I, For One, Welcome Our Self-Driving Overlords

08/07/2012 @ 5:25 pm, by Jensen Beeler26 COMMENTS

The day may have come sooner than we expected, but the day of commuters being scooted around by self-driving cars is rapidly approaching us. Clocking 300,000 self-driven accident-free miles, Google’s fleet of autonomous vehicles are set to reach another milestone, as the technology company is about to give the go-ahead for employees to use the cars for commuting.

Traditionally driven with one person behind the wheel, and another in the passenger seat (presumably watching a screen of diagnostics), Google says that the results from its tests and track record have shown the two-rider system to be unnecessary, and will thus allow solitary trips in the self-driving vehicles. The idea of course behind the system is that a person becomes a passive driver, able to “be more productive” while in the vehicle, i.e. watching YouTube kitten videos.

While the dozen or so self-driving Google cars are unlikely to make a huge impact (no pun intended) on our local commutes here in the San Francisco Bay Area, it is a signaling of the changing times in our transportation system. For motorcyclists, this news should come as a mixed bag.

With our highway systems already a minefield full of distracted drivers, who are already busy sexting while in the car (or worse), the idea that the vehicle itself is at least paying better attention to the road than its driver should be seen as a positive move for our society.

However, with motorcycles being highly dynamic entities on the motorway, e.g. the rapid changes that motorcycles make to their lane-position, vehicle speed, and proximity to other vehicles, a commuting alongside motorcycles could pose a problem for automated systems — especially systems that interconnect vehicles to each other.

With Google’s self-driving cars already noted for having difficulties with temporary road signs, and snow covered roads, there has to be at least a question mark as to how its automated fleet handles motorcycles. Californians, just think about lane-sharing for a minute. Yeah…ok.

If there are any Googlers in the A&R audience drop me a line. I think we all would be curious to hear how these cars handle driving alongside our preferred two-wheeled form of transportation.

Source: Google

  • Justin

    As long as they drive predictably and use their turn signals when changing lanes, they’ll be head and shoulders over many drivers out there. Hopefully they’re smart enough not to plow into the back of motorcyclist waiting at a stop light. Certainly in 300,000 miles they must’ve encountered that problem already.

  • Mike Deiznutse

    I second that. I just lost a good friend to a drunk driver last week. The driver hit him from behind at 100mph. Probably said “oh I never even saw him”. Anyone can drive better than some of these people.

  • Westward

    What about bicyclist ?

  • Spektre76

    Yeah moar texting while driving, lol.

    This is the proverbial nail in the coffin for taking responsibility for your actions. “Oh officer it wasn’t me who hit the rider, it was my cars fault”.

  • Richard Gozinya

    It’s probably for the best, most people are shitty drivers anyways. And if the capability to properly program them is there, then they’ll be a lot safer for us to share our roads with.

  • anti

    Agree with above, poor driving standards on the road, this has to be better in principle.

    Additionally, I have always wished that it would be mandatory for drivers to have to retake their driving test every 10 years for competency reasons. Yet many middle aged people who I discuss this with are horrified stating “I’d never be able to pass it again”.

    Texting on a phone, 1 year instant license suspension. Needs to be done from what I witness every time I ride or drive. I mean they are not even looking at the road WTF! Morons!

  • Lefty

    I think NASA’s latest success says a great deal about the coming era of autonomous/semi-autonomous machines. I’ll join the chorus of “all for it” as I’ve been rear-ended 3 times in the last 5 years. Once at freeway speed and twice in stop and go traffic. Luckily I was in my truck during each instance.
    The high speed offender and one of the others openly admitted to using their phones during the incidents … The third, a 17 y/o claimed otherwise; probably for fear of losing the car/phone privileges.

  • anti

    Ironically as cars become safer, the safety statistics stack up against motorcycles and thus bringing more scrutiny on us.

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  • Alex

    “However, with motorcycles being highly dynamic entities on the motorway, e.g. the rapid changes that motorcycles make to their lane-position, vehicle speed, and proximity to other vehicles, a commuting alongside motorcycles could pose a problem for automated systems…”

    So, the argument is that motorcycles might be difficult for a fully automated vehicle to account for because they cut cars off, break the speed limit, follow too closely and split lanes? (The only legal element being lane splitting).

  • smiler

    1. Should not be implemented on any Volvo. 2. Any biker falling foul of a google car should still be able to shout at the passenger. 3. Fortunately it will never be implemented ion motorcycles. The reason for driving is as much to get from A to B as to enjoy getting there. Another tehnological leap that increases safety but reduces humans to spectators in their own lives.

  • Campbell

    “Another tehnological leap that increases safety but reduces humans to spectators in their own lives.”

    Damn straight. At some point, someone is going to have to fix the problem with this “life” thing – it always leads to death.

  • Ryan

    I don’t know where you live, but driving for many Americans is a mundane necessity. Do you complain that the dishwasher “reduces humans to spectators in their own lives”? Reducing the risk for accidents by automating the cars of people who hate driving and aren’t good at it can ONLY be a good thing. @Alex, I think you’ve wandered to the wrong blog.

  • Doug

    unreal to all of you that want to solve the problem of distracted driving with something like Google Cars.

    It’s dreadfully ironic a phone operating system company is spending time & money on this when they could be leading the charge to make distracted driving go away. Law Enforcement is not the most effective way to defeat distracted driving. Inoperable phones when behind the wheel is the only effective means to stop senseless injury & death.

    I can’t wait to get rid of my Droid.

  • tat2gaz

    surely these google cars are programmed to detect and react when, say a pedestrian crosses the road? if this is the case, i don’t see why it wouldn’t be able to detect a motorcyclist or a bicyclist as westward was asking.

  • Bob Krzeszkiewicz

    Doug, I go rid of my smart phone, a Droid, well over 2 years ago. A novelty that didn’t improve my life.

    I am in full agreement, it is easier for the government to mandate that all new phones and automobiles must be able to talk to each other so that the phone is inoperable, except for 911 calls, while within a specific proximity of the driver seat.

    Cars and phones starting from 2014 should all have this and any attempt to defeat it would render the vehicle inoperable.

    Seems easy enough to me.

  • Bob Krzeszkiewicz

    Also, a contraption that resides on the roof of the google car creates a ton of drag, reducing fuel efficiency. CARB would never allow it as it means more pollutants.

  • adam s

    saw this system in action on a British science show. when you see how many parameters this system measures, and how many times a second it processes those parameters… it is truly astonishing. and to think it is forever vigilant. Its vision is never obstructed by the rim of a coffee mug, its brain power never irritated by factors like work or other bad drivers, it never tires, and its lasers see farther than the human eye at night.

    I feel the system as i saw it is a better driver than I for a good portion of the time i spend behind the wheel… and I’m a hell of a lot better than most.

  • “3. Fortunately it will never be implemented ion motorcycles.”

    Unfortunately, I suspect that our freedom to ride could very well disappear with the advent of automated vehicles. A likely progression would be adoption of automation as an option, followed by mandatory implementation. Vehicles unable to be piloted by automated systems would simply not be allowed on public roads anymore.

    Think it won’t happen? Driving/riding are privileges, not rights. If there’s more money to be made in outlawing something than preserving it, you can kiss it goodbye. So, you’d better pony up and start paying attention to your liberties. Any time the guv wants to reduce a few rights here there in the name of , worry about it or, better, DO something about it.

    1984 became a reality a while ago.

  • Bah – my faux markup got deleted, so let’s patch it up a bit:

    “Any time the guv wants to reduce a few rights here there in the name of — insert seemingly good idea here — worry about it or, better, DO something about it.”

  • Alex

    @ Ryan: Definitely on the right blog.

    However, I wouldn’t choose the basis for my caution of safety against something to be its possible conflict with my illegal activity. That won’t win any friends.

  • Bob Krzeszkiewicz

    Self driving cars will surely make it easier to aim and reload.

  • Doug

    Adam S – take mass transit

  • Bob

    Self driving cars — toys for rich nerds at google. It’s a matter of time before a software bug rears it’s head and someone dies. Then, so much for Google’s “do no harm” mantra.

  • Singletrack

    I’m torn on this one. While I believe that autonomous cars will be safer for motorcyclists (and probably everyone), compared to unpredictable humans, I deep down feel that it’s not acceptable to give up my right to privacy and self control.

    Why can’t governments in N.A. just agree that proper driver training is required? Extensive training is required for any endeavor in life – except the two most dangerous – driving and raising children.

    The conspiracy theorist in me agrees with Trane Francks – its a slippery slope from optional to mandatory.
    But I guess Big Brother is already happening – my location can be tracked pretty closely already, based on cell phone signals and purchasing habits (and gmail usage).

    And usage (GPS) based vehicle insurance will be the leading indicator of how fast the change will come. Do you want your insurance company to know where, when and how fast you travel in your private vehicle? It seems many people don’t care, as long as they can pay less.

    I would prefer if better transportation options were available to those unwilling to pay attention.

    What if an equivalent amount of money was put into rail and electric bus networks that touched every residential area? If 25% more people could commute with public transit, the road network wouldn’t be overstressed. But we’d have to redesign our suburbs and then Google wouldn’t be a part of every day life. dumb idea :(

  • “Do you want your insurance company to know where, when and how fast you travel in your private vehicle? It seems many people don’t care, as long as they can pay less.”

    This is an important couple of sentences. There will be a push for insurance companies and law enforcement to have real-time access to GPS data to catch/charge violators and adjust their premiums accordingly. Fully automated vehicles, of course, will be governed such that they will not operate above the posted speed limit. All done in the name of safety to protect the fear-driven masses, costing Joe Average dearly in terms of $$$ and freedom. And making the 1% hideously rich.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with being hideously rich. Just sayin’. :)