Google Being Pressured Into Crippling Self-Driving Cars

from the disruptive-innovation dept

One of the most common results of disruptive technologies is that the legacy players scream to the heavens (or, rather, the politicians) about how dangerous the new technology is and how people will die if that new technology isn’t crippled. One of the most ridiculous examples of this — from over a century ago — was with the introduction of automobiles. Some transportation competitors raised such a stink about how dangerous cars were, that a few governments passed so called red flag traffic laws, that required someone to walk in front of any car, waving a red flag to warn people of what was coming. One of the most famous, in the UK, included this:

… one of such persons, while any locomotive is in motion, shall precede such locomotive on foot by not less than sixty yards, and shall carry a red flag constantly displayed, and shall warn the riders and drivers of horses of the approach of such locomotives…

Of course, those who were once the disruptors often become the incumbents, so it should be little surprise that automakers are on the other side of things when it comes to the eventual roll out of Google’s self-driving cars. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that politicians and automakers are pushing Google to cripple their self-driving cars while also delaying the roll out.

Google Inc. , under pressure to slow down development of driverless cars, may crimp the capabilities of the first auto products that it brings to market, people close to the company say. That may mean that cars using Google’s software may not drive faster than 25 miles per hour and may feature a foam front end to limit the extent of damage caused in the event of a collision.

Yes, there are some irrational fears about self-driving cars. Undoubtedly, there will be some malfunctions and accidents. And a lot of legal issues are unsettled. However, crippling the cars to the point that they’re almost useless seems rather silly. Regular, human-driven cars are notoriously unreliable and subject to accidents. It’s quite likely that as more self-driving cars are on the road that accidents will decline massively, as the technology will actually make the roads much safer.

While the article highlights the potential legal concerns and “public perception” of self-driving cars as a reason to cripple the first round of those cars, there are also, not surprisingly, competing automakers and tech companies in the mix, with their fear that Google’s willingness to keep innovating may leave them all far behind:

Auto makers and technology companies have made significant investments in the development of self-driving cars, although they favor a much more cautious, step-by-step approach than Google’s leadership does. How the car research plays out will say a lot about how Google’s innovative process will work as the company continues to mature and enter huge new markets such as transportation. It has run roughshod over the wireless phone industry for the last few years, quickly establishing the dominance of its Android operating system. But the auto industry has seen that story unfold, and doesn’t want to be cast unwillingly in a sequel.

In other words, spreading FUD about self-driving cars means Google can’t be as aggressive in pushing the envelope, and maybe we can hold back the tide for a few more profitable years of the old, more dangerous, kinds of cars.

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Comments on “Google Being Pressured Into Crippling Self-Driving Cars”

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out_of_the_blue says:

The red flags were to warn HORSES, sonny.

The streets were full of them back then. As I’m sure you’ve never been near horses, they’re easily spooked and large enough to do real damage.

Your ignorance about real reasons to warn horses back then doesn’t augur well for your notions about autonomous vehicles of the future. — Just Windows on an ordinary desktop has been known to cause death.

Remember the problems in Robocop, the entire Terminator series, HAL in 2001, “I, Robot”? Your usual sources are full of the dangers of automation. May still be a few bugs to work out.

Rich says:

Re: The red flags were to warn HORSES, sonny.

Um, yeah, I’ve been near horses. I use to show horses, for years. Horses are very intelligent and quickly get use to things. (This is why they don’t bolt when someone fires a gun). A horse isn’t going to run amok because it sees a car. Case in point: there are NO news stories if it happens, and there are still a lot of horses around today. We use to ride our along busy roads all the time.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: The red flags were to warn HORSES, sonny.

um, have to disagree somewhat:
1. live in a rural area where have more horses and cows as neighbors than people…

2. had g’friend i lived with for a number of years who had hayburners… my friends down the road have a bunch…

3. i’m not saying horses are dumb (although a lot of horse owners might), but they are not pigs (or even dogs)…

4. horses number one defense mechanism is to RUN AWAY (while they can kick the shit out of you, and pick you up with their mouths and throw you like a rag doll, running away is their main defense mechanism)

5. in furtherance of that defense mechanism, horses ARE spooky… i don’t care how well trained they are, how well they have become acclimated to gun shots, etc (some don’t, by the way, just like dogs, they can be gun-shy), their defense mechanism kicks in when they are confronted by unknown situations: a snake/rattler, smoke/fire, a car backfire, or even the wind blowing a plastic bag against a fence a half mile away can send them rocketing away without any warning…

also, do NOT turn your back on any horse you don’t know (and even if you do), some are very mischievious (sp?), and they WILL nip you out of curiousity, spite, fun, or simply boredom…

art guerrilla
aka ann archy

btrussell (profile) says:

Re: Re: The red flags were to warn HORSES, sonny.

Tell that to my step-sister who just had every rib separated from her spine last year after being thrown and trampled by a horse when a four-wheeler(ATV) passed them.

I’ve never shown horses except to visitors, but I have lived on a farm and as you may have guessed, have relatives who still live on the farm.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: The red flags were to warn HORSES, sonny.

“Remember the problems in Robocop, the entire Terminator series, HAL in 2001, “I, Robot”?”

I’m not sure what you’re saying here. Are you saying we should be basing laws on works of fiction (actually, given your usual idiocy here, you probably are)? Or are you saying that despite having been deeply explored in both science fact and science fiction extensively over the last century, nobody at Google or elsewhere has considered the potential dangers of new technology?

Well, at least you haven’t gone on a paranoid lunatic rant about Google this time, even though the article actually mentions them. progress, I suppose.

Joe Dirt says:

Re: The red flags were to warn HORSES, sonny.

TD Community, please be a little more judicious when reporting a post.

I concede that OOTB’s references to Science Fiction as proof of the dangers of technology may be silly, there is none of the usual ranting or wailing at TD or Mike or even Google. There is no reason to hide his post.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The red flags were to warn HORSES, sonny.

Indeed, when cars were first on the roads accidents caused by spooked out of control horses soared. Whoever reported your post to hide it is an idiot.

The reason horses don’t get spooked today is because they’re more used to the cars, and the newer horse gear makes it so that the horses can only see what’s directly in front of them, so that they won’t be able to really see other cars on the road.

But there’s ZERO reasons for these silly restrictions on google’s self driving cars. They’ve had only 1 accident, caused by someone else rear ending them at a red light. If self driving cars are so dangerous then I’d like car manufactures to explain how the parallel park yourself option on their cars aren’t dangerous. At those slow speeds to park a foam bumper might actually make sense.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: The red flags were to warn HORSES, sonny.

“Whoever reported your post to hide it is an idiot.”

I suspect most people who reported it were doing so due to the handle of the author rather than the content of the post. Whether fair or not, most of ootb’s posts contain little of value or truth, even if this one contained a nugget of such before going off the rails.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: The red flags were to warn HORSES, sonny.

most reported posts here are because they do not agree with the statement and have no reasonable argument against it.

They prefer to censor, that to engage in a discussion.

Also, you are a troll here, if you post something that does not agree with the article.

Anonymous Coward says:

or, more likely, hold off Google for a few more years so that the Automotive industry as it is today has the opportunity to catch up and then enter the market place at the same time as Google. that will mean competition which all companies should relish as it brings more innovation to customers. unlike the road the entertainment industries keep going down which does nothing except piss customers off and delays innovation for many years instead

PaulT (profile) says:

The funny thing is, in some ways the old fears were right. Cars are dangerous, and they do cause a large number of deaths and other problems every since year.

*However*, their utility and what they make possible outweigh these dangers. Utility and potential that would never have come to pass had the crippling restrictions remained.

It’s right to be cautious, but overly restricting new technology is equally problematic.

Anonymous Coward says:

Another powerful lobby against this would be government established taxi-cab monopolists. They can easily see these things as taking away from their business and they have had a lot of success in coercing our legal system in their favor.

The USPS might not like this either as it could potentially be used to provide anyone with driver-less delivery and hence not needing the post office anymore.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

When I have my own automated vehicle and can control it remotely via my phone why do I need a taxi cab? I need to go to the airport. I take my car to the airport and have it automatically drive itself back home for the rest of my family to use.

I need to pick someone up at the airport. They can take a taxi instead because I’m at work. Nevermind, I’ll just direct my car to pick them up, take them home, and come back to pick me up at work.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Have you ever been to Santiago-Chili? Many people there don’t own cars. They take taxi – cabs everywhere because it’s cheap. When I arrived the people who picked us up from the airport took a taxi – cab to the airport and we took a different taxi-cab back. At the airport exit there are many people practically begging to have you choose them as their taxi-cab driver. People take taxi-cabs to work and back.

The reason why there are so few taxi-cabs here isn’t because cost is high. It’s because prices are artificially high. It’s because of the government established monopoly involved. Monopoly reduces supply, resulting in fewer taxi-cab drivers, and increases prices. and taxi-cab drivers here in the united states don’t get paid well, most of that money goes to the medallion holders (ie: a corporation or whatever). The taxi-cab cartel does not want automated cars competing with them, they will have to reduce prices if such cars did compete which will cause them to reduce profits.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

The artificial lack of competition is so intense that it’s possible to be profitable offering free taxi-cab services solely from advertisements on your car.

The reason your dreamworld isn’t true has little to do with cost and much more to do with corrupt regulations.

and what’s really outrageous

Gerald Robinson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The auto industry got Tucker. And the Author’s Guild is still trying to stop Google Books. Those who adapt survive. A distant cousin of mine inherited the family buggy whip business back in the ’70s. There were only two old guys still there and no apprentices. The were making dressage and carriage whips for the horsey set. He looked around at demand and started making custom signal whips (used by the BDSM set). He is up to 12 employees and has a 3 month backlog. He still makes the carriage whips etc. but his business has expanded with the times.

Amy (user link) says:

Turcker Sedan

Delaying to market, so the automotive industry can “compete” is a load of crap. We’ve seen what the automotive industry does when it’s not ready to compete, it tries to squash the competition into the ground. See the Tucker Sedan, and how many years it took for its innovations to make it to market after being killed because the automotive industry didn’t want to compete.

Hopefully Google’s big enough to stand up and defend itself, and I hope someone involved in this project is familiar with the Tucker.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Yes, there are some irrational fears about self-driving cars.”

And there are some perfectly rational fears, too. I could just as easily say “There are some irrational desires to force self-driving cars on everyone.”

How about THIS fear: Pack a car with explosives, set it to drive to your destination of choice, then jump out. Massive destruction without ever having to even enter the same general area as the target. OK, not enough of a worry to stop production or anything, but it’s something to consider. And it’s not irrational, it’s GOING to happen as soon as they become common enough.

How about THIS fear: The government wants to arrest you? It just sends a friendly note to Google (or a car company, once they catch up) and your car locks its doors, rolls up its windows, and drives itself to the police station. Inevitably this will happen to some 75 year old guy who bought the wrong used car, who will then got either shot or tazed at the police station when the 30 cops waiting for him mistake his confusion for aggression, even though the person they wanted to arrest is 22.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“And it’s not irrational, it’s GOING to happen as soon as they become common enough.”

Of course it will, just as the same thing already happens with cars that require a driver.

That doesn’t explain why new restrictions would be necessary on the new cars that don’t apply to the old. In fact, you could argue that the increased range and automatic control make them safer with regards to terrorism(more time to react, possibility of law enforcement remotely intercepting or redirecting car before it reaches its target without a risky high speed chase).

As for the other fear? Meh. It’s no different to no knock warrants and the like that happen now. If someone wanted to get you they can anyway, and “mistakes” regularly happen. No point crippling a new technology just because there’s anew tool for them to do what they already do.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

drugged out psychics floating in a pool predicting murders won’t happen

I’ll bet there were more than a few of these in the ’60s.

cameras that can get your retina-print from many meters away aren’t likely

This is actually very likely. Already, there are commercial systems that can get iris prints, from a substantial distance, of everyone in a crowd passing by at the same time. For most purposes, this is as good as retina scans. Nonetheless, progress is being made in doing the same thing with retinal scans.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It just sends a friendly note to Google (or a car company, once they catch up) and your car locks its doors, rolls up its windows, and drives itself to the police station.

For security reasons, any self-driving car will have a manual override, so the driver can take over if it misbehaves. In a farther future where there are cars without manual controls, the manual override will stop the vehicle. In either case, there will be a way to manually open the doors from the inside, in case the vehicle lost power or the door systems malfunctioned.

Anonymous Coward says:

Seen a very good documentary about driverless cars

including Google’s entry, makes perfect sense to limit their speed and employ other safety measures.

Their level of accuracy and reliability has yet to be proven, it’s not about crippling the technology, it’s about ensuring the technology is up to the task, that will not be proven until it can be displayed that they can handle the current set speed.

Gotta walk before you can run.

James (profile) says:

Do you not see..

The self drive car will be the END of personal car ownership for most people. Instead you will just have fleets of self drive taxis that are much cheaper than owning your own car or using a taxi. Thin street car, but that can move its self about to where it needed, when its needed.
It should be the taxi and bus companies that are fighting this. The automaker industry will benefit from a high turnover of a few regular models, even if the overall market for cars will shrink dramatically.

Anonymous Coward says:

Auto industries

Cannot even get the computers they employ in their cars to work reliability over time, and you expect replacing a driver with more computers is going to solve that problem ?

why do you think they still employ pilots in aircraft that can fly fully automated from gate to gate ?

Because computers WILL break down, or get confused, or have a sensor fault, and in those situations you need a human that can recognise the difference between a faulty speedo or a stuck accelerator.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Auto industries

Self driving cars doesn’t mean there is no human able to take control. What it does mean is a more intelligent traffic pattern, where lights are timed properly, merging happens in the correct manner and cars miles away from a jam can adjust their speeds automatically so that the jam lasts a shorter timeframe.

Self driving cars NEEDS to happen.

Chris Brand says:


When I put this quote – “Auto makers and technology companies have made significant investments in the development of self-driving cars, although they favor a much more cautious, step-by-step approach than Google’s leadership does.” together with “That may mean that cars using Google’s software may not drive faster than 25 miles per hour and may feature a foam front end to limit the extent of damage caused in the event of a collision.”, it makes me think that the auto makers’ cars have problems if they go faster than 25mph.

Anonymous Coward says:

How are automakers competitors?

Can someone please explain to me how google is in direct competition with car manufacturers?? Google isn’t looking to put out their own line of cars last time I heard. What real incentive do car manufacturers have for limiting this when google could, and is, installing the software into current car models? Whether or not slowing the progress of self-driving cars is a good thing, techdirt once again makes ad hominem attacks against anyone it thinks hurts its version of “innovation.” How about some real discourse instead of simply dismissing any true claims from the other side in favor of using the old and too often repeated “they must hate technology and/or are in bed with the greedy content owners”?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: That's OK

/pendant mode on

“Third world” means not allied with the United States or the Soviet Union (when it existed). It doesn’t actually mean “impoverished,” although most third world nations are. (There are first and second world nations that are impoverished as well.)

The US, by definition, can never be a third world nation. We can certainly become impoverished.

Gerald Robinson (profile) says:

Self driving cars

Theses comments miss the elephant in the room. All today’s motor vehicles are dangerously dependant on computers. The onboard computer controls the brakes and in some cases the throttle as well as having the ability to fire the air bags. These are easily hacked remotely as seen from papers over the last several years at hackers’ conferences. Waiting for a good time on the LA Freeway and firing the airbags in multiple cars would cause a disaster?not as big as 911 but not trivial. BTW if more than two airbags trigger the car is totaled by the insurance company!

All vehicles should be rigorously examined and required to pass independent security audits especially self driving cars.

John85851 (profile) says:

Computer drivers could be safer than human drivers

What I find interesting/ scary/ sad is that the incumbent car companies have had around 100 years to innovate and what do we have?
We’re still driving basically the same vehicle as we did 100 years ago: an internal combustion engine, powered by gasoline, and driven by a human. Sure, there have been huge cosmetic changes, such as aerodynamic (and stylish) car designs, larger interior space, and (usually forced-upon) increases in gas mileage.

It’s like GM complaining they couldn’t compete with Japanese car companies simply because they chose to make SUV’s instead of hybrid cars.

Yes, a computer-driven car can malfunction, but how does this compare with human drivers, who could be drunk or tired or texting or distracted or lost or any number of other things. Or rather, compare a computer driver with human drivers during stressful times, such as merging onto the highway (that’s a yield sign, not a stop sign) or obeying traffic laws (yes, you can turn right on a red light; slower traffic stay to the right, etc).

Gerald Robinson (profile) says:

Re: Computer drivers could be safer than human drivers

Well you don”t understand computers if you seriously think that! Current cars are subject to remote hacking of their computers and an least one suspected murder has occurred by that method. There is a Black Hat Conference paper on how to remotely control today’s cars with $25 of hardware and a little code. So far Oracle hasn’t managed to get the bugs out of JAVA in spite of over 10 years of massive efforts. What makes you think that a computer driver can be successfully debugged and protected from attack? I don’t believe it.

Jared (user link) says:

Safety and Legalities

I have mixed feelings about self-driving cars. I was in a car accident with a real human who did not know how to drive. She wasn’t paying attention and I’m still dealing with the physical consequences a year and a half later. But what if it was a self-driving car? Who would be at fault? Would it be a product liability issue? Although I think with a lot of the bad drivers, it might be an improvement…

Gerald Robinson (profile) says:

Self driving liability

Not a bad point as a 20 year EMT and still a first responder I can say that most traffic accidents are not! maybe 3 to 4 in a hundred are. Drinking, eating, futzing with the radio, MP3 player, CD player, DVD player, texting, chatting on the cell phone (even the heads up ones), or messing with the in car navigation (better than trying to read directions or a map though) render yet one more driver dangerous at any speed!
These cars will have massive black boxes that record everything including video and audio from inside the car.

But without intelligent legislation at this point it will be determined by case law.

What about the case where the driver?who is supposed to back stop the car is inattentive (very likely), incapacitated (drunk, drugged, a sleep, or just employees bad judgement like today?

Now how about the car computer is hacked and it is driven by some one else into other cars or a bridge abutment?

BTW check up on this

William says:

My only fear of this technology

My only fear is that what would happen if for some strange reason the software or something about the technology malfunctions when someone happens to be crossing the street?.

I doubt a foam bump would help if the car runs over somebody like your Mom, your Grandma or your best friend. But I guess a human being could also “malfunction” when he’s drunk or thinking about something else while driving.

Still. It’s natural to be scared of new things at first… I suppose.

Gerald Robinson (profile) says:

Autonomiious automobiles are currently a terrible idea

As a 20 year EMT?now retired to a first responder?I know from experience?that only 3 to 7 “accidents” are actually accidental. The other ones are caused by a failure of the same component in one or more vehicles?that is the nut behind the wheel! This argues in favor of these cars.

Against this are two things: today any computer program complex enough to do something interesting can’t be completely debugged.
Second is the inherently faulty design of the car’s control systems. They are all on one common buss and compromise of any system will compromise vital ones as well as the WiFi or the entertainment center. This means that today’s cars are easily hacked remotely via things like the tire pressure sensors. There have been presentations at most of the recent hacking conferences on the vulnerabilities of today’s cars. Unless these are systematically addressed; which the automakers aren’t interested in doing, cars and trucks are increasingly hazardous!
Hopefully any autonomous vehicle will address these problems. But the lack of reliable software still remains.

Anonymous Coward says:

Eliminating taxi cab monopolies would improve safety and reduce drunk driving

Not to mention that taxicab monopolies likely harm the environment because taxicab companies have incentive to keep their cars as fuel efficient as possible to save money (and perhaps to have their own in-house repair shops or to contract in bulk where repairs that increase efficiency are done routinely in opposed to paying on a per repair basis, ensuring their tires are properly inflated and that they’re using tires that safe fuel, their car is properly oiled, etc…) and to do whatever they can to provide the most transportation using the least amount of fuel (ie: by carpooling and planning their routs to maximize carpooling). It’s much easier and more efficient for a company that specializes in cars to deal with cars than it is to force a much larger population to deal with them many of which are car illiterate.

Not to mention having more taxi-cabs creates efficiencies in that fewer cars can be used to serve more people and fewer cars require less parking space and less parking space is more space that can be used to build buildings and roads and improve congestion (more roads and fewer cars = less congestion).

Another thing that’s bad for the economy are these toll lanes. Hypothetically speaking lets assume we have two uniform lanes and the average speed on each is 30 miles per hour. Now lets say one of those lanes turns into a toll lane and its average speed shoots up to 45 miles per hour. Assuming the same number of vehicles and assuming that miles per hour has a linear relationship with speed the other lane may now be reduced to 15 miles per hour (if you have fewer drivers as a result the reduction in the number of drivers is a loss in utility).

Now the utility gained to those driving in the fast lane is 15 miles per hour (30 Mph original speed if fast lanes don’t exist + 15 miles per hour extra speed). But what they’re willing to pay is an extra 30 MPH of utility (the difference between the toll lane and the regular lanes which are now 15 MPH). So the toll lanes only benefit those that use it that are willing to pay what they are paying at 45 miles per hour had the regular lane been moving 30 miles an hour (and not 15) and it only helps them during the specific times that they are using the toll lanes and are willing to pay what they are paying for those extra 15 miles an hour. It otherwise hurts them and it hurts them during the times that they aren’t using the toll lanes and are using the regular lanes instead. In the meantime everyone else that’s not using the toll lanes is hurt because they are being forced to travel at a slower speed.

Martyn Strong (user link) says:

self driving cars

What is the status of self driving cars? Will ride sharing and divided owner ship be coming down the pike? Will the transition be slow or all at once? In the tv broadcast industry the change from non-digital to digital was almost all at once (just a few years) and the industry is now only digital. This allows for the better use of the bandwidth and higher quality service. In the transportation industry a fast switch over would make for fewer problems and a better result quicker. Unlike the TV industry we are not just taking bandwidth we are talking lives (30000/yr in us). There will also be “bandwdith” improvements in that the roads will be made better use of. Transportation costs will go down and the capital needed for transportation will go down. As with the TV industry there will be a lot of old equipment around that can no longer be used but that is ok (remember the 30000lives/yr). GM is already changing their company to be able to provide the new ride sharing of the future. By freeing up capital and real estate (parking lots and roads) the change to self driving cars will provide a strong boost to the economy. The change will be to more than cars also trucks and buses and air planes. What will the next be change be after self driving cars? Self governing governments? Self diagnosing medical patients? Will the car of the future know when its time has come and drive itself to the recycle yard? Will it know the type of passengers that are riding in it and adjust for small differences? Remind users that they are leaving something behind etc. Will they have the equivalent of a bus station locker wall in its trunk to deal with the need for people to have a temporary storage area. And then the data base ability to to get those things to the right people at the right time. The extra time that people will have by not needing to drive will be a big hike to the economy. People will be getting more sleep and be less stressed. The cars will be self cleaning and be able to give the users an analyses of there medical health by their out gassing and their general behavior in the vehicle compared to the users past behavior. Ride sharing could be set up to properly match people with other people. This would provide for very good networking in the travel times. Airline traffic will go down because car travel will now be safer and will not we a wast of time. Will flying cars have any chance at all with this future of self driving cars? Breakdowns will be a thing of the past – the self driving car will be self testing also. Just like the air plain engines that talk to there manufactures as they are flying – self driving cars will up date need adjustment to the service centers as the car drives along. Self driving mausoleum would re leave the problem of where to put dead people. They will just keep driving around on the roads for all time. If you want to visit them your can just call them up and the car with the remains will come to you. Will the self drive car ever need to be washed by you or repaired or bought or sold by you – no that is all taken car of for you. Also at any point you select the type of car that you want you my need a big car sometimes and some times a small car. As far as ads in the cars – if you want a free or almost free ride you can ask for ads that are targeted to you or if you want no ads you can pay a little more for the trip. The cars can take cash if that is what your want but it will be far from anonymous because for security reasons there will be a lot of video being taken and other information will be collected also. These self driving cars will be a boon for NSA because they will be able to track movement of people to a very tight degree. The branding of cars will be reduces to the current level of branding of today’s elevators. A lot the the parts of today’s cars are there to deal with the human driver. All those parts can go away and the car will be less costly. A lot of the safety items will also go away.

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