Saturday 18 February 2017

Robotic Cars - The driver-less future.,_Texas.jpg/1280px-US_Highway_83_in_McAllen,_Texas.jpg

America is So ready for robotic cars.

There are already adverts on the television along the lines of "Your insurance local, friendly, family run insurance provider .. securing you yesterday, today.. and with the autodrive cars of the future."

I've been driving in the US recently. I was pleased that the rental car options are two grades above our UK ones. Order a midsize and get a Jeep Cherokee. Fuel is still half UK prices. Despite everything else now costing European amounts of money with our currently worthless overseas currency.
Its about ten years since I've been to the USA. And the 99c hamburger is now $3.99

 Its a much calmer driving experience than in the UK. Much calmer and easier. The cars may be bigger but the roads are wider.The speeds are much lower. Motorway 65. Country 40-50mph.
That doesn't look on paper much different. But many more roads are dual carriageway. Many , many roads, even through the centre of cities, towns and villages are three lanes wide.
Three lanes wide and often with an  emergency lane on both sides. The median guardrail that is within touching distance of a passenger in the fast lane in the UK is a lane and a grass strip or run-off sandstrip away in the US.

The roads tend to be straighter. The traffic lights wait for longer and the signals are above each lane. Three lanes of traffic tend to move at the same speed. A speeding car is quite easily spotted. I saw plenty of highway patrols. A few accidents. And despite what seemed to be every single road in every state I traveled being worked on  by orange clad construction crews with orange and white barrels reducing lanes, traffic flowed exceptionally well.

The USA is ready for the driver-less automobile.

I thought maybe ten years away before we start to see them. But that was with my narrow roads, roundabouts, single lane, farm track, heavily congested, impatient, high speed Euro-UK driver eyes.
It will be much easier in the Americas..

People in the know say on the technology required front, we can have driver-less cars right now. The systems are all ready. The testing has been done. It all works. Its all ready. Millions of accident free miles already put in.
Its the legal issues that are holding the whole thing up. 

What do we think about this new invention?

 Its going to change our lives and our commerce as radically as the internet did. A change to the existing order and the existing structures and systems. With huge cost savings and huge job losses. Winners and losers. With the law and the governments panicking and obstructing and lagging a fair way behind the technology rush.

Are we happy about the driver-less vehicles?
Will you be getting one?


Steven_L said...

You can spec quite a few cars that will drive and steer themselves already. It's a horrendously expensive novelty, easily adding £100 a month to your lease payments.

John in Cheshire said...

I'm getting old; I'm 64, 65 in May; and the time is rapidly approaching when I'll either be incapable of driving or the rules will change and I won't be permitted to drive. I'm not a great fan of buses despite having a bus pass. What I'm looking forward to is being independently mobile, door to door, regardless of my ability to drive with the added benefit of being able to drive to the pub, lovely country pubs near to me, for a meal and a drink which I cannot do now unless I use taxis, which I also dislike.
So, for me, I look forward to driverless cars, despite the several concerns I have, particularly with regard to security ( hacking of the control software by criminals, for example, to divert the car and rob the occupants) and privacy (what data would be collected about each journey and by whom and for what purpose).

Nick Drew said...

If you haven't seen this Stephen Collins cartoon, then you must:

& then think again!

Bill Quango MP said...

That's the issue holding it all up ND.
One of the legal points being debated is who is to blame for the accident.

The owner?
The driver?
The passenger?
The auto manufacturer?
The software supplier?
The coder who wrote the code to run the old person down instead of swerve?
The satellite designers ?
The government for allowing these vehicles on the roads?

Blue Eyes said...

The solution to that is obvious: make it illegal to walk in the road except at a controlled junction. Now we know why the Germans are so far ahead of the game...

Anoneumouse said...

oh yes, it certainly dose away with the suicide bomber. 'Wacky akbar'

Anonymous said...

Dystopian future.
Limited speed. Limited mileage. Rationed in fact.
Did you pay your council tax?
Satnav tracking.
etc etc

dearieme said...

My wife has ruled out my ever motorcycling again. But she has been silent on the driverless motorbike. I spy an opportunity.

Electro-Kevin said...

All cack.

Cars are sold on "the drive of your life" promise.

It's the last bit of risk control that the average male red-blood gets. And how we like our car!


It's not the driving. It's the parking that's the problem. Otherwise your autonimous car will have to go back home and then come back to pick you up. (Twice the journey)

And then... while Carsy is on his own whose insurance and recovery is covering him ? Yup. Yours. A prang ? A breakdown ? A speeding ticket ???

Would you send your kids to school without a nanny it in ? CALL SOCIAL SERVICES !

It ain't 'appenin'.

Electro-Kevin said...

In Britain we don't have 'mercan roads. We have windy, twisty, rounda-bouty, pot-holey, arse-holey, towny roads.

Electro-Kevin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charlie said...

I'm a petrolhead. I love a good drive. Problem is, good drives rarely happen on UK roads. Too congested. On the whole, driving is a complete chore. And have you seen the general standard of driving these days? It's shocking.

Bring on the driverless car. I assume we won't actually own them - we'll use driverless taxi services. The money saved can be spent on track days and racing.

Electro-Kevin said...

Charlie - Either way you're going to have to spend tax supporting all the unemployed Uber drivers we've been importing.

John Cheshire - Please spend your pension keeping the next generation in employment.

Electro-Kevin said...

autonomous - not 'autonimous'

I never use spell checker. If someone could advise how to switch it on.

Electro-Kevin said...

... like... lots of cars meandering around on their own at your behest without congestion. And you think fares will get cheaper ?

Electro-Kevin said...

... so anyone outside of the London Beardie-gentsia is going to go Communist on car transport ?

Nigel Sedgwick said...

From Wikipedia (2013 figures; see ) the USA has twice the road fatalities per unit distance driven than does the UK. This is 7.1 deaths per billion vehicle-km for the USA and 3.6 deaths per billion vehicle-km driven for the UK.

And Bill Quango MP writes: "[... bad] impatient, high speed Euro-UK driver eyes. The USA is ready for the driver-less automobile."

Elsewhere, I read that many (journalists and politicians) view driverless vehicles as the means to reduce the USA's high rate of road deaths. For me, it just seems that there are other (and likely sooner available) useful remedies to the high USA road death rate than use of autonomous vehicles. Whatever makes us better over here, impatience and high speed really must work much harder for Bill to undo the benefit!

As for the technology of driverless road vehicles - I am saddened that anyone really believes it is anywhere near ready for general use.

Best regards

Bill Quango MP said...

Deaths by country are hard to compare. Europe has the lowest road deaths by continent. The U.k is the lowest in Europe.
Blood alcohol limits in UK and USA are similar. Seat belt laws in USA are federal. Different laws in different states.
In some states a police unit cannot stop and check a vehicle just for suspicion of not wearing one.
In Vermont, which shows the highest increase of any state for fatalities from motoring, 50% of deaths recorded show no seat belt worn.
Motorcycle helmet laws are also state legislated. Three states have no laws at all. 19 have mandatory helmet wearing. The rest is a mix depending on motorcycle type.
Handheld mobile phone use is only banned in a few states.

The us also has ramp exit/entrance from BOTH sides of the carriageway. Sometimes you join the freeway from the slow ramp into the fast lane. Sometimes you must cross four lanes of fast traffic to get to the slow exit. Also often the slow lane becomes the exit lane. Causing a constant shifting over to get out of the off exit. And the auS has that weird cross junction. Like our roundabouts, but it's an intersection. The law is whoever arrives first has right of way. If you weren't paying attention when you got there...?!

The US also racks up the most miles driven. They drive more and further than anyone. When the recession hit, miles driven fell, along with death rates.
The USA is also a continent. The weather can be extreme. The UK with our tiny fatality rate, is not weather hit. When it snows, we stop driving. If they did that in Montana, no one would drive October to February. Or drive in the lightning filled but rainless thunderstorms in the summer. Two people have died in flood related motor deaths yesterday in California.

So those are some reasons. I don't see any of mine or your arguments invalidate any of what I suggested. The USA is just about ready for the rise of the machines in 4x4 form.

Bill Quango MP said...

Seat belts are state laws, not federal. Wrote that in wrong.

Suff said...

This is the largest subject in the auto industry at the moment and it is truly is a game changer along with electrification. It's the subject of endless debate about which direction we should head and there is going to be some real Betamax moments in the industry. bare in mind our whole infrastructure has been built around auto industry, whether it be out of town shopping or whether the delivery networks miss out the shops completely. Do we deliver the person or the product? How will the work place in environment work- do we need large groups of people in the same place at the same time?
The biggest headache for the auto industry with fitting all this raidly improving technology in a vehicle, is how you keep your product at the cutting edge for long enough, to get the sales volumes to repay the huge tooling and development costs. Unlike computer gadgets, cars have to work in all environments at all times and within strict legal guidelines (no reboot for us). Battery and inverter technology is advancing faster than the time we have to legally test it. Depreciation on a vehicle will be mind blowing.
The technologies are almost there and basics of which are already available in current cars on the market with brake assist, lane assist. Self parking....and that's old technology. We have cars driving around quite happily on there own.
As ND and Bill have pointed out the legal and ethical questions are the big road block but I believe with the states love all controlling all things will this will get steam rolled through the courts. The question won't be will you buy one but will you be allowed not to.

Electro-Kevin said...

Sorry for over posting. Very drunk last night.

Nick Drew said...

When the recession hit, miles driven fell

the big correlation is between miles and price

whenever US gasoline price goes above $3, the 'summer [driving] season' slumps: when it went above $4 [2008, briefly] it killed the driving season stone dead

Bill Quango MP said...

Good points stuff.
having both auto and non auto-drive cars on the road must be a major issue.
It's not the same as the automatic mining trucks on roads all by themselves.
If it's all robots it will be safer than now. If it's all non robots it will be as it is now. If it's a mix of some and some not, it will surely be more dangerous.

ND. That is the case. $ gas price affects US motoring miles.

$2.29 a gallon + sales tax at the moment. They thought it was pretty pricey. $30 for a full tank.
When I said we pay About $120 for the same not sure they believed me.

Electro-Kevin said...

You'll be able to go out and have a drink.

I expect the law will require a qualified driver to be present at all times, for manual override.

Bill Quango MP said...

That's no use Ek - the pub trade will have to take up the slack in courier jobs.

Charlie said...

Suff -
Re tooling and ROI, I think the auto industry is well-versed enough in platform sharing to make the whole thing a go-er, plus any improvements to the automation side of things would be simple software updates. Give the car a SIM card or wifi and it wouldn't even need to go near a dealer, which will be a problem for them as they'll lose the easy money currently earned for "servicing". This will happen anyway with electrification, whether the cars drive themselves or not.

My Golf is on a service plan, but I noted that my local VW dealer would have charged £329 for a service if paying cash. £329 to change a few filters and the engine oil, which with a ramp and some experience takes 30 mins max. They wanted a further £200 to do the gearbox oil too, plus £600 to do brake discs and pads - I declined and did it all on my driveway, but most will suck it up and hand over a grand to their dealer for 2 hours' work. This easy money goes away with electric cars which, as far as I can see, just don't need this level of servicing. They have a simple cooling circuit and some brakes, and that's about it. Even then, wear is reduced due to regenerative braking.

But I digress - autonomous cars. I just can't see people owning their autonomous car. What's the point? It sits on your driveway or in a car park for 90% of the time. Why wouldn't you be part of a car club, or have an account with a taxi firm? By the way E-K, this isn't communism. I would have thought there will be budget car clubs offering basic vehicles, with relatively poor availability, through to expensive car clubs offering premium vehicles that turn up on your doorstep 2 minutes after jabbing a finger at your smartphone.

Like I said, bring it on. See you on the track.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

"As for the technology of driverless road vehicles - I am saddened that anyone really believes it is anywhere near ready for general use."


It ain't autonomous if it needs specially managed roads, or if it needs a human driver to be alert awake and sober at all times.

And currently they all need one or the other or both.

This stuff is much further away than most people think, because most people don't appreciate what a fiendish AI problem we're trying to solve. Moore's law by itself is not going to fix this one.

Steven_L said...

I just can't see people owning their autonomous car. What's the point? It sits on your driveway or in a car park for 90% of the time.

People are speccing Audis, BMWs and Mercs as we speak with autonomous driving features. Just like speccing night vision (or buying these cars themselves) it's an expensive toy to show off with.

I reckon the premium car manufacturers will make a good return on autonomous driving options. A lot of their customers are show offs and will simly spec self-driving features to show off to their passengers. And these companies are cheap, all trading on well undern 10x earnings.

But for some reason people have a bizarre vision of the future that involves 100% autonomous electric cars. Hence Tesla's stupid valuation.

andrew said...

R4 today 20/02 says autonomous driving will be here in 10 years.
No it wont.

Consider DAB radio, we were supposed to switch off FM after it took 80% of the market a few years ago.

I am not saying never, but I do have some old mechanix illustrateds from the early 60s and I want my flying car that was promised by the mid-70s.

More practically

Consider the fact that the internet has been around for over 25 years and there are still parts of the country where there is no internet.
Will you buy an autonomous car that wont work on hol in cornwall / scotland / that area with small roads near the cheddar reservoirs?

... or any road that does not have an up to date map

Me neither.

By up to date map I mean most of the 'real' self drive software depends on an an accurate map down to the traffic cone level that was updated that day.

One of the core parts of the american psyche is the freedom that cars symbolise, so the 'Johnnycab' truely driverless car will not happen.

Having said that I do not hear anyone complaining about not having to double-declutch or abs or parking sensors or the ones that stop you rear-ending someone.

So I do see a gradual growth in 'driver assistance aids'
The new E series (iirc) does have an option where it will self-drive down a motorway.

IMO in 10 years time the hgv lorry driver will be 'resting' when on a motorway - and iirc, the rules may be being changed in the UK to allow the continental 'double container' trailers.
This means bulk deliveries will be more efficient.

Not saying 'never' but outside a motorway/dual carriageway with motorway style on/off ramps the environment is too complicated.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

@Andrew - completely agree; hat we will see is a gradual improvement in the driver aids we already have.

I forgot to mention the mapping thing in my earlier comment, but it is (to use the modern vernacular) Yuuuge. Out of phone signal? No updates. Tough. What does your auto-car do then? Refuse to move, or call for human intervention?

andrew said...


also there are other things to think about

- such as when you buy one of these secondhand

The global head of IBM's X-Force Red penetration-testing team, Charles Henderson, created a flurry at RSA last week by relating how a connected car app could still access a car he traded in – two years after he'd sold it.

Without naming the machine's maker, Henderson related the kinds of features beloved of high-end marques: “geolocation of the car, climate control, navigation control, it allowed me to remotely honk the car horn … and finally I could unlock the car.”

Anonymous said...

We're still a bit of a distance from having truly automated cars - with all the various claims I recommend reading the small print. The truck that self-drove, self-drove along the freeway. The beginning and end of the journey was very much in the hands of human being.

Typical Sillicon Valley claims not actually quite what they're insinuating (also see AI.)

So, yeah, America may be ready for automated cars, the technology certainly isn't though. We're a good 5-10 years away from having purely automated trucks that'll go between points on a freeway/motorway, but you can add another 5-10 on for use on residential roads.

Automated *assistance* is already here though.

patently said...

As a petrolhead, this can't happen quickly enough for me.

Cars that automatically give way to avoid a collision if you push out in front of them? Cars that are programmed not to be aggressive, to yield if there is a risk? Cars that will do an emergency stop if needed to avoid a pedestrian accident? This is going to be brilliant - for the people in an older analogue cars who want to make progress, or who want to walk around urban areas. Me, in other words.

It's going to be a nightmare for the people who are used to plodding along in their Nissan Micras, getting in everyone's way and jealousy guarding "their" little bit of road. The ones who don't really like driving, and who will actually want to buy a car that does it for them.

Revenge at last.

Charlie said...

patently, if you like driving, instead of looking forward to a time when you can drive selfishly with impunity, get on a track.

patently said...

Charlie, the comment was tongue-in-cheek, to highlight the fairly obvious flaw that arises if the majority of cars are self-driving. I've commented before on my own blog that driving through urban areas is going to become a nightmare as soon as pedestrians realise they can step out any time they want. I've since realised that this applies to drivers of non-autonomous cars as well.

Also, I'm just about to start my sixth season as a racing driver. If you want to drop in at Donington Park on Saturday you can say 'Hi' and maybe come for a passenger ride. You might find that in a well-run formula, driving standards on track are (of necessity) rather higher than on the road :-)

Bill Quango MP said...

Patently is a well known as a Caterham speed demon.

My Donington days are long gone. Even my bruntingthorpe ones are distant.
I'm happy with the idea of a self driving car these days.

patently said...

You'll still be most welcome on Saturday, Bill, if you fancy the trip.

Suff said...

Sorry for a late reply. Don't tell anybody but I've been seeing a girl.
Charlie software upgrades are one thing but I'm talking about the hardware. Car platforms and handling are weight critical. One company I worked for had invested in a small company battery developer.( Tesla and apple were both interested in buying them out complete but they were looking for investors). When the test results of there solid state battery came back, they screamed scam. Until we saw that the tests were carried out by (another investor) a very respectable military hardware supplier. We were looking at a a 400% increase in energy density. 200Kg weight loss is a platform wrecker. I'm not saying we won't get down to a point where it will stabilize but it's gonna be carnage along the way and some of the established brands will be toast.
Patently- that was my point. You won't be allowed to drive. Now I'd like to think we should be able to write the software, so it ignores anything with a mobile ( that should thin the herd down). They will just keep reducing the speed down to walking pace (time is money is an alien concept to TPTB)

Charlie said...

Apols patently, hadn't realised you had tongue in cheek. Good luck for Saturday.

*My Internet forum buttons are pushed when drivers who describe themselves as "petrolhesds" think that booting an Audi S3 past a school at 60mph qualifies them as a driving god, rather than getting themselves on a track.