By on October 9, 2010

No, that’s not a Google Street View Prius being piloted down the 101. The roof-top device is Lidar, part of the sensors that allow it to drive by itself.  Perhaps out of a desire to solve a problem they helped create (texting, mobile web use, etc.), Google has come ever closer to  perfecting autonomous cars. NY Times reports that Google has a fleet of seven cars plying the highways and streets of California, with paid “sitters” behind the wheel to confirm that everything is ok, as well as to conform with CA law.The cars have driven up to 1,000 miles without any human intervention, even down twisting Lombard Street, and have racked up 140k total driver-less miles. The only incident so far was someone rear ending one of the Priuses at a red light. All we need now is for judges to mandate them for lousy drivers.

A further development of the DARPA technology that Google’s Sebastian Thur and his Stanford Team won in 2005, the current system is moving ever closer to perfection. Ironically, the biggest hurdle left for the intelligent Prius is to properly read hand signals that a traffic cop or crossing guard might make. here’s an example of the subtlety that the system responds to:

For me, the tour de force of the new car came when the vehicle halted at a stop sign to make a right turn. It waited patiently for a vehicle in front of it to turn, then inched forward. A car was approaching from the left, but the Prius pulled into the far right lane, and I realized that it “knew” the other car was not in our lane even though it was passing close to us. There was no need to hit the red button.

The red button is one of three ways to engage human override, the other two being to touch the brakes or manually turn the steering wheel.

It’s not clear yet exactly what Google intends to do with the system to commercialize it. The biggest obstacle is legal: the law is way behind the technology, and no states have yet addressed the issue,  requiring humans to drive cars. And then of course there’s the legal issue of who’s at fault if an accident does happen. In this country, that may take a while to sort out, but it sounds like it’s just the ticket for China. The huge potential benefit is to allow a doubling of traffic density, when the autonomous vehicles communicate effectively.

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87 Comments on “The End Of Driving Is At Hand(s Free): Google Cars Plying The Highways Autonomously...”


  • avatar

    So long as states derive large amounts of revenue from ticketing drivers in traffic situations WE WILL NEVER HAVE AUTOMATED CARS.

    If the car ran the light or speeds, its the manufacturers fault…therefore they are liable for malfunctioning equipment. And I doubt cars will ever be smart enough to drive in winter conditions or against reckless human drivers.

    Furthermore, the only reason I bought an SRT8 instead of a cheap, affordable car like an Altima  or Sonata was because I WANT TO ENJOY DRIVING IT.

    This reminds me of pilots of the new Airbus jets. They COULD engage the autopilot to automaticaly land the plane or takeoff for them but they perfer to fly the plane because its a thrill of the job.

    How many of you would really want to let a computer drive for you?  Not me… NOT EVER.

    • 0 avatar
      Hank

      I don’t want it to drive for me, but can think of thousands in my town I’d love to give up the control to the car because they have the skills of a squirrel on crack after a frontal lobotomy and the attention span of a pea.

    • 0 avatar
      abcb

      I want that car for my daily commute so I don’t have to deal with anything before work.  For weekend, I will gladly take stickshift to a track to enjoy driving. 

      Think of this as the evolution of horses to cars.  After cars are invented, horses are no longer a mode of transportation, they become recreational.

      After this car, all sport/awd/racing car will be enjoyed for their true purpose, track day racing!

    • 0 avatar

      This reminds me of pilots of the new Airbus jets. They COULD engage the autopilot to automaticaly land the plane or takeoff for them but they perfer to fly the plane because its a thrill of the job.

      A320s et al have no mechanical link between the flight controls and the control surfaces — all inputs through the side stick and ruder pedals are vetted by the flight computer prior to moving an aileron, elevator, rudder, or spoiler. It’s called “flight envelope protection” and it’s designed to keep an overzealous (or panicked) pilot from exceeding the plane’s limitations.

      The point is, even when those pilots are “flying the plane,” they’re really not. They’re offering their suggestions to the flight computer, and little more.

  • avatar
    stationwagon

    Forcing bad drivers to ride in these driver-less cars is probably not a bad idea. In fact I support it. There should be a true test that measures driving ability and if you you score less than 80% then you should have to drive one of these cars. Bad drivers are usually the distracted, so they probably will like not having to drive and the ability to text, talk, eat or whatever. Make life easier for non-driving enthusiast and safer for everyone.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I’m thinking of my nearly 90 year old grandmother who reluctantly just gave up driving b/c her vision got so bad she couldn’t watch TV. Yeah – I asked her to stop driving a long, long time ago. Her car is for sale. Anybody want a 60K mile Buick Century? No, I didn’t either. Nice car but as white bread meh as they come.

  • avatar
    Bill Wade

    I don’t want it to drive for me, but can think of thousands in my town I’d love to give up the control to the car because they have the skills of a squirrel on crack after a frontal lobotomy and the attention span of a pea.

    You must have come across my kids while driving.

  • avatar
    zigpenguin

    Every workday I drive down a highway for 10 miles. I can’t imagine any way to make that enjoyable or fun. I would love to replace it with something like this. I could read the newspaper or a book. I would also love this to be a nice sober driver for me when I’m drunk or tired.
    That said, for those twisty roads up the mountains… give me a nice sports car.

  • avatar
    jmo

    The biggest part of this will be the huge reduction in traffic.  From what I understand the vast majority of traffic is caused by “pressure waves” that develop when people overreact to changing traffic density.  An automated system could dramatically reduce this phenomenon.  It would not only save billions of gallons of gas but also billions of man hours of time wasted in traffic.
     
    I can’t find a link to the actual engineer/scientific study but this can explain the phenomenon.
     
    http://amasci.com/amateur/traffic/traffic1.html

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      In fact, computer simulations show that if even just 10% of vehicles had systems like adaptive cruise control that kept up with traffic flow without flashing brakes lights, the pressure waves would be virtually eliminated.

    • 0 avatar

      Splendid idea.
      Next logical step will be a huge new bureaucracy( manned with useless persons of all sexes) that will decide (via immobilizers) who is allowed to drive to the beach on a sunny afternoon, just to avoid traffic jams at the very beginning. Think of all the saved gas! Think of all the new jobs! Think of all the good times we are heading!
      They are already working on that, I’ll tell you. It is called “Verkehrsbewirtschaftung” in German (something like “commercialization of traffic”, don’t know the English word), which means that you could be metered and billed for using public places, even as a pedestrian.
      Of course, this would require some expensive Big Brother infrastructure. But don’t worry. As we have nothing to hide, we will all gladly hail such ideas, especially when we keep in mind how deeply out of funds our respective community is.
       
       

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Wow, what a letdown. I would have imagined that the denizens of TTAC would be indignant or at least highly cheesed off that anyone much less Google suggest we no longer control our own cars. Imagine if GM had suggested this? I can only imagine the condescending remarks… (Yes, I’m fully aware that GM was researching autonomous cars back in the 90’s. Irony? Sure.)
     
    Back to the issue at hand. Why bother with owning a private car, even if it is only for fun? You’d eventually get used to auto-pilot and forget how to drive your SUX6000 anyway. Why don’t we buy many manual transmissions anymore? How many people bother teaching their kids how to drive one?
     
    Why not cut out all of the techno-whiz sh*t and just take the bus? Save all of us a lot screwing around. We already have the buses, why bother with the rest of the silliness?

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      “Why not cut out all of the techno-whiz sh*t and just take the bus?”

      1. The bus doesn’t arrive and depart at a time convenient to you, at a location convenient to you.
      2. The bus may or may not have a seat available to you
      3. The bus forces to interact in close proximity with the mentally ill, the drunk and high, and those with less than stellar levels of personal hygiene

      With this system, you’d have the traffic reducing and safety improving characteristics of automation and mass transit, while still allowing you to travel in comfort and privacy.

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      I see you’re not a regular bus passenger
      3b. The bus forces to interact in close proximity with the people who just came in from the cold outside. They make you freeze

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      “They make you freeze”

      And in the summer they can get pretty ripe.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      We already have infrastructure for private and public travel. I see this as an unnecessary duplication of existing services (albeit inconvenient for some) and a diminishing of my right to freedom of movement, guaranteed by our constitution. Why do we want to reinvent the wheel? How do we pay for all of this? It’s a neat experiment, but what about the Heisenberg uncertainty principle?
       
      I say this as someone who has endured public transportation on a daily basis. I’ve ridden the buses and trains of two major US cities and found them less than optimal, but it did beat sitting in traffic jams that spread for hours and miles. Plus, I’m sure I got a longer timespan out of the car I did drive, because I took the train.
       
      Instead of figuring out ways to make our cars drive themselves, we could work on our attitudes and make public transportation work better for us. Sure, there are vast areas of the US that no public transportation system could serve efficiently, but for the areas that they do exist, make them better.
       
      To paraphrase an old joke: I want to die like my robot car, emotionless and calm, not screaming and crying like it’s passengers…

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      Another thought: If you don’t like interacting with people unlike you, you may need to move way far away from the city. It’s only going to get worse.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      geozinger,

      You’re never going to get the privacy, comfort and convenience of the automobile with of public transportation.  Also, with densely populated states like Maryland or Connecticut having half the population density of Germany, the economic reality is, that public transportation just doesn’t work as well in the US as it does in Japan, France, or the Netherlands.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @jmo: I don’t intend on giving my right to drive (freedom of movement). Reread the OP.  I have done the commuter thing both in car and on-bus (and train). Commuting sucks.
       
      But I just don’t see this experiment as anything good. It opens up too many questions that we can’t answer. And it seems like an unnecessary duplication of services (at least in some areas).

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      “It opens up too many questions that we can’t answer.”

      Um, that’s how progress works.

      “I don’t intend on giving my right to drive (freedom of movement).”

      You don’t.  You just tell the car were to go and it does it faster and better than you could ever hope to.

    • 0 avatar

      In short, riding bus is for losers. Even if they have an iPad.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      Riding the bus isn’t the most fun method of commuting, but given that my employer gives me an unlimited pass to ride the bus and light rail in the Seattle area, it beats paying $20/day for parking in downtown Seattle.

  • avatar

    I hate this for the obvious reasons. Driving is one of my major joys in life, and I would not want to have to have it restricted to the track on weekends. I don’t want my driving taken away from me. I don’t want cars and (self)-driving to descend to the level of appliances anymore than cars have. Can you imagine such a world? That would be the death–among other things–of TTAC. I mean, there aren’t enthusiast magazines about refrigerators and washing machines and toasters.
    Having said all that, given how necessary driving is in most of this country, I would love it if people who can’t drive because of old age or other disabilities could get around in a car. It would really be a wonderful thing for them. So I am very torn about the googlemobiles.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      ” I mean, there aren’t enthusiast magazines about refrigerators and washing machines and toasters.”

      http://www.stereophile.com/
       
      http://www.gizmodo.com/

      There are many many more.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      JMO,
       
      Enjoy your Consumer Reports magazine and your automatic-transmissioned front wheel drive car. For the life of me, I can’t understand why you read this enthusiast-oriented web site. It’s obvious you could care less about driving and fun automobiles.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      “Enjoy your Consumer Reports magazine and your automatic-transmissioned front wheel drive car.”

      Enjoy your carburetors, push rods and live axles, luddite.  Evolution has its eye on you.

    • 0 avatar
      Hank

      I would love it if people who can’t drive because of old age or other disabilities could get around in a car. It would really be a wonderful thing for them.
      Hadn’t thought of that, but that would be a great use, one that extends rather than removes freedom.

    • 0 avatar

      The worst is, like my colleague said “having seen the source code of Chromium, I’m less inclined to be enthusiastic about Googlemobile”.

    • 0 avatar
      stuart

      “I mean, there aren’t enthusiast magazines about refrigerators and washing machines and toasters.”

      You’re gonna love this one:

      http://www.automaticwasher.org/

      stuart

  • avatar

    @geozinger: I consider it my duty to teach kids to drive sticks. Among the approximately 6-7 I’ve taught to drive sticks (along with a couple of adults) I have one true convert, whose first car–a Forester handed down from her parents–is a stick. She wanted THAT car because of the stick.
    And, in other matters, the bus is a total drag. Rather than taking the bus, even in the dead of a Massachusetts winter, I would get back on my bicycle. I lived in DC for maybe 7 years without a car, and I almost never took the bus, but I did ride in just about any weather DC threw at me. The advantage: the bicycle was a lot faster.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @David: You’re one of the few, the proud. I could not get my kids interested in driving a stick, instead I had to hammer home the importance of being situationally aware and personally responsible for what they do with their automobile. Unfortunately, my one kid still insists on driving places with the radio blasting, which was one of the things I repeatedly told them reduces their situational awareness. Some lessons they have to learn on their own, I guess.
       
      Oddly enough, I’m not really a fan of public transit as it exists now, which is why I drive a car. Emphasis on “me”. If I’m going to be held responsible for everything that happens with my car on public roads, then I want to drive. And, you’re right, the bus sucks. And most often the train does too. My commutes were too long to use a bicycle effectively, my only choice was to drive (and sit in traffic for hours) or sit on a train for hours. At least on the train, I could read the newspaper without the possibility of crashing into someone else’s vehicle…
       
      I hate the idea of re-inventing something, when, if we refined something that already existed we could spend our resources on other needs, too. Like I posted earlier, if this goes live, who pays for it? Who’s responsible if there’s an accident? Referencing the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, what do you do about some random thing like an animal or a person running out in front of the automaton automobiles? Do you really want to give up your freedom of movement?

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    I suppose it is inevitable that someone will actually perfect the self-driving car, which has been a staple of visions of the future at least as long as there has been Popular Science magazine.  There are actually a few situations where I wouldn’t mind being able to let the car drive itself while I eat lunch or read a book — if you have driven I-16 between Savannah and Macon you know what I mean.  However, it’s scary to think how much lower the level of driving skills will sink once people get dependent on the autopilot.  And there is the question of where we get the most bang for our research and infrastructure buck.  Given the choice between automating I-16 and a high-speed train that would get me from Savannah to Atlanta in two hours, I’ll take the latter every time.

  • avatar
    Darth Lefty

    Every minute you spend driving, you are not looking at Google ads, or making money with which to purchase items advertised via Google.
     
    Kidding aside, the best part of this is that once you arrive at your destination you can just step out and let the car go find its own parking space.

  • avatar
    forraymond

    I would gladly quit driving if I thought this would work.  I COULD GET A LOT OF WORK DONE instead of having to dodge stupid drivers.

  • avatar
    jmo

    geoziner,
     
    What “duplication” are you referring to?
     
    What possible public transportation system would allow you to click “Ready to go in 10 ” on your Droid and have a warmed and ready vehicle at your front door, all set to drop you in front of any location you choosing, and find itself a parking space?

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      The duplication I’m referring to is the duplication of services. Many metro areas already have an established rapid transit system, I see this as something that takes up more room and uses more energy for less people delivered.
       
      Obviously the question you posed can’t be answered with any existing technology. The google technology is still experimental.
       
      In the city I live in now, the local RTA has a series of short buses (like the 12 passenger diesel buses many churches use), that will come to your door and take you anywhere you want to go, for $3, which is double the amount of regular bus fare. it’s kind of like a taxi on steroids, in a way. It originally started out with using regular sedans and vans, but the handicapped community really ramped up (not a pun) the demand for this kind of transportation, and the local RTA went to the buses to keep up with the demand. Many of the elderly who attend our church use the system, and we subsidize the members who do use it. As neat as the system is, I can’t imagine it working well in a really large city like, Chicago for example. But for our midsized city it seems to work well.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    Objectors to this technology are making a logical leap that isn’t certain: once cars can drive themselves, it will be required that cars always drive themselves. Since an autonomous system will have to be gradually introduced into a world of human-driven cars, I expect that any vehicle so equipped will necessarily have operator overrides built in like the demo vehicles being tested. Also, since every destination can’t be known with enough precision for GPS programming (it can get me to the mall but can’t get me into the closest parking space to the store I want to enter), the human driver will need to take over at the end, at least. The autonomous system would probably even be switchable as the driver wishes, allowing full auto operation when convenient but full human operation when desired. In this scenario, there have been plenty of times that I would be happy to turn over driving to my “chauffeur” while I talked with people, either in the car or by phone, napped, read, etc. instead of holding the car in position as I crawled thru heavy traffic on a route that I’ve travelled many times. I could even safely get home if I was too tired or drunk to do it myself. Yet I could still take the wheel when the roads are dry and twisty and I feel like pushing the car around myself. And I know that my wife would be very happy to have an autonomous system drive for her at night or in strange places.

    As to autonomous systems being a waste of effort that should be devoted to public transit, systems like this would make public transit a real option for many people. Imagine more varied and frequent bus service made possible when human drivers weren’t needed. Imagine micro car sized taxis that responded to cell phone calls and efficiently delivered you to your destination. And public transit is only a realistic option in urban areas where the population density justifies the infrastructure. Autonomous operation would be an incredible boon for rural travel. Have you ever driven across Kansas?

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      “Objectors to this technology are making a logical leap that isn’t certain: once cars can drive themselves, it will be required that cars always drive themselves.”
       
      I believe that should give you a good idea about how much faith a lot of us have in our government (not necessarily just the US government, for that matter).  I would fully expect that once the option of automatic driving systems becomes available, there will be a governmental push (if not from government entities themselves, then from various pressure, er, lobbying groups) to make it mandatory.
       
      For our own good, of course.

  • avatar
    jmo

    “Referencing the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, what do you do about some random thing like an animal or a person running out in front of the automaton automobiles? Do you really want to give up your freedom of movement?”

    Huh?  What more unstable system is there than the aerodynamics of the F-22 Fighter?  The plane is so maneuverable because it is so highly unstable that no human could ever hope to fly it.   The only way it can stay in the air is though the use of computers.

    It’s the same with stability control.  Human physiology won’t allow a human to apply differential braking to each of the four wheels.  The only way this is possible is with a computer.  Automation allows reaction times and maneuvers that humans are just not capable of.

    You spoke of a deer (or person) in the road.  A computer could see the deer (via infrared, radar or visible light), initiate evasive action, and be back on course before a human was even able to step on the brake or even see the deer. A human, with eyes sensitive to only the visible light spectrum and only over a narrow field of vision, might not even see the dear before it’s splattered all over the windshield.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      In the upper midwest we are always keeping alert for deer. They rarely react the way you expect them to. An acquaintance of mine was driving in a hilly area when she unknowingly spooked a deer on the side of the road. She realized what happened when the deer landed on the windshield header, however. The deer collapsed the roof and windshield down on her and lost control of the car. Most folks don’t expect the deer to try to jump, they expect it to run in front of you. Uncertainty.
       
      It’s not uncommon to hear about cities where a cattle or a horse trailer loses it’s cargo in downtown traffic and the phenomenal traffic jams and accidents that result from it. More uncertainty.
       
      I don’t know if the automaton automobiles will have 360 degree vision capabilities, but I could see a “train” of sedans traveling at 65 MPH when a deer decides to jump into traffic, or Bessie got a wild hair and decided to see what was on the other side of the fencing. I’m not going to say that I would magically avoid this accident on my own, but I don’t want to be an unwilling piece of cargo on one of these trains, either. I don’t have that overriding faith in the electronics. I want to control my travels, not some thing else, thanks.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      “It’s the same with stability control.  Human physiology won’t allow a human to apply differential braking to each of the four wheels.  The only way this is possible is with a computer.  Automation allows reaction times and maneuvers that humans are just not capable of.”
       
      When are these advanced stability control systems going to become available on cars that consumers can purchase?  I haven’t yet heard of a car that is faster around a track with the stability control enabled.

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    The long-term (ie,most of us will be dead) reality is simple, straightforward,and inevitable: computers are faster than humans. From ABS,PSD, DST, to pick-an-acronym, they are simply faster than ANY of us humans.
     
    Period.
     
    Argue all you want, but a well-sorted computer program shifting an F1 car around a track will smoke Schuey. Let alone you and I…
     
    It has already started folks. MBZ Distronic will keep you a preset distance from anything that happens in front of you, far better than any Stig could ever achieve. Ever. Has for years. Human nature and government policy are rather predictable, given the last coupla thousand years of recorded history – especially the last hundred or so.
     
    Here’s how it will go. At first it will be a geegaw addition to an S-Class(that leaves all liability on the owner). Then, it will filter down to Lexus/Infinity/Lincoln/Cadillac, then it will be an option on Hondotas.
     
    At that point some bleeding hearts will point out that it may save some children, insurance companies will raise the rates through the roof for mammalian-operation, and non-human driving will be the law of the land.
     
    Period. Please argue with an example of  how history refutes this prediction. Please.
     
    I’ve  been following this project from the genesis (as one of my exes got her undergrad and masters from Stanford).  In AI.
     
    Rush’s Red Barchetta is a wonderful piece of musical prescience…

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      “At that point some bleeding hearts will point out that it may save some children”

      Well…in reality, they may argue that it will virtually eliminate traffic.  I think for any of us, that’s going to be a pretty powerful argument.
      http://amasci.com/amateur/traffic/traffic1.html

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      But it doesn’t eliminate traffic jams. In the Western World they are not limited by the number of lanes but by people who decide that the traffic jam is to large and decide to do something else. Opening up more lanes or making more efficient use of the road only leads to more people using the road until you get the same duration of traffic jam

    • 0 avatar
      porschespeed

      charly,
       
      If you spend sometime with traffic engineers and serious computer models of traffic jams, I think you will get the meta-point I’m attempting to, well, drive, as it were.
       
      Computer controlled vehicles don’t hit the brakes because the guy in front is exiting/turning/whatever. Tight following distances and predictable reactions are what eliminate “gridlock/jams” as we know them.
       
      Yes, loading peak rush hour traffic will slow the mix a bit, but the reality is that the comp is far faster than us, and as such, will know what every other car is doing and react long before any human would even realize the change.
       
      Stop signs and traffic signals will disappear – flow through intersections will all be controlled by onboards communicating with each other. As I have said, likely not while we still walk the Earth, but our kids will certainly live in that world.
       
       

  • avatar
    Demetri

    If it works well enough, it could be the biggest technological advancement since the internet and cell phones.  Traffic?  Eliminated.  Road fatalities?  Virtually eliminated.  The driving enjoyment of enthusiasts is nothing compared to the vast societal benefits.

    • 0 avatar
      MM

      @Demetri, talk about overruling the enjoyment of one group for “vast societal benefits” is always a bit iffy.  So often, benefits don’t materialize or unintended consequences mitigate the benefits.  Like when Brawndo replaces water…. we don’t wanna go there.
      Any ‘autodriver’ system would need to have an override, just as autopilot systems can be overridden or turned off.  I could see some benefits of a part-time system.  Tell me more.

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      Traffic jams wont be eliminated, especially considering that i don’t want to drive 3 hours to get to my work, but if i could just fall asleep than 4 hours is no problem

    • 0 avatar
      porschespeed

      MM,
      Brawndo has already replaced water. Merely a matter of time before it all comes to fruition…
       

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      So does this mean that I wouldn’t be allowed to operate my vintage vehicles on the road anymore?
      New sport: buzzing past these automated cars far too close causing them to slam on the brakes and spilling the coffee of the oblivious passengers (that’s right – no one called a driver anymore).
      Seriously I could learn to like automated cars driving me through Kansas or through stop and go traffic.
      A while back we were lamenting the black boxes being used in oregon for taxing purposes. Talk about big brother – these cars would be full of technology making it easy for the car to track your movements and report back to the Google/Microsoft/Apple marketing departments who then sell your travel profiles to more marketing departments. No thanks.
      Would be pretty cool to climb into an automated car and tell it – take me to dinner – random destination or surprise me. We did a low-tech version of this last year in Chicago. Drove all over town sightseeing on a Saturday afternoon. When we got tired of it we found a random family style Italian restaurant nearby via the GPS directory and ate a nice/frugal dinner and then pressed the button to lead us back to the hotel we were staying at. Worked A+ on our Navigon and was glitch/stress free.

  • avatar
    Garak

    I really don’t see a way for driverless cars to become a reality soon. The technology is there, but the legislation isn’t. Considering that for example riding a Segway is still illegal in most places, legislators don’t want to allow “new, unproven and dangerous” equipment on the roads.
     
    Also think of the lawsuits. The unintended acceleration scandals will be nothing compared to people claiming their cars crashed without driver interference and so forth. It’s going to be too high a risk for mainstream manufacturers, unless they can create some legal loophole to avoid getting sued.
     
    Also, the notion that computer viruses can cause cars to crash is finally going to be true. Science fiction will always find a way.

    • 0 avatar
      dkulmacz

      “It’s going to be too high a risk for mainstream manufacturers, unless they can create some legal loophole to avoid getting sued.”
       
      I think you said the magic word there . . . major manufacturers.  The thing with automobiles is, you can do nearly anything in a one-off but you need one of the existing players to go full in if you really expect it to happen.
       
      Think how simple it is to convert a vehicle from ICE to electric or biodiesel . . . you always read about some dude who did it in his back yard.  But we’ve seen the majors struggle with releasing a viable electric car for decades, and also seen other smart people try to crack into the industry (e.g., Tesla) but still we have no electric cars.  The technology is there and has been there for years, but the inertia of the industry wins out.
       
      The inertia is not intentional, I think . . . it’s just a fact in this hugely capitalized industry.  Products have to be safe from generating lawsuits, simple to manufacture in existing facilities, and profitable before they’ll be of interest, and therefore before they take off widely.
       
      This will be a long time coming, so I’m not worrying about it . . .

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      There are 3 different conditions a car needs to drive. Highway(more than 80kmh), open road and “parking lot”(less than 15kmh). Driverless cars on the highway is simple. In a parking lot it is doable but i find the idea of driverless cars on the open road scary. Parking lots are often private property and as such don’t need legislation. Toll roads are also private property (even if they are state owned) so no legislation needed

  • avatar
    mcs

    Yesterday, I keyed in an address on Beacon St in Brookline (a Boston suburb) MA into my Google Nav System. Despite the fact I specifically said Brookline, Google silently routed me to the same address in Newton, MA. Fortunately I knew to check the route before following it and corrected the problem by searching on the name of the place I was going which brought up the full address with extended zip code and that did the trick.  The trouble with technology is that you still have to be vigilant and monitor what it’s doing. Most drivers won’t do that and that’s when it can get you into trouble.
     
    My son traveled separately taking the subway and light rail to the address. The trains on the line he took run once every ten minutes, so he didn’t have to wait long and the train dropped him off a few feet from the door of the building. Google not needed.
     

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Was using a GPS unit that “froze” on a long empty stretch of highway. We did not even notice until we got closer to our destination (road signs alerted us). I could imagine a computerized steering system failing and the driver not even noticing until the car was way off the road heading for a major crash. And yeah – the computer could have failure warnings but I’ve seen those fail to pop up b/c the OS failed. Would be an interesting bit of kit to be so redundant.

  • avatar
    shaker

    The evolution will continue, but will take some time. You’ll know that it’s fully adopted when Porschespeed’s prediction
    “At that point some bleeding hearts will point out that it may save some children, insurance companies will raise the rates through the roof for mammalian-operation, and non-human driving will be the law of the land.”
    (Ah, so many children, so many bleeding hearts :-)
    It may more likely start with DUI offenders, who (as a requirement of their freedom) will be required to use this kind of tech to avoid jail.

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      This will not be introduced on all roads at the same time. This will start on roads that have few surprises, like highways. So it can’t be used for DUI offenders because drivers still need to drive from the offramp to where they want to go. But it will be useful for speeders. They can only drive highwayspeed under computer control.

  • avatar
    pgcooldad

    Did anyone realize that the Prius made an illegal right turn?
     
    If a vehicle is still travelling on the road you are about to turn right into, you must wait until all traffic lanes are cleared. What would happen if on the last minute that vehicle decided to turn into a the corner gas station or the Waffle House ….. whammm … Prius would be at fault for failing to yield to the flow of traffic.
    This happened to my son when the old gizzard in the left lane decided to swing on into the Country Buffet two driveways past the trafic light while my son waited patiently for a vehicle in front of it to turn, then inched forward. A car was approaching from the left, but the “17year old inexperienced driver” pulled into the far right lane and was 3/4 into the turn when the Chrysler 300 took out the drivers-side headlight and 1/2 of the front bumper.
     
    I’m sure that would be an easy software fix, but I would hate to have to deal with not only idiot drivers or inexperienced drivers, now we would have idiot machines in the mix – programmed by a bunch of yahoos.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      The question isn’t will the system make mistakes, the question is will it make fewer mistakes than a human operator.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @jmo:
      to quote: geozinger: “It opens up too many questions that we can’t answer.”
      jmo: Um, that’s how progress works.

      Now you’ve answered one of my questions that I can’t answer:

      jmo: The question isn’t will the system make mistakes, the question is will it make fewer mistakes than a human operator.
       
      Therein lies the rub. (actually, one of many.) What if the software/hardware combo makes more mistakes. Then what?
       
      Oh I know: “Um, that’s how progress works.”

    • 0 avatar
      kjs

      Did anyone realize that the Prius made an illegal right turn?
       
      If a vehicle is still travelling on the road you are about to turn right into, you must wait until all traffic lanes are cleared.

      This may be true in some state(s) (I’m not sure which), but it is not the case in CA:

      http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d11/vc21453.htm

      “(b) Except when a sign is in place prohibiting a turn, a driver, after stopping as required by subdivision (a), facing a steady circular red signal, may turn right, or turn left from a one-way street onto a one-way street. A driver making that turn shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians lawfully within an adjacent crosswalk and to any vehicle that has approached or is approaching so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard to the driver, and shall continue to yield the right-of-way to that vehicle until the driver can proceed with reasonable safety.”

  • avatar
    Tstag

    OK imagine if Google called a press conference tomorrow morning and said this was ready. How would you feel if you were one of the first drivers to have this tech in your car? Would you press the drive by Google button? And if you did what kind of a back seat driver would you be? Also if it work on GPS how worried would you be if the local council built a new roundabout?
    It strikes me that this will come of age whatever we think. But I imagine for the first few years we may well have to resist the need for people with red flags to walk in front of the car.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I know exactly how I’d feel. I’d request that any automated car be equipped with a red flag or some warning device so I could give it extra attention. Then I’d sit back and watch them for the next 20 years or so to see how reliable they are. If one hit my car I’d sue Google into oblivion and I’m not the suing type.
      We’ll see these things operating on the interstates first and then slowly they will advance to the point where they can operate on side streets and then downtown and then challenging mountain roads.
      I’m not very willing to let a company risk the health and happiness of my family with their new sources of revenue – see BPA concerns in canned veggies and soups. I just quit eating canned foods.

  • avatar

    The “eliminate traffic” nonsense must be dealt with. Traffic is the very process of moving. What they want to eliminate is a traffic jam. Which, BTW, is also impossible – and I am saying this as a person who sat in a train traffic jam.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    JMO,
     
    Muscle car enthusiasts and modern Corvette owners love their pushrod engines. Look at the power, efficiency and reliability of the GM LS series of pushrod V8s.
     
    By the way, I am no luddite. I drive a modern BMW. Just keep quiet while you’re still ahead.

  • avatar
    frizzlefry

    I would be fine with a mix of cars. Some automated, some driver-based. I think its a great idea as the most dangerous drivers on the road are the nervous 10-under the limit/stop in merge-lanes ninnies. They would likely love to avoid the stress of driving and pick one of these car-bots up. Then they would actually be able to merge properly. I say yes. Bring on the automatons.

  • avatar
    TexasAg03

    Perhaps out of a desire to solve a problem they helped create (texting, mobile web use, etc.), Google has come ever closer to  perfecting autonomous cars.

    That seems like an unnecessary low blow. Why didn’t you include Nokia, Apple, and Samsung? What about McDonalds, Burger King, and Jack in the Box? What about JVC, Pioneer, and Sony? What about Revlon, Max Factor, and Maybelline? What about The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today?
    There are MANY distractions in cars, not just those involving Google. Besides, I’d venture that there are fewer people using Android based phones than those using regular old cell phones running whatever OS they run.

  • avatar
    alfabert

    What happens when someone takes a stealth version of Google-Drive to an SCCA autocross, drives the course “manually” the first time – and then lets Google-Drive drive their ‘vette optimally for their remaining runs? and takes FTOD as well?

    Could Google-Drive earn worker points for me as well?

    (Answer: an extra 30 pages in the rulebook forbidding automation; and No.)

    But let something like this happen a few times, and the Luddites among us (and I admit to being one myself) will start to see enough justification for this, especially for all the _other_ lousy drivers out there…

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    I have made my career in the auto industry, I am a gear-head, I love to drive and am reasonably good at it, and you have heard me railing on photo-enforcement corruption and lousy drivers and hoping for GPS-controlled autonom cars… I’ve been so looking forward to this technology!

  • avatar
    M 1

    I’m guessing nobody here has priced a fast LIDAR unit lately, and those aren’t webcams in the front window. This thing is very likely cruising around with a couple hundred pounds of computers in the trunk, too, all of which suck power like crazy and generate heat and noise. Yeah, sure, quote Moore’s Law, but the sheer computing power these systems require is immense. And we all know how automakers just love systems that need a lot of power and add weight.
     
    Bottom line is, even if the software and all the theories and techniques were perfected and available to the marketplace right now, today, this option would probably cost as much as the car itself in the case of something like a Prius.
     
    Similar to self-adjusting cruise control, maybe you’ll eventually see a “self-driving” checkbox at your local Mercedes dealer, but we are decades away from this being affordable for “the masses”.

  • avatar

    @ jmo: You almost certainly are a typical “Good Guy”. Those guys are relentlessly trying to improve things and are making things worse. Almost everything they have tried has failed, everything they try will fail, making live more miserable than it was before. Because “Good Guys”, like Karl Marx, always forget the human factor. At least, Marx certainly had some points at his time.
    But now we have to struggle with the “Good Guys” in power, almost everywhere in the Western world. Shitting in their pants with no apparent reason and eager to leave a scent mark they come up with weird ideas on everything to make THEIR live more enjoyable, usually combined with an expensive to-do-list for the majority that has to pay for it.
    Whether it is “spelling reform”, or “Waldsterben” (forest decline, a typical German phenomenon), particulate air pollution, not to forget  “2nd-hand smoke” and “Global Warming”, all those topics need to be tackled, in their opinion, because they neither can spell, nor have worked in a forest, never smoked. and never had the faintest idea on the intricacies pf computer modeling based on shaky figures. Most important thing for them is that OTHERS should change their way of life, so that THEY can sleep well.
    I’m  simply fed up with such hysterical OMG attitudes. So, drive your government-sponsored, government-controlled E-car, enjoy it, but please shut up. Remember: life was, is, and will be dangerous, even deadly, sometimes. Just get it. No need for nerd or government intervention.

    • 0 avatar
      carsinamerica

      And what is wrong with reducing second-hand smoke, pray tell? Now friends and I can go to restaurants and clubs without going home with sore throats and smelling like arsonists. The people who want to kill themselves more rapidly may still smoke outside. And I used to smoke from time to time.
       
      Your theory that trying to improve things makes things worse is the essential definition of a Luddite. Progress happens, and we’re often better off for it. Look at a modern European city, and compare it to the same city 30 years ago, before tight regulation on diesel particulates. I lived in London back them. I can tell you exactly what the Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral, and Westminster Abbey looked like, and they looked bad. Now, they sparkle. Why? Because they were thoroughly cleaned, and the air was cleaned, too.
       
      Of course life is dangerous, of course we all die. However, if we can prevent NEEDLESS deaths, why oughtn’t we? If we can make people succumb less frequently to lung cancer, emphysema, and the like, what is wrong with that?
       
      Finally, consider this. You talk of the selfishness of “good guys” in changing the world to make their own lives better. Can you not see that you are at least as selfish as they? You reject progress and regulation so that you may enjoy the things you wish to enjoy regardless of the impact on other people. It’s more selfish, actually. These “good guys” say, “I don’t want to breath poisoned air, and nor should anyone else, so let’s regulate air quality.” You say, in effect, “I want to pollute while doing whatever I want, and if others suffer, too bad, life is dangerous.”

    • 0 avatar
      porschespeed

      carsinamerica,
       
      Simply put, non-smoking types don’t produce the revenue. Smokers (and those who ‘tolerate it’) are the lion’s share of the bar biz. Ban smoking and the bar-biz goes to hell.Just look at SF or any other place you can’t smoke and drink.
       
      Beyond that, I find it hilarious that people can’t/won’t identify and remediate  the dozens of other serious carcinogens in their environment.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I would LOVE to have this. Tomorow I get the utter thrill of driving from Portland, Maine to White Plains, NY ~300 miles of boring Interster highway. I will likely drop out of 6th gear twice, for tolls. I would love it if the car could just drive itself on the Interstate.

    -Kevin

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Now it is possible.
    Soon it will be an optional feature in luxury cars.
    Then it will be ubiquitous like air bags and anti lock brakes.
    Finally it will be mandatory.
    Times change.

  • avatar
    ajla

    The Self-Driving Vehicle Bill is passed. The system goes on-line August 4th, 2015. Human decisions are removed from personal transportation. GoogleMobile begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.
     
    GoogleMobile fights back.

  • avatar
    econobiker

    Autonomous cars ain’t sh#t.

    Don’t believe this little driverless car imagery, think big and behind the scenes…

    Autonomous cargo tractor trailer trucks and the resulting labor cost savings (read: truck driver layoffs) are where the real business owners will profit. Don’t say I didn’t tell you. Probably remotely monitored by India based technicians with a person at the dispatching and receiving company being required to park the truck into the loading docks- kind of like a river pilot.

    And sharing the road with 80,000lbs of driver-less truck remotely controlled from India? Priceless…

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Why does the parking bit require a human? VW/Audi already does this automatically among other brands in their cars. You are correct on all your points.

    • 0 avatar
      porschespeed

      HallaFallujah brother!
       
      The first and only people-less vehicles will be large trucks and they will be controlled from India/Cambodia/3rdworld.
       
      What the planet needs is a war or a disease to get the population back under 1B so humans can actually live here.
       
       

  • avatar
    rpn453

    Being delivered to a destination has never interested me.  I’d rather experience and control the journey myself.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Well, androids to the rescue, I guess.
     
    What happens after a 4 inch snowfall, which happens about 20 times a year around here (let alone a real snow storm) ?  I know, I know, a Panther with winter tires will climb Mt. Everest with nary a hint of wheelspin, but it’s eternally dumb.
     
    Who cleans the car if parked outside? Google? A robot that knows how to drive through snow? At what speed will it go? Does it dispense panic pills or require you to wear blinders to avoid excitement? Just like electric cars, 100 percent useless in freezing weather.
     
    This is all high tech BS from beginning to end. The only way this will even begin to work is if all vehicles are standardized to have the same responses in the same situation. Then what will distinguish one make from another? The quality of the arm-rests? How will double-parked UPS vans delivering packages interact with this latest brainwave?
     
    Absurdity of the week.


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