back to article Self-driving cars still do not exist even if we think they do

Before I take off my Sonic The Hedgehog socks, I want to be sure there is mutual consent. I don't mind being extradited to Sweden but there's no way I want to spend the next five years conducting my daily ablutions under a cold dripping tap in the faux-marble tiled toilet in the Ecuadorian embassy. Luckily, I have an app for …

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  1. Craigie Bronze badge

    They kinda do and kinda don't

    'Keep in lane' steering and adaptive cruise both exist and work pretty well. 'Drive anywhere by itself' does not exist and won't for a very, very long time.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

      Until a car cuts in front and the adaptive crusie control has a fit and slams on the brakes which a human would perhaps not have done beacuse all the cars are moving at the same pace, no obstructions forthcoming and could easily lift and create a new gap... for someone else to cut into.

      Either every car is an automated machine or none. Mixing the two will be a disaster imo without even considering bikers. Imagine having a manual vehicle and know the rules the robot cars have to play by...

      1. AMBxx Silver badge

        Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

        Or the car just decides to brake because the sun reflected off the wet road surface.

        Or the car just decides to brake just because it can.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

          "Or the car just decides to brake just because it can."

          A bit like the arse who was driving down the A24 (60mph limit) at 40mph yesterday then, with 30 cars behind her.

          1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

            Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

            Or drivers in the oncoming lane driving eyeball-melters forcing *you* to do 30mph in a 60.

        2. Neil Alexander

          Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

          Or the car just decides to brake because the sun reflected off the wet road surface. Or the car just decides to brake just because it can.

          I have driven thousands of miles on ACC in my Volvo, which uses a camera-radar sensor combination, and have never experienced either of these problems. Even if the camera vision is obscured by sunlight for some reason, the radar sensor wouldn't be.

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

            "I have driven thousands of miles on ACC in my Volvo, which uses a camera-radar sensor combination, "

            My Ancient lidar system just beeps its head off for 5 seconds if sunstruck and shuts off. No braking but you're now coasting.

            As a safety precaution you have to switch the ACC off and back on again to reactivate it (It stops people just holding down resume even if the sunstrike is still present. This is a deliberate design decision from the chaps in Swindon)

      2. getHandle

        Re: Until a car...

        That's not how the ACC in my Golf reacts to people cutting in - it's actually very well designed and reacts rather smoothly. Much more so than my reaction to being cut up...

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

        Until a car cuts in front and the adaptive crusie control has a fit and slams on the brakes which a human would perhaps not have done beacuse all the cars are moving at the same pace, no obstructions forthcoming and could easily lift and create a new gap... for someone else to cut into.

        I've never had adaptive cruise control do that. It is adaptive. It is possible very, very old versions might have done that but nothing I've had in the last four years has. Normally it gently adjusts speeds to keep a safe distance.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

          "It is possible very, very old versions might have done that"

          The 16 year old ACC design in my 13 year old car will brake - gently - to open up a gap, if someone cuts it up and is moving slower than I am. For the same speed it will simply ease off the throttle slightly to achieve the gap and if they're faster it will maintain speed and let them open the gap up.

          It it thinks it may need to brake hard it beeps furiously to warn the driver and everyone else in the car just before it applies the brake. If you're driving beside hedgerows it sometimes triggers a warning but won't brake. Ditto on large signs close to the edge of the road. (it's effectively a potential lane intrusion warning)

          Newer versions are even smoother than mine, which is based entirely on lidar-in-the-bumper.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

        Until a car cuts in front

        Concur. I do 2K mile expeditions twice a year including going to some places where no normal Western European driver dares go (f.e. offroad in Bulgarian, Romanian and Monte Negro mountains) or even onroad in cities somewhere in the deepest darkest Eastern Europe. Worst is actually the motorway to cross the continent if you have the bad luck of doing it at the same time when the migratory birds, sorry Turks go South or North.

        It is exactly that situation - people cutting in front of you at 1m distance because some idiot driving an erectyle disfunction compensator class Merc or Beamer has nearly run them off the road. Add to this the car density on the motorway resembling M25 in rush hour while the speed is at 85mph+.

        It is like a f**** salmon run in Alaska. Just instead of salmon you have erectile dysfunction compensator class Mercs and Beamers to show off in the birthplace village in DijarBekir.

        Cruise control? No thanks. I trust my foot on the accelerator. Up to the maximum reasonable per day - 8 hours. After that I am in the pool thank ya and no automated driving tech will make the journey shorter, safer or less psychotic (at least until the Turks stop to migrate north and south twice a year).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

          Cruise control? No thanks. I trust my foot on the accelerator. Up to the maximum reasonable per day - 8 hours.

          If your foot can do it, so can cruise control. You trust your foot because, like most people, you believe you are an above average driver.

          An example where the car uses its sensors to get an accurate measurement of the speed of the vehicle cutting in and the angle it is coming in from can calculate the exact amount you need to slow down to remain safe. It can then act on this data faster than you can think "shit that bellend is cutting me up."

    2. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

      Don't be too sure and the motorway is where it will begin. Because of the nature of them they will be the first roads licensed for your autonomous capable vehicle to drive in autonomous mode along. You will have to take control getting too and from the motorway. Then it will be extended to dual carriageway A-Roads, assuming foreign built autonomous systems understand the concept of 'roundabout'.

      You are correct that autonomous cars being used for entire journeys or as no driver taxis in city centres is a very long time away. But just as cruise control and lane keeping is accepted, so autonomous driving when conditions allow. Using cruise control and lane keeping on a single track road with passing places in the Scottish Highlands or Islands would be contraindicated after all. ABS however should be enabled and parking assist might be useful for reversing back into a passing place.

      It is possible that autonomous cars will negotiate between themselves as to who is closest to the passing place better than humans but I can see problems with one human driver and one autonomous. And how an autonomous system will deal with locals in large landrovers who insist the road is a dual carriageway will be interesting.

      As for townies who quake in fear at the first sign of a country road with, gasp! corners and pootle along at 30mph on an open road (it happens) an autonomous car would be a boon, they can close their eyes.

      1. GlenP Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

        As for townies who quake in fear at the first sign of a country road with, gasp! corners and pootle along at 30mph on an open road (it happens) an autonomous car would be a boon, they can close their eyes.

        I hate those. Crawl at 30mph in the countryside and then speed up when they hit the 30mph limit in the village.

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

          As opposed to the locals who know every turn and twist and think it's OK to hurtle along their own narrow lanes until the day they meet a truck/hiker/sheep coming the other way. (But idiot "townies" who speed past the 30mph sign into the village/side of a house, I agree. Idiots get everywhere.)

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

          "I hate those. Crawl at 30mph in the countryside and then speed up when they hit the 30mph limit in the village."

          ... or when there's a passing lane. Gits!

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

            "... or when there's a passing lane. Gits!"

            Not in the UK, but New Zealand (Which is almost all single carriageway blacktop with passing lanes)

            It happens regularly, but so does this:

            Git speeds up at each passing lane to thwart passing. After the 3rd time, a set of flashing blue lights appear in the queue behind and another twat gets told that he has to retake his driving test.

            Sensible countries also say that you _must_ pull over at the first opportunity and let traffic pass when you have more than N (usually 5) vehicles behind. Slow drivers are an even bigger hazard than faster ones because they tend to provoke unsafe passing manouvres. Ideally all traffic should be moving at more-or-less the same speed so there's no need to pass.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

              "After the 3rd time, a set of flashing blue lights appear in the queue behind [...]"

              One Sunday morning morning on the M6 round Birmingham in 1970. A Morris Minor - complete with a driver wearing a trilby hat - was hogging the fast lane at a slow speed. Behind him was a queue of cars. In those days you didn't undertake unless all lanes were queued - so the two inner lanes were empty. After a while a police car came along in the middle lane and pulled him over.

              1. ravenviz Silver badge
                Trollface

                Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

                M6 round Birmingham in 1970

                What excellent story!

            2. MachDiamond Silver badge

              Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

              "Ideally all traffic should be moving at more-or-less the same speed so there's no need to pass."

              There is a stretch of road from the highway to the city where I live where even though I'm going faster than the limit, somebody needs to pass if they can see they'd have at least 6 inches to spare. Going the other way where the limit drops right before the highway and I often turn to visit a friend, people behind cross two sets of double yellow lines so they don't have to slow down behind me even though they are 20 mph over the posted limit by not slowing down where it changed.

              Need? It's never about "need".

          2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

            Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

            Close to my home, there is a quarter-mile passing lane (meant to allow passing of agricultural vehicles) that ends and immediately drops to 40, then 30 in a short distance before entering a village.

            The number of idiots, seeing the passing lane, but not looking where they will have to pull in again, who accelerate to more than the national speed limit, and then don't know what to do at the more the restricted speed limits drives me crazy.

            It's amazing there's not more accidents. One of the places where a speed camera would actually be welcome. Unfortunately, there is not one, and there's no place where a camera van can park, so nobody get's caught!

        3. Tony W

          Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

          As opposed to some local commuters who take blind corners in a such a way that for many years it hasn't been safe for a group of walkers to use twisty minor roads.

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

            "local commuters who take blind corners"

            Even worse if you're driving a car in the other direction and come face to face with that kind of idiot.

            As far as walking goes, on those roads I walk up the middle where possible and per safety guidance in various road codes, stick to the _outside_ of the bend. (this advice was formulated because of what can happen if you happen to be on the inside of the bend and car coming in one direction meets blind bend cutter coming the other. (walking up the middle is also advised, for maximum visibility to traffic. Remember motor gives way to non-motor. You get arseholes in rangerovers who will try to scare you but i;'s amazing what standing your ground and running a sharp key lightly over the bonnet does to their bravery (This also works on drivers menacing people on crossings)

      2. pffut

        Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

        > assuming foreign built autonomous systems understand the concept of 'roundabout'.

        Judging by British dashcam channels on YouTube, those systems will probably understand the concept far better than many current British drivers...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

          "roundabout"

          Wonder if they can handle a "magic" roundabout - like Swindon or Hemel Hempstead.

          There was a peculiar one somewhere near Devizes. It was at the bottom of a steep hill. If you tried to leave at the first junction you faced a hairpin turn in a narrow street. The sign approaching the roundabout now made sense. It showed an arrow that indicated you went all the way round the roundabout first - a > 360degree turn - so you were then aimed nicely at the first exit.

          Here is an interesting 'throughabout' in The Netherlands.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

            It can't be 360 degrees otherwise you'd be going back up the road from whence you came.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

              "It can't be 360 degrees otherwise you'd be going back up the road from whence you came."

              I wrote "a > 360degree turn". You do a complete circle and a bit more to line up with the first exit. There was no central obstruction in the roundabout to constrain your final line.

              Surprisingly there doesn't seem to be an obvious picture of it anywhere. Thinking about it it might have been near Telford - not Devizes. We were on a project and that particular week our regular hotel was fully booked and we had to seek out alternatives in smaller establishments in the surrounding area.

              1. cosymart
                Holmes

                Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

                AC - "Surprisingly there doesn't seem to be an obvious picture of it anywhere. Thinking about it it might have been near Telford - not Devizes. We were on a project and that particular week our regular hotel was fully booked and we had to seek out alternatives in smaller establishments in the surrounding area."

                It is near Telford, the B4373 at the bottom of the hill in Ironbridge adjacent to The Iron Bridge. It is marked no left turn on the approach.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

                  "It is near Telford, the B4373 at the bottom of the hill in Ironbridge [..,]"

                  Thank you - the Google Streetmap views match my memory. Didn't realise it was Ironbridge - even though I have been there as a tourist a couple of times in more recent years. The warning sign seems to have been enhanced in the last 40 years. Wonder if the tree in the middle of the roundabout has been added in that time.

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

                It’s in Ironbridge

                Dropped pin near 1-11 B4373, Ironbridge, Telford TF8

                https://goo.gl/maps/oaak6UcXd582

              3. Alan Brown Silver badge

                Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

                "Surprisingly there doesn't seem to be an obvious picture of it anywhere. "

                There's one just like it about 200 yards from where I'm sittiing. It's funny to watch articulated and large rigid vehicles try (and fail) to make the corner, then even funnier when after working out how to get into that road, watching when they realise they have to reverse out due to the presence of 7 foot restrictors that aren't signposted on the entrance. They're signposted 50 feet further along at the turn into another road and were installed to prevent HGVs from using that road as a rat run. If they don't take that turn the road they're on takes a sharp bend 100 feet further along and then dead ends after another 400 feet with an office block there and no way to turn around.

                Mwa ha haaaa!

            2. aks

              Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

              > It can't be 360 degrees otherwise you'd be going back up the road from whence you came.

              Going back from whence you came would be 180 degrees.

              I don't know the roundabout in question but suspect it's actually 270 degrees (effectively 3 right turns equals one left turn).

            3. MachDiamond Silver badge

              Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

              "It can't be 360 degrees otherwise you'd be going back up the road from whence you came."

              You're not thinking 4 dimensionally!

          2. Andy A

            Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

            .....Here is an interesting 'throughabout' in The Netherlands.

            There is a pretty close UK (driving on the left) equivalent at junction 23 of the M6. Traffic leaving the M6 can turn right in the middle of the roundabout directly onto the A580.

          3. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

            > Wonder if they can handle a "magic" roundabout - like Swindon or Hemel Hempstead.

            Probably far better than humans can. My first few experiences with these were nerve-wracking even in the middle of the night.

            1. macjules Silver badge

              Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

              Closest Swindon ever got to a "magic" roundabout was employing someone called Dougal.

      3. Barry Rueger Silver badge

        Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

        It is possible that autonomous cars will negotiate between themselves as to who is closest to the passing place better than humans but I can see problems with one human driver and one autonomous.

        I'm far more concerned with how the algorithms on (for example) my Ford behave compared to the algorithms on the approaching VW. What are the odds that the Ford's emergency default is "Emergency! Swerve LEFT!" while the VW's will be "Emergency! Swerve RIGHT!." *

        Thus far we've learned that most software only works reliably if you're within a contained ecosystem. Anyone who has tried to move email from (for example) an Windows email client to an Apple client -- much less tried to sync calendars between different OSs and versions -- will appreciate that the likelihood of all car manufacturers developing software that will reliably work without conflicts approaches zero.

        * OK, admittedly the VW software will likely just ignore every other car on the road.

      4. Alan Johnson

        Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

        I am not convinced we are very close to autonomity. Yes there are systems which drive by themselves but they require an attentive human driver to constantly monitor them and be available to take over when there is a problem the automatic system can't handle. That is pointless and arguably dangerous because when the human is required to take over it is quite likely to be in a situation where it is unexpected and they are unprepared. From my perspective the whole thing is a sham unless I can get in a car over the alchol limit or close my eyes and go to sleep.

    3. Tigra 07 Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

      "OK Google. Take me to Tesco"

      "I have found 50 Tesco stores in your location."

      "OK Google. Drive me to the nearest Tesco."

      "Setting route for Nigeria."

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

        ""OK Google. Drive me to the nearest Tesco."

        "Setting route for Nigeria.""

        The car then secretly sends your request for a route to Nigeria to your government's spy agency who then put you on a (non-existant) list and you are forever "randomly selected" for additional searches whenever you want to take an airplane somewhere and all of the mail coming to your home always looks as if it's been opened and resealed.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

        "Take me to Tesco" .....

        Wow that's odd. I just picked up my phone and said "give me directions to the nearest Tesco" ..... and it did ... correctly. You may wonder why that's odd but I said it to Cortana (recently dropped by Microsoft) on my Windows phone which was abandoned by Microsoft last year and uses the mapping data from Here Maps which was reportedly (but not actually) dropped from Windows phones a couple of years ago.

        I confidently predict that Microsoft won't enter the self driving car business for another 3 or 4 years, then it will buy an established company, radically change the design and continually mess about with it till it drives most customers away, then make it impossible to buy in regions where it is wanted, update it every month till its actually very good, then drop it as a product.

    4. Wulfhaven

      Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

      Level 4 self driving cars do exist, just not as sold products. Several of the car manufacturers have working prototypes. They are still not roaming free due to all kinds of things, but they do exist. And they are currently driving in real traffic in a couple of european countries, for testing.

      The stuff available on the consumer market currently, such as the Tesla, is a level 2 "autonomous" car. Level 2 being "Need user to be an active watcher and decision maker".

      Level 4 means the car does all the driving, takes all the decisions and you can doze off, surf pornhub, or whatever you like. They are expected to hit the market in 4 years. The level 4 autonomous cars, that is.

      1. Alan Bourke

        Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

        Do they? Without a human there just in case? No.

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

          > Do they? Without a human there just in case? No.

          Because motor cars still have men with red flags walking in front of them. Of course they still have people around, but from the bits and pieces I've seen, and my own ability to look at the road and assess what is happening I suspect that *commercial* L4 on motorways is not actually that far off.

          I'd like to think that my kids might never have to learn to drive, but I suspect that is somewhat optimistic (as it always has been).

          I'd also like to think that when we do get Full L5 cars the courts might start growing a pair and actually revoking the licenses of those who have demonstrated themselves unfit to hold a lollipop, let alone a steering wheel.

          1. aks

            Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

            You won't need the court to be involved.

            The decision will be made that manual driving has a huge markup on the insurance premium.

            1. MachDiamond Silver badge

              Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

              "The decision will be made that manual driving has a huge markup on the insurance premium."

              "In theory" an automated car SHOULD be safer, but "in theory" communism works out nicely. Until there is real data from real world driving, there isn't a good argument to be made. Quite the opposite might be the norm initially if automated cars freak out more often and cause or get into accidents at a greater rate than human controlled cars.

              1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

                Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

                ""In theory" an automated car SHOULD be safer, but "in theory" communism works out nicely"

                One of these things is not like the other. I could write "in theory QED works out nicely", and it does to many places of decimals. If you want to argue, do not use false equivalence.

                However I suspect that eventually it will work like this: road use charging will happen and in autonomous mode the road use charge will include third party insurance (the liability issue). In manual mode charging will have an additional component to cover you based on your assessed risk, probably varying with speed and acceleration.

                Don't like it? Pay an averaged charge for annual road use and pay a specialist insurance premium for your petrol powered manual car. It may not be that expensive because once enough of those manual petrol cars have been totalled, there won't be any more.

        2. Yavoy

          Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

          Waymo don't have test engineers just in case.

          1. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: They kinda do and kinda don't

            The Waymo cars operate on highly surveyed routes. You can't just jump into one and say "Take me to Portland, OR" or even to an address it's never driven by before and think it's going to work. There's a lot going on behind the curtain that fails to get mentioned in the press hand outs.

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