Wired Magazine had a very interesting article about the current activity in driving automation. Written by Tom Vanderbilt, it reviews the large leaps that have been made in the field in the past decade. It’s amazing that we really are so close, so much that it will be a legislative problem over the coming decade to catch up with the state of the technology.
On a week that my mother bought what she expects to be the last car she owns, not expecting to be allowed to drive (by me) after she’s 80, it looks like she might be able to buy a car that (mostly if not entirely) drives for her by that time.
Reading over the article, which is quite long, thorough, and awesome, I had several thoughts on the future of the technology and implications.
Stop n’ Go Traffic
I was reminded this week of an awesome example of the emergent nature of stop n’ go traffic in a non-bottleneck/accident environment. A video of a circle of cars that begin equal spaced but because the nature of humans begins to undulate.
One would hope that the automation of driving would put an end to the annoying of such. Prediction 1: I think it won’t (without legislative force or technical cooperation). I suspect that the varying granulation of the differing softwares among cars, and also likely setting of comfortable follow distances will cause the same emergent fluctuation of speeds. The best way to counter this, in my opinion, would be to recognize a stop n’ go situation and limit the allowed acceleration after a slow down. Just a critical mass of cars taking that approach could cause the behavior to not manifest.
There are many car sharing services that have existed and currently exist, but if cars could auto-navigate without even a licensed driver as a passenger, it would make the ability that much greater! But better than services that would require the overhead of a business, how easy would it be to borrow a friend or family member’s car?
“Hey Joe, I need to haul something, can I borrow your truck?” “Sure. I’m at work. I’ll send it over. Have it back by 5.” “Hey, I’m running late, can I send my car over?”
There might even be a group of friends with a pool of cars. Schedule the SUV for the weekend road trip, or the convertible for the drive to the beach. Prediction 2: (Also, hinted at in the article) Car ownership will drop.
Of course, the ever present in New York and semi-used in Houston taxi cab could entirely disappear. Or at least the human driven version of one could. (Jonny Cab, a la Total Recall?) But everyones car will become a virtual cab. Will the taxi cease to exist entirely? I doubt it, the cab companies will have to reinvent themselves, but I think they will try.
And with car/cabs becoming ubiquitous, will we see the end of drunk driving? Certainly not; the main issue of drunkenness is the bad decision making. But hopefully it would be drastically reduced. But the semi-automated car should be able to prevent a drunk driver from speeding or even crashing, while the fully automated car would bypass him all together.
Will we see the lessening of DWI demonization? Indeed, would Mothers Against Drunk Driving shrivel and die for lack of need, or would it morph into something that is more overtly neo-prohibitionist? I suspect the former.
Of course, you would suspect the automating of buses. Their large size leads to more difficulty in a human driving them. Both public and private busses could likely be improved by it. I’ve seen some questionable city driving of busses, particularly in sharing the street with cyclists. And every few years there’s a tragic private bus crash that kills most of the occupants.
But will people be willing to ride in these large things without an attendant? Or would bus owners be willing to send them out without a company representative? Prediction 3: I think busses will still have an “attendant” minimally. The “driver” would be trained in the operation, but perhaps not licensed as they currently are as a “large vehicle driver”. He could become the tour guide or in-drive attendant for the passengers.
Mass Transit v Public Transit
There is a distinction among those who study public transit, between that and mass transit. Mass Transit moves large numbers of people at once (trains, busses). Public Transit does that and possibly involves smaller unit movers (public taxis).
There has never been a large implementation of non-mass public transit. Van shares is perhaps the most common example of this. The reason you have a bus to the suburbs is because you only pay one driver for 80 people. If there is no driver, there’s no reason to wait for the bus to fill up. Instead of one departure time you can leave at times staggered to fit riders’ convenience.
You could also group people by delivery location. Rather than having one commuter parking lot, you drop them at various nearby locations. Perhaps a grocery store. And you wife you send you the car she was using earlier to come pick you and the groceries up.
I had a whimsical thought while reading the article as well. The software keeping you safe in the moving car could be able to identify makes and models of cars. If it doesn’t happen in the future, we’ve all lost our humor. The VW software of the future has to have an option to play Slug Bug with the riders.
Prediction 4: There will be in-car apps for entertainment.
If/when auto-drivers become prevalent, auto accidents should reduce in both amount and severity. Lessened severity may not necessarily imply lessened cost. Will insurance costs drop?
There will be a realigning of liability. Will this cause more litigiousness? Will this cost insurance to rise? Will it offload to software/car companies? Will we have to sign forced-mediation contracts with an auto purchase?
Or will insurance remain the same annoying costly thing? Lots of variables here.
Our cars will be able to observe lots of things. License plates will certainly be identifiable with multiple cameras on every car. Will they be recorded? Maintained? Who will have access to these? Will we control them, or the car company, or the government? Would you be able to access all of them? Remotely? Could police get a warrant for a plate or a make/model identification, send out a message, and download all identification of it from every car in town?
Prediction 5: The government will want access to this information. Will we let them have it? It will be an argument of “well if you have nothing to hide” like so many other liberty loss arguments are.
Certainly there are a lot of minor hit and run offenses. Usually involving non-insured drivers. Or sometimes the equivalent, falsely identifying drivers. And then there’s the bastard who lies to his insurance company saying it was your fault. Not to mention the aberrant ill acting police officer. Now you’ve got onboard video recording to cover your own ass.
Hacking the Car
The article mentions the phrase “hacking driving”, which is a very Google oriented view of the new technology: it’s a massive data set, how do we tame it. But once it’s everywhere, there will be people “hacking driving”. Which is to say, making their car do something it wasn’t originally intended to do, or even hacking yours to get it to do something it wasn’t intended to do. What kind of laws and liability will arise from that?
The cars may not be flying, but if i’m able to sit back and enjoy while the trip is going on, that’s 90% of the battle. The article mentioned that he didn’t think we’d be playing board games. That’s exactly what i expect to be doing on a road trip. Gimme the 70s captain chair in a modern, small SUV.