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Driverless Cars

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What will be the impact of driverless cars on cities? Discuss.

 

[for the purposes of this conversation let's assume a 'driverless car' is basically a car that can drive itself 99% of the time and costs say 15-20% more than a regular car]

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Seriously though, Maximum Overdrive and Terminator 3 would have been tough to pull off with carburetors, throttle linkages, no computers and brakes that could not be operated separately. But today's cars with drive-by-wire and traction/stability control linked to individual brakes can already be taken over with the addition of an electronic device. They would have to steer with the brakes which would overheat them quickly. But it can be done for short periods of time.

 

Here's an article about a man fired from an auto dealership who took revenge by remotely disabling 80 cars sold by the dealership in the previous month through the web. This is but one reason why I don't trust cars full of gadgets and gizmos.

 

http://www.statesman.com/news/local/police-fired-worker-disabled-cars-via-web-383892.html

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I've always been interested in the ramifications of having cars that can drive themselves back home while the owner is at work. Would we need to regulate and tax such behavior if we have a traffic system that can carry substantially higher traffic loads thanks to mitigating the human element?  I imagine you start to build car holding corrals (parking structures without parking spaces) off site as a way to mitigate inconvenience and cost for power (I'm assuming about this time we're driving electric vehicles with a gas powered extender capability).  You don't need spaces when you could just let the car be controlled by the parking facility computer and when a car gets called it circulates to the exit and other vehicles move in behind it like one of those slide puzzles.  Just don't know the benefits of being able to move spaces out of the core neighborhood versus the cost of more road miles being travelled and what if any sort of traffic realities couldn't be surmounted by smarter/more efficient drivers.

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The idea of having driverless, electric cars is troubling to me. We are finally starting to see a shift away from building new suburbs and repopulating the city centers. If cars can drive themselves, you can sleep in the car. Traffic would flow smoother, you could get things done while travelling, and you could live further away from work without the hassle of "driving". I imagine this would lead to a huge outward sprawl to the point where commutes would increase by 20% or so. This would doom a lot of public transportation options (trains, especially) because you have the convenience of a car with the good aspects of public transportation.

 

Further commutes would lead to energy problems, increased road maintenance, and the difficult task of "taxing" the electric cars' miles on those roads. The best solution I can imagine is to have every interstate rigged with a meter that detects when you enter and exit the highway and charges you a certain amount based on miles traveled. Allowing driverless cars on the interstates and freeways, but not other roads seems to make the most sense. This would ease congestion and cause the fewest negative impacts as a whole IMO. I think the new problems driverless cars will create are not worth the few benefits we would gain, though.

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I think the new problems driverless cars will create are not worth the few benefits we would gain, though.

 

I agree this could spell all kinds of trouble for mass transit. However, if a system employing driverless cars saves lives, it's worth the pursuit at any cost.

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^ I disagree.

 

Some things cost society too much to justify. I know this sounds harsh, but there are plenty of things we could be doing that would save lives, but cost too much. This may be one of those instances.

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I'm not sure that driverless cars would lead to more commuting.  Couldn't the same argument be made for regional rail or any other mode of transportation where you don't have to actively drive?

 

I actually think it may lead to a redensification, as parking spots would be less at a premium.  For instance, right now, if someone from the suburbs drives to Wal-Mart, then Applebee's, then Best Cuts, then to the gym, then back home, they need 5 separate spots to park their car.  Sure, there is some parking spot reuse, but as is evidenced by how rarely a suburban parking lot fills up, there is much waste here.  The parking spot at their house is only used by them, and the others may be used by 1 or 2 other cars at most during the entire outing (there's rarely someone pulling into the vacated spot as soon as they leave).  Thus, this trip has basically caused a need for the equivalent of 3 dedicated parking spots, even if they never were more than a couple miles from home.  Sure, it would be a waste for long trips to have the car automatically return home and then come pick you up when you're done.  But it may make sense when you're 5 min away.  And for office locations there could be "staging lots" where cars park nearby employment centers (these lots actually would likely be mixed use staging lots, for shoppers, workers, etc.).  This doesn't sound like much of a net gain, but again, every parking lot is built for the worst case scenario.  Many suburban office parking lots are about half full because they each have to have an allotment of extra spaces for those times when some visitors come and everyone shows up to work and there is paving going on in the adjacent parking lot, etc.  Even in these once a decade events when the parking lot does fill up, not all lots fill up at the same time.  Thus, if all these lots were condensed into one super lot (or preferably, a massive parking garage), then number of extra spots needed could also be greatly condensed.

 

Cars would still be cars and take up more space and use more gas than they need to, but if they could drive themselves automatically and were much safer than human drivers, we would likely see smaller cars become popular.  There would be no need for massive SUVs just so people could "see over other people on the freeway" (I've heard many a suburbanite make this argument) and you may event see things like "podcars" or something of the sort, where every car was basically a small self powered single-person vehicle, but could be combined with others to form larger vehicles, such that a four-person car would be roughly 4 times as big and energy consuming as a single-person car, rather than every vehicle having to be built for four or more people.

 

This is all likely way in the future but as much as technology changes, I definitely could see things moving in this direction at some point and I'm not sure it'd be a very bad thing.  The reason I think this is that I believe that all other things being equal (safety, schools, income, cleanliness, etc.) most people (even suburbanites) actually prefer a dense environment to a spread-out one.  It's just that the car has required people to be spread out if they want the freedom individual transportation provides them.  In the old days, people still wanted to move "out", it's just that those outer areas were still dense.  Now, they can't be because of the car.  Take away the requirement for mega-wide roads (self-driving cars should MUCH more efficiently use roadway capacity) and huge parking lots everywhere and you may not see new construction and outward migration of people go away, but you'd at least likely see newer human settlements being built in a much more acceptable fashion than those of the last 60+ years.

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^ I disagree.

 

Some things cost society too much to justify. I know this sounds harsh, but there are plenty of things we could be doing that would save lives, but cost too much. This may be one of those instances.

 

The more I think of it, if the rate of technological advance is any indicator, the costs to implement such a system could be available at somewhat low cost.

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A good question is how much parking they will take up. There would be no real problem with them parking each other in, since they can just wake each other up and maneuver their way out, so they could park in very dense formations. If there is a reasonable push to get self-driving taxis to take over for mass transit, though, there could just be too many of them, similar to the way personal automobiles have become in cities.

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In the 1970's, it was thought that someday driverless cars would follow wires embedded in the pavement. Instead, we have global positioning, radar rangefinders, and image recognition devices. The technology for driverless cars is already here; we already have cars that can parallel park, tractors that steer themselves, and construction equipment guided by global positioning. What we don't have yet is a manufacturer of automobiles that has put it all together. There are still some issues, such as two driverless cars coming to a standstill at a 4-way stop because neither will enter the intersection in front of the other. Also, the legal system has to catch up to the technology. If a driverless car is involved in a collision, who gets the ticket? The owner? Does one need a driver's license to operate a driverless car?

 

I can imagine a couple of things that could change:

1. Drivers could put the car on autopilot and go to sleep. This could lead to a lot of nightime driving.

2. Commercial trucking companies could do away with the drivers altogether. What will the Teamsters do about that?

3. Parents could let the car drive the kids to soccer practice.

4. Anybody could drive to the front door of his destination, whether it be a downtown building or a suburban Wal*mart, and have the car park itself. Then, when he's ready to leave, he can phone the car and have it pick him up.

5. Even a small number of driverless cars on the road could improve safety for everyone.

6. Driverless cars could be provided with route finding devices, and even tie into real time traffic data, and choose the fastest route from A to B. Humans are creatures of habit, and do not necessarily take the best route. So, driverless cars could reduce the total vehicle miles travelled.

7. Maybe full-service fuel stations will come back. For that matter, driverless cars could order take out from drive-through restaurants.

 

Electronic circuit boards do not cost that much. The real cost is in the design. If any manufacturer ever puts up the R&D dollars, it should be easy to crank out lots of driverless cars, and they probably won't cost much more than present cars. After all, all kinds of electronic gadgets have been added to cars over the last 20 years, yet the price has remained stable, or has even dropped.

 

The real advantage of cars compared to mass transit is that cars are free from routes and schedules. The disadvantage of cars is that they take up so much space, both while moving and while parked, that cars have destroyed the human scale of cities. Driverless cars could alleviate the parking problem somewhat by driving to a parking space outside of pedestrian areas, and clear up traffic overall by taking the shortest route. It has been said that 50% of the traffic in some core areas is due to drivers circling around looking for a parking space!

 

 

 

 

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What will be the impact of driverless cars on cities? Discuss.

 

[for the purposes of this conversation let's assume a 'driverless car' is basically a car that can drive itself 99% of the time and costs say 15-20% more than a regular car]

 

 

1.  Elimination of street parking.  It won't be necessary.  Driverless cars will be stored centrally in each neighborhood.  They will arrive in minutes when the driver calls for it on their cell phone.  The car will arrive heated or air conditioned ready to go.

2.  With parking eliminated, sidewalks will widen considerably.  There will be more room for bicyclists, and more space for children to play.  The average driving surface will be no more than 20' wide.

3. Lower fatalities, lower injuries...by alot.  Humans make mistakes, computers don't. 

4. On board computer systems will do more than drive the car.  I think there will be community expectation...possibly laws that require the car to talk to the city grid.  Cars will report pollution levels, noise, and congestion of their surroundings.  They'll feed information on road conditions and collectively build complex data to prioritize repairs and maintenance. 

5.  Though cars will continue to be a major part of transportation, they'll have less of a noticeable footprint on the city.  Cars will be far more adaptive to the urban environment, but we will be smarter about where they go and how we store them.

 

 

The above points are sort of the futuristic vision of the automakers.  More than half a century ago, automakers had completely the opposite vision.

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The idea of having driverless, electric cars is troubling to me. We are finally starting to see a shift away from building new suburbs and repopulating the city centers. If cars can drive themselves, you can sleep in the car. Traffic would flow smoother, you could get things done while travelling, and you could live further away from work without the hassle of "driving". I imagine this would lead to a huge outward sprawl to the point where commutes would increase by 20% or so. This would doom a lot of public transportation options (trains, especially) because you have the convenience of a car with the good aspects of public transportation.

 

Further commutes would lead to energy problems, increased road maintenance, and the difficult task of "taxing" the electric cars' miles on those roads. The best solution I can imagine is to have every interstate rigged with a meter that detects when you enter and exit the highway and charges you a certain amount based on miles traveled. Allowing driverless cars on the interstates and freeways, but not other roads seems to make the most sense. This would ease congestion and cause the fewest negative impacts as a whole IMO. I think the new problems driverless cars will create are not worth the few benefits we would gain, though.

 

I've thought about this, but people can already do that without the car.  Here in Chicago we have commuter rail that travels out to the distant countryside.  You can take the train for less than the price of driving a car.  Yet, there still remains tons of empty land in the municipalities near these stations.

 

Ultimately, lifestyle preferences will shape growth patterns.  Whether people want to be in the city where there's more stuff to do or that big house with the huge lawn in that sprawling subdivision.

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I disagree that a car would be able to drive kids to soccer practice without an adult. Physically, yes. Legally, unlikely. What happens if the GPS (or whatever system is used to navigate the car) breaks down and you just have an 8-year-old kid sitting behind the wheel? I imagine you would still need a legal drivers license to sit behind the wheel of a "driverless" car. What happens if power goes out that allows the grid to communicate with all of the cars? This would cause mass chaos in all places affected.

 

I don't think we will reach the point where all roads are navigable by driverless cars (for the cost of implementing technology on smaller roads and the legal reasons for driverless cars going through intersections, etc). I think it will be decades between the time highways are navigable by driverless cars and the city streets are as well.

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I guarantee nothing would change regarding driver's licenses, sleeping, children behind the wheel, impaired driving and all that.

 

Exactly.  Some people think this will solve all the problems with drinking and driving.  But under common state laws, public drunkenness and occupying space upon a public way could be considered illegal, even if states completely disregarded laws operating under the influence.

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Did you know that there is a federal law that says you are not allowed to mail a child? I don't know the story behind it, but I would bet that somebody tried to mail a child.

 

This is an example of the way that laws are written. Lawmakers respond to some problem AFTER it happens.

 

We already have mass-produced driverless cars that can parallel park. We have experimental driverless cars that are driving around in traffic (though I think they have a human co-pilot). The technology is there, and I think it's a matter of time until some manufacture puts it all together, assuming that it occurs while we still have some petroleum to consume.

 

I figure that someday, someone is going to place a child in a car and order the car to drive to school or soccer practice, or wherever. At that time, the legal system is going to have to play catch-up: is it legal, or not? It may not happen in this country first; it could be Japan, or Korea, where the people are even crazier about technology than we are.

 

Today, we have a mixed bag of laws regarding cell phone use while driving. Clearly, there are a lot of accidents caused by drivers talking on the phone, or texting. The safe thing to do is ban cell phone use while driving, but this particular ban is extremely unpopular, not to mention hard to enforce. I could see a similar thing with driverless cars.

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The future situation of sending a living child (or even a pet) off in a driverless car is impossible.  I don't see why there is any concern about that.

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The future situation of sending a living child (or even a pet) off in a driverless car is impossible.  I don't see why there is any concern about that.

 

Really though, under a future scenario where such technology is reliable, is it any different than letting your child take the bus, subway or taxi by themselves?

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Perhaps a more likely example for sake of argument would be driverless commercial trucks. Some truck drivers only move from terminal to terminal, where the trucks are loaded or unloaded, on a specified route, much of in on the Interstates. Could a trucking company load a truck and send it on it's way?

 

As long as it is safe, there should be no issue. The problem happens when there is an accident.

 

Maybe some day a trucking company won't wait around for the legislature to make a decision, but will just do it. A "black box" on the truck could record everything, to be used in the event of an accident. (Most accidents involving trucks are not the fault of the professional truck driver, but are usually due to poor judgement of drivers of passenger cars.)

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(Most accidents involving trucks are not the fault of the professional truck driver, but are usually due to poor judgement of drivers of passenger cars.)

 

I've seen trucks make their fair share of dangerous driving maneuvers.

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A Computer Will Drive the Electric Car of the Future

 

By Matthew Yglesias

Posted Friday, Feb. 15, 2013

 

David Roberts argues at Grist that one takeaway from the Tesla/New York Times feud is: "It is probably true that electric cars will never be able to replace gas cars, if the cars themselves — the widgets — are the only thing we replace." He says the real issue here is one of systems, not individual vehicles.

 

I think that's right, but Roberts doesn't even bring up what would be the biggest system-wide change here—eliminating the driver.

 

If you imagine a taxi without a human driver, then the main cost is fuel. And cheap fuel is what electric vehicles are really good at. So in the morning a fleet of EVs will meet various peak-time commuters and take them to work. Then during the day, some of the EVs will be shuttling people around on nonpeak trips of various kinds while others are charging. Then there's the big evening peak commute, and then you go back into off-peak mode. This whole fleet of cars designed for intracity travel never needs to develop even the range that the Model S has today. Yes, people will also want to take longer trips. And those trips will require some different vehicle...

 

http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/02/15/autonomous_cars_and_electric_vehicles_a_match_made_in_heaven.html

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The electric car is never going to get anywhere with all this charging business. You need to be able to go to a battery station and get your discharged battery swapped out for a new one in a minute or two like they do with propane tanks on forklifts or batteries during an R/C endurance race. Yes, that would mean that every vehicle had to take the same kind of battery, but some cars could use one while others could use three. Of course a bunch of techno-narcissists would cry about it "stifling innovation" because there weren't new cars coming out each year with proprietary batteries that gained 1.3 miles per charge a year, but it could actually get the cars out there and useful. The burden of improvement would then shift to the different brands of battery station.

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Actually, as long as the batteries were compatible enough (ISO and IEEE could develop appropriate standards), there would still be room for year-on-year improvement and differentiation between brands, just like we have with computer parts.

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Attend the conference noted at that link to learn more about how driverless cars will impact cities and your roadbuilding business....

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Are you opposed to driverless cars because you think they'll fail, or because you think they'll be successful?

 

I'm not opposed. I am skeptical because cars don't contribute to the positive aspects of urbanity. More often, they take away from them. So anything intended to make driving more attractive is not something I'd likely support. But I am waiting to see if they will require less space for parking, roadways, maneuvering, etc. So I am not opposed....

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An exclusive focus on cars does not contribute to the positive aspects of urbanity.  Even NYC, though, has plenty of automotive infrastructure.  You can't have an urban center of nothing but pedestrian and bicycle trails and trains.

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You can't have an urban center of nothing but pedestrian and bicycle trails and trains.

 

Sure you can. You do anything you want with the sufficient vision and will. Some Europeans cities are implementing this and possibly some on the Pacific Rim. But that's a subject for another thread.

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Is that what you want?

 

I certainly don't.  At the very least, not in an area the size of Akron, let alone Columbus.

 

Driverless cars, however, are something I am definitely anticipating.  And I think they will greatly benefit cities because they will be at their most effective on well-planned, well-maintained streets (as opposed to rural gravel roads, for example), and the advantages they offer over human perception and judgment (finding parking, etc.) are going to be at their height in cities.

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