Self-Driving Cars, Part One

First of all, I have no idea whether or not there will be a Part Two (or any other parts), but I think about this stuff at night when I can’t sleep, so you never know.

I like lists, so let’s do this as a list.  Here goes:

  1. There are quite a few autonomous vehicle projects out there.  Some of the “self-driving car” teams have high profiles, others are less known.  The key point here is that a lot of smart people are working on the problem.  Those smart people are making progress.  Sometimes they have setbacks; sometimes they hit roadblocks (sorry, I couldn’t resist that one) but progress marches (or rolls) along.
  2. While we might see a REVOLUTIONARY BREAKTHROUGH that leads to a quantum change, I think we’re more likely to slide into autonomous personal vehicles. By that I mean it’ll be a gradual process.  It’s already happening.  Nearly all new cars have antilock brakes, for example.  It appears that all the major manufacturers are nearing release of vehicles that have automatic collision avoidance capabilities.  GPS is already ubiquitous.  GPS also an important component for (at least) one form of automatic navigation capability.  Cruise control has been around for ages.  So the pieces are lining up.
  3. Human reflexes are dead-dog slow compared to modern digital electronics.  Electronics don’t fall asleep.  They don’t drive when they’re pissed off, stoned, or drunk.  Electronics are, however, subject to some interesting potential problems… I think I’ll write more about that in another installment.  
  4. Apart from the weaknesses associated w/ the electronics, getting humans away from the controls will probably be a big win as far as safety is concerned.  
  5. It’ll probably even improve the carrying capacity of our roads.  Why?  Because autonomous vehicles will “know” the state of every vehicle within a “Radius of Potential Interaction” and be able to plan its movements accordingly.  Further, autonomous vehicles will be able to process information about all routes leading to the destination in real time.  So load balancing becomes feasible.
  6. Once autonomous vehicles are approved for retail sale, they’ll diffuse into the National Fleet.  I don’t know what the replacement rate for personal vehicles is (and my attempts to find that online didn’t succeed) but I suspect it’ll take decades before (say) 80% of the US fleet is autonomous. 

So, we’ll “sneak up” on having a fleet of autonomous vehicles in the US.  That’ll be both on the supply and the uptake sides.  In the end, I think it’ll be a good thing… probably the Second Best Thing Possible for ground transportation, but it’ll take quite a while.  

Anyway, the Best Possible Thing probably ain’t going to happen.

© Michael C. Glaviano 2009 - 2016