Uber Wasting No Time: Launching Test Of Self-Driving Cars

from the this-should-be-interesting dept

It’s no secret that Uber has been interested in self-driving vehicles and how they might change its business. Lots of people have predicted futures in which Uber basically runs a fleet of self-driving cars and Uber itself has commented on the idea in the past as well. But I’m not sure anyone expected it to happen this soon. The company is apparently starting a test-run with driverless vehicles in Pittsburgh:

Starting later this month, Uber will allow customers in downtown Pittsburgh to summon self-driving cars from their phones, crossing an important milestone that no automotive or technology company has yet achieved. Google, widely regarded as the leader in the field, has been testing its fleet for several years, and Tesla Motors offers Autopilot, essentially a souped-up cruise control that drives the car on the highway. Earlier this week, Ford announced plans for an autonomous ride-sharing service. But none of these companies has yet brought a self-driving car-sharing service to market.

Uber?s Pittsburgh fleet, which will be supervised by humans in the driver?s seat for the time being, consists of specially modified Volvo XC90 sport-utility vehicles outfitted with dozens of sensors that use cameras, lasers, radar, and GPS receivers. Volvo Cars has so far delivered a handful of vehicles out of a total of 100 due by the end of the year. The two companies signed a pact earlier this year to spend $300?million to develop a fully autonomous car that will be ready for the road by 2021.

Separately, the company announced that it has bought a self-driving startup, Otto, and put its co-founder, Antohony Levandowski, in charge of Uber’s self-driving efforts.

We’ve already noted that Tesla has Uber-like plans as well, but this could certainly get interesting. Lots of people (including us!) have speculated on what the world will look like as autonomous vehicles become more prominent, but it’s somewhat amazing how quickly this is happening.

While it’s not a huge surprise that Uber may be leading the way, it does still raise some interesting questions. Obviously, lots of people say that Uber wants to do this so that it won’t have to pay drivers any more (though in these tests a human is still in the driver’s seat and, one assumes, getting paid). But part of the genius (or problem, depending on your point of view…) of Uber was that it was just a platform for drivers who brought their own cars. That is, Uber didn’t have to invest the capital in buying up cars. It just provided the platform, drivers brought their own cars, and Uber got a cut. If it’s moving to a world of driverless cars, then Uber is no longer the platform for drivers, it’s everything. It needs to make the investment and own the cars. That’s actually a pretty big shift.

That’s not to say that it won’t work — and there’s an argument that Uber’s real power these days is in its operations software figuring out which cars should go where — but it is an interesting shift in the business. And given that, it’s also interesting to see how Tesla is entering the market from the other direction — a direction that is more like Uber’s original concept, where individuals own their own cars, but then lease them back to Tesla to act as for-hire cars for others. I guess it’s possible that Uber could do the same thing too, where any car owner could provide their vehicle back to Uber to earn money, but without having to drive it — just making it a productive resource.

Who knows how this will turn out — and I’m sure some people will inevitably freak out when there’s a self-driving car accident — but the future is getting really interesting really fast.

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Companies: otto, tesla, uber

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Comments on “Uber Wasting No Time: Launching Test Of Self-Driving Cars”

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70 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Mike, didn’t you make the point in a previous Tesla article article that Tesla were talking about constructing their own hireable vehicle fleet by giving owners the option to use their own self-driving Teslas for the task?
I can’t see why you don’t expect Uber to do the exact same thing. These Volvos they’re testing are presumably owned and operated by Volvo, and despatched by Uber. Surely that’s how you’d expect things to continue once we reach a time of self-driving cars and yet you write about how you suddenly expect Uber to start buying cars for themselves.
Not sure why you’d take that route instead of the obvious one that you’ve pointed out before for Tesla…

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Mike, didn’t you make the point in a previous Tesla article article that Tesla were talking about constructing their own hireable vehicle fleet by giving owners the option to use their own self-driving Teslas for the task?
I can’t see why you don’t expect Uber to do the exact same thing.

Did you not read all the way to the end?

“And given that, it’s also interesting to see how Tesla is entering the market from the other direction — a direction that is more like Uber’s original concept, where individuals own their own cars, but then lease them back to Tesla to act as for-hire cars for others. I guess it’s possible that Uber could do the same thing too, where any car owner could provide their vehicle back to Uber to earn money, but without having to drive it — just making it a productive resource.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Which unless it provided a parallel network of roads, would eliminate most of the benefits of self driving cars. Needing your own transport to get to where the self driving cars, and then further transport the other end to reach your destination is dumb for short distances, and planes and trains are better over longer distances.

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I think what you saying is bit extreme. I have for a long time though suggested our roadways could easily have slight modifications to help self driving cars.

You could easily add things like bar or QR codes to help the computers but would simply be ignored by human drivers. I strongly suspect as time goes on we will see this happen to.

By slowly adding things to assist computer driven cars we could help make the cars less reliant on things like GPS. It would also add redundancy to systems and that is never a bad thing. If your car can read the special “road sign” and know where it is on a map then it makes it much harder to crash it by fooling just the GPS. We are at the very early stages, but I think in time we will see our roads change drastically as these cars become more common.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

GPS is way to inaccurate and unreliable to use for more then guiding the car to its destination. You cannot crash them by fooling the GPS, it uses other technology to keep it on the street.

And this is really interesting, if this goes well, the taxi industry is dead with trucks and delivery vans soon behind it. It will be interesting to see if it dies silently, or if the autonomous cars will be hamstringed by regulation to save the jobs.

I am accually not sure that new technology will help replace all these jobs completely. We might very well be on the verge of the greatest societal change in human history. CGP grey has made an really nice video about it and other automation and possible consequenses for society. I highly recommend seeing it.

Humans need not apply: https://youtu.be/7Pq-S557XQU

And as a sidenote about safety, they really don’t need to be perfect without accidents all the time to be an improvement. They just need to be better then humans, which is kind of easy, humans are TERRIBLE drivers. Don’t forget, millions die on the road each year around the world

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I don’t see delivery vans with drivers going away. They often have multiple deliveries aboard, and someone will need to make sure that the correct shipment makes it to the correct destination. The cost of a different vehicle for each delivery might be prohibitive. The chance that the recipient offloading more than what is supposed to go to them would be chancy.

Think about a truck, delivering food to a hotel, with 10 stops on their route.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Yeah, that’s what we need … “Special Highways”

We already have roads that think they are special, but are far from it. They ask us to fund their maintenance but they never seem to be in good repair, must be due to all that overhead. Without the inverted pyramid of skimming management and paid consultants how would this special highway ever survive? These people siphoning off our tax dollars must be serving a useful purpose, otherwise they would be gotten rid of – right? Lets privatize more of our socially funded infrastructure because it such a good idea – Not –

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: I am no Luddite, but

It has merit, but only tells part of the story. People who work in a specific trade that gets automated may be put out of work, but technology also creates new industries that would not otherwise be possible, and may not have been conceivable before the new tech took hold.

The usual example is that of the buggy whip – yes, people who made those went out of business and people lost their jobs. But, the technology that caused that has itself created a huge number of other jobs that didn’t previously exist.

Another example is automatic telephone exchanges. Yes, the creation of those led to a lot of job losses among human telephone operators. But without them, lots of things would not be possible, including the internet.

So, the question isn’t simply whether or not automated cars will put people out of work – they will, in the short term. The question is whether there’s a net loss in the future once you look at the things that have been enabled by automated vehicles. It’s too early to say for sure what the effects will be.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: I am no Luddite, but

It has merit, but only tells part of the story. People who work in a specific trade that gets automated may be put out of work, but technology also creates new industries that would not otherwise be possible, and may not have been conceivable before the new tech took hold.

In this case that analysis is wrong, we have already seen lights out factories for car engines, transmissions, and many other things. In China FoxConn is replacing the majority of their factory workers with robots over the next 10 years. There are plans to automate the production of robots, the owner of Rethink Robotics drop a bomb shell a couple months back, his plan was/is to have robots building robots. (to quote C3PO, robots building robots, madness!) We have more manufacturing in the US than we did a few years back, but we have more machines building things.

Tesla is head down the fully autonomous route, every 2 years they are upgrading their factory automation, the estimate is in less than 8 years they will be able to increase production as much as they want, without increasing the number of employee’s. And in less than 10 years start decreasing the number of employees.

The Tesla Gigfactory will for the next several years require large amounts of people, interesting thing though, when the deal signed with Nevada begins to expire, is the same time the automation allows for massive reduction in the number of employees. I guess it pays to be a forward thinker and understand the path technology is headed on.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: I am no Luddite, but

Fully automated factories only make sense if the owners can sell or trade the output for things that they want or need. Ultimately, if their is no market for the output of the factory, it has no value for its owners, and any investment they have put into it is lost.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I am no Luddite, but

Fully automated factories only make sense if the owners can sell or trade the output for things that they want or need. Ultimately, if their is no market for the output of the factory, it has no value for its owners, and any investment they have put into it is lost.

Quite true, which is the other part of why automation will be an enormous disaster if we don’t deal with it ahead of time. If 25% or more of the population is unemployed (wants to work but can’t), there won’t be enough demand to support the current production levels. Factories will close, demand for both skilled workers (at the beginning there will still be a need for skilled workers) and robots will decline, leading to further unemployment and reduced demand, and so on. Other factories will need to cut costs due to reduced demand and turn to automation, leading to increased unemployment and reduced demand.

I can see two possibilities: a complete transformation of our society away from being paid for work that someone wants you to do, or a total collapse. Like people starving, rioting, and setting things on fire. The US could look like the Arab Spring but worse.

Now imagine what certain politicians will say when someone suggests that we can no longer have a society based on people trading work for money, and need to find some other way to make sure everyone has housing, food, and medicine.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 I am no Luddite, but

Now imagine what certain politicians will say when someone suggests that we can no longer have a society based on people trading work for money, and need to find some other way to make sure everyone has housing, food, and medicine.

That is where politics is failing, and failing badly. politicians should be thinking about and planning for such problems ahead of time.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 I am no Luddite, but

It is a gimme that Europe will go down the Arab spring route first. This next statement is not ego but a statement of fact, the people born and raised in the US are smarter and less prone to rioting than Europeans. This comes from a decision made almost 100 years ago, and that was to iodize salt. Even slight Iodine deficiency, while in the womb cause a decrease in IQ. Severe deficiency causes up to a 20 point drop in IQ.

The reason I bring this up, is it is highly probable that Europe will go first down the rabbit hole of rioting, police crack downs, and nationalism first. Which gives the US politicians a one or two year lead to come up with a plan. With the current politicians, I have zero in the way of faith that they will do the right thing, they will pass the buck down the road, not do what is needed, and then over react with the worst policies imaginable.

Hopefully this collapse occurs 12 years from now, when the revolt against the uni party that is in power now, has crashed and burned due to millennials aging into the voting population. We might have a chance if they are all voted out, a slight one, but a chance none the less.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I am no Luddite, but

The huge problem is we have publicly traded companies, that will be forced to go down this route by the boards. Which means it is inevitable, that it will occur. If they do not they fail.

The largest and most powerful companies on the planet in 10-20 years are the ones that goes full stack automation on mining, recycling and manufacturing. The cost benefits alone will make this happen, not to mention the ego’s that come into play when dealing with multinationals.

In the end I am not sure which of the 12 scenarios are going to occur. The most likely outcome, after a period of readjustment (reads riots due to unemployment and other factors) is a GBI Guaranteed Basic Income and capitalism that slowly moves towards something Star Trek like. Either that or a plague is released that kills of 90% of humanity. Take your pick of which one you want …

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 I am no Luddite, but

The huge problem is we have publicly traded companies, that will be forced to go down this route by the boards. Which means it is inevitable, that it will occur. If they do not they fail.

That’s not caused by them being publicly traded though. If Competitor A is cutting costs through automation (and lowering prices), Competitor B will have to do so as well or find a way to distinguish their products enough to justify higher prices. This is true even if Competitor B is privately owned.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 I am no Luddite, but

If Competitor A is cutting costs through automation (and lowering prices), Competitor B will have to do so as well or find a way to distinguish their products enough to justify higher prices. This is true even if Competitor B is privately owned.

Yes, economics does win out. I was pointing out the inevitability, based on our current system of regulations and laws guiding US corporations. The publicly traded companies have no choice in the matter.

Going back to your original comment

If 25% or more of the population is unemployed

According to a bunch of studies, without Moore’s law, robotics will take 45% of current jobs off the table in 20 years.

Taking Moore’s Law into account, 75% of currently employed individuals will be out of work. With only 59% of the US population actually working that leaves about 15% of the population trying to support the rest. Which is financially unworkable, in a nation that will be at 30 trillion dollars debt in less than 10 years. (I will leave that as an exercise for the reader, just forecast the debt clock out)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: I am no Luddite, but

I have always been an optimist when it comes to job creation from technology. We have many high-tech gadgets being designed, built, programmed, tested, distributed, sold and so on. The IoT is just getting started. But it seems that as we move more jobs up the skills ladder, there is going to be a lot of low skilled people out of work or working for a pittance.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: I am no Luddite, but

You think that’s bad? In my industry..the manufacturing equipment is now automated.. So your thinking the jobs then went to the builders of the equipment and the people that have to maintenance the equipment right? Wrong… the equipment is built by robots, and basic maintenance is automated now…so so someone has to build the robots right?? Well.. no… they are built by other robots….

The whole buggy whip theory falls apart when you don’t need people to build the replacements, or the machines replacing the builders…. you think all that money saved is going to make it into the low wage workers pocket? lol

Just like I tell the factory workers that are pro immigration and want to throw open the borders. I tell them…All those people that flood over the borders.. do you think they are applying for my job or yours? Want to know why I’m not paying you $20 an hour? Because I’ve got a line of people outside willing to do it for $10 an hour… throwing open the borders… does that make your situation better or worse? How about “the mans situation”?.. think about it..

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I am no Luddite, but

“The whole buggy whip theory falls apart when you don’t need people to build the replacements, or the machines replacing the builders…”

If you think the “buggy whip theory” is all about transferring the manufacture of one product to another, you really don’t understand it to begin with.

“Just like I tell the factory workers that are pro immigration and want to throw open the borders.”

I’d like a citation that such people exist before I consider your suspect conclusions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 I am no Luddite, but

I understand it just fine, I just don’t think it’s relevant. In the case of the buggy whip, those that survived changed/added new products, and shifted manufacturing in order to survive. This isn’t the case at all… manufacturing isn’t being shifted, it’s being re-defined. Were still building the same whips.. where just not doing it with as many/any humans anymore. The humans we are using, were able to pull them from a giant labor pool therefore driving the wage into the dirt.

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100110/1613597692.shtml

“Those companies, like Timken, that didn’t limit themselves by the exact final product, did fine. They recognized that the end market was changing and worked to make sure that the products they offered made sense in the new markets as well as the old.”

I’ve taken hundreds of applications over the years from people looking for a job. The average wage of people making less than $25 an hour has been going down for years now. The more applicants I get, the more competition for a job, the less wage that job commands. It’s as simple as it gets.

Combine the real unemployment numbers with the flood of low wage labor and you don’t have to be an economist to understand what’s happening.

“I’d like a citation that such people exist before I consider your suspect conclusions.”

Don’t take my word for it, look it up yourself… here’s a couple of links I could find in a flash.

https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=low+wage+workers+shrinking+paychecks

https://www.thenation.com/article/incredible-shrinking-paycheck/

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/mar/04/us-jobs-report-february-economy-beats-expectations-wages-drop

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I am no Luddite, but

I will never get this. Your argument is that we shouldn’t make robots and other things to be more efficient because that would take some guys job. So instead we should just keep on paying people to do simple mindless jobs not because of any other reason than just to pay them?

As we move forward jobs don’t really just vanish. They change and people need to change with them. As factories get more efficient their is more of everything for everyone. Sure, you no longer have an assembly line of 1000 people building a car, instead you have robots and 10 people. Now though you suddenly have more cars that are more affordable.

I really don’t think kneecapping technology is the solution to take care of our lower classes. Assuming these people are too stupid to do anything other than jobs easily replaced by a robot is just insulting. Yes, they will have to learn new skills but so what? Teach them and lift them up, don’t baby them with pointless jobs. That just drags down the entire economy for no reason.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 I am no Luddite, but

“I will never get this. Your argument is that we shouldn’t make robots and other things to be more efficient because that would take some guys job. So instead we should just keep on paying people to do simple mindless jobs not because of any other reason than just to pay them?”

NO NO NO! You don’t get what I’m saying at all. I’m just pointing out supply and demand. We are flooding our labor pool with cheap labor while simultaneously automating manufacturing. We should be reducing our labor pool right now not increasing it, that’s what I’m saying. Close the borders, get the supply of cheap labor down, get the average wage back up, take care of the people we have here, then lets talk about opening the border.

“As we move forward jobs don’t really just vanish. They change and people need to change with them. As factories get more efficient their is more of everything for everyone. Sure, you no longer have an assembly line of 1000 people building a car, instead you have robots and 10 people. Now though you suddenly have more cars that are more affordable. “

“”As we move forward jobs don’t really just vanish. They change and people need to change with them.”

I’ll let the robot know building the cars that the 10 union jobs he just replaced have shifted somewhere else so his feelings aren’t hurt.. lol..

“As factories get more efficient their is more of everything for everyone.”

You mean more profits for the rich right? The rich are getting richer… how about everyone else?.. anyone?

“Now though you suddenly have more cars that are more affordable. “

If you don’t have a job, I don’t care how affordable, you don’t own a car… you’ll be lucky to feed yourself.

“I really don’t think kneecapping technology is the solution to take care of our lower classes. Assuming these people are too stupid to do anything other than jobs easily replaced by a robot is just insulting. Yes, they will have to learn new skills but so what? Teach them and lift them up, don’t baby them with pointless jobs. That just drags down the entire economy for no reason.”

Now to this we agree. Don’t knee cap technology, control the work force. Take care of the people you have, and get them working and out of the welfare line.. then lets talk about throwing open the gates.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Not "driverless".

“Uber’s Pittsburgh fleet, which will be supervised by humans in the driver’s seat for the time being”

Depends on your definition of “driver”. A human monitoring the car in case of problems, with the ability to take over in an emergency is not the same as a driver, even if he has that capability. If the cars operate themselves 99% of the time without direct human interaction, they are “driverless” even if there’s someone keeping the drivers’ seat warm.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Not "driverless".

“A human monitoring the car in case of problems, with the ability to take over in an emergency is not the same as a driver, even if he has that capability.”

That is what you think, but what will the legal system say to that? If you are monitoring and are able to take over in an emergency, are you not technically/legally the “driver”?

Example: Autopilot on airplanes can take off, land, and fly the aircraft… but the guy sitting in the seat behind the stick is till the “pilot”. Same difference no?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Not "driverless".

“what will the legal system say to that?”

I don’t particularly care in this context. I just don’t believe that the presence of a person suddenly makes a automated vehicle not driverless.

As for the pilot example:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autopilot

“Autopilots do not replace a human operator, but assist them in controlling the vehicle, allowing them to focus on broader aspects of operation, such as monitoring the trajectory, weather and systems.”

I suppose you could translate that across to the job of the “driver” in these cars, but I’d certainly argue that more of the primary roles of the driver are delegated to the automation in cars than they are in planes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Not "driverless".

Now hang on there, you just changed your story… Your first post said;

” A human monitoring the car in case of problems, with the ability to take over in an emergency is not the same as a driver, even if he has that capability.”

Now your saying;

” I just don’t believe that the presence of a person suddenly makes a automated vehicle not driverless.”

These are 2 completely different things. Simply having a person in the car does not make a driver, we agree. You got a guy sitting in the back seat reading a newspaper and drinking coffee, oblivious to his surroundings then yes…But having someone monitoring the car, and able to take over in an emergency…. that person better be a driver in the sense that they would be capable of driving the car in the case of an emergency.

So if a person is able to take over and “drive” the car, emergency or otherwise, is not that person then by definition a “driver”?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Not "driverless".

Wow, you really want to split hairs over this, don’t you?

“So if a person is able to take over and “drive” the car, emergency or otherwise, is not that person then by definition a “driver”?”

Not as their primary role in the seat of that car, no. During the majority of journeys, their driving skills will not be necessary, thus the “driver” is the car’s automated systems, not the human. No human operator = driverless.

I’m able to administer first aid in my office if required in an emergency, that doesn’t mean there’s a medic on staff while I’m there.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Not "driverless".

“Wow, you really want to split hairs over this, don’t you?”

Definitely. You can’t get both. Either you have a driver in charge of the vehicle or you don’t.

“I’m able to administer first aid in my office if required in an emergency, that doesn’t mean there’s a medic on staff while I’m there.”

No it does not mean you have a medic on staff. But if you are assigned as a first aid / first responder by your company, then you are responsible to render first aid should the need arise.

Same as driving. You don’t have to be a professional driver to be responsible for the act of driving. If you get behind the wheel, monitor gauges, or are otherwise taking over in case of an emergency, then you carry the responsibility.

Captain of a ship… responsible for the ship, automated driving or not.

Captain of a airplane… responsible for the airplane, automated driving or not.

Captain of a car… responsible for the car, driving or not.

Now, where this all falls apart is when you a human does not have the ability/responsibility to take over in any circumstance. It will be interesting to see how the legal system and the insurance companies deal with that one..

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Not "driverless".

“You can’t get both. Either you have a driver in charge of the vehicle or you don’t.”

…and the definition of “driver” is someone who’s driving the vehicle. A person who is not in control of the car 99% of the time while it’s in operation is not driving it. Thus, their primary role is not that of a driver.

“Captain of a car… responsible for the car, driving or not.”

…but not a driver. Glad you agree.

“Now, where this all falls apart is when you a human does not have the ability/responsibility to take over in any circumstance. It will be interesting to see how the legal system and the insurance companies deal with that one”

Well, not only is the legal system extremely slow at adapting to new technology, but all current automated vehicles to the best of my knowledge have that ability with no plans to remove it once the cars go into mass production. So, it’ll be decades before your posited scenario happens, if ever.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Not "driverless".

…and the definition of “driver” is someone who’s driving the vehicle. A person who is not in control of the car 99% of the time while it’s in operation is not driving it. Thus, their primary role is not that of a driver.

What about 98%? 97%? 51%? 50%? 49.9%?

Besides, the “driver” is in indirect control all of the time anyway by allowing automated operation that can be overridden at any time. Ultimately making them the “driver”.

And are you aware that modern airliners can take off, fly to their destination, and land by themselves? Manual control is still required to taxi out and back from the runway, but automated systems can handle over 99% of the journey. Yet, the “pilots” are still considered “pilots”.

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Not "driverless".

I think your missing the point that this is just a stepping stone. Currently yes, I do think the person in the driver seat is legally considered the driver.

This is done because no city/state in their right mind would let a fleet of totally autonomous cars loose on their streets picking up and carrying passengers. The liability for that at this stage is just too large.

This doesn’t mean that the car isn’t driving itself. It means that we have a human sitting in the car as a safety measure. This is being done as a trail. If they go a year or two where the humans never touch the controls and their have been zero accidents…. Then suddenly the humans will likely be removed.

Vidiot (profile) says:

Sit back and wait for anomalies

Thirty years ago, when computers first appeared in cars, a few highly-publicized throttle failures in GM vehicles prompted defense contractor Martin Marietta to try to market surplus data processing capabilities to developers of such mission-critical code. For a fee, you could run massive simulations on their mighty Cray supercomputers, testing every combination of control setting and sensor readings, to look for anomalous behaviors that might result. They’d done that for the Challenger postmortem – weeks of round-the-clock Cray runs inputting every permutation of every fractional pressure and temperature value, every throttle setting, and so on – and felt by automating the wringing-out process, developers and manufacturers could mitigate risk and control product liability.

The self-driving guys face this same issues, but with unimaginably complex multipliers: variables introduced by random, erratic humans… fellow drivers and pedestrians. And don’t forget factors like weather, crappy pavement condition and marginal road markings.

It just feels like self-driving technologies are being implemented quickly and, perhaps, without the incredibly thorough validation required. Sure, we’ve got post-millennial innovation and entrepreneurial enthusiasm driving us forward, but there’s this YOLO thing lurking behind it… “trust us, what have you got to lose?” I’d like a little more hard data, I think.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Sit back and wait for anomalies

“For a fee, you could run massive simulations on their mighty Cray supercomputers, testing every combination of control setting and sensor readings, to look for anomalous behaviors that might result.”

Do you not think people are doing this with these cars? They certainly have a hell of a lot more processing power for simulations than the Cray ever did, and they own the computers themselves instead of renting.

“there’s this YOLO thing lurking behind it”

Really? You think that people are just shrugging their shoulders and saying “to hell with thorough testing, let’s do this!”?

“I’d like a little more hard data, I think.”

This might be a good start?

https://www.google.com/selfdrivingcar/reports/

the Driver says:

I like to drive

I don’t like any of this one bit.

No one even mentions the whole problem with driver-less cars: remote kidnapping. You think having your computer ransomweared is bad? How about you being ransomed in your hacked autonomous car?

Or better yet, random acts of terrorism via commanding your car to just full throttle and turn left as you cross a bridge? The possabilites are endless for mucking things up.

And simulations? You can’t simulate enough to catch even a fraction of a percent of all the possible variables anymore. I don’t trust any of these companies. I certainly don’t trust the “data” they provide to back up their own claims. Some how Tesla is never at fault, neither is Google…go figure? I means seriously? Do we never learn? Companies rarely, if ever, provide accurate data that criticizes their own agendas.

Then there’s the civil rights aspect. Driving provided the average person greater autonomy and flexability to move around and get things done. I’m not very quick to give up that autonomy. “How are you giving up your autonomy with a self driving car…” Have you NEVER looked at a random road and just swerved off coarse just to see what’s there? Have you NEVER just drove around look at Christmans lights? Have you NEVER just driven for driving’s sake? There are an infinite number of ways having to program an actual destination inhibits your autonomy.

And the idiocy of the bean counters trying to convince me that my car is under utilized. No, no it’s not. It is doing exactly what I ask of it. Is my bed underutilized too? How about my toilet? Or my kitchen? I’m not renting those out either.

I have different vehicles for different tasks, and some of those tasks CAN’T be automated. Trucks for one are used for a variety of jobs that cannot be automated. So are minivans. Removing the person from the picture reduces the capabilities of the average person, and I see this as a MASSIVE step backwards. The brilliance of the car over the horse is the car doesn’t have have a mind of it’s own…now we want to give it a mind of it’s own? WTF?

Then there’s the legal side. Is no one aware, that if your car is rented out, as a private citizen, your still libel for what happens with it? If it’s driver-less, and it kills someone, your going to jail, even if you were asleep in bed at your home with no knowledge or input into it’s actions. Yes I’ve looked this up, it’s why I won’t let people borrow my cars. If they commit a crime with the car, I’m considered an accessory to the crime. SCREW THAT!

Then there’s the emotional side: I personally love driving. When we go someplace I drive. I like being in command of where I go. I LOVE taking the back roads for the sheer joy of it. I absolutely loath the idea of self driving cars for all of these reason. They are the Borg to my Federation. I shall resist.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: I like to drive

“I like to drive”

I find it a chore, but a useful one when I wish to go somewhere not supported by a quality public transport system. I’d be happy to let my car do the driving once the opportunity becomes available.

“No one even mentions the whole problem with driver-less cars: remote kidnapping.”

Which is a scary idea, but is it really going to be more commonplace than carjacking and other forms of theft that already exist?

“You can’t simulate enough to catch even a fraction of a percent of all the possible variables anymore.”

Citation? That seems like a very suspect claim.

“Then there’s the civil rights aspect.”

Erm, nothing in the rest of your paragraph has anything to do with civil rights.

“And the idiocy of the bean counters trying to convince me that my car is under utilized.”

You personally, or people who have a second car that’s rarely used, for example? You seem to be taking this all way, way too personally.

“Yes I’ve looked this up”

Then, you wouldn’t mind providing a citation. I’ve seen things that say you’d be liable if you knowingly let an intoxicated or unlicensed driver take it, and you’d certainly be responsible for the insurance. Perhaps you’d be responsible for accidents caused by a known fault with your vehicle. But, I don’t recall seeing people being held criminally liable for accidents that occur under normal circumstances.

“Then there’s the emotional side: I personally love driving.”

Clearly. Calm down. Nobody’s talking about taking away your toys.

the Driver says:

Re: Re: I like to drive

Ransomewear is common enough to be a concern. Most people get themselves into trouble opening up emails they shouldn’t, or visiting the darker side of the web. How a vehicle will be compromised I’m not sure, but given that the car will be connected 24/7 there are definitely ways it can be compromised. It’s a scary situation that could become all to real given the generally laxed view of security by most corporations.

It is rather personal to watch things conspire to take your freedom and having people around you cheering like it’s a good thing.

Do you honestly believe that banning of driven cars won’t become a topic as soon as we have one commercially available fully autonomous car? Unless the market quickly rebels against them, they will quickly become mandatory.

It will be hugely ironic because you still won’t be able to get on a plane that doesn’t have a pilot, but you won’t be able to get into a car that has a driver.

“Cash for driven cars” will probably be implemented to get normal cars off the street. Mobility is a civil right. This will seriously restrict your mobility in ways that are hard to imagine right now, but I gave some very simple ways in which it would be lost. It will also open a massive door of government control into yet another sector of our lives.

None of this is good.

So yes, they are trying to take these away, but not as toys, as methods of mass mobility. All the motorcyclists (which I’m not) should be very concerned. Those will undoubtedly be banned first. You can’t have small, hard to detect, and agile obstacles zipping around mucking up your autonomous utopia.

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Re: I like to drive

“The brilliance of the car over the horse is the car doesn’t have have a mind of it’s own…now we want to give it a mind of it’s own? WTF?”

I really wonder where your getting that from. I guess maybe someone thought that somewhere. Cars at first were just novelties for the rich. As they became more common people realized especially in a city a car is more practical. You don’t have to feed it all the time, just get gas for when you use it. Cars also are faster than horses, they don’t need to rest either. So really don’t think the lack of a brain was the main reason for adoption of cars over horses.

the Driver says:

Re: Re: I like to drive

Simple, the car doesn’t argue with you. You don’t have to talk to it. You just drive it. Now we are giving the car a brain, and I have to program/talk to the damn thing. What a stupid reversal of course. Ever seen a rider on a scared horse? You don’t get much done. Wait till you have your autonomous car with a glitchy system. That will be fun.

Especially with how utterly useless GPS are. Every GPS I have every used magically picks the worst route to get anywhere. They send you through the middle of cities instead of on beltways, or along the main straits instead of backroad shortcuts. The autonomous cars will do the same crap.

It’s mind boggling that people find this better. Has no one used a map? You can actually pick the best rout, it’s quite amazing.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: I like to drive

Have you NEVER looked at a random road and just swerved off coarse just to see what’s there? Have you NEVER just drove around look at Christmans lights? Have you NEVER just driven for driving’s sake? There are an infinite number of ways having to program an actual destination inhibits your autonomy.

I would be surprised if there weren’t cars that would respond to a command to “turn left here” and the like. Or let you take over when you want to. Maybe not all of them, but certainly some.

I have different vehicles for different tasks, and some of those tasks CAN’T be automated.

Yet. Can’t be automated yet. There’s nothing you can do with a truck that can’t be automated in theory. It’s just a matter of economics, so when it becomes cheaper to buy a robot to do it than hire a person, that’s what will happen.

the Driver says:

Re: Re: I like to drive

you can’t really automate backing your truck up carefully through your yard to a specific place that is completely unmarked, so it can be used in the commencing yard work. At the very least it would have to be remote controlled.

But again, this goes back to the idea that you just can’t come close to anticipating, or simulating all possible situations. The scale is just to large. Leaving humans in charge is best. leave the autonomous stuff to take care of the dribble in the background.

I’d like to point out, I’m ok with semi-autonomy, like taking over on the highway, just as long as that steering wheel and pedals don’t go anywhere.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: I like to drive

you can’t really automate backing your truck up carefully through your yard to a specific place that is completely unmarked, so it can be used in the commencing yard work.

Not today, no. But eventually yes. The yard work robots will understand where the yard work is taking place and drive the truck to the best spot for it. They will know if the truck can fit through or not. They will recognize that it’s not OK to drive through a flowerbed, and so on. That level of automation will not happen soon, but it will happen.

Unless the market quickly rebels against them, they will quickly become mandatory.

It wouldn’t surprise me if they eventually became mandatory, but quickly? Given how quick Congress is lately that would be shocking.

Anonymous Coward says:

I could easily predict a future where Hollywood writes a horror movie with a supervillein that put themselves in a perfect position to get hit by a car but where the automatic car absolutely refused to hit anything and so the victims were a victim of the driverless car’s inability to protect them at that moment. All the villein has to do to stop the car is stand in front of it, the car will just stop itself at that point and no extra effort is needed by the villein to chase the car, get hit by it, jump on it, try to attack the victims in a moving vehicle, etc…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Imagine, the car is driving down the road with the victims in it trying to get away from the villein. The villein puts himself 100 feet in front of the car. Instead of continuing the car begins automatically breaking with screeching tires, leaving skid marks, and the car barely comes to a complete stop just short of hitting the super villein. The victims in the car are terrified.

While the car is stopping the victims are yelling, NO NO NO NO, DON’T STOP. Where is the automatic override on this thing, NO, DON’T STOP!!!!

webster (profile) says:

As a part-time Uber driver, I have had innumerable discussions about me being replaced by a computer. It is happening already with all the computer-assisted operations already taken for granted, like the rear view camera. There are a number of points must be factored into this discussion:

1. Imagine a city where there is only taxis or ride share services. There would be no cars parked, nor the space needed for them, fewer lanes and paving. One would have to wait longer for a ride, and/or share it with strangers during rush hours.. It would be more efficient with the only cars around being in use.

2. Computer-driven cars are safer. If you doubt this, look at the videos of drones flying around a house. Computer-driven cars won’t need to stop on a trip; they would proceed through intersections in every direction simultaneously. There will be no need for signs, stop or otherwise, similarly no need for lighted signals –then most astoundingly of all, no need for ramps and overpasses. They would plug into the same navigation system, like GPS and some common reference to see each other.

3. Human capacities are too frail to mix into the computer-driver world. The cost of equipping a car with pedals, human steering, visual instruments, human windows and wipers will be prohibitive. Add to that the difficulty of insuring humans in this climate.

4. Needless to say all this is disruptive, but progress. It is going to happen somewhere first. Our public transportation authorities should be hiring ride share services now to get people to the trains and buses, if not all the way.

5. The key to succeeding in a mobile world is accommodating computer cars around pedestrians and cyclists. This will have to be done with strategic road design and zone timing.

6. Antique, human driven cars will operate on country roads and on holidays in the cities. To drive any of the computer cars you will need an app on your phone.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

One would have to wait longer for a ride, and/or share it with strangers during rush hours.

Rush hours are a huge problem for transportation systems, because they need a large carrying capacity for a one way trip in the morning, and again for the reverse trip in the evening. Many of the vehicles, and crews when relevant, have nothing to do between the two journeys, and the vehicles have to be parked up somewhere. It does not matter whether the vehicles are private cars, or part of the public transport system, significantly more that half of them are only needed for those two journeys.
Also consider that if the vehicles has to make two trips to a destination, with an empty return in between, arrivals are spaced out by 3 times the journey time.

Joel Coehoorn says:

They don't have to own the cars

> “If it’s moving to a world of driverless cars, then Uber is no longer the platform for drivers, it’s everything. It needs to make the investment and own the cars.”

I’m not sure this holds. I think Uber wants to do some of this, but I think they’re still also looking towards the sharing-economy model, where individuals still own and maintain the vehicles, and allow Uber to rent the vehicles for them when not otherwise in use. This allows Uber to run lighter, with lower operational costs. Yes, they are looking at a proprietary platform with Volvo, but that’s just getting started.

Anonymous Coward says:

Turn Signals Will Be Used Properly, Once Again

On a positive note, once Uber and Tesla cars take over, the cars will actually use their turn signals to merge, change lanes, and turn, almost assuredly reducing accidents, injuries, and deaths in the process. So, self-driven cars will become smarter than the average American driver.

Anonymous Coward says:

So Uber basically acts like a payday loan outfit, taking a cut large enough and suppresses prices low enough that their “contractors” have to work 80-100 hours a week and probably cheat on their taxes and/or insurance just to earn the equivalent of 40 hours at minimum wage, rakes in billions, and then cancels the contracts of all the workers, many of whom are probably still trying to pay off their car loans because they fell for all the advertising screaming EASY MONEY FAST!

Uber’s business model really should be illegal.

JBDragon (profile) says:

This self driving car thing was coming. The point at first was to let people with a car that wanted to make some money could use their own car and drive people where they needed to go. You set your own hours and days you wanted to work and that was it.

Since then it’s turned crazy. People sign up to do this just and then want to change the rules and complain how they don’t like how it is. Instead of being contractors, they now want to be employee’s. They want to form a union. You know what happens being a Employee now instead of a contractor? You now have a BOSS. He tells you your hours and days you have to work. They’re basically forcing UBER’S hand in this. If you have contractors now trying to force you to turn them all into employee’s, so be it. The business model needs to adapt. Remove most of the people and use ROBOTS!!! The robots in this case are self driving cars, which is a form of a robot.

It’s pricing yourself out of the marketplace. Most any idiot can drive a car. Some are better then others. It’s going to be a while before there’s true self driving cars on the road. I also see issues with vandalism and other things. It’s coming sooner then later. It’s Johnny Cab here we come.

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