Forget this Self-Driving Car Nonsense

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Self-driving car

I’m sorry, I just cannot get on board with this whole autonomous car movement. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. Why would you abdicate your driving rights to a machine? I realize that the technology is there to do this, and there is a massive effort inside and outside the automotive industry to produce self-driving cars. But why are we doing this?

Technology is definitely a key driver of this movement. We now have the sensors and processors, and the intelligent software is being developed. We can do this right now. It’s not perfect and never will be, but it is a very marketable (although expensive) technology. The whole movement is good for the electronics industry. The general public didn’t ask for this, but they are going to get it anyway.

Another driver is the government—specifically, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). It claims that self-driving cars will save lives. Over 30,000 die in cars each year in six million or so accidents, and more than 85% of those accidents and deaths are caused by human error, DUI, distraction, speeding or just recklessness.

I suspect some lives may be saved, but how many? This prediction is only a guess at this time. My opinion is that, yes, there will be some lives saved…and about as many new losses due to technological failures, driver misuse, or misunderstanding of self-driving limitations. It remains to be seen. At least the government has not yet imposed regulations while innovation and development continues.

I still have some questions about how all this will work. For example, where does your autonomous vehicle go after it drops you off at the shopping mall? Does it find its own parking place? How does it know to come get you when you are ready to leave?

Or, how about this: In an accident between a standard car and a self-driving car, who gets the blame? The real driver? The passenger in the driverless car? The car manufacturer? At a four-way stop, how does the driverless car know who has the right of way? Surely some geniuses are working on these issues right now.

What I don’t understand is why people want this. One survey indicates that 44% of car owners say that they would be likely or very likely to buy a fully autonomous car. I am amazed at this figure. I thought people liked their cars. I thought people liked to drive—or at least, don’t mind driving. I do enjoy driving. It is a real skill. Most of my family and friends love to drive. However, the type of vehicle does determine how much fun it is. Many cars are just flat boring.

Furthermore, cars reflect who we are. They show our personality or how we view ourselves. Corvette owners express themselves one way, pickup truck drivers another, and minivan moms another. Prius owners want to show others they are saving the earth, or maybe just coping with high gas prices.

What will a self-driving car owner say? I have no driving or navigating skills? I am lazy and would rather be texting or posting on Facebook? I realize there is a whole body of folks who hate their commutes and look upon their vehicle as just another appliance for transportation. So yes there is a niche for such vehicles. Incidentally, why aren’t those who hate driving taking public transportation where it is available?

By the way, I do love all of the new technological driver assists. My new Mazda CX-5 SUV has most of them, like backup camera, adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, lane departure warning, blind spot detection, and so on. (No automatic steering, though.)

All of this works well, but the caveat is that you need to learn about how this stuff works then get some experience in using it. It is a whole new driving experience. At some point when these systems are standard on vehicles, I suspect some new procedures will be needed with regard to education, testing, and licensing. And, oh yes—will self-driving car owners even need a license?

The success of autonomous cars has yet to be determined. There are a few now, like Tesla’s Autopilot Model S. Google is still testing its cars. Most traditional manufacturers are well on their way to having their own self-driving cars. Even non-auto companies may have them too, like Apple and Google. The target date seems to be 2020 and beyond for market-ready products.

In the meantime, the government still needs to figure out how to regulate these steering wheel-less road hazards, and insurance companies are trying to decide what to charge and who to sue or pay. Count me out, as I still like to drive. I just hope we will still have standard driver-dependent cars for throwbacks like me.

My prediction is that we will see this happen sooner than later.  We will see self-driving taxis and 18-wheelers too. And all these vehicles will initially be expensive. I suspect that sales will be like those of electric cars. They will represent only a single digit percentage of all vehicles. They will not live up to the predictions of safety and convenience. Also your monthly insurance payment will be as much as your car payment. Or, I could be wrong.

How much do you trust technology? Are you ready to invest in a driverless car or share the road with others?

Discuss this Blog Entry 41

on Aug 23, 2016

I also believe there is a high probability that driverless cars won't live up to the predictions of safety and convenience because there are just so many things that can go wrong (which reminds me of a related accident too a year ago by Google), though somehow I would want this kind of technology to succeed when the tech. is right. The number of DUI victims alone is depressing and if driverless vehicles can mitigate the problem, the why not give it a shot.

on Aug 24, 2016

>>DW76 - When they wake up in the morning and they're in Denver at the Starbucks, they might say something like, "Good morning, I'll have a ...", or "Sure glad my luggage is in the trunk and not sitting in Memphis", or "I sure miss going through security checkpoints and eating airport food"...

on Aug 24, 2016

"What will a self-driving car owner say?"

Similar to phones, a status symbol. "Look at me. I have the latest thing in cars."

on Aug 24, 2016

My three daughters live 5, 3, and 2 hours away. I hate driving those distances. If I could get in the car and tell it to take me there, I could read, nap, listen to music with my eyes closed, or enjoy the ride without the stress of driving, that would be great.

I also think that there would be a big reduction in the number of road-rage incidents. If you were some hot-head who wanted to vent your irritation to someone who slowed you down, how satisfying would it be to cut them off if they didn't even know you were there?

In that same vein, though, there might be a potential for criminals to develop an understanding of how to isolate and stop a driverless car by corralling it so they could waylay the occupants?

on Aug 24, 2016

Autonomous cars will have a viable use as taxicabs or even as a personal vehicle for those who cannot drive such as the disabled, unwilling, or , ironically, those with DUI convictions.

Me? I'll take a GEO Metro with 4 wheel independent suspension, manual rack and pinion steering, and a 5 speed manual.

on Aug 24, 2016

Lou, I'm in your camp! Both the self driving car and the hydrogen powered car can just sit in a museum somewhere.

on Aug 24, 2016

I like the idea of a car that will step in for a momentary lapse in judgment on my part, but will it step in when it shouldn't?

on Aug 24, 2016

For starters, we hear that the self driving car won't even have a steering wheel. So it will be in charge 100% of the time. AND you need to know that it will never be able to handle "exceptions", those things that the programmers never thought would happen.
The biggest promotors are those who will make the most money from the implementation of the self driving technology, which, by the way, will be expensive, based on the cost of all the reliable sensors needed, and the HUGE amount of infrastructure that will be needed to give it a ghost of a chance to work.

The stupidest thing is that assertion about the causes of accidents. Over 80% are caused by the driver's inattention, not by mechanical failures. Now sometimes the driver is not paying attention because of being drunk or on drugs, and sometimes that lack of focus leads to them driving too fast, but it is lack of focused attention the vast majority of times. So the solution is to reduce the distractions rather than add to them. But those distractions are money makers and so they will never be removed. Money does not just talk, it yells and always gets it's way. The NHTSA is a good example of an organization that was bribed into mandating airbags, those things that detonate and kill people, and that we have no option of not paying for in every car we purchase.

on Aug 24, 2016

I agree with the author. I do enjoy having the driver assist safety features, including auto-braking, backup camera, blind spot detection. But how does the cars handle 6-12 inches of snow on the road for my 35 mile commute. Happens every year. How about black ice on a steep curving hill which may be physically impossible to descend without the wheels losing traction no matter how slow you go. Does the car know enough that braking on ice can cause you to skid. Driving is not only a skill, which many people get very lazy about over time and careless, but it has an infinite number of scenarios which haven't even begun to be addressed yet. Advancing the technology to make a self-driving car is a worthwhile endeavor, but we are not ready yet. And now talking about allowing an 80,000 pound loaded tractor trailer be self driving or even platooning? You have to wonder have these people even done an FMEA on the task or are they blindly pursuing a goal because it sounds good.

on Aug 24, 2016

I am in my driverless car and I see a roadside veggie stand and I want to purchase some.
How do I tell my car to pull a U-turn and go to the stand. How will my car know where to park at the dirt pull in anyways?

I see a cyclist and need to leave a wide margin but
not go over the center line, and not clip the cyclist also?

I see my neighbor walking the dog and want to slow down, roll down my window for a quick Hello?

on Aug 24, 2016

Totally nonsense

on Aug 24, 2016

Well Ganesh, answer the questions?

on Aug 24, 2016

the hacked jeep event will keep me away from connected cars for years

on Aug 24, 2016

I am sorry. I do not buy into an autonomous vehicle, unless...

I spent 10 years in the Air Guard. We had close to state-of-the-art technology. A pilot was always controlling the aircraft. A crew of 5 to 8 skilled technicians checked the aircraft before takeoff and upon landing - repairing/replacing anything out of tolerance. If the auto industry does that for my car, I will drive in it.

on Aug 24, 2016

Totally invalid comparison/analogy... but ok.

on Aug 24, 2016

One of the appeals of a self-driving car in a country so large that universal mass transportation isn't practical, is ease of use (just hop in) with the ability to go anywhere.

on Aug 24, 2016

G.G. does not understand that part of the self driving system is the enforcement of "sustainability", meaning that if the controlling powers decide that you should not drive someplace the car won't drive you there. In fact, it may not drive you anywhere, because they have decided that you should stay home and watch TV. Shades of "1984", but the timing is off a bit.

on Aug 24, 2016

I agree with Lou....no self-driving cars.
Put the latest technology towards the sensors, voice comm systems and the radars that will help to prevent accidents!

on Aug 24, 2016

When our daughter lived an hour away and we were driving down to see her once a week on average, I would have gladly given that job to a self-driving car so I could read, nap, work, or do something (anything!) else. So I can see the utility in self driving cars.

I remember as a kid (50 years ago) reading science fiction books that had "self driving" cars. In almost every case the car didn't actually drive itself, instead it simply followed a wire buried in the pavement (or something similar). Now I find it funny that SF writers couldn't imagine a computer small enough and powerful enough that could be placed in every individual vehicle. Remember, back then computers filled rooms the size of a house and consumed an enormous amount of electricity. So I'm reluctant to say that the technical issues can't be resolved.

What worries me the most about self driving cars are the social issues and the power it give to the government. This isn't often discussed, but it should be. I don't mean to sound like a conspiracy nut case, but I wonder if something like the following might happen (all in the name of "safety" and "efficiency", you understand).

1. Self-driving vehicles are allowed on the roads without restrictions because they're safer than human-driven vehicles.

2 Self-driving vehicles are required, at least in high-traffic areas, because they're safer and more energy efficient.

3. Since it's more cost-effective and energy efficient (global warming, donchaknow) you must share a car with other people. Maybe this would be a subscription type of thing, or maybe a government program like public transportation. But what do you do when you want a pickup to go to Home Depot to buy some plywood, but a Smart Car shows up in your driveway?

4. Since the government knows what's good for you and good for the planet, they restrict how often and how far you can "drive". Want to "drive" up to the mountains to go hiking this weekend? Want to go see your kids who live six states away? Want to go into the city to attend that protest against government restrictions on travel? Sorry. You're out of carbon credits for the month. 'Cause government control of travel could never be abused for political purposes. No, never ...

on Aug 24, 2016

There are so many ways autonomous vehicles will fail and cause problems that will kill and injure people. As an article in Spectrum magazine a year ago or so noted, while lives will undoubtedly be saved due to negligence (or rage), a whole new class of people will become victims that otherwise would not have died or been injured had a qualified and observant sentient being been in charge.

Once these fully autonomous vehicles hit the market, the demand will quickly dry up once people realize that the vehicle won't help or respond well to such things as vandalism or minor fender benders---imagine your car being summoned from the parking garage and finding the rear quarter panel severely gauged---who will you blame? How do you know that your car didn't do it? What if there's blood or tissue in that damage or bike parts? Will the autonomous vehicle be required to stop and exchange insurance information? Will it know where is the best place to "pull over" or will it run off to its Master like a scared little dog?

on Aug 24, 2016

Actually the cars will likely have multiple cameras that are recording continuously so any incidents will be available for viewing. The bigger question will be whether someone will be able to erase that information in the case they don't want anyone to know what happened.

on Aug 24, 2016

I suspect the biggest class of new victims will be the pedestrians stepping into the street while texting (and not looking) and the cyclists who insist on sharing the road 100% but won't obey traffic laws they're bound to follow. In both of these cases, drivers save the inattentive/reckless person's bacon to be fried another day... It seems an insurmountable problem, because there are so many creative ways to be stupid, an AI would not be able to deal with all of them. That skill requires real human insight! :-)

on Aug 25, 2016

This assumes that human insight is what is needed rather than cognizance of the surrounding environment. The range of sensors a self driving car will have will exceed what a person has and they will be looking around all the time. This is not to say they may not be fooled but if they do detect an object then it can be tracked and avoided. A person can only look in one direction at a time and many accidents happen simply because they were looking in the wrong direction or didn't notice changes that would indicate a problem in the near future.

on Aug 24, 2016

While I'm skeptical of the supposed infallibility of driverless cars, my personal experience leads me to believe many (most?) human drivers don't know how to handle a four-way stop sign. They get through it eventually, though.

on Aug 24, 2016

This really happened,
I'm on a crowded 3 lane highway, middle lane, didn't wear my seatbelt. State Police on the left waves me over. I have to think quick how to get through the right lane busy traffic and find a suitable place to
pull over. I was able to do this relatively incident free. How does your
no driver car handle this? How do you instruct it? What happens if it can't find a suitable place to pull over? The State Police. gets very upset by the time he gets you to the side. Fortunately my State Police. had some humor.
Feel free to chime in Ganesh.

on Aug 24, 2016

Where to begin...? How about a sales moratorium until a self driving car wins the Grand Prix de Monaco with no accidents? Or maybe something like the Isle of Mann TT only for cars? I got it. The Mille Miglia. The complete original route, not the toned down route used today. If one of these contraptions can win the Mille Miglia without causing any accidents, they might have something. But I still won't buy one. I'd prefer to drive the Mille Miglia in my own FIAT 124 Spyder (1976 1800 updated to 1983 2 Litre plus extras in the suspension). Only right to drive an Italian car in an Italian Road Rally/Race.Of course you would need a time machine to take car and driver back to least 1957, the last year of the race before it was banned. Of course that means that if you ever wanted to sell one of these that would mean that you would have to first invent a time machine, a potentially more useful/dangerous invention than even the automobile itself...

on Aug 24, 2016

As Lou said, "The general public didn't ask for this, but they are going to get it anyway." I have noticed this with lots of things. I've also noticed that things that the general public really wants, like cheaper alternative energy, or more affordable and accessible healthcare, is answered with a resounding "No!" Not sure why this keeps happening. Seems to me the actual our "wants" vs our "gets" are being determined by people who think they know better.

on Aug 24, 2016

I just ate at a restaurant with valet parking. How does this work for a driverless car?

on Aug 24, 2016

Your car finds its own parking, of course. You have very little imagination for someone in tech. I think the grousy old man in you is preventing you from seeing the really wondrous possibilities these cars will open up, in time and in the right applications.

on Aug 25, 2016

No, autonomous cars won't know which way to do in a parking lot, won't be able to tell the difference between angled or straight, etc. No system can do parking lots yet, and likely never will. Don't forget these systems can't "see". The just sense movement and distance. They can't tell from what.

on Aug 24, 2016

Car makers

on Aug 24, 2016

It is illogical to categorically distrust autonomous vehicles when human drivers have proven themselves dumber than dirt over and over and over again? I look forward to having twenty minutes alone with my NTY crossword each way to and from work or an appointment or whatever.

Autonomous vehicles could be a godsend to elderly folks who cannot see well enough or react quickly enough to drive a regular car. Fully autonomous cars could extend their mobility and independence a decade or more. When you're 90+ and can see well enough to take a bath or fix dinner but can no longer pass a driver's license eye exam, you'll appreciate that.

Do I fear technology? You mean the technology that the girl who T-boned me at an intersection a couple of years ago was using to text her friends instead of paying attention? Sort of, but it's really the idiot human who cannot use the technology appropriately that I'm afraid of. $12,000 in damages later, it's her loose on the streets that I fear, not her cellphone.

One idea that is ultra-Utopian that I kind of like is for a city to have a fleet of autonomous, predominately electric vehicles that you call on your smart phone when you need a ride. It would actually be a part of the infrastructure of a town and there would be enough vehicles that when you called for a ride it would be just a few minutes till you heard it beep politely in front of your house, a LOT quicker than your wife could find her car keys, were they still necessary. When the car dropped you at the dentist's office, chances are there would be someone there who needed a ride somewhere else. The entire autonomous vehicle fleet would be on the go all day except when they needed to recharge for a bit. With all of the cars that were actually needed in more-or-less constant use and not sitting parked 95% of the time, there could probably be a lot fewer of them---a LOT fewer.

But, if the Luddites amongst us really wish something over which to wax apoplectic: Are we afraid of The Internet of Things? We should be. If it continues to progress (and it's pretty much unstoppable now) it will be the end of any kind of personal security whatsoever. If you can turn your toaster on and off from your iPad on the tarmac at Shanghai International, so can a hacker in Belarus, or your government, or the bank that issued the credit card you bought the toaster with and then failed to pay on time. Talk about trust! Google is going to track everything, from your TV and Internet viewing habits to your toothpaste consumption, strictly for YOUR benefit alone? Think again. Sooner or later, for one price or another, for one Trumped up reason or another, that information will be made available to your employer, your pastor, your ex-wife's attorney, your fiancé's parents' PI and anyone else who knows how to “work the system.”

Autonomous cars will get better and better and very quickly. The IoT will get worse and worse—just as quickly. Your fear is misplaced.

on Aug 25, 2016

No, autonomous cars do not really work at all, and won't until they bury a transponder and network all cars together. (which mean outlawing any car not networked.) If you think cars can see, they can't. They can't even tell where a lane is. They use GPS. And we all know how unreliable that can be. They can't get better, because humans have parallel vision processing that is about a billion times faster than any computer they can fit in a car. You think autonomous cars can handle parking lots, construction, snow, debris, etc.? Think again. And that is not including the fact some people never do maintenance, so will have even less reliable systems, that will kill people. It would be the end of privacy, the perfect terrorist bomb delivery system, and bankrupt the makers with lawsuits from every accident. Worst idea of the century.

on Aug 25, 2016

Self driving cars do "see" where they are going. GPS tends to be only the most rudimentary aspect of their control providing similar information that a GPS system provides a human driver. It also sees using more senses than a human from ultrasonics to radar and visual spectrum cameras are on the rise. There will be half a dozen, or more, in any future commercial self driving car and they will be running all the time.

on Aug 25, 2016

It is not just that I really, really enjoy driving, but that as programmer, I know the software is decades away. Vision recognition can't even see brake lights or turn signals yet, and they are totally relying on GPS. And we all know that GPS systems are full of mistakes and fail when there are sunspots. In a couple of decades when they have transponder embedded down the center of all lanes, and all cars are networked, THEN it might be safe, but I still would not like it.

on Aug 25, 2016

We relinquished control over braking and acceleration in our vehicles a while back. Computer software has bugs, remember "unintended acceleration". I say, no thanks automotive industry. At least I can still steer my car myself.

on Sep 6, 2016

Will the President and his/her motorcade be in driverless cars?

on Sep 8, 2016

I have several issues (and not having read every post, others may have brought these up:

1 - Suppose a substantial segment of the population can afford to get on the autonomous bandwagon - no pun intended - which is what I suspect ? Then, is safety only increased by the same percentage as those who can afford to buy these cars.

2 - Currently, a large percentage of people don't even bother with relatively low-cost car maintenance, even oil changes, who, or what, is going to insure that the ultra-sophisticated systems on these autonomous vehicles are going to be maintained....oh, I lost my head for a second - a message is going to be sent to the system, and the car is going to drive itself - and you - to the dealership.

I've had two Volvo wagons in the recent past. On one of them, I'd estimate about 30% of the electronics are buggered, even after substantial influxes of cash.

Count me out (that is, if I have an option).

J.

P.S. Was going to leave this out, but I can't help it....If the car's data recorder figures that you're spending too much time at your local watering hole, no worries, one time you'll hop in the car and instead of taking you where you want to go, it will autonomously drive you to the Betty Ford Clinic.

on Sep 20, 2016

Owning one of these will be akin to owning your own airplane and at some point there will be regulations that stipulate proof of maintenance in order to operate. Maintenance is hardly ever mentioned in all the hype.

on Sep 20, 2016

Ah, we won't own robot Ubers (I predict that will become a generic name). We will summon them to carry us, and then they will go on to their next job. No more parking, no more maintenance, no need to store a car, etc.

on Oct 2, 2016

It's clear that full autonomy isn't going to happen over night. First, you will have what Tesla is doing with it's auto-pilot feature - where the car can drive autonomously on highways or other well defined roadways. Eventually, it will handle trickier city street, and eventually the edge cases (valet, on street parking, etc.). It won't happen over night but what is becoming clear is that it's closer than most people think. The auto industry is huge and the demand for will be high so there will be a lot of smart people working on it. The cars will make mistakes and people will die as a result but it will be less than the 30,000 that are dying today. FYI: half of all commercial flights are autonomously landed today (and it is safer) so, if you travel by air, you are already trusting the machines...

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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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