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The correct usage of self driving cars in SF

  1. Sep 27, 2015 #1
    Setting: generic, mildly futuristic, nothing that would put you in awe. I rather want to discuss in general terms how get in near future SF correctly usage of self driving cars right with technologies that should realistically accompany them. And get right any social consequences.

    Thanks to better monitoring and ability to send a car in to needed place - more sharing economy (not necessary with socialistic bent, could be also ultra-capitalistic). So a person less need to own a car, but just need to hire it in the right place:
    -less parking places used
    -less cars per head (or maybe not: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox)
    -getting a taxi equivalent for night may be actually ultra cheap, the only problem would be during rush hours

    Revolution in mass transit:
    -no night buses - they would have no chance with individual transport
    -smaller buses (if driver cost is around 40% of total cost (number for Poland for city transport, your mileage may vary), then there would be new equilibrium point for balancing transporting empty places and using too many drivers per passenger)

    New rules on street:
    -encouraging coordinated lines of drafting cars for increased aerodynamics https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drafting_(aerodynamics)
    -right of way can be determined and coordinated in advance by automatic system comparing social interest (yes, as Spock would say: "needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few") or just by outright microauction

    Extra uses:
    -Possibility of sleeping in one's car and arrive in the morning at a tourist destination, or as GTOM pointed out possibility of sleeping with someone ;)
    -smaller cargo transport (not only for pizza, I also thought about intermediate loads)
    -being transported in spite of being a kid, disabled or intoxicated. Sounds cool, until one realises that it could dramatically move congestion up - that would presumably lead to some kind of congestion charges, that would encourage some internet applications to squeeze a few unrelated people in to the same car who just want to travel on the roughly the same route.

    Any other ideas?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 27, 2015 #2


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    Not sure about the buses. Sure, they use the road more efficiently than cars, but you have to wait for them, and you probably have to change buses at least once. If you ban manual cars, the traffic density can rise significantly. At points where traffic jams are still an issue (and only there) buses would help everyone, but the bus passengers don't profit much.
    If they are very frequent they might survive. For buses that come once per 20 minutes: why should you use them if a car is there in a minute? Putting unrelated people in the same car could be interesting as bus replacement. It is cheaper than a car for everyone and it saves space on the road so the government might subsidize it.

    After net neutrality, we have to keep road neutrality?

    Okay, so certainly not 2015 or later ;).
  4. Sep 28, 2015 #3


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    If you change your thinking of "bus" from "large public vehicle visiting multiple stops on fixed route" to "large carpool visiting multiple stops on a vague route" you might get a closer idea of a possible future for buses. To expand on that a bit more: imagine a future traveller opening up a travel app to find the best route to their destination. They could get an autotaxi but there's a bus not to far from them heading in that direction. You flag it and it diverts to pick you up and will divert to drop you off at the end (IIRC in some Asian countries there are small buses that do operate like this, but with less technology).

    Pros: buses will be cheaper than autotaxis thanks to the increased amount of customers

    Cons: Not private, journey time irregular (within a known margin) based on how much time the bus spends diverting to pick up and drop people off.

    In terms of SDVs in general some things to consider are uses beyond people transport. Transport of items will change as well, not just bulk freight but delivery of mail or things like take-away. It's easy to envision some small quad-bike SDV that has a compartment for packages rather than drivers. It drives to you (or as close as it can get) and rings you to let you know your package has arrived. You go out, punch in a code you were given in the confirmation, and collect your delivery. Essentially any task that requires getting from A-B on a well maintained surface whilst dodging obstacles can be automated thanks to SDV technology.

    One last idea: autotaxis might operate a subscription service rather than an outright billing similar to public transport travelcards. More expensive subscriptions might give you more comfortable cars, peak time travel, long distance travel etc. The cheapest ones require adverts to be played across the windscreen and windows and will only transport you in off-peak times.
  5. Sep 28, 2015 #4
    Good :D (I haven't thought in that direction)

    In my country parcel lockers become very popular, and actually they would be superior to such cars, as one can pick up package when he has time. (of course such automated car may serve as to load them or be parked next as emergency overflow package locker)

    Large carpool? Possibly... I still wonder about intermediate solution, like using during rush hours cars on loosely populated areas to gather people and then squeeze them on a bus.

    I see one more thing - instead of owning an universal car, one would hire cars suited for his needs.
    -city car (slow, fuel efficient, maybe designed to fit some ultra stringent pollution demands)
    -inter city car - fast, very aerodynamic
    -sleep car - for night travel between cities and for trips
    -medical transport car - for lying down, with some basic diagnostic equipment and UV lamp to kill all germs after you (actually it would be worth subsidizing as in public interest it is that those germs don't spread on passengers)
    -promotion car - where there would be some advertised products from sponsor, but travel would be for free
    -picnic car with 4 wheel drive with a fridge, microwave oven and tiny sink
  6. Sep 28, 2015 #5


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    I've been subscribed to r/selfdrivingcars on reddit for quite some time, if there's one thing I've picked up from all the discussions and articles posted it's that private ownership of a car isn't going away. There are plenty of people that say they would infinitely prefer owning their own car. I don't really mind myself but I doubt SDVs will completely replace private ownership. Aside from wanting to ensure their own car is clean, have their things kept in it and be instantly available when needed there's also a lot of people that want a self driving RV.
  7. Sep 28, 2015 #6
    Good point - but it could lead to a generation gap, where (on average) young people already get used to idea of just renting, while older people feel compelled to own car.
  8. Oct 31, 2015 #7
    Have you ever read Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge? Self-driving automobiles play a minor (but ubiquitous) role in that story. It's been a while since I read it, so I do not recall the economic explanation (if there even was one), but the automated cars more or less traveled around similar to taxis. When someone needed them, they called for them or flagged them down.

    Obviously, I'd never suggest using another author's ideas, but if you haven't read it, check it out. You may be inspired by some of the concepts.
  9. Oct 31, 2015 #8
    Stealing another author's ideas is perfectly legal. Copyright protects words only.
  10. Oct 31, 2015 #9
    Absolutely! I'm enough of a Lorite that I'll admit that nothing is really original when you get right down to it. :)

    I'm just a strong believer in putting a personal spin on such things.
  11. Nov 1, 2015 #10


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    I would think so too.
    There's a disconnect between someone living in the suburbs, the county, and the city inner core in regards to transportation needs and availability.

    Inner core already has multiple choice to get from one place to the next ( uterly dependant upon the size of the city ) - metro or subway, 10 minute buses, taxi stands around the next corner, bicycle lanes, walking,, rent-a-car, train station and bus station for inter city. So for someone Not owning a car, they can actually save a lot of time, expense, and grief of ownership, by using what is available. Airports are probably the most difficult to get to by certain means.

    Suburbs and country have their choices compromised just by the lack of services and the longer distances to cover and wait times.

    Besides the necessity versus luxury, there is also the status thing related to car ownership and people pay extra money just to have that
  12. Nov 1, 2015 #11
    Drafting is only useful at higher speeds; likely restricted to highways.

    Then think about that. Long chains of cars would be a real problem for those getting on and off the freeway.

    Some places have red lights at the entrance ramps to meter traffic onto the highway. That causes a huge backup on the ramp.

    The problem seems to be one of population concentration. We are still tied to the model we started in the US four centuries ago. Everything is tied to waterways, so we now have huge congestion problems. We have plenty of land, it's just not all accessible by water, so no one settled there earlier and it remains mostly unused.

    The US historically has been a mobile society, due to the vast distances we have and the social stigma of owning a car. That culture is not going to change easily with 250 million currently registered vehicles in the US. Autonomous vehicles are interesting and there is a push to get them on the road, but I think it is driven mostly by the fact that we technologically can.

    In other words, its technology that is driving it and not so much the market. People don't want them as much as those that invent them.

    It will be interesting to see how the driving public receives them. I suspect that it will have a backlash effect when people that actually drive their cars (the majority) get sick of these poky autonomous cars.

    My guess is that autonomous cars will strictly obey speed limits, which will be a nuisance as most people routinely speed. (typical highways speeds in Florida are about 7 mph over the limit). There will be a lot of contempt for autonomous vehicles if they prove to be seen as road clots and anyone that thinks these will be a game changer for the way people drive is smoking hope.

    To answer your original question, I think it is way too early to know what the "correct usage" will be and it will be a long time before some form of equilibrium appears. That means "correct" is a dynamic definition that changes over time.
  13. Nov 1, 2015 #12


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    Not if the cars communicate. They can let more cars in. Alternatively, those cars can wait for a free spot. Car chains can increase highway capacities by something like a factor of 5, if there is no free spot at all then something went really wrong.
    You can spend the time in the car driving - or you can spend it watching a movie, reading a book, working, or doing something else. What do you prefer?
    I would expect mose will prefer not to drive.
  14. Nov 1, 2015 #13
    That assumes that the preexisting 250 million cars get some form of conversion to work with the system. Who pays for that?

    You would need a form of TCAS (Traffic Control Avoidance System) used in commercial aircraft to manage it and that will be costly because it will be a life-critical system and subject to costly adjudication if the system fails. Just look at the simple problems like stuck accelerators seem to cause.

    Frankly, I prefer to drive. There are a whole segment of drivers like us that believe the destination is not solely what life is about. There is a lot to be said about the journey. If you want to get an idea of that segment, just look at the number of sports cars on the road. People buying Miatas (almost 1 million sold world-wide so far) aren't looking to watch TV. Then there are the sport sedans that people drive.

    You might also look at the after-marker motorsports retailers. That's not as small of a niche market as you might think.

    Point being that the utopia autonomous vehicles promise has a lot of issues that get glossed over by group-think. Many of these groups like to preach about diversity, but totally ignore/criticize others that don't share their vision.

    Not that those issues are a show stopper for a work of fiction, but the original poster did pose the question.
  15. Nov 1, 2015 #14


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    There is a constant turnaround where new cars replace old cars. That's the maximal speed autonomous cars will join the market.
    You don't need it - it will improve traffic even more, but it is not necessary.
    That is a very small market.
  16. Nov 1, 2015 #15
    Idea 1: What if registration of new cars required self driving capability? In 10 years you get the problem effectively solved.
    Idea 2: What if insurance companies were allowed to calculate the premium accordingly?

    Need? It would be already handy to have it, even before such nice cars.

    It seems that already the cars loosing their importance among youth:
    Similar thing was noticed also by The Guardian, but as usual the blame poverty (poor starting salaries / student debt) :
    So self driving cars would (presumably) exacerbate existing trend.
    Some niche of course would be left behind, to what extend it would remain fashionable... no idea, it's more a matter of taste. I remember myself taking part with games involving swordfighting, even though such weapons already a few centuries ago become a bit outdated.

    So proper work of fiction would require a politically polarizing issue of way of driving? ;) (When I think about it, there is indeed a point...)
  17. Nov 1, 2015 #16
    Okay, we will see what happens.
  18. Nov 1, 2015 #17


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    That's some statement. And so true. Utopia forced upon the masses.

    A while back, some car companies came out with the statement that any self driving car of theirs was involved in an accident For Any Reason they would cover the "expenses". A bit of a marketing pre-gambit to encourage acceptance. Insurance companies would be then left out in the lurch with nothing to insure. Car insurance is a good part of their revenue.
    So what do they do - go bust and put workers out of a job. Increase rates for other insurable items. Team up with the auto companies. The For Any Reason will of course have caveats to it.

    Who fixes these things when they go wron. Certainly not you regular around the corner garage. What will they become - tire change shop only?

    Used car - market shrinks, as warranty is over, insurance is through the roof ( insurance companies again ), maintenance skyrockets, government regulation dictate.

    I don't see too much of motorcycle talk of being made self-driving. will they be eventually banned on Auto(monous) Routes.
    Bus route - 31 people at the bus stop - your number 31 - sorry bus full. But its the last one. How do I get home I only have $4.
    We already have self driving cars -taxis and limosines - if it was so great ..... where's the great rush for that service.
    Self driving taxis - loss of a job again. Same for buses, rigs, deliveries, the mail, ...

    Self driving cars can set in motion a major social upheaval and the utopians do not see it.
  19. Nov 1, 2015 #18


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    Self-driving cars are still cars, they need (nearly) every component current cars need. Replacing some components of the autonomous driving system shouldn't be so hard either. The steering wheel market might get into trouble.

    They are much more expensive because you have to pay the driver. They also need longer to get to your place.

    Yes, taxi and bus driver is certainly a job with a bad long-term outlook. Just like coachman 100 years ago and elevator operator a few decades ago. So what?
  20. Nov 1, 2015 #19
    I think that what you mentioned already has an economic term:

    Price difference? Your taxi bill should cover also wage of taxi driver.
  21. Nov 1, 2015 #20


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    Yes - computer revolution - same thing.

    All I am saying is that there would be a change in peoples, and governments, outlook on transportation as to the way it is seen now.
    Which is probably what you are posting about in the first place.
    A blanket statement as to how it will evolve has to accept scrutiny.
    Who ever predicted something like Uber trying to wiggle their way into people transport, to the dismayy of the secure regulated taxi industry.
  22. Nov 1, 2015 #21


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    I somehow suspected the horse and buggy days would be brought up.
    But back then there was a different motive - ownig a horse requires work feeding, housing and cleaning it.
    And not everyone had a horse way back then- they either walked to destination or had money to pay for transport.
    Different society and bears some comparison to today's wrt changes brought on by the mass movement to cars, suburbs, and shopping malls.
    There aren't too many rooming houses with shared bath and dining anymore. Housing units are built complete, either rentable or owned.
    There is probably street car tracks still buried in every N. American city downtown - paved over for cars and ( polluting ) buses put into service.

    Subsidized roads networks led to easy access to get from place to place, and the urban sprawl that went with it.
    The incentive for autonomous cars is what - just the ability to not to have to drive.
    Societies incentive is to get cars off the street I guess.

    How much change will be provoked from self driving cars?
    It could, or will I think, have some far reaching consequences down the road (pun).
    How and whether the changes are acceptable to the public at large with glee, dismay, outrage.

    I suppose I am discussing the opening post statement about social consequences, as the technological and engineering seems to be sound, in regards to how the car has changed how the way we live due to it being a status symbol in the driveway, a luxury, or a necessity. Autonomous cars may change all that.

    Does anyone really need a driveway then? Car parks may become the norm. Another traffic jam to get in and out of, but that would be the car's problem. You would be at home, at work, or at play.
  23. Nov 1, 2015 #22
    It would be your problem, too, if you had something urgent to get to.
  24. Nov 1, 2015 #23
    That's even a more twisted case, because zoning laws tend to prevent too high concentration of population within city, thus encouraging urban sprawl...

    Social consequences? I know jokes about generation conceived in cars, but so far I don't see here anything so profound, except "driving" kids and retires. Concerning undesired I think about:
  25. Nov 2, 2015 #24
    I wonder, whether robocars should allow humans to intervene?
    For example, if they can communicate with each other, and receive updates from corporate HQ, standalone mode isnt their default, what if somebody hacks up your car to kidnap you?
    Or if you are chased, and need to brake the rules to save your life?
  26. Nov 2, 2015 #25
    Speaking of social consequences, this was an interesting article just released: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2015/10/31/study-self-driving-cars-accidents/74946614/

    The sample size is low, but the incident rate is very high, which gives some credibility to the claims.

    I suspect that the cause of the higher accidents are due to the nature of the way the vehicles drive. Autonomous vehicles most likely strictly obey the rules of the road.

    However, that is not how humans drive. Humans are much better adapted to driving around other humans than machines. You would expect the opposite, but I think this is a curious case of the law of unexpected consequences.

    As more data arrives I believe we will find that the problem space of mixing humans with machines is much more complex than the designers ever envisioned.

    This is something to consider; not only with autonomous cars, but with other autonomous machines as they become available. It might make an interesting side-story, too.
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