The Truth About Cars » autonomous cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 20:45:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » autonomous cars Today’s Must Read: Google Doesn’t Get Us Wed, 09 Jul 2014 14:02:17 +0000 1024px-Jurvetson_Google_driverless_car_trimmed

In the absence of While You Were Sleeping, I’d like to open up the floor to discussion on this spectacular piece from Jalopnik‘s Damon Lavrinc, titled Google Co-Founder ​Sergey Brin Doesn’t Understand Us And Never Will.

Lavrinc lays out the case that Brin and his ilk see

not just cars, but car ownership is inefficient, wasteful, and dangerous. They take up too much space, use too many resources, and, listening to Brin, are an unconscionable blight on society…Brin looks at the world through an engineer’s lens. It’s binary: good versus bad, progress versus stagnation. The idea that someone would derive any amount of pleasure from the act of driving is completely antithetical to the society Brin envisions. Add in the fact that he’s also the protagonist in a world of his own creation, worth $30 billion, and nestled safely inside the Silicon Valley hive mind, and – with the right (Google) glasses – you can see where he’s coming from. Until you can’t.


Lavrinc describes this vision as “divorced from reality”, and rightfully so. I personally abhor this mindset for a whole host of reasons, whether it’s because I don’t want an engineer in Silicon Valley deciding to reshape my access to mobility in their pseudo-utopian image, or that Brin stands to profit handsomely from a plan that would engender the obsolescence of one of my favorite hobbys.

Most of all, I resent the mindset that every facet of life must be optimized, engineered or worse “disrupted”. A world like this leaves no room for spontaneity or idiosyncrasy, two of the imperfections that add so much joy to life. But I understand that this is the way the world is going – and if I faced a long, arduous commute, I’d probably have a different opinion.

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QOTD: A Robot Car That Kills You? Fri, 30 May 2014 17:22:48 +0000 google-self-driving-car1

Writing in the National Post, Matt Gurney discusses a darker side of autonomous cars, one that many people (especially this writer, who is not exactly familiar with the rational, linear type of operation that is involved with coding)

In a recent interview with PopSci, Patrick Lin, an associate philosophy professor and director of the Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group at California Polytechnic State University, proposed a hypothetical scenario that sums up the problem. You’re driving along in your robo-car, and your tire blows out. The computer in control rapidly concludes that your car is moving too quickly and has too much momentum to come to a safe stop, and there is traffic ahead. Since an accident is inevitable, the computer shifts from collision avoidance to collision mitigation, and concludes that the least destructive outcome is to steer your car to a catastrophic outcome — over a cliff, into a tree — and thus avoid a collision with another vehicle.

The raw numbers favour such an outcome. Loss of life and property is minimized — an objectively desirable outcome. But the downside is this: Your car just wrote you off and killed you to save someone else.

This situation, as Gurney writes, involves being a passenger in a device that is “…may be programmed, in certain circumstances, to write us off in order to save someone else?”

I’m not an expert on autonomous cars, or computer science, or robotics, or ethics, or government regulation. I am not going to go down the path of “people will never accept autonomous cars because driving is freedom”, because I just don’t think it’s true anymore.

But I do feel that autonomous cars represent something else: another techno-utopian initiative dreamed up by rational, linear thinking engineers that are incapable (sometimes biologically) of understanding the human and cultural intangibles that are an integral part of our existence. The idea of a coldly utilitarian device that would sacrifice human life based on a set of calculations is not something that will be well received. And the people behind self-driving cars may not understand this.

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Autonomy and the 1939 World’s Fair Thu, 01 May 2014 12:00:21 +0000  

1939 GM Futurama-07-1

It’s safe to assume that when the doors to the New York World’s Fair flew open 75 years ago to the day, the American public had few expectations about the future of autonomous personal transport. To be fair, they weren’t exactly sold on the whole highway thing yet either. Sure, several New Deal agencies like the WPA and CCC had successfully modernized countless local roads and a handful of major throughways, but the ubiquitous twists of freeway that would come to define the modern North American landscape were two decades and a word war away.

That said, autonomy and highways go hand in hand.

As banal as it seems to us, the concept of free-flowing traffic was a major shift, not only to the transportation paradigm, but also to the subjective perception of time and distance. Prior to the 1939 World’s Fair the concept of an interstate system was not new, but one couldn’t expect the American public to be up to date on the latest developments in theoretical civil design.

Industrial designer Bel Geddes and General Motors changed all that with their revolutionary Futurama exhibit. Futurama was a ride, a journey of scale that started with a macroscopic view of the landscape of tomorrow and gently resolved to life size. The ride ended with a display of GM’s latest offerings, naturally —but along the way viewers were privy to a startlingly accurate “prediction” of what was to come for the American road system. The one element that didn’t immediately come to fruition in the decade following the war was the “automated highway”. It isn’t clear how Geddes or GM envisioned the system working but it’s crucial to our understanding of the nascent autonomous car industry that the concept of a freeway and a car that drives itself were born hand in hand.

Click here to view the embedded video.

During an interview with our friends at Hooniverse former GM honcho Bob Lutz made it quite clear that he believes the future of individual transport to be autonomous cars. While legions of boy racers and nostalgists cry out in horror it’s important to keep a cool head and remember that we’ve always been there. Highways have been autonomous since day one, not because they control our car, but because they eliminate the landscape and along with it the need to make decisions based on our immediate surroundings. A car that controls lane departure, cruising speed, and distance between other cars isn’t autonomy, it’s just details.


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Ur-Turn: Autonomous Cars Are Already Here Tue, 18 Mar 2014 14:19:57 +0000 Jurvetson_Google_driverless_car_trimmed

TTAC reader and former auto journalist Michael Banovsky writes about the inexorable move towards autonomous cars

Autonomous cars are already here.

It doesn’t matter if you’re testing an actual Google Car or cruising the Keys in a Pagoda-roof 230 SL, CUVing the kids to Hot Yoga or signing “11″ on a deserted road. Autonomous cars are here, the debate is done, so enjoy driving while you still can.

Let’s start with a story.

I was driving to work and glanced in my rearview and noticed a lady talking on a cell phone. Is that a chil…yes, that’s a child-in-child-seat, too.

We were at a moderate speed, we stopped, we got going again…and she didn’t hit me. I even watched, two minutes later, as she put the phone down and resumed the school run.

What was I supposed to do, publicly shame her? Call the cops, telling them someone was making a call—a possibly important one—and they should speed over, tout de suite?

This happens all the time, of course, all over the world. Are we to vilify everyone who safely makes a call or text while behind the wheel? Drives drunk? Drives high? Drinks coffee without spilling it? Changes the radio station without crashing?


I don’t think so. That would be—caution, nasty word – surveillance, and we’re probably going to give up driving before it’s monitored or taken away, anyway.

Here’s why: Any anti-social and anti-public safety behaviours* are drivers showing they’ve chosen something else over operating a vehicle. Taking a call while driving is proof, proven thousands of times a second, that we feel talking on a phone is as important to us as driving.

For a driverless future to happen, two things need to happen. First, non-compliance with road laws and rising costs will make driving much more expensive—to say nothing of fuel prices. Second, technology will make it possible.

Now tell me either is unlikely.

The key to adopting driverless cars without outcry is to make drivers feel like they have a choice. The lady I saw talking on her phone? If you could have given her a big green “Autonomous” button, I bet she’d have pushed it before taking that call.

Fines for not complying will keep increasing, making a driverless car system—either built-in or aftermarket— seem cheap in comparison. The aftermarket devices will become so small as to be unnoticeable. What will stop companies from offering ad-supported ones? “Saving $20 on groceries this week will only take 9 minutes, Ms. Greer. Would you like me to set a route?”

Autonomous vehicles could allow us to:

  • – Safely accept phone calls
  • – Safely interact with passengers
  • – Safely navigate through stressful or dangerous driving conditions
  • – Appoint an adult bus monitor instead of driver, making the now-autonomous school bus safer
  • – Drive your drunk ass home
  • – Travel more quickly on highways (what government would argue against higher speeds if they were sure crashing wasn’t possible. Yes, your car will drive faster than you.)
  • – Substantially reduce insurance premiums
  • – Substantially improve pedestrian and cyclist safety
  • – Substantially improve fleet-wide fuel economy
  • – Revolutionize semi-public transit, like airport shuttles and taxis
  • – Send our vehicles for service while we’re at work
  • – Offer incentives to shop in certain stores, or drive in certain places
  • …and many, many other things.

Roads were humanity’s last great analog system, until of course we started mapping things digitally. GPS and Google Streetview for our system of roads. Radar, specialized cameras, sensors for vehicles themselves. The vehicles are irrelevant—at the point machines move for themselves, does it matter if it’s a cement truck or smart fortwo? Does it matter if the data required to move a machine comes from a satellite or the car in front?

Once machines can read the road surface, signs, and conditions accurately (and reliably), these systems will flourish, and the vast majority of motorists will benefit.

Don’t like it? Don’t speed. Don’t use your cell phone. Drive more smoothly. Don’t crash. And tell millions of others the same. Then keep it up for the foreseeable future.

A future where driver-less cars outnumber driver-with cars isn’t crazy. It’s certainty, certainly if drivers keep breaking the rules. Statistics proving how bad we are at driving will allow the technology a foothold, and a few machine generations will work out most problems.

Advertising will take care of the rest.

What, did you think for a moment that companies would allow one of our last, great freedoms—driving—to remain free from monetization forever? “Driving” will become “moving people around.”

If you’re in doubt, take a few minutes and read US Patent #8630897. Search for “Autonomous.”

*As defined by our road laws—if you don’t like them, change them! (Ha.)

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Analysts: Peak Car To Arrive By 2020s Thu, 27 Feb 2014 13:54:56 +0000 Ferrari 550 Pininfarina Barchetta

After a century of motoring, and with several factors rapidly changing the landscape, analysts are forecasting the peak of global automotive growth to come sometime in the 2020s.

The Detroit News reports that as more people join the exodus out of suburbia into major cities, along with other factors such as pollution, gridlock, build quality and the adoption of alternative modes of transportation — particularly among younger generations who cannot afford a car of their own — auto sales around the globe will peak somewhere around 100 million in the next decade, according to several analysts such as IHS Automotive.

Further, 44 percent of Americans surveyed by Intel said they would prefer to live in big cities with driverless cars able to keep traffic flowing smoothly, while one out of 10 households have no car at all.

The coming upheaval is prompting automakers to consider their place in the new scene, where red barchetta owners outrun silver bubble cars, and where car ownership gives way to car sharing. Tim Ryan, vice chairman of markets and strategy for PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, puts the future of motoring into perspective:

The key question is: Do you sell cars or do you sell mobility? If you ignore these megatrends, you run the risk of becoming irrelevant.

With an expected 25 percent to 50 percent increase urban dwelling over the next decade, and 9 billion expected to live in urban areas 25 years from now, the groundwork is being prepared to meet this coming challenge. Gartner Inc. auto analyst Thilo Koslowski predicts urbanites to use ride- and car-sharing services such as Lyft and Car2Go to commute to their destination, with autonomous cars picking up their passengers, and using GPS and other communication technologies to deliver them safely.

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Japan’s Aging Population Boosting Demand For Autonomous Cars Tue, 22 Oct 2013 16:08:09 +0000 Nissan Autnomous Drive Leaf


Propelled by the fastest-aging nation in the world, there may soon come a day when senior motorists will find themselves behind the wheel (or lack thereof) of a fully autonomous car.

According to Bloomberg, Japan’s aging population is spurring innovations in autonomous car technology based on a sobering statistic: 51 percent of traffic fatalities in the graying country come from drivers aged 65 and over, with no signs of slowing at the present as more motorists enter their golden and twilight years each passing day; by 2060, 40 percent of Japan’s population will be 65 and over.

Thus, a number of automakers — including Toyota, Nissan and General Motors — are doing all they can to introduce technologies that could, by 2020 at the earliest, lead to the first autonomous cars ready for sale.

What could this bring to senior motorists in Japan, the United States, and other graying nations down the road? Freedom, if Google’s Anthony Levandowski, one of the project leaders for the company’s own autonomous car project, has anything to say about it:

This technology restores the freedom that people can’t see. This system will drive old people to see their grandkids and see doctors.

While Levandowski and other autonomous evangelists spread their gospel throughout the industry, detractors such as BMW’s Klaus Kompass caution against having too much optimism about this brave new world, which he expects won’t appear before 2025:

We are always talking about, ’80 percent or 90 percent of accidents are caused by human error.’ Nobody is talking, surprisingly, about all the accidents that human drivers have avoided.

Back in Japan, however, at least one researcher hopes for the best, at least when it comes to his country’s graying road warriors:

“Zero fatalities is definitely a feasible target,” according to Kazunoba Nagaoka of the Institute for Traffic Accident Research and Data Analysis. “I would expect we can realize that by 2035.”

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The Ultimate Self-Driving Machine, Now Available In Brown Thu, 30 May 2013 14:41:55 +0000 2014-bmw-x5-xdrive50i-11

This is the 2014 BMW X5. It comes in brown, and will have a diesel option. Alas, there is no manual available like the first generation X5. It can also drive itself at speeds below 25 mph.

A new system called Traffic Jam Assistant uses both adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning systems to help drive the X5 by itself at speeds of 25 mph or less. It’s basically the first mass market self-driving system, even though it’s designed for ultra-low speeds. Who would have thought that it would appear first on The Ultimate Driving Machine?

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Real Self Driving Cars Are Nearer Fri, 04 Jan 2013 17:45:23 +0000

When the 2013 2013 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) opens its doors in Las Vegas, Nev, on January 8, there will be a few cars on display. And not just to show off entertainment systems. At least two carmakers will demonstrate self-driving cars: Toyota and Audi.

Toyota teased its autonomous Lexus AASRV, a.k.a. Adavanced Active Safety Research Vehicle with a 5 second clip on YouTube.  It is a Lexus LS 600h, outfitted with gadgetry that looks like what Google has been driving around for a while. In a press advisory, Toyota promises the car, and insights into Toyota’s “Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) research and development.”

I had a look at parts of Toyota’s ITS two months ago at the tech center in Higashifuji, but there was no Lexus 600 with a big RADAR dome on top.

Audi told the Wall Street Journal that it will be showing a car with autonomous vehicle capabilities at the Las Vegas show.

Other carmakers are in advanced stages of autonomous vehicle research. Ford is known to be working on the technology. An autonomous Mercedes and an autonomous Volkswagen have been driving around Berlin for more than a year.  The technology appears to be exiting the Google phase and could be going mainstream soon.

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Nevada Ready For Self-Driving Cars. Well, Not Quite Sat, 18 Feb 2012 18:24:37 +0000

Last year, Nevada was the first state to legalize driverless cars – in a way. The law stipulated that Nevada’s Department of Transportation “shall adopt regulations authorizing the operation of autonomous vehicles on highways within the State of Nevada.” Probably hoping that this would take a while. The Department worked overtime and finished the regulations in eight months. The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles announces:

“In a step that puts Nevada first in the nation while paving the way for unique economic opportunity, the Legislative Commission today approved regulations allowing for the operation of self-driving vehicles on the state’s roadways.

It still is a while away until cars will roam Nevada with nobody on the wheel. The department is currently developing licensing procedures for companies that want to test their self-driving vehicles in Nevada. Then, the cars must be tested and approved. Only then, they may drive around on their own.

One thing the DMV knows for sure: The color of the license plate of those autonomous vehicles. While the cars are tested, the plate will be red. Once approved, the plate will be green. General Motors does not think that we will see many green license plates before 2020.

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Google’s Autonomous Cars Face Legal, Practical Challenges Mon, 23 Jan 2012 22:03:41 +0000

Google’s nutty pseudo-utopian autonomous car project faced a reality check at a legal symposium sponsored by the Law Review and High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University. Among the challenges raised were the prospect of insuring such a car, and whether the car would be able to stop for law enforcement or construction workers.

While Google claims that their autonomous cars have driven more than 200,000 miles  of accident-free driving, issues like whether police can pull over autonomous cars, as well as technological limitations with artificial intelligence, still remain as stumbling blocks. Google is throwing a lot of time and energy into having laws changed so that autonomous vehicles are road legal, but based on the concerns raised by experts, it looks like self-driving vehicles still have a long way to go before becoming viable.

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