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Posts tagged with ‘autonomous cars’

from Matt McGee on Glass Almanac

The ticket was apparently given as a violation of California Vehicle Code Section 27602, which addresses “Television” use inside motor vehicles:

A person shall not drive a motor vehicle if a television receiver, a video monitor, or a television or video screen, or any other similar means of visually displaying a television broadcast or video signal that produces entertainment or business applications, is operating and is located in the motor vehicle at a point forward of the back of the driver’s seat, or is operating and the monitor, screen, or display is visible to the driver while driving the motor vehicle.

So basically, you can’t drive in California with any type of video screen that is

  1. operating, and
  2. in the front seat or otherwise visible to the driver

But there are numerous exceptions to the law. You can drive with equipment that includes “a mapping display” and/or “a global positioning display” — both of which describe Glass. There’s another exception that seems like it would apply to Glass, too — namely that it’s okay if the equipment “has an interlock device that, when the motor vehicle is driven, disables the equipment for all uses except as a visual display” in the cases such as mapping and GPS.

The answer will be for the courts or the legislatures to determine it should be legit to use Glass for GPS while driving, and not otherwise. Driving while glassing may turn out to be moot, however, when autonomous cars take over.

Disruptions: How Driverless Cars Could Reshape Cities - Nick Bilton →

I wish journalists would talk to futurists when waving their hands about the future. Here’s a piece about the future of cities via-a-vis driverless cars that does not even try to correlate this trend with other salient ones, like millenenials’ dislike of cars, the first ever decrease in driving, and the hollowing out of suburbia. As a result, this piece is all over the place. And note that the sources I am using are often the NY Times itself, where Bilton works.

Nick Bilton, Disruptions: How Driverless Cars Could Reshape Cities

As scientists and car companies forge ahead — many expect self-driving cars to become commonplace in the next decade — researchers, city planners and engineers are contemplating how city spaces could change if our cars start doing the driving for us. There are risks, of course: People might be more open to a longer daily commute, leading to even more urban sprawl.

That city of the future could have narrower streets because parking spots would no longer be necessary. And the air would be cleaner because people would drive less. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration30 percent of driving in business districts is spent in a hunt for a parking spot, and the agency estimates that almost one billion miles of driving is wasted that way every year.

“What automation is going to allow is repurposing, both of spaces in cities, and of the car itself,” said Ryan Calo, an assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Law, who specializes in robotics and drones.

Harvard University researchers note that as much as one-third of the land in some cities is devoted to parking spots. Some city planners expect that the cost of homes will fall as more space will become available in cities. If parking on city streets is reduced and other vehicles on roadways become smaller, homes and offices will take up that space.

It is more likely that available roadway space — once parking on the margins is less necessary — would be repurposed as walkable shared roads and urban green space. Especially since the driverless cars would be programmed to drive at 10 miles per hour in such areas, and would do a better job at avoiding a child chasing a ball in the street.

Parking lots could be repurposed, yes, and many of those might be converted into homes and offices, and yes, that might decrease housing costs somewhat, although the urban surge is still going.

Again, the current population trend in the US is a migration of the young and affluent into denser urban settings, and the displacement of less affluent people into near suburbia, and the collapse of exurbia (See Michael Frey’s Population Growth in Metro America Since 1980: Putting the Volatile 2000s in Perspective, for real stats on demographic change and migration to the cities). Even if people could ride a bicycle in the back of a driverless van commuting to some distant exurb from a downtown job, the reality is no one wants to live out there anymore. 

The biggest trend missing here is the likely increase in municipally-managed cars in a driverless world: a massive car share service. People could dispense with car ownership, and the costs of relying on the equivalent of driverless taxis would plummet, since there will be no hacks driving the cars.

Autonomous Truck Convoys Could Cut Fuel Consumption By 15%

The Japanese New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) has been working on autonomous truck convoys, and a recent experiment with a single human-operated lead truck and 3 autonomous follower trucks led to fuel consumption savings of 15%.

(via Verge)


Last week, Audi announced that it became the first automaker—and second company, after Google— to get an autonomous vehicle license in Nevada.


Last week, Audi announced that it became the first automaker—and second company, after Google— to get an autonomous vehicle license in Nevada.

Autonomous Cars Might Be Three Times As Efficient

How efficient could autonomous cars be? 

Devin Coldewey, Robot cars could increase highway efficiency 273 percent: Study

The paper is being presented this week at an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) conference on vehicular technology. Its author, Columbia University’s Patcharinee Tientrakool, wrote her dissertation on a method for cars to communicate safely and reliably that she calls “reliable neighborcast protocol,” or RNP.

Research in self-driving vehicles has naturally focused on how to make the car imitate an intelligent driver: recognizing and navigating obstacles, reading signs and performing other common tasks. If there were only going to be a single such vehicle on the road, surrounded by human-guided cars, then that’s the most important thing to perfect. But what if nearly every car on the road is a robo-car?

Tientrakool’s paper looks at the difference in efficiency between when autonomous vehicles don’t communicate and when they act as a team. She concludes that cars simply managing their own speed would increase efficiency by an appreciable 43 percent, but if they were working together, that number jumps to a staggering 273 percent.

Forget the idea of more cars in the same section of highway. That’s interesting, maybe, but more like the dog walking on its hind legs. The interesting thing should be using less gas to cover the same ground, and doing so in less time.

Yes, reducing congestion might be a factor in Beijing or Sao Paolo, at present, but the worldwide imperatives are reducing energy consumption, decreased collisions, and getting time back for commuters.

Swarms of cars, communicating, using swarm logic to minimize congestion and maximize throughput. Next: nanobots to clean out teeth!

Web, City, Cars, Parking

As the web and urban continue to collide and build on each other, post-industrial concerns like parking will be managed in very different ways. Instead of the 20th century hunter/gatherer model — where people search for empty spaces to park — we’ll see hotel reservation models, autonomous vehicles parking themselves, and dynamic pricing algorithms:

The Networked Urban Environment - Jan Chipchase via design mind

Urban infrastructures are increasingly being equipped with sensors and other means of collecting information and channeling our everyday actions, from energy use to parking patterns, into software and networks that analyze data and act upon it. Cities—and communities— are becoming “smarter” as “the internet of things” evolves. What this means is that more and more people and things, including parking spaces are becoming connected, allowing for better prediction models of traffic and energy usage thanks to real-time data flows, leading to better awareness of current resource statuses and more practical matters such as more dependable payment mechanisms.

The smart-parking scenarios will arrive more quickly than you think—in fact, they’re already nearly here. On the most basic level, anyone can get free driving directions and an instant, estimated time of arrival from Google Maps, when they agree to share where they are at a given moment via GPS. Throughout Europe now, you can reserve public parking spots via SMS messages. In San Francisco, you can time a meeting so that you don’t pay peak-prices for parking, determined by a dynamic market pricing system launched as a pilot program this fall (and running through summer 2012) by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to help alleviate congested streets. It uses real-time data tracking to determining the cost of parking at 7,000 of San Francisco’s 28,000 metered spots, as well as 12,250 spaces in three-quarters of the parking garages owned by the cities.

And then there are much more intricate examples, on epic scales. In September, the technology company Pegasus Holdings announced it  is building a $200 million test city on a city scale in New Mexico—from scratch, where it will try out networked parking and transportation systems among other infrastructure innovations. In Asia and the Middle East, smart cities are being built from scratch: Tianjin Eco City in China; Songdo, South Korea; and Masdar in Abu Dhabi. In each of these examples, developers are working to implement traffic-solutions that will make use of new, networked technologies, all as part of creating more energy-efficient communities.

These optimistic visions aren’t just about making parking a more pleasant experience. They’re largely about solving urgent problems in a time of economic and sustainability-related challenges. According to a report by IBM, the economic impact of traffic congestion is $4 billion per year in New York alone, in terms of estimated lost work hours, pollution-related costs, and wasted fuel. In the United States, traffic congestion losses are growing at 8 percent a year, the most recent estimate being $78 billion in 2005. Worldwide, in both developed and developing-world cities, traffic congestion-related expenses represent between 1 percent and 3 percent of most cities’ GDP.

And on a larger scale, beyond parking and traffic, a recent report by Ericsson (published earlier this year) found that the more networked, or “smart,” a city is, the more that city sees benefits to its “triple bottom line” (its financial, societal, and sustainability-related successes). For every 10 percentage points increase in broadband penetration, the report found, the isolated economic effect on GDP growth is approximately 1% of GDP.

Hiriko stackable electric car

As I wrote about not long ago, the percentage of major cities given over to parking (and cars in general) is preposterous. All these schemes for dealing with parking of cars are transitional, because ultimately the payback for eliminating parking is so high that cities will eliminate cars, or change them into something so different they drastically diminish parking (like stackable, foldable, autonomous cars).

(via underpaidgenius)

On People, Parking, And Cities - Michael Manville and Donald Shoup →

Searching for authoritative numbers on how much of urban space is devoted to cars, I found this gem by Manville and Shoup, People, Parking, And Cities. The authors debunk the numbers bandied about by many — two thirds of LA is devoted to car use, etc. — as being undocumented if you follow the trail of citations. They found that Meyer and Gómez-Ibáñez (1983) had proposed an inverse relation between the share of land in streets and the share of land in streets per person, based on 1960 data:

Automobile use does not result in an exceptional percentage of land being given to transportation purposes. Rather, the automobile seems to create exceptional demands for transportation land relative to the number of people in an urban area. Specifically, cities more dependent on the automobile tend to have more street acreage per person but a smaller percentage of total land in streets.

Basically, larger lots leads to low population density, but more importantly, as the car has become dominant in transportation the cities are designed for cars and not for people:

People, Parking, And Cities - Michael Manville and Donald Shoup

Given these results, how can we account for the perception that low-density areas give more of their land to streets? Certainly people tend to associate lower density with increased automobile use, and automobile use with streets. The first of these associa- tions, as we have seen, is more complicated than a simple one- way relationship, but the second may increasingly be true. The association between low density and auto-oriented land use, in other words, may lie less in the share of land given over to streets, and more in the share of streets given over to cars.

The modernist street designs identified by Southworth and Owens (1993) consume less total land area than the dense grids that preceded them, but broad boulevards and cul-de-sacs are also streets whose primary purpose—and perhaps sole purpose—is the swift and safe movement of automobiles. The desire in newer areas to accommodate the car has often led to the removal of other uses from roads and streets. Cul-de-sacs, which force more circuitous routes and have a notoriously limited utility for pedestrians, have been promoted. Intersections, which slow traffic or cause it to stop—but which make streets more amenable to walking—have been minimized. Those intersections that get built are made wider, allowing cars to turn with less deceleration but forcing pedestrians to traverse more road space (Southworth and Ben-Joseph 1996).

Where older intersections often have a curb radius of 3–4 ft, newer intersections flare out: It is not uncommon for zoning laws to call for 15 or 20 ft curb radii. The 9 ft travel lanes of older neighborhoods were replaced in newer developments by 11 and 12 ft lanes, and parking lanes are recommended to be wider still, so through traffic will not be unduly slowed when drivers pulled into or out of spaces. In practice, parking lanes rarely reach their recommended widths, but the standards illustrate a new concern with the street as a territory of the car, rather than as an arena for multiple modes and activities. In some places parking lanes have not been widened but instead prohibited entirely; Century City has banished all its parked cars to off-street garages, and reserves its broad streets for moving automobiles. The end effect is the same. Because curb parking can help make a street feel more human scaled (by encouraging movement on the sidewalks, and by providing a barrier between pedestrians and fast-moving traffic) its removal can amplify the sense that the street is a facility for cars alone.

Manville and Shoup reevaluated the study data that Meyer and Gómez-Ibáñez used, and reaffirmed the basic insights.


They wrote:

Our results indicate that the relationship they identified between density, street space, and streets per capita is still valid. The coefficient of correlation between density and lane-miles per square mile was 0.87, while the coefficient of correlation between density and lane miles per 1,000 persons was −0.39. This latter coefficient is weaker than the relationship identified by Meyer and Gómez-Ibáñez, but still negative.


Columns 4 and 5 of Table 2 show each area’s daily vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per square mile, and VMT per capita. Like our figures for lane mileage, these numbers are derived from the TTI’s database. Given the relationship we have found between street space and density, it is reasonable to expect that VMT interacts with density in a similar manner. Previous research has shown that traffic volumes correlate highly with density: Ross and Dunning (1997), in a report to the Federal Highway Administration, found that traffic volumes rose at 80% of the rate of population change. It may be, however, that density and VMT share the same complicated relationship as density and street space.

Our calculations suggest this is so. For the 20 largest urbanized areas, the coefficient of correlation between population density and VMT per square mile is 0.90, while the coefficient between density and VMT per capita is −0.58. Los Angeles, the densest area, has the highest daily VMT per square mile (128,000), and by a significant margin. It sits in the middle of the pack in terms of VMT per capita. Using all 85 urban areas weakens the relationship only slightly: the coefficient of correlation between density and VMT per square mile falls to 0.86, and the relationship between density and VMT per capita becomes −0.47. Increases in population density reduce the VMT per person but increase the VMT per square mile. In low-density areas each person creates more VMT, but because there are fewer people per square mile the VMT per square mile falls. These findings accord well with the idea that sprawl can reduce congestion, but that it also makes for longer trips.

High levels of VMT per square mile suggest high levels of traffic congestion. For this reason it is not surprising that Los Angeles has such a large VMT per square mile, not only because it reinforces the popular perception that LA has the nation’s worst traffic, but because the region’s relative equality of density (which we discuss in the next section) deprives it of any truly low-density areas that would offer a respite from high congestion levels. We can follow this logic back further into our original seeming paradox: since congestion is properly thought of as competition for scarce road space, areas with high levels of congestion—which is to say dense areas—can be conceived of as lacking in road space, even though they have more of it than less dense areas.

Obviously the problem is not quite that simple. The optimal solution to competition for scarce road space is not more road space, but—as with competition for any scarce resource—prices. In the absence of road pricing, however, it is not uncommon for traffic engineers to state that a congested area has an undersupply of streets. Congestion worsens as population increases because the supply of streets is relatively static, and cannot keep pace with increases in density and VMT if everyone drives everywhere.

So, cities become designed around their streets, and the lower the population density (larger lots) the more time people spend driving in cars, which leads to greater congestion, like LA.

And the result is that cities like LA do in fact dedicate a higher proportion of space to cars.

This means that the rise of autonomous cars — even in places like LA, will lead to strong motivations to increase density, and to reuse space now dedicated to cars that are generally at rest: parking. LA has 24% of its central business district dedicated to parking, for example, leaving aside the underground and multilevel structures allocated to it.

The final table includes a wide variety of cities, including New York, and rationalize parking as a function of jobs in the city:


New York has the amazingly low figure of 0.06 parking spaces per job in the downtown area, contrasted with LA’s 0.52: ten times more parking per person in LA than NYC, and LA is — to the authors’ knowledge — the highest percentage on earth.

The authors quote Lewis Mumford, who said

The right to access every building in the city by private motorcar, in an age when everyone owns such a vehicle, is actually the right to destroy the city.

And they close with a recommendation:

Perhaps the simplest and most productive reform of American zoning would be to declare that all existing off-street parking requirements are maximums rather than minimums. The examples of New York and San Francisco suggest that limits on off-street parking can foster many of density’s benefits, and urbanists who admire these cities might urge other places to adopt their approaches to parking. From a different perspective, however, more regulation may not be the best first step. The market can mediate the supply of parking in most urban areas, and despite the planner’s frequent desire to replace a floor with a ceiling, it may be better to simply deregulate parking—to force it on no one and let those who want it pay for it. A market-oriented approach to parking would eliminate cumbersome regulations, remove incentives to drive, and let city planners concentrate on matters that seriously demand their attention.

Or let some innovation like autonomous cars come along, and watch what happens when 70% or more of the cars go away.

Driverless Car Could Defy the Rules of Sprawl - Robert Bruegmann via Bloomberg →

Briegmann wonders if the driverless (autonomous) car would lead to reduced congestion, but also greater sprawl?

Robert Bruegmann via Bloomberg

The driverless car might well substantially alter all the equations: the division between public and private, the collective and individual. Transportation policy has never been as clear as the polemics on the subject would suggest. The taxi, for example, has long shared characteristics of each. In recent years, the divide between public and private transport has been further eroded with the Zipcar (ZIP), Super Shuttle and other on- demand vehicles such as Personal Rapid Transit, a system of small automated vehicles running on guideways. A pioneering and successful example of PRT, constructed in the 1970s, can still be seen in operation in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Flexible System

What the driverless automobile might do is further break down the distinctions. Suppose an individual can summon a vehicle on demand — a small capsule like a golf cart for doing errands in the city, for example, or something more like a van to transport a track team to another city — and that vehicle can go directly from starting point to destination. The flexibility this system could provide might well reduce the incentive for owning an automobile, which has to serve all purposes, is expensive to buy and maintain, and in most cases spends most of its time taking up valuable space in a garage or parking lot.

If the driverless car reduces congestion by maximizing the use of existing highways and taking passengers farther and faster with greater comfort, it could lead to even more dispersed cities. But it could also have the opposite effect.

Given the large amount of space devoted to roads and parking in American cities, even minor increases in collective use of vehicles could lead to less need for new pavement and parking and to higher residential and commercial densities. This would reinforce a trend that is already visible, as new development at the far suburban edge of most urban regions is currently being created at higher densities than in the past and there is a great deal of infill in city centers and close-in suburbs.

Although the driverless automobile, like almost every technological advance, will undoubtedly bring on a great many new problems, it could also help ease several existing problems caused by the automobile, notably traffic fatalities and congestion.

My bet is that the transition will follow an S curve of adoption, with very different models at different stages. At first, when less than 15% of the population use auto-autos it will be like today’s electric cars: a personal choice, but basically leading to only small changes in the ecosystem: for example, very few chargers at strip malls and offices. It is only after the early majority start to adopt auto-autos that things will really change, and I bet it will unfold fastest in cities.

Bruegman mentions taxis as vehicles that have elements of both public and private transportation. What happens, though, when taxis are autonomous, and no longer require taxi drivers? First of all, they become much much cheaper. Let’s imagine that 50% of the expense of a taxi is the human driving it. So taxi fares could — would — drop by at least half, and probably more, including the tip!

Stackable city cars like these are the taxis of the future

In such a scenario, those living anywhere with a high enough population density to support taxis would have very strong motivations to not own a car, much more so that today, even given taxis, Zipcar and other public transport. In areas of lower density, even those where taxis are not really viable in large numbers, taxis would become much more prevalent.

My sense is that this would allow for a strong incentive for people to move from lower to higher density areas, along with the added benefit of not requiring parking for the no-longer necessary car.

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