Driverless Cars

posted by Crane-Station

On Monday, five days after Toyota reached a record-breaking 1.2 billion dollar settlement with the Department of Justice regarding sudden uncontrolled acceleration allegations, RAND Corporation’s James Anderson held a congressional briefing to present information for policymakers and to discuss the benefits of — you guessed it — self-driving vehicles.

Tanya Snyder of USA Streetsblog, summarizes the briefing in an article titled “How the Self-Driving Car Could Spell the End of Parking Craters:”

At a Congressional briefing this week, the RAND Corporation’s James Anderson, author of a recent report on the prospects for autonomous vehicles, said he is convinced that while there are advantages and disadvantages to driverless cars, ‘the societal benefits exceed the costs.’

The best possible scenario involves a fleet of shared driverless cars and the elimination of private vehicle ownership. Cars would be in constant use, so the amount of land reserved for parking could be greatly reduced. Even if driverless car technology comes on the market soon, however, that version of the future may never arrive.

Driverless cars will park themselves, reducing the need for parking space. Also, they will accelerate and brake more efficiently than humans, increasing fuel efficiency. The cars will have sensors that will allow them to drive closer together, possibly decreasing congestion. Safety “is considered to be the most clear-cut benefit of self-driving cars.”

Car “autopilot” technology is partially here, with some automated functions like cruise control in current working form on public roads. Several automakers have been working with companies like Google, and have progressed to a point where it is time for policymakers to figure out who would be liable, for example, for a crash. writes:

Sorting out who would be responsible for such an incident is one of the hairiest challenges for policymakers, and their success depends on lawmakers getting that policy right.

Not only are there few answers so far, but there isn’t even clarity on who is in charge of setting the rules — and that’s setting up the sort of Washington turf wars that are famous for grinding things to a halt.

Policymakers will need to delve into the specifics soon, given the progress automakers and companies like Google have made in advancing driverless cars. Audi spokesman Brad Stertz says his company could roll out the first iteration of driverless cars by 2019.

The RAND Corporation research publication authored by James Anderson and titled Autonomous Vehicle Technology: A Guide for Policymakers says that full-scale commercial introduction of “truly autonomous (including driverless)” cars is predicted to occur within five to twenty years. Florida, Michigan, California, Nevada and DC already have some policies in place for testing these vehicles on public roads. The vehicles were featured in Las Vegas at CES 2014, the technology trade show.

There are also potential drawbacks. For one thing, driverless cars are data guzzlers, and who has access to the data and how it will be handled is yet unknown.

John Gould, of the Wall Street Journal explains that the self-driving car will collect an enormous amount of information using technology both inside and outside the vehicle: cameras, radar, lidar (remote sensing using laser), sonar, GPS, bumper sensors, vehicle-to-vehicle wireless communication, rooftop sensors, side sensors, and GPS sensors on the antenna.

The driverless car is a rolling data farmer, which may be wonderful in theory but a privacy and cyber security nightmare in reality. Other potential drawbacks include liability and regulatory issues.

For the Rand study, “Anderson and his colleagues reviewed the current literature on the subject and conducted interviews with 30 stakeholders, including automobile manufacturers, technology companies, communications providers, representatives from state regulatory agencies and others.” One voice, however, seemed to be oddly missing: the average commuter who drives a car. I emailed a DC resident and asked what he thought of driverless cars. He said:

I still think driverless cars are a pretty long way off. Driving to work in DC, so much of the commute involves instinct and intuition. You have to be completely comfortable merging into tight traffic doing 60 from a standstill, unless you want to end up as a road rage statistic. There are too many intangible data points that the brain is taking in all at once to make multiple split second decisions in a very short amount of time. Cars can’t see around corners, but the imagination often can, and this is what keeps an experienced driver from getting into a wreck. At the very least, a driverless car might be able to navigate city streets, but it’ll be one of the slowest, most annoying drivers on the road. I think this one’s got some time before it’s ready.

There are some things that humans can see, that an automated vehicle may not, like this stop sign:

Paducah stop sign 006

What are your thoughts on driverless cars?

Related: RAND guide for policymakers full pdf here

12 Responses to Driverless Cars

  1. Vicky says:

    @crane-station – the eagle eggs have hatched at Decorah. Iowa.

    • gblock says:

      I hope this can lead to opportunities to get interviews from them and get a better idea of what happened – what knowledge or impressions they had prior to the trial and what happened during deliberations.

  2. colin black says:


    The entire concept of owning a car Is to entice the owner to bond with it.

    Use it as an extension of there domain there space and of course with men there penis.

    Not In my time or anytime soon will petrol heads cease to be born .

    Nor will our love afair with VW Bugs or VW Vans Ferrraris at the other extreme.

    Cars like other consumptionious belongings our clothes.Houses if you can afford one are status symbols.

    Human nature is not going to change to the extent that people will agreee to forgo there personal vechicles and simply hop in an out of genaric .

    Mass owned cars?

    Thats like ordering the entire populice to use public tran sport.

    To extend this logic you could end the homeless problem if you surmised.
    Some live in Mansions with acres of land and others live in card board boxes?

    If we just stopped private owner ship of homes an property/land .

    We could demolish all homes and build those mass cubicle pods they use In Japan as cheap hotels.

    Makes sence right?

    Most people dont use ther homes constantly you certainly cant stand in every sq inch of your domain at the same time.

    Unless you utilise quntom phycics.

    So if we all agreed to live in unilartian pods that we share in shifts with other people.

    Other Familes the world would no longer have to look the other way or step over the poor an dissenfrachised liveing on the street.

    The saved resourses could go towards health care an welfare.

    Like pooled computer driven cars will never happen.

    We as a species are selfish.

    Its in our D N A.

    If our species wasnt driven by self preservation an selfish wants.

    We wouldnt be sitting here today tapping or swipeing on computers.

    • gblock says:

      Colin, you make some good points. Eventually, driverless cars may mean that people not considered competent to drive will be able to be driven places by a driverless car. And, lawmakers would have to determine whether that is allowable, and under what circumstances. Some day, will the family car be programmed to take a 10-year-old child (old enough to be alone for a little while, but not to drive a car) to soccer practice and music lessons? Still, it is likely that cars will continue to be owned, rented, or leased, not that they become community items that are on call – although in the future, there may be such a thing as driverless taxicabs.

  3. gblock says:

    Crane-Station, without meaning to, you have brought up a major obstacle against the wide use of driverless cars: people’s uninformed preconceptions about what computers can or can’t do. For instance, with adequate programming, a computer may be more capable than a driver at responding to complex changing conditions, because there are limitations on how quickly humans can respond physically, and these will be less for a compute-driven car. And a computer may contain (or be able to download) data on the location of stop signs in an area, and therefore partially obstructed signs may not be an issue. And computers wouldn’t get distracted the way that human drivers do.

    On the other hand, probably all complex software contains bugs, which may be subtle. occur only under certain combination of conditions, and therefore be difficult to find – especially in complex real-time situations like this where is may be difficult or impossible to determine what all the relevant variables are. In addition, it is all too common for software testing to be cut short under the pressure of schedule slippages and looming deadlines.

    It will be important to thoroughly evaluate this from the of view of laws and standards. If we are not ready, the courts will be the ones making the decisions about laws and liabilities.

    • bettykath says:

      I spent many years as a designer/developer of systems software. Yes, these car computers will have bugs. The “only under certain conditions” bugs are called “sliver bugs” and very hard to diagnose. My wariness isn’t about ignorance, it’s about know that computers are just as fallible as people, just in a different way.

  4. The Raven says:

    Might turn out to be better drivers than the average hominid, who after all gets sick, sleepy, drunk.

    Or maybe not.

  5. bettykath says:

    They scare the bejezzas out of me. Bad enough to have inexperienced teens, texters, and geezers on the road, now they want to put vehicles made by companies like GM that won’t make a 60 cent improvement to make their cars safer totally in control? Makes me think of walking but then they could just catch me on the sidewalk. I’m not ready for a totally robotic world.

    • shyloh says:

      bettykath I am with you. I believe people are getting out of control. We so live in a microwave world right now. No one has patience anymore. We want what we want, and we want it yesterday! Geesh!!! If we can’t get what we want we go bonkers. It’s terrible…

    • Malisha says:

      They’re scary enough WITH drivers.
      At least drivers have something to LOSE if they mess up.

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