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Would you step into a driverless car?

Written By: - Date published: 3:18 pm, May 11th, 2018 - 51 comments
Categories: energy, sustainability, tech industry, transport - Tags:

Would you send your child off to a party in a driverless car?

It’s quite a step putting yourself into one, but what about sending someone you love off into the world in some mobile microwave?

Who is accountable when there’s a crash?

Who picks up the bill for specialist medical care when your child gets injured inside a driverless car?

Is it better or worse on balance to have an actual human being in the car to react to things?

We know taxis and taxi drivers are regulated by NZTA, but Uber drivers claim not to be taxis and are hence very poorly regulated if at all. What happens when there’s not even a driver?

There is no regulatory framework in place at all for driverless vehicles with passengers. That means, no one can be held accountable for what goes on. But before you get to rules, you need some practical ethics.

Well, the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure has been doing some thinking about this.

 

For those who are keen on when this is going to start here, no-one is predicting fully autonomous vehicles will be rolling out this year.

As for who’s winning the driverless car race, you decide.

Skepticism is appropriate after watching the Jetsons so many years ago: I’m still waiting for my jetpack.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRKmhjZy7hw

While  companies are advancing in their development of such vehicles, I’m less concerned about the techno, and more about how this is going to impact the ethics of everyday life. Here’s a few of the guidelines from the German Ministry of Transport:

  1. The primary purpose of partly and fully automated transport systems is to improve safety for all road users (…)
  2. (…) The licensing of automated systems is not justifiable unless it promises to produce at least a diminution in harm compared with human driving, in other words a positive balance of risks.
  3. The public sector is responsible for guaranteeing the safety of the automated and connected systems introduced and licensed in the public street environment. Driving systems thus need official licensing and monitoring. (…)
  4. (…) The purpose of all governmental and political regulatory decisions is thus to promote the free development and the protection of individuals. In a free society, the way in which technology is statutorily fleshed out is such that a balance is struck between maximum personal freedom of choice in a general regime of development and the freedom of others and their safety.
  5. Automated and connected technology should prevent accidents wherever this is practically possible. (…)
  6. The introduction of more highly automated driving systems, especially with the option of automated collision prevention, may be socially and ethically mandated if it can unlock existing potential for damage limitation. Conversely, a statutorily imposed obligation to use fully automated transport systems or the causation of practical inescapabilty is ethically questionable if it entails submission to technological imperatives (prohibition on degrading the subject to a mere network element).
  7. In hazardous situations that prove to be unavoidable, despite all technological precautions being taken, the protection of human life enjoys top priority in a balancing of legally protected interests. Thus, within the constraints of what is technologically feasible, the systems must be programmed to accept damage.
  8. (…) (I)t would be desirable for an independent public sector agency (for instance a Federal Bureau for the Investigation of Accidents Involving Automated Transport Systems or a Federal Office for Safety in Automated and Connected Transport) to systematically process the lessons learned.
  9. In the event of unavoidable accident situations, any distinction based on personal features (age, gender, physical or mental constitution) is strictly prohibited. It is also prohibited to offset victims against one another.

There’s twenty of them, so that’s just a taste of what the Germans have been thinking. The full text is in the link above. When you boil them down, you start getting to Isaac Asimov’s three rules for robots, which he considered way back in 1942 – during the great accelerated world-mechanisation of World War Two:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second laws.

Driverless trains are now nothing new, in fact they are rolling them out in Sydney this year – and I’m sure they will arrive shortly in Auckland.

 

What is also underway is driverless air-taxis in New Zealand. Note they are electric. Again, they are having to invent the regulatory system when there is no driver to regulate.

 

But actual road cars? Surely this needs human judgement? Autonomous vehicles are not going to radically decrease congestion. They might make T3 lanes a bit more attractive and efficient, but if that’s the sum total of the revolution, I want my money back.

We’ve been waiting 30 years to figure out when and how the next wave of automation would be as revolutionary as the car itself. Of all the needless waste of human life and time popularized by automation over the last 70 years, driving cars is the worst. It’s going to be a massive liberation, but with liberation comes the human need for rules. So far there are none.

51 comments on “Would you step into a driverless car? ”

  1. Visubversa 1

    One of the problems with driverless cars is that people will want to own them. But, as they will not want to pay for parking them when away from home, this is likely to double most journeys. Car takes one parent to work – goes home. Car takes kids to school or schools, goes home. Car takes other parent or work or whatever – goes home. End of the day – repeat in reverse. It may mean that people own only 1 car instead of 2, but there will be at least the same effect on congestion. A car is a car is a car!

    • Ed 1.1

      Yes trains and buses beat any cars.

      • Phil 1.1.1

        Those trains and buses do the same routine – go a place, go home, go a place, go home, multiple times in a day.

    • katipo 1.2

      Agreed the current path the private sector is heading down with their autonomous cars just seem to be more of the same on steroids.
      Time for a paradigm shift.

      We would be much better rolling out a city wide network of centrally controlled, publicly owned, small (3 or 4 person) electric pod-cars on their own separated guide system. Much like a more extensive version of the system they have at Heathrow Terminal 5.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ULTra_(rapid_transit)

      This system has many advantages over owning a private car (weather it be autonomous or not) and also a lot of advantages over buses & trams too i.e.
      1. The technology to build them is already proven today.
      2. They are simple and cheap to produce and use less resources to do so.
      3. Don’t need a licence to operate them – so good for kids, elderly, disabled or those going to the pub.
      4. Takes you were you want to go without stops as you are not sharing the pod with others and can operate 24/7
      5 Pods can be routed to where the need is (i.e capacity can match demand in real time) so short waiting times and no need for timetables.
      6. The small size means the guide network is cheaper to build than roads or tram lines and could even be routed directly into buildings.
      7. Better utilization compared with buses trains or even SUV’s which are often cruising around half empty.
      8. You don’t have to own the pods or have a place to store them.
      9. Being centrally controlled the entire network can be managed more efficiently don’t need wait at traffic lights, pods heading in the same direction can travel close to reduce overall drag.
      10. Being on their own guide means they way simpler than autonomous cars
      11. Can be easily scaled & expanded eg start with a small CBD system between say hospital-car park buildings-university-large buildings then expand it out as demand dictates.

    • alwyn 1.3

      A very simple question
      You say “people will want to own them”.
      Why on earth would anyone want to own one, and do you actually have any evidence that owning a car will remain a desirable thing when transport as a service will be available?

      If you can summon a vehicle that would come to you, take you to where you want to go and then leave you why would you want to own it?
      There need be no capital outlay, no insurance to pay, no storage for the vehicle, no parking charges, just a fee/km that will be much less than it costs you to run your existing vehicle.
      I would love to get rid of having to own a car and to have to bother worrying about the thing. The sooner AV are available the better.
      The only people who will want to own cars in 10 years will be petrol-heads and they will probably be banned because they will be involved in to many accidents.

      • Draco T Bastard 1.3.1

        Why on earth would anyone want to own one, and do you actually have any evidence that owning a car will remain a desirable thing when transport as a service will be available?

        Same reasons why they want to own them now when transport as a service is already available in the form of taxis/buses and trains.

        If you can summon a vehicle that would come to you, take you to where you want to go and then leave you why would you want to own it?

        How’s that going to decrease congestion?

        There need be no capital outlay, no insurance to pay, no storage for the vehicle, no parking charges, just a fee/km that will be much less than it costs you to run your existing vehicle.

        All that is true now or, to be more precise, the insurance and storage costs and parking charges and running costs are all in the one fare – just as they will be for driverless cars.

        The only people who will want to own cars in 10 years will be petrol-heads and they will probably be banned because they will be involved in to many accidents.

        So, you’re calling people who own BMWs, Porsches and Rolls Royce all petrol-heads?

        Because I can assure you that all those people will want to keep their status symbols.

        • alwyn 1.3.1.1

          A brief comment on your points.
          “transport as a service is already available in the form of taxis/buses and trains.”
          Taxis are very expensive, compared to the estimates for an AV. Perhaps a tenth of the price. Buses, much less trains will still be more expensive. As well they don’t come to your door and let you off at your destination. You have to get to the station, or bus stop at one end and get from the stop at the other end to where you really want to go. Great fun in the rain of course. They are also slower as they have to stop frequently along the way to let other people on or off.

          “How’s that going to decrease congestion”.
          AVs, which can communicate with each other can travel much closer together. You won’t need the human requirement of a 2 second rule. They also won’t have to be parked along the roadside for long periods and you certainly won’t need them going round and round looking for a place to park. Imagine an extra lane on each road in each direction for moving vehicles rather than parked ones.

          “BMWs, Porsches and Rolls Royce all petrol-heads”.
          Of course they are. And I talk as a former Merc owner. How could you possibly consider them anything else?
          A car provides transport. Why do people think they need BMW 7 series with a chauffer just to get from the Office to the Airport? The only reason they have those cars is that it reflects their own opinion of their status. Bullshit of course but they want something to tell themselves that they matter

          • Draco T Bastard 1.3.1.1.1

            Taxis are very expensive, compared to the estimates for an AV. Perhaps a tenth of the price.

            Probably true but if everyone used taxies the price would come down. This is part of my point. As everyone will still want to own the price of an AV taxi is still going to be relatively expensive.

            Buses, much less trains will still be more expensive.

            Buses and trains are far, far cheaper than cars. I’d say that it’s our delusional financial system that makes it seem the other way but the reality is that when you count the actual costs of cars up they’re far more expensive. They simply don’t have the economies of scale that public transport has and they can never reach it.

            AVs, which can communicate with each other can travel much closer together.

            True but 72 cars are still going to take up more space than one bus. This is the problem and it get exponentially worse as outer suburbs feed into main roads as people head into town.

            The only reason they have those cars is that it reflects their own opinion of their status.

            True but that’s why a lot of people have cars – even the ones that don’t have BMWs and other signs egotism.

            • David Mac 1.3.1.1.1.1

              Yeah, I think there will be those that want to own them. Luxury seekers like bespoke. Speed lovers want a 500kw nuclear chip powered job. Safety heads will get the ‘Withstands being dropped from the Skytower’ one.

              I think it will be cool to not own one and just app up the one required, get the hedge trimmings to the methane plant in a little dump truck one…I needn’t go with it…. or a kayak to the coast.

              I guess some females do but it seems to be mainly guys that think we are way better drivers than we actually are. I think that’s one of the big sells for the autonomous car: “Yep, they really are better than you Buddy, better than Shumacher, Fangio and Senna combined.”

              I’d try and be guided by the facts rather than my constantly shoulder tapping emotions and trust them.

    • Me 1.4

      It’s actually looking more like car companies will be retaining ownership of cars for ease of updates and recalls and leasing them out on driverless UBER or similar themselves.

      Some people will buy and they could lease the car whenever they weren’t using it and make a little money.

  2. Stunned Mullet 2

    ‘Would you send your child off to a party in a driverless car?’

    No

    • Cinny 2.1

      +1

    • Phil 2.2

      Have you ever put your child on a plane? Because you’re entrusting their life to a robot/computer. In fact, you’re many many times more likely to die in a plane crash because of human (i.e. pilot) error than because of technical failure or malfunction. Take off and landing (historically the most dangerous parts of the journey) are now almost completely auto-piloted.

      Boston Dynamics has already built a robot that runs and jumps across rough terrain better than you can. The technology behind driverless cars doesn’t get distracted by the radio or a cellphone the way you sometimes do.

      I would rather send my child to a party in a driverless car, than in one that you’re driving.

  3. ropata 3

    AVs/EVs are a last gasp effort by the dinosaur auto industry to continue clogging up the roads. Public Transport (and cycling!) is the way of the future. Anyone who plays Sim City knows you need a decent f%@#king train system. Millennials increasingly can’t be bothered with driving licenses and the huge expense of car ownership.

    Unlike last century, car ownership doesn’t represent freedom any more.

    • greywarshark 3.1

      What about moving pavements with a division down the middle so two people can stand across-ways but be separated and can lean on an arm rest, in their own separate space, rest their laptop etc. It would be open at the sides but with a light roof. People might like to talk to their offsider, as if they were on a bus seat. Reduces cycling, there would be short stops at stations, the platform and floor of the trolley would be at same height. It would keep the price down and avoid tons of cyclists getting in each other’s way and preventing the enjoyment and safety of walking on a FOOTPATH.

  4. ropata 4

    I am not at all confident that an AI is capable of interpreting its physical surroundings from a few cameras and applying defensive driving tactics in potentially risky situations.

    e.g.

    A ball rolls into the street …
    A school bus is at a bus stop…
    Merging onto the motorway, and other cars trying to steal your space…
    Someone driving erratically nearby…

    • Cinny 4.1

      As well what if you see someone in trouble/medical emergency etc on the side of the road, could you ask the car to stop so you could help them?

    • McFlock 4.2

      Actually, those are the easiest things to do more safely with AI than humans. The anomaly is clear, the response is obvious, and the key to safety is the reaction time.

      The more difficult things are like a recent street realignment where I live, where the lane lines were crappily painted over and good luck finding your correct lane across the intersection on a dark, wet night. What to do then needs a human.

      • Katipo 4.2.1

        Those are defiantly not the easiest things to do, if they were we would all be being driven by computers by now. The crude systems available now only work on well defined motorways and require vast arrays of sensors, radar and massively complex computer software running on systems capable of doing super high-speed realtime simultaneous calculations that add a 10% overhead to the efficiency of the vehicle.

        • McFlock 4.2.1.1

          But “well defined highways” wasn’t the cases lined up – that was basic hazard avoidance by identifing anomalies. Balls coming into streets, that sort of thing. Even school buses need thestandard sign that can be used as a currently-existing cue.

          Sure, they need an array of sensors, but the problem isn’t interpreting a sudden object in the road. It’s things like identifying intersections and the give way rules. Muddy lanes vs the shitty lawn next to the muddy lane.

    • Draco T Bastard 4.3

      Yes, the problem with driver-less cars is the people driving the other cars.

  5. ianmac 5

    When/if driverless cars are common they know a number of cars ahead and a number of cars behind and to either side. They “talk” to each other and predict problems and take actions accordingly. Not sure about the ball/cat/child on the road though.
    Maybe “owning” a car will be obsolete. Therefore all cars will know each other.

  6. Paul Campbell 6

    not one that hasn’t done millions of safe driving miles in NZ with NZ road signs and markings, driving on NZ’s side of the road, with NZ’s road rules, knows how to predict NZ’s shitty drivers and that can recognise people [deleted]

    [Take your racist tripe elsewhere Paul. One week ban.] – Bill

  7. bwaghorn 7

    Can you get plastered and then get your priceless car to take you home ?

  8. greywarshark 8

    Milkmen doing the same route morning after morning with the same horse,
    could find if they fell over, got sidetracked, that the horse moved over the same route and then home all on their own. They didn’t deliver the milk though.
    I’m sure AI could be trained to read the notes left by people and leave the required amount, alter the order, give cash change, put on hold etc.

    • McFlock 8.1

      The milk will be delivered by drone within minutes of your ordering it, your account deducted by the requisite amount…

  9. McFlock 9

    I reckon by the time I can afford one, they’ll probably be significantly safer than me driving one 🙂

    • alwyn 9.1

      What if you didn’t have to own it at all?
      Just summon one to collect you when you want to go somewhere.
      What is this primeval urge people have to own something they only use for about 4% of the time? I would estimate that the average car does about 14,000 km/year.
      At, say, 40kph this is only about 1 hour/day.
      Shared AVs, available to summon on request would, at a guess be able to get at least 10 times the usage.

  10. greywarshark 10

    I think I like the gang of the human chain, not the metal or polymer one. How’s
    your boy, did he get into the team wave and query to the person is good. Have a pseudo thing put the milk right into my hand or not leave it if it can’t be put in the requisite light shade for maximum milk quality, is like living in a laboratory
    with me the lab rat.

  11. Timeforacupoftea 11

    Never ever will I get in a driverless car.
    Times three in this house, out of three.

    Wait one moment ……. my dog would like one and would use it 24 hours per day.

  12. Draco T Bastard 12

    Would you send your child off to a party in a driverless car?

    Yes but not until the banned human drivers. Those idiots are dangerous.

    Who is accountable when there’s a crash?

    Why insurance should be a state monopoly

    In fact, that’s why health treatment is free now.

    Who picks up the bill for specialist medical care when your child gets injured inside a driverless car?

    See above.

    Is it better or worse on balance to have an actual human being in the car to react to things?

    Worse.

    We know taxis and taxi drivers are regulated by NZTA, but Uber drivers claim not to be taxis and are hence very poorly regulated if at all. What happens when there’s not even a driver?

    Things get better but will still need to be properly regulated.

  13. Draco T Bastard 13

    Autonomous vehicles are not going to radically decrease congestion. They might make T3 lanes a bit more attractive and efficient, but if that’s the sum total of the revolution

    Cars, no matter if they’re electric, self-drive or whatnot are incredibly inefficient and simply shouldn’t exist.

  14. NZJester 14

    I would never trust a driverless car. Just look at all the security holes that people are finding in hardware and software to gain access to computers including those in cars. At the Black Hat security conference in 2015, for instance, two automotive cybersecurity researchers, Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek showed off their work to remotely hack, control, and paralyze a 2014 Jeep Cherokee. They showed they could also disable its brakes at low speed and instead of paralyzing it they could have actually speed it up or turned its wheels.
    If a hacker can do that to a car that has an actual driver, imagine what they could do if they managed to hack a driverless car. Image what a terrorist organization could do if they turned their eyes toward driverless cars, and hacking them instead of trying to build bombs. They could potentially easily kill far more people with the press of a key to launch a virus into driverless cars than they could by exploding a bomb. There have been cases in the past too of unmanned rockets having to be blown up as they started to go off course because someone installed the wrong information into their control system. What if someone sends out an updated map with wrong information to the car and it puts the passenger in danger?
    They say computers never make mistakes, but unfortunately, the people putting the information into them are human and extremely prone to mistakes.

  15. greywarshark 15

    Think of that little girl who was kidnapped in Portugal. The grief, the searching,
    the guilt, the stress, the never-ending questions. How would you feel if you put your child or children in a driverless car and it was hijacked and your kids ransomed? There also is a duty of care. People with children are supposed to keep them close all the time. I think a child has to be over 14 before being left in custody. I don’t think leaving your children to be both supervised and driven by a driverless car would be regarded as responsible or legal.

    • AsleepWhileWalking 15.1

      Age you can leave child unsupervised is 12, yeah I agree.

      Irresponsible and invites predatory behavior.

    • Ad 15.2

      Was she kidnapped by a preprogrammed driverless car?

    • Phil 15.3

      How would you feel if you put your child or children in a driverless car and it was hijacked and your kids ransomed?

      Probably exactly the same as I would feel if my child was kidnapped and ransomed right now?

      What a bizarre world you must live in…

  16. AsleepWhileWalking 16

    I think Peachtree City has it right. Everyone has a golf cart or two and drives around in that as most trips are short distance eg to school.

    Peachtree City is designed specifically to allow this.

    Much better for kids independence (driving age for Peachtree golf carts is 16 but I think it used to be 13), less chance of serious accident, and I’m guessing a shitload cheaper than a driverless car at present.

    I find driving pleasurable so wouldn’t want to give it up under any circumstances. Occasionally I even enjoy a good parallel park, it’s even better without parking assist.

  17. Graeme 17

    It’s happening and here, both in use and development.

    The foreseeable AV future is probably something more like this,

    https://thespinoff.co.nz/business/05-02-2018/new-zealands-driverless-future-is-finally-here-and-its-coming-first-to-christchurch-airport/

    “Beyond their use in airports, Matthews says the shuttles — which currently include four different models of varying shapes and sizes — also have the potential to be used in other controlled environments, such as university campuses, retirement villages, recreational areas and tourist locations. Eventually, he hopes they can be used on New Zealand’s public roads alongside regular vehicles where the shuttles can be used as a last mile solution.”

    The developers also see potential for “linked” AVs to replace busses and light rail,

    “The potential is these vehicles can convoy and move lots of people without all the infrastructure like a railway system,” he says. “Because of their low-cost deployment and their capabilities, they’ve got the possibility of giving transport flexibility where you don’t have to go on dedicated routes like light rail would.”

    An interesting goal but I think it would need a dramatic change in attitudes of operators of the driven fleet. Linked AVs would require the same right of way that trams require without the kinetic advantage that trams / light rail enjoys.

    AVs, single and linked, are envisioned as a part of Queenstown’s public transport system in the 5-10 year timeframe. The existing diesel fleet is temporary with plans for replacement at 5 and 10 years allowing for a 2 stage transition to electric and maybe autonomous.

  18. Anon 18

    Intersection meshing: if all cars were automated there’d be no traffic lights, cars could mesh through intersections with almost no slow down required. All traffic would run a lot smoother with a lot less traffic jams.

    Also if all cars were driverless then no cars would need to be owned by anyone – a nation wide car fleet would massively reduce car parking as cars would move from one job to another. Could even encourage car pooling by charging extra for solo trips.

    And without having to do the actual driving even long commutes can still be useful for something.

    Yeah, this would be way better than trains and the ultimate in public transport access for the infirm – but it wouldn’t pad jobs for unions so smelly mouldy inefficient late trains it is. Or in the case of ChCh no public transport at all by the time ECAN’s done gutting it.

    • Ad 18.1

      I would expect that as with any capital-intensive change such as buying a car, only the rich and the freight and large-fleet businesses will move to full automation.

      The rest of us will keep driving.

      Everybody talks about a new world in the morning, as Roger Whittaker said, but don’t they know tomorrow never comes?

      • greywarshark 18.1.1

        What a great dream you guys are having. It’s Jetsons time folks. There is so little thought going into the wide social aspects of transport. But your transports of delight see things so rosily it is just a reprise of the fluffy stuff we got when computers were being introduced. It sounded then like a world where Disney birds tweeted sweet songs from every tree as erstwhile heavy-lifting employees were released from their doleful mundane jobs out into the sunshine strollin’ down the avenue.

        Now getting the dole is the job, in between demoralising repetitions of talks about how to give yourself heft over the other drop-outs for the next erratic job at ratshit wages.

      • greywarshark 18.1.2

        While people were thinking along your lines Ad, Roger Douglas and backing group came and sang another, different song, and he liked a fast pace that kept people confused.

        Tomorrow came in his time warp, and passed by us so quickly that we didn’t see it coming, and now don’t believe it ever existed, it’s being in the Now that’s the zeitgeist.

        Meanwhile we have jumped in the Tardis and it has taken us back to the 1940’s, and we are in our own science-fiction extravaganza.

  19. Me 19

    Would you send your child off to a party in a driverless car? Yes.

    I believe the cars will be tested thoroughly and I know the car will not drink, take illicit substances or text and my child will have a better chance of getting home safely.

    I can’t wait till all cars, trucks and buses are driverless.

    • greywarshark 19.1

      You are as naive as a child Me. And need others in society to do the thinking about the effects and unintended consequences of this new system.

      And by the way, when parents send a child off in a plane on their own, the flight attendant will probably be asked to care for them so they have someone adult with them to give them a happy trip and hand them to someone at the end.

      You seem hostile about society. I am sorry that you have a rather paranoid attitude to it. Bad things do happen, but most people have reasonable to good levels of morality and competence so that a sort of gated separation from others is not justified by reality.

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