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Nevada passes law authorizing driverless cars (forbes.com)
400 points by iqster on June 23, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 202 comments

We expect people to be frightened of robotic cars for the same reason they are scared of dying in a plane crash: Some deep-seated fear of dying in a manner that isn’t our own fault. Thoughts:

1) Marketing/PR for autonomous vehicles needs to really drive home their safety, so when you hear “robot car,” you think “… saves lives.”

2) Is it hard to imagine the opposite fear in children born 10 years from now? Having seen mostly robotic cars in real life, and human-driven cars getting in accidents on TV and in movies, might the child of the future react with terror when the robotic chauffeur intones, “human driver detected, approaching from rear”?

3) Loss of jobs. When we're heading to a future of robotic anything that will replace an entire profession, drivers in this case. What will be the economic effect of it?

I don't know why you're being down-voted, it's a valid question.

Computers have eliminated a lot of jobs over the last 30 to 40 years. For example VisiCalc, did a lot of what many tax accountants charged for. It used to be that humans, mostly women, switched (or routed if you will) phone calls.

Automation certainly does eliminate many jobs. But interestingly it also seems to make previously impossible things possible. For example, if we still used humans to switch phone calls, we'd need far more humans then are available. And I don't mean looking for work, I mean everyone could be working a switch board operator and it would not be nearly enough.

On the down side, many people speculate that our tax laws have become as complicated as they have, partly because tax prep software makes it possible to still do your taxes for relatively cheap.

Driver-less trucks will certainly suck for truck drivers, I can just see that History channel show taking a sad turn as more and more of its real life stars are slowly replaced by self-driving trucks.

But what possibilities will it create? Could cars, or for that matter trucks, become like a subscription? You just subscribe and then if at any point and any where you need a ride, you just dial a number and a few minutes later a dirverless vehicle arrives to take you anywhere.

The same could work for goods. Request as much trucking capacity as you need, minutes before you need it. The trucks just show up.

How many hours total (everyone's added up) hours sitting in traffic could be eliminated if a clear majority of the cars are intelligent and networked? Thousand? Millions? All that previously unproductive time, now productive.

All the lives saved from accidents, will they create jobs?

I think you make some great points. If we look back in history, almost everyone was a farmer. Farming was the job you did to survive, whether you liked it or not. Along came tractors and other farm machinery, and now something like only 3% of the population are still employed as farmers.

Interestingly, farming has been moving to driverless equipment out in the fields for the last couple of decades. At first it was not well received. Who would want to give up control of their machines? But in the last couple of years, the technology has really exploded. People are starting to see the benefits to their business.

I expect driverless cars will be the same. It is going to be a long time before it is accepted by the masses, even when the long list of benefits are present. Hopefully we don't outlaw them before they really come into their own.

> now something like only 3% of the population are still employed as farmers.

That's about exactly accurate: it was 2.8%, as of 1998, and is projected to dip down to 2.4% by 2018. [1] I happened to be looking at this just a few minutes ago, linked from http://zamfi.net/blog/one-day-we-will-all-be-programmers

[1] http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_table_201.htm

Where do farmers use driverless equipment? I live in a farming community and nobody uses driverless equipment.

When I say driverless, I'm not precluding the presence of an operator.

John Deere's iTEC Pro, for example, is capable of controlling the tractor, but still requires an operator to be in the cab, just in case. Although here's a fun video of someone who disabled the safety sensors: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zU4liQvrcm4

I don't know of any large operator that isn't using at least autosteer, which, for things like cultivating essentially is driverless. For what it is worth, I come from an area of grain farmers.

Thanks for the link. I should ask around to see who is using these. edit: sounds like i'm wrong, they ALL are using automated equipment. they just sit on the tractor, too.

Personally, I look forward to self-driving sleeper cars and a new type of motel that is little more than a secure parking lot plus some nice bathrooms. What is the feeling of "where you live" if you switch cities each time you sleep?

Also, in your hypothetical, if we are all routing calls as our day job, doesn't that mean that at any one time, 1/3 of humans are asleep, 1/3 routing calls, 1/3 possibly on calls. With at least two people per call. How can that not be workable?

  With at least two people per call. How can that not be workable?
He was partially referring to the internet. What would the web look like if two servers that wanted to move data between each other, (say, in a stock exchange) had to use circuit-switched telephony?

Switching is hierarchical, so for every non-local call placed there would be several human operators involved.

So out of all of humanity only 1/3 would be making calls? Everyone else would be supporting these phone calls? What on earth would they be talking about?

"But what possibilities will it create? Could cars, or for that matter trucks, become like a subscription? You just subscribe and then if at any point and any where you need a ride, you just dial a number and a few minutes later a dirverless vehicle arrives to take you anywhere."

I've heard of this idea before in the context of driverless cars. The thing is, this service already exists and is known as a "taxi". Since driverless taxis would likely be cheaper to operate, this means another source of job loss.

Exactly the same thing can be said of anything that has become automated; any machine manufacturing has offset the physical labor jobs. You can even argue that things like nail guns and power saws resulted in massive loss of jobs since one person can suddenly do the job of 6.

I think that in the next human generation or two we will end up seeing all menial and physical labor jobs being replaced by machines, leaving only entertainment and intellectual jobs.

I also am not sure whether "loss of jobs" really is some sort of absolute concept. Imagine that tomorrow all jobs could be done by "thinking" machines, even software development and architectural design and whatever. Suddenly everyone in the whole world lost their job; does that mean that everyone is out starving on the streets and there are just empty foreclosed on houses across the country? Obviously not; all of the same material wealth still exists to be divided across the same number of people (assuming the thinking machines don't care about material comforts).

Presumably cities will need to be rethought too. Cars and trucks will become more systematic in their movements.. Will most streets as we know them become grassy walkways for human transit? Do we really need everyone to have a car, and thus access to their building by a street? Just imagine a city like new york with next to no (large vehicle) traffic.. smaller vehicles to ferry packages from larger vein streets..

I love your vision of New York, but it's dangerous to use New York as a model. The population density of New York makes it unique (at least in the US).

Haha.. True. However, I live in Tokyo, and can see it working here too !

Marshall Brain wrote the very interesting (IMHO) "Robotic Nation" in the exploration of your question:


And, to save time, here are the standard HN responses:

1. Marshall Brain commits the Lump of Labor Fallacy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lump_of_labour_fallacy): The lump of labor fallacy holds that the total amount of work is fixed. This is considered fallacious because increasing productivity also increases the size of the economy, thus creating new jobs in the process. IOW, the total amount of work is not fixed.


2. The industrial revolution destroyed all sorts of jobs (of say, craftsmen), but ended up employing as many or more as factory workers. Similarly with the information revolution. Etc... All of these out of work truck drivers will become... massage therapists.

My critique of the lump of labor fallacy argument is that it seems to hold as long as our ability to consume can keep up with productivity gains. But what if there's a natural ceiling to our ability to consume; what happens when we produce more than we can consume? Or, when luxury ephemeral goods become trivially cheap (say, watching YouTube videos).

I'm not an economist, so I strive to remain agnostic on this question, but it still seems far from settled to me. Even if you believe that things will eventually shake out and workers displaced by automation will find new jobs, we still may be in for an uncomfortable period of high unemployment and disruption as the economy adjusts. (AKA, productivity shocks.)

I've argued that the Lump of Labor fallacy fails because it considers workers to be more fungible than they are. It is possible to create jobs for which no one in the existing unemployement pool is qualified to fill. That is a structural unemployment of 0%.

When that happens competition for the qualified labor goes up, and salaries rise in response. While the structurally unemployed[1] remain so and remain poor. This leads to a building disparity between rich and poor and that the problems such a disparity creates are quite well known.

[1] 'structurally unemployed' refers to a person who is unemployed and unqualified for all of the employment opportunities in their area. It comes from a similar concept 'structurally fired' where a company removes the positions that are held by current employees without creating other opportunities.

Curiously enough, though, all of Europe and the US has seen more or less the same kind of development of this kind in recent history. Yet the disparity between rich and poor differs widely between those countries, and it has also gone up and down quite strongly over time.

This is very strong evidence that the kind of disparities you mentioned are not truly structural. The "structural argument" is just a decoy used to prevent the disadvantaged from asking inconvenient political questions.

Sweden actually has higher unemployment than the US, but less wealth disparity, because they have a better social support net for the unemployed.

Exactly. It is about political choice, not about structural inevitabilities.

Actual numbers: http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=unemployment+rate+swede...

It looks like Sweden merely caught up with the US in terms of unemployment in the last 20 years.

Look at the quite drastic ups and downs in unemployment in Sweden in the 1990s. I know that's not exactly what you wrote, but does that look like something that is driven by "structural changes"?

You're picking some bad examples for future growth. Instead, look at the problems people really want to solve.

I'd pick health care as something that's just going to keep growing. As long as people have health problems, there will be a market for attempts at solutions. As the rest of life becomes more affordable, more money can be spent on this.

Advancing technology might eliminate some diseases, and make treating others trivially easy.

Note that nobody dies of smallpox anymore. That disease no longer exists in the population, it has been eliminated. IBM Watson will (eventually, kinda does now) automate diagnosis. Respirocytes[1] would eliminate decompression sickness, and make it pretty hard to bleed to death, with a medic handy. A Vasculoid[2] would eliminate bleeding entirely, as well as blocking all blood-borne diseases, by the simple expedient of replacing blood with something else.

1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Respirocyte

2: http://jetpress.org/volume11/vasculoid.html

Well okay, in the really long run, perhaps health care will someday be a solved problem. But that's not going to happen without lots of market growth and investment in the meantime.

Well, we've already seen entire professions and daily tasks disappearing thanks to technology improvements. (e.g. blacksmiths, or washing clothes by hand)

I think the sustainable future is one where we all work significantly less than today, and where more people do things where humans are much better than machines, such as arts/music and care (for the elderly, children, sick etc.)

While I agree with this, I think one of its less desirable side effects will be to increase the ranks of the poor.

Automation will replace a number of things: 1) Driving. 2) Wait staff (waiters / waitresses) 3) Piloting 4) Checkout 5) Reception services 6) Restocking / Inventory management 7) Fast food cooking staff 8) Hair styling / cutting 9) Surgery 10) Mining 11) Logging 12) Farming 13) Masonry 14) Security / Monitoring

These changes will be gradual, like in Machining where it used to be a machinist, his tools, and a mill. Now the mill is CNC and he's more of a programmer. The guy running the tool is more of an operator.

As automation capabilities get better we'll see robots like the DaVinci surgery robot for things like Hair Salons, where a single operator/stylist can style hair for 10 customers simultaneously. But that stylist will have more technical training than stylists of today do. So most stylists will be out of work, the smaller and smaller percentage of people who are both creative stylists and have the technical ability to run these salons will displace them.

I see the following mechansims at work in the US today which is pushing us toward that future.

1) Efficiency (or competing on cost vs quality) is 'winning' (or displacing) quality service products on the market.

2) The education and capacity of the both 25th percentile from our youth is incapable of basic problem solving.

3) The risk from employee theft (shrinkage) works against #1 making automation solutions justifiable to employers.

When possible transferring the risk/responsibility for service delivery to the consumer is more cost effective than training under-educated employees or hiring people with health benefits.

It might seem implausible but I remember when scanners were introduced into supermarkets. The canonical low margin business. They helped margins because less experienced cashiers could check out customers as quickly as more experienced cashiers did. It also resulted in fewer errors (by the cashier). I remember joking that at some point you would just walk behind the register and check yourself out.

Well once the automation around collecting cash and other payments became good enough, that is exactly what has happend. There are several stores in my area where you have the option of checking out yourself. On a recent trip there was one 'real' cashier and all the self checkout lines were open (8 stations) with one supervisor.

The technology enables the automation the economics drive the adoption. Things like pay kiosks now are quite able to take any of cash, checks, credit or debit cards. That gets hardened at ticket buying machines, then jumps to cash registers, I expect it to be in taxi cabs next.

So the 'social justice' question is what do we do with people who are structurally unemployable? Sure they have some responsibility for that (education and basic problem solving skills are lacking) but once they get past their rebellious youth and realize that nothing they will do can prevent them from growing old, and now they want to go back and 'fix' those lacks, how can we best facilitate that?

The advancment of automation and the elimination of jobs that can be done by people is neither a 'good' thing or a 'bad' thing. It just is. And I don't see us changing the economics or the technology which would inhibit it. Advances will be made, applicability to wider and wider problem sets will be possible, by and large its an economic 'win' to have a machine do something rather than a human.

You've probably seen the 'buy American, look for made in America' programs that people run. No doubt we'll see 'for made in America by People' campaigns as well.

It used to be that the difference in productivity in most (manual laborers, artisans) was at most a small multiple. It seems inevitable under the capitalist system that increasing automation in all fields will widen the wealth gap considerably, as the most productive people become many times (perhaps many orders of magnitude) as productive as the least. The difference between someone who performs a task and someone who can program many cheap machines to do the same thing will grow much, much wider as machines become cheaper to buy and operate. The owners of those machines will become extremely rich unless wealth redistribution becomes more common. Large social changes or revolution seem like they'll become required.

At some point, though, once every type of work can be done by machines, wealth could probably be redistributed in such a way that noone had to work very much. That would probably require human level intelligences, though, and then cue the great robot uprising...

Parkinson's Law says this is unlikely.


It would be nice, but I can't see it happening, unfortunately. Too much of our society would need restructuring, and there are those that would fight tooth and nail against that.

I sure hope that there will be a jump at some point allowing life quality to increase, and not bureaucracies, as Parkinson's Law seems to suggest (life quality hasn't improved during the last 30 years in the developed world, referring to general happiness and well-being). I am optimistic that brave politicians will make the necessary changes at some point - the world is too rapidly-transforming for huge changes in our lives not to happen.

There is no fundamental law prohibiting this rapid change from being accompanied by widespread death and destruction.

I think the sustainable future is one where we all work significantly less than today

Given the large number of people I know who spend half or more of their time surfing the web at the office, I suspect that future is already here to some extent.

Generally: Unless our demand for goods and services can grow at a pace that matches worker productivity as amplified by automation, there eventually simply won't be enough work to be done to keep everyone fed & housed.

This is paradoxical, since our productivity will be at an all-time high. Eventually we'll arrive at some sort of alternative economy but at least in the US there will be some serious unpleasantness along the way.

That's not the way to look at it.

See creative destruction: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_destruction

e.g. the car being invented did mean less work for horse-carriage "drivers", but eventually everything was better than before.

Unfortunately Google is incredibly bad at sales and marketing so don't expect them to understand that their main challenge will be the public perception of driverless cars.

I think they understand this. What I'm not sure of is if they will have the sales ability to do anything about it.

Google is very good at PR. Their image as being "naive and bad at marketing" might be part of their PR.


Yeah, that's why no one uses their products.

Google is good at entering a market just as it's catching on with a meaningfully-differentiated product, and the product markets itself. See Search, Gmail, and Maps.

When Google doesn't do this, they have to rely on marketing. See Wave or Buzz.

Every big company has its string of failed products. I'm not convinced that Google is really worse in this regard than Apple, Microsoft or Yahoo.

Has Apple had any failed products in the last 10 years?

The XServe line was shut down (although you can still buy the OS X server edition).

The Cube was a failure, although I'm not exactly positive it's exactly within 10 years.

.Mac (or MobileMe) hasn't been as successful as I think apple believed it would be.

iPod Hi-Fi, buttonless iPod Shuffle. But that's a pretty good track record.

None of them has any failed products if you set convenient enough window.

Google has only existed for 12 years, so it doesn't seem like it would be fair to talk about Apple failures from 1988 in this context.

There were enough failures with Apple (constant string of failures in fact) until late 1990s. Also, if we take Yahoo!, a successful business by any measure, it is hard to assign any two years where they didn't fail at something. Mind you, Yahoo! is a prefect example of marketing-driven company, much more so than Apple (who actually prides itself more at solid design and technology).

I would honestly have a lot of difficulty naming a Yahoo! product that launched in the last 10 years, period.

I understand that Apple had more than enough failures in the 80s and 90s, but honestly they are basically a different company since 1998 when Steve Jobs came back and completely changed the trajectory of the company.

They have managed to have basically no significant failed products at all in the entire term that Google has existed at all as a company. Google and Microsoft have had several extremely high profile failures, and dozens of failures as minor as the most significant failed product that Apple had.

The stock price of the company went from 3.5 in 1997 to 350 in 2011. I just don't think that the Newton is at all relevant when talking about how careful the respective major companies are to avoid large public failures.

You mean web search, gmail, android and other crap they produce?

I think they were going for sarcasm.

I think you've got the reason people are afraid of flying wrong. People aren't afraid of dying in a bus crash, or on a train, even an automated one, like they are of flying.

Indeed. It is perhaps due to the 700mph, 6,000 feet in the air part that makes them especially jittery. True or not, I think most people feel safer in a car & probably feel like they are more likely to survive, due to 60mph 12 inches off the ground.

(While flying is safer in many ways like deaths per mile or per passenger, I would bet you are a lot safer in a car than a plane in the event of a crash. Car crashes are dangerous, but plane crashes are nearly guaranteed fatalities)

No. It's hundreds of people dying at a time with nothing that any of them can do to mitigate their fate. People are really poor at assessing risk, but marvelous at concocting horror stories.

(I can see that you are not from California. At 60mph, you are in serious danger of being rear-ended.)

Given the nature of public transport I think we can discount the "out of my control" factor. We can even remove the human element; driverless trains are found in quite a few places and nobody is screaming in terror on them.


So what is it about flying? Probably the whole "trapped in a metal tube travelling at 500mph a mile above the ocean" thing.

Plus trains are more or less locked into a path.

Yep. I hate flying, but would pay a lot of money for a driverless car, and sleep like a baby while I commute to work.

It may be the fact that the airplane is in the air that makes the difference. Being 20,000 feet in the air is quite different than cruising along on the highway in a bus.

That being said, I wonder what the driverless cars would do for the blind/visually-impaired. It could be quite liberating for them. They wouldn't have to live near public transit/take jobs with public transit access. Neat.

I think it is more about getting the media and not the public at large behind the safety and potential of autonomous vehicles. The reason people are so afraid of flying is because plane crashes are so hyped by the media outlets. If the media is behind it, then the people will follow. Also, it is about control. If Google allows a fallback feature where the driver can take control in the event of a malfunction like cruise control currently works, people will perceive autonomous cars to be safer because they CAN be in control.

People are afraid of planes because if the power goes out, you die. On the ground, if the power goes out on your driverless car, you cruise to a stop.

And if you cruise to a stop in the middle of a train crossing?

Or if the steering shuts down while on a long curve next to a cliff?

Trains travel slower through populated areas. If you're stuck on a crossing jump out. Chances are the train will stop if the driver sees you in time and has the distance to stop (about 1mi/1.6km).

Steering doesn't shut down, it just goes from easy to hard. If the car is in motion it requires very little energy to turn.

Volvo's City Safety is marketed in the same way you describe: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5MR2S2K5iM&feature=relmf...

Perhaps we could better aquatint people with what a meat grinder American roads are. About 40,000 people die every year in America in traffic accidents caused by humans. More than 10,000 of those deaths are caused by drunk drivers, and it seems like most those deaths would simply go away if they could auto-pilot their way home.

I think driverless cars could be the future of public transportation. Instead of big trains and buses with limited reach, we would have thousands of public vehicles that take you where you need to go when you need to be there. It eliminates the big barriers to public transport--the lack of personal space, timing, and reach.

No car? Just hop on the municipal/county dispatch website, request a car, pay your fee, and wait for the nearest open vehicle to bring itself to you. It can even coexist peacefully with private transportation.

How do you deal with the inherent inefficiency of having a separate vehicle for every passenger (or small group of passengers)?

Publicness is not the only benefit of public transportation. Trains and buses are incredibly efficient per passenger mile. They also take up a lot less space than cars, and last longer and cost less per passenger to manufacture. Making a car driverless doesn't solve these problems.

The de facto standard in this country is one dedicated car per person, which spends 90% of its time sitting in a parking space. Communally shared cars will be massively more efficient than that, and, unlike buses and trains, will actually replace dedicated vehicles for a majority — some day 100% — of users.

The public transportation the public uses beats the one they don't.

Not to mention that communal vehicles would make electric cars suitable for any length of trip— Forget about exchanging batteries, just swap cars at the charging station.

Communally shared cars would still have the problem that a large number of those personal cars are spending the same 90% of their time sitting in a parking space. Everyone's leaving for work at 8, leaving for lunch at noon and leaving for home at 5.

You'd still need roughly the same number of 'communal' cars during those peak times. Though people may be more likely to car-pool.

Even the trivial variation of most US 'flex time' starts wouldn't help much. The difference between 8 and 9 isn't great enough for very many cars to make it from a business park at 8 back out to pick up another passenger and then back to another employer before 9.

What might really help, is 'communal' cars augmenting the US's sparse transit system. e.g. The communal car takes you to the train/bus stop. A communal bus departs as soon as it can. The communal car takes you to your final destination.

That way the cars are doing shorter round-trips, serving more people (necessitating fewer cars) and people are more apt to use the public transport because they aren't worried about the current big problems of US transit: 1. parking at the transit stop 2. how to get from the transit destination to where they really want to go 3. what happens if you miss the train/bus time (the car can just complete the trip)

That's true currently— but I think you're neglecting the possibility that widespread use of robotic cars could effectively eliminate rush hour. If that hour and a half commute starts taking the twenty minutes it should, two hours is time for a bunch of round trips.

Of course there will be some limit to capacity, as with any public transportation. But having to wait a bit for a car isn't going to put off commuters who are used to spending hours a day waiting in traffic.

That's not even mentioning you can actually do useful stuff sitting as a passenger during the commute.

"The de facto standard in this country"

Which country? It's a global problem (and this is a global forum). Kudos to Nevada for having the presence and foresight to pass this legislation. It opens up a world of possibilities for future transport options, and whilst it will take a while for the public to catch up and accept both the technology, and the transport changes it enables, this is a huge step in the right direction.

What country is Nevada in?

I'm not blind to the existence of transportation issues in other countries, but insufficient (read "nonexistent") public transportation is often noted as a predominantly (while not uniquely) American problem. Certainly we represent the archetype of the "one car per person" catastrophe.

The emergence of communal, computer-controlled electric vehicles could turn that around completely, so I don't think it's too out of line to be talking primarily about America at this stage.

"What country is Nevada in?"

Spain for one. I know which Nevada the legislation was passed in, but your comment made the implicit assumption that everyone reading it is in the US.

"insufficient (read "nonexistent") public transportation is often noted as a predominantly (while not uniquely) American problem"

As is egocentrism.

What are you talking about? There's no Nevada in Spain, GA. (Wait a minute... Oh. Gotcha.)

Seriously, though. "This country", as in, the country where I live, which is coincidentally the same one under discussion. You can relax a little with the righteous indignation.

Theoretically, driverless cars could be programmed to behave in a collective fashion. Yes, a train is incredibly efficient when 300 people need to go from the same place to a different place. But in reality, 300 people are coming from 300 places and going 300 places. Driverless cars could calculate partial carpools or transfers to more efficient vehicles like trains depending on the needs of the commuters. A "smart car" could drop the commuter(s) off at the train station, and another car could pick the commuter(s) up for the final leg of their trip.


A few weeks ago, I left my house for the grocery 2 miles away. I followed a car from my subdivision to the grocery. After shopping, I followed the same car back from the grocery to my subdivision.

Of course, this points out a failure in public engineering, not the need for automated cars. (As much as I'd love to have them)

Urban sprawl is a gigantic problem that we need to address, and soon. It not only affects transportation - there's general maintenance cost, social effects, land use, etc.

A car can't leave the station traveling west at 220 mph arriving at its destination in 30 minutes. Driverless cars will be great but we also need fast, efficient ways to move people too. I want mine to pick me up at the station when my train arrives.

More likely, driverless cars will be programmed to make really, really long commutes.

How far would you be willing to commute right now? OK, what if you could sleep or play videogames en route?

I commute about 1:15:00 each way, each day. I carpool, so I can read my iPad for two hours a day. It certainly helps with the drive time.

But you can do the same on a train or bus already. I think part of why people don't use them as much is because of the inconvenience of working around their schedule, and first and last mile commutes (because the train doesn't go to your office). Networked, driverless cars could play a part in the larger public transport system to alleviate these two points of pain of commuters.

Rush hour crowding on public transport is a big negative. If we embraced more flexible work hours, it would bring about its own efficiencies.

A country like the US, especially with vast suburban areas, it isn't necessarily a strict dichotomy between public transport and driverless cars. We can have both.

Especially in the west coast, American cities were built to be navigated by cars. Even today, the very fact that carpool lanes in most parts of California are designated for 2 people/car, not 3 implies we already have separate vehicles for each passenger. If we can take advantage of the road infrastructure and cut down on the need to own a car, it will be a huge benefit to lots of people. See how popular ZipCar is, precisely because of this sort of benefit.

Google Transit already offers you choices when you want to go from A to B. It could do the same thing with driverless cars. Want to take one the whole way? That'll be 60 minutes and cost $12.50. Or you can can take the driverless car to the train, which will take you the rest of the way. $7.50, and takes 1h20 minutes.

I know someone who spent some time in one of Japan's smaller prefectures. He hated how all the trains stopped promptly at midnight, making late night things impossible. Something like this would let you take a train there and an automatic car back.

This will definitely benefit bars. I would love to see drunk driving become a thing of the past at some point in my lifetime.

It wouldn't necessarily have to be the only public transit option. In New York, I can get to work by train much faster than by car - but if I need to go to, say, Ikea, it's two trains and a bus. A cheap, public car would be great.

I agree completely. I don't necessary think it's a bad idea, I just don't think it's a good idea "instead of big trains and buses."

I think of this more as dealing with the present (and unpleasant) reality. I prefer buses and trains, but we haven't found a way to get people to fund and use them enough to make them viable outside big cities.

A lot of the gridlock in my city comes from people doing stupid things that force other drivers to slow down to avoid a wreck. Automated cars would reduce the impact of bad drivers by removing them from the equation.

I've always thought it would be neat to combine the public transport with the public car idea. Have parking lots full of public cars available at the station stops (and really big ones at the end of the subway line).

You'll have to be able to keep one of these public cars at your place overnight for it to work (unless it drives itself home empty!).

More accurately, trains and buses can be incredibly efficient per passenger mile.

Anecdotes are not data, but our local buses (city of ~50k) rarely have more than one rider, and a plurality of those I see have zero riders. In our case, these autonomous cars would be a much more efficient solution.

"More efficient than a bus system nobody uses" is a pretty low bar. In your city's case, shutting down the bus system and having everyone currently riding the bus take (potentially subsidized) taxis would be way more efficient, both environmentally and financially.

There isn't that much inherit inefficiency; if the cars are smart they can drive in a train configuration, imagine this without the mechanical linkages:


But people don't use them that much! In theory trains and buses are more effecient, but since they aren't used that much, that means people don't care about that.

Or you rent your car out to the grid rather than park it. Like air-bnb for cars.

See getaround.com. They are doing something like this already.

getaround.com looks interesting. Shame they require a facebook account.

It's the future of "transportation", period. People will look back to the time when humans drove transportation and laugh.

Eric Schmidt has referred to it as "solving the bug that cars were invented before computers." It seems so obvious now!

And in the even farther future, people will look back on the time when it was legal to have a human driven car the same way we look back on safety standards in the early 1900's

I think it's only a matter of time (maybe 10-20 years, who knows) until one of the larger urban areas with huge traffic problems, such as Manhattan, London or Beijing mandates these sorts of systems in congested areas. It really seems like it could be the only viable solution to traffic problems in cities whose roads just can't handle the loads, and it seems like a logical next step after congestion pricing like London already does.

I'll be honest, I'm waiting for commercially available vehicles so I can be the first to order a fleet of them and do just that :-)

This would be a big boon to any of the cities around me (like Athens [GA]). They have limited street parking, so the fees are big and the times are short. This would let you go to where you're going and send your car over to a high-density parking garage across town to wait for you.

Do a lot of people avoid public transport just because of the lack of personal space?

Every person I know who has talked about public transport says the other people (especially bums napping and skeevy people) are the big thing that limits the amount of traveling they do on rails and buses. Reach and timing take up the next two slots.

I can definitely feel 'trapped' when people invade my personal space, especially if they smell or have a cough. Those experiences are horrible for the extended amounts of time required for a commute. I still ride, but driving really isn't an option.

Sometimes I wonder why public transport doesn't raise the prices during rush hour to create an equilibrium where the trains don't become sardine cans. I guess economically and somewhat ethically it might be harmful.

I pay $10 to get to work and back in rush hour. Parking is $12 for the day, plus gas and wear and tear. I would gladly pay some extra cash if it made the trains emptier, cleaner, and more reliable.

Do you want all those people to clog up the streets in their cars?

Lots of cities have problems with their transportation capacities, but simply shuffling people around isn't going to fix that.

Maybe a first class area for daily commute

Some of the trains used for commuting where I live (southern sweden/denmark) do have a first class area (which is nearly always empty…).

I find dislike of public transit strange. I have a strong dislike of cars - you have to pay for the car, you have to pay for insurance, you have to pay to fix it when it randomly breaks, you have to pay for gas, it lives outside your house on the street (so who knows what could happen to it late at night)... I could go on.

My ideal transportation arrangement is a subway pass in my wallet and nothing else.

Which, in the USA, pretty much limits you to New York, Chicago, and Boston, it seems. Not that those wouldn't be my ideal places to live anyways, but it's still frustrating.

Public transit-only travel is workable in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. as well. Although in Philadelphia, you would have to take the buses quite often to compensate for the gaps in the subway system.

Personally I avoid it because it's not very reliable(in Houston at least. It was pretty reliable in Germany) and it's not that effective at getting me where I want to go. There's still huge sprawls of land that are actively used but not connected to the public transport routes.

I'm originally from Dallas; pubtrans there is a joke.

This already exists in Austin, TX and a few other cities around the world. http://www.car2go.com has Smart cars scattered around the city. You grab the nearest one (or book ahead with your smartphone), swipe your RFID card, drive as long as you'd like, and then leave it in any public parking spot.

Edit: Minus the driverless bit obviously. :)

The driverless bit is what makes this work. If I just hopped off the high speed rail from Atlanta to Austin (I'm optimistic!), I don't want to have to walk to the nearest Smart Car center. I want the car to come to me. :)

Then it doesn't exist.

Driverless is key.

I wonder if human-driven car will become minority of vehicles in next 30 years. If the technology will be affordable and good enough, this seems like a probable scenario. Also it could be possible that driverless cars will reduce traffic jams by introducing some better routing algorithms.

They'd reduce traffic jams simply by behaving consistently over time. A very large number of traffic problems are caused by distracted/daydreaming drivers, aggressive drivers, overly cautious drivers over-braking, etc.

Consider the situation of lane-merging. Studies have shown a zipper-merge at the end of the disappearing lane to be the most efficient method. Yet human drivers create huge traffic snarls in these situations based almost entirely on their emotional reaction to what they perceive as 'fairness', which hinges on a thoroughly baseless concept of 'winning' in traffic.

Introduce driver-less cars and --with no other changes to traffic patterns at all-- the rising incidence of proper zipper-merging will reduce the frequency and severity of traffic problems.

Big trains and buses still move a lot more people than one small car. If everyone hopped into their driverless car, we'd be back to where we are now -- gridlock :)

In theory driverless cars could end up having algorithmic optimizations and use networked information such as to use overall road capacity much more efficiently.

Then hackers can take control and direct all traffic to participating gambling establishments.

> In theory driverless cars could end up having algorithmic optimizations and use networked information such as to use overall road capacity much more efficiently.

A company like Google isn't smart enough to drive off about.com from the front page of almost all of their SERPS, and do you actually expect them to come up with an "algorithmic optimization" for driverless-cars in cities like Cairo or Istanbul?

Traffic routing is a much simpler problem than deciding which webpages are relevant to which search terms. A bunch of CS undergrads could probably come up with a prototype system.

... And it's going to be around three years, until everyone takes them for granted and bitch about every minor niggle. :)

And instead of 50-100 people on 1 vehicle, it's 1. Not really eco-friendly, and not cheap either.

These are also known as "taxis".

Apparently, Google had been lobbying the state of Nevada for this.

It's very interesting to read this Scientific American article from late May (mentions Google's lobbying efforts): http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=google-driv...

Edit: NY Times article talking about this more directly ... http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/11/science/11drive.html?_r=1

As an individual who is legally blind and cannot drive, I very much welcome the day when this technology becomes wide-spread and affordable.

It is extremely annoying to be in your mid 30's and have to rely on/inconvenience someone else to drive you around.

So whether it were getting my own vehicle or seeing vast improvements made to less-than ideal public transportation systems, either would be great.

I was thinking that driverless cars would be a boon for people who cannot drive (for whatever reason -- visual or otherwise).

I do wonder, however, if laws will require driverless cars to have a person who is able to drive. (For legal or liability reasons in case of an equipment failure.) I do hope that doesn't happen, but it's possible.

Actually once it's been proven that robots drive much better than humans (which is not very difficult), people will want to probably outlaw human driving.

I wasn't really thinking about driving skills, but about equipment failure. There will always be a risk of equipment failure for automated machinery. Also, there's a risk of human error in the code governing driving.

One possible workaround is to have several people at some centralized location monitor driverless car performance. A monitorer could override the car and drive the car remotely in the event of equipment failure or bugs in the code.

But, maybe that's a pipe dream.

You say that like it's a sure thing. As excited as I am about the potential, I think it's still to be determined how well robots drive in real world environments, alongside humans, at scale.

Unfortunately, I suspect the law could very well require a licensed human driver in the vehicle for just that reason. I would hope that this would change over time, though, as the technology improved and became more proven, because there is great potential in this for people who are unable to drive for whatever medical reason.

Maybe there could be some lesser qualification, between being a licensed driver and just an untrained passenger. After all, if you could simply pull over to the side of the road safely, that's about all that would be required in most instances.

I believe one of the most overlooked benefits of driverless cars is that it makes small-engine, low acceleration (high efficiency) cars acceptable for the American market. Most Americans are currently unwilling to drive a 1 liter engine car because of its no fun to drive, but if you are lounging in the back seat you won't care.

As an American who is exactly as you describe, I agree. This may be a way to sell the idea to skeptical people of certain political persuasions, but the other benefits of driverless cars (greatly reduced numbers of death and injury, huge amounts of human time freed) will dwarf the gas efficiency improvement.

This means there's going to be a market for in-car bar equipment! Someone is going to make millions on DC-powered blenders and cup holders that can safely accomodate cocktail shakers. :)

In-car big screen TVs, right in front of the windshield! Two seater sized cars, but with only one set of very specious seats/recliners.

My state of Michigan is known as the birthplace of the automobile. We had the first stretch of paved road in the world as well as the first stoplight.

But we've abdicated our leadership in the automotive industry by turning our back on this development. Michigan rightly should have been the first state to legalize this technology.

It seems as if the auto technology breakthroughs are coming from Silicon Valley. Bob Lutz said the Chevy Volt was developed in response to the Tesla's embarassing us. Now its Google's turn to embarass and challenge Detroit's engineers.

We had the first stretch of paved road in the world

What qualifications are you adding that exclude stone-paved streets in ancient South America, Europe, and the Middle East?

I imagine the poster meant paved with asphalt which in the US is called pavement.

I'm surprised by the comments that imply we'll solve traffic congestion and be snoozing safely in the passenger seat as our robot cars zip us to work in 10-20 years. I live in a technical world where a team of geniuses can barely keep a system up that exchanges 140 character messages.

"Robot cars" don't need to deal with the sort of scale or coupling that causes systems like the one you described to fail (the system you reference itself doesn't really need to be that way, technically... it is that way for the purposes of centralized control).

The "robot car" I may be sleeping in doesn't have to worry about what the other 300 million cars on the road are up to, only the 10 or so that happen to be immediately around me.

Yes, there are real problems to be solved in this area but they are very different sorts of problems than scaling and at the current rate of progress I wouldn't be too surprised if automated driving were available as a high end option on some cars within 15 years.

We already have robots designed for games that drive cars, even besting most of the people skill-wise, and we have a nice traffic congestion example out of the network and medium access protocols too in the telecommunications science. so I guess that those problems are already almost sorted out.

Video-game bots are a nice research field for artificial intelligence which can provide solutions for the real world.

Unrelated: Check this out if you're interested in the topic, it's a nice read http://www.cs.rochester.edu/research/quagents/QuakeIII.pdf

This is great news! Nevada is pretty consistently willing to be the reference case on a lot of forward-thinking ideas.

Prostitution, Gambling, 24-hour alcohol sales, Driverless cars, rentable fully automatic weapons!

Come to Nevada, we are the FUTURE!

EDIT: I was not actually bemoaning any of these, uh, services. I lived in Nevada for a few years and aside from the fact that I was traumatized against it by the game Fallout - actually like Nevada. It is one of those states that actually fantastic to live in if you have enough money/your own business.

I plan to retire back to the Nevada side of Tahoe. Lets see how well those driverless cars handle snow.

No drive-thru beer vendors like Texas?

There are drive through liquor stores in some counties.

There used to be a drive thru liquor store in Reno on the corner of Keystone and 4th street - but they closed the drive-thru window ~1990

They still have some harsh drug laws though.

While Washoe and Clark counties are the two largest with Reno and Las Vegas being the two largest population centers there's a large rural and conservative population that prevents many progressive laws from passing.

To be honest, at least half of those sound like perfectly reasonable ideas. Aside from machine guns, I'm not sure there's a strong logical argument to outlaw any of them.

There aren't people just wandering around with machine guns you can however rent them for use at various ranges.

For example: http://www.lasvegasgunrange.net/RangeRentals.aspx

Presumably, the machine guns are only rentable at the range - what's the logical argument against that?

Because they are fun.

No, really. What better way to pretend you're a gangster or action hero for the day?

Why do people want machine guns at the gun range in the first place?

(Genuinely curious. I've never held a gun before in my life, so I wouldn't know.)

They are fun to shoot.

I'll take your word for it...

I really didn't expect this to happen within 10 years. I'm amazed that this happened so fast.

This is an example of the beauty of American federalism. The states can push forward with innovation, as appropriate to their local needs.

Well, the technology has been nearly there for over a decade. The problems are all legal. The obvious part was that automated cars are illegal to begin with. Less obviously, the liability situation is unclear: who would be willing to accept liability for the driverless car? The company that makes it would be at a huge risk at the mass market stage, because there would be many cars. Therefore, they would be unwilling. The passenger has no control over the car, so they would likewise be unwilling. The state could do it, but this is unlikely. The accident victim could be stuck with it, but this is unacceptable.

So, who takes the liability?

How about the State requiring each car owner to have insurance which would cover to $X all damage caused by the car AND the State also limit claims to $X.[1]

The insurance companies with their phalanxes of clever quants can work out how dangerous each car model is and price it accordingly. Adam Smith's invisible hand can do the rest.

If the insurance companies get greedy and "certainly not conspire" to price high, then the car makers would be free to spin up their own correctly priced insurance companies and take the business in order allow car sales.

[1] Barring malice and probably a dozen other exceptions.

Insurance companies can see how reliable these things have become, and they know how bad humans are at driving. Insurers will probably start mandating automation (or offering incentives) in the next 5-7 years.

Exactly, if these cars are statistically safer the insurance companies will notice that in a very few years. And then they will strongly encourage drivers, or should I say car owners, to get these.

Especially if you are in a demographic the car insurance companies consider risky, you'll get to choose between paying A LOT to dive yourself, or a hell of a lot less to have the car drive you.

I did. You know why? Because there's no way Google would announce a technology that they think would be used 10 years from now.

I knew it right away that if they announced it now, then they're doing it to get public support and then convince politicians to allow them as soon as possible.

They also wouldn't have announced it if it didn't already work pretty well.They wouldn't have announced it if it still needed 10 more years of work.

I did my Masters in machine learning and I'm honestly not really sure how technically feasible human-level driving is. Particularly things like intersections where traffic lights get obscured by a tree or the power outages, or things where people arrive at intersections at the same time and there is subtle communication between the drivers for who is allowing who to go first.

"The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed."

Money. Google has oodles of it - governments only exist to gain money (and power) -- so it was pretty obvious (to me) that this would happen quickly.


Here is why this is great. As the industrial revolution was just starting up, many places in Europe banned this or that new labor saving invention - to preserve jobs. But not all, many others allowed the new machinery, this quickly forced all other to either also allow it or fall behind economically.

Back to Nevada, Google will now start moving cars there. I can't be the only who wants to sleep during the commute to work, people in Nevada will start doing that. At least some old people will use this, and then more and more as they see how great it works and grants them greater independence. Parents could start using it for their teenagers. It will save lives. How long before someone in Nevada starts an all driver-less taxi service?

This marks the beginning of an honest to goodness technological revolution, how often do you see that happening in one lifetime? And it's staring in Nevada.

So next: car alarm clock! So you don't end up sleeping half the day away in your work parking lot.

Can anyone comment on the state of autonomous vehicles with regard to their ability to operate in mixed, human traffic? I would think that human drivers would be dangerously erratic and thus extraordinarily difficult to account for.

And what do you do, as a passenger, when your driverless car induces road rage in a human driver?

Google has tested their autonomous car for >10000 miles on US roads and highways over the last few years. So yes, they handle human driver traffic.

Oh wow, I missed that those trials were on actual, trafficked roads and highways. Thanks for pointing that out, corecirculator!

Cite: https://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/10/science/10google.html

from an open letter to the French Parliament in 1845:

"We are suffering from the ruinous competition of a rival who apparently works under conditions so far superior to our own for the production of light that he is flooding the domestic market with it at an incredibly low price; for the moment he appears, our sales cease, all the consumers turn to him, and a branch of French industry whose ramifications are innumerable is all at once reduced to complete stagnation. This rival, which is none other than the sun, is waging war on us so mercilessly we suspect he is being stirred up against us by perfidious Albion (excellent diplomacy nowadays!), particularly because he has for that haughty island a respect that he does not show for us."

"We ask you to be so good as to pass a law requiring the closing of all windows, dormers, skylights, inside and outside shutters, curtains, casements, bull's-eyes, deadlights, and blinds — in short, all openings, holes, chinks, and fissures through which the light of the sun is wont to enter houses, to the detriment of the fair industries with which, we are proud to say, we have endowed the country, a country that cannot, without betraying ingratitude, abandon us today to so unequal a combat."

from "A PETITION From the Manufacturers of Candles, Tapers, Lanterns, sticks, Street Lamps, Snuffers, and Extinguishers, and from Producers of Tallow, Oil, Resin, Alcohol, and Generally of Everything Connected with Lighting."

source: [http://bastiat.org/en/petition.html]

NB to the casual reader: the above was always intended as satire.

I'm guessing that it will be really important to allow cops to disable autonomous cars, or at least force them to pull over and stop.

I'm really interested in how they will handle that issue.

However they do it it better be secure, otherwise definitely expect a market for illicit little devices that allow you to plow traffic out of your lane on the interstate.

Ever watched Idiocracy? There's a mechanism in the cop cars that forced all cars to pull over and shutdown in that movie. Just hope it doesn't turn into this afterwards: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rC_H2s7rMvE

Interesting that the limited the law to highways (edit: the law limited the use of autonomous vehicles to highways) (section 2, paragraph 1). I suppose it makes sense since highway driving is more predictable but its also higher speed and thus accidents are more dangerous. Also, this limitation would require the presence of a human driver to get the car to the highway.

I actually suspect this will be the first use; real cruise control where you safely drive yourself onto the highway and then activate the automatic driver.

Note that US traffic law generally uses the term "highway" for any public road.

[Survey question] What are Google's options for monetizing driverless cars?

Lease the technology to, without loss of generality, Toyota, for annual license payments higher than the GDP of some nations.

This. When I did rough calculations a few years ago, the total economic benefits of driverless cars was on the order of a trillion dollars a year. Capturing even 10% of that would make Google by far the most valuable company in the world.

Leaving aside that licensing the technology will obviously pay for itself a thousand times over...

It's a little crass to ask the question, I think. Widespread introduction of robotic cars would be one of the greatest humanitarian achievements in American history. You don't ask what's the profit motive in cancer research, you're just glad someone cares enough to spend the money.

Not that I blame you for being curious, of course.

1. Get into the billboard business and pick routes that increase expose to Google-owned billboards.

2. Alternatively, if they don't want to get into the billboard business, sell routing influence. Bidders can pay to route cars past points of their choosing. They could both sell general place-based influence (bidders simply bid to have more cars come past their chosen point), or end-point based influence (bid to have people going to/from specific points routed past your chosen point).

For instance, suppose you have a new French restaurant, on a side street. You could pay Google to increase traffic down your street, so that more people will see your restaurant. Even better, you put out a sign announcing your grand opening, and prominently proclaiming "Higher Rated than Le Pretentious Bastard" (the top French restaurant in town), and pay Google to specifically route people who are going to Le Pretentious Bastard past your place.

3. Route based on conversation in the car. E.g., if the people riding in the car are talking about comic books, route past comic book stores (that have paid Google for this).

> 3. Route based on conversation in the car. E.g., if the people riding in the car are talking about comic books, route past comic book stores (that have paid Google for this).

Wow. Voice recognition & robot car research... I think you're on to something.

Non-stop advertising for the entire duration of the trip!

With location aware advertising that pays attention to the current conversation topics and that is capable of dropping you off at a businesses physical location which also gets charged on a CPD (cost per drop-off).

Car lowers power of air conditioner, lowers humidity "Mum I'm thirsty! And I want icecream!" 5 minutes - Baskin & Robbins, 15 minutes supermarket, icecream 15% off if you present this qr code identified ticket "Ah, I need to buy some milk. Let's stop by then honey."

Geez. Way to make me stare out the window blankly for a few minutes.. Strange days.

Evil...but clever. Get that patent application going.

If it's not obvious to you... People will pay for it.

My question was more like a survey. I was wondering what people on here thought were Google's options. [I have edited my question now]

If Google own a lot of the patents on it, and it takes off then Google get a cut of every car sold for decades.

What was Henry Ford's options for monetizing horseless carriages in 1900?

Same way they make scads of money elsewhere: sell eyeballs. It just so happens that they're freeing up millions of eyeballs by developing driverless cars.

It would be more difficult for an innovation like driverless cars to get a start in a country like France where almost any change in the laws requires the involvement of the national government. (In the U.S., most legal cases, including the laws of the road and most serious crimes like robbery, rape and murder, are handled by the individual 50 states.)

It's worth noting that the US is so significantly larger than France that it's not really directly analogous to compare Nevada with something like Lorraine in France. California + Texas together have about the same population as France, the two combined have a significantly higher GDP than France, and Texas alone is more land area than all of France.

I suspect that it would actually be harder for something like Marijuana legalization to actually occur in California and Texas than it would be for it to occur in France, because the lumbering Federal government exists where there isn't really a close analogous overriding body in France (perhaps the EU to some extent).

I can't wait to be able to buy one of these.

This could make road trips a lot more fun.

Anyone else think this thread may be linked to 10-20 years from now when this thing begins to take off?

unfortunately I get car sick. A robot car means either extreme boredom or sickness, I cant look away from the road. But I will be happy to be the last human driver, surrounded by safe robot cars.

This should be a feature that one can enable should you have consumed any alcohol.

Here's to the possibility that the era of automobiles being a significant cause of death is coming to a close.

Maybe measure your BAC according to your breath or something.

In fact breathalyzer based ignition locks already exist. http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/Science-Fiction-News.asp?NewsN...

My other driverless car is a subway

Come on guys, no William Gibson references yet? - "The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed."

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