back to article Autonomous cars are about to do to transport what the internet did to information

If a time machine could slingshot us back a quarter of a century to 1992, we’d visit a world in which print and broadcast media chugged along in rude health. Everyone read newspapers, and watched television because, well, what else could you do to stay informed? In 1992, only a few hundred people knew about the World Wide Web …

  1. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
    Happy

    So...

    A force for liberalisation, democracy, empowerment of the individual etc....?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So...

      First porn... then total control.

    2. John Lilburne

      Re: So...

      "Everyone read newspapers, and watched television because, well, what else could you do to stay informed?"

      For the vast majority their access to information has decreased whilst their access to bullshit masquerading as information has increased exponentially year on year.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So...

        What has happened rather is that it has become relatively obvious even to the average numpty that faux news is all that has ever been on offer.

        There is now simply a choice of which faux news to believe.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: So...

          What has happened rather is that it has become relatively obvious even to the average numpty that faux news is all that has ever been on offer.

          There is now simply a choice of which faux news to believe.

          I think this was always the case, even when we only had a few media choices. If you solely read The Times you would have a different view of events than if you read The Mirror. Now - as then - the only way of discerning truth is by comparing multiple sources and not believing anything unless confirmed by multiple original sources. Currently I'm following BBC, Times, Private Eye and Grauniad - I mostly trust what the BBC say, Private Eye lets me know what they don't say, Guardian to keep an eye on the intellectual left and Times to know what the dirty digger is up to.

          However, most people don't want truth. They want their own world views and pre-conceptions confirmed and to live inside their own filter bubble. The filter bubble is what actually creates "fake news" because people with the same world view confirm the "validity" of the story.

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: So...

            "I think this was always the case, even when we only had a few media choices. If you solely read The Times you would have a different view of events than if you read The Mirror. Now - as then - the only way of discerning truth is by comparing multiple sources and not believing anything unless confirmed by multiple original sources."

            Even that's not safe, as all the sources may say the same thing...only it's the WRONG thing.

      2. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: So...

        Having an interest in history, I'm fully aware that newspapers have never really accurately reported on things even if you take what information they have into account. The reporting always reflected the prejudices of the people writing the news, and that news may or may not have accurately reflected the facts available to the writer, let alone the true course of events.

        Inconvenient facts have always been omitted by some people, and the difference between omitting to mention facts and lying through omission has been much used and abused to push agendas long before the internet came along.

        That said to be fair when news depended on a printing press then it was easy for people to track down and sue those responsible for utterly fictitious and fake news there was a mitigating influence on fake news.

      3. Infernoz Bronze badge
        Holmes

        Re: So...

        What we already need is de-centralised reputation voting indexes, possibly via cryptographic key-chain technology, to rate individual and groups, as proposed in a Sci-Fi novel for a free energy civilisation, to constrain time wasting, deception, BS and worse. There are some separate and market specific ratings for sellers and products, but these are too disparate and don't cover enough! Probably autonomous transport will need reputation scorings too, to verify that each vehicle/provider can be trusted to do what is asked by customers, to sufficiently resist hijack, and to reasonably avoid causing various damage or inconvenience.

        Biased, incomplete (deceptive), BS and useless time wasting information was routinely provided by the Mainstream Media for ages before the internet, and still is, even overt propaganda, so reading print media and listening/watching broadcast media never guaranteed that you would be well informed. This dubiousness of trust is one reason why the term and concept of "due diligence" exists.

        Even with the great amount of dross, bias and deliberate BS on the internet, it is now much cheaper and sometimes easier to find valid information, including unique valid information which would otherwise be much harder to find, costly or simply not available, although this can be rather time consuming to identify and digest. The mainstream media really don't like this trend because it threatens their revenue, existence, and utility for propaganda, and their annoying pay walls won't save them. Autonomous transport will probably reveal some similar dynamics, but obviously with physical specific pros and cons too.

      4. EBG
        Pirate

        Re: So.. exactly

        Yup.

        But while the majority tolerate it for "information", personal and goods transport is much more critical to our daily lives. It's crunch time - will there be a black-lash and an insistence that "things work", or will we become an oppressed populous, unable to move or get food except when the corporates will it.

    3. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: So...

      I was being sarcastic. Icon needed I think.

      1. Steve Hersey

        Re: So...

        Alas, the problem with sarcasm is the same as the problem with cynicism: It's so <expletive> hard to keep up with the you-can't-make-this-stuff-up that reality hands us.

        I think the major problem with unreliable news at Internet speed is not that there's a greatly higher fake-to-real ratio (tabloids have been around for more'n a century), but rather that the information firehose is now so big and fast that human processing faculties are overloaded, and end up (metaphorically) lying dead-shorted in a smoking, charred heap.

        With the equivalent of a hundred newspapers shouting for our attention every morning, it's not really a surprise that folks pick and choose the news sources that best fir their world views. It's a formula for society to end up in a (literally) lying dead-shorted in a smoking, charred heap, but it's not a surprise.

        Back on topic, surely I'm not the first person to read about ubiquitous automated parcel delivery and wonder when and how some nasty minds will try to weaponize it?

    4. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Autonomous cars are about to do to transport what the internet did to information

      Unleash a crime wave we can't even fathom today.

      Just think of the plausible deniability that a well hacked autonomous vehicle affords.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Autonomous cars are about to do to transport what the internet did to information

        Unleash a crime wave we can't even fathom today.

        Just think of the plausible deniability that a well hacked autonomous vehicle affords.

        It gets even more fun if you can divert where it is going. An automated lorry with valuable goods makes an *excellent* target for hacking. A driver would notice a change in destination, but for a computer it's simply an update - it won't ask questions.

        This is also what I see happen to these Amazon delivery pods and drones: this is not the delivery address you're looking for ..

        1. Chemical Bob
          Unhappy

          Re: Autonomous cars are about to do to transport what the internet did to information

          "An automated lorry with valuable goods makes an *excellent* target for hacking."

          Unless the author of the article guessed correctly that the value of manufactured goods would drop...

        2. P. Lee Silver badge

          Re: Autonomous cars are about to do to transport what the internet did to information

          Do you need to create a major traffic incident in order to block the police from arriving at the scene of your crime?

          Do we have a GPS spoofer for you! Buy two, get this set of five child-shaped balloons with ballast and heat source absolutely free! But wait... there's more! Each child-shaped balloon comes with a remote-controlled launching catapult and laser-pointer sighting tool, so you can trigger road blocker remotely with pinpoint accuracy!

          Despite all the contracts for these things being purchased by Uber and Lyft, the author seems to have overlooked the fact that autonomous vehicles are not a thing. We rarely even use them when the vehicle is in a controlled, human-free zone, on rails, never mind uncontrolled roads.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We're forgetting the most important part....

    ... 'drunk-driving' will be ok... just need to collapse into your autonomous vehicle after the pub and slur 'gemme home!'...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: We're forgetting the most important part....

      Just like my grandad did with his cart & horse 100 years ago. Progress!!

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: We're forgetting the most important part....

      The pundits (to avoid a less polite word) are saying that hand in hand with autonomous vehicles is the notion of "sharing". This means that after closing time on a Saturday night, most of the cars you request are going to be splattered with sick.

      Thanks, but I'm fine with MY car only being used 10% of the time.

  3. Syd

    " That sweet spot means we will be able to use an app to summon a vehicle anywhere, at any time, at a price that will be very inexpensive, because all human labor has been taken out of the equation."

    How would these cars stay clean? Self-cleaning seems unlikely; and people won't keep them clean, because they won't have "ownership" (if you don't believe me... check my office bathroom at 6pm!) So either people *will* "own" them (because they will want them to stay clean*) or there will still have to be humans to clean them. (Suspect the former... not least because the car companies will want to keep the market as large as possible... even before we get to the issue of people wanting the status that comes with a particular vehicle.)

    * I know many people don't _appear_ to keep their cars clean, but when it is your own mess, it somehow feels clean even if it isn't!

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      The point here is the "labour" will be further split, a few very wealthy fleet owners and very poorly paid cleaners who don't need to speak your language (car does that) or have any skill level like a driver's license/ taxi license (hence they can't get a better job).

      Welcome to the 21st century's satanic mills...

      As for buying an autonomous car, why? It will cost much more to buy, it will have (probably) onerous running costs due to the safety criticality of all those sensors, etc and the need for on going software support. Probably bugger-all resell value as well: Welcome to automotive XP - can't take that on the road sonny, its no longer got manufacturer’s support. Maybe at some point insurance will push you over to autonomous vehicles, but rent-a-fleet makes more sense when your own one is going to sit most of the day and night doing nothing while the rental ones are being paid off in that period.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        ob-Lem

        The point here is the "labour" will be further split, a few very wealthy fleet owners and very poorly paid cleaners who don't need to speak your language (car does that) or have any skill level like a driver's license/ taxi license (hence they can't get a better job).

        ... and, of course, we all know what happens next.

        Lem's futurology will newer cease to amaze me.

        1. Lotaresco

          Re: ob-Lem

          "Lem's futurology will newer cease to amaze me."

          We also should note Kurt Vonnegut's "Player Piano" and John Sladek's "The Reproductive System".

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "As for buying an autonomous car, why? It will cost much more to buy, it will have (probably) onerous running costs due to the safety criticality of all those sensors, etc and the need for on going software support........ but rent-a-fleet makes more sense when your own one is going to sit most of the day and night doing nothing while the rental ones are being paid off in that period."

        It all depends on your needs and use model. If it is a substitute for a bus or subway, then your argument holds up.

        For other people not so much. Cars are often used to carry and secure stuff - often too much to just pick up and carry away. If all you have is a briefcase and a laptop, then you may be able to use the 'private bus/taxi' model you seem to be describing.

        If, however, you have a briefcase, two laptops, two camera bags, some scuba gear, and a handgun or two, you can't carry it all, and you want to have a mobile place to secure your expensive and/or legally significant items. While the handguns are an optional extra, many people travel with enough stuff for their planned day - to avoid a couple of extra 80 km round trips to switch stuff, or to be able to do multiple things over the course of the day - that the options boil down to owning or leasing a car, or keeping the 'taxi' over a long period, often days or weeks.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Cost of capital and minimum (migrant) wages.

      nm

    3. Martin 26

      Automated cleaning

      Why is automated cleaning so hard to imagine? The simplest level of automated taxi could have wipe-clean surfaces, vinyl seats etc. A specialised cleaning machine (call it a robot if you like) could clean it in a few minutes.

    4. Steve Hersey

      A new, odious class of pranking.

      Clearly, I'm *not* the first to think of some of these dark-side things. My first thought when hearing today's Uber-automated-cars-will-Borg-the-taxi-industry story was that there will be a serious problem with vandals fouling automated cabs in assorted unpleasant ways.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Works for cities

    This will all work for cities, but not rural areas. Will it simply drive ever more centralisation?

    1. itzman

      Re: Works for cities

      Works for rural areas too. Just costs more

      Actually as far as goods rather than peole go, an automated packet switched network works beautifully.

      When enough packets for a given direction are assembled off goes a pool vehicle.

    2. xeroks

      Re: Works for cities

      I can't see auto deliveries working well where I live. At least not until there are car parking spaces available with some reliability.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Works for cities

        More privately-owned cars get off the streets due to skyrocketing insurance, spaces will open up.

      2. wikkity

        Re: Works for cities

        If more people were to rely on automated vehicles there'd be less privately owned cars sitting parked on the streets so more spaces.

        My street is a perfect example, the house were built long before it was ever considered a single house would have two or three cars parked outside. The road is narrow, you can get cars half on the road and pavement with enough space to drive down. It's a cul-de-sac as well. It can be hectic to get out in the mornings or evenings, and if you are expecting a delivery of something large, e.g. building materials you need to go around your neighbours to be able to get the delivery truck near your property. The less privately owned cars the better in my eyes, something that could get us down to one per household would be great (yes we have a car and fortunate enough to have a big drive).

        1. annodomini2
          FAIL

          Re: Works for cities

          "If more people were to rely on automated vehicles there'd be less privately owned cars sitting parked on the streets so more spaces."

          Actually there won't...

          People mainly use their cars for getting to and from work, this is where the peak demand will be, so if there are not enough cars available, someone is either going to buy there own or change jobs (because they were fired due to being either late or never arriving).

          Now there could be some "rideshare" systems which may save a few cars, but I'd put money many (who could afford it) would be willing to pay extra not to have to sit in the vehicle with some stranger.

          The Vehicle OEMs won't like their market being shortened, the bulk of the tech in vehicles is reused and margins are quite high, the evolution and competition will reduce costs.

          Yes early autonomous vehicles will be expensive, just as pretty much all automotive tech trickles down.

          It won't be a rental setup, but the cost of a taxi fare may go down.

        2. P. Lee Silver badge

          Re: Works for cities

          >If more people were to rely on automated vehicles there'd be less privately owned cars sitting parked on the streets so more spaces.

          Not if everyone needs one at the same time... say 8:30am.

          What happens to your booking system if there is an accident or delay earlier?

          As far as the easy-clean vinyl seats go, I'm sure that would be just... lovely. BYO towel.

          I think you'll find most people would just prefer to have their own car. If it all worked perfectly, it would be a boon to those replacing taxis. It doesn't work though. I think its mostly compute providers looking for a solution to a particular problem, that being, what can we flog?

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: Works for cities

            "I think you'll find most people would just prefer to have their own car. If it all worked perfectly, it would be a boon to those replacing taxis. It doesn't work though. I think its mostly compute providers looking for a solution to a particular problem, that being, what can we flog?"

            And what if market forces PREVENT people from buying their own cars because the risks inherent with being human raise insurance premiums out of affordability?

      3. Daniel 18

        Re: Works for cities

        You don't need parking spaces.... the car informs you as it draws near, you pick a spot on the street, and it comes directly to you to hand off your package.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      Re: Works for cities

      Beat me too it.

      This is really no different than the push to get more people onto public transport - it works fine in the larger town and cities, but in rural areas?

      It's about time that politicians and policy makers realised that not everyone works within even a couple of miles of where they live or have access to public decent transport. And the same will be true for these fleets of autonomous vehicles.

    4. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Works for cities

      >This will all work for cities, but not rural areas.

      The article covered a few things, so I'm not clear as to what you don't think will not work in the countryside. Could you expand on it a little?

      I didn't see anything in the article of a binary 'work/won't work' nature. In the future one might use Uber in a city, whereas in the countryside you might choose to own an autonomous vehicle for your own use, but then lend or hire it out when you are not using it - your ownership would give you priority. Today, the old lady without a car who lives next door doesn't mind when she gets a lift to the supermarket - she's happy to work in with the schedule of the neighbour who drives. Shopping is flexible, a hospital appointment isn't.

      There are of course lots of factors. An example would be that in the countryside car parking isn't as tricky as it is in the city, a factor that can make Uber or Lyft more attractive than taking your own vehicle.

      People in more rural areas are already used to things taking longer - today someone in a remote hamlet might take a half-hour round trip to a shop by car, whilst their cousin in a city pops a minute up the street by foot. Of course many people in more remote areas simply give more thought as to what they will need for the next few days.

      For sure, a lower population density will mean greater distribution costs ( It is only because of legislation that the Royal Mail can't charge more to deliver to more remote addresses. )

      1. Mephistro Silver badge

        Re: Works for cities (TL;DR)

        "...so I'm not clear as to what you don't think will not work in the countryside."

        That's question is not addressed to me, but to Mr. Voyna i Mor. Even so I'll try to answer it, being the absolute smart pants I am. :-)

        Please consider this:

        Company X owns a fleet of autonomous vehicles it uses for delivering goods, either sold by themselves or by third parties. Each vehicle has a set of fixed costs -maintenance, cleaning, cost of purchase, insurance, paperwork...- and variable costs -mileage/energy/fuel...-. It's quite obvious that short range (fast) deliveries -as those inside a city- will be much much more profitable than long range, slow deliveries, as they allow each vehicle to make many trips each day . This implies that rural areas won't be connected to the network in any serious way until the cities market is reaching saturation, which will take probably several decades.

        What's more, the % of the population that dwells in the countryside is already small and still dwindling, so company X might well forget entirely about the countryside. Some of the issues involved are similar to those posed by broadband deployment in rural areas.

        On a side note (though related to the article):

        I think everybody is being excessively optimistic regarding these "self driving vehicles" used for goods delivery. Before this is even doable at big scale, there are lots and lots of issues to fix, namely insurance, legal responsibilities, liability, taxes, infrastructure, IT security*...

        And then there's the 'last ten meters problem', that means that in many places the customer will need to wait in the street for his delivery vehicle, which will generate lots of aggro every time a customer is made to wait in the rain for half an hour because some fuck up or accident. Of course the solution for this would be those humanoid robots that are being -slowly- developed, but that will push company X into yet another set of obligations and increased costs. You know the drill: insurances, taxes, liability....

        Frankly, I can't imagine this taking off in any serious way in less than two or three decades at least.

        Note*: IT security, as to prevent the cars being hacked for nefarious purposes, like theft, stalking, snooping, kidnapping or murder.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Happy

          Re: Works for cities (TL;DR)

          "but to Mr. Voyna i Mor"

          That's gospodin Voyna y Mor to you, please.

          (I entirely agree with the rest of your post, though. I wasn't sure it needed spelling out, but obviously it was and you did the job.)

      2. Infernoz Bronze badge
        Meh

        Re: Works for cities

        For people transport, autonomous people carrier vehicles will probably be better for shorter and more frequent trips than for longer distance, peak traffic, because fewer vehicles doing more journeys may be more economical/profitable. Longer trips may also pose challenges for slow charging electric vehicles, and may require extra costs like vehicle change management/hassle if the electricity storage can't be quickly swapped.

    5. Don The Elder
      Stop

      Re: Works for cities

      Yeah, gonna work fine until the pedestrians discover that the ecars will stop for you, unlike New York/Paris/Moscow taxis. (See the Trains comments.) The resulting gridlock can never be sorted out, because each of the following cars will be waiting for the ecar in front to move, and some geek will set an electric arm waving just to impress his buddies. Or, more likely, to gain time to cut into a van and remove its contents — the police will be there in a month or so, after they yank cars from the back of the queue so they can move in. Diverting loads will not work, just tie up traffic even more, so the load will never be arrive at any target point. In rural areas you could just tie a sheep in the road and take all the time you want, the police will be pulling sheepcars from the cities.

      Next: 50 mile commutes in a Li-Ion car in LA/Silicon Valley/Dallas w/o A/C.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Works for cities

        "Yeah, gonna work fine until the pedestrians discover that the ecars will stop for you, unlike New York/Paris/Moscow taxis."

        You just need to make cars that are smart enough to run over the occasional pedestrian, to discourage the others.... a reverse 'Pour encourager les autres'.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Works for cities

          And if they sue for recklessness?

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Works for cities

      Of course it will work for rural areas... better than the current delivery systems or people transport, because you don't have to pay a driver to trek out into the middle of nowhere and back... for rural to rural trips you can just have an unmanned charging/storage/staging site ever few tens of kilometers... again without the costs of staffing, both direct and indirect.

  5. W Donelson

    Just wait...

    ... until lawyers start suing the bejeezus out of manufacturers for every accident.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Just wait...

      Which then get dismissed as the bulk turn out to be Acts of God. How many to date have been proven to be caused by glitches? One, off the top of my head.

    2. FelixReg

      Re: Just wait...

      Unlike now when accidents don't involve lawyers?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Just wait...

        If I hit a lawyer with my car, it isn't technically an accident.

    3. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Just wait...

      ….because the companies have more money than an individual's insurance. For the right price it will be cheaper for the companies being sued to just settle rather than engage the blood sucking lawyers.

  6. getHandle

    First autonomous cars...

    Then autonomous flying cars! Hm, where _is_ my flying car anyway...

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: First autonomous cars...

      AIR transport will remain expensive and complicated for a while. Physics gets in the way, and we're still some distance from synthetic hydrocarbon fuel.

  7. druck Silver badge
    Stop

    My Cold Dead Hand...

    Is what you'll be prising the keys to my non-autonomous car from.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: My Cold Dead Hand...

      Bet your life? The insurance companies will have you for lunch.

  8. FelixReg

    Instead of delivery, build on-site

    In the '70's the turn-around time for running a program was often 24 hours. A decade ago, 30 years later, mechanical engineers could "build" a thing using CAD/CAM and 24 hours later the physical thing would magically appear on their desks.

    If the curve for such custom, physical builds follows that of computer programs, we're talking Star Trek replicator tech in the mid '30's or so. 3D printer enthusiasts may nod their heads and say, "Duh".

    There will be racing tension between those who build on-site and those who ship finished goods.

    The future is fun if you're not frozen in a hand-wringing, Hollywood angst world.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Instead of delivery, build on-site

      Shipping will still have a place for things too large or complex to fabricate on site or for stuff that started out alive.

      1. Steve the Cynic

        Re: Instead of delivery, build on-site

        "Shipping will still have a place for things too large or complex to fabricate on site or for stuff that started out alive."

        And, most importantly, for the glop you put into the 3D printer so it can fabricate the small-enough-to-print items.

        EDIT: Bah, ninja'ed...

      2. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Instead of delivery, build on-site

        or for stuff that started out alive.

        Several teams are already working on 3D-printed meat. Admittedly they won't be able to do that for a fresh egg (well, for some time anyway) but an omelette might not be so far off.

      3. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Instead of delivery, build on-site

        3d printing works for some items and to make models of an idea, but if you need an impact wrench, not being built with forged steel parts is going to be a problem as it fly apart and removes your thumb. We are still a long way off from being able to nano-assemble things with the same physical material characteristics as we get from "subtractive" construction.

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Instead of delivery, build on-site

      There's also the matter of supplies for those 3D printers. Even Transmetropolitan 's makers needed base blocks of matter.

    3. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Instead of delivery, build on-site

      >There will be racing tension between those who build on-site and those who ship finished goods.

      You will still need to get the material feedstock, metals, plastics etc, to the 3D fabricator. It only changes factors like bulk - i.e a washing machine or fridge is bulkier than the materials used to make it.

      EDIT: Charles and Steve beat me to it!

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Instead of delivery, build on-site

      Mindless extrapolation of apple evolution from looking at the history of oranges will give the quality of result one should expect.

      1. FelixReg

        Re: Instead of delivery, build on-site

        "Mindless extrapolation..."

        Quite.

        Which is why one tries to keep the mind alive when doing this sort of thing.

        Personal experience says that such extrapolations can predict with uncanny accuracy. The uncanny part comes from:

        1) The curves are exponential. The mind does not do exponential well, normally.

        2) Though others see apples and oranges, the prediction is about fruit - fruit-ness that others somehow miss.

  9. Mage Silver badge
    Coffee/keyboard

    Trains

    Sort driverless trains and I might start to take the hype about autonomous cars more seriously.

    1. Steve the Cynic

      Re: Trains

      You mean driverless like the Lille Metro (where the platforms all have those doors on them that let you on the trains and stop you falling on the tracks, and the tracks themselves are largely inaccessible for would-be jumpers)?

      Or do you mean driverless out in the fields where moo-cows(1) can get on the line? That's a little harder.(2) Of course you can't (without doors on the platform edges) stop people jumping in front of passing trains (e.g. 2007 at Southall).

      (1) 1992 or so, a fence gave way on the South Coast line between Angmering and Littlehampton, and cows got on the line. So, the traction current was switched off, and my train was delayedly delayed. The announcer at Worthing actually said that it was because of "moo-cows on the line".

      (2) I recall, 2006 or so, standing at Paddington waiting for a train that was delayed because of idiots trespassing on the line near Slough. I overheard some otherwise respectable-looking business types suggesting that the trains should just go, and if the trespassers (kids, most likely) got run over, well, shrug.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Trains

        While it may be a satisfying idea to run over the trespassers when you're tired & frustrated, it is probably bad for the trains and would probably delay you further..

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Trains

          Wrong type of blood on the track.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Trains

          "While it may be a satisfying idea to run over the trespassers when you're tired & frustrated, it is probably bad for the trains and would probably delay you further.."

          Whatever happened to cow catchers? Make it so anyone hit by the front of the train gets knocked aside; tracks are kept clear.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Trains

      IIRC, the Skytrain is driverless, as was BART. The only reason there are 'drivers' sitting in the Toronto LRT is to keep the union happy - a stupid waste of money - the technology is identical to Vancouver's Skytrain.

  10. Mage Silver badge

    3D printing

    It's good for prototypes or very low volume poor quality. I can't see it replacing factory production.

    c.f. FPGAs and ASICs, though an FPGA is a far better quality item than anything from a 3D printer.

  11. tirk
    Unhappy

    Traffic jams

    *If* the author's vision comes to pass, I predict people will look back on today as a glorious era of free-flowing roads.

  12. Andy 73

    Futurism...

    As with so much crystal ball gazing, this article falls into the trap of extrapolating 'disruption' from today's norms. Before cars, if you'd asked anyone what the future held, it would have been 'faster horses'.

    The sheer material and energy wasted in having a fleet of cars deliver a chain of goods to your house is immense. The logistics of the 'last three yards' are not magically solved by solving the problem of a car capable of autonomous driving to your doorstep (and that itself is far from a solved problem - whatever the AI pundits may claim). It seems to me the likely solution is further consolidation towards human driven vans doing the rounds.

    Besides, the disruption mantra is a nonsense. Techies and investors fall time and time into the trap of believing that because you can digitally disrupt services like hotel booking and book selection, you can digitally disrupt the physical world. For some reason people believe Tesla can disrupt the car industry 'because digital' - when they're surrounded by companies with vastly more experience and infrastructure for delivering physical machines that customers want. Why does an electric motor make the slightest bit of difference? Consider how the car industry evolved 'consumer' diesel in very short order in the 90's and you'll realise that motive power is not an issue for the incumbents.

    But hey, investor hype, wild optimism about AI and in inability to distinguish between physical and virtual problems are a great source of articles.

    1. nematoad Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Futurism...

      What I want to know is: When are our shiny silver jump-suits going to arrive?

      It may be that Mark Pesce has got a bit carried away in his dystopian musings but if even some of it comes to pass will we all have to take in each others washing to survive?

      Not that I am worried, I'll be pushing up the daisies by then.

  13. Bob Rocket

    Disruptivity

    Yes autonomous vehicles are going to disrupt the current model but not in the way these people believe.

    Public transport will be a thing of the past.

    Summonable cars will still be required at destinations you fly to but that is it so Ubers global domination business model is toast.

    As is pointed out in the article, come the robot revolution the price of mass produced consumer items will fall and volumes will rise, this includes personal transport.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Disruptivity

      >As is pointed out in the article, come the robot revolution the price of mass produced consumer items will fall and volumes will rise, this includes personal transport.

      The cost of cars will fall, but the cost of the land on which you have to park them probably won't.

      1. Bob Rocket

        Re: Disruptivity

        At the moment my car is parked on my drive at night but as long as it is outside my door when I want to go somewhere it could be out playing with the sheep for all I care, same as when I'm at work.

        It drops me off and then goes off somewhere, returning when called or scheduled.

        1. P. Lee Silver badge

          Re: Disruptivity

          >as long as it is outside my door when I want to go somewhere it could be out playing with the sheep for all I care

          Until you forgot you needed to nip to the shops because you forgot to buy onions and its gone off and got stuck in a traffic jam in London.

  14. smudge Silver badge
    Holmes

    an interesting intersection of electric vehicles + autonomous vehicles + on-demand vehicle fleets.

    Excellent. I look forward to the day when I can summon an electric vehicle with the range to take me from my home in the south of England to my home-town in the north of Scotland. And with the autonomy to perform safely and reliably in the glens of the Highlands, where network connection is not guaranteed and having to reverse back to the last passing-place is common.

    1. Bob Rocket

      South of England to North of Scotland shouldn't be much of a problem, your vehicle will join the nearest motorway and entrain with all the others traveling North.

      Shell/BP/Texaco etc. will provide in-journey refueling so when you get to the rural bits you start with a full tank.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: an interesting intersection of electric vehicles..."the title is too long"

      "having to reverse back to the last passing-place is common."

      If/when autonomous cars are common, that shouldn't happen since each car will be aware of all other cars in the immediate area so one or the other should pull into the first available passing place and wait for the other to pass. In theory, it ought to be more efficient. Of course, we all know what the reality will be :-)

  15. Gomez Adams

    How does the autonomous delivery vehicle make the last hundred yards across rough ground, broken paving, steps, steep slopes though narrow alleys clogged up with bikes and bins and up stairs to flats?

    1. Bob Rocket

      How does the autonomous delivery vehicle make the last hundred yards ?

      Parcel Cannon

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Carefully.

  16. Lotaresco

    Evolution, not revolution

    Journalists always seem to see these events as revolutions, one day we are moving along as usual and the next everything changes! I don't know whether to be pleased that the overworked "paradigm shift" seems to have been retired or sad that "disruptive technology" now seems to have replaced it.

    Whatever.

    The truth will be that autonomous vehicles will, as the web did, take over in the usual baby steps rather than an overnight revolution. Autonomous vehicles are at present the mainstream within car factories. Automated vehicles move parts and the partly assembled vehicles, doing away with the "assembly line" of the past. I suspect the next step for automated vehicles will be within factory complexes. I've worked in locations where the "factory" could be three to four miles across. In places like that there are on-site bus and delivery services which are expensive to provide and wasteful since they can't respond well to production cycles or even the fact that people may need to gather once a week for a meeting.

    Autonomous vehicles on large sites/industrial parks would be extremely useful.

    I can't see an autonomous vehicle working well for personal; deliveries but they could be used with Amazon style collection points. I could see a rack on the High Street that a small (laser printer sized) autonomous vehicle drove to then was moved into position and locked into a rack until the punter appears, enters their key/swipes a card and the vehicle opens its door to allow access to the contents. What I can't see is how such a small vehicle co-exists with people/cars on the streets. On the pavement they would be trip hazards, on the road they would be squashed.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Evolution, not revolution

      "I can't see an autonomous vehicle working well for personal"

      Are you kidding? Something that can give you an extra hour or two a day during your commute that could be used for anything, including an extra hour's sleep? That would be an almost priceless boon. If you are unlucky enough to have a three hour commute, it doesn't matter if it is rather more expensive at first than current quasi-automated cars... $40,000 instead of $30,000 will pay for itself in improved health and productivity... or sleep... easily over the life of the vehicle...

      Then again it just takes silicon, code, and sensors. The sensors have already dropped to 10% of previous costs, the silicon has shrunk from trunk sized to 'where did they hide it?', and the code will be amortized over ever larger number of vehicles. The price differential will drop rapidly.

      1. Lotaresco

        Re: Evolution, not revolution

        "Are you ... Something that can ... commute ... an ... hour's sleep? "

        Heck look!, I can cut up the words you type and make them say something different, just like you did!

        I said autonomous vehicles would not work well for *personal deliveries*, you know that last bit of the journey, because as stated the environment that the vehicle has to traverse is the most difficult part of the journey. Gates, kerbs, pedestrians etc.

  17. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "we will be able to use an app to summon a vehicle anywhere, at any time, at a price that will be very inexpensive, because all human labor has been taken out of the equation."

    Forget the control mechanism for a moment. It's possible to summon driven vehicles now. Why doesn't everyone use cabs for commuting? Because summoning them at any random time is fine, trying to summon them at the same time as everyone else isn't. You want a car at the rush hour? - your best bet is the one you own.

    Anyone buying vehicles to provide a commercial service isn't going to attempt to satisfy peak demand because at off peak times - i.e. most of the time - most of their fleet would be underused. In order to make it work they'd have to push up prices to make using a hire car as expensive for customers as possessing their own.

    So you might be able to hire a car inexpensively but not at any time or you might be able to hire a car at any time but not always inexpensively. Having the human labour cost included makes little difference.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Because summoning them at any random time is fine, trying to summon them at the same time as everyone else isn't. You want a car at the rush hour? - your best bet is the one you own."

      Maybe someone could invent a "ride sharing" algorithm for those busy times such that the vehicle could optimise a route to pick up a number people from a locality who are all going to a similar destination instead of treating them like personal and private taxis? That could be a massively disruptive technology that would destroy the incumbents. I wonder what we might call it?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Many people aren't comfortable with riding with strangers. All those stories about being assaulted or worse on buses and trains, after all...

      2. c1ue

        It's called a bus

    2. Daniel 18

      "Why doesn't everyone use cabs for commuting? "

      1. Cost.

      2. A shortage of drivers to work limited split shifts.

      3. Lack of route optimization.

      4. Inefficient use of roads.

      If you get rid of the buses and streetcars you free up road space and smooth out traffic flow. Eliminate the drivers and cost plummets. Integrate real time route planning, and things become more efficient , particularly as the number and density of trips increase. Add 'autonomous vehicle only' express routes and lanes, and you are well on the way to replacing current conventional transit with something that works better for more people... while others can opt to own or lease their own vehicles if that works better for them.

  18. nijam

    > Every tech startup since Intel has made a meal ...

    Maybe you mean "Nearly one tech startup in 10,000 has made a meal ..."? I believe that would be somewhat more accurate.

  19. Ed 13
    FAIL

    The difference is...

    ... that as the internet grew it created the infrastructure over which it travelled.

    However autonomous vehicles have to cope with an existing infrastructure that has evolved over several hundreds of years, with wide ranges of other users.

    You don't need an act of parliament to change a switch or router configuration!

  20. BoldMan

    Amazed this pointless bit of fluff hasn't got the "First published in The Conversation" tagged on the end...

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is the end, my only friend

    "Could anyone have warned newspapers that the end was near?"

    The 'end' of newpapers is nowhere in sight yet. Sure they've been heavily impacted by casual readers using mobile devices, but there is still and will I think always, be a market for offline consuption of information which isn't limited by annoying 4-5" form factor illuminated screens or mobile data connections.

  22. TeaLeaf

    It'll Never Happen

    Canadian winter.

    http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/opinion/letter-to-the-editor/2015/4/30/its-official-2014-15-p-e-i-s-snowiest-4130291.html

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: It'll Never Happen

      Wanna bet? Automated snow diggers combined with robocars using snow tracks instead of wheels.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It'll Never Happen

      I can't see through a whiteout... but radar can. 'nuff said.

      1. John 104

        Re: It'll Never Happen

        Maybe high powered RADAR like at an airport. The whimpy stuff in cars? Not likely. Ever get a speeding ticket in the fog? RADAR in smaller form factors is mostly useless. A human may have difficulty seeing in the snow, but they CAN see things. And react to them.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: It'll Never Happen

          Actually, yes. It's trickier, yes, but not impossible; plus the cops may not be interested in getting too wet; though they may employ tag teams with the chasers wearing slickers. Small form factor radar is getting more and more useful. And if conditions are bad enough to really screw up radar, they're probably whiteout conditions, meaning zero visibility, meaning you should be stopping at this point.

  23. Haku
    Facepalm

    Autonomous cars will be great... ...until they're hacked

    Oh, they've already started?

    Hackers Remotely Kill a Jeep on the Highway—With Me in It - Wired (YouTube)

  24. c1ue

    Amazing how people keep assigning information propagation properties to physical structures. Information has no mass. Information doesn't need maintenance or refueling. Information doesn't break down or get clogged in traffic jams.

    Automated cars are not only not solving the traffic problem, they'll make it worse. They will cost multiples of what existing cars do. They won't work hardly at all until they comprise most of the cars on the road.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Which can be arranged as automated cars prove their worth. What do you think will happen to your insurance premiums, to say nothing of deductibles? Pretty soon, most drivers will be priced off the roads.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Trollface

    "what the internet did to information"

    Oh, that's a good one. I mean, sure, internet revolutionized entertainment and fake news... but due to issues of security and flexibility, we now see people reverting to paper, word of mouth, etc for more serious purposes.

    Mark my words: cars are already too automated, and we'll see that rolled back soon for the same reasons.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "what the internet did to information"

      "Oh, that's a good one. I mean, sure, internet revolutionized entertainment and fake news... but due to issues of security and flexibility, we now see people reverting to paper, word of mouth, etc for more serious purposes."

      Which will then be attacked by switcheroos, shills, and other old-hat tools of the con game trade.

  26. John 104

    Niave much?

    That sweet spot means we will be able to use an app to summon a vehicle anywhere, at any time, at a price that will be very inexpensive, because all human labor has been taken out of the equation.

    This is so much pie in the sky I don't even know where to start. Well, except for shaking my head and laughing uncontrollably at your complete lack of understanding on how the world of everyday people works. We don't all live in huge metro hubs. Most of us live outside of them...

    1. Starace Silver badge

      Re: Niave much?

      The old cynical Register would never have published something like this.

      I miss it, and mourn for what used to be.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Niave much?

        Indeed. I hardly come here anymore.

        Go back to ARS, all you fanboy plebs.

        Or perhaps it's time for a new motto: "Licking the arse that feeds IT"

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Niave much?

      "We don't all live in huge metro hubs. Most of us live outside of them..."

      To which I would respond, "What difference would that really make? Wouldn't that just be solved with fewer cars?"

  27. Jim84

    Wrong Problem

    Unfortunately the problem isn't cars, it is roads. Autonomous and Electric cars won't solve the problem of congestion, which is caused by roads being too big and heavy to put in the air (putting them underground is even more expensive).

    A PRT system (basically lightweight hanging self driving pods on micro monorails in the air) could potentially solve this problem. Although this could make it much easier to access other parts of a city from further out suburbs, lowering house prices, which politicians really don't want to do.

    If any of this is interesting have a look at Dan Ver Hoeve's excellent PRT blog:

    http://openprtspecs.blogspot.com.au/2008/11/6-pods-just-gotta-hang.html

    Autonomous vehicles will be useful for getting to and from pubs in the countryside though.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Wrong Problem

      How can you use PRT for cargo, though, especially HEAVY cargo that's too fine-grained for a train?

      1. Jim84

        Re: Wrong Problem

        @Charles 9 - You'd use trucks on roads for heavy cargo. But as the job of transporting people is now performed largely by PRT, you'd need much less road infrastructure.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Wrong Problem

          No, because you still need the same amount of road infrastructure as you would now, simply because the roads you use now are the SAME roads bulk transportation needs to get everything everyWHERE. That's the weak link with trains: they can't go the last mile. That includes to your driveway or mailbox.

          1. Jim84

            Re: Wrong Problem

            Ok you seem to be assuming that road infrastructure and PRT micro monorails in the sky are mutually exclusive. In fact you need both. The PRT allows much much larger numbers of people to move around a larger city faster, which would also free up some road space for trucks.

            1. Charles 9 Silver badge

              Re: Wrong Problem

              No, I'm assuming PRT won't offset ENOUGH traffic to make it worthwhile. You can't use PRT if you're doing a big shopping trip. Or moving. Or doing a myriad other things that require some, for lack of a better term, cargo space that PRT won't be able to provide. Plus what if you have to take a road trip or go somewhere far from the PRT?

              1. Kiwi Silver badge
                Holmes

                Re: Wrong Problem

                You can't use PRT if you're doing a big shopping trip. Or moving. Or doing a myriad other things that require some, for lack of a better term, cargo space that PRT won't be able to provide.

                So.. All those millions of people around the world who go shopping, move house etc etc etc who don't own cars actually don't exist?

                Have you ever tried moving house as anythign more than a teenager/student with nothing more than just a car? How'd you move your fridge? Couch? Bed? Can't be done, guess you just have to stay put.

                Or, like most people in the world, you could borrow/hire the extra cargo space when needed.

                Daily I see people using public transport, pedal power and even just plain old walking for their trips to the supermarket and so on. A bag of groceries doesn't need a bloody supertanker to move it.

                Oh, and I'd wager that most private vehicle trips are the daily commute. Something semi-private that is no more expensive than your car and solves the parking problem would be welcomed by a lot of people.And no, everyone doesn't have to take a truckload of stuff around with them every day despite your claims. Those who do have to transport extra will do what so many millions of other people around the world who don't own cars do every day - figure it out. If the old lady up the street can figure out how to get her shopping through her various appointments and then home safely every week, I'm sure others can. It's not rocket science. It's not even primary school science.

                1. Charles 9 Silver badge

                  Re: Wrong Problem

                  "So.. All those millions of people around the world who go shopping, move house etc etc etc who don't own cars actually don't exist?"

                  But then they have to rent TRUCKS. And that means someone has to OWN the trucks those people rent. And for their business to be practical, they have to be able to rent those trucks more often.

                  "Have you ever tried moving house as anythign more than a teenager/student with nothing more than just a car? How'd you move your fridge? Couch? Bed? Can't be done, guess you just have to stay put."

                  No couch, and the bed was provided. Fridge was the little cube job. You could do it if only one or two people went. I speak from firsthand experience. Plus it happens at specific times of the year which means they come in surges.

                  "Daily I see people using public transport, pedal power and even just plain old walking for their trips to the supermarket and so on. A bag of groceries doesn't need a bloody supertanker to move it."

                  I see the opposite: full parking lots at the big-box stores, and inside full shopping carts and bills in the $200+ range being the norm rather than the exception (thus why they don't use the self checkouts).

                  "Oh, and I'd wager that most private vehicle trips are the daily commute. Something semi-private that is no more expensive than your car and solves the parking problem would be welcomed by a lot of people.And no, everyone doesn't have to take a truckload of stuff around with them every day despite your claims."

                  But more than you think. What's one of the most common joke setups? "Oh, and honey, on your way home..."

                  "If the old lady up the street can figure out how to get her shopping through her various appointments and then home safely every week, I'm sure others can."

                  That's not a certainty. That's why many of them have caregivers.

                  1. Jim84

                    Re: Wrong Problem

                    ""Daily I see people using public transport, pedal power and even just plain old walking for their trips to the supermarket and so on. A bag of groceries doesn't need a bloody supertanker to move it."

                    I see the opposite: full parking lots at the big-box stores, and inside full shopping carts and bills in the $200+ range being the norm rather than the exception (thus why they don't use the self checkouts)."

                    If you can get a wheelchair in the pod you can surely get one of those trolleys grans use to wheel their groceries around in the pod too:

                    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_JaaWG_K9ksc/S7lYPSw58eI/AAAAAAAAAsA/_Bz8SHzoBOs/s1600/Vertical++PRT+.jpg

                    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

                      Re: Wrong Problem

                      "If you can get a wheelchair in the pod you can surely get one of those trolleys grans use to wheel their groceries around in the pod too:"

                      But how about the wheelchair AND the trolley. And that's assuming their shopping is that small, which I've described appears to be the exception rather than the norm.

                      1. Jim84

                        Re: Wrong Problem

                        Why not get the person with the wheelchair to use a separate pod then?? Or get two able bodied people to haul a mega load in two separate pods? Or if someone is moving house, or moving large objects that won't fit into a pod (or smaller car) just hire a delivery truck?

                        The grocery argument against PRT is certainly one I have not seen before, but I don't really think it stands up on examination.

                        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

                          Re: Wrong Problem

                          "The grocery argument against PRT is certainly one I have not seen before, but I don't really think it stands up on examination."

                          Then you've never seen the parking lot of your typical Walmart on Friday afternoon. There's a reason it's considered one of the worst times to go there unless you really, REALLY have to. Other dates to avoid: the 1st after midnight because military paychecks and EBT benefits drop, the 15th for military payday, and of course Black Friday.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Physical DoS?

    Hmmm ... inexpensive delivery of physical goods, eh? So I can order dozens of small items from different stores that each have their own autonomous delivery vehicles and schedule all of those deliveries for 5:02pm on a weekday to a randomly selected address on the busiest intersection in town? Sounds like a marvelous recipe for mischief! ;-)

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