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The Unintended Effects of Driverless Cars (plus.google.com)
420 points by mbrubeck on Dec 8, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 333 comments

Guys, some of you who are criticizing the precise "assumptions" are missing the point! He's not saying that utilization will go up to 96% precisely, or that there will be 20x fewer cars. He is challenging us to imagine the possibilities ourselves, seeding it with some immediate (potential) implications. On first sight his assumptions seem reasonable, and it's up to us individually to determine what the ramifications are.

Indeed the potential is enormous for freeing up a lot of human time/etc. We will need less parking certainly, cars will be running newer models (since they're used more, they'll likely last less time) with better technologies, and potentially there will be more efficient routing algorithms to save energy, time, etc.

I like how HN is often first to criticize, but sometimes you're just missing the point. The point is to imagine for yourself the possibilities. For me, it's enormous.

It's a really interesting article. I'm not sure if he's missing some more likely and fundamental consequences.

1. Travel time and thus speed are less important. So driving will become slower, safer, more fuel economical. BTW this will increase utilization because people will be in transit longer per trip.

2. People will travel more and for new reasons. E.g. I might hop in a car and tell it to go somewhere scenic while I work. This is going to increase utilization and possibly increase fuel consumption.

3. People will install beds in their cars or switch to bigger more comfortable vehicles. You can now sleep on the road (overnight travel). Another huge increase to utilization and fuel consumption. Bad for hotels.

4. People will accept longer commutes since they can read, sleep, work, etc. en route leading to further expansion of suburbia.

Key message: more people driving more miles for more reasons at lower speeds.

Just the idea of owning one car and sending it home for the wife to use is hardly full of win. Better yet we all share public autocars, but that smells of communism and many Americans will never wear it.

Far from increasing efficiency through greater utilization, I see self driving cars as turning cars into mobile houses and becoming more personalized and used far more.

"If some of my homes had been more like my car, I probably wouldn't have traveled this far." Paul Simon.

Americans use shared cars all the time. They're called taxis. Also, ZipCars, rental cars, shuttle busses...

Right but aside from a few older cities most people only use a shared car when away from home. Giving up a personal car for daily use is probably not going to happen in the US without a major cultural shift.

Driving cross country without driving sounds awesome really. About the only thing I minded about going to Burning Man was the drive there. We were all tired (scary) and I'd much rather have just sat and enjoyed my friends (and sleep) for the 36 hour trip.

You could have maybe taken a bus?

We did an RV actually. Main problem is loading up all the gear needed for Burning Man. Between 5 people's gear we literally stuffed the RV. The water alone weighed a few hundred pounds. Most Greyhounds and similar are pretty limiting for luggage in that respect.

Touche. I guess the other option is amphetamines or other stimulants then, and given that it's burning man, not terribly beyond the realm of possibility.

You ever travel by bus? I'd rather hitch-hike. :P

Every day on my commute. And once or twice a year I like to either take a green tortoise tour, or play "greyhound roulette" which entails going to a bus station, writing down the next 5 destinations on scraps of paper, shoving them in my pocket, then grabbing one scrap and buying the corresponding ticket.

Fully agree, just had the critic argument with my roommates about this. It doesn't really matter if everyone gets on board this plan, what matter is that with a 90% utilization rate and cars that can move themselves, someone like ZipCar/Uber or whoever can offer something like $30/month for unlimited car usage within 40KM.

It doesn't matter to me if everyone else doesn't get on board what matters to me is that a service at those rates may be possible in the near future. People still have phones that only text and call, but it's becoming a rarity.

exactly. all those car-sharing services may become much, much more useful and prevalent when you can use your smartphone to whistle the car to come to you. that would also spell doom to taxis.

perhaps then only the very rich, those who live in remote areas, and true car enthusiasts will want or need to have their own car.

a bit like a 100 years ago, everybody from the middle-class up had a maid, but now only rich people do because machines now do most of the household work for us.

> everybody from the middle-class up had a maid, but now only rich people do because machines now do most of the household work for us.

You'd be surprised how many people hire household help. Pretty-much every dual-income couple I know over a certain age has someone come in every week or so. And no, it's not a generation thing, that "certain age" has remained stable for at least 15 years. (I didn't notice before because I was too young.)

Yes, there's an income threshold, but at $150/month, the starter cost is suprisingly low. (That's San Jose prices.)

I'm not buying that last point... Having a maid or not is more to do with relative wealth.

You're missing his point. At any given time it has a lot to do with relative wealth. But the change over time is the result of things like vacuums and washing machines changing housekeeping from a full-time-plus job to something that can be done in the evenings/weekends.

He either has low standards of housework or a Japanese robot... Yes, vaccuming, laundry and dishes are a bit quicker, but they still take a lot of effort, and what about dusting and ironing? I'd hire a maid in a shot if they were a bit cheaper.

It's not just devices, modern cleaning solutions are a huge improvement over what people had even just 100 years ago. As to dusting a good air filter and regular vacuuming dramatically cuts down on dust accumulation. All together the modern household with about 5 hours a week of effort get's better results than you would have from a 20 hour per week maid using methods from 1911.

PS: People still use home cleaning services but the number of hours they work is a lot less than what you would expect from a maid a 100 years ago.

>laundry... a bit quicker

Ever tried hand washing your clothes with a bucket and a stick, then running them through a mangle yourself?

It ain't quick. It is orders of magnitude more effort than putting your clothes in the washing machine, which takes about a minute and no physical exertion whatsoever.

Yep. You also have to consider the time spent on boiling the water, ironing with irons that have to be reheated on a stove, hanging the clothes out to dry (and hoping that it doesn't rain), and so on.

>a bit quicker

That's a ridiculous understatement. Have you ever done laundry, or dishes by hand? What about waking up to start all the fires around the house?

Or have you ever attempted to cook a meal from scratch, how about 3 meals a day.

Modern conveniences easily save 8 hours a day, on daily chores.

Yes, yes, and yes. I wasn't born yesterday, and I am from a fairly isolated part of the world. They all took much longer, I agree. Perhaps this is a reason that both members of a couple can usually work nowadays - but I don't think it is the reasona that less people higher maids. All I am saying is that the maids issue is economic; no matter how little housework there is, I would still pay somebody else to do it if it were economical.

>I would still pay somebody else to do it if it were economical.

Of course you would, but, for most middle class people, maids have moved from necessity, to luxury.

The marginal utility of a maid has gone down, they used to save you 10 hours a day, now they may save you 1 or 2. Most modern middle class people can manage an hour or 2 a day, but not 10, so the demand has gone way down. Most people aren't willing to sacrifice in order to afford a maid b/c they don't need one.

It will be the same with cars. If you can rent a car with 90% of the connivence of owning one, owning one will become a luxury.

Many people sacrifice a large percentage of their income because the feel a car is necessary. When it's merely, nice to have, most middle class and lower will no longer do so.

You're assuming that having driverless cars is more desirable than having human controlled cars. I doubt most people see it that way.

Why not? I'm seeing numerous, huge advantages to the driverless cars. The only advantage to a normal car is that sometimes they can be fun to drive. Frankly, I'd be more than happy to make that tradeoff, and I suspect I'm not unusual in that regard.

I'm not convinced that trade-off would exist. It can't possibly be hard for a driverless car to kick control over to a human driver.

There is a significant potential saving in temoving the now-redundant controls. Also, as computers become safer than humans, human drivers may be actively discouraged.

Would you also like to cut off your legs and replace them with computer controlled wheels?

Once again HN and techies in general are a ridiculously small percentage of the population. Normal people do not see things the same way.

People have already replaced their legs with wheels to a very large degree. The computer control is just an added nuance.

Wait until, driverless cars are mandatory. Do you have any idea how many people die each year in car accidents. The vast majority of those are caused by human error.

Human error extends beyond the act of driving... it could be bald/frayed tires, non-existent brakepads, old wipers, missing turn lights, etc.

If those are addressed by driverless cars (ie, johnny-cab) then we're probably going to see a significant drop in freeway accidents.

On the other hand, will those driverless vehicles be capable of handling the unpredictable human drivers on the road?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration only 5% of accidents are caused by mechanical failures.

Drunk driving alone (at least in 20004) is the cause of 30% of fatal accidents during the weak and over 50% during the weekend.

So even if car maintenance is still left to humans, we'd see a massive decrease in car accidents and subsequent deaths.

>will those driverless vehicles be capable of handling the unpredictable human drivers on the road?

With certainty, yes they will, and with much better reaction times than humans. In 2004 at the DARPA grand challenge the farthest any car got was 11.78 km.

1 year later 22 cars got farther than that, and 5 completed the race (240 km).

Self driving cars have only kept improving over the last few years. The Google car has never had an accident while in autonomous mode, only while a human was in control.

Self driving cars will be here. When is going to be dictated legislation, but when that time comes, they will save tens of thousands of lives per year.

The majority are pedestrians cyclists etc. Those deaths wont suddenly be solved.

In 2008 pedestrian and cyclists deaths accounted for only 14% percent of traffic fatalities in the US.

Where did you get "The majority."

Also most of those deaths were caused by human errors, why do you think they won't be solved by removing human error from the equation? Do you think driverless cars will keep running down pedestrians at the rate humans do?

Here's the problem I see.

The potential for car-sharing and an attendant rise in utilization rate has existed for a long time. (There's little reason something like Zipcar couldn't have been organized by telephone years ago.) Yet it has only caught on in a small way, and only in places where there are other overwhelming advantages to that scheme, in cities where car ownership (parking) is terribly expensive.

I think he's overlooking something regrettable but true: the low utilization rate, great expense, wastefulness and general economic insanity of private cars are critical parts of their appeal to consumers. Many people who could commute by train or bus choose to take a car instead, even though it's hugely more expensive, more stressful, and often not much faster. They'd rather feel like they had some control than no control. They'd rather sit in a seat no strangers have been sitting in. They like knowing the glove compartment is crammed with their own crap and not someone else's. They like the fact that their car will be waiting for them and for them alone in the parking space where they left it, with no need for waiting or a call-ahead reservation.

And of course there's the fact that parking an enormous, expensive, gas-guzzling monstrosity in the office lot or the driveway has a genuine (shallow, materialistic, emotional, and pitiably simian - yet still genuine) effect on your friends, neighbors, minions, and yes, on yourself.

He's supposing that driverless cars will somehow finally yield to economic pressures that have been present (and irrationally resisted) all these decades.

I don't see the points you mentioned as the primary benefits of a car over a bus or train. A car requires no waiting, and takes you directly to where you want to go, with no stops or detours. A bus or train requires waiting, makes various stops, does not take a direct route to your destination, and drops you some distance away from where you want, perhaps with a couple of transfers required for long distances.

Car sharing programs eliminate some of the drawbacks (no detours or stops), but several still apply (no guarantee of timely availability, one or both endpoints does not coincide perfectly with your destination). On top of those, you also pay more than mass transit, and you still have to do the driving.

Give me a transit mechanism which picks me up from my house at the time I want to leave, and takes me directly to my destination with no stops, and I see no reason to ever drive a car again.

I certainly believe that some car enthusiasts exist who actually driving, rather than just doing it to get to a destination. However, I don't believe those people make up the majority of drivers, or even a significant fraction; I think most people just want to get from point A to point B, and driving sucks the least for them.

A car requires no waiting, and takes you directly to where you want to go, with no stops or detours.

I think that after a moment's thought about this you'll have to agree that this is completely wrong. The roads don't even go directly where you want to go, most of the time; there are stop lights and stop signs and police checkpoints and emergency vehicles and slowdowns and gridlock and accidents and construction detours and traffic detours and "stops on the way" that aren't, really, for your spouse and on and on.

Which I think is really telling. The feeling of being in control that a private vehicle gives one changes one's perceptions and evaluations a lot. A driver-less car will probably not offer that illusion, and we collectively love that illusion.

Interestingly enough, the article attached to this other current HN post (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3329676) points out how much we humans hate passive, helpless waiting, and how we tend to exaggerate its severity.

Mass transit mostly fails to avoid all the same things you mentioned; to the extent it doesn't (trains) it exaggerates the other problems (drops you off far from your destination). Also, half the problems you mentioned go away with driverless cars.

So, no, I disagree entirely.

Mass transit mostly fails to avoid all the same things you mentioned...

But... so what? This isn't about private cars vs. mass transit. This is about unthinkingly exaggerating the virtues of private cars. We all do it, all the time.

...half the problems you mentioned go away with driverless cars.

That's what was claimed about parkways, thruways, expressways, and later about the interstate freeways, and none of those problems have in fact gone away at all.

The main point is convenience. Limos are shared resources, but no one complains about not having access to their glove box when riding in one, because they're so awesomely convenient and the level of service is spectacular.

This is where car-sharing services of the past didn't go. They went with the cheapskate (why have a car payment?) enviro-friendly (share cars) route. I think of a driverless pod service as on-demand limo service, with the potential to be at a price that's cheaper than owning your car.

Still wanna hear the roar of your motor on the open freeway? Sure go ahead! There are plenty of people who enjoy riding horses too! I don't think either of these "hobbies" are going to go away and I wouldn't ever want them to either.

My point about the glove box was regrettably unclear; it's not about "access to my stuff" so much as it's about "insulation from other people's stuff." In a shared car, the dirty Kleenex you find under the seat will be someone else's dirty Kleenex, not yours or your spouse's or your child's.

I'm not standing up for cars here. I'm not a motoring enthusiast. I simply think that the reason cars have been adopted so widely is because of the way their particulars fit together with human psychology, specifically with issues of control and self-esteem.

I agree with your points, except I don't agree with 'irrationally resisted'. If we take it at face value that someone does something (ie, own their own car) with clear alternatives available (ie, using shared cars) the behaviour is rational. It mightn't seem right on a cost-per-mile basis, but then it just shows that people place value in other things above and beyond cost-per-mile.

Wanting to own your own car even though it is more expensive than the alternatives is no different to wanting to buy designer clothes at 10 times the price of wal-mart offerings. You might call them irrational, but clearly the person making the free choice finds value in the proposition, thereby, as far as they are concerned, it is rational. In fact, we hear people rationalising it all the time.

No more "I can't drink tonight I'm the driver" excuses - our society is doomed!

I do hope car companies will switch to using truck-quality bearings on cars. Trucks are more like airplanes in that respect, they easily do a million miles and spend a lot of their time on the road.

I think that will happen automatically. The market would change: cars would be bought more and more by companies providing them to others for a fee, like with trains and airplanes. With the current logistical problem of car-sharing out of the way (specifically: the labor costs associated with a driver and the risks that human poses to the car), that becomes viable very quickly. Those companies would differentiate between cars on different criteria than current consumers and would demand higher quality, longer-lived cars. Car manufacturers will have to adjust.

To say change to truck (I assume you mean the Heavy Goods Vehicle, rather than the pickup variety) quality bearings is a vast simplification. Cars manufactures over the years have been striving to reduce the cost of producing cars, the weight (improving performance and efficiency) and reducing the maintenance requirements of their cars.

This means we have things like sealed ball joints which can't be lubricated, spark-plugs which are expected to last for 75,000 miles, gearboxes without sump bolts as the oil 'never' needs changing and sealed units which cannot be opened and/or put back together without specialized tooling.

Trucks on the other hand are expected to have a very regular maintenance schedule with lubrication points (or complex single point lubrication), the weight of the vehicle parts is smaller in comparison to the load meaning there is little incentive to reduce weight (and even counter productive in low traction situations). They also have a much higher millage expectation within their expected lifespan and so are designed accordingly.

Well, having driverless cars will make maintenance more feasible too. I mean, if your car needs servicing, you can go to work, then send your car off to the mechanic's while you're at work. If it's something minor (like an oil change, or fluid replacement), the car'll be back by the time you're done working.

"I like how HN is often first to criticize, but sometimes you're just missing the point."

Welcome to the internet. Not sure how long you've been here but anything posted publicly will get criticized and torn apart regardless of where it's posted.

I can't help thinking this guy is reinventing the bus.

Buses have problems with aggregation, they don't go exactly where you want to go and you have to stop the bus whenever one of the passengers wants to get off or one. Also, you might have to share it with crazy people ranting at you.

Driverless cars cut down on most of the downsides of public transportation, but they do lose the fuel efficiency.

> you might have to share it with crazy people ranting at you.

god help us if we are forced to spend time with other people in the world who are not like us...

People who are just different than me I can deal with. Its when some drunk guy falls over when the train accelerates, assumes he was pushed, and starts screaming at the woman who was behind him and telling her that he's going to put a bullet in her head that makes me think I might be reluctant to use public transportation if I wasn't a relatively burly guy.

I can't disagree with the circumstance, but I don't like the implicit assumption that public transport is always destined to be this way (whilst driverless cars might revolutionise their own sector). IMHO every city that loathes public transport (and because of this they generally don't put the money into providing a safe, accessible, and attractive service) suffers greatly for it, both financially and culturally...

A couple of comments:

And if cars are receiving 20 times more actual use, that would imply that there would be 20 times less cars sold

Actually, no it wouldn't. If cars are getting 20 times more use they will wear out much more quickly than they do now. That means cars will have to be replaced much more frequently. There would be fewer cars sold than there are now, but it wouldn't be 20x fewer.

The operating percent of a car will go from 4% to that 96%

This seems wildly optimistic to me. The driverless cars may be capable of driving around 96% of the time, but that doesn't mean they can be carrying people 96% of the time. No matter how efficient the system, if there are enough cars to handle peak traffic during the day, then a lot of those cars will be sitting around doing nothing at night.

If cars are getting 20 times more use they will wear out much more quickly than they do now.

Existing cars, if driven 20 times as much, would wear out 20 times more quickly, like taxicabs do now.

But it's also possible that cars would simply be built with more reliable components and more durable materials, like current aircraft and public transit vehicles are.

It's not cost-effective to build an ultra-reliable car that's sitting idle 96% of the time, but the economics would surely change if the utilization rate is much higher.

The thing is, taxis _don't_ wear out as fast as you'd think.

I remember talking to an old-school cab driver a while back, when I noticed his odo had ~650,000km (~400k miles) on it. We chatted a bit about it, and when I asked "So how long do cabs last" he said "3 good crashes." It doesn't which of the locally popular cab models you buy and it doesn't matter how far you drive them - you might need to fit a reconditioned diff or gearbox or even motor, but all of that is "routine maintenance" from his point of view. Its after the third time you've crunched it hard into something that it's time to get rid of it...

Yeah, but if you replace the diff, gearbox, and motor, how much of the cab is really left (mechanically speaking)? Replacing the engine is, from an engine-maker's perspective, the same as buying a new car.

Yeah, but from the cab owners perspective, $600 for a reconditioned diff or $1200 for a reco motor is a lot less hassle/expense than $40k for a new car, then getting all the cab-specific fitout done to it...

(Yeah, that's what the base model cars used for cabs cost here. Google Holden Commodore or Ford Falcon prices. New car prices in Australia seem stupidly high to people used to American car prices...)

Expect prices for diffs and motors to increase by an order of magnitude if the OP's vision comes true.

Why the downvotes? I'm serious. If cars start lasting 600k+ miles and are shared by multiple drivers and families, car companies will ‘need’ to recoup their losses. Expect prices of car components (the stuff that wears out) to skyrocket, and patent litigation to get rid of the after-market/3rd-party compatible components.

I don't think you even have to imagine any malice or profit-protection on the part of the manufacturer to see that.

The simple fact that current cheaper parts are going to be replaced with higher-quality parts is going to cause a corresponding rise in maintenance and replacement costs.

Maybe. Keep n mind these's a lot of parts of a differential (or motor) that _dont_ need replacing when reconditioning. In a diff, there's maybe 9 bearings, the pinion and crownwheel, and maybe the 4 spur gears. If you start with an undamaged but worn out diff, replacing those parts effectively gives you a brand new diff. The bearings are standard industrial parts worth maybe $40 or $50 ( at retail prices) and the auto manufacturers can't affect the cost/margin on them. The crownwheels, pinions, and spur gears are already all available from aftermarket manufacturers for any model likely to be used as a cab (at least here in Australia).

cars wear out from two things 1) age 2) use A car, left sitting in the driveway for 30 years, unused and unmaintained, is unlikely to work very well or for very long. Rubber components like hoses, wire insulation, weather stripping etc become brittle and break.

As some other posters mention, cabs with 650,000 miles are not unheard of. I had a Toyota Landcruiser with 450,000km on the second engine, over 900,000km on the body.

A car that got 20x use would not wear out 20x as fast because a large part of a car wearing out is just age, not miles.

Here's a story about a guy (a friend of my brother) who put a million miles on a Honda accord:


He took extremely good care of it.

There's a Volkswagen Gol here in Uruguay with a million kilometers, and it's not an unheard-of amount

Cars are the most expensive in the world here, so we tend to keep then way long past their expiration date - as an example, I own a 1994 Maruti with 200.000 km, they aren't designed to last that long ! Japanese cars are the most coveted because they do last a million kilometers if cared for properly.

Sadly, there's a ban on used car imports (The vice-president's campaign was funded by the new cars importer association).

A million kilometers is considerably less than a million miles. A million kilometers is about 621 thousand miles. That's a lot, but it's much less than a million miles.

Do you seriously believe there is any regular reader of Hacker News that doesn't know that a kilometre is less than a mile?

With my comment, I just wanted to add one more anecdotal point :)

I'm aware of the difference between miles and km (though I instinctively tend to minimize it and believe the difference is less than it really is)

I know of that Volkswagen because a million km is headline-grabbing here (on the "anecdotes" section), there are probably cars with a million miles but 1,609,344 km is not a headline-significant number, much like 621,371 miles isn't for the US.

(This is more in response to Sunbeam)

I did actually find this quite helpful, as a Canadian I usually gloss over the km/mile conversion with a nice 1 km ~= 1 mile, as with most things you talk about (speed < 60, distances less than 100) the difference is fairly miniscule (and handwavey!). I didn't realize 1million miles is only 621,000 km! Thanks from an ignorant Canadian :)

As another Canadian, it's annoying to have you link your ignorance to your nationality. I'm confident that the vast majority of Canadians know that a mile is, very roughly, around 50% longer than a kilometer.

And if you think the difference is miniscule in normal usage, you just try driving 59 MILES per hour on a city street with a 50km/h limit, and see how the cops feel about that. (I say 59 because my lived experience is that everyone drives 10 over, and the cops don't ticket at 9 over; your city may vary)

Or try estimating when you're going to arrive at a meeting that's 100 MILES away on the highway, when you think "oh, 100 km, I can go 110 on the highway, plus the time to get out the door, call it an hour".

Even at walking speeds, 2 miles of walking is going to feel different than 2 km of walking.

Edit: PS, who's Sunbeam?

Whether urban legend or not, supposedly there's a mercedes "million miles" club. They did famously buy back a mercedes that had over 2 million miles on the clock that's in their museum now

It's not isolated to Mercedes either

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Car_longevity

Rust qualifies somewhat under #2, but not completely. Rust isn't 100% preventable in some areas. I live in Michigan and because we use salt on our roads, if you're not washing the vehicle (along with the undercarriage in particular), you will inevitably get rust. On my last vehicle the engine mounts (which were part of the frame -- unibody) rusted. There was pretty much no way to fix the car soundly. If I had washed the underbody frequently enough I could have saved it, but there is a cost associated with that as well.

I recently saw something pointing out another wrinkle about taxis -- per mile, their engines go between hot and cold a whole lot less, so there's less stress from thermal expansion. Once they're on, they pretty much stay on for at least the driver's normal workday.

I don't know how much difference this actually makes, but common knowledge amongst the people I know seems to be that the most stressful time for a normal engine is starting up.

It's not just common knowledge, it's the truth. And it makes a huge difference.

When an engine starts up, all the oil is sitting in the bottom. In a good condition engine, the oil pump starts giving meaningful pressure the moment the starter turns, and starts pumping fresh oil throughout the engine.

However, when cold, an engine has the wrong tolerances to account for when the materials heat up and the materials expand. So the oil pressure isn't quite right.

As the engine ages this problem gets worse, so each startup cycle gets progressively worse. This is why a car with a worn engine will show the 'oil pressure' light for an increasingly long time after it's started.

The length of service life for an engine will come down to a) operating hours (not just distance) b) operator abuse (revving while cold, excessive RPMs throughout use) c) service attention (oil changes, filter changes, coolant changes) d) duty cycles (how many times it heats up and down).

The worst thing you can do for a car is a lot of short trips with a big enough spacing to let the engine cool, and aggressive driving while the engine is still cold.

An F1 engine is seized when cold, it requires several hours of warm water and oil to be pumped around to bring up the metals to the operating temperature.

Modern engines can go a very long way if cared for properly.

> Existing cars, if driven 20 times as much, would wear out 20 times more quickly

Citation needed. I don't think they would.

You're right, instead of "would" I should've said "might". I was taking the parent's assumption as a given for argument's sake.

I think it's safe to assume that cars driven 20 times as much wear out somewhere faster then the normal rate, but less then 20 times as fast. Some of the wear is due to time, some due to thermal cycling (turning on and off, which happens a lot less for the high-use vehicle) and only some is linear with use.

If cars are getting 20 times more use they will wear out much more quickly than they do now.

This is just a matter of the practical design choices. Any machinery that is in heavy use usually gets fitted, appropriately, with more robust set of parts which last many times longer before wearing out.

Current consumer cars have bearings, joints, and moving parts that are carefully optimized to match the expected usage pattern (which is mostly idle) for a designated period of time and nothing more. That's why older cars can sometimes run for ages. Decades ago we didn't know how to make extremely light-weight parts from least amount of steel with a calculable expiry time of, for example, 40 thousand miles so engineers had to fit cars with slightly heavier and more expensive parts to make sure they didn't break too easily. Think about fitting bearings and joints from a heavy van into a light Japanese small car. Or consider old 70's-80's Saabs and Volvos that can last nearly forever.

Likewise for fluids and lubrication, it's easier to clock high mileages with a car that is mostly in use throughout the day rather than with one that is used a couple of times a day for commuting. The engine wearout is at its peak during the first miles after a cold start.

Also, the 1970s and 1980s were a low point for cars in general -- lots of new environmental regulations were kicking in (including a whale oil issue which was discussed on hacker news), causing objectively worse reliability for many cars in the 1970s and 1980s vs. the 1950s and 1960s. By the late 1990s the Japanese and German manufacturers seem to have resolved things, and by the 1990s, the US automakers.

Yes, cars may still sit around doing nothing at night, but the number of cars for peak traffic will drop significantly because of the gains in utilization. Imagine you want to ride share with your friends, one car will ferry people to and fro the highway which will be almost impeccably timed with your friends arrival at a waiting area just off the freeway. You'll get in the car and continue to work, after you arrive at work that car will go pickup someone in the city who works a bit later and grab a couple of their friends on the way.

When you combine this technology with social networks and mobile the improvements to efficiency, cost, and quality of life will be astounding. This isn't going to be an overnight thing but I see this kind of thing becoming prevalent probably 5 to 10 years after the first driverless cars become publicly available.

Driverless cars would be worth it simply for the reduction in drunk driving.

Driverless cars would be awesome simply for the increase in drunk driving. This is a really good point actually, you could go out for the night and still drive home.

Drink driving laws have had a huge negative impact on country living in rural Ireland, where the main social outlet is the local pub, and there isn't a taxi in the village.

I was thinking along these lines on a similar thread recently. The particular thread implied that the cost would be much lower, because there was no driver involved. I agree that it would be lower, but not orders of magnitude lower, because the demand shape will be exactly the same - or even more pronounced.

My hypothesis is that the driver is probably about 10-20% of the cost of a fare, the rest is the capital cost of the vehicle + licensing fees + insurance, and the marginal cost of maintenance and fuel. Because inevitably cars sit around most of the time, then the price of 5-6 busy hours of the day has to make up for the rest of the time.

Further, with a disruptive business idea like this, I could easily see an auction-style interface for the vehicle booking, which would give a much better revenue curve (we are talking about Google). In that case, the peak-demand period would probably exceed the current (regulated) taxi fares. But the plus side of that is that a midnight ride would be very cheap due to lack of demand and simultaneous lack of a need to pay drivers more money to work nightshifts.

"that a midnight ride would be very cheap"

Except possibly around whatever local time the bars close.

Well, if you make the mistake of simultaneous closing times, yes.

One other benefit would be that (hopefully) cheaper late night rides would cut down on drink driving.

Not to mention the immediate efficiency hit of the car driving empty between rides.

I wonder what sort of population density and usage pattern you'd need before that worked in your favour?

If my apartment complex had a few dozen cars shared between a few hundred apartments, perhaps the car I take to go shopping could pick up the next door kid from soccer on the way back, then a different car might pick me up at the shops when I'm done, after dropping some other neighbour at the movies...

(I guess I'm now describing taxis. I wonder what the difference between this, and a taxi network of driverless cars is?)

Responding to my own comment here...

Anybody got both Travis Kalanick and Elon Musk's numbers in their speed dial?

What if a "disrupt the cab industry" company got together with a "low moving part, high reliability electric car maker" to do an end-run around the expected auto industry opposition...

A fleet of driverless electric taxis, all routed by smartphone apps and behavioural prediction...

Then, when everybody is impressed with how well they work, you start selling fleets of them to Apple/Google/Oracle/SouthBayTechFirmDeJour - every evening a train of autonomous cars starts arriving and emptying out your campus 4 people per car heading for nearby/on-the-way destinations, all of a sudden those 20 hectares of parking lot can become cube farms or data centres...

During the middle of the day and all night, you lease the capacity to FedEx or UPS...

As long as we're hitting this one out the ballpark we can imagine all the online services getting in on the action: like the OKCupid speed date commute, the Yelp surprise me whats for dinner restaurant ride, or the Groupon deal of the day carpool.

Limited range cars with long recharge times would be a poor operating fit for economics that favor high utilization. There'd be too much downtime during peak times of day.

Maybe it could be coupled with swappable battery pack stations that the autotaxis could visit to get a freshly charged pack. A geographically focused taxi company could have the financial resources to invest in the battery depot, which would also solve the standardization problem.

Sorry, that's been solved. There are efforts to implementing this exact network of fuelling stations (battery swapping) for electric cars, and Better Place is a shining example from Isreal:



On the other hand, if you find yourself running low on juice, either because you're on a long trip or because you didn't plan ahead, it's not a problem. You just swap cars like the Pony Express swapped horses.

Lower utilization is balanced by lower energy costs than gasoline (but you're right, swappable batteries would help too).

Perhaps a revenue opportunity for cash-strapped cities?

If we stop owning cars and the communal ones we use drive themselves home, we'll stop putting money in parking meters.

Replace the parking meters with charging stations...

Bright Automotive is doing fleet vehicles, not a huge step away.


And I assume you will install and deinstall the carseat each time? A huge portion of cars are used to transport kids, and it's not practical to remove the carseat each time.

You can't have a car with a loaner carseats either since they have to be individually adjusted to the kid.

Every single time people talk about cars, and public transportation they always forget about kids. I see it over and over. Come on people - expand your worldview a little.

I would expect that eventually the safety of automated cars will far exceed current levels and therefore child car seats won't be required in the same way that no-one uses a car seat on a train (or even a bus actually, which is presumably much more dangerous than a train)

This just opens the market up to build a carseat that solves this problem. How about a regular seat that can be folded out or transformed into a seat suitable for children?

Where I live, a certain percentage of taxis have big trunks, for people with baggage (they can request that when they call for it).

Why not have a percentage of driverless cars pre-equipped with carseats? You'd just have to configure once the age of your kids, then when you call a car (using e.g. a smartphone app), you just say for who it is ("Siri, I need a car for john, mary and me") and the right type will come.

The car seat needs to be individually adjusted, especially for younger kids (different heights needs the straps in different slots, although the fine tuning can often be done on the spot).

And you're going to need every combination of ages, people have more than one child.

There are approximately 10 different car seat configurations for the various age ranges (5 actual car seats). And assuming up to 3 kids would require 1000 different cars.

There is rear facing (with 3 heights), front facing strapped (4 heights), front facing buckled, booster, and booster without back. (Although many car seats can handle 2 types in one seat. But it requires you to reinstall it.)

     5 actual car seats
Are current parents really buying 5 car seats as their kid grows up?

They buy 3 since virtually all can convert between two levels (any two adjacent levels). A rare (and expensive and heavy) few can do 3 levels in one.

But converting the seat requires rethreading the straps and other adjustments - it can take an hour to install some types if you are not familiar with it.

I'm not sure how it applies to other countries, but here at least you have to have special car seats for all children until they're aged 12. It's insane, but that's the fabulous new law they enacted. So, yeah in some cases, some parents really are buying that many seats.

So people with kids buy a car, and rent it out when they're not planning to use it for a few hours.

this doesn't sound like a show stopper to me... simply an opportunity for someone to invent a one-size-fits-all car seat :)

Considering that there are 5 different types of car seats, and they can be adjusted to about 10 different configurations that's not going to be an easy task.

The people who design car seats these days know that their customers would rather spend an hour rethreading/reinstalling their car seat every six months than spend over $200 on the seat. But if there were a large fleet of shared cars on the road, and if some entrepreneur came out with a $1000 car seat that could be readjusted in seconds for a child of any size, then the owners of the fleet would have an incentive to loan out those seats along with the cars.

> if there are enough cars to handle peak traffic during the day I got the image of cars migrating across the Eurasia, taking Chinese to work, then Indians, then Middle-easterns, etc.

(cough) Public transport (cough)


As the efficiency with which a resource is used increases, the tendency is to use more of it rather than less.

Concretely, if I don't have to drive the car myself, I wouldn't hesitate to drive anywhere. I'd go to the city every day if I could read on the way, and sleep on the way home.

With shared resources, this might not be the case.

Today, car owners have already spent $x on their cars -- so they have an incentive to use their investment to the fullest.

Compare that with a shared-car system like ZipCar. ZipCar is generally much more efficient than owning a vehicle (if you don't use it to commute) -- however, since you pay per hour, you have an incentive to skip the car when it's not necessary.

By removing the sunk-costs of ownership, you could incentivize conservation rather than consumption.

Maybe - I wonder just how elastic the miles-traveled vs convenience curve is.

There is surely an upper bound to how much traveling any person wants to do. If it were 5% more convenient for me to travel by car, I _might_ travel 5% more, but I couldn't see myself traveling 50% or 100% more no matter _how_ convenient you could make that travel.

With ZipCar, you have to first get to the car, and then also get back from the car. For most people, the car they own is in their driveway or parking spot.

With a model more like Car2Go (pick up the car wherever you can find one, leave it wherever you want to) this isn't as much of an issue. In Austin there's pretty much always a car within a few blocks... almost "driveway-level" accessibility.

And if even 10% of drivers switch to using this model, then there's always going to be a car on your block. That's pretty competitive.

With driverless cars it's even less of an issue, because the car will literally drive from the end of the block (where it's waiting) to your door.

Thanks, I wasn't aware of Car2Go. Their price rates http://www.car2go.com/sandiego/en/affordable-rates/ might give a good idea about how expensive using a driverless car would be if it existed today.

Assuming, that the San Diego prices can be applied to Francisco, it seems like taking such a car from downtown to the airport would be about the same as the BART subway. I assume, that would be too expensive for a daily commute.

> With ZipCar, you have to first get to the car, and then also get back from the car.

But with a self-driving car, you'd skip both steps. Instead, you'd ask for the car and step out in your driveway when you get an alert that it's here.

I know. I am illustrating why conclusions about ZipCar aren't going to apply 100% to a self-driving car.

With a self driving car, it would be like a taxi. It would come to your driveway when you need it.

Well fuel is still not free. In the U.K. at least you would hesitate due to the high cost (much lower in U.S.).

There's another unintended effect I haven't seen talked about anywhere: when cars no longer require human drivers, the cost of driving in human terms (time, frustration, danger) will be drastically reduced, but the energy cost will only be reduced by a small amount. The logical consequence of this is that cars will be doing a lot more driving and as a society we will spend a lot more energy on transportation overall.

My assumption here is that when we have driverless cars, they wont be purchased by individuals but a few global providers will emerge that will provide those cars as a service (similar to how we only have few rental car companies, or how ZipCar is a leader in its field or how Uber is becoming a single provider of taxi-like service).

In that scenario, both the cost of cars and cost of energy (gas or electric) will have direct negative impact on their revenues so they will have a very strong economic incentive to drive down that cost.

A single buyer isn't well informed and isn't very rational, so a nice shape of the car might be more important than mpg mileage. Our hypothetical provider would, however, consider it one of the most important characteristics.

Combine that with a great purchasing power of such provider. If they buy 10000 cars and they want high mpg, you can be sure that car companies will spend most of their effort on increasing mpg.

Why wouldn't driverless cars be purchased by individuals?

I want one and I have money - when they're available, why wouldn't I be able to buy one?

Are you suggesting that I won't want to? I'm skeptical - the convenience of being able to use something whenever I want trumps cost. Or are you suggesting that I won't be able to?

Consider all the downsides of owning a car:

1. You have to change oil, tires and make all the other repairs.

2. You have to pay for insurance.

3. You have to pay for parking. In SF parking alone can cost you $100/month (I mean if you don't own a house with a garage (which will take you back $1 million); I don't think most rental apartments come with parking spaces so you either have to stress out about finding a parking space for the night close to where you live or pay for parking spot).

4. Parking while driving in the city. If you need to drive somewhere and stay there, you have to find parking, which, in SF, is not easy to do. A rented car just drives you to where you need to go and then goes of to pick up the next customer. When you want to get back, you summon another car.

5. What if you want go skiing for the weekend and need snow tires? Would you rather put snow tires yourself or summon a car that has them?

I'm in SF and I already use my car so rarely that its battery died on me. I do ZipCar but it doesn't cover a lot of scenarios that, while not frequent, do happen and the requirement that you need to return the car to where you took it from makes it non starter for short trips within city.

If there was a service where I could just summon a car anytime, it would be cheap enough to work as a taxi replacement but also for longer trips, I wouldn't buy a car.

Cars are much more than solutions to a transport problem. They are status symbols, personal identities, an extension of ones castle. It will take a very long time, perhaps never, for most people to adopt a taxi/public transport route.

I'd very happily own a driverless car. Even better will be when I take it out of driverless mode in the rural roads. It would be able to take itself to get its oil/ires serviced,to be recharged and to park somewhere cheap and out of the way. Bring it on.

Cars are status symbols in large part because they are advertised as such. If people buy fewer cars you will see a lot less car advertising which will directly reduce the status symbol effect.

See: Pocket watches > wrist watches > cell phones.

I believe the idea is that with time, it won't make fiscal sense. The first wave of these will be bought in small part by early adopting owners but more likely by small-time transit / freight companies looking to save a buck.

Once it's a proven small-scale model, larger transit and freight systems will start using them; I'd expect ZipCar and Uber and similar services to jump on it. At this time, more and more people would be buying their own driverless car.

Now picture 20 years down the road. You're a young person who can't afford a car. Do you get a job to pay to buy a car, or do you use a service like ZipCar? Fast forward 5 years, you've got a job and you could afford a car. Do you buy one to give you "added convenience"? That's what ZipCar will have to beat. If they can get a car to you by the time you're outside your house, they are actually beating personally owned vehicles, and the closer to that they get, the less likely it is people will purchase vehicles.

It's mostly because no-one will pay $5k extra for a car that they perceive to be a worse driver than themselves, but a better driver than a taxi driver.

Do people seriously consider themselves better drivers than the people who actually drive cars for a living?

Certainly they do, but of course, they would think so. Still, I'd argue that this is not even that crazy. At least in San Francisco, I vastly prefer to ride with just about any colleague I've ever met than the local taxi drivers, based on these criteria:

- comfort while riding (lack of abrupt motions requiring me to brace myself)

- courtesy to other drivers and pedestrians

- actual number of traffic accidents (colleagues: 0, taxis: 2, although fortunately both accidents were mainly property damage rather than serious injury... but still)

There have been many studies that show that the large majority of people consider themselves "better than average" drivers. It is called Lake Woebegone effect or Illusory superiority - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_woebegone_effect

Yes, but professional drivers are not "average".

Planes are extra expensive because only coorporations buy them. There isn't infrastructure to sell them to individuals. That raises the price and difficulty of buying them, and also makes it a more sound political strategy to make stricter laws requiring airplane safety, which further makes it inconvenient to operate your own plane.

Some very rich people still own private jets, but it's rarer than it would be if more people were rich.

I want one and I have money - when they're available, why wouldn't I be able to buy one?

I think you would, but the conventional wisdom around owning your own car would along the lines of the current CW surrounding owning your own aircraft: it would be something for wealthy enthusiasts, not the general public.

He's suggesting that when you can open an app on your phone and (for the vast majority of the population in non rural areas) get a car to your door within 5 minutes, there won't be a connivence gap.

Actually the energy used would be reduced by quite a bit. They can drive in formation. This reduces energy expended by reducing drag. It also reduces congestion. It is estimated that congestion wastes 2.4B gallons of gasoline in the US [1]. They can take alternate routes. And if we get smart traffic signals, then they wont have to stop as often by coordinating speed with the flow system. Not to mention eliminating people flooring it out of frustration.

[1] http://dsc.discovery.com/cars-bikes/do-driverless-cars-offer...

This sounds to me like the Jevons Paradox.


interesting link, do you think this increased use could go hand in hand with increased efficiency? think about it. if every car drove optimally, they would meet their planned MPG. Now no one gets the listed MPG as they all drive like, well humans.

The point here is that very efficient driverless cars may encourage more travel than driver cars do. The increase in total miles travelled may more than offset the savings for any given passenger mile.

The key to the Jevons paradox is that first order estimates of the effects of efficiency are misleading. You must also give regard to how the increased efficiency will change buyer preferences.

Computers that communicate could draft really well at highway speeds, and get awesome MPG. They also would rarely need to brake.

While this concept sounds amazing to me, lets not forget that we are not the majority. I just got off the phone with a relative who hates taking a plane, they would rather drive 24 hours to their destination. I consider this concept to be pure insanity, but i don't think this is limited to a small portion of the populous. There is much more at play in the mind of the 'average American(in this case)' than efficiency and 'the car will drive for me'. The lack of a feeling of person control is not among the lesser of these issues.

i don't think this is limited to a small portion of the populous.

I do that.

But it's not because I hate planes but I've got three kids. Airfare for five to visit grandma in Virginia is prohibitive compared to the cost of driving.

I'm not a nut about it: if it's just my wife and I, we fly.

But on those long drives especially, I'd love a car to do the driving.

I like driving and make no apology for it. I love to set off and drive for a 1000 miles or more. I enjoy driving to no particular destination in particular. It's no more or less rational than liking golf or playing computer games.

While I suspect you're right in that the # of miles driven would increase, I suspect that automated hypermiling would more than compensate for it, leading to a net decrease in energy usage.

I doubt it. How much more efficient do you think automated cars would be? Now think about all the people who will decide to live farther from work because they can work (or play!) on their commute, all the people who will take long overnight road trips while sleeping in the car, all the cars that will drive empty from place to place for various reasons, and most of all the businesses that will all have free automated delivery. I could easily see all that resulting in a 5-10x increase in car-miles driven.

How much more efficient do you think automated cars would be?

Potentially a lot. In a 100% automated environment you don't need stop lights and traffic jams are substantially reduced. But yeah, I agree that the increased use resulting from greater convenience would outweigh that.

The cars could easily be routed to pick up multiple people, you could even put up partitions so they didn't have to interact with each other.

Also there's no reason why we need to keep the concept of a 4-5 passenger sedan. 10 passenger vans could be viable.

>free automated delivery

could be routed so that it's delivered to you by the car that's coming to pick you up in the morning to take you to work.

There's also no reason non-passenger vehicles couldn't be ultra efficient 35mph crawlers.

By taking the driver out of the equation we can drastically our definition of a car.

I assure you that people will pay extra not to ride in 10-passenger vans, and, in fact, not to share their car with anyone.

Why, with no need to maintain driver visibility, you could easily divide the seating into private compartments.

This. A 3 hour commute would not be a big deal if you could sleep/get online/watch tv/do most of the stuff you would do at home. Commutes would also be shorter, all else being equal, since near-optimal automated driving would mean fewer traffic jams.

You'd find automated commuters living way out of town in areas that are currently nearly uninhabited. There probably aren't many places in the lower 48 that are too far from a medium-to-large city to commute with automated driving.

Road trips would also be easier - you'd have to be in a pretty big hurry to pay for an airline ticket when you can go 1500 miles or so in 24 hours with no effort, and without the need to pay for a hotel.

This is already possible, until recently, my commute was 1.5 hours (each way) in which I would normally sleep or read, and occasionally watch TV. It wasn't a big deal, but I wouldn't have wanted to go much further, and there's no way I'd have gone twice that far.

It's still rare for people to commute that far on a daily basis. Everyone I know who travels more than about 2 hours from home to work tends to take weekday lodgings within walking distance of work.

A 3 hour commute will always be a big deal, because even if you work a strict 8 hour day, never staying late, that means that 14 hours out of 24 are spent away from home. If 8 of those remaining 10 are spent sleeping, you now have 2 hours left in which to indulge in any kind of leisure or childcare activity. Not everything can be done on the move - I can't imagine it being very likely that you'll be able to go for a swim or play rugby or cricket whilst travelling to and from work.

>you'd have to be in a pretty big hurry to pay for an airline ticket

That probably wouldn't result in a large net increase in total fuel consumption.

According to wikipedia the average commercial jet gets 49 passenger miles per gallon. It wouldn't be to hard to get that out of a driverless vehicle, add a second passenger and you're twice as fuel efficient as an airplane.

Even if you get more passenger miles, there might still be an increase due to more total trips taken. Imagine if you could get off work on Friday, head out at 7 PM and make 600 miles by dawn while still getting a good night's sleep. You have the weekend to do what you want, and then Sunday night you sleep through the drive home, and are ready to go back to work Monday morning. I'd probably take a road trip twice a month. As it is, I wouldn't consider going 600 miles unless I had at least 5 days off, which essentially means once a year.

That is a possibility. But I imagine that when driverless cars become ubiquitous, most people won't own them.

If you did want to pay for a car to swing by your house to pick you up, it probably wouldn't be a car, but something more like a small bus with sleeping compartments that could pick up and drop off people along the way.

If you could fit 10 people along most of the route (and you could assuming it was between 2 moderately populated areas and road trips were as common as they probably would be), your passenger miles per gallon would be incredibly high.

Given that this doesn't happen today and that subtracting the cost of the driver isn't going to reduce the overall cost of such a trip significantly, I really don't see that happening. The biggest benefit for bus-like operations is not needing to have driver rest time, but lack of flexibility is still going to push people to their own private transport.

Combine driverless cars with maglev trains that can combine multiple cars into one long train with individual cars coming and going, and you may have something. I'm not holding my breath that I'll see anything like that in my lifetime. Transportation infrastructure in the US has gone nowhere in my nearly 40 years; I don't expect a great deal of change (to the infrastructure) in the next.

> subtracting the cost of the driver isn't going to reduce the overall cost of such a trip significantly

I'll calculate the costs 10 passenger van, if you could work it out so that it gets an average of 40 mph for say 20 hours out of the day. That's about 300,000 miles per year divided by 20 miles per gallon that's 15,000 gallons of fuel. At $4 dollars per gallon thats $60,000 per year in fuel costs.

I'll assume another $60,000 per year in maintenance and depreciation (this is probably high b/c you can buy a new large passenger van for under $30,000)

We're at $110,000 in variable costs so far.

Now at $30,000 per year per driver in total costs (could be less, could be more depending on area)

Driver works 40 hours per week with sick time and vacation time. You'll need around 5 drivers in order to keep the van operational 24 hours per day.

That's $150,000--more than half of the total costs.

There are also other factors to consider. Drivers, don't want to operate that far from home, so you have to pay more.

You have to set up a logistical solution so that you can refresh the driver every 6-8 hours. That means depots where you can exchange them.

I'd say there would be significant cost savings.

But if less people have cars (say every 10 people share a single car), then the energy used to build cars diminishes.

The energy used to make a car is dwarfed by the energy it uses on the road over its lifetime.

That's one car. What about the 10 cars this car is representing, if it's right that 10 people share the same car? (a la zipcar).

It would be good to get the data about energy consumption for car building, to answer this.

Given the current (and undoubtedly soon aggravating) energy crisis, on the contrary energy cost will probably be the limiting factor in most human activities in the coming decades, therefore shared cars will be making even more sense.

According to the wikipedia article, if we decide that the decide that increased energy (or road space etc.) use is a bad thing we can fix Jevon's paradox with taxation on car use.

Road space shouldn't be a problem, from studies I've read with increased speed and traffic density that come from driverless cars you could fit several times more traffic on the current roads.

This is why I hope Google will license their technology only to all-electric cars. Both technologies are disruptive, and they might as well hit 2 birds with one stone.

Electric cars might not become the norm for another decade. The technology is still nascent and it will improve significantly over the next decade.

Also, why would you want to restrict an improvement that could benefit gas powered cars too? A self-driving car would probably be more efficient than a human driver. Fewer traffic jams would be less wasted fuel.

If every car is driven sutomatically, cars can be driven much more efficiently, since there won't be any need for stop signs or traffic lights in the current form. Cars can just coordinate that one car slows down a little and one car speeds up a little. The only reasonfor card to stop will be pedestrians. Of course I assume that there will be only driverless cars. I am fairly sure that human driven cars will be illegal in less than 20 years. Most accidents will be caused by human driven cats which will lead to a ban. I also predict that the US will be one of the last western countries to ban human driven cars

     human driven cars will be illegal in less than 20 years
I think this is very unlikely. Maybe 20 years from the commercial introduction of driverless cars, or 10 years from when they are the default?

I'm not sure if anyone else has realized it yet, but driverless cars will have to be taxed on a time-on-road basis, rather than at a flat rate.

The reason? The economics of electric cars and parking.

Initially it seems that they will fix the parking problem - driverless cars can be sent to park outside the CBD, reducing traffic and freeing up space.

But the problem is that people/software will optimize for price, and for electric cars the cheapest scenario is for them to be stuck in a traffic jam on a public road.

Instead of going to a parking bay, the software will route them to the nearest traffic jam, where the car can sit with the electric motors off for a large amount of time. Inevitably, some software will misjudge how long their charge will last, their batteries will run flat and the traffic jam will get worse.

As far as I can see the only way around this is to increase the cost of being on the road.

Maybe not.

If you made it a flat fee, then it's kind of like runs-batted-in. The car has to get more people delivered to make money, so once it gets you to where you need to go as efficiently and quickly as possible, you get out and it speeds off to complete another fare.

Increasing road-cost would have the opposite effect, I think. If the cars make money just by being on the road and not by completing tasks, they lose the incentive to finish and jam-sitting becomes optimal.

Yes, I agree this could be an option.

But I'm not optimistic about the share-car thing, at least in cities without a strong existing public transport system. In most cities too many people travel at rush-hour, with unique route requirements (dropping kids at school etc).

Who exactly will do this? No major car company would risk their reputation selling a car with that programmed into its software.

Even if groups of hackers installed this on their cars, I can't imagine this movement gaining enough critical mass to honestly be a concern.

Who exactly will do this? No major car company would risk their reputation selling a car with that programmed into its software.

What's the risk, exactly?

Our car has an "ultra-economy mode" where the motor turns off when stationary - many cars already have this.

Our car can park itself - many cars already have this.

Our car will find a parking space, optimizing the route to and from the parking garage - that seems logical, why would a company not do that?

Our company will optimize the route to and from the parking garage, and the time spent in the garage vs on the road based on price vs economy of the car - why would a company not do that?

The problems only occurs when hundreds of cars independently make their own decision to drive as slowly as possible to and from the parking space.

(Edit: someone else pointed out that UPS routes their trucks to avoid left turns. This isn't too dissimilar to that - they do it to improve fuel economy, this would be done to improve costs too)

"Is GM causing massive gridlock to save Chevy owners a few pennies? Story at 11"

Bad press for all involved.

Fuel taxes already do this, while providing a strong incentive to run smaller and / or more efficient cars.

Roughly, 50% of my fuel bill is on direct taxation. That's it's primary tax cost, not the fixed annual license cost, and gives me a tax bill that's elastic by usage in exactly that way while also promoting efficiency.

Of course, best wishes to anyone trying persuade the average man in the street that this is A Good Thing....

You may have missed the bit about electric cars.

They can turn off their motors without losing any efficiency (which is why hybrids do so well on efficiency in city traffic). Depending on how slowly the traffic moves there will be a point where it is cheaper to stay in traffic (with the motor off x% of the time) compared to paying for parking.

Why the assumption that electricity for vehicular use will be taxed at the same rate as for domestic use when there's wide-scale adoption of electric cars? Red diesel, for agricultural use off-road, certainly isn't taxed at the same level as road use diesel in the UK.

Why are there going to be traffic jams? Computers are driving the cars. There's not going to be accidents anymore. There's not going to be that weird bottleneck effect where one sheepish person slows down to much and eventually everyone behind them stops.

There will still be traffic lights, bottlenecks, and for the foreseeable future there will still be conventional cars.

Driverless cars will still be limited by physics (their size and how fast they can accelerate). If car routing algorithms deliberately route cars to places where the traffic is slow (because they can loiter, saving on parking while using little power) then the traffic jams will be worse.

If we rebuilt the road system specifically for driverless cars maybe we could eliminate traffic jams. Otherwise...

In such a case, parking costs will reduce. Since the number of cars are expected to be lower if they are driverless, the amount of space required for parking will be less. It would also mean that expenditure on the prime real estate required would be less (marginal costs are higher, marginal decrease would hence be more benefitial) and that will result in cheaper parking.

Secondly, it also opens up the scope for private taxies. A person can allow his car to be utilized by a certain section of his peers - colleagues, neighbours etc for low prices - resulting in lower parking time.

It'd also be possible to double-park (triple, or more even), using less parking space. If the car in the middle needs to get out it can ask its neighbours (several levels deep) to shuffle around and make a path

Traffic lights have no purpose except for conventional cars. Driverless cars can just go through intersections whenever no vehicle needs to go through perpendicularly. All intersections would just work like four-way stops, minus the requirement to stop when not yielding to another vehicle, and with more batching and parallelism for efficiency rather than strict serialization.

Traffic lights have no purpose except for conventional cars.

Yes, and for the forseeable future there will be conventional cars, as well as bicycles and pedestrians.

Loitering can be easily avoided by taxing the time on public roads, possibly taxing more for the time the cars are empty and stay on public roads.

That was exactly my point.

What does CBD stand for?

Central Business District

Unfortunately there are a few assumptions being made here that don't really jive with car usage in practice. 96% usage? People's schedules aren't that flexible, my spouse and I commute at the same time to different places, and a large chunk of the people in my apartment do as well. This is known as rush hour.

Not to mention that driving places, without actually driving people places (ie, back home to drive the wife) effectively doubles the mileage, and thus my gas (or the energy source du jour's) consumption.

edit: Also, to build on the above comment, the benefit of having a car is having the freedom to use it when you want, it's always there. Driverless cars always in motion are basically public transit. Just take the bus/taxi/subway already.

>Driverless cars always in motion are basically public transit

Minus the cost of the driver.

The point of ubiquitous driverless cars, is that one could get to you so quickly that for all intents and purposes it would always be there.

Also they don't always have to be in motion. Just give people a discount on service if they let cars park in their driveways while waiting for instructions.

It is a tragic failure of imagination to believe that a driverless car will offer the same opportunities as a bus or subway. Yes, I'm sure there will be a public transit version of them. Yes, I'm sure that you'll occassionally have to reject one because there's a pool of vomit it in it. But, no, it'll be nothing like walking down the street for a bus, or, for a young woman, hailing a taxi driven by a stranger, at night.

Assuming usage does not go from 4% to 96% and he is only partially right, will there still be no interesting societal transformations along his outline due to an increase to, say, 50%?

Driverless cars are a great idea and I really want to see them succeed.

But I can see more than a few problems. As they say, there are entrenched interests that won't like that. For example, if you can rent cars that way, I don't see the people with those very expensive taxi medallions being any too happy about that. Yes, getting rid of that would be a good thing, but the people who own them won't be any too happy about the value of their investment vanishing.

Also, there's what happens with accidents. For example, look at that story we have right now about the autopilot flaking out for what? A minute? Only to have the pilots get confused and crash the plane. People underrate intentional risks because they feel that they have control. Conversely, they overrate risks where they do not have that feeling. Driverless cars are firmly in the "don't have control" pile. Sure, the computer is likely to be a much safer driver than most people, but that also means being a nicer driver (which will really piss off some people, passengers and other drivers alike), and people with low skill overrate their abilities. Throw in any actual programming errors into the mix and I just have to hope you have good insurance and a good PR department.

My first thought about driverless cars is that stock in alcohol companies would skyrocket. I know a good many people who would go to the bar on a more regular basis and now that they have a driver for the ride home. Also on a week day after work, why not have another beer? No risk of hurting someone or a DUI, right?

America needs to get back to its roots as the premier boozing nation. We were long known for this. Hell, there was practically a civil war over the whole whiskey rebellion thing.

When I was young and naive I used to dream about how a Personal Rapid Transit system that would whisk people around in private little pods along elevated monorail tracks could work. Clearly the answer is "it couldn't", not so much technically but economically and politically.

But it turns out we already have a really comprehensive network of ground-level "tracks" that lead up to nearly every residence and business on the planet. The missing ingredient thus far has been the ability for a vehicle to stay on this "track" without a driver, but it looks like Google and friends might have cracked that nut.

A second impediment might be powering these cars in an efficient manner, but batteries have vastly improved over the last decade, and as they are standardized, battery swapping and even third-rail-type power (at least on limited-access roads) become possible.

The land use implications alone are going to be huge, but I'm not entirely sure which way they'll flip.

On the one hand, we will no longer need vast parking lots adjacent to activity centers like malls, stadiums, office complexes, big-box stores, and airports. That means that stuff could be built in those parking lots, which could potentially greatly increase the density of current cities and suburbs.

On the other hand (h/t Karl Smith at Modeled Behavior) driverless cars would dramatically lower the cost of living in exurban areas, so people interested in peace and quiet would no longer have to compromise as much as they do now.

I expect that at peak use (rush hour), the total number of cars needed would not be so substantially lower than the current number of cars owned. Perhaps a factor of 2 or 3.

Of course, with driverless cars, people may begin to stagger the starting / ending hours of the work day to allow for owning fewer cars.

That's true but consider that most of those people go to/from the same place.

If entity that provides those cars is big enough, they can match up the destination and optimize the traffic so that people going to the (roughly) same place share a car. When I was commuting from SF to MV for work, I had to use the whole car. There were plenty of other people who were commuting at the same time from/to very similar destination and used the whole car. It's not hard to algorithmically put several such people into the same car.

Today cars are 4/5 seaters so you get at 3x reduction compared to current levels (taking into account that not everyone drives by himself today) but you could easily redesign the cars to not be much larger and taking 8-10 people. Or make them straight up buses. Google already does that with their shuttles where they pick e.g. people from SF and drive them in big buses to MV, except it would be much more efficient because the potential pool of people transfered would not be just "people who work at Google and live in SF" but "every person who lives in SF and works somewhere in MV", which is a much bigger number.

Although I agree with your argument, I think it actually is algorithmically hard to do this.

Isn't this the travelling salesman problem?


Of course, a non-optimal, but good enough routing is probably fine.

EDIT: Added last sentence.

As hard as it might be, it's a solved problem. FedEx is doing it. Uber is doing it. And I'm sure there are plenty of others out there, I just don't know about other industries.

"It's a solved problem"? I'm not sure what that even means. There are algorithms for finding solutions, and if you have enough time and storage space, you can solve it.

In any case, the problem more likely to be used in delivery is the VRP or a variety: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vehicle_routing_problem.

If I'm understanding the relevant WP articles correctly, the travelling salesman problem is not solved, since a solution for it would also imply a solution for all NP-complete problems. What these companies have therefore cannot be an absolute solution, but rather an optimal approximation which may or may not (but probably isn't, and probably can't be proved to be in polynomial time) equal to the absolute solution.

Of course, I don't have much firsthand knowledge of computational complexity myself, so someone else who know better should call me on any nonsense above. =D

Since you decided to nitpick: travelling salesman problem (i.e. finding an minimal route) is a solved problem as in "for decades we have known algorithms to find a minimal path and we teach them to CS grads".

What you refer to is the fact that the computational complexity (i.e. time to finish it) of known algorithms rises exponentially with the size of the problem and exponentially is a code word for "really, really quickly". It just takes too much time to find the minimal path if your graph is big.

What I meant, however, is that the problem has been solved in practice. When you ask Google how to drive from SF to NY, it'll give pretty good answer in milliseconds. Is it an optimal answer? It might be, it might be not, but it's a very good answer. Getting slightly better answer is not worth the computational time because it won't make a difference in practice in your trip.

Similarly, a car rental company doesn't have to schedule things optimally, they just have to schedule things really good, and that's possible with much less computationally expensive algorithms. The big win is when you go from "no optimization" to "good optimization", not from "good optimization" to "perfect optimization".

> What I meant, however, is that the problem has been solved in practice. When you ask Google how to drive from SF to NY, it'll give pretty good answer in milliseconds. Is it an optimal answer? It might be, it might be not, but it's a very good answer. Getting slightly better answer is not worth the computational time because it won't make a difference in practice in your trip.

That's not the traveling salesman problem, it's the shortest path problem, for which polynomial-time algorithms are well-known and taught to first-year computer-science students. (To be fair, driving directions do require coming up with good edge weights on the graph composed of the American highway system, but once you've got weights, you can run Dijkstra's algorithm and you're done. That's probably not how GMaps driving directions work, but the point is that driving directions are not TSP.)

To be sure, I wasn't suggesting the problem hadn't been practically solved, and I understand quite well that beyond a certain point, there's very little incentive in improving the solution any further.

In retrospect, I probably should have kept my thoughts to myself, and I probably deserve the downvote or two that I got for not doing so. =)

There's a huge difference between mathematically solved and practically solved. This one's the latter.

But again, the consequence of a driverless car is that the steering wheel could be removed and fitting 4 strangers comfortably in a car becomes much easier. I would argue that carpooling/ridesharing would increase and ultimately decrease the number of cars needed.

I don't think the article's argument justifies the idea that fewer cars will be sold.

Cars wear out primarily through driving. If you simply switched to automatic driving, what you would have is fewer cars being driven more often and so being worn more quickly. If car-mile consumption stays the same, new-car production would stay the same. On the other hand, if the auto-drive cars increased carpooling, then you'd see a decrease in car-miles consumed and so a decrease in production. But if auto-drive cars drove around empty more, you might have even more car-miles being consumed.

Moreover, you'd have a "big bang" where people decide to mostly stop driving the old, non-automatically-driving cars and so there'd a huge spike in consumption at that point.

The space saved by avoiding parking could be really large, still.

A nice thing would be that at the start, a person might be able to finance their self-driving car by renting in out when they didn't need it. Those economies might make the phenomena spread really quickly.

The article might not but I think that it would totally happen.

My assumption here is that there would emerge a big car provider who would provide those cars, similar to how there's only few major car rentals, or how ZipCar is leading in its category or even how Uber emerges as a single taxi-like provider. The economies of scale are very big here.

Given that, some things you have not accounted for:

Higher average utilization per car. I don't know how much commute traffic accounts for total traffic, but by judging rush traffic on 580, it's quite a lot. Most of those people go from the same location (e.g. SF) to the same location (e.g. Mountain View) and today most of them drive alone. Today 4 or 5 of them would be scheduled by an algorithm to use the same car.

Because of that the cars would get re-designed for a higher capacity (at least 8-10 people) or even straight up buses. A big provider would have so much data that they could optimize the hell out of sharing cars.

Similarly, the cars would utilized, on average, much better. Again, a company with enough data could really optimize for a lifetime of a car and they would have economic incentives to do so (unlike a single customer for whom even gathering the necessary data would be cost prohibitive).

Our cars are, without a question, utilized very inefficiently. Someone operating a fleet of tens of thousands of cars would have not only economic incentive but also necessary data and necessary transaction volume to optimize per-car utilization, because for them it would translate directly into large savings.

I can't upvote this enough, people seem stuck in their concept of what a car is. Without a driver we are free to redesign cars in so many ways.

We no longer need to worry about designing it so that the driver can see every angle, so we can design more efficient seating layouts. We can even add partitions so the 10 passengers don't have to see each other.

Long distance deliver vehicles can operate at lower fuel efficient speeds.

We can combine delivery and passenger vehicles.

The list is endless.

For peak times, I'm imagining 8-12 seater vehicles where people sit in pods facing outwards, with dividers that could be retracted if you were speaking with your partner in the same vehicle. Pick-up points would be very near to your home, and drop-off very near to your work. No parking to worry about. Something in between a regular driven commute and walking three blocks to wait for a bus.

Software would decide routes and timing to best service as many people as possible.

Now wait a minute...

While I'm all for your point that drivelessness will allow an incredible re-imagining of the automobile, considering the gp responded my original post, I just want to bring things back to the question of resource utilization.

The automobile today is half efficient transport and half personal expression/personal entertainment. And the personal expression/personal entertainment part is where the massive resource utilization comes in. So, sure, you could reimagine the automobile for super-efficiency with four-people per car whenever you're driving and the resource utilization goes away - so does the personal entertainment/personal expression stuff. So you could go multiple ways. Towards a super-efficient taxi and towards an office/living room on wheels. The first way would involve less resources consumed, the second would involve less resources consumed. It is hard to be certain what the net outcome will be.

I think the natural progression of driverless cars is away from individual ownership. Why own a car when you can have near instant availability of a much cheaper rental.

To many people, a car becomes part of their identity, or like you said

>expression/personal entertainment

I'm sure that there will still be people for whom this is true, but for most of us it won't matter b/c the efficient always there taxi will be so much cheaper.

For most middle to lower-middle class Americans I think current cars are really out of their comfortable price range, they own them b/c they view them as a requirement.

If you give them an alternative that is just as convient, but cheaper, and without the maintenance hassles, it's no contest.

In fact, many transit systems do combine delivery and passenger vehicles -- greyhound has a package delivery service.

To your other point: I think that assuming we'll go off the wall and design wacky new vehicles is too optimistic, akin to the "cities of the future" envisioned during the past hundred years. People's sensibilities of "what makes a car look nice" and "what is a metal box I'd like to sit in" seem to be pretty set, and we don't have a very different experience in a train or on a bus today than in a car. Face forward or backward in a seat with big windows and high visibility.

Part of that is for your senses to not freak out, part of it is just that it's cheap and easy, and part of it is that experiments in the form-factor don't need to be done, so they aren't done. I expect the same trend will continue unless flukes occur.

>In fact, many transit systems do combine delivery and passenger vehicles -- greyhound has a package delivery service.

I didn't know that about greyhound. I'm aware that airliners routinely carry packages. I was thinking more, you've got a car coming to your house every morning, let's throw your Amazon.com orders on it.

>design wacky new vehicles

I'm not thinking wacky designs. A car is usually designed to be sat in for a certain length of time. They aren't really designed for very long trips without stopping frequently, since driverless cars make long trips much more appealing, they'll have to be redesigned to an extent.

A fleet of rental cars would be much more efficient if each car held say 10 people instead of 4, so another natural redesign.

> "what makes a car look nice"

To many people, a car becomes part of their identity, not so much with a temporary rental, so I think function starts to trump form

>don't have a very different experience in a train or on a bus today than in a car

I think the experience in a long distance train is very different than in a car.

The main difference is compartments, and that's what I envision for cars. I'm not talking anything radical, just what I think would be natural progressions when you remove the need for a driver.

A 10 person vehicle necessarily needs to be larger and have a more powerful drivetrain so it would be less efficient in the dead miles it has to drive to get around and pick people up. So I don't see that 10-person vehicles would become the norm. I would actually see it going the other way, and that 2 person vehicles the size of a smart would actually become the norm. Most people currently have excess seating capacity (5) for the few occasions when they need it. But with driverless cars, you don't need that, because you can spread the load over several cars. Why drive a 10 capacity car around for the odd case where 10 people need to go to the one location, rather than 5 2 person cars that can assemble when needed to cart 10 people on the same trip.

Good point about efficiency gains becoming a more direct incentive; I look forward to it. However, I doubt that optimization would trend solely toward high capacity vehicles - think of taxis airport taxis as two classes of hireable fare, divided into single user single destination and multiple user single destination. What we need is a multiple user multiple destination system.

Taxis are for in-city travel and occasionally nearby inter-city travel, and the regular car has ended up being fine. They do have a few larger vehicles for big groups, but those are special case vehicles. On average, they tend to get 1-2 people at a time wanting to go places.

Airport taxis tend to be closer to a commute-oriented vehicle. Several people are going from here to somewhere else, so they tend toward 5-6 person vehicles which operate through the night on >1hour long trips.

Corporate transit systems like Microsoft's Connect system are essentially multi-user multi-destination. Those make buses make sense, but there are a relatively small number of buses making set route transfers while a hive of taxis provides last-mile service.

The "Future of Transportation" article from a few days ago [1] suggests that the average vehicle has 1.2 people in it, and that apparently takes commuters into account. Now we must consider: will behaviour change to increase carpooling?

Specifically, what is presently preventing people more people from taking buses to work? (lots do take buses and trains already, but many people drive 10 to 100 minutes)

It could be that a bus doesn't get you /right/ to work. It could be that you would never think to contact everyone in your neighbourhood and figure out that you could buy a bus and run it just for you guys. It could be that the cost of owning and using a car is just low enough that it doesn't really save you anything. It could be an aesthetic sense of independence.

My bet is that this will work out like Microsoft's system. Major transit routes can scale passenger levels up and move efficiently between well placed bus-station/pickup hubs, and armies of taxis will shuttle you to your final destination. Google's bikes are nice, but last-mile service will have to deal with a broader sprawl. Most of them will be focused on getting from hub to delivery and vice versa during morning and evening, but then, what happens during the day? Even weirder: what happens at night?

1. http://swiftprt.com/blog/2011/12/the-future-of-ground-based-...

If you simply switched to automatic driving, what you would have is fewer cars being driven more often and so being worn more quickly

At the very least, I expect that would be offset by some amount by the fact that automatic cars are going to be driven in a much more efficient and car-friendly manner than they are when a human is operating it with their imperfect motor skills, their ego, their laziness, etc. The way the cars operate would be (or at least could be) algorithmically optimized so that all those little things you're encouraged to do (like pretend there is a glass of water on the dash when you're driving, etc.), actually happen.

Also, once Jiffy Lube starts accepting driverless cars, you would see oil changes and maintenance done on a more regular basis since you wouldn't have to drive it to the shop, further extending the lifespan of the vehicles.

Oil changes can easily be automated. Electric vehicles? All they need is a parking spot to automatically pull into and charge at until required to move to their next waypoint.

The passenger-mile invariance would be offset by the selection of different design tradeoffs. For example, most driver cars have far more performance "on tap" than will be used in the entire lifetime of the car.

Such performance is not free. It causes engineering tradeoffs that increase maintenance costs, complexity and of course reduced fuel efficiency.

But it's easier to sell a driver car with some oomph than not.

There will be other design tradeoffs you and I have not thought of (and could not think of) that will add up to further efficiencies.

What this seems to ignore for me is the car-as-status / car-as-identity case. Speaking personally when I had to trade from a rather nice executive saloon to an MPV / minivan, much as I knew it was sensible I hated it because of the self-image connotations. Which is possibly why I've now got a 350Z ;-)

Why does anyone buy a BMW or a Mercedes when a Ford is substantially cheaper for the same space and performance? Image. That's a sector which is always going to buy their own cars rather than leasing one from a pool, because even a shared 'prestige' car (a rather meaningless tag given current BMW sales figures, but I digress...) starts rapidly losing its lustre.

Which then may well mean that we gain a new social stratification - prestige car, own car, driverless pool car. Which could well see older used cars and taxis dropping out of the market, but I doubt it'd have an effect on the general car market on quite the same scale that the writer envisages.

Maybe, but I suspect that the order of adoption might change that. I agree that there will probably always be a segment of personal cars, but that segment will be small and shrinking. Speaking from the other side of the fence: if I still lived in a zipcar city, I'd be rid of my car in a heartbeat. I always considered my lack of car ownership as a positive status symbol.

One sort of person who buys prestige cars* would be the same sort of person to be an early adopter of personally owned driverless cars, after all, being equipped with the latest magical technology is one of the things that confers prestige. Once that has happened, membership of an exclusive car-sharing club might become desirable, offering the opportunity to network and do business on the move. After all, people do buy first-class tickets on trains, despite the massive expense, regardless of the fact that it gets you there at the same time as standard class.

I could also envisage a future in which personal car ownership is often seen in the same light as the ownership of certain models of car (e.g. porsche boxster) are today - i.e. a gauche attempt at a status-symbol by a nouveau riche oik.

*(The other kind, who wouldn't go driverless, are the kind of petrolhead who relishes the man-machine hybrid that they become when they get behind the wheel, but they will eventually be restricted to racetracks)

Make owning your own car a luxury and tax it to hell :)

I hope they do that AFTER the driverless cars gain traction (not before as here in Uruguay where the president thinks that choosing not to use the mediocre public transportation is a "luxury").

I can see it being like planes today. Some few have their own jets, some more rent them, most people use the cheap, generic ones.

Hacker News side note: it's time to show plus.google.com instead of google.com in the domain preview.

Apparently it's already done with appspot.com, wordpress.com and others, so it shouldn't be too hard.

One unintended effect is that accidents are going to be quite different. Although driverless cars are bound to be safer, I wonder what people's reaction will be to computer error causing death. The style of computer error is not likely to correspond to reasonable human factors (like bad conditions, icy roads etc - all that can be programmed in), but bugs / bad radar echo zones / new roads not yet mapped etc - there are going to be deaths caused by circumstances that a human would have easily, safely dealt with.

The post is misleading, people do not have multiple cars because they cannot drive, it is because they have to use it for multiple things at the same time. Morning going to work, dropping kids etc. will happen all at the same time. Peak car usage will not be affected by self driving cars.

That is true, but the times can be shifted if the car can drive back after dropping you off.

For example: 1. Drive to work 2. Drive home 3. Drive to school 4. Drive home 5. Drive to store ...

Many parents already drop their kids off @ school and thus are adjusting their schedules appropriately.

You're going to increase your fuel bills dramatically driving ack and forth like that.

So your hourly car rental rates will go up during peak usage until it balances out peak usage. While car rental companies may decline to change their rates on a minute-by-minute basis the only reason is to prevent customer confusion, nothing technical will stop it. Supply, demand, and price information can optimize a system like nothing else.

And even during peak times, car rentals will be augmented by a suddenly-reinvigorate public transport system; your car may take you to a bus, to be picked up by a car on the other end.

The only missing bit of tech is the actual self-driving car. Everything else is simple and obvious extrapolation from brain-dead simple Economics 101 and already-existing network technology. Modern car usage will be seen as only an incremental improvement on horse-drawn buggies, with the real revolution happening much later.

Actually, I think such a system would kill public transportation because it would become cheaper to use the cars than public transport.

I don't know the exact breakdown but my guess is that salaries of drivers are much more expensive than buses and gas, especially given those are often unionized jobs with very costly benefits (pension etc.).

If we have self driving cars why wouldn't we have self driving public transport?

That's a good point. I still think public transportation would be replaced.

I believe the main reason local government provides public transportation is because to achieve low prices it needs to be subsidized. No private enterprise is interested in competing in a market where you can't make profit.

At the same time, you don't see local government e.g. opening grocery shops: this need is well filled by private enterprise.

The car rental business would develop despite public transportation because it covers a much bigger needs. However, when it reaches scale and the low price that comes with it, it might make public transportation no longer needed as it'll also cover that use case.

Even if it's slightly more expensive, would you rather pay $2, wait 15mins, not get exactly where you want to go and hope no one will punch you in your face and steal your iphone (true story!) or pay $5, wait 5min and get exactly where you wanted to go?

If enough people start doing that, at some point the fixed cost of running public transportation will be too high to justify low usage by public.

Not to mention I do expect for profit enterprise to adopt driverless cars much faster than government agency, hence giving them a cost advantage for quite a few years.

I don't think peak usage is equal to the total number of owned cars; that would imply that there's some time of day at which every single car is simultaneously being driven, which is pretty hard to believe.

It'd require inter-household car sharing on a significant scale to take advantage of that, though.

People have multiple cars because they want to live among people who can afford multiple cars, and more specifically avoid the urban poor who cannot afford them. American car dependent suburbia exists in large part due to white flight. I imagine cheap driver-less cars would screw up this system.

Ars Technica did a good series on self-driving cars where they came to many of these conclusions already.


I think I've missed an important part of this discussion -- if driverless cars would be revolutionary, what do they provide that an existing taxi service doesn't?

A taxi has many of the listed benefits;

- you don't need to buy the car - you don't need to drive the car - it's available on demand through your phone - the utilisation of cars is very high

So what is the functional difference between a shared-ownership, driverless car, and a standard human-driven taxi?

You don't have to pay the driver. Currently it's more expensive for me to take a taxi (in Australia) because the wage of the driver outweighs the extra costs (and inefficiency) associated with running my own car.

You see a lot more taxis in cities with lower human labour costs (such as Lima), or where the cost of parking outweighs the cost of the driver (such as Manhattan).

So what is the functional difference between a shared-ownership, driverless car, and a standard human-driven taxi?

Don't underestimate the price difference. It's one of those things where a large enough quantitative difference becomes a qualitative difference.

In the US it costs around $15-$20/hour to hire a taxi driver (median wage is $11.20 per hour). Over the course of a month (24/7) that starts to approach the cost of the car. Granted, the taxi isn't used 24/7, but the operator still has to recoup the cost of having it available all the time. I wouldn't be surprised if about 90% of the cost of a taxi is due to employing the driver.

Even if all you do is reduce the cost of a trip by a factor of ten, you're going to see big changes.

Nothing. You are correct in missing an important part of this discussion.

How has no one mentioned EC2 in this whole thread?

Automation, centralization, capacity planning, many of the problems are the same.

Now IF that analogy is correct I propose:

1. A few large entities will dominate the automated car business while enthusiasts and finicky users will happily continue to buy their own.

2. Manufacturers will see demand explode for a small set of highly efficient commodity vehicles.

3. Excess capacity will be resold for new businesses.

- Package delivery - Mobile Advertising - Portable infrastructure. (Need wifi coverage at an outdoor event? I'll send over a half dozen networked cars) - Portable storage (Think of those delivered storage pods, but that only were there when you called) - Entertainment (Rent a dozen cars and have them do some sweet driving)

Also, though this doesn't fit into the Amazon analogy, talk about a captive audience! Imagine, you're puttering along on a family trip to Yellowstone in your rental, it's around lunchtime, and the car suggests stopping at Burger King .. out loud ... with your kids listening. Can you imagine what BK would pay for that privilege?

While this is a fascinating thought experiment are there really so many people who think there will be mass adoption of driverless cars in the near to mid term?

The technical, political, socialogical, and psychological barriers to the OP vision seem huge. Just to mention one that I haven't seen mentioned: winter driving. In snowy climates the driving conditions are very unpredict able. Cars get stuck and require all sorts of creative driving techniques. If the sort of seamless automatic driving doesn't work in such an environment then human driven vehicles will still be on the road in large numbers. Being on the road means they can be driven to the dense, warm urban areas where automated driving might work better.

You could outlaw human driven vehicles in certain places, but it highlights the need for the creation of parallel infrastructure to be created in areas where land is scarce. The transition period would be stretched out and chicken vs egg type problems could be insurmountable for the foreseeable future.

I can't believe this has so many upvotes! This is based on a silly assumption; aircraft are relatively more expensive than cars to buy, maintain, and use. So it is cheaper and affordable for more people if we time share them.

Cars are much cheaper, so we don't - the value of having a personal car ready right now is worth more to people than taking public transport. If aircraft were as cheap/convenient as cars to use/maintain/store/etc, then I'd have an aircraft parked up outside my house!

Driverless cars will have an enormous effect on society in lots of ways, but I highly doubt reducing the number of cars on the road will be one of them. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there are more cars on the roads, given that people who currently can't drive (because they're elderly/too young/disabled) will be enabled to.

How about employment? It will make millions of jobs disappear. Truckers/taxi drivers/bus drivers/etc. make up a pretty huge group of people.

We're in the software business. Putting people out of jobs is what we do. Pretty much any technological advancement puts people out of jobs. But it's okay! There are more productive things they can be doing. That's kind of the whole point!

Kevin Drum has argued that once computers are smart enough to drive trucks, what are truck drivers going to do instead? Computers will be smart enough to do just about anything else they could do.


Aren't you making a Luddite argument?


Different jobs will take their place. There are a lot fewer farmers these days, for example. The real trick is to find effective ways for people to get the training.

The Luddite argument is going to become obsolete one day. There are only so many iGadgets and squeaky plastic toys people are able to pay for. Just because an argument has been correct for along time, doesn't mean it will always be correct.

This is the wrong place to make this argument (it should probably be made at length) but I think the only real solution when we have a super-efficient, highly automated world is to drastically increase taxes to the super-rich and subsidize people with obsolete skillsets. But regardless, we'll no doubt see more interesting developments here in the next ten years. The current unemployment situation is just the beginning, although a lot is going to happen in the meantime.

(This is from a country where about 10% of the population is currently on welfare and we almost de-facto already have the economic subsity system I'm describing)

if somebody has worked most/all of their life in a low-education unskilled labor job (the kind that are most likely to be disrupted by computers), who says they even have the ability to become a robotologist or something very intensively knowledge based? In the future these will really be the only kinds of jobs computers cant do. The problems here are much more complex than the Luddite issues of yesteryear, and its disingenuous to write somebody off as a dumb Luddite.

While technology makes easy jobs disappear, it also makes hard jobs easier. The advent of calculators means grocery clerks can be completely innumerate.

I'm all for driverless transportation, but let's face some important facts.

Why didn't we _already_ remove the drivers on trains? The train/metro system is basically a closed system which is much easier to control than a car in traffic. This is a genuine question: why? It looks like a much easier to solve problem.

Second problem will be certainly be fuel. A 20x increase in utilization means at least a 20x increase in fuel, unless the car is _transporting_ something at all times (which basically means car sharing). Sending your car home empty is crazy in terms of fuel.

Legislation is also going to be a hell of a problem, at least in EU.

I don't agree these effects are unintended rather than highly desirable benefits.

I have said before, driverless cars will end the private car.

First you get your car doing taxi work for money while it would otherwise be parked in your workplace. Then you get a social stratum of people who only ever use other people's cars, because it's simpler than buying one. Then you get commercial fleets of driverless taxis out-competing the per-individual car in the taxi role, until it's not economic to run one. Then you get the collapse of the economic/logistic infrastructure for per-individual cars.

And yeah, driverless taxi fleets will only park to fuel, be serviced, or wait on a fare.

This is a far down the road vision. It calls for a huge shift in the mindset of the consumer AND the manufacturer, to say nothing of the society. Then there is the infrastructure and error handling - what happens when it gets a flat tire on its way to pick up the kids after dropping you off?

Lets give it 15 years. 15 years is a long time for technology but not so much for societal evolution.

I can see the driverless car being on the road in 5 years and I see it being used for carpools. But the vision as painted in the post? Yes, I'm a skeptic.

Very interesting stuff though...I can't wait till they hit the road.

I think the legal issues are underestimated here.

Who is liable if your driverless Civic drives you into a tree? What if it runs over a pedestrian? Honda? Google? You?

Driverless cars could dramatically reduce the dangers of driving, but it's a lot more complicated if a machine learning algorithm kills somebody than if a mistaken human being does.

That's a poor argument.

All it needs is for someone to take liability. If you own the driverless car, then you buy the insurance. If it's leased from a pool, then they buy the insurance.

The software vendor for their part take an over-arching insurance on software errors across thousands of cars. Done deal.

Today if you have a 20 year old your premium is higher. Tomorrow if you have a driverless car, your premium might be low even if you have a 16 yr old. Parents buying a first car might just buy a driverless car for a lower insurance premium & the safety of not having the kid drive!

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