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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Once again HN and techies in general are a ridiculously small percentage of the population. Normal people do not see things the same way.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
So, no, I disagree entirely.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Driverless cars cut down on most of the downsides of public transportation, but they do lose the fuel efficiency.
god help us if we are forced to spend time with other people in the world who are not like us...
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.
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.
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, 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...)
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.
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.
He took extremely good care of it.
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).
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.
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 :)
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?
It's not isolated to Mercedes either
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.
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.
Citation needed. I don't think they would.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Except possibly around whatever local time the bars close.
One other benefit would be that (hopefully) cheaper late night rides would cut down on drink driving.
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?)
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...
During the middle of the day and all night, you lease the capacity to FedEx or UPS...
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.
Lower utilization is balanced by lower energy costs than gasoline (but you're right, swappable batteries would help too).
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...
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
See: Pocket watches > wrist watches > cell phones.
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.
- 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)
Some very rich people still own private jets, but it's rarer than it would be if more people were rich.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It would be good to get the data about energy consumption for car building, to answer this.
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.
human driven cars will be illegal in less than 20 years
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.
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.
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).
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.
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)
Bad press for all involved.
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....
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.
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...
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.
Yes, and for the forseeable future there will be conventional cars, as well as bicycles and pedestrians.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Of course, with driverless cars, people may begin to stagger the starting / ending hours of the work day to allow for owning fewer cars.
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.
Isn't this the travelling salesman problem?
Of course, a non-optimal, but good enough routing is probably fine.
EDIT: Added last sentence.
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.
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
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".
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.)
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. =)
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.
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.
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.
Software would decide routes and timing to best service as many people as possible.
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.
To many people, a car becomes part of their identity, or like you said
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.
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.
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.
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  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?
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.
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.
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.
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)
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").
Apparently it's already done with appspot.com,
wordpress.com and others, so it shouldn't be too hard.
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.
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.
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.).
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.
It'd require inter-household car sharing on a significant scale to take advantage of that, though.
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 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).
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!