October 24, 2011
Advantages Of Self-Driving Cars

A Technology Review article looks at the advantages of self-driving cars.

Several automakers are developing technology to let cars drive themselves, mainly as a way to make driving more convenient and improve safety. But it could also significantly reduce gasoline consumption, says Nady Boules, the director of GM's Electrical and Controls Integration Lab.

Robotic cars would reduce gasoline consumption by making electric cars more economically viable in a number of ways:

  • Electric vehicles could take themselves to recharge stations after dropping their passengers off at work. So batteries in EVs could be smaller and therefore cheaper.
  • Electric vehicles could carry more people per day because after dropping off one passenger at work a vehicle could be routed to someone nearby who has signaled with their cell phone for the need for a ride. The ability to more human-moving trips would up the utilization of batteries and allow their costs to be amortized more rapidly.
  • Electric vehicles would lower parking costs since EVs could take themselves away from expensive city centers after dropping off passengers.

Autonomous vehicles will also allow non-drivers to get around even in areas with population densities too low to support mass transit. They'll also free up time for people to work. Plus, autonomous vehicles will displace much of mass transit since they won't require the expensive labor of the bus drive and they will go when people want to go and where people want to go. I expect autonomous cars to make the Zipcar short term car rental model much more viable by getting cars to where people want to start from. Basically, Zipcar will become like a taxi service but at much lower cost.

I think autonomous self-driving vehicles are inevitable. They'll enable many conveniences such as grocery stores that pack vehicles to deliver food. Much lower delivery costs will cut traffic as vehicles do drop-offs at several homes per trip. At the same time, cars will function as automated taxis so that owning a car will become unnecessary for many without the inconveniences of mass transit.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 October 24 10:32 PM  Robotics Cars

C said at October 24, 2011 10:49 PM:

I think autonomous vehicles will make commutes longer as it is less of a waste of time if you can do work while you go. I don't think autonomous vehicles will make electric vehicles more viable at all.

I'll be first in line for an autonomous vehicle though, just like I love my hybrid.

I don't think electric vehicles will ever be practical until there is a way to recharge them more quickly. Until that time I'm last in line to get one.

Gerry said at October 25, 2011 4:00 AM:

I expect the cars I have to last 20 years. I truly hope they are the last cars I will ever own. I would not be surprised to see car ownership become something like a service. You could have a minivan service, a commuter service or a combination of services with one type of car during the week and another during the weekend. Then there would be the infrequent pickup truck service. The service would also have a given response time for having a car to your location to take you to your destination. Your service might be required to have a car to you in five minutes or thirty minutes depending on what you're willing to pay for. By owning a service and not the actual car, it would free up garages, driveways and other parking areas for other uses.

Phillep Harding said at October 25, 2011 3:48 PM:

Robo-cabs sound great, much better than the bus. So long as who ever does the AI is not a smart aleck.

Tim said at October 25, 2011 4:24 PM:

Or Even cars that are nominally human driver operated could have the option of "self driving" mode. Imagine you leave a party/bar to drunk to drive. No need for a cab, you get in your car, start it hit the self driving mode tell it to take you home, or wherever you want to go.

Fat Man said at October 25, 2011 8:38 PM:

I have been forecasting these developments for a while. The revealed* preference of Americans is that they do not want to drive. Next time you are out on the road look around you. What percentage of drivers are talking on the telephone? texting!? eating? putting on make-up? reading the newspaper.

The technology is now an optional feature on “luxury” cars. In a few years it will be available on all cars. Then it will be mandatory, and non-computerized vehicles will be banned from the road.

The truth about cars is that driving has become a pain because of traffic, SUVs, stop-light cameras, and a thousand other annoyances. My father bought a 55 Chevy convertible when it was new, and on a summer evening he would take us out for a drive. It is not something I would do now, nor would my children even think of doing.

The real advantage of having a roboticly driven car is safety. People will be able to do what ever they want and the robot will drive safely. I will nap and my car will drive, and we will all be better off.

*A revealed preference is what people do as opposed to an expressed preference, which is what they say.

Another note: Robotic Electric cars will not be more useful than non-electric cars. They will suffer from the same defects as non-robotic electric cars, and indeed will be worse because they will need more electricity to run than non-robotic versions.

Randall Parker said at October 26, 2011 7:25 PM:

Fat Man,

You are so absolutely right. Yes, if people really wanted to drive they'd be paying a lot more attention. Plus, friends of mine wouldn't be calling me up illegally on their cell phones while driving (and I'd be less annoyed by their desire to waste my time with their distracted conversations and road noise).

Robotic electric cars: I do not see why you think they will suffer from the same defects. They'll have higher MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures). They won't stop when Peak Oil global oil production decline radically cuts back our supply of oil (combined with rising OPEC demand and Asian demand).


Autonomous vehicles enabling longer commutes: Yes, I think you are right.

What I think would be cool: Work near train tracks. Own my own rail car. Get picked up by a passing train with my own rail car. Ride all night on the rail car and end up back at work the next morning.

Engineer-Poet said at October 27, 2011 4:05 PM:

Just put retractable rail wheels on a motorhome.

Shelly said at November 22, 2011 1:37 PM:

I am not sure how I feel about this. It seems there should be more trials and reviews of accident reconstruction with electric/self-driven vehicles. We all know that technology fails us frequently. Robot driven cars doesn't ensure safer travels. I'm also not sure how you could mix human driven cars with robot driven cars. I just never see our world going to self-driven cars completely.

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