Self-Driving Cars? Say What?

Curious about the new self-driving car phenomenon? We’ve uncovered some facts for you to ponder. While self-driving cars might be more efficient on the roadways, they might not be as efficient in fuel economy, according to a recent study.   

University of Michigan in Ann Arbor researchers argue that since autonomous vehicles will be making more trips, more often, they will consume more energy than cars driven by humans.

2014-05-13-google-self-driving-car-8In most US households, each adult run errands, commutes and shuttles the kids separately. For a self-driving car to complete the same tasks, it will likely make more trips which results in greater fuel usage. For example, the autonomous car might drop off one parent at work before returning home to pick up the other. After that trip, it would then take the kids to school and return home before restarting the cycle in the afternoon and evening.

Calculations by University of Michigan researchers Brandon Schoettle and Michael Sivak show that increased sharing could mean 43 percent less cars on American roads but they will be used 75 percent more.

“It could be that sharing the vehicle ends up increasing the mileage because of all these connecting trips,” Schoettle said. “The net effect is probably going to be an increase in mileage, and in general the more miles you drive the more fuel you burn.”

However, there are a couple caveats that may make these cars of the future more efficient all the way around. Autonomous vehicles will be better at conserving fuel because they operate more efficiently than humans. This may help balance out the increased usage. There’s also the possibility that a vast majority of self-driving cars will be electric vehicles, which makes is a win-win situation. What are your thoughts? Comment below!



Driverless Google Cars Test the Illusion of Control

Google-self-driving-car_dezeen_1sqWhile Google’s autonomous vehicles have shared the road with the rest of us for a while now it made news this week when the search engine announced it would be amending driverless car design to do away with the steering wheel and pedals, including the brake. The new fleet will only travel up to 25 mph thus lowering the number of safety standards Google would have to meet, but the cars will still be allowed to drive in regular traffic.

While anything Google does tends to make news it’s interesting that this particular item caused the stir it did; A self-driving vehicle equipped with steering wheel and pedals is still a self-driving vehicle. Has a human riding in one of Google’s autonomous cars ever needed to step in and take control? I don’t thinks so… seems that tidbit might have made news, too. But there’s something about knowing one could wrest control of the vehicle if necessary that made the autonomous concept a little easier to accept. There was comfort in the illusion of control. Now that Google’s doing away with that option the idea of riding in a car under its own power is a little scarier, the possibility of Hal-on-wheels a tad more real. Conversely, should problems arise we could always react the way we do with the other computer-operated objects in our life and simply reboot, turn the car off… unless, of course, Google wants control of that function, too.


Driverless Cars Revisited

google-carNot so long ago we contemplated the future of automotive technology and the rise of the driverless car.  Turns out, we’re already experiencing that future.  National Public Radio’s All Tech Considered recently did a story on how we’re ever so incrementally ceding driving responsibility to our vehicles.  We found it fascinating… and a little disturbing.  Listen to the story here, then let us know what you think about the direction automobiles are headed!


Driverless Cars: Sci-Fi or Imminent Reality?

The Google Car

The New York Times ran a story this month about Google X, a “top-secret” lab in the San Francisco Bay Area where Google’s crafting its version of the technological future.  Among the experiments is the Google driverless car, one of which was let loose on California roads last year.  Whether because I relish the act of driving, or hesitate to give up ultimate vehicular control to a computer (knowing how often my laptop freezes), I’m not sure but, the driverless car concept doesn’t sit well with me.  Surely, the idea’s a sky-high pipe-dream that will go the way of boil-in-the-bag dinners and MySpace.  Right?

But my research proves humbling.  Who knew the autonomous car concept dates back to 1939?  That’s when the “Futurama” exhibit at the New York World’s Fair promised to introduce visitors to “the world of tomorrow”, aka. 1960.  Designer Norman bel Geddes created a miniature landscape complete with farm land, urban spaces, and a roadway system to neatly tie them together.  Ultimately, the exhibit, which was sponsored by General Motors, was promoting a tax-payer funded, interstate freeway.  But Geddes was already thinking ahead to the traffic problems that could arise in such a future so his vision included not only vehicle ownership, but specifically ownership of radio-controlled, electric vehicles.

Fast forward to the 21st century.  Not only has the driverless car concept failed to fade, it’s being implemented in both the public and private sectors! Take the Netherlands, for example, where the city of Rotterdam successfully runs a public transportation fleet of six automated people movers.  And just this month, Reuter’s reported mining company Rio Tinto ordered 150 driverless trucks to aid in hauling ore mined in Australia.  The future is already here!

None of which makes me feel any better… the autonomous car concept still strikes me as unnatural.  But then, so did CDs and smartphones and… now I’m proficient at both.  Google’s already revolutionized the way we search for information.  Why not let it take that forward-thinking show on the road?