February 25, 2015

“Could driverless cars own themselves?”

A thought experiment that intrigued Clive Rock – from the BBC:


Mike Hearn … a Zurich-based software developer is both an ex-Google engineer and one of the leading Bitcoin software developers.  …

Emancipated automobiles sounds like a crazy concept. But the man advocating the idea goes further: he thinks they’ll have babies. …

At the heart of his vision is the idea that once driverless cars become commonplace, most people won’t want or need to own a vehicle any more.  And in a world dominated by self-steering taxis, each ride becomes cheaper if the vehicles are autonomous rather than owned and run by major corporations.

bbcInstead of controlling which car goes where via proprietary software, the cars would communicate with people and the surrounding infrastructure via a new internet-based commerce system, he dubs the Tradenet.

“You would be using an app that goes onto Tradenet and says: ‘Here I am, this is where I want to go, give me your best offers,'” the developer says.

“The autonomous taxis out there would then submit their best prices, and that might be based on how far away they are, how much fuel they have, the quality of their programming.

“Eventually you pick one – or your phone does it for you – and it’s not just by the cheapest price, but whether the car has a good track record of actually completing rides successfully and how nice a vehicle it is.”

The car, in turn, would communicate with the sensor-equipped roads it drives on, offering its passengers the ability to pay extra to go in faster lanes or unlock access to shortcuts – the cost of which would be determined by how many others wanted the same thing.
More here.

More realistically – from SustainableCitiesCollective: 

What Do Driverless Cars Mean for Suburban Planning?


Probably the biggest change is the demise of the large parking lot. These huge slabs of asphalt dominate suburban commercial landscapes, often taking up 80 percent of commercial parcels. They dominate the streetscape, and arterial suburban roads are lined with them. Without personal vehicles to park, there’s no need for a parking lot. That land could be put to productive use.


All this will be wasted space.


With a transportation system that’s five times as efficient, too, there’s little need for wide arterial roads packed with single-occupant vehicles. As well, without human drivers, there’s no need for “forgiving engineering” focused on driver psychology and driver needs. We can narrow lanes from 12 feet (freeway width) down to 10 feet or even 9.5 feet and have the same vehicle capacity and speed. There would rarely be a need for roads wider than 2 lanes in the suburbs.

So, we can wave goodbye to parking lots and wide arterial roads.

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  1. The parking lot will be with us for as long as there are cars. There are several entirely logical and practical reasons.

    1. only 1% of vehicles are needed at 3:30am. The rest will have to be parked somewhere.
    2. rush hour demands a huge number of vehicles that will be completely surplus the rest of the day.
    3. while some vehicles could take themselves out to distant parking lots during periods of low demand, it would be inefficient to store the vehicles too far from demand.
    4. during the day when cars are plentiful and demand relatively low people will expect instant pick-up so cars will need to be stored close to demand and never allowed to completely abandon any area.

    We see this last problem today with Car2Go. At certain times of day entire neighbourhoods are devoid of cars making it impossible to use the service.

    As for autonomous cars competing for business on their own, the result is clear. They would all hang around the areas with the highest demand and quote exorbitant rates for trips outside those areas. This already happens. People complain all the time about taxis that won’t take them home to the suburbs on Friday/Saturday night because the trip would remove the driver from the lucrative downtown area for too long. A smart autonomous car would do exactly the same thing: make it worth my while or I won’t pick you up.

    1. Parking lots would likely continue to exist, but would probably take up far less space. Autonomous cars would park in much tighter formation in the lot as there would be no need for car doors to open and close. Instead I would imagine the cars would arrange themselves in the most efficient way possible (perhaps with extensive stacking/”tandeming”), with just enough room to navigate through each other to the front door of Destination X to pickup/dropoff their passengers.

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