back to article Brit transport pundit Christian Wolmar on why the driverless car is on a 'road to nowhere'

Dive beneath the hype and the dry ice of CES, and it becomes apparent. The connected cars and electric cars being shown off in Las Vegas this week are not self-driving cars; and it has proved a lot harder to make an autonomous car than to sell the idea to an AI-obsessed think tank. Of the many obvious-in-retrospect reasons for …

They will never work in an urban environment.

How is an automated car ever going to get through a housing estate, with kids jumping out in front of them, playing chicken and just being annoying?

If you ever bought a BMW driverless car, you would be lucky to get off your own drive.

33
5
Silver badge

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

How is an automated car ever going to get through a housing estate, with kids jumping out in front of them, playing chicken and just being annoying?

How does a human driver cope with this situation? Does he just run over the kids?

15
30
Anonymous Coward

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

Only if no one is looking.

47
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

The kids would play 'Chicken' with the car. If it stops in time then they just do it again and again.

If it didn't then the lawyer standing in the background would make sure that no one including the company that made the seat covers escapes being hauled into court.

I have a lot of time for Mr Wolmar or rather 'had'. Since his pal Jeremy C became leader of the Labour Party, he's gone a bit off the rails. Some of his more recent rants in 'Rail' magazine seem to show that.

He appears to have reverted to seeing the old days of 'British Rail' through rose tinted glasses.

Well Mr W in BR days, my last train from London left at 23:06. now I can continue to enjoy myself and still get the 01:05 which was nearly full a few weeks before christmas. The old 23:06 was invariably empty because some of the other stations it called at were locked up tight after 22:00 when the Union man went home. The more athletic of us could scramble over the fence.

16
7
Silver badge

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

In fact the passenger in the car would yell at the kids and the on-board video cameras would record their activity as evidence.

A kid can stop any car right now by standing in front of it. The sensors at the driver's retina would detect photons reflected from the surface of the kids. These detected photons would be sent back to the driver's brain where they would be interpreted as a human form in the path of the vehicle. A decision processing system within the driver's brain would result in signals being sent down nerve pathways to the limbs which would operate the vehicle interface to stop the car and/or steer it so as to avoid contact with the detected human whilst giving a long blast on the horn and swearing at the kid.

If you wanted to stop my car today by standing in front of it then you could do so, it has forward emergency braking and stops if there is an obstruction of any kind.

This process is vaguely similar to how a self driving vehicle would behave. I don't know if the self-driving car will also be programmed to give a long blast on the horn etc but it could instantly send pictures of the activity to any owner or law enforcement.

25
20
Silver badge

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

..or a very rural environment either. In our area, where there are many single track roads, the car would need to understand the concept of give and take, fairness, light gestures to invite one to continue past a passing place, etc. Mapping passing places won't work, as the passing places may be closed, iced-over, or full of tourists with caravans.

What a relief that someone has finally said that, if the emperor is wearing any clothes at all, at best its an itsy bitsy yellow polka dot bikini

45
5

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

And I bet you're paying for the privilege and it costs the taxpayer more

1
1
Anonymous Coward

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

just redefine them as mobile speed bumps in the software and let Darwin manage the rest.

21
1
Silver badge

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

they will do that in a fraction of a second over radio.

Now, if you mix seldriven and normal cars.. I guess you need to signal somehow to the flesh driver..

1
1
Silver badge

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

"Mapping passing places won't work, as the passing places may be closed, iced-over, or full of tourists with caravans."

Passing places often consist of mounting the verge, scraping along the hedge before coming down with a thump. This excludes 4x4 drivers as seem to be defeated by a puddle*, mud and grass verges are a definite no drive zone.

*I kid you not, just yesterday, a Audi twat mobile (you know the things, similar in size to a double decker bus) actually stopped when faced with a large puddle and waited for me to pass, so they could go round it

29
1
Silver badge

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

Concur.

The other example which comes to mind is Netherlands. All city centre and a lot of housing estates are "pedestrianized the dutch way". What does that mean? In those areas there is one overlord - the pedestrian. The next one in the pecking order is the cyclist which is NOT prohibited from cycling there. They have to give the pedestrians right of way (which they sometimes do, depends on their Dutch grit abrasiveness value). The last in line is the car. It is also allowed (again - none of the restrictive idiocies UK enforces, there is simply not enough space for that). But it has to give EVERYONE a right of way.

I do not see ANY automated system driving in that environment. Ever. At the same time this is exactly the environment I would like to see on my street and in my city. #

So IMHO, we should cut this stupid AI crap and start investing into motorway and A road instrumentation so that you can join the road and leave it to the road management computer until the junction where you are supposed to leave. The problem here is not technological either - it is simply total lack of political will to do so.

17
2
Silver badge

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

"And I bet you're paying for the privilege and it costs the taxpayer more"

Who's "you" and what's the privilege?

5
0
Silver badge

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

" just yesterday, a Audi twat mobile... actually stopped when faced with a large puddle and waited for me to pass, so they could go round it"

Well it's a big lump, it would take ages to wash if it got splashed with a bit of mud.

12
0
Silver badge

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

@AC

Only if no one is looking.

Bloody CCTV everywhere - spoiling all our fun!

7
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

"pictures of the activity to any owner or law enforcement."

The police don't investigate any minor crimes now !

11
0

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

People are in general a lot more reluctant to interact negatively with other humans than with robots. Holding up a human-driven car for fun invites an awkward interpersonal interaction whereas holding up a robot car would be like swearing at the self-service till in Tescos; everyone does it, nobody feels bad about it.

24
1

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

The only place a system that gets upset by people being in its way would work is on a motorway, and that is also the one road network that would greatly benefit in terms of congestion reduction from lots of automation of vehicles. Apart from that, about all you can do is improve vehicle safety and try to iron out some of the more moronic driver behaviours in software.

2
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

In both London and Essex, most Audi Q's and BMW X's only off road moments are over the speed humps outside the schools

8
0

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

Tho not an Audi driver, I've also recently stopped for oncoming traffic rather than drive thru a large puddle.

If I hadn't a couple of pedestrians in Reeth would have been drenched in muddy water and the copper coming the other way would probably have nicked me ...

Anyhow, round here (Dales) a large puddle can be of very uncertain depth and hiding a seriously degraded road surface. If you're slowing enough to take account of those you might as well take a little more time and wait and go round.

7
0
MJI
Silver badge

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

Audi twat mobile

Proper 4x4s (from Solihull) are happy to get on verges, the muddier the better.

2
0
Silver badge

At Lost All Faith, re: puddles.

Don't complain too hard about drivers that don't want to d

rive through "puddles"...

Sometimes those "puddles" are hiding Cthulhu who is just waiting for his next meal to fall in where he can eat them in peace. Not that he's adverse to lashing out a tentacle, ensnaring a passing vehicle, & dragging the whole thing into the void in a fit of pique, but once he's done that it kinda ruins the whole "SURPRISE!" factor.

So cut the drivers some slack for not driving blindly into puddles, they may be reacting to that tiny voice of intuition that's warning them an Elder God lies waiting for a snack... =-)p

5
1

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

The same way we do now. The occupants shout at the kids.

2
1
Silver badge

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

steam gives way to sail a good principle.

0
1
Silver badge

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

Holding up a human-driven car for fun invites an awkward interpersonal interaction whereas holding up a robot car would be like swearing at the self-service till in Tescos;

You're assuming there's no human in the car. Seems to me that's not a safe assumption.

Honestly, the whole "Holborn problem" as expounded here is fraught with unstated assumptions. Technology can't do everything perfectly, therefore it's doomed. The technology isn't fully developed yet, therefore it's doomed. The technology must act the way I imagine it acting, therefore it's doomed. Traffic happens, therefore it's doomed.

I shall just thank car manufacturers for not putting Christian Wolmar in charge of their R&D departments, and continue watching progress with interest.

8
3
Anonymous Coward

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

This excludes 4x4 drivers as seem to be defeated by a puddle*, mud and grass verges are a definite no drive zone.

*I kid you not, just yesterday, a Audi twat mobile (you know the things, similar in size to a double decker bus)

That's an All Wheel Drive, not a 4 Wheel Drive. There's a difference, not only in the possible capability of the driver but also of the vehicle. For instance an X5 is drives through all 4 wheels but I wouldn't try using it across farmland or on a sandy beach. Gravel driveway at best.

0
0
Silver badge

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

The same way we do now. The occupants shout at the kids.

You're neglecting the fact that there is also ambiguity over whether the human driver will stop - elderly or Audi/BMW driver and you're taking a bit of a risk.

7
0

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

You're assuming there's no human in the car. Seems to me that's not a safe assumption.

There may well be a human in the car, but if the human is not driving the car there is no scope for the delicate non-verbal negotiation which goes on when, say, we want to cross a road and a car slows (or doesn't) to let us do so.

2
0

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

I kid you not, just yesterday, a Audi twat mobile (you know the things, similar in size to a double decker bus) actually stopped when faced with a large puddle and waited for me to pass, so they could go round it

A couple of years ago I encountered one of these things on a single track rural road near my house. The driver clearly would not contemplate the possibility of putting a wheel on the verge (which on her side was grassy and clear) and instead expected me to drive off the road on my side ... which, thanks to a ditch, was not going to happen. So I just waited. And waited. Finally, when I switched my engine off, opened a paper and started doing the crossword she got the hint and drove the two feet to the side which made passing possible.

4
0
Silver badge

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

So IMHO, we should cut this stupid AI crap and start investing into motorway and A road instrumentation so that you can join the road and leave it to the road management computer until the junction where you are supposed to leave."

You'll need a good alarm system in the car, possibly involving supercharged cattle prods, otherwise you'll end up with queues of cars in the hard shoulder at junction exits with sleeping drivers in them (or arriving at the end of the motorway) because the car/road system has to safely "manage" cars where the driver can't or won't take back control. That will less of a problem on roads like the M25 or M60 since they can just keep going until they run out of juice.

2
0
Silver badge

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

I've never got this. There are some people who won't ever wait or give way even when it is clearly their responsibility to do so. People who will drive into a congested road when they needed to wait for a vehicle coming down to clear the section first. The worst example was when I was driving down the "neck" of a bottle shaped road. A car came into the wide section when I was on the way down. He then continued up into the narrow neck section instead of waiting for me to emerge And made it clear that he wanted me to reverse back up the narrow road with cars parked either side and into the main road above, so that he could continue. The abuse he shouted when I didn't!!

4
0
Silver badge

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

"In fact the passenger in the car would yell at the kids and the on-board video cameras would record their activity as evidence."

This is an easily solved problem in any case. The car would simply need to push ahead at 1-2mph and stop if it detected a bump, the same as humans do.

Anyone who's ever driven through a flock of sheep or mob of cattle knows this one.

2
0
Silver badge

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

"a Audi twat mobile... actually stopped when faced with a large puddle and waited for me to pass, so they could go round it"

Around these parts, some of those puddles conceal 6-8 inch deep potholes. It was rather funny seeing white van man beach himself in one recently.

0
0
Silver badge

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

" In those areas there is one overlord - the pedestrian. "

Legally on UK roads (other than motorway regulated ones), the same priorities apply.

0
0
Silver badge

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

"Honestly, the whole "Holborn problem" as expounded here is fraught with unstated assumptions. "

Exactly. It's an extremely simplistic, rigidly thought scenario.

By the way, don't try arguing with a donkey and cart. After obstructing it for a while the donkey _will_ push you out of the way.

Cars only hurt if they nudge you at more than 2mph or they run over your feet.

1
0
Silver badge

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

"The driver clearly would not contemplate the possibility of putting a wheel on the verge"

Most of them won't contemplate being closer than 3 feet from the verge, or having less than 3 feet clearance - which is a problem on a road less than 15 feet wide.

1
0
Bronze badge

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

The fun game is to toss a Frisbee or ball in the path of the car and get it to brake suddenly and then run away.

0
0

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

The Darwin effect will eliminate that problem!

0
0
Silver badge
Terminator

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

How is an automated car ever going to get through a housing estate, with kids jumping out in front of them, playing chicken and just being annoying?

Machine guns behind the headlights.

0
0

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

"..... whereas holding up a robot car would be like swearing at the self-service till in Tescos; everyone does it, nobody feels bad about it."

I don't, ever, and I would were I to.

I know machines are far, far less sentient that fleas, sheep or politicians but I always say "thank you" to ATM's and other robots doing me a service.

I've even been known to thank the washy machine and my microwave.

Being nice to a robot car would only be an extension of my normal politeness.

I'm polite to cats, moths, dogs and many humans, too.

0
0

Re: They will never work in an urban environment.

Self-driving cars - will never be fully safe, will not reduce traffic congestion, will not reduce travel related costs, will not reduce fuel/energy consumption nor emissions sufficiently to prevent global catastrophic climate change nor take full advantage of the benefits that plug-in hybrid and all-battery EVs offer. Why are we being misled to believe this high-tech nonsense makes sense? Follow the money.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

'clickbait-chasing journalists recycling press releases'

Ain't that the truth. Compare these 2 articles about CES from the beeb:

.....Tech preview of the show's coolest new products:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-42574569

.....Left wondering whether AI is a triumph of marketing:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-42619807

5
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: clickbait-chasing journalists ....

"Whatever happened to interplanetary travel, hover cars...."

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-30513670

2
1
Silver badge

Re: 'clickbait-chasing journalists recycling press releases'

I've stopped reading the BBC news site, mostly.

They seem to recycle old stories, print stuff from Twitter and Press Releases. Journalism? Spending too much on secret salaries of "Contract" "top" people. Hence worthlessness of their pay review.

Too obsessed with "Balanced views" and promoting their own agendas than honest reporting.

8
1
Silver badge

My stuff

Of all the arguments there the one about my stuff is the most telling. Never mind someone living just outside Woking or wherever it was he said. Even in North London we keep in the car boot; supermarket bags, gym mats, work materials, spare leads, migraine tablets and lord knows what else. So the "pod" type of driverless vehicle would be a no no. That being said, if it were possible to own a driverless vehicle in the same way as an ordinary car, a sort of AI chauffeur I could go with that. But is it likely? I doubt it, for the arguments given.

22
2
Anonymous Coward

Re: My stuff

Clearly the solution is to take the pod car to its logical conclusion an incorporate a system of interchangeable storage pods etc so when you summon a car it comes via the local pod storage facility where it automatically gets loaded with the your pod (or even one of several pods you have that you have selected) and then comes to you .... and to avoid unnecessary waits I'm sure an AI system could be trained to learn what configs where likely to be need at any time so they are likely to be already ready (ok, could just use an advance booking system but that's old-tech so clearly not appropriate).

Anyway, nothing novel here ... Thunderbird 2 used this pod system years ago!

7
3
Silver badge

Re: My stuff

Poor assumptions here. The stuff in the car isn't systematically filed away for future use. It's been thrown/left in there the last time it was needed ready for when it might be needed again. And sometimes is retrieved to take elsewhere, or for whatever other reason. Because it's outside my door. Who's going to do the preplanning that says that they should order up a pod with supermarket bags and their gym kit when the car comes to take them to the library, just in case they have time for a swim or to pop in to Tesco on the way home? And who would want to pay rent for that storage when they could stick in in their own car for free? Car boot space as a service (BSaaS) anyone?

13
0
Silver badge

Re: My stuff

Terry, if you're suggesting that makes driverless cars useless, I recommend a quick refresher in ancient Greek logic. The fact (or supposition) that it wouldn't suit you (in your current lifestyle) doesn't detract from its usefulness to other people, and plenty enough to make a market. Like those of us who never intend to own a car again, but might have a use for one on occasion.

Though I'd never dream of taking a car anywhere near Holborn. I wasn't that dumb when I owned a car, nor when I lived in London.

2
1
Silver badge

Re: My stuff

" It's been thrown/left in there the last time it was needed ready for when it might be needed again."

What you need is a thing your aunt gave you which you don't have any idea what it does but you can't get rid of it.

1
0

It's too Black and White

Has he even considered a Hybrid approach? I fully take on board that, busy pedestrian environments, broken traffic lights and road works could all cause a fully automated car to sit there for hours. Heck! even some human drivers do that too.

But has he not watched the Tom Cruise snoozefest "Minority Report"? Lets have roadways (motorways) that are fully automated (pedestrian free) and then when on normal roads the car should switch back to being human driver controlled. We're half way there already with cruise control and lane assist anyway

All or nothing is never going to work, so Mr Captain obvious is just stating the ....well obvious

12
11

Re: It's too Black and White

I can see two problems with that. The first is that most people would want a truly driverless car (not the kind where you have to pay attention to take over) so that they can drink, which they couldn't if they had to drive at both ends of the journey. The other is that the most stressful parts of a journey tend to be the town bits at the end - the motorways are relatively stress-free.

21
1

Page:

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Forums

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2018