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Google gets license to test drive autonomous cars on Nevada roads (arstechnica.com)
197 points by aaronjg on May 7, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 164 comments

To me, there are only a few "out there" technologies that have a chance to change everything. 3-D printing is at the top of my list, but that's going to be a while before it really takes off. The others are robotics (also taking a while) and self-driving cars.

If Google can work through not only the technical but the social and legal problems associated with fully auto-drive cars, it could literally change the world overnight. Instead of driving cars being a time sink, it could change into something along the lines of being in a room that goes places. You could sleep, read, play games, or otherwise occupy your time. It would literally give the nation tens of billions of hours in added productivity time. It could make the elderly more independent, eliminate drunk-driving, and a lot more. Very cool stuff.

The wide ranging impacts will be huge, as well as the unintended consequences. I actually think the first thing to go will be truck drivers. There are some social obstacles for regular cars, but once automated driving has proven itself it's only a matter of time until the shipping/delivery industry says "wait I can have 24/7 drivers that have less accidents per million miles than the ones that can only do 11 hour days?" Just this one case has crazy implications: 3.5 million jobs lost in a short time span, but you can order from amazon at 6pm and have at it your doorstep before you wake up, all of the trucks can drive at exactly optimal fuel efficiency, all businesses that rely on truckers will likely go under, do you need distribution centers when you have cheap, never sleeping drivers? this will take consume enormous amount of energy... and I'm sure you can think of more just for that one case.

Personally I think the biggest impact this will have is the energy usage one. Currently we stress about our abilities to meet future demands, but we aren't stressed enough to really innovate. Automated driving will definitely change that.

Well isn't this natural evolution in terms of productivity any race would experience? Lets take for example agriculture, dairy farming, and other animal farms. Compared to something like 300 years back, very few people now work on agriculture and associated tasks. Where did all those people go, they went on to do more productive work.

As there are better ways to harness energy and automate things people will move onto more and more productive work.

Finally we may reach a point where things like space colonies, settlements and other massive space exploration projects will make sense. Because we will have nothing else to do.

I like the theory, trust me, I do. Abundance sounds so good.

But, you're completely ignoring the economic framework we live in.

The problem is the people who own these automated systems accumulate more and more wealth, while the workers who once operated them get poorer and poorer. So 'nothing else to do' = 'living in grinding dystopian poverty', if nothing changes in our current economic system.

It all boils down to education. If former laborers can be efficiently trained for new job opportunities, society wins. If not, society continues to stagnate. Farmers don't become robotics engineers or rocket scientists spontaneously.

It's not quite that simple. There also needs to be demand to create those new job opportunities. I'm all for more people working in highly skilled sectors and getting rid of the need for menial labor. The question is: given how the economy works these days, where is the demand for those highly skilled jobs actually going to come from?

Most things that actually push the boundaries of what we can do - such as 3D printing, space exploration - have very little effective demand going towards them these days. The one exception may be medical research, I'm just not sure about that.

So I agree that society wins if the level of education can be raised and more people work in highly educated sectors. However, this is not going to be some kind of inevitable outcome of the market. The effective demand needs to be there to enable this transition, and there is no automatic market mechanism to make it happen.

Not sure about the truck drivers. I can see the benefits in making all the long-range truck deliveries drive through the night. This could be encouraged by time-of-use road charges for things like interstate highways, for a discount in registration fees or fuel taxes, I guess.

But delivery trucks will still need someone in them to make the deliveries. But what would change is that the delivery person could be doing things in the truck while on the rounds - this could be related or unrelated work.

Generally, if a technology transition releases a lot of productivity, it also drastically lowers cost of whatever is affected (delivered goods, which is everything). This, by rights, should free up a lot of extra money for people, which they can then spend on other things. The other things generally cause more economic activity somewhere else, which should create the new jobs.

But a portion of truck drivers will lose their job, with it never to return.

However, this can't be, nor should it be, stopped.

"if a technology transition releases a lot of productivity, it also drastically lowers cost of whatever is affected (delivered goods, which is everything). This, by rights, should free up a lot of extra money for people"

And here is the problem. What actually happens is the people who control "production" end up with most of this extra money.

What actually happens is the people who control "production" end up with most of this extra money.

This is not true. It's actually a pretty well-understood economic phenomena.

When changes to pricing is forced by changes in upstream costs, as with this example, but also as forced by increased taxes/fees, etc., you can predict who will bear the brunt of the cost (or enjoy the windfall) based on the elasticity of the buyer.

For example, we know that the elasticity for gasoline is very inelastic, because consumption only changes a small amount in response to price changes. This means that an increase in taxes on the petroleum industry will be borne mostly by the consumer, and not the producer.

However, for other industries where consumers are more likely to change their spending habits in relation to price changes, it will be the consumers that are on the winning side.

Not really. You would only end up with one group controlling all the extra money if there was a monopoly and pricing control. Even if you have a handful of shipping companies with the automated delivery technology whatever cost gains there are will soon be passed onto the customers.

Lowered cost of production always results in lowered cost of goods, which either raises quality for the same price, or lowers cost and released cash for other purchases.

Well, no. Look up why aluminium is dirt-cheap today.

Delivery men could be automated too. A robot with package safe and some kind of pre-determined passcode could be sufficient. Insurance or onboard sensing to surveil would-be thieves would cover some of the safety issues.

And to avoid even more problems the delivery network could work with post offices to put these safes in place of P/O boxes. Australia Post already does this - you receive a package and they send you an SMS with the code to unlock the safe they've left it in. The delivery truck would just put the packages in the safe totally autonomously.

I think robot delivery men are farther off than automated long haul trucks. Having a robot that can find the front door of an arbitrary residence and get to it from the street is more than a little bit beyond our current capabilities.

The safe idea is interesting, though.

I've been wondering about this, and I think it's totally doable so long as you don't get stuck thinking about a literal "robot delivery man". The model I was considering was more along the lines of 1) park as close as possible to the target address 2) send SMS notifying the recipient that you've arrived. 3) recipient has a 5-10min window to go out to the waiting truck, swipe a card or whatever for ID purposes, and receive the goods.

It's a somewhat different experience to a human knocking on your door, but I'm sure it could be made to work.

Automated delivery vehicles may be able to do better in terms of offering a choice of delivery time, and sending accurate estimates of arrival time. There's considerable scope for doing a better job of delivering to households where there is usually nobody home during "working hours".

Yes, I was doing the typical constrained thinking of trying to apply new technology to an existing format.

What you're essentially describing is a motorised set of po boxes. Which would work brilliantly. For pizza delivery it's a motorised warmer oven with multiple components, probably looking a lot like those little motorised droids that are always zipping around the ankles of actors in Star Wars films.

Between 'drive this truck 50 mph on city streets through traffic to a destination address' and 'carry this package from the curb to the front door' I'd have thought the first one would be more difficult to solve.

They are further off but it's a completely unrealistic endeavor at this point in time. With automated vehicles automated delivery men become much more palpable, if not inevitable . As more and more people become comfortable with automation it will only further the other areas where robotics could really make an impact.

Yeah, in hindsight, the safe/dropbox idea is much more viable and likely to happen.

I'm willing to bet that, at least in the infancy of the technology, there will be laws that require at least 1 capable driver in the vehicle at all times. This would still probably effect the industry greatly, as they could then hire almost anyone with a license, but 3.5 million jobs wouldn't just drop off the face of the country.

Well just like Emails haven't completely replaced Postal services. You will still need drivers. You will need people to drive Ambulances, Race cars and things like vehicles for banks and other important things.

But when big paradigm shifts like this happen, generally a lot of people end up loosing jobs.

Autonomous racing series - now that will be interesting. I don't think it would look like current motor racing - it is centered around the cult of the driver - but more like an outgrowth of robot wars. We could already have remote controlled race cars where the drivers sat in simulators and drove remotely - but we don't because people want to be in the hot seat.

Driverless racing cars could go incredibly fast - and require real solutions to large computing problems. And this would push development of driverless cars along quickly, just as motor racing pushed along the infant car industry quickly.

It's on its way already to an extent. Apologies for linking to Fox News, but it was the only one with video: http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2010/03/29/vw-stanford-build-...

I might be wrong, but my intuition is that all the competitors would be near-perfect, and every race would end in a tie, or at least be very close.

One-make or control racing series ostensibly pit equal machinery, with only the drivers brain making the difference. Presumably in an autonomous series, there would be little technical rules to force equivalent vehicles. Thus one car would be optimised for a certain type of track, and one for another. Different teams can come up with different strategies, and there is always the element of chance.

It's near-impossible for a motor race to end in a tie because there is only one optimum racing line, and only one car can occupy it at a time. Just removing the drivers wouldn't be enough to change the results.

Yes, you'd get one team dominating as you do in any motorsport, but the methods to temper this are well known.

Basically it would be like current motorsport but with the element of risk for the driver removed, which would result in higher speeds and greater risks being taken. I think it would be exciting to watch.

I'd imagine that the winner would be the one with the best strategy. My feeling is that with as many variables as you'd see in a race, that it'd be impossible for a single AI to perfectly take all opportunities. And I can imagine some outperforming others in slingshotting or taking curves. Of course, it all depends on the rules of the race.

Plus you can take greater risks when drivers' lives aren't at stake. I imagine it would be a pretty exciting sport, not to mention expensive.

Actually, I think it might end up being cheaper than F1. No celebrity driver to pay millions to and no very-high safety concerns! Although given that most of the human population will probably not relate (or out-rightly reject the idea) to the sport because of the lack of driver, there might be less money in it.

I think your last point is the most relevant. I've spoken to a couple of huge F1 fans about this and they both seem to think it's the most stupid idea they've ever heard. They want less computers and more human control in their F1 cars, not the other way around.

Personally I have a dream of one day seeing an AI car competing against humans in an F1 race, but alas I fear it will never happen.

To quote "The Fast and the Furious"...

"It doesn't matter if you win by an inch or a mile; winning's winning."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maximum_Homerdrive - the truckers already have this! =P

At least the packages that end up on the doorstep still require human delivery. Normalizing addresses and pin pointing the exact location still isn't quite good enough.

But yes, unintended consequences will surely make things interesting. The productive will become more productive, and the 99% will get that much larger...

"At least the packages that end up on the doorstep still require human delivery."

Imagine that you ordered something from Amazon. You could choose from a bunch of different times, perhaps a dozen in a day, when the automated delivery truck would swing by your house. Your phone would make a noise, and you would go outside to grab your packages off the truck. It would be like an Automat (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automat) on wheels. You would somehow authenticate yourself and then grab your boxes from your assigned slots.

In fact, one concept with increasing popularity in Germany are Packstations (http://www.dhl.de/en/paket/privatkunden/packstation.html). Basically it's a set of parcel boxes where customers can unlock the one that contains their packet.

Now, instead of hoping that the delivery guy arrives when you are at home, you just give the address of the next Packstation and pick it up at your convenience.

Isn't that pretty much re-inventing the post office, except that you don't ship the item through the postal system? This seems like an indication that we need to fix our postal systems...

If you want to put it that way, it's re-inventing the system of lots of small post-offices. But it's completely automated, so it's financially feasible. And DHL is the parcel carrier of Deutsche Post, the privatized entity that used to be Germany's publicly operated postal system.

I'm not sure that there's anything to fix here, specifically.

USPS is testing this in trial markets right now:


Amazon is doing this too with Amazon Lockers: http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=hp_l... They're still on a trial run, but they have been rolling out in a couple more cities recently.

That idea is very cool; but I feel it introduces a whole new amount of complexity.

Making a car that drives you (safely) somewhere is the problem Google is working on.

Delivery of packages along a route is a whole other matter; for example I live on a street with a weird t/fork at the end. Vans tend to struggle getting in and out.

The decision making process to effectively get a van to my door probably still one that requires human input :)

You'd be surprised!

The autonomous cars had to solve problems much more difficult than this in the DARPA challenges. Stanley and Junior have been thrust into artificially complicated mazes and come through with no problem.

Heck, here the car can autonomously produce a 'slide park': http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_piO849uRdI

"You would somehow authenticate yourself and then grab your boxes from your assigned slots."

Easy to imagine with a phone, but does HP still support their fingerprint readers? Seems like a gimme.

Or maybe just require the card used at purchase to be swiped in the delivery truck. Then you could ask anyone to stay home and pick up your item, just give them your card.

I'm pretty much never home when the UPS guy swings by my apartment and I order enough stuff that I wouldn't want to inconvenience my neighbors two or three times a week asking them to grab it for me.

You could just indicate when you're going to be home and they can drive by at that time.

In Japan, all the delivery services let you indicate a precise 2-hour window when you want the delivery. With automated drivers, this could be feasible in the U.S. as well.

I get all my stuff delivered to a Packstation, which is only a 5min walk away. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Packstation

I don't really buy this car-centric view. Don't get me wrong, I also like the idea of self-driving cars very much. But I don't think this will change "everything". Instead, I see a smooth transition towards more and more automated driving.

For example, here in Berlin we have a really good public transportation, which becomes more and more automated every year. In particular, short-distance (as well as long-distance) rails are almost fully automated these days, yet there is still a human sitting in the train's driver's cab for safety reasons.

In other cities like Frankfurt, there are even one or two non-human fully automated short-distance rails. Those are used more in the way we use an elevator, they feel less like trains.

Another example are airplanes, which are driven almost automatically these days, where the pilot is only really required for landing and, again, for safety in unexpected situations.

I think that cars are no different in that regard. There will always be some kind of "driver", although that person will have less and less to do with driving, and more with technical observation, safety, etc.

(As a side note, I think that putting so much emphasis on cars over other types of transportation is some kind of "US thingie". Here in Germany, cars are high valued vehicles, too, but they are generally not a symbol of freedom, independence, etc. Maybe I'm wrong in that regard, but that's my personal explaination of that strange car-centric view on transportation, which leads to so much excitement of self-driving cars, disregarding the amazing progresses in all other areas of transportation.)

The main problem with cars in the US is suburban sprawl. A large percentage of the population live in places where a car is required to go anywhere. It's a mess, a disaster of urban planning that's probably impossible to fix.

In Germany, even in the more rural areas, you can typically walk 15-20 minutes to a town with shops, or get a bus even closer than that. That's not so in much of the US. If you don't live in one of the few walkable cities with decent public transit, you're gonna need a car.

>>The main problem with cars in the US is suburban sprawl. A large percentage of the population live in places where a car is required to go anywhere. It's a mess, a disaster of urban planning that's probably impossible to fix.

If you think US urban planning is in a mess, come to India. I bet these self driven cars can't survive for even minutes on any street.

In India, you practically have to chase street dogs, dodge cricket balls, avoid kids playing on the road, find the road in a road of full of potholes, use breath control techniques to escape the stench and lanes are nothing short of mazes which you can't find a way out unless you've lived years in that area.

I am not sure if self driven cars can ever work here.

Sounds like a good research problem/job opportunity.

> Another example are airplanes, which are driven almost automatically these days, where the pilot is only really required for landing and, again, for safety in unexpected situations.

Actually now pilots usually don't land manually unless for training (and so on commercial flights usually only in perfect weather conditions) or when there is some serious problem (like engine not working).

BTW, very big part of recent plane crashes was related to human errors in cases which could be handled by autopilot.

Good point. However, I don't think that transportation systems without a human at some point will be accepted by society in the next decade, unless they operate on separate traffic systems (e.g. extra streets, or strictly separated parts of the streets). This may be irrational, but that's another problem.

Yes, this isn't going to happen at once. At first there will be cars still needing some driver control (like planes with autopilot), but as most drivers aren't professional I think laziness will gradually win over fear as people will get used to not having to control car.

Maybe we should put autopilot failsafes for the cases when humans malfunction (see the Air France crash).

The Air France crash happened when the autopilot bailed out on facing a situation it couldn't handle. (And while you can design an autopilot to handle the specific case of the pitot tubes freezing up, there's no better course of action for the general case of "sensor inputs that make no sense according to the autopilot design"). If you automate more that's going to make pilots worse not better at handling the rare situations the autopilot can't handle.

The pitot tubes unfroze after a few seconds, so the autopilot was perfectly capable of working again, but the pilots didn't re-engage it and kept trying manually, causing the end result...

My one question is "Who the hell decided that averaging stick inputs is a good idea??

So basically what you are saying is you don't believe in the self-driving car? As far as I understand, Google already build a car that is completely self-driving without human intervention, so your point is moot.

You can't compare the car google is building with semi-automated transportation on rails or in highly regulated air space. It is using completely different technology.

Also humans are notoriously bad at supervising technology. I would much rather drive myself, then having to pay attention all the time and step on the break, if my car does something stupid.

> So basically what you are saying is you don't believe in the self-driving car

No, I think they are certainly possible and I'd love to see some.

> You can't compare the car google is building with semi-automated transportation on rails or in highly regulated air space. It is using completely different technology.

This discussion was not about technology but about impact. Comparison with other transportation systems which are much more automated right now gives a better impression of the future than unjustified claims about self-driving cars being totally incomparable to anything else.

I wrote a blog few weeks ago on social impact of self driving cars. Please check it out and suggest other significant changes that are not listed.


Drunk-driving alone costs our country immeasurably in terms of human and economic cost. Eliminating the vast majority of infractions would be a real contribution to humanity.

Also, I approve of a future where ordinary people can travel without fear of fabricated botherment by the police. Driving a car has got to be the number one excuse for the USA's police to pull over and antagonize folks on the thinnest imaginable (or no) probable cause.

the scary part will be when they can remotely order a car off the road through remote control with no cause.

While I agree there will likely be remote disabling procedures for emergency/law enforcement reasons, I don't see where you get the "no cause" piece of your slippery slope. It seems it would be much easier to unjustly pull someone over with current human-operated cars; with automated cars, reasons such as "they were weaving" or other gray area justifications will no longer be available to LEOs.

I'm curious now: They need a reason to pull you over in the USA? In Germany it is simply "routine check", which is a perfectly legal reason here.

Yes, there has to be a reason. Of course, it's very easy for an officer to say "He was weaving in traffic", or claiming you were speeding when you were not, or simply lie about you using a turn signal.

I'll bet most people have a story like that. Probably from when they were younger, but not necessarily. And that's not even getting into "driving while black" and the likes.

Maybe driving also lowers alcohol consumption?

Don't forget mortality rates for energy creation.

Cadillac is introducing them very soon...2015 to be exact. http://www.inquisitr.com/227496/cadillac-to-release-self-dri... They cannot match Google's PR but I wonder how the tech matches up. Honda and Toyota are regularly featured in the press for their robots; autoparking and collision warning have been added to cars too

Just wait until we get to the PRINT act: specifically this act will make illegal the Printing of Restricted Intellectual Non-redistributable Technologies.

You think it's illegal to scan edit and print just money? Wait till they make it illegal to print firearm parts.

I already have all the AR-15 parts in STL format.

It's not far until the fucking morons in politics whom have no idea of how information works decide 3D printing is in support for terrorism.

How long then until they realize that only intelligence can be outlawed to thwart this imaginary foe.

Oh, wait, the war on education has been in full effect for decades for this very reason. What is the best weapon against education? Poverty.

Keep them poor, keep them stupid.

And he next level of that weapon? When they start acting up, kill th economy to make the educated poor!

What do you think the 2008 crash was about? "the people have caught on to our lies! Quick! Kill he economy, make them worry about putting food on the table - that will shut them up!!"

Impressive how quickly you escalated from talking sense (although I'm not sure why building a gun should be any more or less legal than buying a gun) to conspiracy theory there.

Building a gun requires a whole new set of hoops to jump through.

It is not legal to manufacture firearms unless you are licensed. The ATF will freak out and confiscate everything if they get wind of you building so much as a zip gun.

Also I assume that if the GP is planning on 3D printing an AR-15 once it's feasible (already illegal), he is planning on manufacturing a fully automatic version. That would be manufacturing a "machine gun" and would bring serious jail time.

>It is not legal to manufacture firearms unless you are licensed.

This is false. It is legal for non-prohibited persons to manufacture non-NFA firearms without a license, provided you do not do so "for sale or distribution." Your state may impose additional restrictions.

(I believe it is also legal for non-licensed individuals to manufacture non-machinegun NFA items by filing a form 1 and paying the tax, but don't quote me on that.)


That is a slanderous statement.

L send you an email about your slandering me claiming that I am stating such things.


I have no intention of breaking the law. For you to post such slander online is outrageous. Let's hope we do not meet face to face.

My family has been a responsible gun owning family for more than 150 years.

I am appalled and angered that you simply assume that I would seek the most illegal form of weapon should I simply be able to print it.

Shall I assume that you have a propensity for rape if I were to know you were not a virgin?

My point in my original post was that should politicians who are abstracted from the understanding of how information exists will always err on the side on insane restrictions not based in the reality of how that information is actually disseminated or accessed.

You cannot outlaw knowledge, or intelligence.

However, in your case, it appears you can aschew it.

>That is a slanderous statement.

It would be libelous not slanderous, if it was actually defamatory.

Also you'll notice I said if you plan on manufacturing a firearm illegally you'll likely manufacture an automatic version--I never said you would do so.

>Shall I assume that you have a propensity for rape if I were to know you were not a virgin?

Since not being a virgin is not illegal, those are not analogous.

A better analogy would be something like: I assume you have a propensity for rape, if you have previously committed sexual battery.

I am sorry, I took the literal definition of the following:

"* a malicious, false, and defamatory statement or report: a slander against his good name*

You published and broadcast on HN that you assumed that I would be manufacturing illegal weapons based on a comment that I had an STL for a part of a gun.

You said that you DO assume that if I am going to 3D print a part, that I would be producing the fully automatic version of a weapon.

This post ignores the fact that the STL I refer to is only a singular part of a device.

Further, your analogy DOES NOT work. As printing a gun part is NOT illegal. So you are saying that having an STL is the same as having previously commited sexual battery???



My analogy works, yours is broken.


Please make sure you keep us all up-to-date on the trial, can't wait to hear you argue that he should have assumed you downloaded STL files without a purpose because you didn't intend to use them.

By the way I'm not fussed about considering myself informed and intelligent, I'm happy enough with "not a whack job".

Downloading an STL is not illegal. Further it is not of a fully automatic version, or any fully operational version. The STL is the largest milled and most expensive pieces. This does NOT produce an illegal weapon. It saves cost, should you have the machinery to make the lower with your own tools.

I appreciate the both of you attempting to appear legally abiding, informed citizens, but you're just a pair of dicks that assume that anyone doing anything outside of your own boxed reality must be a criminal.

Kudos - I am sure you'll do well in politics.

But you sound like freaking idiots assuming what you do.

I am sure you believe yourselves to be well informed, but I am not sure you truly are.

My stating I have the STLs for an AR-15 lower etc is NOT the same as stating I intend to manufacture illegal weapons as the other poster claimed.

So, fuck both of you for attempting to slander my thusly.

No seriously, please take this to court, it will be absolutely hilarious.

Corin, That would be really funny if you were not from a country that didn't expressly outlaw firearms for the common man.

Also, in your vast experience over the last ~4 years as operations manager, I am sure that I should bow to your expertise over such situations where you are accused of illegal activity based on a comment on HN. I look forward to your council.

While you're a young person from the UK with little to no experience with either US law, culture, politics or history, I appreciate your input in this matter.

I would hope that you could do yourself a favor and look into the things I stated above. I could give you some referrences to the things I said, but I doubt you would use them as much as I doubt you would even look into anything I said.

I you find that you DO want to know some things that occurred not only prior to when you were 11, but also things that occurred decades before you were born, please let me know.

Seriously. There is a lot more to know, hopefully you wont acquiesce to what you think you know from the internet.

Wonderful that you couldn't think of any way to actually argue your case so you go check me out and all you could come up with was a.) I'm English b.) I'm 22 c.) You know more than me so there.

Have you ever managed to convince anybody who didn't start off agreeing with you of anything?

These are the exact reasons to refute your comments.

1) You're english - i.e. NOT culturally related to the issue.

2) You're 22 - You have NO idea of the history of the people of which I speak. as a personal IT trainer to one of them who visited their house often, do you think I know, or you know, more? Please advise.

3) Yes, my friend, I do know more than you. When you were 11 I was building some of the largest enterprise datacenters in silicon valley. I have designed and implemented large corporate campuses for companies you well know. I am jealous that at 22 you have it figured out, as it appears you eschew any opportunity to learn that may present itself.

I am sure you will be very technically correct in many of your endeavors, I doubt you will have depth of character and knowledge though.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could see something you don't agree with and seek more info rather than trying to prove your insightful disposition so early?

In martial arts, we find this behavior often attributed to green belts (yes, in my decades of experience, I have more insight into another arena other than tech (20+ years in both))

Have you ever thought that someone you started off not agreeing with may be actually correct?

Plenty of people in the UK have firearms (mostly in rural areas) for sporting or pest control reasons. Handguns are generally frowned on though.

How impressive how you really haven't been paying attention.

Are you that misinformed that you need me to cite my comment?

Or, do you, like most on HN consider themselves to be well informed and intelligent?

Then how about you do some research, look into the history of a large number of people and their careers:

Do you know how any of the following people came to be in their positions: (clue: you'd need to know what they were doing over the last 45 years)

GHW bush Cheyney Dov zakheim Rumsfeld Ashcroft Tom Ridge

If you know where these guys have come from and what they have been doing (more than just Wikipedia) you'd be a bit closet to understanding some of the things we are dealing with.

Rather than downvote, why don't you ask for information.

I think this is one of those technologies that will go from "science fiction" to "everyone uses one every day" very, very quickly.

Until a few months ago, I had no idea that the technology was as far along as it is; it seems like they've cracked the hard problems already. That means it's a social problem now - and there's reason to believe that the biggest motivator in adoption of automobile technology (and related public policy) is the insurance industry. As soon as these cars are statistically safer than human drivers (and my expectation is that they may already be safer - humans are crap at driving) then there will be strong incentives to get them to the public.

I think you're right about insurance companies playing a big role, we've already seen 20% discounts for having Adaptive Cruise Control in Europe. But I don't think this will be a quick change.

First, people take awhile to replace their cars. I don't know the stats for this, but 10-year old vehicles don't seem atypical. The good news is that gives a chance for reducing costs. It was back-of-the-envelope calculation based on parts only, but one article I read estimated 5-10k would be added to Cadillac's self driving car if they introduced it by 2015. [1]

Second, there are still some hard problems to solve. According to Thrun, they don't have a solution for snowy roads that block the car's vision of the lane markers, and Cadillac's vehicle has the same problem. That'll also be a problem in areas of construction where line markers aren't accurately marking the road.

There's also some major regional challenges. In Pittsburgh, per a convention known as the Pittsburgh Left, a driver stopped at a red light will pause after the light turns green to allow the “first driver in the oncoming traffic... to make a left turn.” Thrun's team is working on collecting massive amounts of data to overcome niche issues like that, but is that something every car manufacturer will have access to?

I think we can also expect some legal barriers to be a problem. I don't have the best grasp on this, but from a RAND report I read it sounds like state tort law, combined with the complete lack of state or federal laws concerning autonomous cars, could create liability issues for manufacturers. Maybe that would necessitate some lobbying and court battles before manufacturers risk masses of autonomous cars? It's hard for me to tell how important these issues are because the biggest player, Google, isn't focused on the market now.

Ultimately you're clearly right, autonomous cars are definitely the future, but I'm feeling more of a gradual shift as problems are ironed out and the prices of sensors are reduced.


I think you're making OP's point quite well albeit inadvertently.

Personal ownership of a self-driving car is a ridiculous concept. Why would the car have to wait around in the parking lot all day while you're at work? It could easily keep running around ferrying people places. And yet many people will want to own one simply because they think they should own a car.

I think the real future is a market for renting car time. Prices will be high during peak periods (morning and evening commuters) but cheap during the mid-afternoon.

The lack of a large up-front cost will likely drive adoption faster than many expect, especially given the new resistance to car ownership coming from younger people: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/03/why-dont...

I live in a city, as do pretty much all my friends. I walk almost everywhere and occasionally take a taxi when going out in the evenings. On rare occasions a friend with a ZipCar membership will ferry us out of town if we're going somewhere far. None of us actually own a car. We're the target market for the self-driving cars since we've already made the social adjustments.

On the flip side, I'm a parent of four who would jump on this as a way to reduce from two to one cars while also reducing the pain of ferrying kids around to school, lessons, practice, recitals, etc.

True self-driving (as opposed to "licensed driver paying attention but not needing to hold the wheel") will be adopted very quickly.

You bring up an interesting point. Would you, as a parent, be happy with a driverless car going to collect your child from school/wherever? At what age of the child would you be happy with that?

Eventually, yes, but not until they are of an age that they can reliably recognize their own car and are comfortable being alone forthe trip (sevenish, probably, but also depends on how long the trip is), though I can easily imagine some simple tools that would help pair child and car and comfort the child (nothing like watching videos to keep Tommy entertained on a drive).

Note: We already have had that in Switzerland for several years now, it's quite popular: http://mobility.ch/en/pub/index.cfm. They have self service rental cars all over the 'bigger' cities here (Note: Biggest inner city in Switzerland = ~0.5M). The major downside: You always need to bring back the car to where you took it. Automatic vehicles will make that concept even more viable. Designing a central scheduling agent would be quite a fun task. Traveling salesman problem here we come! ;)

It's been around in the US for at least four years, or at least that's when I remember first using ZipCar in Los Angeles. Hertz also has a competitor IIRC.

> Why would the car have to wait around in the parking lot all day while you're at work? It could easily keep running around ferrying people places.

Yes those are called buses and taxis. :) they already exist. they're dirty. and they're not always available when you need them.

One advantage to what you're proposing though is that unlike buses and trains you wouldn't have to put up with dirty, dangerous or rude people near you in the same vehicle.

Why would there need to be other people in the car? It would most likely work just like cabs, but without a driver. You tap a button on your mobile and a car pulls up already knowing where you are going.

Wikipedia regarding "The Pittsburgh Left":

>It is an illegal and controversial practice.[1]


It hardly matters if it is illegal and controversial. If it is seen in reality, then it is a case they must consider.

I think the figure of added costs is sensationalist at best. The Velodyne LiDAR sensor alone that Google uses is $85,000.

I think we'll see self-driving cars soon enough, but I'd be surprised if the Old Guard of car manufacturers will lead the way there.

The first car CD player (Philips DC-085, for the curious) cost $800 in 1987, or ~$1600 today dollars. Who knows how much money they spent on the prototypes.

These things will become affordable if the demand is there.

Random question, but if every car was driven by a robot, would that mean we could start building cars that don't have to follow safety as much? Like, could I have a wooden box and shove some wheels on it and let that drive me around? I know there'll still be accidents, but interesting thought nevertheless.

If they keep making cars the way we are making the hybirds (http://www.greencarcongress.com/2011/06/lowcvp-20110608.html) then how will we get to the future?

It would be pretty awesome to use whatever materials that are lying around to make a car/transport device.

While robotic cars have very little reason to crash into each other, there will still always be some non-robotic things on the roads -- wildlife and drunken pedestrians for one.

But while some cutback in safety features would be possible, I honestly think that the society will take the other option. Robots have no trouble making driving reasonably safe at much faster speeds than humans can. The advantages to society for raising normal road speeds past 200mph vastly eclipse that of reducing the cost of manufacturing the cars. So I think the future will perhaps see even sturdier cars than today, just to be able to survive hitting a deer (or even a cat) at high speed.

Its not that robots can drive faster, its that they can drive more consistently. I used to drive the infamous Washington DC beltway to work and I can tell you, I'd much rather have a constant 35 than the brief periods of 80 followed but an hour of 7.

When it becomes mostly robots on the road, it will be possible to "program out" a lot of the emergent behaviors of traffic in congested areas.

Very good point. A fascinating study in driver behaviour is to go to a high point where you can observe a congested freeway. The Getty Centre above the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles is an excellent example.

The way I would describe it is watching fast-flowing water. Then block it with a piece of wood, and lift it again, then watch the wave pattern flow down the water.

That's exactly what traffic looks like from above. A couple of slow moving cars, someone doing a stupid lane move, and everyone touches the brakes. This ripples down the flow until, much further down the road, people are all stopped and they have no idea why.

Every road, for a given level of traffic, has an optimum speed that the traffic will flow the best. If robotic control could read that value, and stick to it, you would see Freeways flowing much better.

However, that's all a long way off. I'd settle for widespread fitting of adaptive cruise control and getting people to actually use it.

Keep in mind that the reason for 55mph speed limits is not about safety so much as it is about energy efficiency (set during the oil crises of the 70s, never raised again in many places). Going faster increases energy loss due to drag with the cube of the speed, so I don't think we're going to see 200 MPH speed limits until we get something much more energy efficient.

This could make some of the political problems with upping the speed limit that much go away, though.

Absolutely, but even if you go beyond 55 mph, I think that self-driving cars would still be a net benefit in terms of conserving energy. Traffic jams, which are a tremendous waste of energy, would be eliminated if every car was self-driving.

... something like having every car slipstream the car in front of it?

Yeah, potentially, but you're not going to reach the efficiency of a train as long as you have individual cars with a bunch of different use cases/designs.

...and as long as you have 2500 marginal pounds of vehicle per 1-2 passengers.

Put the largest one in front?

I never opted to take any courses in aerodynamics, unfortunately, but my understanding is that establishing a laminar flow ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laminar_flow ) is vital at those kinds of speeds, which requires a surface that the air can flow along smoothly. With a biggest-in-front arrangement, you get some slipstream benefit, but you also get a whole mess of turbulence, and there's no way you're going to rival the speed of a bullet train without a lot more energy spent. You want a mostly smooth/unbroken surface that the air can flow along.

I doubt we'll see road speeds increase any time soon. For one, a car that travels at 200 mph will wear down significantly faster, and get drastically reduced fuel efficiency. Imagine a tire blowout at 200 mph. There are also still human drivers on the road, and it might be difficult to enforce (or even pass) a law that says "human drivers must drive slower than robot drivers".

Excellent point about the non robotic obstacles. I really would just like to add mechanical failure. A perfect robot driver with a working car is one thing, but can that driver handle hydroplaning/tire blowouts/transmission failures?

> A perfect robot driver with a working car is one thing, but can that driver handle hydroplaning/tire blowouts/transmission failures?

Much, much better than any human. Robots fail only once. A single robot being programmed ("getting practice") for a failure case is all robots getting that practice for a failure case. Also, robots are always vigilant and ready for failures, and are capable of doing emergency decisions in fractions of a second, before the humans would likely even know something is wrong.

I haven't seen much on how they handle inclement weather. That's a key requirement for becoming more than an experiment.

Thurn mentioned that Google's cars can't drive in snow, but they can drive through rain.

Isn't cost a problem? I think that these cars have hundreds of thousands of dollars of hardware. Surely mass production can bring costs down, but how far? Are there any solid estimates out there?

There was an article recently (one version at http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2012/04/27/self_driv...) that talked about a study asking folks if they wanted a self-driving vehicle if it cost $3K more - which supposedly was based on Ford and GM estimates of what it would add to the cost of a mass-produced model. Personally I'd pay twice as much to have it today, but I appear to be in the minority...

I think it would be fairly sizeable minority. There are so many benefits to this:

- Safety. CPUs don't get distracted. - Far less stress. You wont worry about being cut off when you're reading. - Imaging able to go to sleep and wake up in a new city. Your ride is extremely smooth. - More time. Your trips are much quicker, because each path around each of the corners is perfectly optimized.

but if I own a fleet of taxi cabs, then $3K sounds like a great price for replacing my drivers.

Since a lot of the discussions here are about the benefits of autonomous cars compared to other solutions, I'd like to point out an excellent Quora question on the matter: http://www.quora.com/Transportation/Why-do-we-want-self-driv...

I am a roboticist who works on autonomous vehicles for mining applications, and I've always thought the two least obvious advantages are that a) autonomous vehicles will increase the utility of a single vehicle to the point that owning multiple vehicles becomes less necessary, and b) autonomous vehicles will increase the utility of road networks such that their existing capacity will be sufficient for far longer than expected under manned vehicle assumptions.

As the only adult in my household capable of driving (due to my wife's vision limitations), I'm quite excited by this - and so is my wife.

Google should work with Tesla Motors to implement it in one of their models at least. I figure people who are the early adopters for all-electric vehicles might be early adopters for self-driving cars, too.

Also, a fleet of self-driving Model S's would make a fantastic taxi service.

Police drones that can fly around your city for two days straight, self-driving cars that can crawl neighborhoods to take photos....

I am not sure I am ready or happy about this future. Maybe I am just old.

No more drunk driving. Vastly more efficient shared transportation infrastructure. Greater freedom for people too old (or young) to drive themselves safely.

That already exists; it's called public transit and every other civilized country in the world figured it out already.

Your bus shows up on your doorstep on demand and will go wherever you want it to go? Your taxi will drive you for two hours to see your parents, then wait around for a few more hours to take you all to the beach and only charge you as though you're the car's owner?

I've seen it argued that in TCO terms the taxi (well, two taxis in that use case) is cheaper for that.

Perhaps, but add to that all of the incidental trips to the store, to visit a friend, to go to the bank and so forth and it probably starts to level out a bit.

emmett was talking about efficiency, safety, and the ability to travel without having to drive. You're talking about convenience, which is an advantage to cars (self-driving or not) but self-driving cars still can't deliver on efficiency, are still less safe than most forms of public transit, and have greater expense.

There's nothing stopping the police from paying some cop to crawl neighborhoods taking photos, so I don't think this technology will change anything in that regard.

The cost of labor provides an effective limit.

It'd be cheaper just to use quadcopters (a la Half Life 2).

You have to admit, gyro-stabilizer-as-weapon was a stroke of genius.

I saw a Google Self-Driving car on 280 in the Bay Area about a month ago with 2 people in it. I guess they already have the license for California?

As a side note, I (illegally) took a video of it with my iPhone as I passed by it, but when I tried uploading it to Facebook it was denied twice because I used a copyrighted song as the background (Cars by Devo and then an obscure version of Crosstown Traffic by Living Color, which I thought would have passed the algos but I guess not).

> As a side note, I (illegally) took a video of it with my iPhone as I passed by it, but when I tried uploading it to Facebook it was denied twice because I used a copyrighted song as the background (Cars by Devo and then an obscure version of Crosstown Traffic by Living Color, which I thought would have passed the algos but I guess not)

Videos of interesting real-world events, such as a chance encounter with the Google car, are almost never improved by the addition of music, so I'd say just go ahead and upload without music.

Also, isn't Cars by Gary Numan?

How is capturing video in a public place illegal?

I assumed it was taken while the poster was driving.

Why does Google do it?

I can't understand what business purpose it could possibly serve for Google. And if it is just a side R&D project, how come the shareholders do not revolt?

Off the top of my head, they're probably the most widely known brand in both consumer maps and local search. While "not-driving" people will often be online, and I imagine often searching for places to go.

Also, there's the "Bell Labs" of it. How do you know what you can do unless you push boundaries into new places, which necessitate new ideas?

The idea that companies should stick to what they know and that shareholders should expect nothing else of them, is to me akin to the idea companies should be expected to fight progression/expansion for fear of losing the market they have.

Look at the RIAA. Imagine if they had more than a legal arm, but a research group. What if they had been looking into audio compression and transfer? They may have founded the first successful online music store, and before Napster. The industry could have its own iTunes, instead now they try to herd snakes back into a pen that can't contain them, with lawsuits. That, to me, is irresponsibility.

In pushing for new fields, Google pushes for new markets. And in being the popular party doing so, they're seen as "first" in many people's eyes.

They want Street View to be constantly up-to-date, and they don't want to pay hundreds of drivers to constantly crawl the streets of the world 24/7. I can think of many possibilities when every Street View picture of every sign and storefront is updated every morning.

They've already got a lock on online advertising. Now what happens when all you need to do to use Google to advertise your business is to hang a sign in the store window and wait for the automated Google Car to come by every morning to take a picture of it?

Google is an AI company

They could licence the tech for serious $$$ to the car makers. They could beam 50" google ads into millions of commuters eyeballs on a screen where the windscreen was.

I'm willing to bet that they have the machine learning and AI capabilities in-house that car makers could only dream about, so it makes sense that google does this (See the Udacity course on the self driving car by Sebastian Thrun).

Asking why the shareholders don't revolt is extremely short-term thinking. Googles rate of growth from their core search business is already slowing, this would be an exciting way to speed it up again.

The license plate thing is interesting. Why is it necessary to explicitly distinguish it as an autonomous vehicle?

Sounds like its a warning for now (edit: I think that's implied by the switch from red to green), and maybe a degree of bragging when they're made for the public:

“I felt using the infinity symbol was the best way to represent the ‘car of the future,’ ” said department Director Bruce Breslow. “The unique red plate will be easily recognized by the public and law enforcement and will be used only for licensed autonomous test vehicles. When there comes a time that vehicle manufactures market autonomous vehicles to the public, that infinity symbol will appear on a green license plate.” [1]

I think there could be an element of marketing to it, too: Google labelled its self-driving cars to distinguish them from its StreetView cars, because people didn't notice the difference[2]. Moreover, they proudly label "Self-Driving Car" in big letters on their vehicles.

[1] http://www.nevadanewsbureau.com/2012/05/07/nevada-dmv-issues...

[2] A Thrun Udacity lecture I think

When the "auto" mobiles first came out, you had to have someone in front waving a flag to alert those on horses and in carriages that you were coming. I figure this is the modern day equivalent (and about as useful).


So people know to be wary.

Not everyone has as much faith in these things as the HN crowd.

It's all in the black box. After an autonomous vehicle crash, all of the decision making state will be available so no autonomous car makes the same mistake ever again. Unlike teenagers, which can merely be encouraged to drive appropriately.

Even better - not only will the code/telemetry equipment that made that mistake be replaced, ideally the design/implementation procedures that resulted in that mistake in the first place will be reviewed. Given how frequently it will be used, I'd hope to see the same level of methodology we see with Space Control Software. See: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/06/writestuff.html for a nice article on this sort of software. I like the following comment: "Bill Pate, who's worked on the space flight software over the last 22 years, says the group understands the stakes: "If the software isn't perfect, some of the people we go to meetings with might die."

I'd like to see the accidents/operation-mile figures. I think that will be instructive.

Mostly I've read 160k miles with one accident so far, a fender bender blamed on a human driver.


"Sergey Brin, a Google co-founder who has taken the self-driving car and other special projects under his wing, has he wants the self-driving car to drive a million miles without an accident. The company has also patented a "landing strip" for the cars, able to orient it or transfer information to it via short-range wireless technologies."

>a fender bender blamed on a human driver

Just to be clear, it was a human driver operating the Google car. The car wasn't operating autonomously at all when the accident occurred, so 0 accidents so far.

Ever took a long haul flight? A robot was flying your airplane 10000 feet in the air (autopilot). Why wouldn't people accept something that drives on the ground, at much lower speeds?

Orthogonal to this trend, is a probable reduction in how much we actually travel every day. Would it make sense if a kid was dropped to a very nearby school, where learning happens by interacting with teachers in close proximity as well other teachers on another continent(not just cheaper ones). It may even be a micro school where just 25 students from the neighborhood attend and have a weekly meetup on a large campus. As technology improves, that actual benefit of being at particular spot diminishes. Of course some professions like nursing/sales may need direct presence every day. For many others occasional meetups would more than suffice. Would we not drive a lot lesser if technology allows us a lot more seamless communication?

It's good that Nevada is facilitating this, I'm expecting that industry lobby groups that will be affected by this (truck drivers, taxis, car companies without this technology, insurance companies perhaps) will throw everything they have at shutting this down so it's good to see that at least local governments are open to the idea. It means that it stays in the USA rather than Google launching it in a country more open to the idea.

What I love about Nevada doing it is the tie-in with tourism. If it becomes a staple of that city, you expose people from all over the country to it in relatively short order.

The google car is great, but I wonder when will they be able to drive with the visible spectrum only, like humans do. No radar, laser range finder, GPS, or pre-mapping the roads. Just the view through the windshield on an unknown road, we can all do that. I would say keep all the other devices if they improve safety, but to really be a human-level driver I think you need to be able to do without them in a pinch.

I'm surprised no-one talks about the psychological and social implications of (serious or lethal) accidents caused by autonomous cars. However rare, I think these will set back their adoption by years because people will be too scared to sit in a machine that makes decisions on its own. Decisions that, when wrong, can kill them and they can do nothing about it.

This reminds me, even though the technology isn't as cool as Google's cars, of the Phileas Bus in The Netherlands, which also drives by itself, which I sit in daily - see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phileas_(public_transport)

Man I can't wait for this to become mature enough that cars can drive themselves without anyone "behind the wheel". I've never learnt to drive, and I would get a Zipcar membership the DAY that happened.

I already imagine a scene where the 2 people, that are suppose to sit in the car, are having a coffee break, and the car starts driving off without them :)

I like this... but I like driving too :(

No one is saying you can't drive, yet. Presuming that computers eventually are better than people at driving, can we as a society continue to allow humans to self-control death machines in close proximity to each other?

We should also ban knives too and let robots do all the cooking.

Also, the presumption that computers can get better at driving is wishful thinking. Good enough definitely, more efficient probably, but better? I don't think so.

From a technical perspective, the human brain is the best pattern matching processor in existence and when driving it's the edge cases that cause accidents ... a deer or child stepping in front of your car, bad weather conditions leading to muddy roads or glazed frost, potholes, traffic congestions, human-powered vehicles (like bikes) and the list goes on, with the number of variables and possible outcomes possible being really big.

And for instance a processor can't know your safety priorities. Say a child steps in front of your speeding car, would your risk pulling the wheel and going off-road to avoid the hit? I would. But what if your own son is in the backseat? Then I would hit the breaks and hope for the best. But what if you're going 90 miles on the highway and a cat steps in front of your car? Personally, I wouldn't even hit the breaks, even though I love cats, because sudden breaking on the highway is very dangerous.

I can easily see "car parks" just like national parks where people can drive in a range of conditions for the fun of it. That said, I can't see a US society where this is "the only option" for many decades.

In an age of autonomous cars, driving won't die. It will become a sport akin to equestrianism.

OT: What is Ars doing on this page that breaks the Back button?

Working fine for me on Chrome?

One negative about the self-driving car approach which is inherent to the approach is that most of the hard problems it has to solve come about from the fact that the driving environment is so chaotic, open and uncontrolled. Weather. Pedestrians. Jaywalkers. Animals. Kids. Shopping carts. Bad objects on the road. Other vehicles, many of which are human-driven. Or perhaps automated as well, but malfunctioning.

The obvious alternative approach is to create a transport system where the environment is more uniform, controlled, closed, stable. For example, a system of underground tunnels or above-ground tubes. With some kind of train or individual cabins that can move within it. Like subways but more advanced, efficient and end-to-end. Imagine a single common inter-locked system that everyone could use to do both their local daily commutes, and long distance travel, and round trips to orbital stations (via rides in carrier ships like Virgin Galactic is planning, or something like a space elevator.) There is one particular project like this that I've heard of, that has these qualities, called Evacuated Tube Transport. I like the idea of it. It sounds elegant and efficient and scalable. But has some challenges of its own. (Last mile access, industry pushback, safety/failsafe in the face of emergency situations, etc.) There's a specific company called ET3 which is supposedly trying to flesh out and build an implementation of it.

this plus the recent Planetary Resources launch, plus the upcoming SpaceX rendezvous with the ISS are all pretty exciting milestones. some folks out there are pushing the human race forward. not just making trivial fadish photo sharing websites, etc.

In defense of the people making photo sharing websites, they are doing leaps and bounds more than the vast majority of the population.

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