Autonomy Now! Driverless Car Update

Mercedes-Benz has now experimented with a driverless car, sending it on a 100 km journey that included passing through towns, stopping at red lights, and negotiating traffic circles. Apparently this was all done with off-the-shelf technology, and they hope to offer it to consumers by 2020. But Tesla Motors thinks they can have one ready for market in 3 years, albeit only mostly autonomous, not fully. Nissan and Volvo also are developing autonomous cars.

Oddly, Google, whick kickstarted this process, has been unable to find an auto manufacturer willing to partner with it. The public reason given is the possibility of being liable if an autonomous car crashes into something. That makes little sense, though, given that 1) liability would have been divided between Google and the manufacturer, possibly falling more on Google as the developer of the autonomy technology that, presumably, failed; and 2) manufacturers are now moving into the game in their own, clearly willing to carry the full risk of liability.

It seems more likely to me that the technology to do this is so readily available that development costs are going to be relatively low. Low enough, that is, that manufacturers expect to make more money by carrying those costs themselves while collecting all the profit than they expect to make by avoiding that cost but splitting the profits. Thst really sucks for Google. But the increasing number of manufacturers joining the game is great for consumers.

Random Notes:
1. I can envision a future scenario where someone who has caused an accident will try to weasel out of liability by claiming they had the car on auto-pilot. My guess, though, is that these cars are being developed with devices for recording the car’s activity (initially just to aid R&D), so the weasels will fail.

2. The recording technology does create some privacy concerns, or would if the U.S. was the kind of country that liked to spy on its own citizens.

3. Driving enthusiast Patrick George at Jalopnik asks if people will really buy autonomous cars and concludes, with a mixture of approval (safety) and gloominess (he’s a driving enthusiast) that they probably will. Heck yes, it’s the only thing that could begin to tempt me to buy a new car.


About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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24 Responses to Autonomy Now! Driverless Car Update

  1. DensityDuck says:

    “I can envision a future scenario where someone who has caused an accident will try to weasel out of liability by claiming they had the car on auto-pilot.”

    Already happened: See “Sudden-Acceleration Incidents”.

    “The recording technology does create some privacy concerns…”

    Actually, people don’t seem to care too much about privacy so long as they get a cute little icon on their map to show when they’ve checked in with FourSquare, or so long as they get ten bucks for tracking their every move with FitBit, or so long as they get a special coupon for letting the local grocery store keep a permanent record of everything they’ve ever bought.

    “Driving enthusiast Patrick George at Jalopnik…”

    I’m sorry, it’s not the business of other drivers to subsidise Patrick George’s hobby. If he thinks that driving his own car is so great then he can buy a junker Miata and go autocross on the weekends.

  2. J@m3z Aitch says:

    To be fair to George, he never even hints at a claim that others should subsidize his hobby.

  3. Troublesome Frog says:

    Accident reconstruction would potentiallly be trivial with an autonomous car in the mix. A bunch of acceleromters, a LIDAR package and all of the throttle / steering / brake data should make it possible to create an “instant replay” with very high fidelity. I mean, look at what the Google car “sees” when it drives. A 10 second recording window saved off when the airbags deploy should be all you need.

    My guess is that even in the early stages, most accidents between autonomous and human driven cars will turn out to be human error. We’re not nearly as good at driving as we think we are. I’m not certain, but I think most accidents are of the “not paying attention” or “following too close to react” type and not the “ridiculously complex spatial perception problem” type.


  4. Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Funny, I was just at Daimler…

    To be honest, for an urban dweller like me, an autonomous car would be great! I merge into highway traffic, turn the autopilot on, and let the car deal with the aggravating commute traffic while I get some work done, or watch a show, or read a bit.

    Ideally, as long as I can take over when I need or want to, I’d love it.

    Hell, I expect, if autopilot becomes normal, I expect insurers will require it for some drivers. I can envision a day when certain drivers will have their cars fitted with a device that tells the driver that their insurer will jack up their premiums every time they try to take the wheel (WARNING! You’ve been in control for 10 minutes! Your premium has gone up $25 this month!)

  5. AMW says:

    “The recording technology does create some privacy concerns…”

    As long as there are non-autonomous cars on the market this doesn’t seem like that big of a problem: just own one of each.

    For the record, I am all for autonomous vehicles, and in my own driving habits I would consider the loss of privacy well worth the benefits.

  6. lancifer666 says:

    I would never buy an autonomous car. I was very much threatened by the idea, but now I have decided that it would be great if all the people that would prefer to do something else while driving (talk on the phone, play video games, browse the internet, sleep, work etc.) would be cargo in these things it would make the road a safer and more pleasant place for those of us that do like to drive our vehicles.

    Oh, and Density Duck, as the driver of a “junk Miata” that has never been the cause of an accident that damaged anyone or their property I have the right to use the public roads. The idea of the roads being exclusively for autonomous cars with Orwellian tracking and monitoring systems is a nightmare I will never support.

  7. Troublesome Frog says:

    I could definiltey see major thoroughfares having one or more “autonomous only” lanes as the cars become more prevalent. Right lane for 65 MPH humans and let lanes for 110 MPH computers.

    I could also see an opt-in traffic management system for busy downtown hubs where everybody clicks on to a central control node in case of a major traffic jam or accident. This is one of those areas where a central computer with information about everybody’s destination could do a much better job of detangling a traffic mess than every man for himself trying to work it out. Hook it into traffic light control and I can imagine huge throughput gains in some circumstances.

  8. J@m3z Aitch says:


    I think the connectedness is step 2. Once you have some critical mass of autonomous cars that will be both inevitable and easy. What I find particularly great about how this technology is developing is that critical mass is wholly unnecessary to start getting real benefit from them, but will still kick in with more benefit down the road (so to speak).

  9. lancifer666 says:

    I think it should be mentioned that autonomy is not a on or off thing. It is already being gradually introduced into cars. I would be fine with having a system that “stepped in” if it detected a hazard that a human was too slow or too unaware to avoid. Anti-lock brakes and dynamic stability control are systems that are doing just that in cars made today.

    I would love to get into that 120 mph lane and dice it up with the autonomous drones having a robotic back up to stop me from making a dangerous mistake. You folks anxious to be cargo in your cars are ignoring the fact that driving takes more than reflexes and binary decision making. An intelligent driver with the technology to supplement his/her physical limitations is, at least for the foreseeable future, going to be superior to a pre-programmed drone every time.

    At least until AI (artificial intelligence) eclipses the human brain.

    At that point we’re all screwed anyway. Driving our cars will be the least of our problems when the machines become more intelligent than us and self aware.

  10. J@m3z Aitch says:

    You folks anxious to be cargo in your cars

    Yep, that’s me. Because unlike some folks, my time is valuable! ;)

  11. lancifer666 says:

    I totally get the idea that driving, to some, is drudgery.

    I value time behind the wheel of my sporting machines. (Miata, MR2, BMW 325i). I even enjoy running up to the store to get a few items for dinner or driving my pick up truck to the hardware store. I guess I’m just a dyed-in-the-wool car guy.

    One thing I thought about, while driving today behind an old lady doing the ridiculously low 30 mph speed limit, is that these autonomous crs are n doubt going to be programmed not to exceed the speed limit.

    I hope you enjoy creeping along at these idiotically slow speeds. The utopia you dream of, where the speed limits are all raised to allow for the cat-like reflexes and infallible decision making of these robotic wundercars may some day be realized, but for the years long transition period (if it ever comes) you will be drowsing along at these slow speeds, clogging the road in front of us active drivers that know enough to ignore most of these “revenue generators”.

  12. J@m3z Aitch says:

    Well, until it gets faster it won’t be any slower than it is now. Maybe in congested areas a bit faster, since congestion slows speeds mostly as a consequence of people not being able to drive smoothly in traffic. And if I’m enjoying watching Young Frankenstein on my in-car video monitor, I probably won’t mind if it takes me an extra 15 minutes to get to my destination.

    Of course I won’t mind if you have your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel, either. But, sigh, I suppose it’s inevitable that others will. Live and let live seems to be a hard concept for some people.

  13. Troublesome Frog says:

    I think that the median driver massively overestimates his driving skills. It will take a long while before autonomous cars are smarter than good drivers in complex situations, but I don’t expect it to take very long before autonomous cars aren’t as stupid as the median driver in complex situations. Crossing that threshold should be a big net win. I mean, 80% of drivers now can’t seem to get their heads around the 4-way stop rules.

    Once we have a critical mass of self-driving cars, I expect speed limits to loosen-at least in areas with “robot only” zones. Even if we don’t see those increases in residential and school zones, the increases in major arteries and highways should more than average it out. Going 25 in a school zone and then 95 on the highway should make it work out for most commutes. And going slow is a lot less frustrating when you’re reading a book or posting on The Bawdy House Provisions.

  14. lancifer666 says:

    Troublesome Frog,

    I agree with your assessment of the driving ability of the median driver. That is why I am looking forward to getting these numbskulls into autonomous cars. I actually envision a high speed lane for drivers that pass a rigorous skills test and have an accident free record. If they let autonomous cars into that lane I would have conditions.

    1.) Autonomous cars must yield to driven cars.
    2.) Autonomous cars must not drive side by side in “rolling road blocks”.
    3.) All female passengers in autonomous cars must be naked.

    OK, that last one might cause distractions to the actively driven cars, so strike that one.

  15. Troublesome Frog says:

    Once we have the autonomous car, we can crank up the rigor of the driving test for everybody. Too dumb to understand 4 way stops? You’re cargo from now on. No more social promotion.

    I’d also have the garbage trucks that drive around and only yield to you if you’re following the rules. Cut off the autonomous garbage truck? Failed to yield to the truck when you were supposed to? Sucks for you. It ain’t slowing down. Your wreckage will be cleaned up by the autonomous street sweepers. Problems would begin to solve themselves.

  16. Dr X says:

    But this will ruin speed camera, red light and stop sign camera revenue. Around here, the city has been investing heavily in that technology. I don’t know, but I think they’d like us to continue violating the laws.

  17. Dr X says:

    A few weeks ago, a bus from Hammond passed me while I was waiting to make a right turn in heavy Chicago traffic. He shaved off my driver’s side mirror. The bus was from the now imprisoned Jack Schaap’s church. I don’t think an autonomous vehicle would have made that miscalculation. I just mentioned the Jack Schaap part of the story because it made the experience interesting in addition to being inconvenient.

  18. Matty says:

    Rolling road blocks that keep rolling are kind of cool. There was a professional cycle race near me recently and I was impressed by the speed everything happened. The road was open to traffic, then a stream of police motorbikes came through clearing everyone into side streets, the race passed and the road was reopened again within about two minutes.

  19. lancifer666 says:

    Did you get the bus to stop?

    If they aren’t paying for it I know where you can get mirrors cheap.

  20. lancifer666 says:


    Wow! Around here the tiniest fender bender clogs the roads for hours. I think the cops like having the power to affect thousands of people’s lives, even if it is in a bad way.

  21. Dr X says:


    Yeah, I got the driver to stop. He didn’t believe me that CPD won’t come for non-injury accidents with drivable vehicles and resisted sharing insurance driver’s license. We ended calling 911 and they insisted he exchange info. Then there was a complicated process of filing a police report… blah, blah, blah, in the end I found a mirror online for about $32, a fifth of retail price. Had it in 3 days, plug and play and a little hand compounding of the surrounding paint, it’s as good as new. I did have the thought that the mirror was probably made by a six year old girl in Bangladesh, but it works.

  22. lancifer666 says:

    He he, I think the mirrors are made by 8 year olds. The 6 year olds are sold into prostitution.

    Was the company

  23. Dr X says:

    Lance, it was Autohalo via Amazon.

  24. Matty says:

    In fairness the roads can clog pretty badly here too and I know they had full closures for several hours around the finish. I think this event had the advantage that.

    1. It had been planned for over a year
    2. It was relatively high profile with TV coverage so the police were keen to look good
    3. The actual ‘blockage’ of the cyclists was moving at around 30mph (at a guess).

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