'Steer driverless cars towards full automation'


An interesting article in last week’s ‘Nature’.

‘The driver-support philosophy is a flawed approach. Some
aircraft already have technology that can take the plane from runway
to runway, with the pilot just taxiing the plane to and from the
stand. It is generally not used, because, with no role in the flight,
pilots can become bored and do other things. They are then totally
unprepared to take over if needed. Incremental support is not a safe
compromise. People must either drive a car or be driven by it.’


That is in complete agreement with a recent article in Scientific American magazine.

And I totally agree. Any other approach (such as Tesla’s) will just cause accidents. Much more so with auto drivers as opposed to aircraft operators.



This is absurdly oversimplified. Most planes can fly themselves mostly autonomously once they’re in the air. Only the big commercial birds are capable of automated takeoffs and landings, and they require airports which have been equipped with the right technology in order to do it. No plane can land itself at any old airport. The airport has to be sending information to the plane that the plane can use to land. And even in the fully equipped airports, the plane cannot detect a runway incursion, which means a pilot is still necessary to look out the window to see if there are things in front of the plane that need to be avoided.

Pilots generally don’t use this equipment even when available for the same reason that I don’t use cruise control while driving around my neighborhood. Holding 30mph is easy, I’m really good at it, and I just don’t need to use it.

They also avoid the autoland/takeoff equipment because they want to keep in practice against the time when the equipment fails, either on the plane or on the ground, and they have to do it manually.

Someday the robot will be able to replace the pilot, but not today.

However, autopilot is used on pretty much every flight once the plane is off the ground. They use it to hold a steady course, change course, change altitude, change speed, etc. They are still prepared to take over if the autopilot drops offline because they are trained to be prepared. And they are still monitoring all of the gauges to make sure the plane is still running right and that the autopilot isn’t screwing up. And when ATC gives them a course change instruction, the pilots turn the knob to set the new course - the plane cannot respond automatically to commands from the ground.

Airplane autopilots are a “driver-support” philosophy, and they work very well in that role.

And that’s what this really boils down to - people are looking at vehicle autopilots as a way to get out of learning how to drive, while pilots look at airplane autopilots as a way to reduce workload for simple/repetitive/tiring tasks.

As with many traffic problems, it comes down to drivers needing to take the idea of driving seriously until the day comes when the robot can be fully relied upon to accomplish every task necessary for every trip. That day is still a ways off.


Airplanes don’t have to negotiate traffic 3 feet or less away…FWIW

Driver-support philosophy is driven by the liability, in my opinion. As soon as the car company says “It drives itself!” the car company assumes ALL liability for the passengers. The profit margins from cars (about 6-7%) will need to be more like the profit margin from drugs (17-19%) to cover the risk.


The posh to driverless cars can go no faster than public acceptance. The push for driverless trucks has a huge economic push. Drivers wages are by far the largest expense for trucking companies.
Teamster pension plans are in trouble all over the country due to de-unionization after deregulation. The driverless truck will kill them off and for some reason, multi employer pension funds like the Teamsters are supported by the Feds to less than $12000 a year while single employer funds are at $60000.


I agree with @mustangman. Traffic on the runway is highly controlled just as it is in the air.


Not to contribute to conspiracy theories but there are groups that want to see the end of the auto for normal use. Interesting that the Ford Foundation seems to have jumped on the band wagon. Driverless cars and yellow shared cars seems to be a step in this direction. Ole Henry would turn over had he known where his money is being spent.


Maybe the automated vehicles could be programed that if a child was in the car and there was only one other passenger they would have to ride in the back also. The child deaths from being left in hot cars is just hard to read about.


Flying is extremely safe, but the most critical and delicate operations are taking off and landing. That is by far where most accidents happen. While systems exist that can theoretically land and take off aircraft using the glideslope and localizer signals, combined with other inputs such as elevation from the tarmac, airspeed, groundspeed, acft attitude, applied engine power, etc., we can all thank God that the FAA doesn’t allow the AC to “hands-off” these operations. Landing an aircraft is a complex operation best left to an experienced and qualified pilot… which is why the FAA requires two on each flight deck of passenger aircraft in case one has a medical issue.

Unfortunately, I believe some people underestimate how complex driving a car is. Especially in a blizzard. Someday there will be cars totally capable of driving people around, but not yet. A lot more work is needed.


It’s inevitable, I think, that the self-driven car will go the way of the horse. Those of us who enjoy cars will still be able to drive them, but mostly in “auto-parks” and specially-designated trails.

Honestly, I’m about as big a driving enthusiast as they come, and I’d get a self-driving car tomorrow if it were available just to use for my commute to work and on long, boring road trips. It’d be much nicer to read a book than to stare at the windshield on one of those interminable trips across Nebraska or Texas.

I would still, however, have at least one and probably more than one recreational car if my self-driver did not allow for manual control.


Just got back from LA. I cannot imagine any nightmare that would compare to riding in a self driving car through LA… at least with current technology. Looking ahead and anticipating, deciding whether you’ll try to squeeze into the left lane or the right lane based on a visual evaluation of the traffic at the LAX exit to make your flight on time, and reading the faces and behaviors of the other drivers to safely change lanes, well, I cannot envision any computer doing this successfully. Maybe someday in the distant future.


The idea is that if all or even most of the cars are being driven by computers, they can all talk to each other and coordinate the most efficient way for every car to behave in order to keep traffic flowing properly.

Imagine if you’d gone to LA, and every driver on the road was a perfect driver. No idiot cutting you off, or merging in front of you and slamming on his brakes, or tailgating you, or cutting across 7 lanes to catch the exit he almost missed, etc.

Traffic jams would be orders of magnitude better if the dumb apes driving through them would drive for the good of the system rather than selfishly trying to get the best advantage for only themselves. But you’ll never get people to do that voluntarily - the average human is too selfish, too ignorant, or both. That’s what a self-driving car grid promises to bring about.

The transition, when computer-driven cars are sharing the roads with the dumb meatbag-driven cars, is going to be rocky, and will actually require the self-driving cars to be smarter drivers than they will have to be once the transition is complete because they’re going to have to deal with all the unpredictable idiots that won’t exist on a 100% AI grid.

But once we’re on the other side, traveling from A to B will be a stress-free experience that will allow you to do things which are actually productive rather than waste time wiggling a circle back and forth while pressing on levers with your feet.

The transition between horse travel and car travel was pretty rough too. Cars spooked horses, horses got in the way of cars, and both camps despised each other.

Today, no one would think of going back to doing road trips in a stage coach, but plenty of people still use horses for recreational purposes. It’s better for the horses because now that they aren’t a required mode of transportation, fewer people own them, and so fewer of them are being abused by being worked down to the bone until they’re good for nothing more than a glue factory.

And it’s better for us because we get places faster and more covneniently. I certainly don’t lament the fact that I don’t have to stop in a random town and try to find a blacksmith to replace the shoe my horse threw, and I don’t regret that I don’t have to stop every couple of hours to let the horse rest, or feed and water it several times a day.

I certainly like the fact that if I want to go to my favorite race track, about 250 miles away, I can do it in one day, with time to spare, in air-conditioned comfort. With the horse, I’d have to take several days to do it, and even then it would be tantamount to abusing the horse, making it go that far that fast. And then once I got it there I’d have to be sure it had a good place to stay, food, water, and horse alarms weren’t a thing so I’d have to worry about some jerk stealing it… Cars are better!

I suspect in 50 years or so, people will look at human-driven cars the same way we look at horses now: They’re neat, and fun to spend leisure time with, but sitting in a traffic jam or taking a cross country trip in one or even having to rely on one for daily transportation needs would be antiquated and wholly unpleasant.


The only group that really wants to get rid of autos ‘for normal use’ are the people who don’t want to drive cars but still do. Just yesterday a guy ran a stop sign, turned left without signaling right into me, who had stopped and proceeded properly - that’s the group ‘that wants to see the end of the auto for normal use.’


Urban planning 101 I guess. The thing is if you think about it, you can have all the perfect drivers you want but if the road capacity is 5000 cars and you try to put 10,000 car on it, you will have a blocked roadway. Its just math. Don’t just assume that traffic jams are caused by bad drivers. The planners though know this so efforts are being made to limit cars in the central cities and build condos so people don’t have to drive. If that’s the life you want great but I’d rather be outside the metro areas. Same old issue though, look at who is making money on the deal.


I agree with the premise @shadowfax but a change to completely autonomous cars would be utopia (for some anyway) and utopia can’t exist.

There will always be some hippie still driving his VW microbus or a Harley rider defying automation and all its rules or a guy with his 65 Mustang that is not about to give it up. To be accepted and successful, new technology must co-exist with the existing technology. Horses and cars for example. Balloons and airplanes for another. The transition generally isn’t instantaneous, it will be gradual. Even “disruptive technologies” make gradual transitions, maybe less gradual and more abrupt, but not overnight.


There’s just an awful lot of people in the world, 6 and 1/2 billion I think. The population of the US has more than doubled in my life of 70 years so far, and if that continues my granddaughter will be sharing the transportation system with 700,000,000 others in the US. The idea that each and every person over the age of 16 or so can continue to be free to drive his or her own vehicle everywhere is just crazy. In cities we will have to have dedicated roads for automated mass transit, whether it’s buses or vans or trackless trains. Between cities we need the same thing for long distance transport. There may still be a need for local self driving in rural areas where the population is thinly spread, and there has to be some way to transport bulky heavy stuff too, but the idea that each of us can continue to expect to drive around in our own self guided vehicle has already passed its day.


They’ll just do what we’ve already done with horses: Horses are in many states not allowed on “limited access highways” (interstates), but are still allowed on other roads. So are horse-drawn conveyances as long as they have an orange triangle on the back to be more visible. I would imagine the automated-car-environment equivalent of the orange triangle would be a transponder alerting all of the AI cars that there is a car under human control there. I would also imagine that the default instruction will be to give such cars a wide berth to compensate for the fallible human driving it.

In fact, now that I think on it, human drivers might well be better and more reliable in that future. We won’t need to get driver licenses because you don’t need one if the car is doing all the driving. Driver licenses will be like pilots licenses are today: Unless you’re flying commercially, you get a pilots license for fun and are therefore more willing to go through the intense training required to get one.

I imagine that once driver licenses become a frivolity rather than a necessity, politicians can safely up the requirements to get one without having to worry about the political fallout that would result if they did it today.

In addition, most of the crappy drivers out there are crappy drivers because they’re uninterested in driving, and therefore uninterested in being good drivers, and only drive in order to go from one place to another. Those crappy drivers will be entirely eliminated, because they’ll just skip the licensure and take auto-cars.

So there will still be human drivers, but they’ll be really rare, and probably better drivers than the average driver today.

In other words, the Harley rider or the guy who won’t give up his Mustang will be like the Amish are today. They’ll still be on the road, but in such small numbers as to have virtually zero impact on our day to day travels in vehicles.


Personally, I want no part of driverless cars. I have a 2015 Jeep Cherokee, with which I’m quite satisfied. However, shortly after I bought it there was a demonstration shown on the news wherein hackers can access all vehicle functions through the multimedia player. Jeep has fixed that for now, but the problem remains: cars have computers and computers can be hacked. Just imagine rush hour somewhere and a car being hacked and intentionally wrecked. Oh what fun that would be…NOT!


I think your view makes sense. No disagreements there.

My point is that the transition will take time. You can’t just say ALL vehicles would be autonomous and no driver controlled cars will be allowed because driverless cars won’t work with the random craziness of cars controlled by humans. Autonomous cars will need to anticipate and react correctly to the random craziness that humans bring to the traffic flow. That is a harder job than autonomous cars built to react with other autonomous cars. That job is what makes building safe driverless cars. That will take a bunch of testing. A bunch.


The rating for 5000 vehicles is if they are human guided. If they all were driverless, more could be accommodated on the same road. Imagine the road where no one jumped lanes or didn’t start driving until ther is a gap of 10 to 20 car lengths in front of them. My 2 hour commute this afternoon could have been one hour.