Minnesota planners want to be “ready” for driverless cars. But most of what they propose sounds like things that the anti-car crowd wants to do anyway.
This includes things like reducing parking spaces and shrinking the size of streets–both items high on urban planners’ agendas for years. While that may be possible when driverless cars come to dominate the road, there is no guarantee, so they shouldn’t jump the gun.
They are happy to jump the gun when it comes to not building new roads. “The last thing cities should do is add lanes to existing roads,” said a planner from the University of Minnesota. This assumes that driverless cars will dramatically relieve congestion and that neither population nor personal mobility will grow in the future. Actually, a good case can be made that some lanes should be added to existing roads both because they are needed now and because population and travel growth in some areas will make up for the potential congestion relief from driverless cars. Continue reading →
“Street Wars 2035” criesThe Guardian; “Can cyclists and driverless cars ever co-exist?” The article predicts that streets will be designated “autonomous-vehicle only routes” where cars will whiz by, centimeters apart, allowing no room for pedestrian or bicycle crossings. Apparently, the writer never heard of stop lights or rights of way.
“The forces of driverless motordom try to push pedestrians and cyclists off the road” shrieksTreehugger, citing the Guardian article. All this hysteria is derived solely from one quote by Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn in January, 2016. Speaking to CNBC, Ghosn said, “One of the biggest problems is people with bicycles. The car is confused by them because from time-to-time they behave like pedestrians and from time-to-time they behave like cars.”
I’m not sure why Ghosn is even considered an expert, as Renault is hardly the forefront of driverless car technology. However, Renault’s partner, Nissan, has promised to have several models of self-driving cars by 2020. While Ghosn was technically CEO of Nissan when he made the statement (Renault owns 43 percent of Nissan and Nissan owns 15 percent of Renault), I suspect his statement was just an unguarded remark and not meant to the first shot of a war on bicycles. Continue reading →
“By 2030,” says a new report from a group that calls itself RethinkX, “95% of U.S. passenger miles traveled will be served by on-demand autonomous electric vehicles owned by fleets, not individuals.” The Antiplanner is more optimistic about the rapid growth of self-driving cars than most, but RethinkX’s prediction is more dramatic than anything the Antiplanner has said.
As recognized in this more moderate report from UC Davis, RethinkX’s statement is really three predictions in one: first, about self-driving cars; second, about what powers those cars; and third, about who owns those cars. I think 95 percent by 2030 is optimistic for any one of these predictions, much less all of them.
First, the decision about what powers cars is completely, 100 percent independent of the decision about whether humans or computers drive cars. So long as the United States gets most of its electricity from fossil fuels, even natural gas, the environmental benefits from converting to electric cars is negligible, especially since we can make gasoline-powered cars more fuel-efficient. Continue reading →
Bloomberg has a long article about Google’s lawsuit against Uber over self-driving car technology. In a nutshell, one of Google’s top engineers, Anthony Levandowski, left Google to start a new company called Otto that was then purchased by Uber for $700 million, and Google is accusing Levandowski of taking its company secrets with him and giving them to Uber.
The real story, though, is not over patent disputes but a debate in the industry over how to introduce the new technology to the market. This debate has to do with the distinction engineers are making between self-driving cars and driverless cars. Advocates of self-driving cars, meaning cars that can increasingly drive themselves but sometimes need humans to take over, argue that this stage is needed to collect as much information as possible to perfect the technology.
On the other hand are advocates of driverless cars, meaning cars that never need a human operator, who argue that not only is the self-driving phase not needed, but that it could be dangerous because a self-driving car may not be able to alert on-board humans that they need to take over in time for them to do so.
Add Intel to the list of companies working on self-driving cars. It just spent $15.3 billion purchasing Mobileye, a manufacturer of sensors used in autonomous cars. Intel’s CEO says he expects to have a complete hardware package ready for auto makers in 2024. Considering Ford’s promise to have fully autonomous cars on the road by 2021, that might be late, or it might just be more realistic.
Meanwhile, after much criticism from the industry, California has revised its proposed rules for self-driving cars. The original rules did not provide any possibility for testing of cars that did not allow a human override. This led Google and other companies to migrate their testing operations to Texas and other friendlier states.
Most states still don’t have any laws providing for self-driving cars, but because the people who wrote those laws never conceived of the possibility, most states also don’t outlaw them. Arizona, for example, has no law, and the governor “welcomes them with open arms.”
A new study estimates that self-driving cars will save the United States more than $300 billion per year. The study adds up the costs of traffic accidents and assumes that self-driving cars will reduce accidents by 90 percent. That’s optimistic, but the study doesn’t even count the savings due to congestion relief, increased productivity while traveling, and the reduced cost of delivering goods and services.
This is where it is important to understand the difference between benefits and costs. Jobs are not a benefit; income is the benefit. Jobs are costs: if more income can be produced with fewer jobs, everybody gains. That includes the people whose jobs are lost because–at least if the society is reasonably mobile–they can find better jobs instead, paid for out of the money people saved by reducing costs.
The big question about self-driving cars is “when?” On one hand, there are rumors that Google will start selling its self-driving cars next year. While even the Antiplanner doesn’t think that’s realistic, Ford is promising self-driving cars in 2019 and other manufacturers are saying 2020.
On the other hand, many are saying that, due to liability concerns and technical problems with such factors as rain and snow, it will take much longer than that. Another study predicts that, even if the first self-driving cars enter the market in the next decade, it will take several decades after that for them to dominate the roads.
The Antiplanner has written on this before, but the more I learn, the more I am convinced that the first self-driving cars will be for sale by 2020 and that they will be the dominant form of travel within not much more than a decade after that.
Auto manufacturers revealed plans for cars with self-driving capabilities at the New York Auto Show last week. These include cars that will be on the market within a year or two.
Volvo, for example, plans to introduce a car this Spring that can “take over both the steering and throttle to follow the car in front of it at speeds up to about 35 miles per hour.” Audi plans to offer cars with a similar feature (up to 40 mph) as soon as January, 2016. The manufacturers use some variation of the term “traffic jam assist” to describe this feature. While the drive won’t actually be steering the car, for liability reasons the cars will require that the drivers keep their hands on the steering wheel or at least put them there every 10 seconds or so.
Late next year Cadillac will offer its top-of-the-line CT6 model with a “super cruise” feature that will combine self-steering and adaptive cruise control at highways speeds: “hands-off-the-wheel, feet-off-the-pedals highway driving.” Cadillac publicity has at least implied that drivers will be able to take their hands off the steering wheel for extended periods without having to touch the wheel every 15 seconds or so like other brands. GM had announced this feature last year, but gave more particulars at the New York show.
A self-driving car traveling from San Francisco to New York is about half-way through its journey, having reached Ft. Worth, Texas yesterday. The car is an Audi, but its self-driving electronics have been designed by Delphi, an auto supply company. Like Continental and Bosch, Delphi has been developing its own self-driving hardware and software.
This raw AP video gives an idea of Delphi’s plans.
They left Treasure Island, in San Francisco Bay, on March 22 and took the long way around, first going south to Los Angeles where they could test the software in heavy traffic. The goal is to arrive in time for the New York Auto Show, which begins a week from today.
BMW has announced that it will demonstrate a valet-parking car at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next month. This is more than a car that can parallel park by itself. Instead, it is a car that can cruise through a parking garage until it finds an empty space and park there until recalled on a smart phone (or smart watch), at which time it will drive itself to the car’s owner.
Official BMW photo of a car supposedly demonstrating self-parking capabilities. Click image for a larger view.
BMW hasn’t said yet when this feature might be available to actual car-buyers. Some suggest that it might be available on BMW 7-series cars in 2016, but that is only speculation.