back to article Why do driverless car makers have this insatiable need for speed?

I get the point of driverless cars: once they actually work they're going to be great for everyone except the recreational driver, and it wouldn't be a surprise to find the technology being made mandatory for use on some of the public road network some decades down the line. But what I've not been able to grasp is why are all …

  1. Yugguy

    The end of any driving pleasure

    That's what it sounds like to me.

    Even on our crowded roads you can still get the odd moment of enjoyment from the sheer physical act of driving.

    Although I do know that for many driving is simply a chore.

    1. LucreLout Silver badge
      Go

      Re: The end of any driving pleasure

      @Yugguy

      Although I do know that for many driving is simply a chore.

      I love driving. Cars are pretty much my main hobby. But driving can certainly be a chore - Anyone used the A1 North on a Friday afternoon? Drove into London at, well, any time on any day? Those aren't fun trips.

      Even on our crowded roads you can still get the odd moment of enjoyment from the sheer physical act of driving.

      For the next 100 years there will be vehicles available without computer guidance. I base this on the continued existence of classic cars. After that people will continue making their own (See Colin Chapmans book).

      People won't stop driving for fun. It couldn't be effectively policed without consuming vast resources. No reg plates requires a physical stop, which requires actual traffic police, of which we have very few. And good luck with the motorbikes.

      Speeding is illegal and almost everyone does that. An MOT failure rate of nearly 50% shows that people don't regard the contruction and use regs in high esteem, and that generally speaking, most drivers are comfortabe with a certain level of law breaking (ignorance being no defence).

      We could elminate most road fatalities by removing the least capable drivers from the road. Automated driving will abolish any perceived barriers to having a properly hard driving test. We could even regulate manual driving to the top 1% of drivers in any given year.

      As a petrolhead, I welcome automated driving for the masses: they're no good at it and have little interest in it, so they won't be a loss.

      1. Electron Shepherd

        Re: The end of any driving pleasure

        For the next 100 years there will be vehicles available without computer guidance. I base this on the continued existence of classic cars.

        It's true they'll exist; whether they'll be driveable is another matter entirely. If (and I admit it's a big if), battery power becomes usable to the point of the convenience that we now have with liquid fuels of "add 600 miles of range in 90 seconds", it may be that the petrochemical companies don't make the fuels any more, since the demand won't be there.

        1. Naselus

          Re: The end of any driving pleasure

          I rather doubt self-driving cars will ever outright refuse to allow manual control. At least, not ones that lawmakers would countenance allowing on the roads; regardless of the relative safety records of automated vs manual driving, it's going to take multiple generations before anyone decides that the capacity to let the human being take control in emergencies is not required. Likewise, I'm fairly sure that even with self-driving cars, a driving test is likely to be mandated for sole occupancy in the vehicle by most governments regardless.

          This will, of course, be largely ignored by anyone under the age of 30 since the chances of getting caught will be minuscule, but it'll still take 50-100 years (basically, until the last generation who remember a time before self-drive die) before anyone recognises the futility of the law and abolishes it. Planes and trains both pretty much run themselves nowadays, but the drivers and pilots are still qualified to hell and back in case of trouble - not that it often helps when they take manual control.

          1. Mark 85 Silver badge

            @Naselus -- Re: The end of any driving pleasure

            Planes and trains both pretty much run themselves nowadays, but the drivers and pilots are still qualified to hell and back in case of trouble - not that it often helps when they take manual control.

            What is seems just based on a sense from various "disasters in the offing", is that when going to back up mode (live pilot/driver) if the meatbag has pre-computer experience the outcome has a better chance of being positive. It'll be the same way once driverless become the norm. The meatbag won't have the experience to take control in an emergency.

        2. scatter

          Re: The end of any driving pleasure

          "If (and I admit it's a big if), battery power becomes usable to the point of the convenience that we now have with liquid fuels of "add 600 miles of range in 90 seconds""

          That's never going to happen due to charging constraints - you'd need a cable that can deliver 5MW of power to achieve that kind of speed of recharge.

          More importantly it's totally unnecessary to have electric vehicles attain that kind of charging performance. Get (or rent) a hybrid or take the train if you want to nail 600 miles in a single trip.

          1. Vulch
            Happy

            Re: The end of any driving pleasure

            " take the train if you want to nail 600 miles in a single trip."

            Speed up main line electrification and bring back Motorail. Your self driving electric car takes you to the station, drops you off at the ticket hall, pootles round to the loading bay and hops on the train itself, recharges on the journey, and is outside waiting for you at the far end.

            How to deal with changing platforms in a hurry and cars that decide to go to Aberdeen when their owners were heading to Cardiff are left as an exercise for the software engineering team...

            1. Locky

              Re: The end of any driving pleasure

              Or make the batteries hot pluggable and a standard size. Then you pull up to a service station, take yours out, pay, pick up a fully chard module, plug in and drive out

              No change to the mass infrastructure, and gives the manufacturers time to develop hydrogen posibilities

              1. ChrisC
                Coat

                Re: The end of any driving pleasure

                Would a chard module be for those people who think electric propulsion isn't quite green enough, and demand a vehicle that is actually powered by greens...

              2. Tom 38 Silver badge
                Mushroom

                Re: The end of any driving pleasure

                make the batteries hot pluggable and a standard size. Then you pull up to a service station, take yours out, pay, pick up a fully chard module, plug in and drive out

                If the module is at all chard, don't put it in the car or it might overload!

                1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

                  Re: The end of any driving pleasure

                  If the module is at all chard, don't put it in the car or it might overload!

                  Next week in the Reg: Boffins demonstrate improved chard-kale hybrid battery tech.

              3. BongoJoe

                Re: The end of any driving pleasure

                I've always thought that the large black thing one drives on would make for a great solar power collector. Okay, not massively efficient but it would be a dream to harness the sun on the roads.

            2. Nonymous Crowd Nerd

              Re: The end of any driving pleasure

              Think I wouldn't put the car on the train, but have a robot remove all my stuff from the car and replace it in a different, but identical car at the other end.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: The end of any driving pleasure

                I certainly won't be using any 'taxi' form of automated car over owning a car,

                Taxi's smell, they are cheap, they are expensive and you have to carry everything with you...

                I would however have an auto-drive setting on my car, although I would turn off any 'reporting back' functionality.

            3. AndrewDu

              Re: The end of any driving pleasure

              A whole train full of cars all charging themselves up while the train is in motion?

              So where does the energy come from to do that, then?

              Sunbeams extracted from cucumbers, I suppose.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: The end of any driving pleasure

            <<"If (and I admit it's a big if), battery power becomes usable to the point of the convenience that we now have with liquid fuels of "add 600 miles of range in 90 seconds""

            That's never going to happen due to charging constraints - you'd need a cable that can deliver 5MW of power to achieve that kind of speed of recharge.>>

            Think outside the box. You don't need to deliver 5MW of power. You can use a battery replacement system. Alternatively you could use a system that charges the car while it is still moving.

            1. scatter

              Re: The end of any driving pleasure

              "Think outside the box. You don't need to deliver 5MW of power. You can use a battery replacement system."

              This is true but you're going to need an awful lot of batteries and a thumping great big grid connection to service peak times when you could have hundreds of vehicles arriving every hour.

              "Alternatively you could use a system that charges the car while it is still moving."

              AKA a hybrid which is the obvious solution to driving long distances in an electric vehicle.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: The end of any driving pleasure

                "AKA a hybrid which is the obvious solution to driving long distances in an electric vehicle."

                There's more than one way to skin an onion...

                England to test charge-as-you-drive 'electric motorways'

                You could also have a charging train which cars couple to, it pulls them along for a 50 mile stretch next to a major motorway while charging the car, for instance.

                1. scatter

                  Re: The end of any driving pleasure

                  Sorry, never going to happen.

                2. Graham Dawson Silver badge

                  Re: The end of any driving pleasure

                  A road that uses induction to charge your car as you drive? Yeah, no... you'd be driving on a giant eddy current brake. Whatever charge you could pick up would be negated by the increased energy required to overcome the electromagnetic field holding you back.

                  1. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    Re: The end of any driving pleasure

                    "A road that uses induction to charge your car as you drive? Yeah, no..."

                    Really? So the fact that they have already done a feasibility study and the fact that it is already used on a 12Km road in South Korea does not influence you to think that you may not understand how it works?

                  2. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    Re: The end of any driving pleasure

                    you'd be driving on a giant eddy current brake.

                    Ah, the Chesterfield paradox

                  3. lpcollier

                    Re: The end of any driving pleasure

                    This already exists - there's buses powered that way.

          3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: The end of any driving pleasure

            "Get (or rent) a hybrid or take the train if you want to nail 600 miles in a single trip."

            Let me guess. You live on a bus route near a train station. You don't make journeys that require multiple changes of bus or train train. When you make journeys in your locality you restrict yourself to walking distance of home or places near bus routes.

            1. This post has been deleted by its author

            2. Gavin Park Weir

              Re: The end of any driving pleasure

              One of the huge benefits of automated vehicles is that we can rip up and pave over the ridiculously inefficient railways.

              Their use of capacity compared to a road is tiny and cost per passenger mile is huge. Convenience (lack) is a joke - drive to station, park car, walk in rain to platform, wait for train (late), arrive destination, wait in rain for taxi etc etc. We can use the capacity in addition to the existing roadways.

              I also would like to see a change in ownership models. Out family currently have 2 cars that spend 95% (or more) of the time idle. Either parked in the train station or by the house. I assume that automated vehicles will turn every trip into a taxi ride. Everyday commute: small single passenger unit. Family holiday to wales: bigger unit etc.

              In which case, if people are not buying cars who will the big manufactures be selling to?

            3. Samuel Penn

              Re: The end of any driving pleasure

              They also don't need to carry anything more than a single small bag. Someone recently observed that a personal car is more than a means of travel - it is also a base of operations. Being able to just throw stuff into the boot, and not give a shit about trying to minimise weight or squeeze everything into one bag is so much less hassle compared to travelling by other forms of transport. You can then decide whether you need a heavy jacket when you've reached your destination, rather than having to try and predict the weather (possibly days) in advance.

          4. lpcollier

            Re: The end of any driving pleasure

            The way to do that would be to physically swap out a block of cells in some standardised form factor.

          5. Nonymous Crowd Nerd

            Re: The end of any driving pleasure

            Although they don't seem to have caught on, the battery swop systems that have been proposed would deliver KWh to the car very fast.

            It's my guess that what has really good wrong here is the failure of any big auto company to adopt anyone else's idea to the extent of building compatible batteries to fit a common slot in the car and use a common delivery mechanism.

        3. LucreLout Silver badge

          Re: The end of any driving pleasure

          @Electron Shepherd

          it may be that the petrochemical companies don't make the fuels any more, since the demand won't be there

          Demand hasn't been there for a while for leaded fuel, but alternatives remain available.

          Small scale biodiesel plants are affordable and small enough to be kept at home, and can be powered with cooking oil. Ok, that may mean most survivors run on the devils fuel, but there will always be something to run an engine on.

          1. annodomini2

            Re: The end of any driving pleasure

            Petrol cars are relatively easy to convert to ethanol as well

          2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: The end of any driving pleasure

            Small scale biodiesel plants are affordable and small enough to be kept at home, and can be powered with cooking oil. Ok, that may mean most survivors run on the devils fuel, but there will always be something to run an engine on.

            It's easy to convert gasoline engines to propane, and that ain't going away any time soon.

      2. DaLo

        Re: The end of any driving pleasure

        "We could even regulate manual driving to the top 1% of drivers in any given year."

        However 90% of drivers think they are in the top 1%.

        1. LucreLout Silver badge

          Re: The end of any driving pleasure

          However 90% of drivers think they are in the top 1%.

          I agree. So retest everyone to IAM First plus ROSPA Gold standard. Can't pass that test and you get a JohnnyCab from now forward. I'm insanely relaxed about that because I'm "talking my book" as it were.

      3. Naughtyhorse

        Re: The end of any driving pleasure

        Thoughtful and insightful post however 1 small issue.

        " I base this on the continued existence of classic cars. "

        no chance mate!

        quality cars in days of yore were built as well as they could be.

        quality cars these days are built so you need to buy a new one in a few of years.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The end of any driving pleasure

        > I base this on the continued existence of classic cars

        The pre-ECU cars you are talking about will continue to exist (mostly in museums), but none of the current generation of vehicles will be driveable in 40 years time. At some point one of the many irreplaceable, unrepairable and undocumented blackbox control units will fail and that will be the end of it.

        Even if you manged to find a replacement unit in a scrapyard, you would then need the dealer software to pair it with the other modules on the car, the license dongle for the software, an operating system that would run the software, an elderly laptop with the right kind of serial port. etc.

        1. eesiginfo

          Re: The end of any driving pleasure

          > I base this on the continued existence of classic cars

          "The pre-ECU cars you are talking about will continue to exist (mostly in museums), but none of the current generation of vehicles will be driveable in 40 years time. At some point one of the many irreplaceable, unrepairable and undocumented blackbox control units will fail and that will be the end of it."

          I was just going to write a similar post, when I read yours.

          I bought a non turbo Berlingo diesel for just this reason.

          With a std. 1.9 peugeot diesel, it will keep running.

          When a turbo fails, it's just not viable to repair.

          Later, highly monitored petrol engines are even worse.

          Normally aspirated motorbikes will be the way to go

        2. LucreLout Silver badge

          Re: The end of any driving pleasure

          The pre-ECU cars you are talking about will continue to exist (mostly in museums), but none of the current generation of vehicles will be driveable in 40 years time. At some point one of the many irreplaceable, unrepairable and undocumented blackbox control units will fail and that will be the end of it.

          Whipping out the EFI and retrofitting carbs is a well worn path for most vehicles - absent a blower it can be the cheaper route to bigger power gains. Alternatives are home brew ECUs like MegaSquirt / MegaJolt or another aftermarket ECU.

          Under all the advanced electronics, live the same greasy bits of the old carburettor based vehicles, and for the most part it can be torn out. The car may suffer somewhat in terms of performance, and things like a GTR will flat out die, but taking inspiration from Cuba, petrolheads have been a fairly resourceful bunch in the past. I have faith in us.

        3. DaveDaveDave

          Re: The end of any driving pleasure

          "The pre-ECU cars you are talking about will continue to exist (mostly in museums), but none of the current generation of vehicles will be driveable in 40 years time. At some point one of the many irreplaceable, unrepairable and undocumented blackbox control units will fail and that will be the end of it."

          I have no idea why people say such silly things. In thirty years there'll be a little box with multiple plugs and sockets which you can connect in place of any ECU (or whatever) and simply choose the correct programme for it to run. As long as someone else still has a working one it'll be possible to interrogate it for its specs. Although presumably the manufacturers will be happy to make the specs available by then anyway.

          In any case, what makes you think the ECUs won't be made anymore? Manufacturers often make parts for cars that are decades old.

      5. FlossyThePig

        Re: The end of any driving pleasure

        @LucreLout

        "See Colin Chapmans book"

        I know the post was a long time ago but what book are you referring to?

        1. LucreLout Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: The end of any driving pleasure

          @Flossy

          Apologies for the confusion - that will be my fault. I realise I'd written Chapman, but what I meant to write was Champion. Ron Champion. The brain fart on my part is due to the book describing how to build what amounts to a Lotus 7, created of course, by Colin Chapman.

          ISBN-10: 1859606369

          Chris Gibbs updated the book to reflect better chassis technology.

          ISBN-10: 1844253910

      6. Bob Dole (tm)

        Re: The end of any driving pleasure

        >> "For the next 100 years there will be vehicles available without computer guidance"

        I find that to be incredibly unlikely. What I find more likely are groups like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) and many others like them doing everything they can to push for laws to make it illegal to drive your own vehicle. Of course, the car manufacturers themselves will be helping fund such groups. At least initially they'll want to make sure everyone has to buy a new vehicle. Later, they'll be able to really change the market.

        For example, I think the big auto companies will change their sales strategies such that they no longer sell vehicles to regular people but rather just charge a monthly use fee for "on demand" access. Imagine if Ford stopped selling cars and instead just sold usage. You tell them that you need to be at work monday through friday at 8am and the car just picks you up each morning and takes you there. Of course, there would be different levels from "Carpool" on up to "Just Me" with associated monthly pricing. Want to go to the grocery store? Just pull up the Ford app on your phone and a car will be right over to pick you up.

        Uber is actually helping pave the way for this idea. Each successful entry into a new city, where they decimate the local taxi laws, means that it is that much easier for another company to come in behind them and clean up. Uber's biggest issue seems to be vetting drivers. A driverless car doesn't have that issue.

        100 years from now? yeah, I think the world is going to be a far far different place than you imagine.

      7. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: The end of any driving pleasure

        "After that people will continue making their own "

        Only until you get caught driving an unauthorised ICE vehicle on manual. Them you're for the organ banks citizen!

      8. lpcollier

        Re: The end of any driving pleasure

        In addition to what you said, unless/until self driving is made illegal, those who bother to drive manually will _have_ to be treated as a hazard by the other AIs so will be able to go out of turn at a junction etc. and the other cars will dutifully stop without causing a crash. The only problem will be whether the whole system becomes a supergrass network. My guess is that it won't, because governments are rubbish at large scale data.

      9. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
        Terminator

        Re: The end of any driving pleasure

        @LucreLout - "No reg plates requires a physical stop, which requires actual traffic police, of which we have very few."

        But every driverless car around you is checking the registration of other cars (for purely safety reasons - "that's an early Ford controller, known for sudden braking on left-hand turns...") and reporting back tp the System. Then, like a dreadful, mechanised ballet, every car around your manual, unregistered car bunches up and gently forces you to stop outside the nearest police station, speeding away about their business once you're cuffed. No need for traffic police to stray from their donuts.

      10. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: The end of any driving pleasure

        I love driving

        I find driving terribly boring, but I'm not looking forward to automated cars. At least when I'm driving I can decide, on the spur of the moment, which route to take, when to stop, etc. When I want to leave those decisions in someone else's hands, there are taxis and livery cars and public transportation.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: The end of any driving pleasure

          "At least when I'm driving I can decide, on the spur of the moment, which route to take, when to stop, etc."

          Maybe that only matters when you are actually driving and therefore looking out the window? If the car' is driving itself, the route might be less important to you if, for example, you are catching 40 winks, reading a book or watching TV. (or even doing some work!)

    2. Naughtyhorse

      Re: The end of any driving pleasure

      I think you are 30 odd years late with that one.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The end of any driving pleasure

      Driving for pleasure has a great future as there will be great demand for track days driving hired muscle cars and there will still be sections of the South Downs where you can take your 4x4 off road.

      The combustion engine did not write-off horse riding or cycling for pleasure, it simply made essential* journeys faster and more comfortable.

      * - TBH quite a few non-essential journeys too, but lets not be po-faced about it.

      1. Yugguy

        Re: The end of any driving pleasure

        That will be something that you do for a special reason, what I mean is the times you get a bit of enjoyment during your everyday commute - the shove in back from a powerful diesel turbo, or the little scream of revs as your variable valve n/a petrol zips to the redline.

        It's already vanishing quickly. For instance you don't get sweet V6 engines in ordinary cars anymore. 15 years back I had a company Vectra Sri, a Vectra B with a 2.6V6. The car itself wasn't bad, wasn't good, wasn't anything. BUT the engine was SWEET, gutsy, great sound, decent turn of speed. It made driving that car enjoyable.

  2. Symon Silver badge
    Coat

    Mapping physics to economics. It's a waste of time.

    While physics has brought us the miracles of microwave popcorn and Test Match Special*, the 'dismal science' predicts a economic crash/boom every year until, like a stopped clock, it's proven correct.

    'My name is Ozymadamsmith, Keynes of Keynes:

    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'

    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

    The lone and level sands stretch far away

    *Physics has had other successes.

  3. boltar Silver badge

    Mandatory

    "and it wouldn't be a surprise to find the technology being made mandatory for use on some of the public road network some decades down the line."

    Oh almost certainly, all in the name of "safety" or Think Of The Children (tm) or some other specious bullshit that further infantalises the population and in the same instance controlling them even more (you don't think these devices won't have a killswitch or some sort of remote takeover system the authorities can use do you?).

    I suspect however before that happens the manually driven car will slowly be killed off by rising insurance premiums that will eventually reach the point that the average joe simply can't afford them anymore. Job done. Then of course governments will pronounce that since hardly anyone drives cars themselves any more then manually driven cars might as well be banned altogether. All in the name of "safety" naturally.

    1. Xamol

      Re: Mandatory

      I'm not sure that rising insurance premiums will be allowed to reach a point where people can't afford them. That doesn't really play out very well for the insurance industry...

      1. LucreLout Silver badge

        Re: Mandatory

        That doesn't really play out very well for the insurance industry...

        Theoretically, and I am aware of how daft this sounds, but if these cars ever reached the stage of not having contributory negligence crashes, then there would be no motor insurance industry. If the car can't have an at fault accident then it doesn't need insurance against it.

        If they can't be made to not crash then they can't be made to not kill people, and the argument for banning manual driving would fail.

        1. Electron Shepherd

          Re: Mandatory

          If the car can't have an at fault accident then it doesn't need insurance against it.

          It can still get damaged in other ways (a tree falls on it, for example), or it is stolen. Those are risks people would be willing to insure against.

          As was seen recently, sometimes people just damage a nice car because... ...well, I can't really understand why, but it happens. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0vk99vhP1Q.

          1. LucreLout Silver badge

            Re: Mandatory

            It can still get damaged in other ways (a tree falls on it, for example), or it is stolen. Those are risks people would be willing to insure against.

            Sure, but that has more in common with home insurance than motor insurance. It would not, in any case, be impacted by presence or not of self driving cars meaning the price would remain static.

            I'm aware of how stupid this will sound too, given the lax automotive security lately, but it should be possible to prevent vehicle theft by tying its proximity when in motion to my phone, wallet, and other gps/nfc/rfid equipped devices.

        2. Citizens untied

          Re: Mandatory

          Sure, the insurance industry will allow that to transpire.

          Insurance is a boondoggle already, and as a previous poster pointed out, and element of a subtle, insidious control system based on a set of assumptions catering to the most compliant, average contributors of any given populace. (At least in the matrix, they are being used as batteries)

          Self driving cars, solve exactly zero problems, except one. Google shareholder ROI.

      2. CaptainHook

        Re: Mandatory

        I'm not sure that rising insurance premiums will be allowed to reach a point where people can't afford them. That doesn't really play out very well for the insurance industry...

        *****

        I suppose that depends on how driverless cars are insured. If the owner has no effect on operation then making owners buy insurance seems pointless and the vehicle should effectively be insured by the manufacturer. In that case large part of the car insurance industry will wither and die.

        If the user is still expected to maintain insurance to use the road, then from the insurance industries point of view, it's still just a car policy with a different risk analysis, so long as the average profit margin per policy remains the same then I don't see why the car insurance industry would care.

      3. Lionel Baden

        Re: Mandatory

        I shall edit this as it has been re-iterated many time above me.

        So instead, I personally drive a 2cv, love the basic driving style, I don't really want to loose the ability to use my car as a daily driver, but alas it will happen. Probably not in my lifetime though, you don't all really expect the government to get this sorted do you !!!!

    2. Wilco

      Re: Mandatory

      I love driving, but safety is a pretty strong argument against allowing people to drive.

      Here is the official UK gov data on road deaths

      https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/annual-road-fatalities

      in 2013 there 1713 people were killed on the roads, 785 of whom were sitting in a car, the rest being pedestrians, bikers, cyclists etc.

      There seems to be evidence that human error is the cause of accidents in the large majority of cases, possibly over 90% (see http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/blog/2013/12/human-error-cause-vehicle-crashes)

      It's unlikely that driverless cars will be licensed and accepted unless error rates are extremely low. It's hard to imagine that even ten deaths a year in the UK caused by a malfunctioning driverless car will be acceptable to the public

      Therefore I'd expect that widespread adoption of this technology would lead to hundreds of people not dying, and thousands more not being injured.

      I think that this is a good trade off for me not having the enjoyment of driving. And doubtless when driving becomes a purely recreational activity the market will provide me with opportunities to pursue it off the public roads.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Mandatory

        Driving for pleasure can stay (emissions allowing) in its appropriate place, which then just as it is now, will be on race tracks.

        The petrolhead attitude to driving on public roads is what will keep them out of the top 1% of drivers.

        Safe driving is all about minimal risks. Good driving is combining minimal risk with smooth progress.

        Bad driving is anything else.

        1. LucreLout Silver badge

          Re: Mandatory

          @Werdsmith

          Driving for pleasure can stay (emissions allowing) in its appropriate place, which then just as it is now, will be on race tracks.

          Thats about as rational as saying "sex for pleasure should only occur in bedrooms", which self evidently ain't so.

          The petrolhead attitude to driving on public roads is what will keep them out of the top 1% of drivers.

          Only it doesn't. I enjoy driving fast where and when it is safe to do so. That may or may not exceed the posted speed limit, because that is wholly irrelevent to safety. There's a great many roads around Ireland, for example, where the posted limit is higher than can safely be attained and maintained.

          Safe driving has three constituents: Observation, anticipation, and correct and timely reaction. Theres an important difference between seeing and observing. Outside of that you have to remember to leave the other guy room to make a mistake, because he will.

          I spend significant amounts of both time and money on continuous driver training for both road and track driving. Compeltely without ego I can attest that I'm the safest driver I know and I am the person most of my acquaintances would name as the best driver they know. I've never had points in over 25 years of driving, haven't had an at fault accident since.... oh some time in the last millenium (I was a 17 year old boy once too!), have never written off a car, and yet... I'm a petrolhead. I always have been. And yes, I drive quickly. Fast and safe are not mutally exclusive any more than slow and safe are causal.

          1. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: Mandatory

            @lucrelout.

            I fully expected at least one petrolhead to cry about this one, they almost all have an inflated opnion of hemselves but are in denial.

            And your sex in the bedroom analogy is probably the most blatant straw man I've ever seen on The Register comments (and that's saying something). It makes no sense at all and does your argument no favours.

            "Safe driving has three constituents: Observation, anticipation, and correct and timely reaction"

            Yep, risk minimisation.

            I can attest that I am not the safest driver I know and I could drive a lot better than I habitually do. But just knowing that gives me a head start.

            Try calling your insurance company and saying "I'm a petrolhead, and I like to drive fast, give me a discount please".

            1. LucreLout Silver badge

              Re: Mandatory

              @Werdsmith

              I fully expected at least one petrolhead to cry about this one, they almost all have an inflated opnion of hemselves but are in denial.

              And I fully expected you'd respond like this, which is why I took the liberty of detailing the reasons for my self belief in my response. Anyone that thinks they're a good driver probably isn't. Good drivers know why they are good drivers, and have test passes well in excess of the basic L test.

              And your sex in the bedroom analogy is probably the most blatant straw man I've ever seen on The Register

              You must be new.

              Driving fast can be safe on a track, and it can be dangerous there too. Driving fast on a public road can be safe and it can be dangerous. Your blanket assuption that nobody can drive safe and fast on the road is based more upon your own limited skills and experience than it is mine. That you are not safe when driving fast does not imply that I am not.

              Frequently the speed limit is too high for the prevailing conditions, and frequently it is too low.

              Try calling your insurance company and saying "I'm a petrolhead, and I like to drive fast, give me a discount please".

              I have, and they do. I pay under 50p per BHP for 10k miles on comprehensive SDP cover. It is well known in advanced driving circles that we tend to drive faster than L testers. The insurance companies know this too, and they don't really expect anyone with a 400+ bhp car to be sticking to limits. The claim stats quantify that we are in fact in the top 1% of drivers in the UK, at least on an claims basis, hence the insurance discount.

              If you really want to go to the top, then you'll need to try and join HPC, but I warn you in advance that it is properly difficult and rather expensive. Start with IAM for that is the cheapest and easiest to pass - the test is only a couple of hours.

              1. Yugguy

                Re: Mandatory

                Does taking the Advanced Motoring qualification still get you lower premiums these days? Might look into that.

                1. damworker

                  Re: Mandatory

                  Erm, no discounts, not really. There are companies that offer discounts but the end price tends to be more than shopping around.

                  But don't let that put you off. I think I have saved money via the saved insurance excess and bother involved in having an accident that I have avoided.You also get to be smug about the whole thing.

                  The problem with advanced driving is that only 'keen' drivers do it and they are the sort who tend to wrap their car around a tree anyway so the avoidance of this doesn't show up in the insurance risk. You can also use the training to drive faster...

                2. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

                  Re: Mandatory

                  Does taking the Advanced Motoring qualification still get you lower premiums these days?

                  I am only an associate at the moment (working towards my IAM advanced motorcycle qualification) and have already saved a bundle on insurance. This is mostly down to using the IAM Surety insurance scheme after getting quotes elsewhere. They will beat a like-for-like quote by 10% on both my motorbike and car policies.

            2. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

              Re: Mandatory

              @werdsmith

              "Yep, risk minimisation."

              Yes, keeping the risks down to a minimum is the entire point of driving safely. The only way to completely eliminate the risk of being involved in an RTC is to stay away from roads completely.

              Taking that as not being a viable option, and given that we are going to drive a vehicle on the road, one must keep risks as low as possible. Methods to do so include the aforementioned "Observation, anticipation, and correct and timely reaction", but include other things, too. One I have noticed is behaving as expected by other road users.

              As pointed out by lucrelout, none of this precludes driving quickly. You can drive quickly and safely, and driving slowly doesn't automatically make you safe. On the contrary, driving too slowly can be dangerous in it's own right (you are not behaving as expected by other road users, and they are therefore more likely to make a mistake which lands you in bother).

              What matters most, IMHO, is driving appropriately for the situation, good observational skills, experience and training. The other important factor is that you take driving seriously. I know many people who think they are a good driver with no need to learn any more, yet routinely make basic mistakes: driving too close, driving in a manner which makes them hard to predict, not observing/anticipating and then acting outraged when someone pulls out in front of them when it was obvious they were about to do so. If you take driving seriously, you will know that there is always more to learn, and you can always become a better driver, even if you are already the worlds best driver.

        2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

          Re: Mandatory

          "Driving for pleasure can stay (emissions allowing) in its appropriate place, which then just as it is now, will be on race tracks."

          How will driving on race tracks get me to back of beyond in the Yorkshire Moors?

          1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: Mandatory

            How will driving on race tracks get me to back of beyond in the Yorkshire Moors?

            Clearly, the only solution is to create more long-distance rally courses.

            There must be a downside, but I'm not seeing it.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Mandatory

          You seem to be suggesting that good safe driving on public roads cannot be pleasureable. This is false. There are many people who enjoy taking road trips or simply going out for a drive.

          You also seem to be suggesting that driving enthusiasts cannot be in the top 1% of drivers. This is also false. Would you not classify professional test drivers as "petrolheads"?

          People who are interested in driving often have a better understanding of it than those who are not. Better understanding is the pathway to better skills. There are just as many non-petrolheads who attempt to drive beyond their ability level. It's just that their ability level is lower. The very worst drivers are the people who somehow managed to get a license without ever really understanding what they are doing.

          Your definition of good driving fails to include many other aspects. For example: Being able to accurately manouvre the vehicle. It's no use being able to make smooth progress with minimal risk if you can't reverse into a parking space when you reach your destination.

          Driving is a bit like coding. It's easier for people to agree on what constitutes bad driving than good driving.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Mandatory

        "in 2013 there 1713 people were killed on the roads, 785 of whom were sitting in a car, the rest being pedestrians, bikers, cyclists etc."

        Yes, we need automated guidance for walking & cycling before we can eliminate road accidents.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Mandatory

        Think about the US and gun control. I suspect the NRA would pale into insignificance compared to what the motoring lobby could bring to bear. Ban manual driving. Not a chance.

        1. codejunky Silver badge

          Re: Mandatory

          @AC

          "Think about the US and gun control. I suspect the NRA would pale into insignificance compared to what the motoring lobby could bring to bear."

          But the gun has never been made obsolete. There have been suggestions of alternatives for some situations but they often involve inflicting more pain and suffering and often more of a hazard to civilians and wildlife.

          This would be awesome for the motoring lobby who would spend their time working on the most comfortable experience and features as the occupants have little else to do.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Mandatory (Wilco)

        "Therefore I'd expect that widespread adoption of this technology would lead to hundreds of people not dying, and thousands more not being injured."

        How many of those survivors are rapists, murderers, alcoholics, drug abusers, and/or stupid?

        How will we clean up the gene pool if they're no longer doing it themselves?

    3. damworker

      Re: Mandatory

      If there's no other car or pedestrian at a crossing the driverless car could proceed over a red light. Why not synchronise the cars so they go through a crossing like a motorcycle display team? How about a train of cars at 100mph on a motorway, 5 feet from the car in front using less petrol than driving a safe distance at 60 mph due to reduced wind resistance?

      Now the small number of people who drive themselves prevent all of this and are increasing the cost of everyone's journey, making it take longer and making it more dangerous.

      Eventually, it all becomes irrelevant - why would I spend thousands learning to drive and enduring the high insurance that comes with it?

      More than that, technology gave us driving and now it is taking it away in the same way it gave us looms and typewriters.

      As an aside, I'm sure there's a great plot for a high tech murder whodunnit in all this stuff somewhere.

      1. Citizens untied

        Re: Mandatory

        The journey they are likely making because of a commitment to an industrial age paradigm of work and production.The effort to eliminate the driver from the equation is equivalent to a right wing political revolution that most argumentative geeks have no concept of resisting.

        Someday we will need a lemming law?

      2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Mandatory

        How about a train of cars at 100mph on a motorway, 5 feet from the car in front using less petrol than driving a safe distance at 60 mph due to reduced wind resistance?

        This "convoying" argument is often made by people who have never seen a car come apart on the highway.

        I have, more than once. Saw the entire rear bumper assembly fall off a car traveling in the high-speed lane once.

        I have a friend who used to drive a tow truck. One time we picked up a Jeep that lost a wheel - fortunately in a parking lot - when the axle sheared due to a manufacturing defect.

        That will be fun when it happens to the car 5 feet in front of you, while you're doing 100mph.

        Just a couple of weeks ago a deer ran across the road in front of me. That's a common occurrence in this part of the country, but in this case the road was the eastbound side of I-70, a major restricted-access multilane highway. It came out of the trees in the median, so it wasn't visible until just before it entered the roadway; and it was a summer afternoon, so thermal imaging wouldn't have been much help either. That would be a pretty bad event for your 100mph convoy, too.

        Eliminating human drivers does not eliminate all failure modes.

  4. Zog_but_not_the_first
    Big Brother

    Call me cynical...

    Prole control

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Call me cynical...

      Competitor control.

      Driverless cars are going to reduce the number of cars sold, especially small cars.

      You aren't going to need a 2nd car if a driverless Car2Go/Uber will pick you up and take you to the shops.

      So VW, Toyota, GM and other makers of small cars are buying up the infrastructure to stop it getting out.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Call me cynical...

        That only works if there's a monopoly on the technology. If everyone is withholding the technology, why shouldn't GM, Toyota or VW "cheat" by introducing the only driverless car and take the entire market for themselves?

        1. Gordon 10 Silver badge
          Childcatcher

          Re: Call me cynical...

          Because the way they'll stop it is with legislation. All they need is 1 driverless car to hit a kid and it would become the new paedophile menace.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Call me cynical...

            Doubtful. If they hit the occasional kid but have a quarter of the number of fatalities that human drivers do, legislation won't stop them for long. If they get pushed out the door before they're really ready that would be a problem, but at least in a litigious country like the US, it will take years after the automakers think the cars are "ready" before all the legalities and insurance implications are worked out, by which time they really will be ready.

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: Call me cynical...

              >have a quarter of the number of fatalities that human drivers do, legislation won't stop them for long

              "Evidence based legislation" - know that would be a breakthrough !

  5. MontyMole

    Descisions

    Even if they perfect the driverless car so that it can get you form A to B there are plenty of issues to consider. For example

    Suppose the car is driving along a road and a pedestrian suddenly steps out into the road. Now the car would normally react by slamming on the brakes and coming to a stop. But what happends if the car calculates that it's not going to stop in time to avoid hitting the pedestrian? It could then also swerve to avoid hitting them. But if there also happens to be a car coming the other way and swerving would mean hitting the other car in a head on collision then what's the "best" option. How does a driverless car some the ethical dilemma of either breaking but still hitting the pedestrian or swerving and crashing into the other car? Either way someone gets hurt.

    1. Mage Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: Descisions

      Automate the Pedestrians.

      1. Crisp

        Re: Automate the Pedestrians.

        I'm working on it, but they keep wriggling when I try to implant the chips into their skull.

        1. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

          Re: Automate the Pedestrians.

          I think that one thing which has been overlooked by all this is continual analysis of possibilities. A self-driving car could be programmed such that it is always looking for escape routes from potential accidents. Think chess: computers are good (when programmed correctly) at multi-step thinking. At the point of the child stepping out into the road, they could have analysed 1000's of possibilities and 1000's of possible reactions, already calculated the appropriate action and be ready to respond instantly should that situation occur.

          I know that good drivers do this already, although they do so subconsciously for the most part, just as the best chess players think many moves ahead. However, the car has been programmed to do so, and doesn't stop doing so because they are tired, or have had an argument with their wife, or are trying to solve that problem they were stumped by at work. The car is also more likely to have spotted that kid before he runs out into the road, analysed it's actions and prepared appropriate reactions.

          How to respond comes down to the software writers. In a purely logical view, they need to minimise the damage done. A child's life would have a value, as would the life of the occupants of the vehicles, and the lowest cost action available would be implemented. The real question is how things would be weighted in the algorithm. That's the hard part, with interesting and conflicting moral and social dilemmas involved.

          1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: Automate the Pedestrians.

            A self-driving car could be programmed such that it is always looking for escape routes from potential accidents.

            And, fortunately, we know from experience that adding complexity to a computing system never increases the failure rates, or leads to unexpected interactions which produce adverse behavior.

            This discussion has wandered well and truly into the realm of fairy-dust engineering. Now we have a hypothetical self-driving car that has a comprehensive understanding of its environment, recognizes all the objects in its vicinity and correctly identifies the types of actions they're likely to make, always knows what other self-driving cars in the area are planning to do, maintains in real time a list of possible actions it might take in the event of an emergency, makes cost-benefit calculations when some adverse result appears to be unavoidable... oh, and actually operates the vehicle in a manner that might eventually get the passengers where they want to go.

            That requires a hugely complex model using a huge number of heterogeneous inputs. It's much more complex than anything Google have done so far. It's going to be impossible to analyze and any straightforward approach would be terribly fragile.

            There are ML techniques which can in principle accommodate that sort of problem, but actually building a reliable working system of that complexity using them is an enormous task.

    2. rtfazeberdee

      Re: Descisions

      And how is that different to the human bag of meat faced with the same dilemma? The autonomous car would probably "log" that pedestrian long before a human would do and could make decisions faster than the human so there'd be more chance of a better outcome.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Descisions

        'The autonomous car would probably "log" that pedestrian long before a human'

        However the human might anticipate another human's actions better than an autonomous car.

    3. NotWorkAdmin

      Re: Descisions

      Driverless cars don't need to be perfect, they just need to be better than humans. In your scenario what would the human driver do? Most likely not react in time at all and just hit the pedestrian.

      1. MontyMole

        Re: Descisions

        But what happened if your car swerved and you got killed instead. You would be very happy about it.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Descisions

        Driverless cars don't need to be perfect, they just need to be better than humans. In your scenario what would the human driver do?

        Use the screen wipers, of course. Duh :)

    4. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: Decisions

      "Suppose the car is driving along a road and a pedestrian suddenly steps out into the road. Now the car would normally react by slamming on the brakes and coming to a stop. But what happends if the car calculates that it's not going to stop in time to avoid hitting the pedestrian? It could then also swerve to avoid hitting them. But if there also happens to be a car coming the other way and swerving would mean hitting the other car in a head on collision then what's the "best" option. How does a driverless car some the ethical dilemma of either breaking but still hitting the pedestrian or swerving and crashing into the other car? Either way someone gets hurt."

      This question has been asked before, but as you start to think about it, it leads to an obvious conclusion, which in some sense negates what Tim is talking about. Namely, corporations will not be running self-driving cars.

      In your example above, the obvious thing to do is to slow down, swerve, and tell the oncoming car to also slow down and maneouvre to get out of the way. Notice that this means the oncoming car would need to be self-driving, or at least be able to communicate to apply brakes, and would need to be able to predict what path the first car will take. The easiest way for all this to play out is for all cars to run the same software. In such a situation, no one company is going to be allowed to control all the cars in a country, so it will be owned, or at least regulated, by the government.

      That's one scenario, which could unfold in Europe, at least. The US would probably be fine with a company owning it. But also, expect the car insurance industry to no longer really exist. Insurance risk would be passed back to the manufacturers of the vehicles/software, and they are big enough to self-insure, or they would go through Lloyds of London, not Norwich Union or Budget.

    5. This post has been deleted by its author

    6. LucreLout Silver badge

      Re: Descisions

      How does a driverless car some the ethical dilemma of either breaking but still hitting the pedestrian or swerving and crashing into the other car?

      In most situations of that sort, if the on coming car is also automated then it applies its brakes and moves over as far as it can. That creates more space for 'your' automated car to swerve into and brake. Serious accident avoided, and in all probability there's no actual collision - the computers can play as a team in situations where people can't.

      At 30mph even a ten year old car will stop well inside its own length under heavy braking, provided it is properly maintained with effective tyres. This is a fact. Communication and processing time between the vehicles will be near instant.

      Otherwise the software makes the same decisions its owner would - if my kids are in the car I'm not swerving into the path of a head on crash, sorry, their safety comes first for me and I'm making the decisions when I'm driving. If I'm alone in the vehicle and a child runs out I might decide to take one for the team - nobody truly knows how they'd react until the moment is upon them.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. DropBear

          Re: Descisions

          Actually, there seems to be wide agreement about the sheer braking distance (excluding reaction time) being around 15m at 30mph. That's quite a limo indeed...

        2. LucreLout Silver badge

          Re: Descisions

          @Symon.

          I suspect the difference between our views is that you'll have used actual 30mph as opposed to indicated 30mph, which is what I used. Apologies, I should have made that clear.

      2. auburnman

        Re: Descisions

        "In most situations of that sort, if the on coming car is also automated then it applies its brakes and moves over as far as it can. That creates more space for 'your' automated car to swerve into and brake. Serious accident avoided, and in all probability there's no actual collision - the computers can play as a team in situations where people can't."

        I can't see autocars collaborating as a team in this instance. Even if they managed to do an ad-hoc handshake, verify they are both talking to the right car and agree on a safe combined course of action in a small number of milliseconds (which I find unlikely) there are two concepts woven in that would be unacceptable to program into the car. The first has already been mentioned by other posters, namely deliberately increasing risk to unrelated third parties e.g. the people in the car that is not about to have an accident.

        The second concept is concerning intent - even if the two cars agreed in time to cooperate, you can't program your car to use someone else's lane just because it "thinks" the lane will be safe & the other car will brake. It's an admirable attempt to increase overall safety, but it wouldn't be driving to the conditions of the road and therefore shouldn't be accepted in any autopilot.

        1. LucreLout Silver badge

          Re: Descisions

          Even if they managed to do an ad-hoc handshake, verify they are both talking to the right car and agree on a safe combined course of action in a small number of milliseconds (which I find unlikely)

          Why would all self driving cars not be in constant communication with all others within their stopping distance using a standardised protocol? It would seem a trivial thing to implement in the scope of self driving.

          The first has already been mentioned by other posters, namely deliberately increasing risk to unrelated third parties e.g. the people in the car that is not about to have an accident.

          If both cars brake and lane share there may not need to be an accident. Certainly there is no risk if your car knows having 'spoken' to the other car, that it will stop and in what distance, and your car knows it too can stop in the remaing gap.

          even if the two cars agreed in time to cooperate, you can't program your car to use someone else's lane just because it "thinks" the lane will be safe & the other car will brake

          As I said, it won't think, it will know for a fact because the other car will have confirmed it. Lane ownership doesn't exist the way most people think it does. How many people only look right before turning left onto two way traffic road, for instance? Yet you don't own the nearside lane, it is a shared space. Direction of traffic flow is a convention, not an absolute, and there are numerous legal exceptions to it.

          I love driving. I am good at it. Yet a computer could be safer, due to the ability to communicate almost instantly with all traffic around it (post full automation), which allows rational strategies that humans could neither agree on nor communicate in time. They could even pass data about blind spots, corners, etc so your car would know about what it could not yet see, such as fallen trees or cyclists.

          1. auburnman

            Re: Descisions

            Why would all self driving cars not be in constant communication with all others within their stopping distance using a standardised protocol? It would seem a trivial thing to implement in the scope of self driving.

            What sort of range would this "trivial" communication have? Oncoming traffic will be closing on you at your combined speeds, so probably 80mph and up in a number of situations. What sort of calculation delay would there be if two cars negotiate a mutual action? Regardless of whether they were in communication before, this would have to be done after the emergency occurs and it wouldn't be a trivial delay.

            If both cars brake and lane share there may not need to be an accident. Certainly there is no risk if your car knows having 'spoken' to the other car, that it will stop and in what distance, and your car knows it too can stop in the remaing gap.

            If.If.If. My point of view is that autocars can talk amongst themselves all they like and it will likely come in helpful to crowdsource knowledge of traffic jams and roadworks, but a car should never put itself into a high-risk position (and it's certainly not 'no risk' as you say) based on what another cars 'plan' is. To do that is to assume that the other party has all the facts and then bet a variable number of lives on it.

            it won't think, it will know for a fact because the other car will have confirmed it.

            I will accept that autocars know something 'for a fact' when they have physical evidence supporting it, e.g. the cameras show the other car stopping. Anything less/earlier isn't good enough to bet lives on.

            I realise this comes across quite negative about autocars, but this couldn't be further from the truth. I would love to see them come about asap and agree that they will improve safety for all massively, I just don't think split second coordinated responses are feasible; it throws a lot of complexity into a time critical situation.

          2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: Descisions

            Why would all self driving cars not be in constant communication with all others within their stopping distance using a standardised protocol? It would seem a trivial thing to implement in the scope of self driving.

            This is clearly a meaning of "trivial" that I have not previously encountered.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Descisions (auburnman)

          "I can't see autocars collaborating as a team in this instance. "

          I can. After the identify that the same jackass has stepped into traffic three days in a row, the cars will conspire to sandwich the fucker and make sure he loses the ability to walk into traffic.......

          Of course, on the next page, is my comment about how beauttiful it will be to drive manually after all of the autocars (ha) learn to avoid me and get out of my way...hmm...maybe I'll just stick to playing with automatic doors.

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Descisions

      It's not a hard decision at all. A driverless car would never purposely swerve into the path of an oncoming vehicle, it would make no sense to program it to do that. It's primary responsibility is also to the safety of its occupants.

      In the situation described, the oncoming car would already be noted and it would be decided that it is not a suitable escape route, however the pedestrian's path would have been spotted and reacted to in a much shorter time to human reactions. The brakes would have been applied earlier and the horn sounded (or not based on real accident stats as to how pedestrians react to a horn sounding). Any possible escape route that doesn't involve the oncoming car or the hitting the pedestrian would have been considered. Eventually in an impossible scenario the pedestrian would have been hit but at a far lower speed than would normally have happened and the car's cameras would absolve the driver/car of guilt.

      A car swerving into an oncoming vehicle would put the driverless car at fault and a possible manslaughter charge.

    8. Tim Worstal

      Re: Descisions

      This is the "trolley problem". And there's not really a solution.

      I did once write a piece called "When Should Your Google Car Be Allowed To Kill You?" because one possible solution (obviously, depends upon the set up but....) is that your car drives you into a wall so as to kill you but save more other people.

      Tricky really....

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Descisions

        It's not quite the trolley problem as that is based on human morals and psychology of the problem at hand, especially when the problem is escalated.

        However a Car can be programmed with simple guidance that its primary aim while functioning normally is to protect the occupant while at the same time reducing or minimising any consequences to third parties.

        Anything outside this does not make sense as a deliberate cause has been made to injure someone. I cannot see any circumstance where the car should be programmed to harm the occupant deliberately when it could be avoided, even if this means that there maybe multiple third-party casualties (unless the car could detect that it was being used for a suicide bomb attack!) The risks for the company would be too high.

        1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

          Re: Descisions

          All of this kind of misses the point - in the event of a pedestrian/child/etc stepping in front of the car it will almost certainly out-break a human and probably not swerve if that endangers other on-coming traffic. So far so good, and +1 for the driverless car.

          The bigger problem for automated cars is anticipating what a child/pedestrian might do. Now a lot of drivers don't really pay enough attention, and I'm as guilty as others, but often you see something like a drunk, or a child chasing a ball down the pavement, that rings alarm bells in your head and you slow down just in case and are primed for an emergency. Getting that automated will be far trickier than the Newtonian motion of driving.

          Also going back to Tim's article, I really wonder if mapping the roads in minute detail and assuming connections to this vast database is a viable (or very valuable) option. How will it deal with downed trees, flash floods, other drivers, communication problems in rural areas, etc? A proper driverless car has to be fully autonomous and to react sensibly to what it finds, when it finds it. Sure knowing there is a crash or delay up ahead will make things a bit better, but whatever the unexpected situation turns out to be, the car MUST react at least as well as as the average human to be acceptable.

        2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: Descisions @AC

          Are we going to get to the state where the car's AI goes catatonic because it could not reconcile it any of it's actions with the Three Laws?

          We need Susan Calvin!

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

    9. Wilco

      Re: Descisions

      This specific situation is easy to deal with:

      You should never program a car to swerve into oncoming traffic, because the forces involved between two cars in a head on collision will be much, much higher due to the rapid deceleration. Also you are increasing the average number of people involved, since the average occupancy of vehicles is > 1.

      Even if it's inevitable that the pedestrian is going to be hit, the car will have some time to reduce the impact speed, and possibly deploy pedestrian safety measures such as pop up bonnets, which will reduce the severity of passenger injuries.

      In practice programming a car to minimize harm to the occupants of the car and other road users (probably in that order - who's going to get in a car that will drive them off a cliff to avoid a pedestrian?) should give acceptable results.

      You can probably devise some contrived situation where an impossible choice has to be made (see "The Trolley Problem") but the chances of any such situation actually arising are very small

    10. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Descisions

      > How does a driverless car some the ethical dilemma of either breaking but still hitting the pedestrian or swerving and crashing into the other car? Either way someone gets hurt.

      So, what would you do in that situation?

      Given that an automated car could make whatever decision it needed to make in a small fraction of the time it would take a meatbag and executing it much faster then the chance of actually hitting *anything* is much decreased.

      I get your point, but driverless cars don't have to be perfect, they just have to be much better than humans. The world is chaotic. Therefore, it is not possible to build an evaluation system that is capable of reacting to all possible situations.

      But then neither can humans.

  6. David Roberts

    Off road vehicles?

    I can see that automated driving could have benefits in optimising traffic in towns and on major roads.

    However the farmer driving a truck load of hay across a hill farm is a totally different challenge.

    So there will have to be manual controls for the forseeable future (although automation is already present along with GPS in large agricultural machinery).

  7. Tony S

    " it wouldn't be a surprise to find the technology being made mandatory for use on some of the public road network some decades down the line."

    I'm betting that it will happen sooner than that. Probably on motorways first, but then in the centres of the bigger cities. Anyone else care to wager if it will start within the next 10 years?

    I'm also wondering if we won't see a change in the way that cars are owned; already, there are all sorts of schemes available. I sort of believe that we will see no car "ownership" in the future, just a process where you buy the right to use a car that includes servicing, replacement parts etc. (Potentially more lucrative than just making and selling)

    You could book a car to take you to work in the morning and it would drive itself to your door (or even close by your mobile phone for example). It would then go to the next job, or sit in a parking space until required; then repeat to take you on whenever you needed it. No worries about tax, fuel, tyres, etc.

    If managed by the big car companies, they could provide you with whatever size / colour / model was in vogue, anywhere in the world. They could probably use economies of scale, reducing the number of vehicles required, possibly reducing congestion and parking hassles as well.

    1. LucreLout Silver badge

      @Tony S

      I'm betting that it will happen sooner than that. Probably on motorways first, but then in the centres of the bigger cities. Anyone else care to wager if it will start within the next 10 years?

      I'll take that bet Sir! £50 to a charity of your choice if humans are banned from driving on any existing classification of road anywhere in the UK in the next 10 years. I'll nominate Scottys Little Soldiers as my charity when I win, because I don't buy your 10 year timeframe.

      1. Tony S

        You're on.

        I think that it's a reasonable bet; there is already work under way testing automated driving within a few cities. I think that we will see similar test project on the motorways within the next 2-3 years. (Probably only small scale admittedly).

        After that, at some stage, there will be pressure to allow automated driving access everywhere; and at some point, the PTB will probably want to remove the element that is most likely to cause problems; the loose nut behind the wheel.

        Mind you, if you were to see some of the driving that I've seen lately, you'd want to go back to having a man walking in front with a red flag.

        That sounds like a good charity. Happy to stump up the money if I'm proven wrong.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          10 Year Wager £50

          Guided busways already exist. Pay up now.

          1. LucreLout Silver badge

            Re: 10 Year Wager £50

            @Werdsmith

            10 Year Wager £50

            Guided busways already exist. Pay up now.

            I already did, as the time value of money on £50 over 10 years would suck for the charity, whereas if I win I can afford to eat the loss.

            That not withstanding, humans have never been allowed to drive on guided busways, so I don't believe it would meet the terms of the bet.

            1. werdsmith Silver badge

              Re: 10 Year Wager £50

              Ahh, goalpost moving. Terms of the bet weren't explicitly laid down at the time of the wager.

              1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

                @wordsmith Re: 10 Year Wager £50

                The terms were laid down explicitly.

                £50 to a charity of your choice if humans are banned from driving on any existing classification of road anywhere in the UK in the next 10 years.

                The bus is still driven by a human on a guided bus lane. All the lane does is guide the bus wheels while the driver accelerates and brakes. The driver is still in control. Humans are not banned from driving on guided bus lanes. Private transport is banned, but only for the same reason that you can't drive a car on a footpath or an off-street bike lane: they were never built for that purpose.

                1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

                  Re: @wordsmith 10 Year Wager £50

                  "£50 to a charity of your choice if humans are banned from driving on any existing classification of road anywhere in the UK in the next 10 years."

                  Ok, this was last year, so I'll just wait for next year's and claim my £50: prohibition of motorised traffic (Tour de France) (Special Event) Order

              2. LucreLout Silver badge

                Re: 10 Year Wager £50

                @Werdsmith

                Ahh, goalpost moving. Terms of the bet weren't explicitly laid down at the time of the wager.

                From my initial post:

                £50 to a charity of your choice if humans are banned from driving on any existing classification of road anywhere in the UK in the next 10 years.

                How can anyone be banned from doing that which they were never permitted to do, and which they were not so permitted at the time the wager was struck?

                Seriously dude, in your rush to be perceived as being right, you're spoiling the fun of the bet.... a bet between Tony S and I, for which I have already made the donation (I may be dead in 10 years!)

        2. LucreLout Silver badge

          @Tony S

          You're on.

          Most excellent.

          Mind you, if you were to see some of the driving that I've seen lately, you'd want to go back to having a man walking in front with a red flag.

          That, or an armoured vehicle - surprisingly affordable from military surplus....

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Sort of like a taxi? For many people who have cars and don't commute by car to work a taxi + car rental would work out cheaper for them however they don't do it.

      Also new car sales are still massive despite the overwhelming economical case to buy nearly new or second-hand. People like new cars and they don't want to share them with other people.

      1. Tony S

        re: AC

        Just like a taxi (think Uber on steroids). But you eliminate the cost of the driver.

        The biggest reason given for keeping a car is the convenience. If the automated driving car system can provide a service as convenient as keeping a car, then that will go a long way towards getting people to accept a different system.

        From the car manufacturers pov, margins are getting thinner and they sell more cars for less profit. Moving from a personal ownership model to a purely "leased" scheme could offer the chance for increased profits, on a lower number of actual cars produced. Many dealerships already offer similar options where in fact you are never actually going to own the car, just continue to make monthly payments; and this is where many of them are actually making their money these days.

        So you might end up with a multiple tiered system; less than 6 month old cars for those that want to pay extra, slightly older cars for the hoi polloi. (Shitty, beat up old wrecks for me!)

        I'm not saying that it will all happen in the next 10 years, but I'm betting that we will see things start to develop in that time; and I still think that it will happen a bit faster than most people expect.

        1. markowen58

          Re: re: AC

          You mean Uber at it's current overpriced valuation vs it's actual profitability/worth? My guess is that investors are putting 2+2 together when it comes to Uber and wagering on it providing the platform for these driverless cars.

          When you have this type of system, the cars actually cover many more miles more efficiently, as, if still petrol/diesel based, will be running at an optimal temperature for longer, can take themselves out of the market if needing a service and can drive themselves to a service centre.

          To add my 2cents to the usual crash dilemma, no one appears to have assumed that the car will adapt to driving conditions, including a built up area with lots of parked cars (although will they exist still?) it will slow down, just as any good drive should. 20mph is already becoming the new norm for those areas too, reducing stopping time even more and if needed the car will slow even further based on the amount of human traffic around, although that will be really interesting in London and other European cities.

          The main frustration will be similar to mine each morning as my bus driver through their driving decides if I can stroll/brisk walk/jog/run to catch my train.

          My wager would be that HGV's actually get fully automated first. Delivery centre to delivery centre via A/M roads. Larger platform to mount cameras, etc, simpler rules to follow initially and provide real world tests. In theory never coming into contact with pedestrians as the A/M roads they're separate from.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "Anyone else care to wager if it will start within the next 10 years?"

      No, because there's no telling the degree to which big money will overrule other considerations.

      "a car to take you to work in the morning...It would then go to the next job, or sit in a parking space until required"

      Because most people need to go to work at about the same time requires that there are about the same number of cars as at present to support car-born commuting. This then leaves an over-supply for "the next job" so most cars will need to go and sit in a parking space as at present. It doesn't vastly alter the car population. If you want to get rid of commuter miles by car you need to get rid of commuter miles as such.

  8. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    The evidence against this thesis is that the manufacturers of Satnavs and the web-based routing services such as the AA seem to have made no attempt to refine their routing data which they've been using for years. I still get the web-based services offering routes which seem to prefer the scenic to the practical and only a few days ago I encountered an HGV stuck in a local hamlet having missed a turn by a few yards and then not having followed what should have been the more practical escape route.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Ah! Page three of the comments and finally we have someone commenting on the actual article.

      Another point to be made against the thesis is that where cloud and road disagree, the road takes precedence. That is, I (and my lawyer) don't give a flying fuck how up-to-date your cloud database is or how many vehicles are feeding results into it. If you are driving on a public road, what matters is what is, or isn't, on that public road at the time. You need to point your eyes/cameras outward and interpret what you see.

      (As is already the case today, a cloud database might allow you to choose a better route, but that has nothing to do with the safety of the vehicle. Conversely, and not the case today, a driverless car might be able to use alternative sensors (like radar) to increase safety, but the data processing for that is all internal to the car.)

      1. Gordon 10 Silver badge
        Pirate

        Wait a minute

        I think you could flip a coin to the way it goes. Either as Tim describes or the exact opposite. Google offer a comodity service at cents per car in return for owning the updates. No one else gets a look in (including the manufacturers) because the cost of entry is too high compared to paying the google tax. As a bonus Google sell your driving habits to the insurance/retail companies.

        It's almost a carbon copy of their current search/advertising model.

        1. Tim Worstal

          Re: Wait a minute

          That's a reasonable alternative model. And I guess my assumption is that the car manufacturers want to avoid that one happening.

  9. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Zimmer
      Happy

      ..Upvote, sir!! ...despite the fact I currently own two....

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        despite the fact I currently own two

        You can't get them here in the US, of course, but I admit I felt a little twinge of desire for a Skoda Yeti after I saw the Top Gear review.

        (Of course I know TG is not a source of useful information. That's OK; I've owned good cars and lousy cars, and to be honest the difference never had much effect. A car that meets my specific needs is really all I require.)

  10. Blank-Reg
    Big Brother

    Hmmm, tracking and monitoring of us is about to become even bigger. Though the chance of seeing those 4 audi rings in your rear view mirror being reduced is most welcome.

    It's been said that the Motorcycle is a sign of freedom of spirit. Most likely it'll become a sign of freedom from automatic control. I've been pining after a motorbike for a while and driverless cars should, theoretically, be safer to ride around. How much is a CBT course these days and a 125...

    1. DavCrav Silver badge

      "It's been said that the Motorcycle is a sign of freedom of spirit. Most likely it'll become a sign of freedom from automatic control. I've been pining after a motorbike for a while and driverless cars should, theoretically, be safer to ride around. How much is a CBT course these days and a 125..."

      Of course, if driverless technology is mandatory on a road, motorcycles wouldn't be allowed on them.

    2. Fraggle850

      Just do it

      Before they ban them. I absolutely love riding my bikes but they will be banned if self driving cars ever become mandatory (hopefully not in my lifetime).

    3. Major N

      CBT, a couple of hundred most likely, although you need to redo them every 2 years. a 125... you can get Chinese ones new for <2k easy, and a good Japanese one second/third/nth hand for under a k.

      1. Fraggle850

        Just as a point of interest

        What chance a self riding motorcycle? Completely pointless, I know, but I bet it would be a significantly harder thing to do from a technical perspective.

        Always thought you shouldn't be allowed near a car unless you have a couple of years motorcycle experience under your belt (and preferably time served on a bicycle prior to that). Perhaps I ought to apply the same logic to robots?

        1. Lionel Baden

          Re: Just as a point of interest

          also, I would contend that similar to having to take a test for the power of the bike engine the same is done for car drivers.

          Have to use <1.2ltr after taking your test for 2 years before you can apply for <2.0 ltr engine.

  11. Whitter
    Joke

    a scientist opining outside his knowledge base is just as dumb as the next guy...

    What then of the economist on <insert discipline : e.g. motoring; systems engineering... > ?

    1. Naselus

      Re: a scientist opining outside his knowledge base is just as dumb as the next guy...

      "What then of the economist on <insert discipline : e.g. motoring; systems engineering... > ?"

      Just as dumb as he was when he was opining on economics, mostly.

  12. codejunky Silver badge

    Ha

    I prefer I Robot. Cars able to move at speeds we couldnt trust humans to operate at allowing us to commute further to work with less traffic jams as less accidents and better routing information. Basically further and faster and probably more efficient.

    Compare that to what we have now where an idiot pedestrian makes his play for the darwin award and regardless of success (or the road crossing facilities/lights on green/big freaking motor vehicle on the road) or the suicidal cyclist jumping reds, jumping curbs, riding against traffic, speeding without control of their vehicle, etc which results in our roads having a much lower speed limit than makes sense.

    Imagine no more campaigns telling us that speed kills because they figure out it is 2 objects trying to occupy the same physical space that is the problem. Instead returning to campaigns about crossing a road safely and actually being aware as a cyclist/pedestrian.

    It would also be nice to be rid of bell-end motorists who raise the question of how they passed their driving tests.

    1. Zimmer
      Stop

      Re: Ha...not for me...

      ..would be a bit like Alton Towers on steroids.... I think these vehicles would need to be windowless, or at least windscreen-less . I am never a happy passenger.... and often one full of impending vomit.......

      When older sister was driving (back in the '60's) I would sit in the rear footwell with a blanket over my head.. and screaming at the iRobot to slow down at 100mph is only likely to induce the response, 'I'm sorry, Dave, I can't do that'...

      ...see icon.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Google perfects driverless operation

    I am fairly convinced it will not be Google doing this, it'll be car manufacturers, mainly because they have far more experience with what happens when things do NOT go right and how to address the physical as well as legal consequences. That is one of the reasons why I wouldn't even want to be in the proximity of a Google-developed self driver - they are more focused on protecting their income than their users, have no expertise in the physical aspect ("we can't handle rain and potholes"? WTF?) and are a bit too happy avoiding laws that inconvenience them. No thanks.

    1. Naselus

      "it'll be car manufacturers"

      The big players in the automotive industry are not exactly beacons of agility and adaptability when it comes to adopting new technologies. It might be noted that they've also been less-than-law-abiding themselves, when it proves convenient.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The big players in the automotive industry are not exactly beacons of agility and adaptability when it comes to adopting new technologies.

        That's because they know what it takes to make things safe for people. They have a reputation to lose. Google doesn't really give a f*ck as far as I can judge from how their treat their users' privacy.

        It might be noted that they've also been less-than-law-abiding themselves, when it proves convenient.

        Ah, but unlike "we're American when it comes to laws, but foreign when we are asked for tax" Google, you can actually sue them when they do something wrong. A car company cannot get away with a disclaimer that it has no liability of things go wrong because it does physical things, whereas Google has built a whole business on not being accountable when things blow up, because that's the capital letters disclaimer you ave to sign under each bit of software. The latter is a damn hard attitude to shake when you move from screwing people over in the virtual world to having people lie bleeding in the street when you screw up in real life.

        As I said, there is no way I'll go near any self driving made by Google - cars with their software should be forced to be marked with a great warning sign. They don't care enough about consequences.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The solution to driverless cars is a technical problem. It is perfect for a disruptive technology.

      The lumbering old car manufacturers have been traditionally slow to adapt and are unlikely to have the in-house expertise and technology to solve this without outsourcing.

      In fact I would expect someone like Tesla with the combination of forward thinking, technology driven, risk taking and, to an extent, money-no-object approach to be the type of company to lead this.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who is to say these cars won't be used as moving cctv? Speed in front/behind/at the side of one, automatic ticket. Walk past one, face recognition, they won't get mine though because I look completely different with my hat on (yes, tinfoil)

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  15. scatter

    Or... this whole driverless car thing is going to fizzle out in the coming decade as it's just too damned difficult and it'll become the colonies on the moon of this generation.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      I don't think it will fizzle out, but it will divert down a different path than most imagine it taking now.

      I imagine that we will have automated road transport, but it won't look like it does now minus the drivers. The roads will be used in a different way, for example cars using auto-braking/cruise tech to hook up together to form long road trains in dedicated lanes for longer journeys. Meanwhile short trip or near end of journey cars will wait for safe time slots in their own lanes, a kind of micro-block signalling.

  16. Uberseehandel

    Why the german manufacturers rushed to buy Nokia maps

    Europe needs a European end-to-end system, the satellites, the software, the data, etc Long run thinking suggests that US, Russian or Chinese reliant systems, cannot be relied upon in the future. We have seen, in the past, the US turn off their sats, shooting themselves in the foot in the process.This could be the salvation of TomTom at some stage, as well.

    Apart from anything else we have seen the US screw up the billing model for mobile telephony, one of the links in an automated motoring future, and very often, the nav system in a US based car is a nice person in a call centre telling one where to go over the inbuilt phone. (I think they are chosen for being nice). For a short time a very senior GM-honcho was my sister-out-law, she could not understand why Europeans laughed at the GM view of telematics.

    Definately Europe is taking the long view

  17. 27escape

    Driverless cars do not need to be owned

    just rented for the period you need them and can fill up, get repaired etc when not being used.

    Extends the Uber model a bit more, big companies will own cars - garages and the like but normal people less so, why bother it sits outside the house or office for 22 hours of the day

    1. a cynic writes...

      Re: Driverless cars do not need to be owned

      Perhaps because you want to use a car for the same two hours as everyone else...

      In other news automatic gearboxes have been available for decades and most people in Britain drive manuals. I doubt that most people will want to give up the illusion of control and "driverless" mode will end up like cruise control - widely available but rarely engaged.

      1. Tom 38 Silver badge

        Re: Driverless cars do not need to be owned

        Automatic gearboxes (historically) break sooner and cost more to repair/replace. It's not necessarily that we require control, we're just cheap enough to not mind changing gears in order to save money.

        1. Fraggle850
          Unhappy

          Re: Driverless cars do not need to be owned

          Thanks for reminding me. *Sigh* I miss my auto, back in a manual now and changing gears is a chore, no thrill of hitting the kick down... no f'ing cruise control either come to think of it, last motorway trip was horrid. That'll teach me for having a fit of tight-arsedness.

          Now you've got me thinking all high teens per gallon on the highway and leather armchairs again.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Driverless cars do not need to be owned

            Replace your 'thrill' of the kickdown with the satisfaction of a properly rev-matched downshift?

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Driverless cars do not need to be owned

          "Automatic gearboxes (historically) break sooner and cost more to repair/replace. "

          May cost more to replace but my own experience is that reliability is an urban myth. Clutches used in urban environments need frequent replacement, and not everybody is exactly a good driver of a manual, resulting in rapid wear of the synchromesh. Auto boxes don't have clutches and are kinder to the engine. And modern ones use no more fuel than a manual.

          Manufacturers agree that auto boxes work out somewhat more expensive over the life of the car due to higher first cost and servicing, but running a crude Victorian friction-and-stir mechanism in 2015 just seems perverse, like driving a steam locomotive for the sake of it. OK you can waggle the stick and prod the pedal while still holding the steering wheel, but does that make you a better actual driver, if we define driving as getting from A to B efficiently, safely and quickly while without annoying other people?

          1. Richard 12 Silver badge

            Re: Driverless cars do not need to be owned

            Trouble is that you need a dual-clutch auto to get decent performance and decent efficiency.

            And only the really pricy cars have those.

            Everything else has the single-clutch boxes that are so slow you can lick the windscreen every gear change, or torque convertors that are hideously inefficient.

          2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: Driverless cars do not need to be owned

            running a crude Victorian friction-and-stir mechanism in 2015 just seems perverse, like driving a steam locomotive for the sake of it.

            You can take my steam locomotive away when you pry me out of its cold dead cabin.

            OK you can waggle the stick and prod the pedal while still holding the steering wheel, but does that make you a better actual driver

            Who claimed it did? It doesn't make better toast, either.

      2. lpcollier

        Re: Driverless cars do not need to be owned

        I think it's a matter of practicality. I have a Ford with adaptive cruise control (radar in the front grille). I use it on pretty much all motorway journeys. If it could steer as well I'd be very happy to lean back and watch a movie. The big but is that you have to understand the system a bit to use it properly. It took my wife, who isn't a technophobe, a good couple of years to feel confident in turning it on and setting it up for the road conditions.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Driverless cars do not need to be owned

          Adaptive cruise control is wonderful, I have it on my car, and use it all the time..

          The forward alert is amazing, it has helped me avoid a potential fender bender due to my eyes being on my mirrors for a second when someone braked heavily...

          Actually my main annoyance with speed limits and speed cameras, is that it makes drivers take their eyes off the road more often in low speed limit areas...

  18. TeeCee Gold badge

    WTF?

    getting to the sort of level of knowledge of the roads that Google has, of every stop sign, traffic light and feeder lane

    Why would you want to? Relying on that information would be dumb, dumb, dumb. First set of roadworks, accident, diversion, failed lights and its oops big time.

    There's a bloody good reason why conventional cars are not driven by memorising the route and then playing it back while blindfolded.

    I've said it before and I'll say it again. For any driverless car system to be acceptable it has to operate entirely autonomously based on what it "sees". Even without considering the slight snag that connection availability on the move is (to put it charitably) spotty, anyone should be able to think of at least five showstopper reasons why this should be so without trying to hard. Any "always on" connection is therefore more about scarfing data about your commuting habits than about making the thing work.

    1. ChrisC

      Re: WTF?

      Conventional cars can, however, be driven better via a combination of realtime observation of the current road conditions *plus* prior knowledge of the route ahead. I don't think Google et al are intending to produce driverless cars that rely solely on driving to a historical snapshot of the road ahead, but the mapping data they're producing/importing could be very useful as part of the overall driverless ecosystem.

      Consider also that, even if their driverless cars do rely solely on what their onboard sensors are able to detect in realtime, training those sensors to detect things like road signs and markings would benefit from the real world footage collected by programmes such as StreetView.

      1. JCitizen Bronze badge
        IT Angle

        Re: WTF?

        Plus, they already have cars on the road right now that have radar that can see two vehicles or more ahead of the driver, and warn to stop or slow down. You add a central communication system to that run by AI, and you are already 1/3rd there!

  19. GitMeMyShootinIrons
    Joke

    Balderdash!

    Driverless cars? Terrible idea. What will my chauffeur do? Who would serve the Champers and canapes during the journey...?

    1. Fraggle850

      Re: Balderdash!

      Robot butler in the boot? Much less chance of it purloining one's silverware or swigging one's champers on the sly.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Priced into oblivion

    Us motoring enthusiasts who actually enjoy our driving, will (I fear) be priced off the roads and into these Nanny State Cabs by the insurance costs. They will raise the prices so high that only the rich will be able to afford to insure themselves. Everyone else will be forced into the joy-free buggies because it will be all they can afford. Time to dust off the push bike, I suspect.

    I also wonder what this will do to rates of alcoholism, when there will be little incentive not to drink any more?

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Priced into oblivion

      "I also wonder what this will do to rates of alcoholism, when there will be little incentive not to drink any more?"

      Too right! I mean, where's the incentive in "not dying of liver failure at 40"? Still, at least with driverless cars these drunks will only be removing their own genes from the pool, rather than taking a few others with them.

  21. MaxHertz

    It won't be the car companies

    "VW, with 10 million car sales a year would have, after a decade, what, 30-40 million vehicles all feeding information into their system? Skynet anyone?"

    I can't see the car companies being capable of the enormous software engineering challenge that is a driverless car. This is all bleeding edge stuff. Do the best software engineers currently work for car companies? Are the car companies capable of recruiting the best people and creating and managing an environment in which the radical advances necessary in AI are able to happen?

    Think of the complexity and cost of current airliner software. Flying an aeroplane (strictly controlled, uncluttered environment) is trivial in comparison with driving a car in a town.

    1. ChrisC

      Re: It won't be the car companies

      The act of negotiating controlled airspace might be trivial compared with the act of negotiating un/partially controlled roadspace, but the act of keeping an airliner airborne is ever so slightly more difficult than the act of keeping a car on the road, and the consequences of getting it wrong are in another league entirely. So I'm not sure the cost or complexity of driverless vehicle software will be any greater than that of airliner software, it'll more be a case that the complexity occurs in different areas of the software.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It won't be the car companies

      I can't see the car companies being capable of the enormous software engineering challenge that is a driverless car. This is all bleeding edge stuff.

      Not entirely, and that's why car companies are better placed to do this. What is not bleeding edge is the science involved to keep you alive when things go wrong, and that's where car companies have DECADES of experience and a reputation to lose, whereas Google doesn't seem to be too bothered about that (given how they treat their users in general).

      Do the best software engineers currently work for car companies? Are the car companies capable of recruiting the best people and creating and managing an environment in which the radical advances necessary in AI are able to happen?

      Given by the public efforts of Audi, Mercedes and Volvo in this field (I've probably missed a few) I'd say the answer to that is yes, with the added benefit that they also look at failure mode handling. Unlike Google, they don't consider beta good enough for production.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wrong problem

    Why shouldn't the intelligence and knowledge be built into the road & roadside environment rather than relying totally on what's in the cars?

    Anyway, one thing I look forward to is the complete removal of obsolete roadside clutter - street-signs, traffic lights, parking meters, etc.

  23. BoldMan

    If you wish to charge your electric car while driving what you need is a slot in the road with metal strips either side. Then on the underside of your car you have a tab that fits in the slot with the pick ups on either side...

    You then need to be REALLY careful at the cross-overs...

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Does that mean the government should mandate that all information retrieved on british roads is made publicly available ( with some filtering / time delay ) to prevent a monopoly forming.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Errrrr... Techie stuff is nice, of course. But surely the most important need to hurry up this technology is to stop the death and injury carnage on the roads?

    Cars cause more death and destruction than wars.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "But surely the most important need to hurry up this technology is to stop the death and injury carnage on the roads?"

      That's not difficult. You simply ban all road traffic. Apart from anything else you would, of course, put up other causes of death as ambulances wouldn't be available to take treatment to heart attack, etc. victims.

      Driverless cars may or may not reduce it but reduce and stop are two different things. In the real world we trade cost versus utility.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        You simply ban all road traffic

        Or, equip pedestrians with grenade launchers.

        I'm just thinking out of the box!

    2. LucreLout Silver badge

      Cars cause more death and destruction than wars.

      Nope, not in the Britain anyway.

      450k deaths in WWII alone. That one war killed more Brits than all of the years of motoring since that date, even assuming everyone that died on the road was killed by a car.

      1. Fraggle850

        Hurrah!

        Sanity prevails through numbers, have an upvote!

  26. bumgravy

    "Which brings us to Mark Buchanan, a physicist I have regularly made fun of for his forays into very questionable economics. On the usual grounds: as Feynman pointed out, a scientist opining outside his knowledge base is just as dumb as the next guy.

    The strictures of physics don't really map over the knowledge base of economics which is what leads to error"

    A 1/2 rate physicist can grasp the cod 'science' that is Economics without breaking sweat.

  27. Peter Johnston 1

    The real question is about the form factor. Cars have evolved around the economics and logistics of a driver. Without a driver, you can send two to do one's job, without paying for two people.

    A truck could be split up into individual pallets, which wirelessly chain for the long haul then split off near their destination. A supermarket trolley can simply be programmed to take the stuff home.

    A bus can now become a chain of individual sofa size pods which again come together when on the long haul, but separate to take you to your door. Mass transport becomes individual.

    Payment can be per mile, per journey or whatever, with no fixed cost. No worries about parking, whether at your destination or on your drive. Simply summon one and it will be there.

    In this environment who will even need a car as we know it now? And what price suburbs built around an acceptable journey time to a central location?

  28. Mookster
    Facepalm

    Patents, patents, and more patents...

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Devil

    ... except the recreational driver,...

    WRONG.

    How wonderful it will be when every other car on the road is computer controlled? It will be perfect, I won't have to slow down any more because they'll automatically get out of my way, and after a few days, I'll have the quickest commute in the city.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ... except the recreational driver,...

      "I won't have to slow down any more because they'll automatically get out of my way,"

      You haven't thought through all the implications, have you?

      There won't be any parking spaces; they won't be needed.

      The out of control vehicle will be reported by the computer mesh, and the police will be alerted. Probably all the vehicles around you will draw together, confine you and stop till the helicopter arrives.

      1. LucreLout Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: ... except the recreational driver,...

        Probably all the vehicles around you will draw together, confine you and stop till the helicopter arrives.

        Is "monster truck" supposed to be two words or one word?

  30. Flatpackhamster

    Re: Classic cars

    Earlier posts talked about the electronics failing in modern cars which means they won't be around and that's true. But that's fixable by hobbyists - witness the Gameboy on a credit card and the ZX Spectrum toys that have been kickstarted.

    What's not going to be replaceable is the plastic interiors. Those injection moulded car parts will start to break and fall apart in 30 or 40 years' time. And nobody will have the die moulds or the equipment to make new ones.

    1. Fraggle850

      Re: Classic cars

      My advice then is get a full leather trim model. Also, given custom car subculture and a possible retro vehicle price hike in future, interior refits shouldn't be a problem.

      1. Flatpackhamster

        Re: Classic cars

        I'm not talking about the trim. I'm talking about what would once have been called the coachwork. Who's, for example, going to be producing the centre console for a 1992 Escort Cosworth in 50 years' time? It's made of plastic, it's an interior item. But it'll start to degrade and crack just like all plastics do.

        1. Fraggle850

          Re: Classic cars

          Haven't you seen Mad Max?

          There's a whole world of creative vehicle modification with a long history and grass roots foundations across the globe. Just 'cause the man says your car has to look a certain way doesn't mean it's true.

          Apologies if you get your geek on at classic car events and no offence intended but concours condition is just another look to me.

        2. LucreLout Silver badge

          Re: Classic cars

          for example, going to be producing the centre console for a 1992 Escort Cosworth in 50 years' time? It's made of plastic, it's an interior item. But it'll start to degrade and crack just like all plastics do.

          I could make a latex and fibreglass mould of it in about 3 hours, then produce the consoles in a range of colours with curing time being the longest part of that operation. "Lime green sir? Are you sure?"

          For the electronics, you could look to a specialist such as BBA Reman (El Reg - I have no association with this company or anyone in it - I name them as a well know specialist featuring in the trade mag Car Mechanics regularly) who can remanufacture your ECU or gearbox controller for you for lower cost than the deal will charge to supply and code a new one.

          Body panels can be made by hand, as they used to be... Parts won't be a problem in my view.

          1. Flatpackhamster

            Re: Classic cars

            I'm happy to be wrong if that's the case. :)

          2. Fraggle850

            Re: Classic cars @LucreLout

            I'd better not show this post to a friend of mine he'd definitely go for the lime green console, he's a kawasaki nut and has been known to paint all sorts of things in kawasaki lime green

        3. MrXavia

          Re: Classic cars

          "I'm not talking about the trim. I'm talking about what would once have been called the coachwork. Who's, for example, going to be producing the centre console for a 1992 Escort Cosworth in 50 years' time? It's made of plastic, it's an interior item. But it'll start to degrade and crack just like all plastics do."

          My center console is leather/aluminum & carbon fiber... so no degradation there...

          I know most cars are plastic, but I purposely chose a car that was minimal plastic, plus most plastics are UV stabilized now..

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Classic cars

      What's not going to be replaceable is the plastic interiors. Those injection moulded car parts will start to break and fall apart in 30 or 40 years' time. And nobody will have the die moulds or the equipment to make new ones.

      You will just select the required design and let your 3D printer create a new one!

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Timescales

    I haven't read the posts so if someone else has made this point I apologise - but I think Worstall doesn't understand the sheer timescales of the vehicle industry.

    When I started in R&D the technical director gave me a quick summary which went like this:

    The Chief Engineer is looking 5 years to the future.

    My job is to look 10 years to the future.

    Your job is to look one year to the future.

    Now, we were a supplier to the vehicle makers, and their technical directors had the same timescale or longer. The TD of Caterpillar told us his timescale was 15 years.

    That means that as the engineers fumble with their first little self-driving vehicles (1 year timescale) the directors of the big manufacturers are in effect looking 20-25 years into the future, and telling people to keep close watch.

  32. Deryk Barker

    GPS

    My problem with this is that GPS systems are still not 100% accurate. Like the one which insisted - although I had put the correct street address in - in sending me to the back of Exeter Hospital, where there was no public parking. I had to drive for several minutes to find the actual entrance. How would the self-driving car cope with this?

    1. Tim Starling

      Re: GPS

      That is a mapping problem, not a GPS problem. The solution is like Worstall says -- get a few humans to drive the last 100m into the correct entrance, log the route they took, and then make that route available for subsequent cars.

  33. Charles Manning

    why are all the car companies in such a damn hurry?

    Tim, Tim, Tim...

    For one such as you who is good at looking through the veils of corporate behaviour, I would have thought the answer is obvious.

    Publicly listed companies are only partially driven by what makes financial sense (ie. delivering product such as cars to customers). They are also driven by the other thing they produce: stock value (ie. delivering a stock that is attractive to the stock market).

    To address the former, the car companies re-jig their designs regularly according to fashion: this year it is small round headlights and deep side panels with skinny glass panels - about as practical and useful as high heeled shoes. Next year it will be big headlights and curvy or boxy or something else with acres of glass.

    To address the later, the car companies must be perceived to be doing whatever is fashionable. Right now fancy research into driverless cars etc is just the mode. They've got to be seen to be up there playing the game even if it does not ever get anywhere useful. If they don't then shareholder's meetings get uncomfortable and boards get fired. This is particularly the case when the straight spread-sheet performance of the company isn't good.

    We see exactly the same in the electronics industry too. Watch the repetitive buy/divest pattern that Intel gets into: they buy StrongARM cpus from DEC, then when acquisition becomes unfashionable they sell the business unit to Marvell. Rinse and repeat with literally scores of other business units that they have bought high and sold low.

    We saw exactly the same with dot.bomb in 2000/2001. Otherwise sane companies buying up useless startups for big money because it was the done thing. They were basically forced into it by their shareholders.

    We see Microsoft doing this: waving around new tech at Comdex (remember that daft touch screen table). They have to be seen to be doing research and not just sitting on their duffs.

    So when companies do daft stuff like set up driverless car programs, don't be surprised, just look for the forces behind the curtain.

  34. jonathanb Silver badge

    First to market isn't usually the winner

    The first smartphones to hit the market were from companies like Nokia and Blackberry, and devices based on Windows Mobile. Where are they now? Microsoft and Nokia scrapped all their earlier work and started again, not too successfully, Blackberry are virtually dead, and there were others who's impact on the market was so insignificant that I can't even remember who they are. The winners are Apple, who were very late to the market, and various devices based on Android, particularly Samsung. They were even later to the market.

    Those companies looked at what the others were doing, figured out what they were doing wrong, and managed to fix it. Much cheaper and easier to learn from other peoples' mistakes than to learn from your own.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Tim Worstall - WTF?

    "Either the manufacturers will purchase or rent the technology from Google or, once that it's been seen to be done and possible then they'll reverse engineer it."

    What makes you think that the tech will come from Google?

    You really don't know why the German car companies bought Nokia HERE (Navteq), do you?

    Posted Anon for all of the obvious reasons.

  36. Medixstiff

    I was under the impression they bought Nokia maps so they didn't get caught with their pants down further down the track being stuck under Google or apple's thumb.

    A few things i want to know:

    What will our governments do when the speed camera money they always allow for in their budgets drops off and eventually stops? My bet would be new taxes.

    Why the hell can't we get flying cars and be done with it? Western Australia is supposed to double it's population by 2030, that's only 15 years away, which is SFA really but none of our political parties have any plans further than the next election, so I can definitely see us spending way beyond our means on last minutes "fixes" or worse, nothing at all but stupid laws requiring us to take public transport, limit a family to 1 car or paying a "privilege" tax of a certain amount per KM traveled.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm a petrolhead, and I like to drive fast... but this is largely because of the stupid amount of time I spend commuting among idiots who can't drive properly. I cannot wait for driveless cars, I have much better things to be doing than driving for 2 hours a day. I'd be quite happy to confine ragging it to a track.

  38. John Savard Silver badge

    No Mystery

    Whoever is first to invent something that works gets to patent the technology that made it work.

    The Macintosh didn't get so many people to adopt it that it became the majority platform instead of MS-DOS and its successor Windows. But Microsoft did have to pay it money to license some of its innovations.

  39. JCitizen Bronze badge
    Coffee/keyboard

    We are almost there already..

    My truck has radar for self parking, and the cops can take it over and shut it down remote control in a vehicle theft case; it really isn't as big a deal as this article makes it out to be. Just add a LIDAR sensor , and a vehicle to vehicle, wi-fi communication system, and run a city central master control with AI - something like IBM's WATSON - to keep up with an entire municipal area, and you have enough data to run the cars we have now totally autonomously. The central master control would act like a giant control tower for watching all the individual vehicles and planning their routes as each destination is entered into the system.

    If I were a city planner, I would be the one that is in a hurry. Autonomous traffic could end many of the expensive headaches city planners have for traffic congestion, and make unnecessary building just more, even more expensive transit projects to try to end the problem. I'd wager that today's roads could easily take five times the traffic at regular speed limits, and get people to work and back in 20 to 40 minutes, instead of the mind numbing 2 hours many big metropolises suffer from now.

    I for one, welcome our autonomous overlords!

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