I believe we have the potential to eliminate a major fraction of traffic congestion in the near future, using technology that exists today which will be cheap in the future. The method has been outlined by myself and others in the past, but here I offer an alternate way to
explain it which may help crystallize it in people’s minds.
Oxbotica, a UK technology company with a focus on mobile robotics and driverless vehicles, has created Selenium, an autonomous software system acting similar to a ‘brain’ for a vehicle. Selenium can work in pedestrianised environments as well as roads and motorways, and is not reliant on GPS to operate – meaning it can transition between indoor and outdoor settings, overground or underground. The system has been developed to be “vehicle agnostic” and can be applied to cars, self-driving pods (e.g. for campuses and airports), and warehouse truck fleets.
Some people have wondered about my forecast in the spreadsheet on robotaxi economics about the very low parking costs I have predicted. I wrote about most of the reasons for this in my 2007 essay on Robocar Parking, but let me expand and add some modern notes here.
Michigan’s Senate are reviewing several bills related to automated driving. SB995, 996, 997, and 998 are now out of committee, and SB 927 and 928 are not far behind. These bills seem to be a mixed bag. Critically, they are in desperate need of clarification followed by thoughtful discussion.
Editor’s note: Please note that this article refers to the versions that came out of the senate before moving to the house, where they have been slightly modified.
The US Department of Transportation is enthusiastically embracing automated driving, saying that self-driving vehicles are coming in some form (or many forms) and that the agency can play a role not only in supervising but also in assisting this transportation transformation.
Two self-driving car events of note: Uber just began operating a fleet of Volvo self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, and nuTonomy launched the first autonomous pilot taxi program last month in Singapore. Both still require a driver, although he/she will be as hands-off as much as possible.
The vision of many of us for robocars is a world of less private car ownership and more use of robotaxis — on-demand ride service in a robocar. That’s what companies like Uber clearly are pushing for, and probably Google, but several of the big car companies including Mercedes, Ford and BMW among others have also said they want to get there — in the case of Ford, without first making private robocars for their traditional customers.
In this world, what does it cost to operate these cars? How much might competitive services charge for rides? How much money will they make? What factors, including price, will they compete on, and how will that alter the landscape?
At the recent AUVSI/TRB conference in San Francisco, there was talk of upcoming regulation, particularly from NHTSA. Secretary of Transportation Foxx and his NHTSA staff spoke with just vague hints about what might come in the proposals due this fall. Generally, they said good things, namely that they are wary of slowing down the development of the technology. But they said things that suggest other directions.
Robin Chase wrote an article wondering if robocars will improve or ruin our cities and asked for my comment on it. It’s a long article, and I have lots of comment, since I have been considering these issues for a while. On this site, I spend most of my time on the potential positive future, though I have written various articles on downsides and there are yet more to write about.
Robin’s question has been a popular one of late, in part a reaction by urban planners who are finally starting to think more deeply on the topic and reacting to the utopian visions sometimes presented. I am guilty of such visions, though not as guilty as some. We are all seduced in part by excitement of what’s possible in a world where most or all cars are robocars — a world that is not coming for several decades, if in our lifetimes at all. It’s fair to look at the topic from both sides, as no technology is 100% good.