Is My Self-Driving Car Here Yet?


I Have Good News and Bad News

Regular readers of this blog know I have an abiding interest in self-driving cars. They have significant potential in many areas beyond convenient transportation. The technology is scalable and adaptable for many applications. I can see revolutions in transportation for the handicapped, elderly, the blind. Public transport could be completely reinvented. Accident rates can be dramatically reduced (but not eliminated. More on that later in this posting).

But all is not perfection around the corner. There are challenging technical issues still to be resolved. There are even moral issues at play in resolving some of those technical issues, as noted below. Some professions will disappear. Think taxi drivers, long distance truck drivers, even some delivery services.

I am surprised how many people I know are very doubtful about the whole idea of autonomous vehicles. They doubt the safety. This in spite of the evidence so far that even the early versions now out are much safer than vehicles driven by mere mortals. People felt the same about those newfangled horseless carriages that spooked the horses. Time marches on. We adapt. And we haven’t even talked yet about delivery drones.

There has been a small surge in good articles about developments in this field of late. I thought I would share few of them with you today.

Wired magazine has a good article about the transition to autonomous cars. This is the current crop of semiautonomous vehicles, like those fielded by Tesla. Some advertising for these vehicles implies more capability than the cars can deliver. A lot of drivers are ready to mentally “round up” those capabilities, which puts us all at risk. European and American regulators worry that the performance vs perception gap is spreading.

How worrisome? Look at these results cited in the article for a poll done by European safety officials:

“Seventy percent of people believe you can buy autonomous cars,” says Matthew Avery, head of research at the UK’s Thatcham Research, a Euro NCAP member. Eleven percent said they’d be tempted to have a nap, read a paper, or watch a film while using one of the highway-assist features available today, even though every automaker peddling the tech requires drivers to pay attention to the road at all times. “It’s really worrying that consumers are believing the hype.”

It’s a fascinating discussion, with good analysis and a healthy dose of technologies. It’s at

Wired also has an interesting analysis of the patterns in semiautonomous vehicles getting hit by other vehicles. You know – the ones driven by people. These cars are also hit by bicycles, golf balls, and other things. It’s a fun read. One serious note is that there is not a lot of data available to the public on these accidents. Only California requires open, detailed reports. That should change. Read all about it.

The BBC produced a fine report, with the provocative title,“Why You Have (Probably) Bought Your Last Car.” It is a fascinating look back in time and into the future. They make the case for Autonomous Cars + Uber-like Services = Death of Automobile Ownership. Sooner rather than later. Doubtful? Read it and see what you think afterwards. Find it at

The Washington Post lays out a powerful case for the end of the internal combustion engine and the rise of electric cars. This meshes nicely with the autonomous car discussions. They note there are already close to a million privately owned electric vehicles on US roads. Sales in the US are up 32% this year. Cities and others responsible for infrastructure are beginning to adapt. This will further accelerate the trends. The article details the well-known long list of advantage such vehicles offer us.

As charging gets faster and more accessible, more of us will entertain the idea of making the change. (Conflict of interest admission: we own two electric/hybrid combination cars. We are delighted with them. I would never go back and look forward to going all electric in the future). This is a good read. It is even animated online. Very entertaining.

Last, a thoughtful look into the moral implications of “decision-making” by autonomous vehicles. This one also brought to us by the Washington Post. Fascinating scenarios and survey data. Lots of polling data asking people if they could design such a car, what safety protocols would they choose? If the vehicle had to hit someone, what is the choice?

Hint: If you are fat (vs thin), a guy (vs a gal) or a cat (vs a dog), better be careful crossing the street in the future. Read on!                                      

Ready to go electric and autonomous yet?

   Bill Clontz

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