back to article VW to eliminate worst road hazard: drivers

Soon you won't own a car, but one will come to you on its own when you call it, then whisk you away in perfect safety without you having to drive it — and that day may be closer than you think. "If you ask, 'Is it a future story you're telling us?' No, it's not," said Burkhard Huhnke, executive director of the Volkswagen Group …

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  1. Blain Hamon
    Stop

    Eliminate the worst road hazard, or become the worst road hazard?

    "Well, you couldn't imagine: after a few seconds, they already took the newspaper and read the news articles. So they trusted already the machine, which was great."

    Actually, I could, because I've seen people do just as bad while still driving on the road, and there's been cases where people have thought cruise control did just that. It's really easy to gain misplaced trust.

    Having been a tow truck driver, I've seen not just driver error but sensor failures (VWs are particularly bad for the brake sensor ), mechanical failures (VW locks are also bad), computer glitches (Ever had to disconnect the battery of a BMW or Buick to reboot the car?), etc, etc.

    Problem becomes where you either cannot or do not override the system when the system fails. It's like the issue how antilock brakes haven't reduced crashes because people start relying on them in ways that balance out all the benefits. ( http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060927201332.htm )

    Let's run the blind curve scenario again, but instead of a downed car, it's a tree. Now the driver not only doesn't get a warning, but will be less likely to take action when they don't get a warning. Too rare on the freeway? Fine, how about a person walking away from their downed car. Still too unlikely? Fine, in places where car safety is needed most, cars are grandfathered in, so most vehicles (Especially large expensive ones like big rigs) would be invisible to communications. Replace the nation's entire car fleet, you say? Sure. But then when a car stopped because the alternator died*, there'd be no power for communications.

    It's a cute idea, but the car-of-the-future plans they were spouting only work on a closed and tightly controlled test track.

    *This is something common enough that some auto clubs offer roadside alternator replacement.

    1. Steve 13
      WTF?

      no worse

      So if it's a tree, or a pedestrian or an old vehicle the situation is no worse than today.

      Currently if any of those things are around a blind corner, you run into them. Assuming you can't stop in time or go around them.

      With a smart car, you still run into them.

      Of course the smart car might have radar and laser sensors, and hit the brakes a lot faster than you would have done. So maybe you run into them at a lower speed.

      Overall though, you've gained the ability to not run into a smart enabled car around that blind corner, and maybe reduce the severity of running into other objects. You're definitely no worse off than before though.

      1. Graham Marsden

        if any of those things are around a blind corner, you run into them...

        .... Assuming you can't stop in time or go around them.

        If you can't stop in time or go around them then you are driving *TOO FAST* for the circumstances (NB this is not the same as speeding because you could be below the limit but on a slippery road or in situations where visibility is reduced)

        Any computer controlled system *MUST* be able to adequately calculate the appropriate speed for the conditions and adjust it accordingly, otherwise it will be just as dangerous as drivers who think that 80mph is a safe speed on a foggy motorway...

        1. Blain Hamon
          Badgers

          Right. Why were they "merely speeding around the curve" to begin with?

          "If you can't stop in time or go around them then you are driving *TOO FAST* for the circumstances (NB this is not the same as speeding because you could be below the limit but on a slippery road or in situations where visibility is reduced)"

          Exactly. Why I slammed this example was because the way this was presented was such that it's likely that it'd give a false sense of security. Why drive slowly? I've got Fog Lights! Why be careful about turns with icy roads? I've got All Wheel Drive with Traction Control! Why take this freeway onramp slowly? I've got VW-Branded Computing! The article already demonstrated a scary amount of undeserved trust, with drivers reading newspapers.

          I suppose it's all moot, and hopefully we'll get something that is actually beneficial, and therefore, won't be all attention-getting and thus never covered; to silently assist, not replace. No batmobile-esque autopilot, just sensors that might slow down the car in dangerous curves, prime the brakes and downshift to react quicker if something's ahead, or maybe assist the air bag AI to reduce false positives and false negatives.

          Or, knowing car manufacturers, a hidden phone-home to alert the local dealer to pester you to come in for some expensive needed maintenance.

  2. Anonymous Bastard
    FAIL

    Huhnke envisioned a blind curve, around which a car has broken down in your lane

    "...Rather than merely speeding around the curve and plowing into the rear of that stopped vehicle..."

    Rather obvious but what if something other than an intelligent car is in your path? A person for instance, one who hadn't yet signed all free choice over to the machines. Or a fallen tree or rock slide. To take this into consideration manufacturers will program their cars to slow down for blind corners and take other sensible, existing precautions - thereby eliminating the need for a hugely complex and vulnerable network of moving vehicles.

    Also at fail is the very concept of sharing cars. Nobody wants to give up their favourite possession, we love our cars too much. Nobody will ever want to risk getting a car on saturday night with a puddle of someone else's sick in the back, or worse! Fleet companies will try to cut corners too by having only enough cars for average load, cue hour-long waits for your ride to find you.

    Lastly how is a long stretch of open road supposed to be annoying? That's the perfect time to go really, really fast.

    1. Mike Flugennock
      Thumb Up

      re: Huhnke envisioned a blind curve...

      "Lastly how is a long stretch of open road supposed to be annoying? That's the perfect time to go really, really fast..."

      Damn' right, man. Time to put the top down, crank up the stereo, and put the pedal to the metal.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Joke

        @Mike Flugennock

        Herr Flugennock

        Your individualist tendencies have been noted by the team and will be dealt with an an appropriate manner.

        The VW Driver Profiling Safety Team.

        "Knowing you better than you know yourself for your own safety."

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Terminator

      Lowest common denominator

      "Lastly how is a long stretch of open road supposed to be annoying? That's the perfect time to go really, really fast."

      The thoughts of an individualist - they'll get you for that! One place where something like this could work well would be traffic jams; traffic might actually flow better with machines paying attention than it ever would with idiots checking on social networking sites rather than driving. Problem: somebody in government decides they haven't had a power fix in too long and changes the carbon allowance or whatever it is, and the next thing you know, the cars don't move as well as they once did.

      The other problem: the "I'm scared" button on the dashboard that slows the car by 20% or whatever would be deemed safe. It would get added, perhaps for good reason. But the people who respond well to OnStar adds will never let go of the damn thing and completely louse up traffic.

      It will be illegal to pass, of course, so you get to sit behind the guy who is either afraid to travel at reasonable speed OR thinks he's better than everyone else and knows that they should be spending more time in traffic in the name of safety and saving the planet. The fact that it wastes lots of fuel with all the cars idling for no reason is unimportant to him.

  3. C. P. Cosgrove
    Go

    Infrastructure

    While I do not doubt for one minute the feasability of Burkhard Huhnke's remarks, one area he appears to have glossed over is the requirement for some sort of infrastructure so that his cars know where the road is, and agreement on standards so that only one variety of infrastructure is required.

    I agree fully with his comments about under- and over- challenging situations. I used to drive trucks around Europe, and, a common response when told what my occupation was ' Oh, that must be exciting !' . No, getting exciting usually meant it was getting dangerous, and it is not a good idea getting dangerous with 40 tons at 90 KPH ! It's an awful lot of energy. But it could be bloody boring.

    Chris Cosgrove

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Agreed and this may be mentioned below but...

      What if I take my fully equipped UK car to the continent? Prorite a Droite? Or are we anticipating all vehicles on all roads being fully equipped - I think not.....

      How will the technology deal with horses and other (non-driving) bovines? Elk? Aliens come to abduct me - sorry, they'd override the systems!

      This is a nice idea as a stalking horse - so to speak - but cars are controlled by drivers and always should be. Only drivers should be required to appear in a court of law.

      If you want to give up responsibility, take a public transport boat, plane or train.

  4. John Tserkezis
    FAIL

    Not going to happen.

    In 20 years time, liquid or gasseous fuel, or electricity will be so expensive, that no-one but the elite would be able to afford it.

    And by that stage, collision avoidance had better be advanced enough, because the super-fast cars will need some way to avoid the remainder of the population who's fallen back to using horses and fucking bulls to do their towing.

    1. Nexox Enigma

      Not again...

      """In 20 years time, liquid or gasseous fuel, or electricity will be so expensive, that no-one but the elite would be able to afford it."""

      I'm really tired of this 'The world/society/time will end before then, why bother even trying to innovate" argument.

      You do realize that your prediction is roughly equal to a total, world-wide socio-economical breakdown, right? And with so much evidence to back up your wild claims. I imagine you were thinking of peak oil or similar, but you didn't even bother to mention. In any case, if you believe the peak oil nonsense, then you shouldn't be sitting and complaining, you should invest in a few oil wells, then leave them full of oil until crude goes to $400 / barrel. Then you'll have shown us all.

      I just hope they take a decade or so to secure all of this (Like most other industries that can't learn from others' mistakes...) so I can have a "Get the fuck out of my lane I don't have time for you fools" button. The first few iterations will probably have open Windows file shares, default passwords, buffer overflows, unencrypted wireless, and some implementation bugs build into the standardized protocols. I can't wait.

      What are the chances that this future infrastructure would be open source, rather than closed, and used in various anti-competitive ways? What the hell will cops do for fun and income, with no speeders to catch?

      1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge
        FAIL

        @Nexox Enigma

        Did you just say what I think you said? Essentially "peak oil is never going to happen?" That's the dumbest damned thing I have ever heard. Where exactly do you think it comes from? God makes it and puts it in the ground for good little Texans to find?

        There may be debate on the WHEN peak oil will happen, (quite a few believe we have already hit it,) but it is 100% inevitable. Given that, it makes more sense to me to invest in methods of propelling our cars without requiring portable chemical fuels. “The Grid” isn’t a magical source of energy, but there is a damned sight more coal than there is Oil left, and if we really get desperate there is always solar, wind and even wood burning..

        If, as a society, we are going to invest in essentially ripping up our transportation infrastructure to install a bunch of sensors, guides, beacons and other goodies to allow vehicles to drive autonomously, we should seriously consider installing some sort of track system similar to light rail transit by which vehicles can continuously draw energy from the grid while driving.

        There has to be a way to accomplish this without requiring either rails or overhead power lines. Preferably one that isn’t as ridiculously inefficient as inductive charging. I can think of a few ideas right off the top of my head, though they would need refinement. IF we start installing that sort of infrastructure now, alongside the beacons and sensors and whatnot, then I think we will be far further along preparing for the future than simply believing God Provideth Our Oil (or other such abiogenic nonsense) and pretending the looming energy crisis doesn’t exist.

        What matters is collectively coming to a few agreements.

        First: there is a looming energy crisis; this involves telling the oil companies to shut the fuck up and stay out of the negotiations for once.

        Second: Even if the energy crisis is a ways off, as a society we can’t afford to keep burning our precious fossil fuels for personal transport. We need those hydrocarbons for plastics and other petrochemical industries we don’t have the technology to replace with alternates yet.

        Third: We need to agree on standards. Standards for energy transfer to vehicles, standards for the beacons and sensors required to have pilotless aircraft, driverless cars and all other such things. There are some problems that transcend national borders, and the petty bickering is delaying the research and implementation which will do nothing but drive up the TCO.

        Lastly: We need to come up with a way to address privacy concerns inherent in a society where all movement by all citizens is tracked. If your driverless car is responding to beacons on the road and has an array of sensors of it’s on, it is only a matter of time before someone starts recording the information collected and transmitting it centrally. We need to look at these issues BEFORE they become a problem, and legislate accordingly. (Otherwise you get some uppity island government telling everyone their privacy laws are invalid and spying on all of its citizens even whilst it is being sued and sanctioned for its misdeeds. Ooops…)

        I am sorry, but when it comes to something as important to the lives of so many as personal transportation, the issues aren’t simple. They are complex and integrated into issues from the personal to the international. As a global society we need to grow the fuck up, stop it will the selfish reactionary bullshit and start actually PLANNING for the future.

        Be PROactive rather than REactive; if you head of as many problems as you can before they arrive, that leaves you more time and resources to deal with the ones you didn’t expect and couldn’t have anticipated.

        It’s a bloody shame that personal greed is always standing in the way. Someone stop the world: I want off.

    2. M Gale
      Badgers

      /rimshot

      "And by that stage, collision avoidance had better be advanced enough, because the super-fast cars will need some way to avoid the remainder of the population who's fallen back to using horses and fucking bulls to do their towing."

      You're suggesting we'll be fucking bulls to do our towing?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Flame

        EXTREME PORNTHOUGHT!

        Lock that man up, then burn him!

  5. Squirrel
    Thumb Up

    looking forward to it

    Much prefer a CPU to a... mobile using/map reading/paper work doing/fapping/sleeping/dropped CD finding retard homo sapien any day.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Grenade

      FAIL

      You'd rather trust the car to some software program developed by the lowest bidding software body shop in whatever is the cheapest labour cost country at the time? Because that's who will be designing, writing and testing the software when it gets to the commercialisation stage.

      I've spent many years in the software industry and even if they chose the highest bidder in the most expensive country, I still wouldn't trust it, because I know that testing is the area that corners are cut. Why do you think every software EULA explicitly denies all liability for injury or loss (life, money etc).

      1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge
        Dead Vulture

        @AC

        Um...have you MET any actual homo sapiens sapiens? By and large, not the most alert, proactive or cautious bunch. Pretty much regulated by instinct, immediate desires/greed and distracted by shiny things.

        Sure, a computer might screw up every now and again, and someone will die. Maybe even a few someones. A patch will be issued, we’ll learn a few things and our technology will advance. The point is that when you compare the operational record of software to that of wetware, I would be willing to bet my life and that of my loved ones on the fact that overall the number of collisions will decrease. Not only that, but the collisions that do occur will be far less deadly.

        Just because a software based transportation system won’t be perfect doesn’t mean it won’t be a significant improvement over a wetware based one. If we can get the accident rate of automotive transportation down to even that of the airline industry, it would be a spectacular improvement.

        What is it with commenters on this site? “If the solution proposed isn’t absolutely perfect, then bin it because WE’RE TERRIFIED OF ANY CHANGE.” You know what, I’m a bloody luddite. I abhor change in most forms unless there is a damned good reason for it. I don’t believe in the concept that “because it’s new” is a valid reason for ANYTHING.

        Taking that into consideration, I STILL think that software is superior to wetware for most tasks. It’s far more predictable and it doesn’t get distracted. I mean, $deity man! They’ve got airplanes now that can do mid-air refuelling entirely autonomously. Do you have ANY COMPREHENSION of how unbelievably difficult that is? Automated carrier landings in rough seas. All this and more is possible, and you are worried that the computer is going to screw up something as simple as collision avoidance on a hiway? Please.

        The failure rates of even the beta level equipment would probably be superior to the most of the arrogant drunken jackasses that crowd the hiways around here. Computers don’t get drunk, tired, impatient, distracted or sleepy. And their reaction time is at least an order of magnitude greater than even the best trained wetware available. You know what else? Computers keep getting faster and more capable all the time. Homo sapiens sapiens, well..

        …have you seen Idiocracy?

        Tombstone, because software isn't likely to get you there.

      2. Ru
        Terminator

        Re: FAIL

        > "I've spent many years in the software industry and even if they chose the highest bidder in the most expensive country, I still wouldn't trust it, because I know that testing is the area that corners are cut. Why do you think every software EULA explicitly denies all liability for injury or loss (life, money etc)."

        You don't generally get to do that in safety critical systems. If you're making fire alarms, life support systems, avionics or (eventually) car autopilots, if you aren't prepared to stand by the quality of your product, you will either a) be ignored by companies who aren't willing to take the blame for your shitty components killing hundreds of people or b) be unable to sell it in the first place without breaking a whole bunch of laws.

        A partially automated car network whereby major roads were embedded with guidance and traffic management systems is a much more likely occurrence than VWs pie-in-the-sky dream. Common places to find long, boring journeys and long traffic jams, the benefits of autopiloted cars could be most easily seen with the least investment of effort and in a much more controlled environment with no blind corners or sudden turnings.

        Road users could be encouraged to fit autopilots in return for reduced tolls or taxes, or other benefits like dedicated autopilot lanes, etc.

        Making a totally general purpose car navigation system is probably an AI-hard problem in any 'legacy' road network that has built on a couple of thousand years worth of farm tracks to produce massively suboptimal routes. I'd be far happier trusting a robot to drive on a multilane trunk road than a twisty back lane, for example.

        And this doesn't even begin to consider how loath many people would be to give up car ownership. Still, it got plenty of press attention so I guess it did its job.

  6. George 24

    Looking at it the wrong way

    Here is a little idea. Why don't we start looking at the car strictly as a tool. We only make it as powerful as it needs to be, so we don't need all the electronics to compensate for the over power and under skills? 60 bhp per tonne would be sufficient.

    Parking assist, why? If a driver does not have the skills to park, maybe they should not be on the road.

    All of a sudden we have a vehicle that is safer, cleaner and much cheaper. The only electronic that we need is a signal jamming device so imbeciles cannot use their mobile phone while driving. Another step closer to safety heaven.

    There are studies in Germany that have shown that by removing road signs and traffic lights in towns, accidents decreased. This is because the driver HAS to concentrate on driving and road rules instead of having such an easy drive that the mind can wonder.

    Increase education and decrease horsepower. Technology is not always the answer.

    1. DannyAston
      Thumb Down

      Miles

      I cover well over 30k miles a year for work and personal, I can tell you now there is no way I could do that with 60HP and stay sane!

      Also less BHP does not always mean better efficiency, to cruise at 70MPH in a 60BHP car it will be screaming at 5KRPM, this will actually burn more fuel then a 160BHP car sitting at 1.5KRPM.

    2. JP19

      wah wah wah

      When my life consists only of work then I will start looking at things only as tools.

      "Looking at it the wrong way" Translation :-

      I don't mind using a shit little car that slowly gets me from A to B but I would feel so much better about it if everyone else was forced to use a shit little car.

    3. Mr Young
      Troll

      60 bhp per tonne would be sufficient?

      Whaaaaaaaaaaat? Where did you get that silly idea? Maybe it's a typo and you actually mean 600bhp/tonne? YeeHaa! It's possible to accelerate out of trouble you know - a low power car can be bloody dangerous sometimes.

  7. gimbal
    Badgers

    The ultimate in Nanny State meets Technology...

    Just take Route 1984 down to the turnpike, and bail out at at the bridge.

    Honestly, I sure don't see that idea as it ever actually happening, the whole autobot car thing.

  8. Remy Redert

    @C.P. Cosgrove

    You are SERIOUSLY underestimating what modern technology can already do.

    We can already build fully autonomous cars (It's a DARPA challenge) and while they're not far along enough yet to be reliable enough for widespread use, they do not need expensive infrastructure to know where the road is. They do need GPS to know where they are and where to go, but they use cameras and other sensors of their own to determine where the road is, if there are any obstacles and if there are safe paths around those obstacles.

    They can even decide to go off-road to go around an obstacle, if programmed to do so.

    The car-wide network, while it might be useful for sharing information where possible, will not be relied on to supply road safety information. It will be used to tell the other cars that there's a traffic jam up ahead and if you can use a different route, you should do so.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Stop

      I can't see why you got downvoted for that post

      it seemed sensible.

      Except.... What happens when you've got all 850Million cars worldwide automated to the hilt? These autonomous computers use laser scanners, radar, sonar, that sort of thing. There's another order of magnitude increase in complexity required before they'll be able to determine which ranging beams are their own and which are from another car.

      Also, for this car-network thing you're talking about all the car manufacturers- and kit car builders and classic car owners- adopting one single common system. This is nigh-on impossible. Even if everything's roughly compatible the manufacturers will be creating their own extensions to the service, which will suck.

      Plus I'm not giving anyone the chance to build a remote killswitch into my car. If it's there for the government/police, it's down to the level of any 14 year old script kiddie 10 years later.

      I give it 6 months before the first demonstrators on the road start being attacked by GPS jammers/spoofers, laser pens to screw up the rangefinding and so on. 3 years later (if these menaces are ignored by the government), we'll have carbon-composite cars designed to not show up to automated vehicles (say, a matt-black radar absorbant system for the now much easier technology of smuggling- no-one will even know what passed them) and the use of the traffic jam warning system to direct traffic away from politically sensitive (and criminally sensitive) areas.

      So C.P. Cosgrove seriously underestimated the level of modern technology. But you underestimated the huge challenges that this technology still has to face before it's anywhere near ready for the mass market.

      1. Steve 13
        FAIL

        API

        It just requires a standard communications API defining and a common communication medium.

        How the process and produce the communication contents would be down to each manunfacturer.

        The idea that this would be difficult to do seems ludicrous when you're posting on the internet. We managed a worldwide network of disparate machines and different standards, yet you've managed to post, I've managed to read it and now I'm posting in reply. I doubt that we're using the same machine to do that, or even something made by the same manufacturer. In fact we may well be using a completely different communication technology, 3G, wifi, ethernet, etc...

        Identifying your own laser would be trivially simple if you encode a small amount of information in it. Ie, tag it using pulse or frequency modulation.

        Nor was there any suggestion that every car would have to use this technology. It's a primary requirement that the cars would work in an environment with other vehicles that aren't using this technology.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      re: @C.P.Cosgrove

      How right you are. I was driving at a moderate speed recently and approaching traffic lights at a pedestrian crossing. The traffic in the oncoming lane was stationary and the lights green for me. Then a couple of people walked straight out between the other cars and into my path.Whilst I'm pretty sure I had time to stop in this case, I'm also sure that the fact that the radar system on the car alarmed when it 'saw' them and the car's brakes were fully on instead perhaps of my taking a split second to realise I needed full braking meant I stopped sooner than otherwise. I have no doubt that if they had stepped out a fraction later or if I had been going faster, the tech might have made the difference between them looking incredibly embarrassed and being hurt. This, I am sure is only the start of the sort of tech assistance that is bound to prove valuable not just to the idiot who wants to drink his Starbucks and read the paper whilst driving but also to the rest of us who do concentrate on the task in hand!

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good job guys.

    More reasons why this is a bad idea at present:

    Letting the car drive itself as much as possible means the driver gets as little practice as possible, making the driver even more dangerous when (s)he does have to drive the thing.

    But if you take away the controls, then it won't be possible to fix some simple problems like getting stuck in a ditch or a patch of mud. Some areas will also be troublesome to instruct the vehicle on where to drive: off road, unmarked parking lots, temporary roads, etc.

    Cars might be readily available in downtown and suburb areas, but no one wants to wait several hours for a car to get to them if they're outside the main operating areas, i.e. wilderness recreation areas.

    The community bike programs have already shown what happens when there isn't much accountability in who uses them. The bikes just disappeared. Even if the cars were tagged so that they couldn't be taken straight to a chop shop and dismantled, they'd still end up with everything that wasn't tagged being removed and sold. The rental car companies have good ways of dealing with this, but it takes a good amount of time to check in or out a car.

    Solutions to most of the problems that have been listed here amount to buying your own car. Make the manufacturer liable for most of the physical problems within a required warranty period and require regular maintenance. Only allow (and require?) automated driving in well controlled areas (perhaps cheap cars would only operate in the city, more expensive ones would come with controls. (Yes, that would suck.))

    Far too many scientists and "futurists" simply don't want to acknowledge the realities of human society when they're building their great new future. More and more, the future just looks like the present. But the technology should turn out to be useful in urban areas where many of the issues can be controlled.

    Note: Where I live, fallen trees and rock slides aren't terribly common. Far more common to have wildlife, small children or people in the road. Existing technology can handle random obstacles (static or moving,) though.

  10. 32holes

    I swear it wasn't me officer......

    I am telling you it was the car that killed that cyclist

  11. Mike Flugennock
    FAIL

    D'ohh, gaahhddd...

    ...not another goddamn' "in the future your car will drive itself" story. I've been seeing this crap on a regular basis since I first saw it in My Weekly Reader back in the mid '60s, when I was about seven years old. I've become increasingly skeptical in leaps and bounds as each new automotive technological "advance" has only caused more headaches.

    Even inasmuch as drivers -- at least on US roads -- have become increasingly retarded by rising orders of magnitude, I'd still rather have humans in control of cars rather than computers, whose instruction sets are written by _humans_ who, experience teaches us, have an amazing propensity towards fallibility.

    I think the problem with the current generation of "futurists" is that they're of a generation who spent a large number of hours watching Star Trek, The Jetsons, and Wonderful World Of Disney. Too much goddamn' unfounded optimism, too goddamn' much gee-whizzery, not enough sober, rational realism.

  12. drfreak
    WTF?

    Will the computers get road rage too?

    "Asshole, you just cut me off!"

    "Asshole does not compute, please respond with course correction data."

  13. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
    Coat

    But I already have a vehicle that I don't need to drive and comes when I signal...

    It's called a bus!

    I've even got another one that moves on a different level to avoid traffic jams. I call that the underground.

    Seriously, these future visions for the car are already achievable (and achieved, in some cities) by public transport, with a lot less energy consumption and pollution. It's amazing that the marketers can persuade people they need cars. What next? They'll persuade people that water is better when bought in bottles? Ah, they've already won!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re: But I already have a vehicle...

      Ah yes... Like trains.... a means of transport that starts from somewhere you don't want to start from and takes you to somewhere you don't want to go to...

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      You assume bus service can reach your area...

      ...which it might not if you're in a less-urban setting. You may also be taking a trip that requires cargo-carrying capacity (this is especially true in the US--hardware stores are some of the biggest retailers around).

      1. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
        FAIL

        Of course, cars are perfect...

        @AC - if the planners in your location are that incompetent you should replace them.

        @Charles 9 - so you drive around in a 4-wheel drive goods vehicle every day, because you need to move a sofa/freezer etc. up a trackless mountain once a year? I hire the capability (with driver, in most cases) when I need it, and take the bus/train the rest of the time. Hardware stores here provide reasonably-priced delivery.

        The point about less-urban settings doesn't work... if the area is really that sparsely populated, it's going to take ages for the magic car to reach you from its last drop-off.

        The odd thing is, with a bit of reasonable infrastructure planning and public transport, you can achieve now almost exactly the same as VW's future vision, with the exception of paying VW $$$, and with the benefit of onboard P2P social networking. A triumph of marketing.

  14. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    The best way ...

    ... to improve road safety is to adjust the nut behind the steering wheel.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      this is a title

      "The best way to improve road safety is to adjust the nut behind the steering wheel." is not unlike saying "the best way to cure cancer is to develop a pill to stop it" - great idea, but a little short on the practicalities.

      My suggestion would be replacing airbags & seatbelts with a nine inch spike in the centre of the steering wheel.

  15. kain preacher Silver badge

    How to eliminate road hazzards

    Require 100 hours book work, then 500 hours of driving practice. Create over passes for bikes and pedestrians . Make it a $1000 fine for pedestrians , bicyclist and cars to cross against the light. $1000 fine for pedestrians and bicyclist to cross at non designated spots . Make all moving violations a crime . No trees near the roads.

    Sounds bat shit crazy right ? And yet if we did that I believe you will still have morons on the road .

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Reply to post: How to eliminate road hazzards

      Can we get a $10,000 fine for drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians or cyclists in the crosswalk then too?

    2. Elmer Phud

      Kars are King?

      Seeng as you have an auto-centric world-view why not just wall the roads in and let the rest of us get on with our lives instead of tyring to legislate us out of existance --remember we was here long before tarmac. Rather than hiding everyone else - hide the cars instead.

  16. jake Silver badge

    EXACTLY!

    "The solution is obvious: get rid of that error-prone driver."

    But instead of spending billions or trillions of dollars over the next hundred years or so, how about we actually teach people to drive in the first place, and then verify that they haven't drifted into bad habits every couple years?

    Probably a more useful technology would be an electronic box that verifies the current driver's insurance & license before allowing the ignition to be turned on ... with an "Emergency" button that allows a driver to fire up the car in an emergency ... but also contacts 911 (999 or 112 to you Brits & Euros) ... Note that I, personally, wouldn't be happy to see such technology implemented as it would assume that anyone in the drivers seat is a criminal ... but over all, it would be a better use of funds.

    Personally, I don't want my car to drive itself ... If I can no longer drive, lift my license.

    1. Rune Moberg

      Keeping drivers from drifting into bad habits

      @jake, how do you propose doing that?

      There are some flaws with how traffic laws are enforced in most civilized countries. E.g. the same speed limit applies to everyone. It does not matter whether you're driving a 30 year old beat up wreck of a car, or a current year model of a premium brand that is as safe as a tank and has road holding abilities that would rival that of a fly sticking to a sugar cube.

      In such an example, it would be unsafe for the old car to e.g. drive 60 kph in a 80 kph zone, and the new car would be safe (and then some) driving 110+ on the same road. Yet... They allow the old wreck to travel at the legal speed limit, and will gladly prosecute the safer driver for driving more responsibly. Drum brakes vs disc brakes, ABS vs used up brakes that will eventually lock and keep the oldie from steering... It is not considered. The cops only measure the speed and nothing else.

      Last winter a BMW tried to overtake me as I was only driving 100 on a 90 road. He did not realize his car couldn't power through the big water pit approaching fast. After that little encounter, he decided to reduce his speed below the legal speed limit... I never saw him again. My car model (Saab 9000) is notorious for its excellent handling in adverse conditions. The factory even made sure a tyre blowout won't disturb it. Hopefully other factories followed suit, but...

      So, in any case... I drive "fast". I've always driven fast. As a rule of thumb, I do respect 60 kph speed limits and lower. In my mind, such speed limits are usually put there to protect pedestrians and you never know when a kid might pop out. On 80 kph+ roads I relax more and make up for the lost speed on the inner-city roads. Driving 720 km+ per week, this seems to work quite well.

      My last speeding ticket was a year ago (126 kph on a four lane 90 kph road that turned into a 110 kph one km ahead -- it was in the afternoon, clear sunny conditions, not much traffic and +8C degrees, feel free to explain to me just how road safety was being jeopardized... I had a 2008 model 9-3 at the time with ESP and other stuff you'll find in modern cars).

      And finally, last week I drove behind a police patrol car on a four lane highway. Nobody dared pass it, and finally the guy in front of the police car dipped a little under the speed limit so the cop decided to pass him. While overtaking, the other car increased his speed by 2 kph or so (we were going downhill at that point), and the police car... Hit the brakes! The bastard himself did not dare to cross the 90 kph speed limit, thus making a mockery of the whole concept of having an overtaking lane in the first place.

      When even the people enforcing the laws do not know how to pilot a vehicle... How should we erradicate the bad drivers from the roads?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Coffee/keyboard

      ha ha

      Yeah ok. I'd like to see how that would be implemented/enforced.

  17. blackworx
    Unhappy

    Cars available on-call...

    Solely from the point of view that the streets might no longer be overflowing with everyone's personal precious two tons of parked metal and plastic, this sounds appealing.

    I'm sick fed up of the sight of cars. Why has society let itself become so enslaved by them?

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge
      Stop

      Standard whine from blackworx.

      Look - cars are, quite simply, the greatest thing that happened to humanity. Cheap, individualised travel, giving freedom to more people than anything else in history. People are no longer limited to small-radius travel, and can choose how far they want to go. A car at the lowest speed-limits generally set (30mph/50kph) can travel more distance in an hour than most people on foot have ever been able to in a day.* That is freedom. And don't forget the death and serious injury toll for those people that did have to walk those distances. People living in mountainous places still die every winter walking from house to house in the same village. Those that don't die are usually saved by being transported to hospital by - you guessed it - a person with a car (since the ambulance can't get up the hill).

      * I wonder if there are estimates for the deaths/serious injuries if we were all (as in the current population) on foot/bicycles/horses - a quick Google didn't find anything.

      1. blackworx

        Re: Standard whine

        Oh lord! And to think: there was me going my merry ignorant way, all along thinking that perhaps something as lofty and la-di-dah as the wheel, civilisation, the printing press or agriculture might be the single greatest thing to have happened to mankind but no, silly me, it's the humble automobile. How could I have been so stupid? It's all becoming so clear to me now! Of course none of us would be able to get anywhere without cars. If cars were suddenly to vanish in a puff of smoke then we'd all be stuck in our own little stone age villages, wandering about on foot, tripping and banging our silly heads on rocks all the time. Dammit I've seen the light! Cars SAVE lives! Hallelujah!

        Or, to put it another way: If you're going to call me a whiner it's probably best not to completely miss my point then spout some weak, rambling argument against whatever point you thought I was making. I mean - really - ambulances can't get up mountains? More people might die if we didn't have cars? I can't believe you actually Googled to try to back that one up. Still... it's a life, eh?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    A malware wet dream

    Autonomous cars would be a hacker's wet dream. Especially given how poor the automotive industry takes security.

  19. Richard Scratcher
    Go

    partial solution

    I get no pleasure from driving these days. There's too much traffic on the roads, too many maniacs and too many traffic lights.

    I'd like to be able to switch to an autopilot for motorway or dual carriageway (divided highway) journeys. These roads are relatively safe and most of the traffic jams are caused by inconsiderate or careless driving. Hand this stretch of the road over to the machines and traffic should flow better. No more centre lane blocking by grandad or by trucks going 1/2mph faster than the truck in the slow lane. No more following a driver who dabs his breaks every few seconds because he's much too close to the car in front. No more problems with drivers who think the key to joining a motorway is being assertive.

    Driving on other roads would be very difficult to automate but better public transport would help here.

  20. SImon Hobson Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Brilliant idea

    Just think of the benefits. Once the comms protocol is broken open, I'll be able to send false signals making all these automated cars believe that the roads I want to drive on are completely solid with traffic - and they'll route elsewhere leaving the roads empty for me (and anyone else still using "old fashioned" manually controlled cars) to use. Wonderful idea, bring it on !

  21. JaitcH
    FAIL

    Amd what of motorcycles?

    There are more than 4-wheeled vehicles on the road and what is useful to them might not be so useful to motorcyclists. As a recent adopter of motorised two-wheeled transportation, my perspective has changed considerably.

    I challenge anyone to come to Ho Chi Minh City/SaiGon and tame the 3.8-million+ motorcycles and scooters. Our average daily road kill in SaiGon is 3/day and VietNam's annual national road kill is 13,000. It simply isn't practical.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Some of us

    Some of us actually enjoy driving!

    When I was a student and had the time I averaged about 1000km a week (some weeks it was much higher), and while I don't drive anywhere near that much now (who has the time with work, a wife and 2 small kids), I don't enjoy driving any less.

    My wife doesn't understand why the No 1. requirement for my car is that it has to be manual. But I love accelerating up through the gears and using the gears to help bleed of speed as I approach a tight corner under hard brakes while I race along thin winding mountain roads reaching speeds more common on open motorways. The only thing I love better is doing the same thing on a motorcycle.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not a maniac - in fact my wife (who is never with me when I drive through the mountains) reckons I drive too slow and wonders why I don't get angry when people cut me off (why would I get angry when they did exactly what I expected them to do?)

    No I enjoy driving way to much to let some glitch ridden computer program do the driving for me!!!!

    1. Andus McCoatover

      More than 1000km/week???

      Unless you're The Stig, I don't understand how you had the time, as a student, presumably studying a bit...

      1. Black Betty

        I did 450 km/week from age 13 to 21.

        And commuted (rail or car) over 1000/week for a couple of years living north of Sydney.

        Such distances and much more are not uncommon.

        1. Andus McCoatover

          Distance...

          Oulu-Helsinki (centre to centre) is about 600 km. It takes me about 8 hours to do it in a car*. 6-ish by Pendolino train. 2 hours (assuming security is fast at the airport) by taxi/plane/taxi.

          * If I'm not wearing my flat cap, and in the old Morris Marina, natch. (Saw one over here. Almost pissed myself laughing).

          **Would I be fit for work after that? Would I fuc*k!

          ** Yep, commuted from Leamington Spa (Warwickshire) to Fleet (Surrey) for a couple of years. Killer.

          Plus, I was General Manager of the software outfit in Fleet...BSO/Tasking, in case anyone wants to look it up.

  23. Giles Jones Gold badge

    Overtaking

    There's no way in hell that this car will be able to overtake cyclists carefully.

    If you're driving along a country lane and you need to overtake how will it know not to overtake on a bend?

    There's going to be so many glitches and people killed due to "bugs". That is if it is ever approved.

  24. Tim Parker

    Not moving

    'A "speed range" that includes, one assumes, not moving.'

    Don't know about you, but i'm reading the 'speed range' is the magnitude of the velocity between obstacle and car - so applying an emergency braking system when the closing velocity is zero might be a tad over the top...

    Unless, of course, you want to read it in a different sense that makes no sense. *shrug*

  25. D. M
    Terminator

    Skynet ??

    Those things have perfect operation record, sure they can drive us around?

    I for one, will never ever accept the car drives itself.

  26. Richard Jukes

    I can see.

    I can see quite a lucrative future retrofitting older cars with electric motors. People drive because they need to and also because they like to. I like to have a 30 minute drive home after work, it lets me wind down and its fun.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The solution is proprer driver's licensing and enforcement

    We don't need chip run cars. They make Buses for folks to ride if they can't drive. Don't provide driver's licenses to people without the proper training, skills and good judgment. Hold those accountable for their actions behind the wheel.

    1. Black Betty

      I disagree. There are many of us who prefer...

      ...(or would prefer given more options) not to have to devote a great deal of effort to learning the skill as it should be learned.

      The whole transport issue needs a multiprong approach. Among other things a simple solution to the problem of where to put the high speed rail seems to me to place it on elevated tracks along the median strips of superhighways.

      I doubt there will be such a thing as a fully autonomous vehicle any time soon. Instead there will be controlled and uncontrolled roads. And manual only vehicles will not be permitted on controlled roads.

  28. Ryan Barrett
    FAIL

    Electronics in Volkswagens..

    Now I've owned a number of Volkswagens in the past, and the very first (and usually only) thing to fail in them is - you guessed it - the electronics.

    So this "blind bend" example. You'd be speeding towards a blind bend. Someone has broken down in their VW on the bend. Because it's a VW, it means that the wireless system's probably not working. Electronics and all that.

    So you plough into the back of him.

  29. Dale 3

    Who would they sell it to?

    Which manufacturer is going to want to sell 1 car to be shared between 5 people (which is what this "call it and it comes" model is all about) when they can sell 5 cars to 5 individuals? The technology may move quickly over 20 years, but people's mindsets don't.

  30. Justicesays
    FAIL

    Won't someone please think of the lawyers

    how long is the first autonomous car company going to last when they have the crap sued out of them every time there is an accident involving their cars? Currently there isnt much point suing a driver if they cause an accident as they dont tend to have multi-billions of dollars . However, if you could blame a major multi-nation everytime there was an accident, there would be lawyers all over the "victims" offering their services.

    Without some kind of government legislation to protect the car companies these will never happen in practice.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Terminator

    I'm afraid I can't let you do that, Dave

    (from the video) Dad: "I just remembered where I parked it at night, and went back the next day"

    Annoying kid: "Sounds really complicated"

    Yep in 2028 (when every kid gets 2 dozen A**** grade GCSEs at the age of 3) kids are in reality so dumb that they can't remember where they left huge objects weighing upwards of a tonne. Their speech will also be heavily impaired, as is evidenced by this grating video.

  32. Identity

    Some additional info

    See:

    http://www.woehr.de/en/projekte/budapest_m730/index.htm

    [automated garage]

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0097tld

    [hydrogen powered vehicles]

  33. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD

    *rubs eyes*

    For a moment I misread it as Windows to eliminate worst known hazards: drivers...

    Need more coffeeeeeee....

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    another weak link

    You can load a car with all the safety gadgets under the sun, but there is another weak link. Whilst the manufacturers have improved the quality of cars leaving the factory, many of the mechanics in garages (both dealer and at the independents) are not up to the job even now. Last week I went to collect my car from its annual service and I had to send it straight back in to the workshop because the grease monkey servicing it had not put it back together properly afterwards. The dealer was shameless in their lack of contrition.

    If an aircraft engineer had made such a mistake they'd lose their certification and I expect could potentially be prosecuted. The people who service my central heating have to prove they are up to the job on a regular basis. Yet any muppet is allowed to fiddle with a car and there is very little comeback if they mess it up.

  35. dognolegs

    Autonomy creeping closer all the time...

    Vislab is currently running a 13000 km test from Italy to China with a fleet of autonomous vehicles. See here (http://viac.vislab.it/)

  36. Kurt Faasse
    Pint

    win win

    Even the rich will like it. They can dismiss their chauffer. Will the system be egalitarian or will the bigger, shinier cars always go to the head of the line? The fellows at TopGear certainly won't be happy. I won't mind it but I do tend to get feel a bit motion sick when I'm not driving. Probably due to, again, trust issues. It will take time.

  37. ted frater

    A solution looking for a problem

    Ive just looked at my licence to drive, which was issued on the 17/12/52.

    That will make it some 58yrs old in dec 2010.

    Now there isnt , nor ever will be a computer that can store this amount of driving experience and use it to take me from here to there, wether its local or to Denmark or wherever.

    Quite apart from finding its way from the isolated rural spot im blessed with , let alone doing a 3 point turn to get out of the driveway without going into a deep ditch on each side.

    So long live the eyeball mk 1 coupled to a pair of hands and a couple of feet, with a box of tools to fix it when it gets stroppy.

    DVLA medical dept, are good, they have just renewed my HGV entitlemnt without any restrictions. There was an issue with an arrythmia logged on a 24hr heart monitor recorder only at night about 2am. I pointed out to the heart consultant that I didnt drive my HGV at night when I was asleep. She wrote that to theDVLA They accepted that!!

    Ted

    Dorset

    .

  38. heyrick Silver badge

    Whoa, wait a minute...

    Given El Reg's raison d'être is the reporting of IT fails, and there are plenty of those, are we supposed to believe that if we cannot lock our computer systems up to be impenetrable (I'm not talking home users, I'm talking military and large companies), then do we REALLY trust automatic cars to be suitably safe? Will all the cars have the same control unit (failure point of weaknesses are discovered) or will they be different? If different, will they adhere to the standards with the same sort of "mostly" compatibility offered by web browsers for HTML/CSS? Will this in itself create obscure difficult problems like BMWs and Audis cannot see each other but Citroëns can see both just fine? Will there be a manual override in case your vehicle behaves in a manner you consider erratic, or at least a giant red STOP button you can whack? That will activate a hardware system, right? Not be hooked to a maskable interrupt, no?

    Ever been in an airplane on a foggy day landing on autopilot? It works well, but is very to-the-point about landing the plane. AC at the top of page 1 talks about a pool of sick, I'd be worried about the urine-soaked seats that might result from a computer performing manoevres that a human wouldn't have the balls to attempt unless high.

    How big does a transient road obstacle need to be to get noticed. Mother and pram? Schoolchild? Dog?

    How would it interact with non-AI cars, especially grannymobiles and drunks that drive erratically?

    .

    Sorry, I don't think I trust our current level of technology to pull this off on a mass scale SAFELY. One computer-controlled car is fine, saw Michio Kaku (sp?) riding one on a TV programme years ago (on a mostly clear road, I might add). Not quite the same thing as rolling them out for an entire populace...

  39. PassiveSmoking
    Dead Vulture

    Drivers are morons

    I, for one, welcome our new robot car overlords. They won't put makeup on in the rear view mirror, take their eyes off the road to fiddle with the stereo, tailgate, fail to give way at zebra crossings because they can't be bothered, fail to notice red lights because they're yakking on their mobile phone, park on double yellow lines, park in disabled spots when there is no disabled occupant on board, use cycle lanes as if they're part of the road, drive on the pavement to get around other drivers, drive without insurance or tax, drive at 70 around residential zones or past schools...

    I know plenty of people who think they are in control when they're driving a car. None of them can seem to acknowledge just how little control they really have. Even assuming that they were the best, most attentive, most polite and considerate driver that never lived (and believe me, they're not), they'll still be just as dead if the driver coming the other way is a drunk artic driver who has been on the road for 18 hours, doesn't understand the road signs, and is from a country where they usually drive on the other side of the road...

    People seem to trust other people over machines, and I have no idea why, when machines are so reliable and other people are so fallible. I remember reading a report once that stated that you could cut the number of plane crashes in half if you fully automated the planes and did away with pilots, but nobody would fly in an aircraft that was entirely computer controlled.

    1. M Gale

      Probably because when software DOES foul up..

      ...as it inevitably will, it will do so in the most hare-brained manner possible. You've probably seen the video of the passenger jet that, on a test flight, promptly ploughed into trees on the end of the runway and killed the crew on board. Know why it happened?

      Someone had told the autopilot that if the aircraft is below 100 feet, to engage landing mode. The pilot was performing a low pass, and must have just edged below that 100 foot value. Autopilot promptly took over and performed a perfect landing in the middle of a forest.

      So yes, computers might be all well and good but you need a manual override for when that lightning speed idiot of a CPU decides to plough you head-first into an oncoming artic.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1FKAIrb0fQ - note what the narrator says.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In fairy dust we trust.

    I don't mind replacing most of the traffic and the bulk of privately owned vehicles with autonomous taxis, in fact I think they're a swell idea -- if we can pull it off. Given how trudging and boring most people's car use has become, it only makes sense. But there are a couple of problems with this man's fairy tales.

    Foremost: If nobody is driving, then who is responsible? That very reason is why the Phileas buses in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, already fully capable of autonomous operation, still carries a driver -- its routes are partway over public roads, so there must be a driver. Simple. Of course this will change when every vehicle is electronically guided. Find me a company willing to operate fully autonomous taxicabs assuming full responsibility and liability and then we might learn if their insurance allows them to remain profitable.

    More complexity means more opportunity for failure. The devil is in the details. Yadda yadda blah blah. But it's true. And it remains true. So sad.

    Communicating cars are nice in theory. But we've already seen (qv pressure sensors in tyres) that automotive cannot do security. In fact, the IT security industry can't, and won't, for patching swiss cheese holes with easy cheez is so much more profitable. So, what is touted as a collission avoidance device most of the time, becomes a weapon to whoever has you or someone in a close by taxi as a target. And since the taxi isn't yours, you have no idea whether the harried, bored and underpaid tech at the taxi company kept the taxi you're riding patched up to the latest level. Or whether there's zero-day exploits out in the wild.

    Half-arsed "experiments" into people's gullibility notwithstanding. The only thing the guy "proved" there was that people with no control over the situation weren't going to let themselves be bothered with something they had no control over. So you take away control. So they take their attention elsewhere. So you give it back. So they scramble. So you take it away again. So they take their attention elsewhere again. It's a bit like wondering that people in a metro train sit down for a good read. Yes, of course. What else is there to do?

    Back to technology. I actually like tinkering with protocols and after seeing a few it's clear that most, including ubiquitous ones, have holes in them, both designed-in and because the implementors didn't understand what they were doing. Sometimes spectacularly so. Especially XML tends to bring out the best in the uninformed. I have no illusions that the automotive industry will improve; they will, perhaps unwittingly, one-up the IT security industry, that's what.

    And then, there's basic little things like the fact that all the protocols in the world aren't going to save you from a brick wall over a motorway if nobody notices it's there. Cornering at high speed into a burned-out wreck --formerly a SUV or lorry but now without power so no way to "talk" to other vehicles and warn them-- is comparable as to make no difference.

    Besides all the technical objections there are more basic problems that this future fairy tale teller conveniently forgets: Well before we get to fully autonomous, well-intentioned nitwits are already taking away more and more control from the driver. I'm not talking airbags, but systems that pretend to know better according to set scenarios that will also kick in when wholly inappropriate. The "cut the engine when speeding" system kicking in and cutting your engine while going downhill taking over a lorry scenario comes to mind. For each governance idea there are a multitude of ways in which they can, and when deployed will, go wrong.

    And, while taking away power from the driver in the name of safety, the driver will be forced to trust his convenient systems to know better than he, and drive himself to death while mentally if not actually dozing.

    Though the latter happens too: Just this week a woman was found crashed along a motorway. Eyewitnesses said the car careened off the road for no discernible reason. On the other seat was her phone with an unfinished text message: "I'm nearly dozing off here".

    You can use technology to empower, or you can use it to take power away. In both cases you run the risk of making the guy or gal nominally in charge dependent on the technology. For now the best way to improving driving accident rates is not any of that. It's teaching people that the only thing between them and death is their eternal and very human vigilance: Eyes on the road!

  41. Neoc
    Thumb Down

    I consider most drivers to be morons...

    ...and the government (any government) is not helping.

    To whit - the ability for a would-be driver to take his/her test in a car equipped with an automatic transmission. Why? I'm not talking about what car you buy *after* you've passed the test (and in some places around the world, completed your 1-2 years probation) but unless you have a physical infirmity which precludes you from driving a manual, why are you learning to drive in an automatic?

    For the record, I did ask a number of "automatic-only" drivers during the last few years. The answer in all but one case was "manual controls are too confusing" (the last case pointed out to me his fairly realistic fake hand). For deity-of-choice's sake! "Confusing"? What the Frick are you doing on the road if your reason is "it's too confusing".

    Yes, BTW, I do believe that your driving test should be in a car with as little "assist" as possible - no GPS, no automatic transmission, no power-assisted steering (WTF are you doing in a car that bloody big in the first place?) and *NO* parking assist. All of those should be treated the same way most schools (used to) treat calculators - you didn't get to use them until you could prove you could do maths without them (albeit, more slowly).

    Right. Ranting over.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's called "the bus", guys...

    We already have this. It's called mass transit. If this technology can make taking the bus more safe, than awesome, because I take the bus every day. Otherwise it's a waste of time.

  43. Fuzz

    A lot of negative comments on here

    I, for one, welcome the day when I can drive to the pub get hammered and have my car drive me safely back to my house.

    1. Graham Marsden
      Coat

      You are supposing...

      ... that you can actually remember where you parked the thing!

  44. Chris Donald
    Thumb Up

    I'd prefer to own it

    Technology may probably overcome all the obstacles, if the demand is there.

    What I'd dislike is to share; I'd rather choose and own my own intelligent car, hell, teach it tricks :).

    Lets not end up with a form of vehicular communism, please? Otherwise we'd probably have dead boring, yawn making cars, shared out to all and sundry, vandalised in various ways by the usual twat minority.

  45. Candy
    Thumb Up

    Not owning a car? Already a result!

    Leaving aside the autonomous vehicle aspect, I already don't own a car. There is a local car sharing scheme with hundreds of vehicles all over the city.

    I pay a small monthly fee and then pay per hour and mile used whenever I book a car. Bookings are done by web and can be as little as five minutes in advance. For town dwellers doing few miles, this scheme makes a lot of sense.

    Even if, as a family, you need a car of your own, this provides a cheap way of having a second car on hand without parking hassle and all the associated costs of owning another vehicle.

  46. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Boffin

    Did'nt the EU try this in the 90's?

    It was called something like "Roadtrain" where a group of cars form an ad-hoc string of vehicles precisely spaced following the leader vehicle through a wireless network.

    Of course you could just use a real train instead which would likely be more fuel and time efficient.

    A note on UAV's. Superficially operating in 3 dimensions is *much* harder but the problem is simpler (aircraft don't normally stop dead and reverse in flight) and radar (including Doppler) already exists as a standard sensor

    Best of all the number of objects being dealt with in real time is normally *small*. Even a carrier landing (Autoland has been available since the mid 60's)has to track 1 (very large and somewhat unpredictable) primary object.

  47. Herby Silver badge

    Fueling rate??

    Good luck if you can get 1000km in your tank in 1 minute (unless you are a NASCAR driver! They have the proper amount of fuel, but not the economy!). Most of the time 20 gal of fuel (at 31 MPG or so is 1000km) usually takes a bit more of my time (maybe 4 minutes, I may need to check). In any event, the 1km/minute electric fueling may be close to the truth. REAL SLOW. Yes, they need to improve that!

    Until then, I will attempt to cruse by the Palo Alto exits on Bayshore freeway (US 101 for those of you non-local) and give the VW engineers a single finger salute (or they could give me a job, I can be bought!).

    Cheers!

  48. Doug Glass
    Go

    Walt Disney ...

    ... had a segment on this in a "Tomorrowland" feature on his original TV show damn near 50 years ago. And now the krauts think they've got an original thought? Bullshit pure and simple.

  49. David Eddleman
    Joke

    I wonder if it'll be like The Matrix...

    *Cue up Mona Lisa Overdrive*

  50. IR

    The future is here

    So they think they can create a car that will come to you when you want it and drive to exactly where you want to go, while you read a book. I've already invented such a device, I call it the "taxi".

    Anyone with experience in writing aircraft software will know the hoops you have to jump through to get level-A software approved just so you can sell it. That all adds to the cost, so it will be some time before it reaches us mortals even after it has been demonstrated to work.

    I look forward to at least a version that will work on motorways, the simplest driving environment. Once the crappy drivers are removed from the system, the cars can drive much closer together, increasing road capacity while reducing accidents that slow everyone down. It would be great if these systems could spot bad manual drivers (those who sit in the middle lane at 60mph) and inform the traffic police to deal with them.

  51. E 2
    FAIL

    Never happen

    Too many people consider their car to be an integral part of their personality, even their sexuality. And lets not get onto those who consider their car an expression of their freedom.

  52. Tempest8008
    Thumb Down

    Shared cars? Ewwww

    So what about the drunken bastard who had the car before me and spewed all over the interior? Or even just the smelly bugger with BO that would strangle a horse?

    What about wanting a secure place for your golf clubs or the stuff in your glove compartment? Your CD collection (okay, fine, your MP3 player)?

    What kind of wait time can you expect before a car comes available? Right now if I want my car I go out and get in MY car and drive off. Hell, that's why I don't ride the bus! I'm not going to wait around 10m or more in a Canadian winter waiting for my car to show up.

    And then there's one matter that I do not think is going to go away.

    Insurance.

    How can I be responsible for an accident if I was not driving? Are you going to suggest the CAR MANUFACTURER is going to take responsibility? Not bloody likely.

    There is only one circumstance I could see this working.

    In a large urban core and the replacement of the taxi. You already deal with vomit, BO, no security for your belongings and as a true fleet the company that owns them would probably be willing to buy insurance for them as long as they didn't have to pay drivers.

    CALL CENTRE TAXI DRIVERS!! A streaming video link from a remote site to the cab in question, so you still have a person to talk to, ask where the nearest bar is, recommend a hooker and all that good stuff. And the best thing is, if it's outsourced no one will be able to tell the difference!

  53. Graham Bartlett

    @Ted Frater and Giles Jones

    I don't care how much experience you've got, your reflexes suck. Not because you're a bad driver or a bad person, but because you're well over 70 years of age. Your eyesight will also not be what it was. Even if you wear glasses, your eye's lens will not shift focus as fast as it used to, so the time between focussing on middle-distance (where the next car or junction is) and seeing the kiddy who's stepped out in front of you will be longer. Hell, I'm mid-30s and I know my reflexes aren't a patch on what they were when I was 18.

    If there's going to be an accident, there are *lots* of studies showing that people don't hit the brakes fast enough or hard enough. That's why automatic emergency-braking is in cars *now*, and it cuts double-digit percentages off your braking distance when it detects something in front of the car which the car can't possibly be steered around. A lot of people similarly bitched and moaned about ABS back in the 90s. Some of them are alive today because it's saved their lives in poor driving conditions. They no longer bitch and moan about it.

    Unlike some moron driver, a proper self-drive system *would* overtake other road users safely. Radar (or lidar) tells you what your visibility distance is, and a self-calibrated map of vehicle performance tells you how fast you can accelerate, both of which tell you whether you can see far enough round that bend to safely overtake. Most importantly, a self-drive system will never get pissed off about following a cyclist for half a mile and decide "screw it, I'm going to do it anyway".

    A self-drive system also knows precisely where the kerbs are. So even if you're stuck on a road which is only a foot wider than the car is long, it can still do you an N-point turn without touching the sides. Again, it won't get frustrated that it was a 33-point turn - it'll just keep going until it's done.

    All that said, the whole networked-cars thing is a fail though. Any self-drive system can only go round a corner as fast as visibility will let it brake - rocks, fallen trees and small children aren't networked.

  54. Wize

    Its already been done...

    "Soon you won't own a car, but one will come to you on its own when you call it, then whisk you away in perfect safety without you having to drive it — and that day may be closer than you think."

    Yep. Today. Its the taxi

  55. GooKing
    Go

    Slightly off topic...

    I like the quite: "he cited studies which have shown that '84 per cent are misjudgment by the driver.'"

    Somewhat at odds with the SPEED KILLS message, where speeding is responsible for 99.99% of all possible accidents and if we'd only slow down to 25mph everywhere no-one would ever be hurt ever again!

  56. Super Mario
    WTF?

    Terminator??

    Just a reminder.... while we are all praising the "perfect" computers, and thier "perfect" software and gadgets, take a minute to think about who will be writing the software, designing the hardware sensors etc... at the begining of everything some human WILL be involved and therefore the potential for error

  57. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Joke

    the future has come at last

    Johnny Cab!

  58. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Coat

    There *might* be a use for this technology..

    Given most car journeys are too and from work. Consider this.

    A 1 person electric or hybrid vehicle delivered to your door *each* day (by itself)

    Merkin sized seat, cup holder, A/C, and reasonable quality radio/media player.

    Designed with a 20 year life and for delivering someone to and from work.

    Picked up, cleaned up and a new one delivered to your employment (hence not choking the streets) in time for you to leave.

    A service paid for by the month with *all* infrastructure (including the battery recycling) done through the company.

    Yes that is an anorak.

  59. markp 1
    FAIL

    so much thought going into this, and simultaneously, so little

    Attacking a minor thing said above, then moving on...

    "A 60hp car will be screaming at 5000rpm to maintain 70mph" ... in which universe? Up what hill? Against what hurricane force headwind? Never mind that we're probably talking about electrics anyway, where the idea is moot (a higher spin speed is only slightly less efficient as it's rotary and basically frictionless apart from the bearing, vs all the whirling reciprocating parts and massive friction of a piston engine or even rotary ICE).

    Slight reality check for you. With reasonable slipstreaming, 25hp is just about sufficient to maintain 70mph. 30hp if your vehicle is a total brick.

    45hp, brickular car I owned? Stock gearing, 5000rpm was about 88mph (with an absolute still air/level road max of about 91). I swapped that for one that made 4150rpm at the same speed... downhill. Wasn't *quite* on-cam by that point, needed 4th to get above 85. But it would cruise quite happily all day in top gear at 70, or about 3300rpm, on part throttle. And I can tell you for now, mathematically, that it would have sustained a higher gear - from the manufacturer's torque figures, it had a touch over 29hp available down at 2800rpm, or just about sufficient for a "6th" gear just as high again, on full bore.

    (OK, you had to thrash it to get up to speed, 0-60 in 19 seconds at maximum attack, but cruising? Fine, quiet and reasonably refined. Just chuck some kind of supercapacitor electric booster motor on it to make the launches and overtaking a bit more sprightly)

    69hp one that followed it would make about 105-110 terminal velocity, and had a motorway cruising gear that hit 70 at *2800* and would pull from it pretty strongly (a little over the max torque, giving all the power the other car ever had at an even lower rpm). Only really suffered a little in that gear when an ignition lead failed and took it down to 3 cylinders (52hp). Come on now...

    All the same, I don't really support the ideal for a few reasons:

    * Acceleration. Acceleration is good. I have now a car with about 100hp/ton and more torque over about 90% of its rev range than the previous one had at peak (so I can get 60/ton at fairly low rpms). It's a good level of thrust for daily use, I finally don't feel a pressing need to "get something faster" (the 45 was pretty slow, the 69 certainly getting there, an 80 I borrowed was fine most of the time except its delivery was peaky as all hell, and a 130 diesel flicked between "take your head off, uncontrollably" and "nothing"). Particularly as when I've gathered the cojones to max it, it's managed 120+, motor wailing and everyday-tyres probably in danger of delaminating. But it darts through lower speed traffic like some kind of predator.

    You wouldn't want the computer or a human driver to use this ability 24/7, as it's both a bit frightening (for the passenger) and uncomfortable. However, for either emergency use, or merging into a congested roadway, it'd be invaluable.

    * What would stop manufacturers just making very heavy vehicles with powerful engines to satisfy that regulation... and stuff that could easily be stripped out to lower the weight?

    * Towing/loadhauling capacity. Torque isn't everything, as I've tried to beat into the skulls of many a diesel evangelist (well, until Renault came along and offered up 300+ Nm at 2000rpm, which is an awful lot of compensation). You also want torque (roughly = pulling force) x speed - a formula more commonly known as Power, which is just as true at the roadwheels as at the crank.

    * 60 is a fairly abitrary figure that I think vastly underestimates what a person can handle if they're actually concentrating ;) - yet in a future environment of electrical/hydrogen generation, charging and motive force, may be too much in a lot of cases, as you'd burn through an awful lot of power if allowed to do so with any regularity.

    If limits were raised or abolished in light of autopiloting (let the system choose the most appropriate pace) you may - on a long but uncongested motorway commute, particularly in Germany - be cracking along at a full 60hp, doing your engine/batteries/fuel cell no favours and, in electrical terms, blowing hot to the tune of 45 kilowatts. Or if charged off a domestic supply, 45 units (more than a fiver) per hour... to get all of, what, 100mph?. Cheaper than petrol, maybe; sustainable with current supplies, hell no.

    A more satisfactory solution may be to allow quite sharp acceleration or towing slog for short periods (pulling into traffic, overtaking, hillclimbing), perhaps upto the level of 120hp/ton, but limit the continuous/average output to more like 30, which will be sufficient to sustain cruising speeds around 75 (or probably 60 with a caravan).

    Your practical average is probably about 3.4kW averaged over a full waking day, whatever that actually comes out to when driving (the car may have to do some complicated statistical fudging to adjust how much oomph is available over the course of a trip), if we assume access to a good 8 hours of charging from a 30amp, 230 volt circuit can be secured every single night. Vs that 60hp-ish (for a typical one-tonne hatchback), that's maybe 35 minutes of maximum attack. Or just about managing a 2-way commute of 40 minutes each way, running up to about 70-75mph on a cruise in the middle. Long and high speed, yes, but not uncommon enough to be discounted at the design and planning stage. Unless you want to, say, go all totalitarian and ban people from working more than 10 miles from where they live.

    Also, what of bikes? Because of the weight/aero drag imbalance vs 4-wheel vehicles, 60bhp/ton wouldn't get you that far. I've probably got 40 just with my 125cc learner bike (11hp all-up) once my fat frame and baggage are all aboard, and it's hardly a speed beast. 60mph is a reasonable target most days but not guaranteed. Need to double the output to reliably get past 80, i.e. to keep up or beat the cagers. And good luck fitting any kind of autopilot or even a comms system to 2-wheeled machines that require weight shifting as part of the steering control and tend to barely generate enough (poorly shielded) electricity to run their lights and essential systems...

    This whole thing bothers me, same as the speed cameras, same as ISA. Human beings are nowhere near as stupid as a lot of snotty people high up or on these boards like to think. I'd love to see a demo of, say, a couple hundred of these systems working properly in deeply congested but still fast-flowing (above limit most of the time in fact) and fairly safe conditions as I faced on the M6 and M5 this morning, with no radio clashes or interference, sensor faults (such as my own car occasionally suffers, and my wetware compensates for), etc. But the humans on the go there all managed it fine with no incident. We're built for that kind of running-with-the-herd stuff.

    Well, ok, apart from that occasional herbert that sits in the outside lane at 68, breezing past the people doing 66 who are considerately keeping out of the way of faster traffic... Perhaps we could promote autopilot systems (that would stick in the middle at 66 and only nip into the outside lane to overtake - at a more acceptable pace - when there was a fairly clear run available unless they chose to override it... which they probably wouldn't).

    One of the things with this is that it won't ever excercise any civil disobedience with ignoring badly- or nimby-set limits (rather than those that are actually for safety... yes, some DO exist, though their efficacy is diluted by the former spoiling people's attitudes to the idea), and will religiously stick to the advised speeds posted on those "Max XXmph" bend warnings. Which are intended for trucks, in the wet, on legal minimum tread. It's 50 round the bends between J1 and J2 of the M5, and again on another just after J2. I can tell you now that a well appointed, yet decade-old passenger car can, in the dry, clear them at twice that. Unneccessary slowdowns, minutes out of your day, time lost off your limited lifespan in the pursuit of "saving lives" that wouldn't have been lost anyway, AHOY.

    Final thing: They mention leaving your car in the parking lot, but not needing to wait to get the same one back. What, do germans not go shopping in more than one place and leave the purchased goods in the boot in-between? Decorate the interior with personal trinkets? Keep a map and first aid book in the glovebox? Spare change and tapes/CDs/ipod adaptor in the door pocket? A handy jack & tyre wrench (better than the crappy manufacturer-fit), can of tyre-fix and some high vis jackets in the boot? What if the person before you nicked the spare or used up all the fuel even though you left the last one about half-full as was advised? Etc. The communist ideal is all well and good but unfortunately doesn't account for the human factor - which, when you're designing systems FOR HUMAN USE, IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING.

    Sorry for the time burn, but, yknow. NNNGH. The stupid, it burns.

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