back to article Are driverless cars the death knell of the motor biz?

If you're a believer, then the autonomous car is a gateway to a brave new world in which you'll never have to waste an hour looking for a parking spot, ever again. An obvious challenge to this vision is whether it encourages traffic-choked, polluting and wasteful behaviour: instead of parking while you visit the supermarket, …

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Re: Edge case?

If an extra 5 minutes means you miss your train, you sure as hell don't want to be relying on a bus service!?

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Re: Edge case?

You do realise that something like 90% of Britons live in towns & cities?

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You make no sense

Wait, so you'd love a bus service but a taxi (which is effectively what this is) isn't good enough?

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Meh

@ dogged - "Edge Cases"

Da Weezil wrote :- "My usage includes weekends at race circuits , travel at odd hours and "on demand" for a disabled family member, trips to the amenities site with garden rubbish, collecting a neighbours kids oh and I work odd hours too."

dogged replied :- "So you're an edge case and the scenario does not apply to you."

Hardly an "edge case", me too if you change some details, and I suspect many, indeed most, others. I treat my car as a mobile cabin, with all sorts of stuff in it that I might need on the move, including some photographic gear, outdoor clothing, tools and iron rations. I also need it large (4x4 in fact) as I find I am always having to carry bulky stuff. Tomorrow it will be a 1/4 ton of paving slabs for example. My lifestyle is clearly different from yours.

This proposal is for a commuter/shopper transport capsule.

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Re: @ dogged - "Edge Cases"

Hardly an "edge case", me too if you change some details,

So you believe that while a single anecdote isn't statistically significant, two are?

and I suspect many, indeed most, others

Or perhaps you just believe that your suspicions are statistically significant. Skipped the "critical thinking" lessons in school, did we?

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Premise may be flawed but driverless cars, fantastic

The previous comments deal adequately with the reasons against shared (or rental) ownership.

But the potential for change to social demographics by driverless cars is fascinating. Imagine, your (largely) electric car takes you to the office, it goes away and recharges itself until your partner/children need it. He/she/they use it through the day for school runs, shopping,... when it returns to take you home. For longer drives, it uses the superior energy density of petrol whilst for day-to-day use, it uses electricity.

50% reduction in car ownership and a zillion% increase in road safety. Together with intelligent routing, higher speeds (safely) on arterial routes and reduced pollution, how can this be anything other than a win for society.

Let's hope drive-yourself cars are progressively removed by legislation ASAP.

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Re: Premise may be flawed but driverless cars, fantastic

Sounds ghastly.

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SBU

I love the idea and desperately want one but what about professional drivers

Truck drivers, taxi drivers, delivery van drivers, there are a huge number of people who will be put out of work by this technology. For example, a large trucking company would want to automate their trucks as soon as possible. The trucks will suffer less wear and tear, use less fuel and tyres, and be able to run 24hours a day without a break except for maintenance. Lets face it, the maintenance will becopme automated too, so goodby mechanics. This will result in a significant saving for the trucking company but what government is looking ahead and putting plans in place to find work for the displaced drivers, mechanics, etc. Do they just get chucked on the rubbish?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I love the idea and desperately want one but what about professional drivers

We can but dream. Racism and rape figures would plummet!

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Re: I love the idea and desperately want one but what about professional drivers

If this change followed the pattern of previous waves of automation, in theory there would be no net loss of jobs. Automation reduces costs and the savings are passed on to consumers. These consumers then have more disposable income to spend in other sectors of the economy which stimulates their growth and results in more jobs.

Any adverse consequences of a sectoral shift in employment would have to balanced against the overwhelming benefit of removing Jeremy Clarkson from the GoggleBox.

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Re: I love the idea and desperately want one but what about professional drivers

But will these trucks be smart enough to align themselves three abreast on any uphill sections of motorway?

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Re: I love the idea and desperately want one but what about professional drivers

This argument would have kept the majority of the population working the land.

Any sort of automation is disruptive, and there are always losers. But in the long view being able to do the same work with less people makes us all richer - the people who are no longer employed find other work to do. The end result is that the same number of people accomplish more. This has transformed the world from one where people work all day simply to feed, cloth and shelter their families, into one where we all own vast quantities of goods which would have been unimaginable to our ancestors.

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Re: I love the idea and desperately want one but what about professional drivers

Or if I may be allowed to post a lengthy quote, which makes the point far more eloquently (from That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen - Frederic Bastiat, 1850)

James B. had two francs which he had gained by two workmen; but it occurs to him, that an arrangement of ropes and weights might be made which would diminish the labour by half. Thus he obtains the same advantage, saves a franc, and discharges a workman.

He discharges a workman: this is that which is seen.

And seeing this only, it is said, "See how misery attends civilization; this is the way that liberty is fatal to equality. The human mind has made a conquest, and immediately a workman is cast into the gulf of pauperism. James B. may possibly employ the two workmen, but then he will give them only half their wages for they will compete with each other, and offer themselves at the lowest price. Thus the rich are always growing richer, and the poor, poorer. Society wants remodelling." A very fine conclusion, and worthy of the preamble.

Happily, preamble and conclusion are both false, because, behind the half of the phenomenon which is seen, lies the other half which is not seen.

The franc saved by James B. is not seen, no more are the necessary effects of this saving.

Since, in consequence of his invention, James B. spends only one franc on hand labour in the pursuit of a determined advantage, another franc remains to him.

If, then, there is in the world a workman with unemployed arms, there is also in the world a capitalist with an unemployed franc. These two elements meet and combine, and it is as clear as daylight, that between the supply and demand of labour, and between the supply and demand of wages, the relation is in no way changed.

The invention and the workman paid with the first franc, now perform the work which was formerly accomplished by two workmen. The second workman, paid with the second franc, realizes a new kind of work.

What is the change, then, which has taken place? An additional national advantage has been gained; in other words, the invention is a gratuitous triumph - a gratuitous profit for mankind.

From the form which I have given to my demonstration, the following inference might be drawn: - "It is the capitalist who reaps all the advantage from machinery. The working class, if it suffers only temporarily, never profits by it, since, by your own showing, they displace a portion of the national labour, without diminishing it, it is true, but also without increasing it."

I do not pretend, in this slight treatise, to answer every objection; the only end I have in view, is to combat a vulgar, widely spread, and dangerous prejudice. I want to prove, that a new machine only causes the discharge of a certain number of hands, when the remuneration which pays them as abstracted by force. These hands, and this remuneration, would combine to produce what it was impossible to produce before the invention; whence it follows that the final result is an increase of advantages for equal labour.

Who is the gainer by these additional advantages?

First, it is true, the capitalist, the inventor; the first who succeeds in using the machine; and this is the reward of his genius and his courage. In this case, as we have just seen, he effects a saving upon the expense of production, which, in whatever way it may be spent (and it always is spent), employs exactly as many hands as the machine caused to be dismissed.

But soon competition obliges him to lower his prices in proportion to the saving itself; and then it is no longer the inventor who reaps the benefit of the invention - it is the purchaser of what is produced, the consumer, the public, including the workmen; in a word, mankind.

And that which is not seen is, that the saving thus procured for all consumers creates a fund whence wages may be supplied, and which replaces that which the machine has exhausted.

Thus, to recur to the forementioned example, James B. obtains a profit by spending two francs in wages. Thanks to his invention, the hand labour costs him only one franc. So long as he sells the thing produced at the same price, he employs one workman less in producing this particular thing, and that is what is seen; but there is an additional workman employed by the franc which James B. has saved. This is that which is not seen.

When, by the natural progress of things, James B. is obliged to lower the price of the thing produced by one franc, then he no longer realizes a saving; then he has no longer a franc to dispose of, to procure for the national labour a new production; but then another gainer takes his place, and this gainer is mankind. Whoever buys the thing he has produced, pays a franc less, and necessarily adds this saving to the fund of wages; and this, again, is what is not seen.

Another solution, founded upon facts, has been given of this problem of machinery.

It was said, machinery reduces the expense of production, and lowers the price of the thing produced. The reduction of the profit causes an increase of consumption, which necessitates an increase of production, and, finally, the introduction of as many workmen, or more, after the invention as were necessary before it. As a proof of this, printing, weaving, &c., are instanced.

This demonstration is not a scientific one. It would lead us to conclude, that if the consumption of the particular production of which we are speaking remains stationary, or nearly so, machinery must injure labour. This is not the case.

Suppose that in a certain country all the people wore hats; if, by machinery, the price could be reduced half, it would not necessarily follow that the consumption would be doubled.

Would you say, that in this case a portion of the national labour had been paralyzed? Yes, according to the vulgar demonstration; but, according to mine, No; for even if not a single hat more should be bought in the country, the entire fund of wages would not be the less secure. That which failed to go to the hat-making trade would be found to have gone to the economy realized by all the consumers, and would thence serve to pay for all the labour which the machine had rendered useless, and to excite a new development of all the trades. And thus it is that things go on. I have known newspapers to cost eighty francs, now we pay forty-eight: here is a saving of thirty-two francs to the subscribers. It is not certain, or, at least, necessary, that the thirty-two francs should take the direction of the journalist trade; but it is certain, and necessary too, that if they do not take this direction they will take another. One makes use of them for taking in more newspapers; another, to get better living; another, better clothes; another, better furniture. It is thus that the trades are bound together. They form a vast whole, whose different parts communicate by secret canals; what is saved by one, profits all. It is very important for us to understand, that savings never take place at the expense of labour and wares.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I love the idea and desperately want one but what about professional drivers

This logic is fine for the 19th and 18th century, where there was still a need for the person to operate the machine.

This is removing the person completely, and thereby eliminating not one, but both resulting in 2 paupers as neither are needed.

The benefits are purely for the capitalist and those industries not impacted by this change.

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Re: I love the idea and desperately want one but what about professional drivers

You missed the point made, as punishment you can read it again. ALL the way through.

It's simple - by removing the humans and their cost, the money which would otherwise have been spent on them doing something that they no longer need to do is available for them to do something else. Yes, they're instantaneously unemployed, but their wages are availabe to them on kickstarter (put there by evil capitalist looking for a quick buck from the profit he made by laying them off), if you want a 21st Century example. They do something else and society benefits from the auto-captioning of cats software they create, or somethng.

Capitalism is the same game it was in the 18th Century. The rules haven't changed, just the quality of life.

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Re: I love the idea and desperately want one but what about professional drivers

You assume the capitalist who saved the money will actually DO something with the money that will employ people. The thing is, there are fewer and fewer chances for the capitalist to invest where people are involved. If he buys a new machine, that machines was built by OTHER machines, with few if any people needed to oversee them. If he invests in markets or commodities, are they not managed by computers?

Look at this way. What happened to leather makers when leather demand tanked? They couldn't switch jobs because (1) their trade was too specialized and (2) the other industries that could take them in were already fully employed. They were blocked from adapting, so they just dropped off the map.

Meanwhile, even as fewer people are needed to do the same amount of work, the number of people has continued to climb. What we're seeing is something of a "tipping point" where it's starting to dawn on the labor force that they're on the cusp of being made redundant. Even the service sector (a bastion of human labor due to the desire for face-to-face interaction) is slowly being assaulted by such concepts as automated loaders and self-service stations.

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Re: I love the idea and desperately want one but what about professional drivers

My argument against that is simply the progress of humanity up until this point. Absent a compelling reason to believe that anything has fundamentally changed, I don't.

"If he buys a new machine, that machines was built by OTHER machines, with few if any people needed to oversee them."

That people are now so efficient is a good thing, not a bad one. I cannot see any reason to think that this becomes a bad thing past a certain point. Why should it? People are still needed, just ever less of them to perform the same tasks, and consequently the same number of people perform ever more tasks.

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Anonymous Coward

Maintenance cost increase

A multiplexed car will have significantly higher maintenance costs than a typical private car.

The (variable) maintenance cost-per-mile (oil, tires, brakes, etc) is roughly equal whether the car is used more ore less.

The savings mainly come from two areas:

a) the cost of the capital tied up in the vehicle,

b) the fixed costs i.e. annual taxes and insurances, which are shared among more miles (or usage hours). But the regulators might well decide to hike the taxes for multiplexed cars - after all they burden the environment more than a car sitting idle from 9 to 5.

Against these savings we also would get increased maintenance costs due to users not taking care of "someone else's" cars as well as of privately owned and cared-for cars.

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Happy

Re: Maintenance cost increase

wear and tear up ? maybe not. The average driver is crap at anticipation. Consequently, an automated system that is aware of the red light ahead and adjusting its speed so it reduces stop start may have lower wear and tear. My advanced driving instructor 40 years ago got 4 times the life out of his vehicles than standard suers. Following his example, my vehicles also last much longer than usual. And no, I dont hold up traffic and arrive at same time as every one else. Also, taxi engines last longer as they dont temperature cycle much. Engine is going for more than 3 hours a day.

However, this scheme reminds me of an aerial taxi idea Robert X Cringely wrote about 2 years ago. Same idea, but for shorter flights to feed from small airfields to bigger airports. pun inteded, it did not seem to take off. used Hondas little jet ITIRC.

In short, another possibility for transport mix. Given my country back road location, I doubt it would work for me, but in rural hobby farm town 12NM away, it might do well.

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Re: Maintenance cost increase

The maintenance cost per mile will probably be lower; with the vehicle in use much of the day, the engine will spend more time at its optimum temperature.

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Re: Maintenance cost increase

The average driver may be crap at anticipation but machines are crap at the unexpected. We can break from script if the need arises, such as someone or something suddenly appearing in front of us. How well could an automated system interact to such an event without false alarming?

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Anonymous Coward

Everyone seems to be conflating two separate ideas here

Driverless cars: Fantastic, can drink and drive safely, less chance of crashing (given competant software), can do stuff like sending the kids to school in it after I've already left for work.

Shared use: Bunch of crap, totally impractical, loss of personal space, needs arranging in advance (and half an hour in advance is too much), hygeine, car pooling with random stangers won't fit with many use cases (unaccompanied children/women, for example - how long will one of these firms be running before it gets known as the Rape Car service?), virtually no one will be interested.

That earlier commenter getting lambasted for objecting and told he's an edge case? Not an edge case. That's what the usual response is going to be. His specific requirements may be unique, but everyone has specific requirements, and most of them will be incompatible with this plan.

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Re: Everyone seems to be conflating two separate ideas here

I live in a market town. Even in the worst traffic, "half an hour" would be enough time to get from one side of town to the other. So I imagine they'll be able to get you a car within half an hour; outside peak times it would be ten minutes.

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Re: Everyone seems to be conflating two separate ideas here

It wouldn't be difficult to set minimum requirements for special cases - women alone, for instance. And the user could pay a premium for solitude/luxurious comfort.

None of these objections are insurmountabel.

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Re: Everyone seems to be conflating two separate ideas here

I don't know if you've noticed, but shared cars already exist - ZipCar and CityCarClub are the main UK providers - feel free to look for yourself in your own country.

You seem to be trying to prove impossible something that is already happening.

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Only catastrophic for the low end of the auto industry ...

The sector of the market that will take a hit is a mix of the low end -- small econoboxes and compact cars -- and sports cars. (There is no point whatsoever in making a self-driving two-seater convertible sports car for a fractional-reserve auto rental market; there may be a market for sports cars aimed at owners who want to have fun at a track day and then tell their car to drive them home, but that's going to be relatively small.)

My guess is that self-driving cars operated by rental/pool companies will tend to be large and/or have more luxurious interiors -- comfortable for the passengers. (Comfort is, after all, a selling point.) Think limo or (cheaper end of the market) taxi or (shopping at IKEA end of the market) crew-cab pick-up truck.

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Thumb Up

Taxi

Tis simple really. Driverless cars morph into driverless taxis and one pays by the trip.

Should be far more flexible and cheaper than owning one's own car.

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Obviously driveless cars would cause changes in behaviour, but I don't think it would be in the way the author suggests.

The idea that a large portion of people might give up car ownership because a car can drive itself doesn't hang together for me. As a consumer cars that can 'drive themselves' already exist, we call them taxi's. There are very few people though that prefer to rely on taxi's for regular use rather than own a car.

Which isn't to say that there aren't people who don't own cars, there are, and these people use public transport, taxis, feet, push bikes, etc, as they choose. But the kind of people that currently own cars will in the vast majority (IMO) continue to own cars, even if the car can drive itself.

Perhaps the author isn't a car owner, or maybe isn't a typical one. I'd suggest that a typical car has a lot of personal property left in it, all of which would need removing if other people had access to the car during the day.

There are a few points about groups of people who are unable to drive currently (children mainly), this isn't a group with a large disposable income, nor a high requirement for motorised transport that their parents aren't capable of providing. So driverless cars won't suddenly see 10 year olds taking self driven cars to the next town.

Anecdotal, but if I consider my own usage, today the car could have gone back home instead of me paying to park for the day, but generally I cycle and the car stays at home anyway.

There's nothing inherently impossible about my usage that would stop me using an on demand service that lacked ownership, but I don't use city club cars and I don't use taxi's for regular journeys, I expect that the same economic arguments would apply, owning the car would simply be cheaper and/or more convenient.

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>The idea that a large portion of people might give up car ownership because a car can drive itself doesn't hang together for me.

It might not cause existing drivers to give up their cars, but it might delay the age at which a young person chooses to buy their own car... perhaps indefinitely.

It's not just the cost of ownership of a car, but in the second-hand market mechanical faults can unexpectedly occur, landing them with a repair bill of a few hundred pounds that they haven't budgeted for (plus the inconvenience of being without a vehicle, and missing whatever engagement they had that day).

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I was intrigued up until the point

where there may be other people in the car when it pulls up.

Ummm... surely half the point of a car is you don't have to put up with other fuckwits exhibiting anti-social behaviour such as overly loud iPod earphones, snorting and sneezing, invading your personal space etc.

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Re: I was intrigued up until the point

>I was intrigued up until the point where there may be other people in the car when it pulls up.

Then simply pay a premium to use the vehicle by yourself. Your preference in this matter will probably be part of the profile you create when you sign up for the service- or chosen on a trip-by-trip basis, if some days you are feeling more tolerant.

The whole gist of the article was based on economic factors. If you want to save money by sharing the lift with others, you can. If you want to spend a little more for the privilege of travelling by yourself, you can.

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How do you determine fault in a crash

How do you determine fault in a crash with a driven vec and a driverless vec. Will human judgment be respected?

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Re: How do you determine fault in a crash

Using the many onboard cameras I expect.

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flying

interesting that most / all flights are now days done 99 % by the auto pilot, yet we still have two people in the front to fly.

would we ever allow a fully automatic flight system ?

are we ever going to allow an automatic car to take over ?

I doubt it,

if nothing else, the insurance will still say its the drivers fault, even if they were asleep and car / jet was on auto pilot.

you cant sue a machine,

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Re: flying

We have driverless light rail, despite the objections of the drivers union when it was introduced.

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Facepalm

Re: flying

They don't usually land by themselves (I know a few planes CAN but they don't), and they don't take off by themselves, and they can't react in emergencies, and most importantly, if a cars computer breaks down, it can be set to slow down & stop... if a planes autopilot breaks down, it crashes...

The pilots do a lot more than 'keep the plane on course' which is all the autopilot really does...

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Childcatcher

Re: flying

You can't sue a machine, but you certainly can sue the manufacturer... could get very interesting.

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Anonymous Coward

I'm a little torn on this one. Whilst I love the idea of being able to call up a vehicle, climb in and read a book whilst my now shorter (due to less traffic jams) work journey disappears in front of me, I also consider myself a driver.

Public transport is not an option for me currently, not because I am lazy, but to get to work tomorrow, I'd have to set off tonight and sleep in the station overnight. Even without waiting time, my journey would be closer to 4 hours each way, instead of 45-60 minute drive. On top of that the bus & train fair would cost more than double the fuel required, granted this doesn't make allowances for maintenance.

The other side of the coin is I want to drive, I enjoy it and I compete in motorsports. Currently I can jump in my car, go for a blast in the countryside, my music on as loud as like, cigarette in my hand and it isn't a problem. I don't have to share my space with anyone, unless I choose. Whilst the world maybe anti-smoking, I am anti-children, so I don't want to spend my time listen to some whiny little brat or crying baby.

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Who gets to chose the radio station or music in the car if there are multiple people in there? Do I get to leave my smelly gym kit in the shared car during the day so I don't have to keep it under my desk?

I bet if you asked the average person to empty out their car, you would find a huge amount of personal belongings that are stored in a car, just ask anyone who has had their car stolen. We keep them there for convenience. Can I book a child car seat, or do I have to carry those around?

This Idea could catch on in some scenarios, but I still feel most families would need at least one car dedicated to them?

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Meh

Nae chance

Self drive will just become another 'option' like sat nav. Most people like to own their cars as a little bit of mobile private space. And some people still enjoy driving.

But it would be a great option.

I can see this replacing taxis (Johnny Cab anyone) but not the private car.

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Smokers...

...will still want their own car, where the Health & Safety people haven't (yet) prevented them from practising their vice.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Smokers...

Smoking while driving is *****y dangerous. I've seen a lot of near-misses at least partially (if not entirely) caused by somebody fiddling with a ciggy.

Unfortunately the police seem incapable of even trying to enforce the whole "due care and attention" thing until after somebody dies.

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And another thing

"In that scenario, and excluding other trips (which will, after all, be spread across the second car that most car-owning households maintain), the daily commute comes at a price of $20 per hour."

" it's at least feasible that once the (considerable) startup costs are covered, a business model exists under which people will use autonomous cars, but never own one."

The conclusion that is drawn, doesn't even follow from the over simplified reduction in the earlier statement.

What does follow is a statement more like this;

"It's at least feasible ...blah blah... business model exists under which households will use autonomous cars *instead of owning a 2nd vehicle*"

And this makes much more sense, if 1 car is a secondary vehicle that is primarily used for commuting, and the actual cost of using an autonomous car is lower than owning it, then people might do that.

But, the assumption that an autonomous car will be significantly cheaper than a taxi is probably erroneous IMO. Driving a taxi is a low income job, in terms of hourly pay the vast majority of what you pay for a taxi does not end up in the drivers pocket, which leads to the conclusion that removing the driver would not result in a large cost saving.

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Roadside recovery

Should the vehicle you are in break down, you won't have to wait on the roadside for an hour... the vehicle will have already informed the Controlling System that it cannot proceed, and a lift will soon arrive for you - followed by a repair / tow vehicle sometime later.

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Bronze badge

use the park and ride,

pimping cars and hacking the computer gear ratios and speed limits is part of being a man and will never die

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Ah yes another one of those concepts

... that is always a few years away, and never happens. Why? Because we don't really want or need driverless cars. What we need is less cars and more working at home.

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Re: Ah yes another one of those concepts

bigger park and rides on all main roads, bus ticket pass included in the parking fee, and automated buses

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Re: Ah yes another one of those concepts

your never going to be standing or fill up 4 seat with iceland and argos shopping bags, you buy everything online

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Anonymous Coward

Never mind that...

I want to know when I can just call for a Johnny Cab!

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Faster journeys ?

Hypothetically possible if less road space is needed for parking and more vehicle sharing reduces congestion.

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