35 thoughts on “Self-Driving Cars: When and What?”

  1. A couple of years ago we toured one of Daimler’s 2 Centers for Automotive Research, in Sunnyvale CA. I have an old Mercedes SL; a 1996. Mercedes used to provide a beautiful analog cell phone with these cars. Now of course if you have one you are stuck with a beautiful and useless cell phone. A lot of people cut them out at the wire.

    The Sunnyvale center is charged with deciding what electronic technology to integrate. Technology that stays viable in the future.

    Anyway we saw their Mercedes self driving car there, and they said that in the real world there were conditions that the programmers didn’t anticipate.

    I’d like to know why the rush to this? I can remember Dan from Madison saying that he would appreciate it coming home from work in a blizzard but I can’t see many uses.

    Drunk at a party?

    One contingency I heard elsewhere from Daimler was imagine someone trying to kill you or hijack the car.

    They jump in front of the car; the car sensors detect a Pedestrian and slam on the brakes.

    You really want to step on the gas and get around.

    How would a program decide whether to step on the “gas” or slam on the brake?

  2. “I’d like to know why the rush to this?”

    Men live about five years longer than they can drive, women live about ten years longer than they can drive. Tens of millions of baby boomers will lose their mobility unless we have true driverless cars. The baby boomers always get whatever they want. This will be no exception.
    Some Thoughts on Trump, Free Trade, and Horses, Lexington Green, February 28th, 2017

    That Theo Spark article was funny, in the way Luddites are funny. Why he describes the AMC Gremlin and Pacer as atrocities I don’t know. They may have been odd looking but both had long-lasting, reliable seven main bearing inline sixes and the Pacer had the equally reliable TorqueFlite transmission. And both were better cars than the competitors’ Vega and Pinto.

  3. I could use one in my 110 mile commute to Phoenix from Tucson. I do it twice a week and listen to audio books.

    Arizona has a 75 mph speed limit on the I 10 so it takes me about 1 1/2 hours in the morning and about 2 hours in the afternoon.

    A friend has a new car with a lane correction feature that does a fair amount of self driving.

  4. Roy L….there have been airplane autopilots for a long time….some of them very capable, able to land a large airplane in conditions of very low visibility without the flight crew touching the control…and that technology has not been shut down by litigation.

    But the problem of car autopilots is more difficult than the problem of airplane autopilots and the cost requirements are much more stringent. And the road environment has nothing like the level of centralized control and information sharing and enforced responsible behavior that exists in the airport environment. If there is a giant pothole in the middle of a runway at DCA, then a Notice to Airmen will be put out and distributed to flights planning for that airport. If there is a giant pothole in a county road, then can we count on its existence to be transmitted before self-driving cars drive right into it?

    I think we will see a profileration of limited self-driving features such as the Audi Traffic Jam Autopilot I wrote about earlier, and fully self-driving cars on certain closely-monitored routes and areas. We will also likely see long-haul trucking operations using convoys with a driver only in the lead vehicle. But as far as go-anywhere fully-self-driving cars go, then the appropriate song is Long Long Time

  5. “But as far as go-anywhere fully-self-driving cars go”

    That will take a while, but you are setting the bar to fit your story. Level 3 autopiloting will be wide spread soon. The rest will follow, faster than you expect.

  6. If you can make your commute time paid work time a lot of things change. Let’s go through a few:

    1. Land values change as land that was too far away from the city becomes perfectly acceptable for exurb development.
    2. Telecommuting for a lot of companies becomes 100% of your workforce for part of the day.
    3. Your workplace starts at your driveway. Your workday ends there too.
    4. The altered start/stop times has family implications.
    5. The altered start/stop times has society implications for commercial entertainment districts designed around office workers blowing off steam right after work.
    6. Companies that allow part day telecommuting in self-driving cars will have a large advantage recruiting for top talent.
    7. Cities with affordability problems will be able to kick the can down the road as more real estate becomes reclassified as within commuting distance.

  7. I don’t see the advantage to having most employees working on their commute. They get none of the advantages of either working at the office (face time with coworkers, etc.) or at home (a full office setup, in a comfortable setting, etc.). It would make far more sense to let people work at home, or some physical office location near their home.

    Not to mention the fact that this whole discussion is very much focused on a very small minority of job types. It’s pretending that retail, manufacturing, service, etc., jobs don’t exist. And it’s further focused on the needs of residents of dense urban areas.

  8. Brian….I would think self-driving cars would be of great value to people working in manufacturing, warehousing, etc, who have long commutes….IF the route to get to work and back was authorized for self-driving. Even though they’re not going to be working on the way, a trustworthy self-driving car seems less stressful than doing it yourself every day in heavy traffic.

  9. What manufacturing jobs do you have in mind that don’t require you to be on site but wouldn’t be better done at home than in a car?

  10. The job has to be done in a factory, not at home or in a car.

    No work is done during the drive, but the human being in question can spend his time reading, talking to friends on the phone without danger of accidents due to inattention, drink coffee and eat breakfast or a snack, or even (shudder) watch televison.

  11. Brian: Even bottom level manufacturing jobs today require some time spent on computers, looking at customer orders, checking for engineering change orders, communicating with the prior shift; stuff like that. It’s no longer the old punch in/work the line/punch out routine. No reason those things couldn’t be done in a car.

    TMLutas: I’d add another point: dining. I can imagine shared, compartmentalized AVs being preloaded with the commuter’s meal choice, selected the day or even week before. Meal loading could take place at the 60-second interior cleanup time that shared cars will probably need after every cycle. I can imagine cleanup crews stationed every few blocks in dense areas, staffed by teenagers or retirees looking to work a few hours a day.

  12. Agree with David that driverless vehicles will be used initially on closely monitored routes, perhaps limited-access truck and express lanes in flat areas, with limited autopilot features widely adopted for freeway driving. Eventually US states and non-US countries could adopt tech standards for roads suitable for SD vehicles, e.g., buried transponders to delineate lanes and centralized monitoring of road conditions. It seems likely that driverless vehicles will come last to cities and other areas with complex heavily-trafficked roads. But who knows. It’s relatively easy to predict a range of possibilities for the next step of a technology’s adoption, much more difficult to predict subsequent second- and third-order tech and social developments.

  13. I used to have a 5 am start, when I drove garbage trucks. My strategy was to get out of bed, splash water on my face and get in the car and go. I would have slept the 45 min commute quite happily.

  14. Pen….yes, sleeping is a nice option for those who can take naps easily. Doesn’t work for me….I just feel yucky when I wake up. But the nap-positive segment of the population is probably a pretty large one.

  15. The biggest impediment to self driving vehicles will be those that aren’t. The useful service life of cars and trucks built in the last twenty years easily exceeds twenty years. While some sort of government mandated “early retirement” probably features in the auto-erotic fantasies of auto executives, I don’t see this as politically likely. Every car sold represents a voter willing to protect their investment.

    There is a portion, small, of fleet owned trucks that are replaced on an aggressive (5-7 year) schedule. This is predicated on a high resale value, usually to owner-operators driving for the same company and afterwards to someone else.

    An unanswered question is how well all of these radars and lasers will function in an environment where they are ubiquitous. Interference imposes an unavoidable reduction in performance. What happens when you have twenty Teslas on autopilot meeting twenty others coming the other direction, both in the left lane? Now have a 1994 Camry cut 5 feet in front of the bumper of one of them.

    In no particular order: Will it be illegal for an un-licenced person to raise the hood? Will a parking lot graze wipe out enough sensors to total the car? It’s already common to see a late model car stopped at the side of the road with no outward sign of malfunction. With many more sensors, many in vulnerable places, how much more common will this be.

  16. The sensors are getting better and that will not stop happening, outside of Yellowstone interfering. Human senses are general senses and some specific sensors made for specific purposes, are already better for their purpose than human senses.

    This will continue. It will not be long before your car will have better vision than you.

  17. ” talking to friends on the phone without danger of accidents due to inattention,”

    Back when I was in practice, I used to use the drive time from one hospital to another or to the office to return phone calls. I had a hands free cell phone in the the car.

    It was a use of otherwise useless time. Now, I listen to audio books.

  18. I could make a very long list of sensors that exceed human capability, there is rarely a need for one that doesn’t. I’m not nearly foolish enough to think that what we have in any category is beyond improvement.

    One example of improvement that has been slower than most expected is dynamic range of camera sensors. They are still a good number of stops inferior the the human eye, let alone a cat’s. Processing such as HDR only goes so far.

    Machine vision systems usually operate at resolutions far below state of the art to limit processing load and increase throughput. We’re still a long way from being able to duplicate the ability of objectively inferior human vision. It isn’t for lack of trying.

  19. I can’t remember the article, but I remember reading a piece asserting that human beings derive great satisfaction from completing activities requiring a certain degree of practiced skill, and that driving was a perfect example. You see with seniors that there are ways to compensate for the loss of mobility associated with surrendering their driver’s license (cars are expensive after all, so not driving free’s up a decent amount of income to cover transportation by other means, albeit with limitations), but there is nothing that can compensate for the stark knowledge that your body has decayed to the point that you can no longer execute such a skill. My father stopped driving about the same time he stopping using his woodshop (if you can’t drive safely, you shouldn’t be using power tools either).

    This is a some what round about way of getting to my point – which is that driving serves a deep need beyond simple transportation. I think there will be considerable resistance to autopilots in a least a subconscious recognition of this fact. I also wonder what will fill the void if driving is essentially banned (which is the ultimate end state – once autopilots reach a critical mass there will be enormous pressure to prohibit human driven cars, so as to allow the full benefits of controlled traffic to be realized).

  20. I just watched a BBC documentary, named ‘secrets of Silicon Valley, (Don’t know if available in America) but fascinating ideas included a standard Semi 18-wheeler, with modified gas and brake pedals on a standard floor-mount, truck is fitted with multiple cctv cameras feeding into a computer which also controls the pedals; feed in the custom mapping and control application; then flick the red switch, and you have a driverless truck. True, right now the automated functions work best on the open road, with a lot more work needed in urban environments, and the founders of the system admit that, for city driving, there is no chance that it would be allowed: but just think, suddenly, in America at least, the drivers can relax for all those open miles, with concentration only needed at the start and the end of the trek.

    Link can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0916ghz.

  21. “suddenly, in America at least, the drivers can relax for all those open miles, with concentration only needed at the start and the end of the trek”
    I dunno, sounds kind of horrifying–humans as cargo. As opposed to thinking of cars as a tool for humans to possess greater mobility. It seems clear to me that a system that can autonomously drive a person from house to office can perform most any job task that a human would do at that office. My understanding is that Amazon warehouses only need humans for their hands–everything else is done by robot, but a mechanical hand that can quickly and reliably grip a wide range of objects is something they haven’t yet mastered. But it can’t be far off (I imagine they could even just force suppliers to prepackage everything into Amazon-compliant packages that a robot could easily grab), then all those jobs will be gone as well.

  22. “I remember reading a piece asserting that human beings derive great satisfaction from completing activities requiring a certain degree of practiced skill”

    The book is “Flow” by Csikszentmihalyi, was the book which we studied at the Dartmouth health policy program.

    I always have to copy and paste his name. I cannot spell it even after 25 years.

  23. Brian Says: “I dunno, sounds kind of horrifying –- humans as cargo.”

    As opposed to how human beings are treated at airports and in aircraft – especially in MILITARY aircraft?

    I’m sure the situation has improved but during my term of service last century the cargo was treated better than the troops during MAC airlift. The specialized vehicle/weapon systems were, after all, more expensive and more time-consuming to replace than the operators. Too, the cargo didn’t complain as loudly as the humans and so provoke the handlers into angry retaliation…

    The “last mile” problem shows up in most systems. Transportation of both cargo and passengers; routing “packets” of data over ISP networks; wheeling “peak” and lower voltage power versus “base” and high voltage loads over electrical grids; the leaky pipes between water mains and kitchen faucets. Mostly the problems are addressed (not solved) by implementing multiple systems. The interstate highway system — and support for automated driving — should, IMHO, NOT be merged with municipal street systems. Certainly it has been a mistake to allow the current practice of cities demanding federal highway funds and interstate loops, by-passes, and annexes in order to relieve commuter rush-hour congestion.

  24. Mike Cunningham, the BBC video won’t play for me here in the US but I imagine it’s about this truck, which drove the heavily trafficked I-25 from Ft. Collins though Denver to Colorado Springs.

    Phwest: “This is a some what round about way of getting to my point – which is that driving serves a deep need beyond simple transportation.”

    It does. As did horses when they were used for transportation. Without driving every day we’ll each have to find another way to keep motor skills in practiced condition.

  25. Pouncer: Yes, airports are horrible inhuman places. What’s your point?

    Also, the military is a very, very bad point of comparison for outside systems. I don’t have to salute anybody.

  26. Time scales are awfully hard to predict. Telecommuting is a case in point. It’s easy and effective now, but it was said to be easy and effective in the early 80s and in my wife’s experience it wasn’t, being a source of endless frustration and needing the invention of clumsy lash-ups to circumvent the problems. She left that world with a sigh of relief.

  27. @David – if one isn’t a car guy one would think Theo Spark was a curmudgeon. But I got a chuckle out of his statements here:

    “Well, speaking for myself, I do NOT want any of the “new” cars currently on offer. I do NOT want a twin-turbo 1.8L small block 4-banger with more technology than the Apollo Lunar module.

    I don’t either and the irony is that these 2 liter turbocharged 4 bangers which produce crazy hp are driven by the EPA to get good mileage on their test cycle. But in the real world they get about the same mileage as a larger 6 cylinder non turbocharged engine. There’s only so much you get get from the ideal mixture of air to fuel (IIRC 14.something to 1)

    – I do NOT want the internet in my car,

    Me neither – they are for driving not a living room
    – or touch screen,


    – or steering assist,
    What’s wrong with steering assist??? If done right…

    – or self-parking,

    Who likes to parallel park by themselves?

    – or cameras,

    Back up camera is great

    – or eco-mode that turns off the car at stop lights,

    Mercedes for one gives you eco mode (engine stops at red lights then restarts) the default – you can override it but every time you get into the car you have to hit a button – I agree with him there – just a stupid rule driven by the govt

    – or buttons/dials for Park-Drive-Reverse,
    Transmissions are now electronic – why not buttons?

    – or pedestrian detection,
    – or automatic emergency braking,
    If done right – if you are coming up to a stationary object at 70 mph and aren’t readily stopping do you want to just hit it?

    – or lane departure warning,

    I’m neutral there

    – or touch-button start.

    why not? keep the module in your pocket or purse – hit the button? what’s wrong with that?

    I just want to drive my car myself without a computer doing it for me.”

    Why the McLaren F1 – made in small numbers (199?) in the early 90s at $1 million then – is now worth about $15 million. The last analog supercar – not even traction control.

    I learned something interesting a few weeks ago. My 96 SL has Mercedes’ 1st electronic transmission, the 722.6. It was even used in some Chrysler products when Daimler owned Chrysler – my neighbor’s Dodge Dakota pickup for one.

    I had to have a rebuilt one installed last month. Originally it was felt with synthetic fluid the transmission was “lifetime” with no filter/fluid changes needed ever.

    Until they found that they were burning out at 100-150,000 miles.

    Now they recommend you change it the first time at 40,000 then every 60,000.

    I mentioned to the service writer at the dealer that my old Mercedes – a 1986 300E – had a transmission requiring just GM Dexron flud at $2 quart and was good – with 30,000 mile changes – for 100s of thousands of miles.

    Now I have a transmission with $10/quart fluid that still requires changing.

    I asked him why the expensive fluid that still needs changing and here’s the rub.

    The synthetic fluid gives a minuscule better amount of mileage – probably unnoticeable by the driver – but in the govt mandated fleet average – a difference.

    IOW they are doing this because with 100,000 vehicles there is a measurable savings but with one no measurable savings.

    That’s what govt mandates are doing to the car industry.

    Eco Mode is probably the same “benefit”.

    But some of the electronic features are good IMO.

    On for my bike ride now.

  28. Agriculture desperately needs this. The average age of farmers is astronomical, 58. The cost of starting is out of reach for anyone who doesn’t inherit a farm. The cost of the combine mentioned above, ready to work, is about 3/4 million. And that’s only one tool that you need. Enough land for a reasonable return is probably in the millions. And then you’re one bad storm or dry year or bad market from losing this year’s profit and maybe last year’s and next year’s too. If you had the money, you’d be insane to do it, but a few still do. Not nearly enough to forestall what’s on the horizon.

    I have spent a few thousand hours running a tractor doing different operations. My brother has farmed for more than 40 years, It used to frustrate both of us that what he could see/feel with a glance out the rear window of a tractor moving down the field at 5 or 6 MPH that I sometimes couldn’t see standing over it with him trying to point it out. The same sort of almost instant and unconscious judgement is what will have to be replicated for cars to be truly autonomous

    Driving the tractor straight is harder than it looks and the least of what you’re doing, just like keeping a car between the stripes is the easy part.

  29. Unless prepared with logic and authority, self-driven vehicles will 1)be cowed by any aggressive driver they encounter, and 2)have to make decisions whether their occupant or the other driver or pedestrian will be the ‘survivor’ in a pending crash.
    Who will be liable? Whose pockets will get emptied? Who will be blamed when a large SUV driven by someone who knows the what the reaction of the self-driven vehicle in a given circumstance will be causes a collision, yet drives away unscathed?
    Bad drivers will be able to barge in front of the electronic drivers, and depend on their programming to get away with it.
    There are a lot of unknown-unknowns out there yet to be thought of, much less be under consideration.
    I for one would have appreciated some ‘assist’ while driving across the CA, AZ and NM desert regions where my tasks was mostly to keep the wheels on the road and the shiny side up. KS and NB, along with Teeeexxxxxxaaaaasssss are a couple other faves where I’d have liked to take a break from having to concentrate on driving controls. I imagine WY, MT, ND, SD are also similar, not having visited.

  30. These thoughts are not original with me. Saw some earlier on INSTAPUNDIT and others elsewhere. Just putting a few separate things together. Going to cross post this comment over at SGT MOM’s piece.

    1) Google is a leader in the move to autonomous cars.
    2) As noted in SGT MOM’s nearby piece, Google [or GooLAG™] values political correctness over reality.
    3) A corporation can have shareholder return on investment as the first priority. It can have technological supremacy as the first priority. Or it can have political correctness as the first priority. BUT IT CAN ONLY HAVE ONE FIRST PRIORITY.
    4) GooLAG™ has chosen political correctness.
    5) GooLAG™ has been shown, and admitted, that it bias’ search results to hide things detrimental to the Left and to boost things that are politically correct. They have been shown and admitted that they spy on customers and not only use and sell the information for profit, but also pass it along to both the government and Leftist organizations for free.
    6) GooLAG™ has access to everything you do or say online and algorithms to judge your political reliability.
    7) In view of the above, and in the wake of their false “diversity” crisis; would you trust your life to a vehicle 100% under the control of GooLAG™ to get you safely to where you want to go and not to some other destination and in questionable safety?

  31. If the future of autonomous vehicles rests with Google, It’s never going to happen. Just another one of their beta boondoggles that will disappear after a few billion spent and no results, like almost all of their previous efforts. The only thing Google does that makes money is selling your attention to advertisers. Notice that Google is one of these new style corporations where the share holders have zero say in actually running the place. They might be inclined to ask questions about things like the private air force. The fact that they have accumulated so much cash is an admission that they have no clue how to increase value. So they fritter it away, hoping something will stick.

    As far as the “memo”, the only thing I found incredible was that someone smart enough to find the front door would circulate it without expecting to be fired. Since I found out that he has a ongoing claim with the N.L.R.B, it makes sense, getting fired is part of the plan.

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