Does the Author have a dog in the fight? Driverless Vehicles VS Congestion, Parking, and Left Turns


Does the Author have a dog in the fight? Driverless Vehicles VS Congestion, Parking, and Left Turns

This week the Wall Street Journal published a special eight page report on the “Future of Cities.” The lead article was about driverless cars the wonders they will bring to cities. The graphic showed central operating systems for all vehicles (including private cars), Cameras, Parking garages turned into commercial space, stop lights that talk to driverless cars, narrower streets and space for people, buses talking to taxis, self driving shuttles, and special pickup zones at office towers.

Wow! What wonders these critters bring?

I think most people will look at the graphic and that will be it. I read the article. Buried 12 paragraphs after the jump was the comment that these AVs could lead to greater congestion downtown. But, I thought they were supposed to lower congestion. There was also the part of the piece that noted that AVs wouldn’t park downtown but would park outside the city.

Hold the phone. If the AV takes me downtown and then returns outside the city to wait for its next instruction, doesn’t that increase traffic. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to park it downtown (where the people are) and let it wait there. Wouldn’t that save tons of gasoline, electricity, and pollution. Plus can you say four rush hours instead of two?

Also it was noted much later in the article that a mother with three children going to three different events after school would probably place them in three different AVs plus have a fourth for her errands thus using four vehicles where today she would have used one.

I then got to the author bio and found he lived in San Francisco and realized that most of the input was from Silicon Valley. Naturally his bias was promoting AVs and not leading with the problems they may cause.

The goal of the media, the government (cities) and of course companies that make and support AVs is to show all the wonders of the new technology and downplay the problems. Shouldn’t we be doing the opposite. That is discussing the problems and solving them before going headlong into the project.

Oh yes, also buried in the article was this tidbit: Did you know that developers of AVs have a severe problem when they attempt a left turn against traffic. Seems that’s difficult for sensors and computers. You know, that turn you make a dozen times a day. Oh well…


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John Van Horn

3 Responses

  1. All this talk about revamping our cities, redesigning the pedestrian paths and roadways, etc. all sounds nice, but at some point someone is going to realize that 1) We can’t properly maintain our existing roads to standards that are currently far below what will be required for all these automated/driver-free systems. And who is responsible? Roads are maintained by the Fed, State and Local Governments, sometimes each of the 3 having an obligation for different stretches of the same road.; 2) A very, very large % of the roads in the US are not even paved (FHWA says over 1/3). That’s a BIG number that impacts a lot of travel miles.; 3) All of this constant communication between vehicles is going to require an extremely reliable signal, if a connection is dropped for even a few seconds the results could be catastrophic. Anybody out there have a service off any kind that “never” drops you?; 4) This has been brought up before, but that car that just picked up the kids from soccer practice is going to have a certain smell and other “leave behinds”, so who cleans all that up before it picks up its next passenger?; 5) expanding on the “rush hour” example, you’re basically doubling the traffic in neighborhoods as well. Car comes in to pick you up and take you where you want to go (2 trips), then brings you back and leaves (2 more trips). Just like rush hour the number of trips in my neighborhood just doubled. This list could go on and on and on.

    I’m with you, they need to address issues as they are brought up. Moving forward with the technology is fine, but they also need to put some focus on the realities of implementation.

  2. I agree with all of the above, here is my take.
    My top 10 Reasons – No Autonomous Vehicles in My lifetime For Me

    I don’t think AVs are going to be a big deal soon for a variety of reasons. In no particular order;
    1. They are not “pushed” by the auto makers.
    It wasn’t Audi, Ford, or GM that pushed hardest for the independent ­vehicle. It was Apple, Google, and Intel, companies for which the automobile is not primarily an aesthetic object and driving is not an instrument of pleasure. The users they have in mind, needless to say, are not the readers of Car and Driver. They are the kids lying passively on the couch with their smartphones. “Nearly all boomer high-school students had their driver’s license by the spring of their senior year; more than one in four teens today still lack one at the end of high school,” 1 AVs are targeted towards the millennials – those that don’t drive or want to. I have a nephew approaching 30 that does not have a DL or a car. Everyone my age had a DL at 16. It was a right of passage, get a DL and a car.

    2. I need to feel like I am in control when in a car. I try to sleep when my wife drives to prevent from jumping out of the car, because I’m not in control. This is also a reason I don’t enjoy roller coasters – no steering wheel or brake pedal.

    3. I have Sirius radio. It goes out when I go under a bridge or just in certain spots on the freeway. How is the car going to operate in a parking deck?

    4. Remember just a few years (software upgrades) ago when your PC would lock up just because it could? I don’t trust the car to do the same thing at 70 (or even 80mph LEGALLY in parts of Texas). (sub note– there are lot of car/wild pig strikes, especially at night in those areas. I’ll grant it that the car MIGHT be better able to avoid them than people, but at the same time we have already had deaths occur when people step out from between cars so…)

    5. In 2015 the two cybersecurity researchers, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, remotely compromised a Jeep Cherokee. They were able to disable the car’s transmission and brakes, and, while the vehicle was in reverse, take over the steering wheel. These were all possible by abusing existing functionality in the car like the self-parallel parking feature, and commanding the vehicle to do things within the vehicle’s limitations. For example, the steering wheel could only be controlled while the car was going in reverse below a certain speed. That’s because the car’s central computer had checks to ensure that the car would only steer itself when it was in the auto-park mode. Chrysler later issued a patch to fix the vulnerability.2 Do you want some idiot to do that to you in rush hour traffic or the 80mph highway in Texas?

    6. We all have seen parking situations where people park over the line. How will the car know the space is wide enough to fit in and ALLOW ME TO OPEN THE DOOR to get in/out especially if I need & have a wheel chair (I’m not Keebler Elf or a svelte Lilliana Rambo size).

    7. How will the car work with sudden changes in the road way? Pot hole repair etc.

    8. How will the vehicle react to situations where an accident has closed a lane and Traffic control directs you to the other (wrong way) lane? It happened to me a month ago. Also when I was a police officer I directed traffic with my partner the same way. (Think highway construction with flagmen closing lanes)

    9. What is the vehicle going to do at the gas pump? How does it know that is not the diesel only pump, or that the pump is off and you need to pull over & wait or drive around to the other side? How does the vehicle know where the bank drive thru ATM controls are and will it get close enough to allow me to get or deposit cash? Since GPS is for a point on the ground, what happens when you need to be taken up to an empty space on the 5th floor?

    10. Will my cars software be updateable? I taught my kids DOS 20+ years ago. With Windows today, is my car obsolete and undrivable for my grandkids? Model A’s are still useable. Will my 2018 AV work in 2020 or be an expensive sculpture in my garage?

    One morning this past spring, Baruch Fisch­hoff, a professor in the department of ­engineering and public policy at Carnegie ­Mellon University, was walking to campus on a quiet tree-lined Pittsburgh street when a prototype computer-driven Uber, a gray Volvo XC90, motored slowly past.

    Pittsburghers have grown accustomed to seeing the vehicles prowling the streets of the company’s de facto outdoor test bed. But as Fischhoff approached the corner, he noticed a road crew and a cement mixer in the middle of the intersection. “I thought, ‘Gee, I wonder if the computer can figure out if this is something in the road that’s not moving.’”

    He waited for the car, which was idling to his left, to make a right turn—the only plausible move. But it did nothing. “It was there first, it had the right-of-way, and I was waiting for it to turn,” he said. Still, the car did nothing. “The longer I waited, the less willing I was to trust that the computer would make the right decision.” Finally, the human stationed inside the car tapped on the window and silently motioned him across.

    Fischhoff, who studied math and psychology—and who trained with both Daniel Kahneman and the late Amos Tversky, giants in the field of the psychology of decision making—is one of the world’s leading scholars on the psychology of risk. There is a cosmic irony in the idea of Fischhoff standing on a corner, trying to calculate what this machine was going to do, what he should do, and how he felt about the whole thing.

    In terms of saving lives, driverless vehicles, on paper anyway, make sense: Simply remove the possibility of (inattention), fatigue or alcohol impairment in a driver, and you have just knocked 45.5 percent off the fatality rate in the U.S.—and that is merely the lowest-hanging fruit in a forest of human-factor hazards.

    We don’t tend to think on paper. We think in our heads, which Fischhoff has spent his working life trying to get into. In a 1978 paper titled “How Safe Is Safe Enough?” he and his coauthors noted that in modern industrial societies, “the benefits from technology must be paid for not only with money, but with lives.” From nuclear energy to aerosol cans—and, of course, cars—“every technological advance carries some risks of adverse side effects.” The question was: How much were people willing to pay in convenience, efficiency, and money to lessen that risk? The answer does not simply depend on the amount of benefit, but how we feel about the risk itself—and not all risks are felt with the same force.
    When it comes to computer-driven cars, reducing traffic fatalities will be far easier than earning drivers’ trust.3

    Making a computer that drives more reliably than a human should be easy. Making a machine that can safely negotiate the chaos of our roads and still move at reasonable speeds—that’s the hard part. But it will be essential if robocars are ever to co-exist with human drivers.

    “[Humans] make quick judgments based on not a full analysis, and it gets us by most of the time,” explains David Strayer, a professor of cognition and neural science at the University of Utah. “When we make decisions, we basically use a lot of shortcuts to get us to a good answer most of the time.” In contrast, artificial-intelligence computer systems offer “kind of a brute-force analysis that pulls together a lot of different pieces of information.”

    We are all, in a sense, standing on the corner, caught between the whirlwind of breathless news about the driverless future and our own uncertain sense of what that looks like and, more important, what our comfort level with that future is. Several of the issues or questions I have may seem petty, but if it is a driver less vehicle and I don’t have a DL & am physically handicapped and or blind, what to do?

    I agree that many/all of these issues will be solved eventually, but this goes back to my title. Probably not in my lifetime. I agree and understand that autonomous vehicles would be a revolution for those who are legally blind, handicapped or elderly. While we can and should be aware and anticipate the unintended effects of this revolution, we can also recognize the dire need for it in certain circles. It’s not all bad as it is not all good.

    1. Car & Driver Magazine What Happens When We Give up Control of Our Cars?
    Malcolm Gladwell OCTOBER 2017

    2. Car & Driver Magazine
    Autonomous Cars: How Safe Is Safe Enough? OCTOBER 2017 BY TOM VANDERBILT

    3. The Verge By Jordan Golson Aug 2, 2016

  3. There is one “social” component involved in all of the AV travel discussions that seems to be getting overlooked, and I’m actually quite surprised it hasn’t been front and center in the debate. If and when we ever see this technological revolution actually occur it will require us to willingly allow “big brother” to track our every move. That reality already exists for the most part (cell phones, credit card transactions, internet, GPS, etc.), but these all involve the technology having to do the work and track our activity. To some extent we still have the ability to block that (use cash, turn off the GPS feature, etc.), so at least in our minds we still have a certain level of privacy. With the advent of the AV we will no longer have that option, we will be required to formally/voluntarily submit our personal “flight plan” every time we go somewhere.

    I’m not into the paranoia and conspiracy theory mindset, but there are thousands of websites and organizations that focus almost entirely on that very subject. Once they get geared up it will make for some fun discussions.

    Also, as a follow up to the comments on the reliability of the communication networks, there was a minor issue with Comcast this past week that impacted a few folks;

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