Off Topic: How Driverless Cars Could Reshape Cities

Over the last year, there's been growing enthusiasm for the future of driveless cars. The NYTimes has a good survey piece on how this could reshape cities.

While I do not think it will have a big impact on surveillance, I do think it could be revolutionary for society at large.

For instance, if cars can drive themselves, many, if not most people, would not even need to own cars (and people who had multiple could, at least, reduce to one). Everyone else could simply call a car when they specifically needed it. Considering, most people only drive for tens of minutes or a few hours a day, the potential savings seem immense.

Here's some claims from the NYTimes article:

  • No more looking for parking.
  • "That city of the future could have narrower streets because parking spots would no longer be necessary"
  • "Inner-city parking lots could become parks."
  • "Some city planners expect that the cost of homes will fall as more space will become available in cities."
  • "I could sleep in my driverless car, or have an exercise bike in the back of the car to work out on the way to work"

Anyone particularly excited or skeptical about driverless cars?

I'm just a bit enthusiastic, but mostly skeptical about that.

I basically don't see the point in having driverless cars. Given a situation where someone doesn't own a car and that he/she would like to go from A to B, there are alternative ways, such as:

1) Short-distance:

  • Ride a bike
  • Walk until the closest bus/metro station

2) Medium-distance:

  • Just call for a taxi (a "driverful" car)
  • You can still ride a bike here

3) Long-distance

  • Walk until the closest bus/train station

  • Rent a car

I would see a great revolution if the amount of cars trafficking on the roads would be considerably reduced. That is something that driverless cars may not bring in, unless people would give up their private cars at once. Moreover, I own a car with a navigation system and I can tell you that built-in navigation systems may be inaccurate some times. More specifically with respect to roadworks or streets where directions have been recently changed. Therefore, I would not blindly trust a car that drives by itself based on directions provided by the navigation system.

Bottom line: I don't see the point in having driverless cars based on the fact that there are already alternatives out there!

I wouldn't hold my breath. The concept of autonomous cars has been around at least since I was a kid (and believe me, that was a long time ago ;-o ). I remember reading about it in Popular Mechanics and other rags - right next to the articles about flying cars and a helicopter in every garage.

Heck, I would posit that many cars on the road today are essentially driverless, LOL!

By the way, I have to wonder if the maps used in driverless vehicles would have to be better than existing maps. I can't count the number of times my Garmin has led me astray.;-(

Carl, in fairness, autonomous cars were concepts for a long time but now they are reality. They are expensive and not ready for mass production but the core technology issues are largely solved.

Tiago, I wonder how much of our perspectives differ because of our locations. The US is a spread out country, filled with lots of obese people. Getting on bikes does not work as well here.

Beyond that, sure, you can get a taxi but taxis (in the US) are fairly expensive and the cost comes largely from the human being driver. Eliminating them, even with increased vehicle cost, would likely reduce overall taxi fares.


I still have to wonder how well they do at anticipating (and correcting for) the mistakes of other drivers: texters, drunks and just plain incompetents; improperly tied down loads; "New Jersey drivers" (the ones who stop in a left lane and wait for cars on their right to pass so they can get off at the exit they nearly missed); bikers travelling between lanes, potholes, animals, shredded truck tires, etc.. Basically, all of the unanticipated things we encounter every day.

From what I've read, driverless cars would likely do better at such issues as sensors have faster response time and are not prone to distractions (dozing off, texting, phone calls, etc.).

Whenever I've imagined autonomous cars, I've imagined that they ripped up the roads everywhere and put down something similar to electrified tracks that provide power to the vehicles, transmit and receive data about the trip, and control speed and direction. If this was the case then all a person would need to do is get in the car and program a destination. Other than something like that, I agree with Tiago that there are already a lot of alternatives. I can get on the bus now and take it wherever I need to go and I don't have to do any driving. Many cities that don't have metro systems at least have buses.

"I can get on the bus now and take it wherever I need to go and I don't have to do any driving." Says the guy who lives in the US capital :)

I grew up in NYC but towards the outer edge and sure we had buses but they took forever. Plus, if you needed to transfer, it was even worse.

Think about all the people who live in suburbs (more than half the US population). The greater the density, the better mass transit works (compare Manhattan to Suffolk County, they might be just 30 miles away but it's a completely different world when it comes to transportation).

Btw, today, driverless cars use LIDAR.

Carlton, Good luck with that in many areas, including SoCal. I once researched mass transit for my commute and it would have taken nearly 3 hours each way to get to work and back, including two route changes. No way was I going to commute 6 hours a day (nor spend $15-20 for the privilege).

Just a thought, but could driverless cars with added technologies and sensors also open up a slew of possible attacks or take overs? just like any other technology? Like that last 'Live Free or Die Hard' movie..

Yes, I think those already exist and are called drones ;)

Hi John! Indeed our perspectives are different. Here in The Netherlands due to the high population density and the lack of spare land, they had to come up with efficient ways to use the available space. That change also included a different police regarding mass transportation: less dependency on cars, more alternatives for transportation. During that time polices to encourage cycling were born.

By the way, there is an interesting video on YouTube that shows how the Dutch got their cycle paths. It is worth watching it!

It really depends on your lifestyle. They were discussing this concept a few days ago on the radio. The expert du jour claimed that the driverless vehicle would, at first, be a rental type service, like a taxi, but priced to make long distance travel reasonable - more than putting gas in your car, but less than a plane. If you were traveling by yourself, you would order us a single seater, which is the cheapest route, and off you go. Then he says "The biggest vehicles would seat up to 6 people, like a minivan, so the whole family can travel in comfort."

Sounds great, no? Not for me! You see, my 8th child is on the way. My wife's minivan is the small car for running errands!

All that being said, the ability to move about at will is one of the building block of a free society. Not to go off on a moonbat conspiracy theory rant, but one of the first things that disappear under oppressive regimes is unfettered transportation.

Wouldn't driverless cars provide more 'freedom'? Elderly people who are not healthy enough to drive? Poor people that can afford to own a car? etc.

There would need to be a centralized control system of some sort to monitor conditions to reroute traffic - floods, weather, a tree falls across the road, crazy guy in a chicken suit throwing pickled okra at every third blue car, etc. That centralized control can also be used to shut down all travel post haste. Sure, if things ever got to that extreme, roadblocks could be deployed and travel could be restricted, but at least we'd still have a fighting chance.

The whole point of the technology is that the cars can largely make these decisions by themselves. For example, A tree falls across the road - the car detects it and either goes around or uses a different road. No need to ask Big Brother.

If the weather is bad, the human can obviously choose not to go or to manually drive the call.

Honestly, I have no idea how or why there would be some 'centralized control' that can 'shut down all travel'.

Btw, has anyone suggested confiscated regular cars? You might as well rail against public buses because Big Brother can shut them down whenever they want!!!

Most of the driverless proposals I've seen allow for centralized rerouting. If a billboard falls across a major highway, it's much more efficient to detour traffic to another route as opposed to allow 5000 cars to try to figure it all out. That is one of the oft touted benefits of the driverless car network.

If you rely on public transportation, you are more likely to be in danger in an emergency. Hurricane Katrina, for example. If you had a car, you got out. If you didn't, you slept at the Super Dome. "Big Brother", as you called him, allowed perfectly good busses to get ruined by flood water while a human tragedy happened on cable news, so it looks like we already have a precident for that happening....

Hal, saying that 'most' 'allow' for 'centralized rerouting' is much different than saying any require centralized command.

Yes, there are downsides to public transportation but you cannot seriously argue that society would be better off without them. Unless you can make the case that cars are going to be outlawed, your concerns are quite unlikely to manifest.