Do you REALLY want a driverless car?


What a totally dumb idea.

Google’s driverless cars are in the news again.  This time it is a tiny two seater with no steering wheel or pedals.  And the speed tops out at about 25 miles an hour.  I can’t wait to get one.  I am sure you must be one of the first to sign the waiting list.  I cannot imagine what people will do with such a thing.  It won’t even work as a golf cart.  What a totally dumb idea.

I suppose these cars are a way to show off Google’s technology and inventiveness.  As for really being a practical product that people will lust after like a new Corvette, BMW, or Porsche, I just don’t see it.  Is driving such a chore that people really detest it?  I would think programming the car to go exactly where you want it would be more of a pain than just driving there.  But what do I know?

What I really wonder is how the driverless car handles looking for a parking space at work, a shopping center, or a large multi-tiered parking garage.  Or how does it maneuver to get to the gas pump?  I am assuming a hybrid here and even those gas sippers need fuel every once in a while.  I bet close maneuvering situations are the downfall of such vehicles.  And what do you do if you can’t park it?

Watch this video on Google's self driving car, below:

What exactly is the real rationale for a driverless car anyway?  I have not gleaned this from the releases and articles so I can only guess.  Maybe, just maybe, they could actually be safer.  They go slow and don’t make dumb human errors.  And their systems are obviously very conservative making most drives pretty safe.  No road rage here unless it is inflicted on the driverless car rider for being too slow or whatever.

A real benefit is that you can safely text or phone while riding.  Heck, why not just get out the laptop and surf the web or do some work.  You could even fry some bacon on a hot plate and fix some breakfast while the car fights the rush hour traffic.

I wish I could think of some other real advantages but nothing comes to mind.

I don’t know about you, but I would never buy a driverless car.  I still say that just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should.  I surveyed some close friends and relatives about this recently and 100% said no to a driverless car.  Most people actually like to drive.  We all hate heavy traffic, of course.  It is just not fun. Maybe if all your driving is done in traffic, maybe you will be a prime candidate.  If you drive LA, DC or Houston, a driverless vehicle may be just what you need.  An automated driving appliance.  But it is not the kind of car for a weekend fun drive in the mountains or to the beach with the top down.  Driving is freedom.  And if you have the right kind of car like a sports car, muscle car, or pickup truck, it is a true delight.

I asked my 17 year old grandson and some of his high school friends what they thought about a driverless car.  Wow!  No takers.  These guys want real driver’s vehicles like hot cars or jacked up pickup trucks.  Something they can actually shift.  Cars are a reflection of the owner.  People buy cars that state who they are or what they feel they want to be.  It’s an image thing.  What does a driverless car say about its owner?  Lazy wussy nobody or what?  Most people are proud of their vehicles.  Even Prius owners, although I can’t understand why.

Maybe driverless cars are just a way to showcase the technology.  The electronics in these things is amazing.  Perhaps Google is trying out technology that will eventually find its way into real driver vehicles.  I can buy into that.  The lidar and collision avoidance stuff is really great.  How many chips are in a driverless car?  Hundreds?  All this is good for the electronics industry.

With California, Florida and Nevada already allowing driverless cars, I suppose we are on the way to seeing this happen in the future.  If it happens, I suspect the market will be a small niche like electric cars are now.  Just be ready for the huge insurance cost increases.  With the way federal regulation is increasing exponentially these days, maybe the government will just mandate them like it does other automotive features.  You better enjoy your driving freedom now.

Discuss this Blog Entry 35

on Jun 9, 2014

Agreed 100%. Summarised it perfectly with the phrase "driving is freedom". I too am concerned one day driverless cars will be made compulsory. All I can say is, I pity the generation of kids who might never enjoy the freedom of self-transportation and getting lost on the country lanes and discovering hidden natural beauty spots. Indeed driving in a congested city is not fun, so perhaps there the driverless car would be appropriate. But ONLY there. Leave the rest of us free please. Driving is not just about getting from A to B, it is also the journey in between, and the vehicle with which you make that journey is a personal statement.

on Jun 10, 2014

As a 26 year old male I have detested the physical act of controlling a vehicle since I was 18. On the other hand, I absolutely love the freedom that driving gives me: the ability to go anywhere I want at any time. Notice the difference between those two statements. Having a self-driving car removes the routine aspect of driving it, but still allows the freedom to travel to anywhere you want (except for off-roading of course).
I envision the driverless car future to be similar to the movie “I, Robot” in which there are highways and certain stretches of road where auto-driving is mandatory, but then the side streets have the option to be manual or automatic.

on Jun 11, 2014

The obvious very significant market for the driverless car is for people with vision impairments that are currently unable to drive at all. Strange that this group should be so easily forgotten. My son is one of them. He had a brain tumor removed and lost 75% of his vision. He can't wait for the driverless car.

on Jun 11, 2014

Who would want a driverless car?
1. The elderly
2. The young
3. The disabled
4. People with a long commute
5. People who want the roads safer
6. People who want less congestion and faster commutes in cities
7. People who want cheaper mass transit.

Personally, I love to cruise down country roads, but my daily drive to work that I do every single day is such a bore, I would much rather use that time to read, cruise the internet, or watch a movie.

The Google car is absolutely a technology demonstration, not a driverless car "for the masses." I'm sure that anyone in aerospace knows that you don't start off testing at full speed - they need to take things very slow, any fatalities with these vehicles will set them back YEARS. Also, even though they are very limited, that is not to say that they would not be a great shuttle around college campuses or airports.

on Jun 14, 2014

8. People who don't know how to drive (like me).

Hahahaha... A difference in situation really does give one a difference in perspective.

Anyhow, I'd prefer to learn how to drive myself.

on Jun 11, 2014

I gather, or infer at least, that the intended/theorized market for that 2-seat, <25MPH Googlemobile is as a horizontal elevator: A couple dozen of them in a in the urban center of a given city center; you subscribe to the service, sign a liability waiver(!), summon a Googlemobile on-line (or just find one nearby), then swipe your credit card for a fairly-quick, sweat-free, 8-10 block ride to somewhere within the city center.

on Jun 11, 2014

I agree with having control of the car and the great muscle cars of the 60's I haven't seen much like them since. But I recently had to take my dads license away and I think this would be a geat way for him to get his independence back and freedom to do his errands without depending on anyone else. Just an FYI we already see cars that park themselves. I wouldn't say parking is an issue. Just stop get out and program find parking spot and send me a text to where you parked...:)

on Jun 11, 2014

What about the freedom to look around while road-tripping? With driverless cars, one can absorb so much more of the scenery that goes by. In my opinion, the pride that comes along with owning a certain car model is mere ego-boost. Perhaps one day that perception will fade away.

on Jun 11, 2014

Well... I like driving in general. I drive cars and ride motorcycles. I like to go fast occasionally, but the fact is that, outside of a racetrack, you cannot LEGALLY use most of the performance of even a mid-level performance car, and much less of a fast bike. The exceptions are standing acceleration to the speed limit (even then, if you spin the tires, you may get a ticket) and freeway on-ramps. We (my wife and I) occasionally drive to visit family in the northwest. The distance is about 600 miles, and we typically do this in one day, averaging about 11 hours trip time. If there was a highway that allowed only self-driving cars that would travel at, say, 80-100 mph, I'd jump on that. 11 hours of focusing on the road, other drivers, deer running out on the road, trucks going slowly, other drivers doing 50 on a two-lane 65 mph road - all these do is cause so much stress that I'd welcome a chance to let the car drive itself, assuming, of course, that I was convinced the system was secure. Around town - not so sure, but I like the idea of the system that could "see" children, dogs, people blindly backing into the road, etc. and provide a warning or the brakes, if necessary.

on Jun 11, 2014

How will the lane sensors cope with faded or snow-covered lines?
How will it follow undocumented detours?
Can it sense the difference between a pothole and an asphalt patch?
Can it recognize children playing ball in a nearby yard, who might run out between parked cars?
It presumably depends on accurate GPS locations. I often find that my GPS s not accurate for specific addresses - sometimes a mile or more off.

on Jun 11, 2014

Google, most major automakers, and many universities (e.g., CMU) are working on all of the above. I don't claim to be an expert on this topic, and personally don't know what they have in mind for snow-covered roads, but I gather a big piece of collision detection concerns are handled by LIDAR and RADAR, and that might work for potholes too. They complexity and detail of the pictures they can build from LIDAR is surprisingly high, and the algorithms for interpreting that picture as it changes in real-time are starting to get pretty amazing. As for positioning, yes, certainly GPS is part of it, but they almost certainly also use classic inertial/directional guidance techniques too, and perhaps cell-phone tricks too, like cell-tower triangulation and WiFi hotspots.

on Jun 11, 2014

I personally enjoy driving, most of the time at least (not so much in bumper-to-bumper traffic, for example, but...).

On the other hand, most days, I ride a vanpool van to work instead of driving. I used to drive such a van many years ago, but now that I'm riding it instead, I can't tell you how much I do **not** miss driving it! Being able to ... do what I do ... for that cumulative >hour/day is downright valuable.

My point? I say, now, that I enjoy driving, but if 10 years from now, driverless cars are the normal thing, it'll boggle my mind that I would have ever said such a thing! I **enjoyed** losing >hour/day, every day, to traffic?! I **enjoyed** sitting at attention, in a state of fairly-intense concentration for 3.5 hours to drive Austin->Houston rather than doing something actually interesting?!

As for self-driving cars that drive fast, or can park, or navigate around parking garages, I think you'll find that Google and everybody else have every intention and expectation of making that possible. Self-parking cars pretty much already exist today.

And yes, I have little doubt that the eventual expectation, and stated goal now, is that self-driving cars will be considerably safer than human-driven car. We're not there yet, but I don't think it'll take very long before they realize that goal. All in all, humans are not very good drivers! There are ... what? literally millions? ... of traffic accidents per year in the USA. Most are minor fender-benders, but quite a lot are downright tragic, and virtually all of them are due to human error. Can computers do better? Not yet, but I doubt if it'll take long before they can.

on Jun 11, 2014

I would like a car that drives itself on the freeway when I am on a long trip. I would pay extra for that feature. But I would prefer to operate the car myself at all other times.

I think the freeway case is probably achievable, but I suspect that there are many non-freeway situations that will be very difficult to handle. Imagine that five self-driving cars and five human-operated cars all show up at the same gas station at roughly the same time. If the self-driving cars are programmed to be conservative, they will probably be the last ones to reach the pumps. Human drivers will quickly learn that if they are assertive, the self-driving cars will yield to them.

I was thinking about self-driving cars last week as I was backing up my car with a utility trailer attached to the hitch. I needed to position the rear end of the trailer at a precise location and in a precise orientation so that I could unload a garden tractor. Google's cars don't have manual controls. I suppose the car could accomplish this feat if I could use a handheld remote to "paint the target" with a laser, but the car would need to know the dimensions of the trailer, or have transponders attached to the back of the trailer.

I suppose a handheld remote could be used to back up the vehicle and trailer by someone standing outside the vehicle. This might actually be preferable to backing up using mirrors without a clear view of exactly what is behind the trailer.

on Jun 11, 2014

Frankly, I am of the opinion we already have LOTS of driver-less cars. For those who MUST text, email, yak and do all kinds of other things that have nothing to do with driving, I think a "formal" driver-less car makes good sense.

They should all be painted one color, so I can easily see them at a distance as I drive around them.

on Jun 11, 2014

This quote came to my mind as I read the article,

"The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty—a fad." - Advice from a president of the Michigan Savings Bank to Henry Ford's lawyer Horace Rackham.

on Jun 11, 2014

There are obvious objections to a driverless car, so much so as to question why the idea is pursued. Setting those aside for a moment, I can see the benefits for the sightless - and those otherwise physically impaired. The car would have to work safely and efficiently over a long period before it would be trusted, either by the driver or others in the vicinity. Aside from operating in a highly controlled environment, that seems unlikely.

on Jun 11, 2014

There are obvious objections to a driverless car, so much so as to question why the idea is pursued. Setting those aside for a moment, I can see the benefits for the sightless - and those otherwise physically impaired. The car would have to work safely and efficiently over a long period before it would be trusted, either by the driver or others in the vicinity. Aside from operating in a highly controlled environment, that seems unlikely.

on Jun 11, 2014

I can see where this would make sense for certain individuals, like the legally blind elder gentleman in the video. It might even make sense for those who are getting to be very old and really shouldn't be driving around on our streets anyway. My father is 83 years old, and he's pretty much lost confidence in his driving ability. I suppose that it could make sense for him, if you could overcome two very real concerns: 1. that you can trust your own aging parent in such a vehicle, and 2. that the aging person can figure out how to program the vehicle to tell it where they wish to go to.

Putting 100% of my trust into both of those areas seems a bit far-fetched to me right now.

on Jun 11, 2014

Yes! There are many times when I would rather do something else than pay attention to the road. A nice 'standard' option for future vehicles...

on Jun 11, 2014

It seems to me your are assuming that the only market is YOUR driveway. If you reflect on other applications of cars several likely markets come to mind - The most obvious is taxi fleets in urban areas. Another that springs to mind is trucking companies that could send trucks on fixed depot to depot routes to replace long haul drivers. $100K in sensors and computers seems like a stiff price until you weigh that against a years salary.

on Jun 11, 2014

I have a hard time remembering the last time I really enjoyed driving. We live in Alabama that has some really great curvy roads that would be a blast in a small sports car but ... between the deer and loose dogs, farm implements, and idiots not paying attention, blind curves and hills, I wouldn't dare drive aggressively down them, although far too many people do.

I have gotten so that I hate interstates, especially when going on vacation, they are so boring and what limited scenery there is can't be enjoyed while piloting the vehicle. I have gotten to the point where driving in rush hour, especially driving to work, seems like just a lot of wasted time.

The higher end new cars will tell you if you get out of a lane, have a car in your blind spot, and with the adaptive cruise control, speed up and slow down based on traffic conditions. All the is left really is to make it so you don't have to have a hand on the steering wheel.

Anyone watch the latest Hyundai ad of the kid too busy watching the girl and the dad to busy with his smart phone? This is probably more typical of how most people drive now days than we want to admit.

I don't see disconnect. Driverless cars are coming and they don't impinge on our freedom to get around like mass transit does.

As a last comment, I really enjoy riding a bicycle. Around here, Alabama is one of the least bicycle friendly states, riding a bicycle on the roads is taking a serious risk. I would imagine that having driverless cars would really improve my odds of avoiding an accident.

on Jun 11, 2014

Industry has never passed on an opportunity to throw a worker out of a job. In this case driver-less cars will do in taxi drivers and long-haul over the road drivers.

For the average person a $100K sensor/computer package seems a bit much but balance that against a drivers wages and it is a bargain.

on Jun 11, 2014

Just an idea, driverless autos could become the perfect taxi.
A taxi stand every half mile could provide quick service, or even pre-establish pickup, as in taking children to school, eliminating waiting at bus stops.
No payments, taxes, or service cost.

on Jun 11, 2014

"Is driving such a chore that people really detest it?"

Absolutely! I can't wait to be able to sit in the back seat and read a book or do something productive while my car drives me to work.

"I would think programming the car to go exactly where you want it would be more of a pain than just driving there."

You sound like someone who has never once in your life used a GPS navigation app. The "programming" would consist of saying "Go home" and it finds the best route around traffic jams and goes.

on Jun 11, 2014

I agree *almost* completely. But the review and comments fall into a common trap. I would not buy one ¬– until I’m 85 and still have my mind but can’t drive safely anymore, or have a stroke, or lose my eyesight, or develop any number of nervous disorders that affect muscle control. I can picture my quadriplegic friend getting one to go to school and work, and so on. The common trap is the same as behind the effort to get people out of cars and into public transportation: Everyone is a healthy 24 years old and living in Southern California in April. No one is old and frail and waiting for a bus in the dark, or struggling to get her three young children onto the bus a quarter mile away through blowing sleet so she can take her sick child to the doctor.
Like you said, Driving is freedom. Driverless cars are not ready for general use for all the reasons given, and I agree with all of them. But I plan to live long enough to need one for any number of reasons, and hope they will be ready by the time I get there.

on Jun 11, 2014

Freedom is a slippery word. When I drive into the city I am chained to my car. I have to find somewhere to put it and make my way back to it to get home. If it could drop me off at the door and go park itself and later meet me wherever I end up I would find that as more freedom.

on Jun 11, 2014

I love how the car did not park correctly at the cleaners or the house. Crooked parking in both and offset to one side. Driverless cars are stupid unless you have special roads for them only. That can never happen unless they take our freedom from us and mandate the driverless car.

on Jun 11, 2014

If the major reason for the driverless car is the traffic then there are better solutions already: they are called mass transportation systems. For long haul we should have trains. For anything else driverless would not do it.
And if we are serious then somebody please have addressed the coexistence issue during the transition period (driver and driver-less on the same road...), this also includes the legal coexistence issues: that the state allow in principle driver-less car does not mean much yet, think insurance, liability etc.. The first accident involving a driver-less car may just blow the whole concept apart unless a lot of care is taken before then ... There is a long road from the feasibility to public use, just consider that Mercedes have had the pedestrian avoidance technology operational for already many many years ...

on Jun 11, 2014

Integration of the driverless concepts (safer movement on the road) with a human behind the wheel will be a winning solution. Let me control the path I want to take while the car safely helps me get there. Freedom to safely merge onto a crowded but quickly moving freeway.

on Jun 12, 2014

Driverless cars would be a boon to those who simply can't drive, such as the elderlies, mentally/physically challenged, and those who simply want to kick back and enjoy the sceneries.

on Jun 18, 2014

Agreed that the large majority of people would prefer to drive themselves.
But, think of some of these possibilities anyway.
-Being able to switch the 'driverless mode' on or off at will.
-How about driving to work then having the car drive itself back home so your spouse can then use the car. Then It returns itself to you so you can drive yourself home later.
-Or send the car (alone) to pick up the kids from school (with appropriate security of course).
-Take you to the airport for a trip then drive home empty so you don't need parking?
-or when you have a short errand downtown and there is no parking, just have your car circle the block until you return.
-Better yet, if you work where you pay for parking, have the car park somewhere else where it's free, then come get you after work, or again, just circle the block all day.
-Or have your car moonlight as a taxi while you're at work
-Now I've given lots of ideas for future apps too, like "Find my iCar" or "Get My Car" or whatever.

So, self-driving cars may not be all bad, until the legislators catch up and ban circling the block.

on Jun 20, 2014

Driverless vehicles are good for just about anybody except when it is hidden and can override the pilot, like on that recently disappeared malaysian airliner in march.

on Sep 10, 2014

I don't like the idea of self-driving cars at all. What happens when it nearly gets into an accident? Will you have complete override to try and avoid obstacles? What happens when it fails and everyone tries to pin the blame tail on the donkey before insurance and lawyers kick into overdrive and try to milk the manufacturers? Can they be used to slow a mass exodus if there is a natural disaster occurring, or will they shut down (or be shut down) causing hundreds of deaths? And what if they are programmed maliciously? I'll take my chances with my own hands and head, thank you.

on Jul 8, 2015

what happens when internet /cellular/gps goes down?; what is your backup plan?? Car should back up to a driver.
can driverless cars navigate dirt roads?? the computer might be able to navigate a sensored road but keep off dirt roads.
if no driver or rider is on board, how hard is it for someone to steal the car?
insurance on this will not disappear, on the contrary, it will go through the roof!

this might be a good sci fi pipe dream, but NOT good enough.
when driving in dangerous areas like downtown Detroit, thieves will have long since learned how to fake out these cars; i.e. use bright photostrobes at night to confuse the car and make it stop for starters.

instead, use this technology elsewhere

on Nov 15, 2016

I don't want a driverless car. I love the freedom of driving. Sometimes I do it at night for fun. I also have anxiety, and I want to be in control of something that has the potential to kill myself or other people. Even if I get in an accident, at least I know it was based on something that I did, and not something that was completely out of my control (as it would be if a driverless car got into an accident, which will happen). On the subject of accidents, I find the whole "you can text / use your laptop / etc while driving" thing incredibly naive and stupid. If you have a laptop in your lap and you get into an accident, that loose laptop becomes a projectile that will cause severe injury. I don't even want to think about what would happen if the airbags go off and push a laptop into someone's face.

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What's Communiqué?

Blogs on topics such as wired and wireless networking.


Lou Frenzel

Lou Frenzel writes articles and blogs on the wireless, communications and networking sectors for Electronic Design. Formerly, Lou was professor and department head at Austin Community College...
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