'Autonomous' Driving Could Turn The Old-Fashioned Kind Into A Hobby

from the driving-progress dept

My esteemed co-blogger Adam Thierer points out that General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner is touting a future of "autonomous driving." Adam is against the concept, worrying that future generations will be deprived of the excitement of controlling your own vehicle. Luckily, I don't think Adam needs to worry. Even after autonomous driving becomes sophisticated enough to be deployed on real roads, it will still take decades for people to transition to all-autonomous vehicles. Moreover, the market is likely to continue catering to old coots like Adam who want to continue driving their cars the old fashioned way, so there will be human drivers on the road for the foreseeable future. That, in turn, means that autonomously-driving cars will have to know how to share the road with human beings for the foreseeable future. It will be many decades before we could even start seriously discussing banning non-autonomous cars from the roads. More to the point, history suggests that when technology makes a day-to-day activity obsolete, it doesn't disappear. Rather, it become a hobby. A half-century after the introduction of the automatic transmission, there are still plenty of people who prefer to drive a stick. People haven't needed to hunt or fish for food for decades, yet hunting and fishing are now popular hobbies. The same is true of traditional housework activities like weaving, knitting, and quilting. It no longer makes economic sense to do these things in the home, but people do them anyway because they enjoy it. By the same token, if autonomous driving someday makes traditional driving obsolete, that won't make it go away. It will simply mean that it will become a recreational activity rather than an unavoidable part of daily life. When he's 60, Adam will still be able to zoom around in his sports car on the weekends, but on his morning commute he might have the option to ignore the Northern Virginia traffic jam and focus on writing his latest Luddite screed for the Technology Liberation Front.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    sehlat (profile), Jan 11th, 2008 @ 8:59am

    Thrill of driving... Bah! Humbug!

    I commute an hour a day, half an hour each way, and would absolutely LOVE to have a car that drove itself while I read a book. And NO, I don't like audiobooks.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    anothercoot, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 9:05am

    Re: Thrill of driving... Bah! Humbug!

    It's called riding a bus. Why have your own vehicle if you are not controlling it?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 9:09am

    Hmmm

    Similar to posts re: yesterdays story on cars taht will not let you speed; will this lower my insurance? Where does legal liability rest if there is an accident involving one or more autonomous cars?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    SGF, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 9:15am

    Re: Re: Thrill of driving... Bah! Humbug!

    To be free from the bus schedule and routes. Cars are critical for the freedom to live, work, and play where we like.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    TheDock22, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 9:18am

    Bring it on

    I want a car that drives and parks itself. Driving is boring for most people. I would assume on the car insurance issue that the fault would lie with the autonomous vehicle that malfunctioned, no?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 9:26am

    Re: Bring it on

    "I would assume on the car insurance issue that the fault would lie with the autonomous vehicle that malfunctioned, no?" - I would assume so as well, but does it fall back on the manufacturer? An accident can't be my fault if all I am doing is sitting there and the car is driving right?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    nfk, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 9:28am

    Re: Re: Thrill of driving... Bah! Humbug!

    Why indeed? Oh, unless you wanted to be picked up and taken exactly where you want to go without constantly stopping and starting to pick up and/or let people off. Then maybe some people would want to own a vehicle that drove itself.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Wolf, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 9:35am

    I'm an old coot who loves to drive a stick and I'll tell you why. You have direct control of the transmission. If you have ever driven in mountainous or hilly terrain will appreciate the ability to limit the speed of the transmission and use the engine as a brake. On the other hand, I, too would love a car (or my truck for that matter) that I could put into autopilot mode, for those long, highway drives. I say three cheers for DARPA for sponsoring this research.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Buzz, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 9:41am

    Why bother with cars at all?

    I think everything should convert to public monorail systems. Monorails can travel farther faster and more safely. There would be no more need for driving lessons, car payments, insurance, etc. Weather would be much less of an issue. The obvious hard part would be implementing it in the first place. :P

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 9:43am

    As somebody put it, "driving the car is a potentially lethal game with an unexciting goal of keeping the hood ornament in the middle of a driving lane at all times." No thanks, I'll take the "autonomous" vehicle.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Wesha, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 9:45am

    Re:

    > If you have ever driven in mountainous or hilly terrain will appreciate the ability to limit the speed of the transmission and use the engine as a brake.

    You say that as if computers cannot be programmed to do the same thing automatically.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    steve, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 9:48am

    why not have the best of both worlds

    What about having the best of both worlds a car that is autonomous and yet can also be driven by a knowledgable human being when the driver decides to take over as i am one of those that loves to just drive

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Hulser, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 9:59am

    >Luddite screed
    Zing!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Evil_Bastard, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 10:03am

    Screw that. I would however, be in favor of driving retests. The people who fail can ride in automatic snore-mobiles.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Sneeje, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 10:20am

    Even more interesting...

    Would be the impact to mass transit and energy policy. If I can read on the way to work (without people stepping and sneezing on me), part of the benefit of mass transit disappears, although autonomous driving might allow for greater traffic density.

    I also think the question of where liability lies (#6 above) will be a major hurdle. Will auto manufacturers be seen as liable for accidents? If I'm reading, can I be labeled a "driver"?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    TheDock22, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 10:22am

    Re: Re: Bring it on

    I would assume so as well, but does it fall back on the manufacturer? An accident can't be my fault if all I am doing is sitting there and the car is driving right?

    I would think it would be settled in court cases. You can not win a lawsuit against a vehicle manufacturer because your radio is not working anymore or because the brakes fail. If it is still under warranty you could, so maybe this would be covered under a warranty but you would still need insurance for medical damages.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    TheDock22, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 10:24am

    Re: Even more interesting...

    I also think the question of where liability lies (#6 above) will be a major hurdle. Will auto manufacturers be seen as liable for accidents? If I'm reading, can I be labeled a "driver"?

    This would all be settled in the courts. I mean, we have all these laws for cars that did no exist hundreds of years ago. The laws will change as technology progresses, so I wouldn't worry about the liability issues.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Ratan Tata, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 10:29am

    Gas Up ... Cars Smaller

    ... and everybody in the world will be driving one of my Nano cars since gas will $6.00USD a gallon fairly soon. Maybe you can get a fully electric car instead ... with a grass cutter option.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    alaric, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 10:30am

    Bad Drivers are Plentiful

    I suspect machines could, in time, do a much better job driving than most people. Lots of people drive like idiots.

    I still prefer public transportation and better urban design to facilitate walking (its a lot healthier).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    icon
    sehlat (profile), Jan 11th, 2008 @ 10:43am

    Re: Re: Thrill of driving... Bah! Humbug!

    Because while home to work is a standard way to start the day, I frequently have to go to other destinations or have errands to run after work.

    1. For some of my runs, I'd have to use THREE different bus lines. Waiting in between for a bus.

    2. Have you *ever* tried to carry a bunch of packages on a bus?

    3. Buses are **SLOW**, and make a lot of stops in between destinations, which makes them slower.

    4. I can tell my car what to do. Have you ever tried to do the same to a bus driver? ... and lived?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Jon, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 10:53am

    Better results

    Tim, an interesting thing about all the "hobbies" you mentioned are that people choose those activities sometimes because they prefer the results. Driving a stick offers more control over the car. Hunting and fishing provide food that is ultimately fresh and better quality than processed foods (although incredibly expensive). Knitting and quilting can produce better quality quilts and garments than store-bought goods. That said, those choosing to control their cars will probably do a better job navigating traffic finding quick routes than relying on autopilot.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    ITGuy, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 11:05am

    No more car service

    I'd like to be able to get in my car have it drive me someplace, have it go home and park itself, then pick me up at a designated time.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Hellsvilla, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 11:13am

    Autonomous commuting = removal of ownership

    Once we get the technology to cheaply commute autonomously, we will no longer need to actually "own" the car, we'll just let the grid know when we need a ride, and one will come to us.

    Likely, the propulsion on each vehicle will be fairly limited, and instead they will feature linking capabilities for freeways, with maybe a "bus" at the head of each link with maybe 20-30 commuter pods attached to each link.

    Oh, and its not likely that the personal vehicle makers will lead this paradigm shift. It will most likely come from companies that create public transportation. And even more likely, it will be a foreign startup too.

    American companies will NOT be leading a transportation revolution. They fear change, and that will be their doom.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    lynnm, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 11:23am

    A paradum shift and I have no clutch

    The bus? In my urban area it is just about useless. It doesn't go from where I live to where I work. It starts early but not as early as I have to be somewhere and the last runs are done before I often can leave.

    In listening to this discussion, here and on talk radio, it is clear that many people impress the constraints of driving today with what will happen as autonomous vehicles catch on and start to get their own space on the highway. Speed limits are no longer an issue. No, the vehicles won't "speed" but the speeds and following distances will be coordinated between the cars and the highway. Accidents under these conditions will reduced and drunk driving a thing of the past. The legal and insurance entities will have to keep up but, they always have in the past.

    There are other benefits as well. I live a day's drive from Disneyland (not an endorsement, just an example) and with the vehicle of today would spend a day driving down and a day driving back. With an autonomous vehicle one could pile everyone in the car, set the destination and go. It would drive thru the night while we slept. It would be a very good alternative to doing it by air.

    I can see the end of the road to the long distance trucker. Goods would still travel by road but autonomous vehicles don't get tired or hop up on pills.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    coward, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 11:35am

    Not holding my breath

    In 10 years? LOL. Once the manufacturers look at the potential liability, all autonomous cars will not get closer than 2000 feet of another moving vehicle. Talk about gridlock! Autonomous cars will refuse to merge during rush hour when the traffic is bumper to bumper. Did anyone actually watch those robots in the urban challenge?

    What happens when it's snowy out? Who decides whether it's too bad to drive, the car or the driver or the manufacturer?
    What if they're wrong?

    Maybe we'll see this in 50 years.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    icon
    lavi d (profile), Jan 11th, 2008 @ 12:42pm

    Bring It!

    I hope autonomous driving gets here just before mandatory breathalyzers.

    If my car's going to refuse to let me drive, then it damn well better be able to do it itself.

    Actually, I'd love to own a car that I could pile into with a bunch of friends after drinking all evening and have it take us wherever we want. Awesome.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    CHL Instructor, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 12:45pm

    Re: Advantages of stick shift

    I prefer a stick shift myself, but it has little to do with 'control'. It has to do with:

    1) The vehicle costs less to start with because the transmission is an order of magnitude simpler.
    2) The transmission lasts longer, because it's an order of magnitude simpler.
    3) When it *does* break or wear out, it's cheaper to fix or replace, because it's an order of magnitude simpler.
    4) It makes the vehicle less of a theft target, because many modern-day car thieves can't drive a stick, and most people prefer automatics, making them both harder to steal and harder to fence.

    It used to be that a manual got a little better fuel mileage, but the automatics have gotten good enough so that is no longer the case.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    CHL Instructor, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 12:51pm

    Re: Re: Thrill of driving... Bah! Humbug!

    Public transport to/from my job would take approximately 4 hours each way, and involves 2 transfers. Since the first bus doesn't even run until after 5am, there would be no chance to get to work on time.

    And that's not even the most important reason for avoiding the bus.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 12:54pm

    What about transporters?

    All this talk about autonomous driving is holding back the research on Star Trek like transporters.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    fl3tch3r, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 1:36pm

    Ride Motorcycles!

    Hahaha... Let the cars drive themselves, as long as I can still get on my Harley.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 2:06pm

    Watching too many movies

    I think this might have been taken from Isaac Asimov short story "I Robot" as portrayed in the Will Smith movie back in 2004. Didn't Will Smith's character freak out the co-star by engaging the manual override on his automated automobile?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 2:43pm

    Safer for Motorcycles

    Autonomous cars would certainly make for safer motorcycling...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    JimO, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 2:57pm

    Liability

    Just as though an incident was caused by some part of your "regular" car failing, you would be at fault as owner of the car, and then you could turn around and sue the manufacturer (with appropriate evidence) that it is their faulty design/execution/etc (and not your misuse/poor maintenance/etc) that caused you to have the accident. No real change in laws here.

    I can see development of autonomous car lanes, in which "regular" cars cannot travel.

    Autonomous cars should be able to avoid each other unless you have both cars experiencing sensor failure. Humans driving "regular" cars that collide or cause collisions will ultimately be at fault in 95% of regular vs autonomous incidents.

    Just make sure you're not driving a car powered by Windows Vista, and you should be okay.

    As far as automatic regulation of driving speeds, I can't agree more. The maximum speed limit is perhaps the most abused law on the books, and it's just there for everyone's safety.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2008 @ 7:28pm

    Sticks

    Heck, I drive a stick because I actually enjoy it! They could not pay me to buy a car with an automatic or an automanual transmission.

    Now, wasn't it GM that predicted the demise of the traditional manual transmission? And now GM wants to take the act of driving out of the equation. I fear the day when the streets are overrun by Chevrolets on autopilot...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    identicon
    Ethan Bauley, Jan 12th, 2008 @ 10:33am

    What is this...

    What is this, Popular Mechanics???

    j/k

    :-)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2008 @ 11:59am

    Act of driving vs Transportation

    I don't own a car because it is fun to drive. I own a car because it is the only way to get from point A to point B. If I could step out of my rural house, get into my 'transportation device' and have it get me to where I wanted to go, that would be great.

    A fully autonomous system would be much safer than the current system where humans are involved. Think about it. Each car knows exactly where it is located through GPS. Each car knows exactly where other cars around it are located via wireless networking. Obstacles can be identified and avoided via infrared and optical sensors. The entire transportation network could develop a hive mind and each vehicle would keep its situational awareness up to date by pluggin into the network and monitoring its scanners. Humans are obsolete.

    If "they" can develop it, then I'm all for it. And for those jokers who say they won't buy one because they like to turn the wheel and push the petals, fine, stay at home.

    It is unfortunate that in this country it will never happen because of the cowboy mentality that you have to drive to be free. Imagine the freedom of being chauffeured anywhere you want to go without being a slave to the wheel, stick, and petals. Forget driving, I'd rather take the Magic Carpet Ride.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    identicon
    BTR1701, Jan 12th, 2008 @ 10:36pm

    Safety

    > Rather, it become a hobby. A half-century
    > after the introduction of the automatic
    > transmission, there are still plenty of people
    > who prefer to drive a stick. The same is true
    > of traditional housework activities like weaving,
    > knitting, and quilting. It no longer makes economic
    > sense to do these things in the home, but people
    > do them anyway because they enjoy it.

    The difference between the things you mentioned and this autonomous driving proposal is that with driving a stick shift and quilting, you don't have a whole chorus of "safety mavens" calling for the banning of quilters and standard-shift drivers to "protect the children". Their argument will be that a person who chooses to drive stick or quilt their own blankets isn't a danger to others but a person who chooses to control his/her own car isn't just indulging in a nostalgic hobby-- they're endangering those on the roads around them by introducing the risk of human error into the mix.

    You can be sure that if there's a viable alternative to human-controlled cars, it will be swept into law on a chorus of people howling "think of the children!" and controlling your own vehicle will become a thing of the past.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    BTR1701, Jan 12th, 2008 @ 10:48pm

    Re: Liability

    > The maximum speed limit is perhaps the most
    > abused law on the books, and it's just there
    > for everyone's safety.

    No, it's most certainly not "just there for everyone's safety". If safety was the concern, speed limits wouldn't be routinely set artificially low.

    No, the real reason for speed limits is the generation of revenue by the state. It's a hidden tax and one that forms of the lifeblood of many a municipality.

    It's also a huge reason why this autonomous driving thing will face some fierce opposition. When a city like Washington, DC, which relies on tens of millions of dollars in traffic/parking fines per year to run its budget, is suddenly faced with that figure dropping to near-zero, you can bet the politicians will suddenly find all sorts of "problems" with the idea.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
    identicon
    BTR1701, Jan 12th, 2008 @ 10:55pm

    Re: Act of driving vs Transportation

    > If I could step out of my rural house, get into
    > my 'transportation device' and have it get me
    > to where I wanted to go, that would be great.

    It would only be great if once I got into the vehicle, it "belonged" to me for the duration of my trip-- no stopping to pick up others and no way for anyone but me to stop or open it.

    Otherwise, it just becomes a smaller version of the city bus, with all the delays and problems that come with it-- especially the safety issues.

    Imagine riding along in your little robot car, when it suddenly detours off the freeway into a ghetto because some gang-banger called up and wanted to go downtown to the same block you chose. Next thing you know, a potential rapist or murderer is climbing into the cab with you because the computer didn't know any better and decided to stop and pick him up based on its "efficiency algorithms".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
    identicon
    Twinrova, Jan 14th, 2008 @ 3:51am

    Autonomous cars - aren't these called trains?

    Like many, I've watched many shows regarding the technology on how, one day, it'll be possible to sit in your car and just ride to where you want to go.

    I'm a bit stunned that so much technology is focused on taking away user intervention that none is being applied where it should: mass transit solutions.

    No matter how much is taken away, no car will ever beat a "bullet train" when it comes to commuting. Traveling long distances should also be replaced by "autonomous trains". It would take less money to build "private compartment" train cars than try to "connect" all these individual cars together.

    With so much emphasis on global warming, one would think it's more prudent to reduce the number of cars on the road, not increase them.

    I can just see the headlines now: "A multiple autonomous pile up created a massive explosion as all the hydrogen fuel cells ruptured killing 122 people."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    identicon
    Chatterbox, Jan 24th, 2008 @ 7:41pm

    Re: No more car service

    I enjoy driving, feeling the wind. No, let me hug the road, control the speed and work the mechanisms. Small world, tho', the ITGuy I know likes to feel the wind too; and driving, drives like the devil is on his backside. Nearly ran me off the interstate the other day, and I had the petal to the medal myself. He might find it fun to be driven around from time-to-time but my guess, it would bore him eventually; especially being such an auto buff.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
    identicon
    Graham, Feb 28th, 2008 @ 6:03pm

    Of course the software required to drive the car will be perfectly bug-free, virus-resistant,and never need "updates".

    Perhaps Microsoft will write it, so we need never worry. :D

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
    identicon
    Allen N Wollscheidt, Feb 5th, 2009 @ 1:30pm

    Autonomous Automated Automobiles -- A A A

    The skeptics would be advised to consider the likelihood that the AAA will report even the very SLIGHTEST driving infractions committed by manual drivers to the appropriate authorities, complete with definitive video/audio.

    Oh, the revenue ! ! !

    Manual driving will NOT become a hobby, but rather a literal and costly nightmare ! !
    .

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This