I had some time to think at work today and realized it'd be more fun to think with people and I wondered where I could post such a discussion. I came to the conclusion that Cemetech was a decent place because we mostly stay glued to our projects and the updates of others. I envision these discussions to range anywhere from technology to education and, eventually politics to religion. Please note that I expect civility. No "You're wrong." posts or anything, we are here to discuss these topics in a manner conducive to an educational environment.

I'll admit to moderating this topic heavily. Any posts that are not conducive may be removed with no warning in order to keep the discussion on topic and flowing.

I'm going to start this first one off from a discussion my friends and I had not to long ago and is slowly entering our day to day lives: Autonomous Driving. And since this is the first one I'm going to double post to kick off the discussion, in the future I'll wait for a few posts before engaging in the discussion.

I'll set the tone each month with an introduction about the topic and posing a question or hypothetical. If you have any thing you'd like to discuss please PM me topics for future consideration. Perhaps even write out an introduction and a few potential discussion points.

    Autonomous Driving
    There will be 10 Million Self Driving cars on the roads by 2020, this is by no means fully autonomous driving but it's a start. Over the years cars have gotten safer and more automated. For instance: cars used to not have cruise control, then cruise control was introduced and widely adopted, now we have adaptive cruise control where the car will maintain a safe distance to the car in front up to your set cruise control speed. That means if cruise control is set to 70, and you come up on a car going 65 your car will automatically slow to 65 and if that lead car accelerates to 73, your car will only speed up to 70.

    We also have cars that can stay in their lane. That started by adding sensors to detect when the vehicle was departing it's lane without signaling. At first these systems just alerted the driver but now they can keep the car from drifting into another lane by adjusting the steering wheel. Coupled with adaptive cruise control you have a basic self driving car. But, fully autonomous vehicles is another beast. These cars need to be able to navigate the road without driver intervention. We have companies like Google and competitions from DARPA that are encouraging this technology to come along.

    • How far off do you think we are?
    • What systems do you think will be in place to facilitate an autonomous vehicle infrastructure?
      • A digital communication network or every car for themselves?
      • Better maintenance of roads, markings and, signs or will that be stuff of the past?
    • Is the USA prepared?
      • What about other nations?
    • Do you think this will improve traffic congestion?
      • No more accidents causing congestion.
      • Smoother flow during any applicable rush hour traffic.
    • Any other things you'd like to discuss about Autonomous Driving?
I think we'll have autonomous vehicles by 2040. I say this because not only are my local roads in deplorable condition but I think that we, as a driver, are reluctant to give up control. I think it's great that car manufactures are planning to accept liability for accidents caused by their vehicles. I think that's great but I don't think it's enough.

For one the cost needs to come down. There are plenty of older cars on the road because either the driver can't afford a newer car or their happy with their current car. In fact, I'm in a similar position. I may not have a car from the 80's but my 2008 VW is lacking some pretty new features. I went through a about a year of internal debating on whether I should sell the car and buy a current model year car or stick it out. I finally opted to stick it out with my 2008. Why?

The current cars being sold with self driving features are expensive and I feel like if I wait another 5-10 years those costs will come down significantly. Besides, my car is in great working condition and with a few recent hardware upgrades, like a SatNav, a back-up camera and, a few other amenities there's plenty to keep me interested in my car for the next decade.

Secondly, the government isn't doing a whole lot to help out. I can't find a source for this, but I believe the US Government set a deadline for 2020 to make self driving cars mandatory. But they didn't go much beyond that. If they want to eventually promote autonomous vehicles then they need to get on board before it's too late. I firmly believe that each auto manufacturer will use their own network, blocking out other car networks. This lack of communication between cars is going to stifle any rapid innovation.

Currently our autonomous cars have these weird sensors positioned up high. Cars are different heights and sizes and I can't imagine a future where every car has that hump. You'll have cars with these sensors on tall polls to see over taller vehicles, it just doesn't make sense. If every car had enough sensors to safely interpret data and communicate with each other about obstacles that may be down a side street or out of the sensors FoV because the sensor is blocked or damaged then the car could use that communicative data to make judgements.

Cars could even broadcast info such as "Left Blinker, please let me in." or "I need to take an exit in 3 miles. I'm in Lane 1 and need to be in Lane 4." Or even "Applying moderate brakes because of obstacle traveling to the left across the road." In that last scenario cars behind the lead car would know to slow down pass on the left rather than the right and the cars on the right of the lead car could slow down and stop before they even perceived that obstacle.

Sliding into my next point, this will ease traffic. As someone who lives in a conglomerate of cities that see horrendous stop and go traffic from 7a to 10a every morning and 3p to 7p every evening, I can pinpoint certain scenarios that contribute to this. Humans undoubtedly have a superiority complex when they drive. It may not be every driver and it's higher in some drivers than in others. For example, I put on my blinker for an intent to merge into that gap that's perfectly sized for my car but not enough room for me to reasonably merge into. But rather than make room for me, the car behind me and in my intended lane speeds up and enters my merge area.

You also have drivers who have no idea how to merge or enter a freeway. In moderate traffic they'll wait for the perfect opportunity to merge while traveling at a creep as traffic passes by at 30mph. So when they do merge that second lane of traffic needs to slow down to their speed. Then there's the accidents that happen and other things. With autonomous cars, all that will be communicated by the network of cars. They'll all leave room for others to merge from on-ramps while keeping the flow constant. The cars won't hesitate when merging. The cars won't feel the need to be one car ahead of another because that gets them to their destination faster. It'll all be orchestrated by the mesh network of cars on the road.

But what do we do about the drivers on the road who don't have autonomous cars in 2040?

I think the autonomous cars would be smart enough to work around that. The old car will be labeled as a "dummy" and given adequate room to maneuver on the road. I also think our government can help by subsidizing this technology. And hopefully after the 10 Million self driving cars on the road in 2020 show that they can be safer and prevent accidents the government may very well hop on board and release mandates and deadlines as well as subsidies and incentives for drivers and manufacturers to get on board as well.
I'll split this one into several parts.

So, I've driven what's arguably the current state of the art in consumer-available self-driving technology, a Tesla Model S. It uses cameras and radar to detect objects, as well as using the cameras to detect the speed limits, road lines, and cars ahead, with no equipment bulges like the Google test cars. It's actually shocking how well it handles freeways, although freeways are by far the easiest to automate - no intersections, relatively predictable environment, nothing to worry about as far as vulnerable road users (pedestrians, cyclists, and the like). However, even things like snow will trip up Autopilot, because the road lines go away in those conditions. (If there's a car to follow, it'll follow that car, but it can get tripped up by doing that, and end up following incorrect routing.)

Ultimately, automated vehicles will need some infrastructure for them - "guide wires" in the road to indicate more precise positioning, so as to be able to handle inclement weather.

As far as vulnerable road users, there's a few ways to handle this, with full automation (which means all roads, of course). The first is segregated infrastructure - costly, but provides benefits in the current road environment, too. However, there's no political will in the US to do this, so ultimately, vulnerable road users will need to be detected by the vehicle's systems, and reacted to appropriately. This means radar and computer vision systems.

Legacy motorized road users are a similar challenge, although due to their size, are easier for systems to detect. However, transponders could be added to their cars to assist in detection (and even communicate data about what their car is doing - speed, current lane (especially with guide wires available), and on some vehicles even some intention signalling from sniffing vehicle buses).

Along those lines, I think an open standard for inter-vehicle communication will need to happen - automated vehicles can happen without it, but with reduced benefits (aggressive vs. passive AIs can cause crashes, passive AIs can hurt traffic flow). I doubt the US has the political will to enforce it, but Europe will. The question is, will this go like the USB suite of standards on cell phones, where Europe's encoding Micro-USB into law ended up affecting the entire market?

Another worry I have about automated vehicles is their impact on mass transit. Economies of scale are far better for mass transit, but automated vehicles may remove the political will for mass transit, while increasing traffic and energy consumption over what mass transit allows.
I like how you used the word legacy to define older vehicles.

I do believe an open standard is a must if we want safe and practical cars. There's no sense in having every car do all the work individually when they could collectively process and distribute local data.

On another note, on the road today I saw a car in a fit of road rage against a motorcycle. I don't know what it was about but motorcycles are not something that's going to go away or become autonomous. I have friends who find tremendous joy in their bikes and I even have my motorcycle license as well. Arguably, the same can be said for driving too.

I have a car tuned with racing suspension and kits that makes it incredibly fun to drive. Am part of a club where we go on drives around scenic roads and, very rarely, track days.. These aren't going to go away. There's that niche group of people that get enjoyment from the road that no closed course track can satisfy. Autonomous driving is going to benefit the commuter and those who just need to go to the store.


I can even envision a society where we are not dependent on our own vehicle. Instead, a majority of users will call an electric autonomous vehicle via an app on their phone - heck, this is the future. Based on the events in their calendar, their home will automatically page a car - that is either provided by a company like Uber/Lyft or their local mass transit authority. These companies own a mass fleet of vehicles. Just need a small two seater to the store? Great! Need a four seater or a two seater with trunk space because you bought a bunch of stuff? Cool!

You'll of course have those who own cars too who use them for longer commutes or would rather have their own personalized and private vehicle.
So I was reading an article with one of the more promiinent thought experiments, just adapted to the modern age:

Popular Science wrote:
A front tire blows, and your autonomous SUV swerves. But rather than veering left, into the opposing lane of traffic, the robotic vehicle steers right. Brakes engage, the system tries to correct itself, but there’s too much momentum. Like a cornball stunt in a bad action movie, you are over the cliff, in free fall.
Your robot, the one you paid good money for, has chosen to kill you.

Then I was thinking about something else: Only a world without 100% acceptance of self-driving cars would make this situation arise. I feel as if autonomous driving and decision making in fatal moments would be an all-or-nothing situation.
That's also a very hypothetical situation. I'm going to speculate here as I've never experienced a tire blow out but I have driven with a flat. I couldn't even tell I had a flat, my car wasn't dipping to one side and the pull was very minor. If it wasn't for my TPMS and my car telling me "Flat Tire!" I probably would have eventually figured it out. Now, I have 15" rims and 18" tires. So the distance of my rim to the road was small. A truck like a U-Haul or an 18 wheeler is going to have bigger tires with an equal sized rim. If they get a flat it's noticeable. Even a blow out on the freeway can be devastating I suppose. But with low profile tires being more and more common - eg: 17" rim, 18" tire - it's not going to be a huge deal. The situation posed by PopSci sounds more like an over correction and the high center of gravity from the SUV than anything else.

But regardless of PopSci, the story of a car killing it's occupants is nothing new. In fact, I read an article last year about this very thing. (That isn't the article, need to find it). But it's good we're getting to these decisions now rather than later.
Then again, they could just have the cars drive slowly next to a cliff like that.
We were discussing the safety of different modes of transportation on the IRC channel when the subject of traffic jams came up. Traffic congestion is largely caused by human imperfection and improper distribution of traffic flow. A distributed network of autonomous vehicles would be able to take into account the traffic density on many different roadways to direct each car on a route with low impact on the entire system. One of the problems with human drivers is that it is very difficult (except with a navigational aid) to consider a large number of possible routing options.

There is a phenomenon called Braess's paradox that describes situations where removing certain roadways can actually improve traffic conditions. One possible explanation for this is that a decrease in the complexity of the road network forces drivers to consider and take alternate routes. Under normal conditions, a driver will take the route that appears most favorable, which can cause a large number of drivers to take a non-optimal route even though it appears better than the alternatives. For example, if a large freeway were constructed through the middle of a city with a grid street layout, a large number of drivers may favor taking the new freeway, which will increase the density of traffic on and near the freeway. This increased density will create traffic jams that may propagate throughout the city.

Although autonomous vehicles are an ideal solution to this problem, widespread adoption of autonomous driving will most likely not be possible for many years. Increased driver reliance on electronic navigational aids (GPS) may provide an intermediate avenue to improve traffic flow (or reduce how fast it is worsening) by intelligently routing drivers to distribute traffic density more evenly.
I came across an interesting article which suggests that autonomous vehicles may actually increase congestion. Since self-driving cars will be more convenient and less time consuming for someone who would otherwise be driving, they may lead to a dramatic increase in road travel. One way to avert this situation is making a move toward automated ride sharing, where multiple users would be picked up and dropped off efficiently by autonomous cars. Additionally, self-driving cars may drive urban sprawl as people choose to move into areas with inexpensive land and longer commute distances.
Interesting article and valid points.

I can get on board with the concept of hailing an autonomous car. We are slowly letting go of ownership of other things, such as our phones with those plans that let you trade in your phone every 12 months. I do see a shift with how we view our possessions. It started with digital music, movies and, games where we are sub-licensed the game until that license is revoked arbitrarily; I've had it happen to me (though, 4 or so years later and it was a bunch of the free PS+ games offered by Sony on PS3). However, those three genres of media are easily circumvented with either physical copies or, piracy.

Then the idea stretched to phones. Where before it was a contract, you paid this much for a phone and then you were stuck with your wireless provider for 2 years. Then came along these phones that had yearly release cycles that everyone wanted. People were gladly paying full price for a phone because they could upgrade their current phone due to that 2 year stipulation. So, the carriers caught on. Started doing the phone leasing, where after 6-12 months (depending on what lease you opt for) you are eligible for an upgrade so long as you turn the phone in.

While I don't think such a thing will be the same with cars I do see car ownership dwindling as autonomous vehicles become the norm. I'm a big fan of planning. I'm a big fan of autonomy. I think it'd be incredible if these two merged; I've brought this up before.

I have my work schedule in my calendar. I have the portraits, graduations, events, weddings, etc that I am scheduled to shoot in my calendar. My phone and computer send an alert on when I should leave so I can arrive on time. It wouldn't be a far stretch to link an autonomous ride sharing service to my calendar so there can be a car outside waiting for me.

On the other front, I really don't see autonomous cars used for *everything.* I believe that someone should always be available to take over should the computer suffer a malfunction or the driving conditions become to much for the car to handle. I'm not saying everyone needs to be licensed but any able bodied person should be able to take over and maneuver the vehicle to the side of the road or to the nearest safe harbor, such as a parking lot.

I really want autonomous cars to take off. I believe if every car on the road is autonomous we won't have gridlock, we'll have congestion sure, but not gridlock. The erratic behavior of human drivers is a large proponent of traffic. Just today, actually.

I'm in the right most lane, the #4 lane, as my exit was coming up on the freeway. There's a car about 20 feet in front of me and an 18-wheeler on my left, in the #3 lane, is slowly passing when a car swerves around him and comes up behind me. At this point my exit is ~0.5 miles away. The 18-wheeler finishes passing and the car behind me moves to the #3 lane passes me and merges in front of me, in the little bit of room that we between me and the car I was behind. We took the same exit. Bro couldn't stand being behind me going 60 even though the next 4 cars in front of me were going the same speed. He just had to get in front of me. When he completed his merge there was a quarter mile until our exit. I, naturally, had to apply my brakes as to give proper cushion between me and him should he slam on his brakes then I'd have adequate room to either maneuver or stop.

Humans are irrational. Computers are rational. I try to be as rational on the road as possible, being in the lane I need to be in before I need to. I don't mind going 65 when everyone else is doing 75-80. If I am not paying attention and I miss my exit, I won't dart over any number of lanes to reach my exit. I'll simply keep going until the next one. Adding 5-10 minutes to my commute is nothing when I weigh that with the possibility causing a crash/accident. Autonomous vehicles will know where they're going and when to be in a certain position/lane on the road. Even then, if a autonomous car is traveling faster than the rest, say an ambulance drone, the other vehicles will get out of the way and know where that ambulance is going. Such as taking an Exit from the #1 lane, so the cars in lanes 2-X will make room for that ambulance to quickly and safely dart over.

I'm really eager about autonomy.
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