Driverless car

Wasting our time and money on rail, self drive cars are the go

In the UK David Cameron is copping a flogging for pouring billions into a high-speed rail solution that only rich pricks are going to be able to use. Anyone who suggests rail is the solution of the future transport issues should be taken out the back of the bike sheds and given a sound thrashing. Driverless cars are the way of the future.

Anybody who still believes high-speed rail is the answer to our transport problems, rather than an unaffordably grandiose throwback to a bygone era, needs to take a trip to Silicon Valley.

Some of the world’s cleverest scientists and engineers, including those at Google, are pioneering a new generation of driverless cars that will change our lives as much as the internet has already done.

David Cameron likes to think that he is making Britain more like California but his embrace of the ¬£35bn taxpayer-financed HS2 project linking London to the Midlands and the North is, in fact, shockingly outdated, making him sound more like a French bureaucrat desperate to build monuments to himself than an enabler of US-style disruptive entrepreneurship.¬† Read more »

How roads beat rail over time

Any long term reader nows I detest rail,¬†especially¬†in Auckland. There isn’t a¬†metropolitan¬†rail service anywhere that makes money…they are all heavily subsidised. Cities like Auckland with negligible rail corridor, built on an isthmus and geographically spread are never going to solve transport problems with rail.

Of course you will get the train spotters who always claim that roads are subsidised too…if we could only divert all the money of roads to rail and then get buses to connect…missing the point that buses need roads that they just committed to not spending on.

Ultimately roads will surpass rail for efficiency but only once we remove the idiots behind the wheel.

[T[he more developed a country becomes, the more expensive and time-consuming any new rail line will be. And if you‚Äôre looking out say 20 years, there‚Äôs a pretty strong case to be made that the kind of efficiency that we can get today only on rail lines will in future be available on roads as well ‚ÄĒ with significantly greater comfort and convenience for passengers.

Right now, technology is arguably making roads and cars more dangerous. Drivers are notoriously bad judges of their own driving ability, and they‚Äôre increasingly being distracted by devices ‚ÄĒ not just text messages, any more, but fully-fledged emails, social-media alerts, and even videos. What‚Äôs more, when car manufacturers roll out things like stay-in-lane technology, that just makes drivers feel even safer, so they feel as though they have some kind of permission to spend even more time on their phones, and less time paying attention to the highway. The results can be disastrous.¬† Read more »

Nevada licences driverless cars

ŠĒ• The Telegraph

Len Brown should be looking at this initiative in Nevada instead of wasting billions on a silly trainset:

Driverless cars are to be allowed on the roads of Nevada, which has become the first state in America to allow the vehicles to licence their use.

Google which has embarked on an extensive testing programme of the cars secured the approval of the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

Motor manufacturers have been working on taking human error out of driving for more than a decade with innovations such as lane departure warning, self applying brakes and cars which park themselves.

Google, however, has come up with the ultimate version of cruise control, by removing the driver completely with the help of video cameras, lasers and radar sensors.

It relies on mapping which is created by Google’s own staff who drive the route filling in the location of lane markings and road signs.

Despite being controlled by a computer, two people must sit in the car at all times.

They will be held responsible for the car’s behaviour. As the vehicle will only be able to break the speed limit if the driver takes control, he or she would receive the speeding fine.

But he or she will be able to spend the journey on the phone or even texting without putting other road users at risk.

A test car, which has already been tested in California, has already covered 140,000 miles without any mishap ‚Äď apart from being nudged from behind at a set of traffic lights.

Why autonomous cars rock

ŠĒ• Andrew Sullivan

Check this video of a blind man going through a drive thru in his self-drive car, His autonomous car gives him freedom. something public transport will never do:

Steve Mahan is 95 percent blind. And yet he was able to get into a car and drive a pre-programmed  route from his California home to a Taco Bell restaurant. Mahan was driving a Google autonomous car.  For people like Mahan, who are visually impaired, this technology is liberating in a pretty fundamental way. It gives him the freedom of mobility, and the ability to be independent. While it will take a few more years for these vehicles to be widely available to the public, the video [above] gives us a glimpse of what the future will be like.

This is exactly why adherence to 19th century transport technology is not only a waste of public money but just plain silly:

Why drive to a train station, park, pay for a ticket, wait, hop on a train, sit for a while, then hop back in a car or other train when you get close to your destination, when you can just take a nap while your self-driving car carries you safely‚ÄĒand directly‚ÄĒto your destination?

Len Brown and other public transport adherents need to get out more. But Len already knows this…he hardly ever takes the train,¬†preferring¬†the¬†convenience¬†of his car.

Driverless cars and traffic

ŠĒ•Andrew Sullivan

This is what intersections would look like if there were autonomous driverless cars:

ŠĒ•Emily Badger writes:

Right now, you may wind up sitting at a red light for 45 seconds even though no one is passing through the green light in the opposite direction. But you don‚Äôt have to do that in a world where traffic flows according to computer communication instead of the systems that have been built with human behavior in mind. …¬†Because of this, we won‚Äôt need traffic lights at all (or stop signs, for that matter). Traffic will constantly flow, and at a rate that would probably unnerve the average human driver.

Instead of focusing on large cost public transport infrastructure projects we should instead be focusing on providing the data networks and roading structures that would support a huge fleet of driverless cars.

Instead of driving being dead time for the driver you would instead be able to complete tasks otherwise taken up with driving. For me it would mean being able to publish a post about something I just heard on the radio, or saw as I drove by.

Stop wasting money on Public transport

We need to seriously stop wasting money on public transport and start investing in technology infrastructure to support smart driverless cars:

IT WILL be some years before cars are as smart as KITT, the talking, self-piloting car in the 1980s TV show ‚ÄúKnight Rider‚ÄĚ. Several carmakers, and Google, are doing trials of self-driving cars, and Nevada has become the first American state to pass a law to regulate such trials on public roads.

Already, however, cars are increasingly coming with features that help drivers with steering and braking and, in some cases, overrule their human operators to prevent crashes. This week Ford’s chairman, Bill Ford, said carmakers needed to press ahead with autonomous vehicles. He is convinced that they will ease traffic jams. And the same sorts of automation that can squeeze more cars on to the roads can also cut accidents (themselves a big cause of congestion).

Volvo‚Äôs new V40 small hatchback essentially drives itself in busy traffic, maintaining a safe distance and keeping in lane without human intervention. The V40 also brakes automatically when it senses an imminent collision, as can Ford‚Äôs new B-Max minivan. Such features appeared on some pricey vehicles a few years ago, but are now arriving on much cheaper models. Nissan is working on software that anticipates a driver‚Äôs next move‚ÄĒfor instance, adjusting the speed and position of the car going into a turn. This summer America‚Äôs traffic-safety agency will put 3,000 test cars on Michigan‚Äôs roads equipped with a variety of such ‚Äúdriver-assist‚ÄĚ features.

The Driverless Car

Here is a view of Google’s Driverless Car.

I want one…but not based on a suckful Prius.

Public transport I can believe in

The other day I wrote about the ubiquitous car and how the advances in technology  will free us from congestion rather than 19th century static technology.

When ever you ask people about public transport usualy their eyes glaze over as they dream of some expensive pipe dream for ¬†“other people” to take. I am yet to find an advocate for public transport that actually uses it as their primary mode of transport.

Len Brown needs to be showing the way too. He has pledged to almost $5 billion of other peoples money funding rail as the solution to all our ills. Getting ratepayers of Auckland to subsidise¬†international¬†travelers¬†for their trips to and from the airport and the city. If Len Brown is a serious rail advocate he should use the train to get to work in his new mayoral office. If it is good enough for “other people” it should be good enough for Len Brown.

Advancing the digital economy is a far better way of growing this city that spending nearly $5 billion on 19th century technology rail projects. Technology can deliver where socialists and green freaks have failed with the expansion of rail.

My ideal for public transport, shamelessly stolen from Peter Cresswell over a beer at Blogger’s Drinks, is for there to be a system of public transportation “pods”. You stand on the street and one arrives in front of you, you get in it and command the “pod” to travel to your destination and you get there get out. You repeat this as often as you desire to get around the city.

We have a version of this already, the “pods” are called cars, there are even ones you can command, they are called taxis. A logical extension of this though would be to remove the driver altogether and control the cars remotely using technology. Fanciful stuff you say, but wait, its already being done.

Big carmakers say they’re developing driverless cars, but only the search engine company has taken to California’s highways with one. If driverless cars can pick up people at their home or office, the need to buy one at all may soon be gone.

By Doron Levin, contributor

Google’s (GOOG) dramatic experiments on California roads with driverless-vehicle technology, publicized with mild fanfare within the past week, could legitimize a once far-fetched concept for personal transportation.

The general public hasn’t closely followed breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and digital control systems as they apply to so-called autonomous vehicles. But the military’s drone aircraft, which can take off, land and carry out military missions by remote control may provide some hints as to how far driverless cars can go. Achievements in the automotive realm have been made partly by university scientists who receiving funding from the U.S. Department of Defense’s research and development arm, DARPA, as well as by automakers.

Thanks to the the financial resources and creativity of Google, driverless technology is moving toward mass-market application sooner than anyone predicted, in the same manner that Internet technology migrated from university laboratories to personal computers once it was embraced by companies like Aol (AOL).

Well, lookee there, exactly as I (and Peter Cresswell) have wished. This is public transport I can believe in. useful, convenient and takes me where I want to go not where some green freak thinks I want to go.

The increases in safety on the roads from such a system would be enormous.

What Google brings to the table is an outsider’s perspective and an understanding of tech-savvy consumers.¬† Automakers have long known that cars could be built to drive themselves, but have been cautious about overselling the idea to the public or predicting their imminent arrival.¬† In the meantime, automakers have developed a raft of features to mitigate driver distraction, which ultimately could be used to take driving out of human hands.

“The industry knows the long road that has to be traveled to make driverless technology successful,” said Tom Kowaleski, a spokesman for BMW’s U.S. operations.

Safety and litigation worries by the industry have previously slowed the introduction of features now considered basic, such as airbags. Conventional wisdom has held that no machine could process as much information as a driver or react as well ‚Äď but the time may have finally come where perhaps the opposite is true.¬†“Every new piece of technology we introduce takes three to five years of gestation before it can be introduced. I have no crystal ball,” Kowaleski said.

While Google’s latest experimental vehicle uses sensors to see its surroundings and respond appropriately, BMW, Toyota and other automakers have been experimenting with a different kind of technology: Their experiments revolve around communication systems that allow cars to exchange wireless signals.¬† A car that encounters a slippery road, for example, could inform others approaching the area, Kowaleski said.¬† In an early stage of the technology, the driver could respond to a warning; eventually cars could be taught to respond on their own by slowing down or engaging all wheel drive or some other feature.

Toyota was the first automaker to offer a feature that allowed a driver to overcome the difficulty of parallel parking by letting the car do so on its own.¬† John Hanson, a Toyota spokesman, said in an emailed message that the automaker has been working on autonomous vehicles and related technologies and “will be a leader” when such vehicles are introduced.

Imagine if we were so bold as to remove the trains, lay asphalt instead and now create rapid transit lanes for use by autonomous vehicles. Wow that would be spectacular, and as more autonomous vehicles became available we could then start dedicating lane on the motorway to them too. The future for public transport as convenient, ubiquitous and available seems to be not far away.

Beyond the technological hurdles, which seem less difficult to surmount as companies like Google weigh in, automakers may have to consider a different model for personal transportation once a human driver is no longer essential. Here’s where the technology might both empower consumers and startle car makers.

Cars that don’t need drivers also may not need private owners ‚Äď since they could be summoned remotely and returned once their journey is complete. Why take on a lease if you can purchase a subscription to a car instead? Netflix (NFLX) has already soundly proven that consumers will change their habits if enough of an incentive is provided. Car owners who never want to spend a Saturday under the hood or in the waiting room of a mechanic’s shop again might quickly adapt to a car subscription model.

With Google’s driverless leap forward, both in terms of technology and in presentation to an increasingly tech-savvy and tech-obsessed¬†world, the joys of car driving and car ownership may give way to the convenience of forgoing the gasoline pump — or the charging station — for good.

I think Len Brown would be better off in talking to Google and Toyota about such a system for Auckland and investing in this rather than his dream (nightmare) of spending nearly $5 billion on outmoded, static, hopeless transport systems.

Humans are creative and adaptable creatures, we can solve our transport crisis with technology, and it isn’t by building rail networks.

Len's train set

Len Brown went around the campaign denying to all who would listen that he was promising to spend more than $4 billion. I sat in quite a few debates between him and John Banks and everytime John Banks said that Len Brown was promising to spend more than $4 billion he would vigorously deny it.

Yet now in the past few days we have heard nothing else but his $4 billion pipe dreams. It’s actually closer to $5 billion, but who is counting when he denied it all campaign.

He has campaigned on three rail project plans – a central city tunnel, a city-airport link and a city-Albany link – which will cost up to $4.75 billion.

Now the greedy fat cats of the South Island are upset about his plans. I can understand their upset, they would really rather have the billions spent on them. But it is a little bit off after the government dumped $1.7 billion on South Canterbury and another $4 billion on Christchurch and bailed out the greedy farmers in Southland who lost stock from a wee storm to the tune of another $1 billion.

I wonder just how much government assistance there would be for businesses in Aucklnd that lost stock in a storm? I bet it would be zero.

Credit though to the greedy South Island mayors who have seen that the new Auckland City will become a political powerhouse. Tough titty to them though. The simple fact about Auckland is that more than a third of the population live in the new city and more than half of the population lives north of Taupo.

However Len Brown does need to be held to account for his insane rail policies. It is perhaps relevant then to look at some details concerning car vs. public transport.

I found a great article in the Winnipeg Free Press about just this.

Before the Industrial Revolution, food was scarce and gruelling work was done outside. European paintings of the period glamourize women who were very white and more than a little plump. Today, most workplaces are out of the sun, and food is plentiful, so people will pay a lot of money to be tanned and thin like the achingly thin models on catwalks. Following the pattern, as cars have become abundant, fashion has set its sights on the car-free lifestyle.

It’s good to be in a society where such experiments in living are available to those who want them; this writer has no car and rarely needs to venture out of Regina’s Cathedral neighbourhood. But public policy, by its very nature, binds everybody. It’s therefore important that romantic visions are tempered by respect for personal choice and cognizant of what new technology will make possible.

Yes, indeed, public policy binds us all, and even the NZ Herald editorial today implores Len Brown to “sell rail to everyone“. Well this blogger ain’t buying rail. It is a 19th century invention that hasn’t much improved, and it is expensive in the building and more expensive in the running.

It’s time to recognize that cars are a wonderful thing, and there is good reason to expect technology that already exists will soon mitigate the objections some have to them.

Cars have made people more mobile than at any time in our history. As author Randal O’Toole has calculated, the average American travels 29,000 kilometres per year, at an average travel speed of 56 kilometres per hour. Twenty-three thousand of those kilometres are by car. For comparison, Americans in 1900 averaged 3,600 kilometres per year at an average speed of 13 kilometres per hour. They were dependent on street cars, steam trains, and their feet.

This mobility increases the options people have for work, culture, and commerce. The American Transportation Research Board has found that welfare recipients with a car in Los Angeles County have access to 59 times more jobs (yes, 59 times as many) as those reliant on walking and transit.

Those are very impressive statistics and are a testament to the freedom a car gives you, rather than the tyranny of public transport.

Minority sports would be impractical without the car. You can play ice hockey in tropical Auckland, New Zealand, and rugby in CFL-mad Saskatchewan. Such diversity is possible only because minority sports’ thinly spread devotees are able to move quickly to a central point for games and practices.

Similarly, large-scale stores such as Walmart and Superstore, which have driven down prices for consumer goods, are possible only because large numbers of people can travel to them easily and take home enough goods to justify an involved shopping trip in a large store.

This is the crux of any issue regarding public transport. Everyone thinks it is a good idea for everyone else to take public transport. But diversity necessitates private transport rather than the constraints of rail.

What’s more, there are good reasons to believe that technology will make cars dramatically better for the environment and less draining on infrastructure.

Driverless cars are already here. Try searching YouTube for “BMW GPS Control.” You’ll see¬†Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson sitting mortified with his hands off the wheel and his feet off the pedals as the car laps a racing circuit at full speed complete with smoking tires.

What that means for transport is that road use will become a lot more efficient. With all the foibles of imprecise judgment and distracted behaviour, humans driving cars at 100 kilometres per hour can manage a traffic flow of 2,200 vehicles per lane per hour. With the precision of computer controlled cars, that figure can rise to 8,000 and you can see how we might not need to widen roads as much as we thought.

Could we really trust robots as chauffeurs? Autopilots have landed passenger jets for decades, and the alternative is human drivers who may be tired, drunk, texting, distracted or all of the above.

Well if we trust airlines to land us remotely why not explore technology as a means of unclogging our roads. When I say technology I mean 21st centruy technology not 19th century technology.

On the environment, General Motors have claimed that their Chevrolet Volt, an innovative electric car scheduled for launch next month, will get an equivalent of 230 miles to the gallon for city driving. That’s almost 10 times better than current vehicles. Such an innovation will likely make a mockery of efforts to wrestle people out of their cars. Why bother when technology has just solved 90 per cent of the problem anyway?

We hear public transport advocates calling for integrated ticketing, when it would be far better to have an integrated transport system. That for me means ripping up the tracks, and making them bus/truckways, giving buses the ability to provide end to end delivery of passengers without the need to transfers. They simply pick up their passengers in suburbia then drive to an interchange with the busway and then travel unimpeded to their detination. Add trucks onto the heavy transport corridor and all of a sudden the motorways would move freely.

We don’t need trains, they cost too much, and Len Brown doesn’t¬†have¬†the $4 billion anyway, so let’s get¬†sensible¬†with public transport.

Like the pasty fat women in the paintings, alternative lifestyles will always be idealized by the trendy set. That’s fine, but the private car is not just some gross obsession of the masses. It’s probably created more freedom and opportunity than any other invention we have, and it’s going to get better. Let’s hope that public policy makers can rouse enough of their own enthusiasm to respect that.

And that is the problem. Len Brown and his hangers on are socialists and freedom is not something they want for people, they prefer control.