 2013 at 11:57 AM

After Boston the first thing that self-driving cars brings to mind is self-driving car-bomb.

agmartin on April 20, 2013 at 11:57 AM

9/11?
Given the history of suicide bomber, it is clear that already exists in human form.

Count to 10 on April 20, 2013 at 12:01 PM

Aside from the liability concers the first time a self-driving car glitches (or is alleged to have glitched), assuming the vast majority of self-drives are provent to be safer than human-driven vehicles, you can easily see one of the normal nanny-state governments in the future imposing a ‘surcharge’ on people who either operate human-driven vehicles over self-drives, or leave their self-drives in manual operation mode.

All this would be in the name of public safety, of course, as might any effort to create or re-designate certain, more congested areas as “Self-Drive Vehicle Only” zones, say from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., because the self-dive vehicles follow their programmed rules where humans tend to do their own thing. Should be a fun future of state and federal vehicle mobility/access legislation.

jon1979 on April 20, 2013 at 12:02 PM

You mean the people manually pressing the wrong peddle and then blaming the car? Yeah, this would reduce that kind of thing, too.
Count to 10 on April 20, 2013 at 11:55 AM

Lol. I remember when Car and Driver tried to recreate this nonsense, flooring the gas while pressing the brake and couldn’t (even under those insane conditions) recreate anything close to what these fools were claiming their “crazy possessed” Toyotas were doing.

I seem to recall some folks shorting Toyota stock right before those “stories” broke as well, although I may be mistaken.

happytobehere on April 20, 2013 at 12:03 PM

Just don’t buy one made by Toyota.
Did they ever fix that sticky gas pedal issue?

Electrongod on April 20, 2013 at 12:06 PM

And for those who hail the ‘new technology’, remember the recent spate of ‘self-accelerating’ Toyotas?

GarandFan on April 20, 2013 at 11:48 AM

I see it was already mentioned :)

Electrongod on April 20, 2013 at 12:07 PM

jon1979 on April 20, 2013 at 12:02 PM

The insurance companies should be able to work that kind of thing out on their own — unless the government steps in to prevent it.

Count to 10 on April 20, 2013 at 12:08 PM

9/11?
Given the history of suicide bomber, it is clear that already exists in human form.

Count to 10 on April 20, 2013 at 12:01 PM

But you do have to convince some fanatical schlub to give up their life in the current scenario. Not always so easy. In the future, you just need a vehicle, a dressed-up mannequin in the driver’s seat, and a program telling the vehicle where to go before the cell phone call sets the bomb inside it off.

jon1979 on April 20, 2013 at 12:09 PM

I am shocked – shocked – that conservatives are deathly afraid of new things that might benefit society as a whole but would change things in the process.

triple on April 20, 2013 at 11:38 AM

Afraid of new things? Like iPads, maybe? Or some new surgical technique?

I think it’s more like a fear of being forced to use something which overrides ones own skill and control, perhaps increasing ones own risk of death.

As an option, seems fine. You know, a choice. Which leftists like yourself consider a bad thing for everything but abortion.

Alana on April 20, 2013 at 12:10 PM

No way would I ever buy or travel in such a thing. I don’t trust Google or any other company with my life and the benefit is nil anyway given the extra cost that would be involved.

echosyst on April 20, 2013 at 12:12 PM

jon1979 on April 20, 2013 at 12:09 PM

Seriously? In a country that has 30 thousand traffic deaths a year, let’s stop what could be an enormous leap forward because some nutter could have a new option for a bombing mission.

/

happytobehere on April 20, 2013 at 12:16 PM

Just don’t buy one made by Toyota.
Did they ever fix that sticky gas pedal issue?
Electrongod on April 20, 2013 at 12:06 PM

That “issue” is a wholesale invented canard.

happytobehere on April 20, 2013 at 12:18 PM

Red Barchetta.

Look it up.

CaptainNed on April 20, 2013 at 12:19 PM

We’re going to love self-driving cars.

And just when they become wildly popular and we are dependent on them, lawmakers will have great ideas for a bunch of new laws.

In time, the government will mandate when and where your car can drive and how often. Any attempt at overriding the car will cause the car to lock it’s doors and drive you straight to the nearest police station for a ticket and have “your” car impounded.

It’s just a matter of time, guaranteed.

Or, you can avoid the interstates and just stick to state roads. But that will only be allowed in Texas.

ZenDraken on April 20, 2013 at 12:19 PM

But you do have to convince some fanatical schlub to give up their life in the current scenario. Not always so easy. In the future, you just need a vehicle, a dressed-up mannequin in the driver’s seat, and a program telling the vehicle where to go before the cell phone call sets the bomb inside it off.

jon1979 on April 20, 2013 at 12:09 PM

Maybe, but you are thinking like you, not a terrorist.
Also, the car will probably mark a nice bright digital trail right back to you. In the end, it might be easier to convince someone to blow themselves up.

Count to 10 on April 20, 2013 at 12:20 PM

I’m pretty psyched about driverless cars because it will let the blind and paralyzed and those otherwise unable to drive safely on their own like the extreme elderly have the full mobility of everyone else in society. Bring on new technology.

I also think that might be how this technology spreads. Once one state approves it, then it’s kind of a discrimination issue, like the blind can now drive in Nevada, but Maryland still bans them from driving which leads to lawsuits.

thebombdiggity on April 20, 2013 at 12:21 PM

But a robot car that essentially does all of the driving and makes all of the decisions in quickly evolving, potentially life and death situations? When you combine that with Joyner’s prediction that the government would steadily move to mandate this technology because we simply can’t be trusted with the responsibility, I get a screaming case of the heebie jeebies

Another “oh no, everything about government is eeeeeeevil!” rant. Gimme a break.

There’s a few reasons to stop automatic cars.

1.) Problems with the on-board computer resulting in crashes (perhaps even a crash of the computer resulting in a crashing car)
2.) Problems with hacking (i.e. feeding false information / interfering with system equipment by on-lookers trying to cause mischief / accidents.
3.) Inexact / incorrect data (e.g. new places that haven’t yet been added to a centralized database, or a place that while it has existed has been added to an incorrect location).

It’s easy enough to beat this on technical grounds regarding the wisdom of such a system without having to grouse about supposed statism.

Stoic Patriot on April 20, 2013 at 12:22 PM

It all depends on how safe they are.

jhffmn on April 20, 2013 at 12:23 PM

I have driven for over 40 years. And the amount of traffic on the roads today (the traffic density) is far FAR higher than it was when I was a young driver. The speeds are higher, there are way more illegals driving, and so the number of total numbnut idiots on the road today is far higher.

I would be delighted to see robotic cars. They would drive far more safely than the average driver, not to mention the idiots. Consider also the “impaired” drivers — visual impairments, old people, people who learned to drive in countries where lines on the road, signs and traffic lights are treated merely as suggestions — no, robots will be a vast benefit.

SunSword on April 20, 2013 at 12:24 PM

We’re going to love self-driving cars.

And just when they become wildly popular and we are dependent on them, lawmakers will have great ideas for a bunch of new laws.

In time, the government will mandate when and where your car can drive and how often. Any attempt at overriding the car will cause the car to lock it’s doors and drive you straight to the nearest police station for a ticket and have “your” car impounded.

It’s just a matter of time, guaranteed.

Or, you can avoid the interstates and just stick to state roads. But that will only be allowed in Texas.

ZenDraken on April 20, 2013 at 12:19 PM

That possibility exists for pretty much everything.
It’s all politics.

Count to 10 on April 20, 2013 at 12:24 PM

People are notoriously bad at rating their own driving skills. I’m one of the few that recognize how utterly awful of a driver I am. As a result, I don’t drive.

I have given up my ‘control’ and have been driven by people on cell phones, people fidgeting with the radio, a coworker that had one hand on her iPod and the other on her latte while her eyes were on the blackberry in her lap.

As a pedestrian/cyclist, I’ve had a large number of near misses where a distracted driver didn’t see me in the bike lane or the cross walk.

I’m more than happy to have all if those people replaces with robots that are always on and never take their eyes off the road (not even when their cell phone is ringing in their purse in the backseat…OMG).

There will still be a failure rate but it will be nothing like the current human failure rate.

JadeNYU on April 20, 2013 at 12:25 PM

I think it’s something to do with the basics of human nature and the desire to keep direct control of our fate as much as possible.

Quite so.

Anyone familiar with the history of the Mercury program will remember the tussles between the engineers designing the capsules (excuse me, spacecraft) who envisioned the people they’d put in the capsule (er, spacecraft) not as pilots but more as passengers, one step up from shooting a monkey into space (“the astronaut has been added to the system as a redundant component”, one of the NRC geeks crowed); and the former test pilots who weren’t so keen on the idea.

Mercury spacecraft ended up with a window, a hatch with explosive bolts, and pitch-yaw-roll controls :)

s_dog on April 20, 2013 at 12:27 PM

Stoic Patriot on April 20, 2013 at 12:22 PM

That’s basically all computers in general. If the chance of those kinds of problems is less than the chance of driver error, it wont really be a problem.

Count to 10 on April 20, 2013 at 12:28 PM

happytobehere on April 20, 2013 at 12:16 PM

Not saying stop it. Just that any self-driving vehicle will at the very least need some sort of fail-safe sensor so it won’t move without a live adult human always being in the moving vehicle (that still doesn’t stop a suicide bomber, but it deters the ‘remote controlled’ car bomber.

jon1979 on April 20, 2013 at 12:29 PM

Not saying stop it. Just that any self-driving vehicle will at the very least need some sort of fail-safe sensor so it won’t move without a live adult human always being in the moving vehicle (that still doesn’t stop a suicide bomber, but it deters the ‘remote controlled’ car bomber.

jon1979 on April 20, 2013 at 12:29 PM

That would remove a lot of utility once the vehicles are able to reliably drive from place to place. A remotely driven bomb is also not that much more dangerous to the public than a truck bomb that the driver parks and then runs away from before detonating.

Count to 10 on April 20, 2013 at 12:32 PM

And for those who hail the ‘new technology’, remember the recent spate of ‘self-accelerating’ Toyotas?

GarandFan on April 20, 2013 at 11:48 AM

Just don’t buy one made by Toyota.
Did they ever fix that sticky gas pedal issue?

Electrongod on April 20, 2013 at 12:06 PM

The “self-pressing gas pedal” myth has become the automotive world’s Plastic Turkey.

s_dog on April 20, 2013 at 12:32 PM

Here’s a basic reason to be more than a little leery of these cars …and this is coming from a die hard tech nerd.

From a saftey standpoint: Anything made can have a failure rate. Even assuming that there will be a person behind the wheel for the damn things, they can still go wrong and fail.

And what would be the limit? Should only passenger vehicles be self guided? How about trucks, especially hauling freight (hazardous or nonhazardous). School buses? Transit Buses? Wouldn’t that take jobs away from *unionized* workers?

It’s a nice idea, and maybe even doable…but not now…especially with Google in the lead?

BlaxPac on April 20, 2013 at 12:32 PM

Self driving cars are fine if you wish to do from point A to B in a predetermined route, at a predetermined speed and a predetermined time.

No other way exists to enable self driving vehicles.

All you need to know is the premise BEHIND this idea.

It is the ONE thing all governments strive for.

Control.

irongrampa on April 20, 2013 at 12:36 PM

Not saying stop it. Just that any self-driving vehicle will at the very least need some sort of fail-safe sensor so it won’t move without a live adult human always being in the moving vehicle

No, I want my self-driving car to drive me to my favourite restaurant, then go off and park itself somewhere, then come back and get me when I’m ready to go home.

s_dog on April 20, 2013 at 12:37 PM

That would remove a lot of utility once the vehicles are able to reliably drive from place to place. A remotely driven bomb is also not that much more dangerous to the public than a truck bomb that the driver parks and then runs away from before detonating.

Count to 10 on April 20, 2013 at 12:32 PM

Are you saying there aren’t narcissistic fanatics out there who would be unwilling to kill themselves, but who wouldn’t have a problem sending a wired, self driven vehicle 4-5 miles away to be triggered by a cell phone call? There aren’t egotists out there who wouldn’t think they could do it and still live do do it again?

The fear of their own personal deaths is one of the things that makes suicide car bombings as rare as they are. Allow self-driving vehicles with no sensor to require human occupants be inside to permit movement and you’ve now taken the greatest fear factor out of the equation for the types of people who see nothing wrong with killing and maiming hundreds, as long as they themselves remain unscathed.

jon1979 on April 20, 2013 at 12:40 PM

Self driving cars are not really a logical technical extension of how automobiles work. It is not a natural progression in the same way it was to move from a horse drawn carriage to a car.

A self driving automobile is more an extension of mass transit, expanded beyond city centers. There certainly would not be a need to garage one that you own. You will press a button on your cell phone and one will appear, as if you called a cab.

That may be what the future is. There is certainly is room to lament the loss of a two century culture where you hit the open road in a vehicle you own.

Resolute on April 20, 2013 at 12:44 PM

To be able to read, get work done and multitask in the car? Sign me up.

libfreeordie on April 20, 2013 at 12:49 PM

This also would eliminate DUIs…

libfreeordie on April 20, 2013 at 12:50 PM

But what does the Bible say?

antisense on April 20, 2013 at 12:52 PM

Are you saying there aren’t narcissistic fanatics out there who would be unwilling to kill themselves, but who wouldn’t have a problem sending a wired, self driven vehicle 4-5 miles away to be triggered by a cell phone call? There aren’t egotists out there who wouldn’t think they could do it and still live do do it again?

The fear of their own personal deaths is one of the things that makes suicide car bombings as rare as they are. Allow self-driving vehicles with no sensor to require human occupants be inside to permit movement and you’ve now taken the greatest fear factor out of the equation for the types of people who see nothing wrong with killing and maiming hundreds, as long as they themselves remain unscathed.

jon1979 on April 20, 2013 at 12:40 PM

Or, they could just pull a McVeigh — drive up, get out, walk away, then set it off. A self-driving care doesn’t do much but give you a bigger head start, and does pretty much nothing to hide your identity.

Count to 10 on April 20, 2013 at 12:52 PM

This also would eliminate DUIs…

libfreeordie on April 20, 2013 at 12:50 PM

Eliminate? No. Reduce? Probably.
However, drunks are exactly the kind of people that would choose drive manually.

Count to 10 on April 20, 2013 at 12:54 PM

My wife is totally against this. She would lose her ability to tell me to turn right, turn left, or pull in here.

Limerick on April 20, 2013 at 12:55 PM

Another reason I’m glad to be old. By the time they iron the kinks out, I won’t have to use it.
Hell, I don’t even use the cruise control. Hate that out of control feeling.

katy the mean old lady on April 20, 2013 at 12:58 PM

Self driving cars are not really a logical technical extension of how automobiles work. It is not a natural progression in the same way it was to move from a horse drawn carriage to a car.

A self driving automobile is more an extension of mass transit, expanded beyond city centers. There certainly would not be a need to garage one that you own. You will press a button on your cell phone and one will appear, as if you called a cab.

That may be what the future is. There is certainly is room to lament the loss of a two century culture where you hit the open road in a vehicle you own.

Resolute on April 20, 2013 at 12:44 PM

It’s more of a city thing, anyway. You would probably get a big business in urban rent-a-cars (hired online and driven to your door), which would actually give city dwellers a lot more freedom and mobility than they have now. In suburban areas, people would probably still own their cars, and use auto-drive as an extension of cruise control and the occasional logistical car shuffle. Rural dwellers won’t really have much use for it.

Count to 10 on April 20, 2013 at 12:59 PM

My wife is totally against this. She would lose her ability to tell me to turn right, turn left, or pull in here.

Limerick on April 20, 2013 at 12:55 PM

She can always argue with the computer. I fight with my GPS all the time. The “b!tch in the box” isn’t always right.

katy the mean old lady on April 20, 2013 at 1:00 PM

My wife is totally against this. She would lose her ability to tell me to turn right, turn left, or pull in here.

Limerick on April 20, 2013 at 12:55 PM

That’s why I always let my wife drive.
(She’s already gotten me into my only at-fault accident)

Count to 10 on April 20, 2013 at 1:01 PM

My wife is totally against this. She would lose her ability to tell me to turn right, turn left, or pull in here.

Limerick on April 20, 2013 at 12:55 PM

She’d be standing on the curb if she rode with me. HATE backseat drivers.

katy the mean old lady on April 20, 2013 at 1:03 PM

Considering I cannot drive, I’d love a self driving car.

I really do need to break down and learn one of these days though, I suppose.

WolvenOne on April 20, 2013 at 1:06 PM

Most likely, self-driving cars will be like autopilots on planes. Most of the time,the car will be able handle things fine. But you still need to have a driver able to respond to emergencies and problems.

A recent column (Technology Review?) on the topic pointed out the tough issue is keeping the driver alert and aware enough that they’re ready and able to respond when a problem occurs. So the “driver” will still have to be in the “driver” seat, not drinking or drunk, not texting, not watching a movie on their tablet, etc., etc. And the car will probably need to be smart enough to check that the driver is alert/awake, and to take actions if it thinks there are problems.

prigsbee on April 20, 2013 at 1:15 PM

It would be a great productivity boost for the economy. How many “distracted” drivers have you seen commuting: reading books, eating a bowl of cereal, doing make-up, working on a laptop, Changing clothes — oh and not to forget talking on the phone, texting and being drunk. It would also boost fuel economy (by avoiding jerky driving) and save trip costs (a 10 yr old could “drive” himself to practice and back by keying location codes, like dialing a phone). Insurance costs would go down; some body shops would go out of business.

KenInIL on April 20, 2013 at 1:19 PM

Or, they could just pull a McVeigh — drive up, get out, walk away, then set it off. A self-driving care doesn’t do much but give you a bigger head start, and does pretty much nothing to hide your identity.

Count to 10 on April 20, 2013 at 12:52 PM

You haven’t been paying attention this week. It’s not 1995 anymore — there are surveillance cameras and people with cellphone camera and portable video devices everywhere, where there weren’t those things 18 years ago.

Take a future Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Fanatics, huge egos, with no concern about human life and smart enough to figure out about the increases video presence at a major gathers. Give them a self-driving car instead of pressure cooker bombs (let’s fill the car with some fertilizer from the West, Texas fertilizer plant, just to combine some more tragedies from this week, and add some diesel oil and a cell phone trigger), and instead of them walking down Boylston Street to drop off the bombs. Then let’s send the bomb out in a driver-less, passenger-less vehicle from their Tsarnaevs’ home in Cambridge or an even further-out location, so that it takes a far more massive search of video records to find the spot where the attack originated and who may have sent out the vehicle. You don’t think that could ever happen? (and I remember before 9/11, the general hubris among officials that Islamic terrorists were really too dumb to pull off anything as complicated as 9/11, despite sporadic warnings to the contrary).

At the very least, you’d have to make the self-driving cars inoperable without GPS tracking devices, so that even if a vehicle was sent out for something like that, law enforcement would always be able to trace back the path from the starting point. I don’t doubt there are going to be self-driving cars in the future; just that there are going to have to be a lot of hypotheticals considered before self-driving cars become more than just curiosity pieces.

jon1979 on April 20, 2013 at 1:20 PM

Considering I cannot drive, I’d love a self driving car.
I really do need to break down and learn one of these days though, I suppose.
WolvenOne on April 20, 2013 at 1:06 PM

I’m with you.

It blows people’s minds that I have a pilot’s license but don’t drive.

I tell them that everyone (including me) in the air had to go through a whole lot more training to be up there. Combine that with the fact there’s a lot less congestion and it makes perfect sense to me why I can handle flying but not driving.

I’m all for self driving cars.

JadeNYU on April 20, 2013 at 1:20 PM

I am for progressing towards that, step by step…

I am all for automatic braking, automatic anti-tailgating, slowing at a yellow light, rather than speeding up, not crossing over a double line, falling asleep and not running over someone…

right2bright on April 20, 2013 at 1:22 PM

Got to a party, party too much, get in car, push button “home” and you are home safe…

Kids out late, you remotely push “home” care turns safely around and heads home…while they scramble in the back seat putting on their clothes…

right2bright on April 20, 2013 at 1:24 PM

I am totally against government forcing people to adopt fully automatic cars, but clearly technological advancements have reduced accidents and driving deaths. Many people will voluntarily adopt autodrive cars, and I can’t wait to own one, it is essentially a personal taxi :-) Not much different than other forms of transport where the rider has zero control, possibly safer.

drlax15m on April 20, 2013 at 1:52 PM

The “self-pressing gas pedal” myth has become the automotive world’s Plastic Turkey.

s_dog on April 20, 2013 at 12:32 PM

Billion dollars here, billion and a half there…

You dismiss a company paying out over a billion US dollars easily.

Some people I know who adore their Toyota looked at the acceleration problem a lot harder than I ever would. They don’t believe that there ever was a clear proof of a defect.

Albeit Toyota fans, they also admit that the lack of proof doesn’t mean that there wasn’t one.

The worst, definite, provable conclusion was that Toyota never reported the complaints and accidents even when the firm was looking at mounting evidence over a period of months. Anyone with an understanding of modern engineering and manufacturing variances knows that it is difficult to totally engineer anything for a result unless it is as simple as a rock. Toyota knew that and they see where the firm could have handled it better.

They like the value and features of their cars so much, they overlook the way the issue was handled.

My opinion is that it appears that Toyota pulled a Bridgestone and that is somewhere between thoughtless and greedy and unforgivable.

Some people get lathered up over cars. Now when you get get emotional about my mildly negative comment just pretend we are discussing microwave oven. See?

When in that mode the idea of a self driving car tends to become acceptable, too.

IlikedAUH2O on April 20, 2013 at 1:55 PM

I think it’s something to do with the basics of human nature and the desire to keep direct control of our fate as much as possible. Dad liked the idea of a pedal you pushed that directly moved a linkage which applied pressure to the breaks. He liked turning a wheel which was directly, mechanically connected to the axle.

Jazz, your dad really didn’t do his homework, did he? Power steering is more of an assist since you can still turn the car without it. As for the brakes, the emergency brake is still mechanically connected. Even the cars in I, Robot we able to be manually controlled.

Odysseus on April 20, 2013 at 1:57 PM

That may be what the future is. There is certainly is room to lament the loss of a two century culture where you hit the open road in a vehicle you own.

Resolute on April 20, 2013 at 12:44 PM

Recreational driving would eventually follow a paradigm like equestrian sports.

IlikedAUH2O on April 20, 2013 at 2:00 PM

right2bright on April 20, 2013 at 1:22 PM

+ 1

IlikedAUH2O on April 20, 2013 at 2:04 PM

So, how many times have you spotted a small child in a driveway running toward the street you’re driving and slowed down.

Put some idiot with an autopilot on the road. I guarantee they’ll be tweeting or playing some facebook game and WILL NOT EVEN LOOK.

No thanks.

ElectricPhase on April 20, 2013 at 2:05 PM

I think it’s something to do with the basics of human nature and the desire to keep direct control of our fate as much as possible.

Self driving cars are just a variation of mass transit. The government will be driving you. So sit back and don’t worry…. unless you have something to hide.

JellyToast on April 20, 2013 at 2:06 PM

I think self-driving cars have the possibility to be the biggest singular advancement of our generation. The potential to save tens of thousands of lives, millions of man hours of travel time, fuel saved due to more efficient driving, the list goes on. Such a leap forward is almost like the internal combustion engine all over again.

powerfactor on April 20, 2013 at 2:25 PM

powerfactor on April 20, 2013 at 2:25 PM

I used to be starry eyed and naive once too.

Look, this isn’t about the tech. Even if all the potential you outline turns out to be there, it will not be worth it because it enables the transfer of responsibility and accountability from driver to machine.

ElectricPhase on April 20, 2013 at 2:30 PM

The “self-pressing gas pedal” myth has become the automotive world’s Plastic Turkey.

s_dog on April 20, 2013 at 12:32 PM

How about the poorly-designed throttle advance?

My 1985 Jeep Cherokee once “ran way” on the Interstate. At 55 MPH, it began accelerating, and would not stop. Due to its automatic transmission and steering safety interlock, I could not turn the ignition off. I finally got it stopped by (1) riding the brakes to get it down from 89 MPH to 25, and (2) steering it off into a motor court and ramming its nose into a berm- at which point it stalled.

The mechanic who worked it over at the garage the next day ended up handing me a piece of peculiarly-shaped metal rod. It was a throttle advance lever which had jammed against the underside of the carburetor, holding it wide open. He said it was about the tenth case he’d run into on that particular GM six-cylinder with a two-barrel.

“Who’s bright idea was this?” I asked, rather calmly I thought.

“The EPA’s” he said. “They mandated it to reduce emissions during cold-weather starting.”

A fifty-cent part mandated by the government damned nearly killed me and my passenger. Its reason for existence was an EPA theory on emissions.

The moral is that politicians should not be allowed to design vehicles. Or state what features must be on them.

Far from a “self-driving” car having a feature to turn off the autopilot, it will be far more likely that it will be illegal to turn it off. Because some politician “doesn’t think you are smart enough to be a responsible driver”.

And keep in mind, most politicians who make decisions like this don’t have drivers’ licenses. Instead, they ride in chauffeur-driven limousines. At your expense.

clear ether

eon

eon on April 20, 2013 at 2:35 PM

Self-driving cars? Meh.

But they can have my motorcycle when they pry it from my cold, dead Alpinestars gloves.

Hayabusa on April 20, 2013 at 2:44 PM

powerfactor on April 20, 2013 at 2:25 PM

With every advancement there is also the potential for abuse. Self driving cars would be ripe with that.

[A]uto makers – and safety regulators in the U.S. and Europe – say they’re serious about pushing more autonomous braking and steering systems into cars and trucks, for one overriding reason: Most humans are depressingly bad drivers.

Self driving cars are truly just another name for mass transit. That is what this is going to be. They are not, either, self driving. They will have to be controlled through GPS. Somebody somewhere is going to have control over these cars. You think it’s going to be you.. you are wrong.

You think the auto industry is the one who wants self driving cars? Why would they suddenly want to push people into these? what difference is it to them. No.. the government wants us all into self driving cars.
Forget about the words “Self driving.” They key is.. you aren’t driving. In other words.. you aren’t in control. That’s the key.

I can see it now… you go out in the morning and you want to go to the store… sorry… your car knows you need to go to the doctor for your ObamaCare checkup. It was suppose to be scheduled over a month ago… now the car only has one destination. Your doctor’s office. All other routes are turned off.

Have a little problem with your taxes? The IRS says you owe something. Your car has only one route turned on.. to the local IRS building. It will not go anywhere until you accompany it to the IRS.

Is there another manhunt going on in your neighborhood again today? You know you’re not going anywhere now because the police just turned off your car. All routes are cancelled. You know.. just like they did with cell phones the day of the bombing? Well… they’ll do the same to your car too.

Yeah, I know. it’s all crazy talk.

JellyToast on April 20, 2013 at 2:48 PM

ElectricPhase on April 20, 2013 at 2:05 PM

The self driving cars have laser collision detectors that are running constantly. They are more likely to spot a potential collision with a child and respond faster than a human.

JellyToast on April 20, 2013 at 2:48 PM

They don’t run on GPS since GPS is not nearly accurate enough. It’s a combination of pre-loaded maps, 360 degree lasers and a learning algorithm.

The early attempts at self driving cars using GPS didn’t work because GPS can be off by a few feet causing the cars to drive off of paths.

Current gen self-driving technology can handle things like road closures and detours without a human ever having to step in and give them a new route.

JadeNYU on April 20, 2013 at 2:58 PM

Yeah, I know. it’s all crazy talk.

JellyToast on April 20, 2013 at 2:48 PM

The government leash only connects to collars that get tighter over time.

Difficultas_Est_Imperium on April 20, 2013 at 3:02 PM

The biggest obstacles are what happens when there is a major failure of the mechanics of the car: tire blow out, radiator blow, etc; as well as poor road conditions: ice, gravel, mattress/tire in the middle of the road, etc.

Humans can react quickly and dynamically to these failures. How in the world are you going to program having something fall off the truck ahead of you, or the car ahead of you spinning out, into the brain of a self-driving car. Too many possibilities to be simplified down into algorithms.

HakerA on April 20, 2013 at 3:03 PM

Two words – “Maximum Overdrive” (though without the AC/DC soundtrack).

It’s going to suck.

Steve Eggleston on April 20, 2013 at 3:09 PM

The biggest obstacles are what happens when there is a major failure of the mechanics of the car: tire blow out, radiator blow, etc; as well as poor road conditions: ice, gravel, mattress/tire in the middle of the road, etc.

Humans can react quickly and dynamically to these failures. How in the world are you going to program having something fall off the truck ahead of you, or the car ahead of you spinning out, into the brain of a self-driving car. Too many possibilities to be simplified down into algorithms.

HakerA on April 20, 2013 at 3:03 PM

You’re mistaken. Obstacle identification is pretty easy. All the car needs to know is that there is a mass of certain size at a certain spacial position with a certain velocity, and it can react to it in a tiny fraction of the time it would take for a human. The car can also look in multiple directions at once so as to avoid, for example, swerving into an adjacent lane that happens to be occupied.

There are definitely many challenges to be addressed, but yours are certainly not among them.

powerfactor on April 20, 2013 at 3:12 PM

The self driving cars have laser collision detectors that are running constantly. They are more likely to spot a potential collision with a child and respond faster than a human.

JadeNYU on April 20, 2013 at 2:58 PM

Cough–bullsh!t–cough.

A collision detector can’t predict random, immature, or irrational behavior. A simple on board computer can’t exercise judgement. Reaction time isn’t the important factor. It’s good judgement, responsibility, and accountability.

ElectricPhase on April 20, 2013 at 3:14 PM

Quite so.

Anyone familiar with the history of the Mercury program will remember the tussles between the engineers designing the capsules (excuse me, spacecraft) who envisioned the people they’d put in the capsule (er, spacecraft) not as pilots but more as passengers, one step up from shooting a monkey into space (“the astronaut has been added to the system as a redundant component”, one of the NRC geeks crowed); and the former test pilots who weren’t so keen on the idea.

Mercury spacecraft ended up with a window, a hatch with explosive bolts, and pitch-yaw-roll controls :)

s_dog on April 20, 2013 at 12:27 PM

The continuation of which proved incredibly useful in the Apollo program. Not only would we have lost Apollo 13, but we may well have lost Apollo 11 without manual override.

Steve Eggleston on April 20, 2013 at 3:18 PM

eon on April 20, 2013 at 2:35 PM

You mean you couldn’t shift it into neutral and then turn off the car? It’s been over a decade since I had an automatic, but I’ve had automatics of the vintage you drove that day, and I’ve always been able to shift into neutral and turn off the engine while moving. Admittedly, in the situation you describe, you would have probably blown up the engine (no rev limiter back in the day), and the vacuum assist on the brakes may have run out of vacuum before you got stopped.

As for the government-mandated parts, point well-noted.

Steve Eggleston on April 20, 2013 at 3:30 PM

After Boston the first thing that self-driving cars brings to mind is self-driving car-bomb.

agmartin on April 20, 2013 at 11:57 AM

Or how about a bunch of self-driving cars suddenly getting a command to make a hard left, all at once, citywide? More than possible with “time bomb” viruses and the average computer user thinking security is a nuisance.

MelonCollie on April 20, 2013 at 3:43 PM

Better idea, skyTran.

http://www.skytran.net/overview.html

Leave the roads for car enthusiasts. :)

Fallon on April 20, 2013 at 3:46 PM

You mean you couldn’t shift it into neutral and then turn off the car? It’s been over a decade since I had an automatic, but I’ve had automatics of the vintage you drove that day, and I’ve always been able to shift into neutral and turn off the engine while moving. Admittedly, in the situation you describe, you would have probably blown up the engine (no rev limiter back in the day), and the vacuum assist on the brakes may have run out of vacuum before you got stopped.

As for the government-mandated parts, point well-noted.

Steve Eggleston on April 20, 2013 at 3:30 PM

That’s why I ruled it out first. Due to where the flywheel was, I wasn’t anxious to have a Class-AA Top Fuel style gearbox blowup right in my face. And I’m pretty sure you’re right about the brakes, as the hydraulics on the ’85 Jeep (which under its skin was basically an ’85 Chevy Blazer) didn’t have a lot of reserve.

My procedure was what I determined on the spot to be the least worst alternative. But then, I did graduate from a police pursuit/emergency driving training program. With myself and the cruiser intact. ;-)

cheers

eon

eon on April 20, 2013 at 3:48 PM

…Dzhokhar may not have run over Tamerlan…if they had carjacked the proper vehicle…

KOOLAID2 on April 20, 2013 at 3:57 PM

jon1979 on April 20, 2013 at 1:20 PM

If someone uses a self-driving car as a bomb, the police will instantly know who owns the car, where it has been, and probably who planted the bomb. Such cars that have been stolen will probably not work at all once they have been reported as such, and will probably send in an image of anyone who even tries to break into them.
So, basically, you have to use your own car as the bomb, and the police will have your name and photo in every screen in half an hour.

Count to 10 on April 20, 2013 at 4:13 PM

HA ate my comment. :(
If I broke a rule by putting in too many links or something, it would be nice if the system told me so.

GWB on April 20, 2013 at 4:17 PM

JellyToast on April 20, 2013 at 2:48 PM

GPS navigation is dispersed, not centralized. There would be no person outside of your auto-auto directing it, it would be running on its own internal algorithms off of sensors — the GPS would just be giving it a general idea where it was and what turns to look for, the same it does for you.

Count to 10 on April 20, 2013 at 4:24 PM

As someone who has had extensive experience with Google software and is all too aware of the number of persistent bugs, design flaws and all round sloppy engineering commonplace in them, I will be taking a pass on these cars. To be quite honest if I start seeing them on the roads I might just quit driving altogether.

Sharke on April 20, 2013 at 4:26 PM

A collision detector can’t predict random, immature, or irrational behavior. A simple on board computer can’t exercise judgement. Reaction time isn’t the important factor. It’s good judgement, responsibility, and accountability.

ElectricPhase on April 20, 2013 at 3:14 PM

Look of DAS for the F-35. It wouldn’t be that hard to give a car 360 infrared sensors that could detect and identify people, children, and small animals, and then have them inform the algorithm when it should increase it’s safety margin.
Notably, since people already frequently miss these cues already, why do expect a machine to do it worse?

Count to 10 on April 20, 2013 at 4:31 PM

IlikedAUH2O on April 20, 2013 at 1:55 PM

I am no Toyota fanboi – I have never even owned one. But the sad fact of the matter is that the majority of Toyota unintended acceleration cases were caused by pedal misapplication, also known as “getting the accelerator mixed up with the brake pedal because the driver got confused.”.

Doesn’t it seem odd to see an electro-mechanical process that disproportionately afflicts cars driven by old people?

Another problem that would be solved by self-driving cars.

s_dog on April 20, 2013 at 4:34 PM

Anyway, I’m holding out for the self-driving flying car. No more dodging ‘roos on the Nullarbor.

s_dog on April 20, 2013 at 4:39 PM

Anyway, I’m holding out for the self-driving flying car. No more dodging ‘roos on the Nullarbor.

s_dog on April 20, 2013 at 4:39 PM

Living in the land downunder, are you?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHWLSypLFNM

Count to 10 on April 20, 2013 at 4:42 PM

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