10 Jun

Self Driving Taxi’s and Buses: A New Freedom

Waymo self-driving taxi

Waymo to Buy Up to 62,000 Chrysler Minivans for Ride-Hailing Service

This week the wife and I were at Walmart when someone almost backed out into us. A man that looked to be in his late 80’s, and very clearly had no business driving was coming out of his parking space at a snails pace. After taking several minutes to back out, nearly hitting 3 cars, he them proceeded to gun it and drive over the end-cap, taking out a small bush on his way out of the parking lot. He was completely oblivious to what had happened as he made his getaway at a pace that could best bescribed as a crawl.

I want self driving cars. I support the idea, and the process. I accept that there will be casualties, like the wrecks that have been made oh-so-public by the news just jumping on them with a vengeance.
I think of all the times a car swerves into my lane when I’m riding around (usually because the driver is on the phone), and all the people who shouldn’t be driving, or people who willfully ignore even the most basic traffic laws (looking at you BMW drivers), and I have a few thoughts:

  • computers don’t get bored or distracted.
  • a computer is programmed with all the traffic laws. It won’t forget them because it’s been awhile since it thought about it, and it won’t disobey them because it’s ‘inconvenient’ to their self-important thinking.
  • even the self driving cars we have now would have made it out of the parking lot without taking curbs and shrubbery along for the ride on the front bumper.

In the case of the elderly gentleman at Walmart, Fresno has no real public transit alternative, and Uber is spotty at best (we had to wait 20+ minutes to get an Uber at the airport, and even then, that driver just happened to be passing through with their Uber app on to give rides while traveling. He was actually from San Fran and was visiting his Mom for mother’s day). Self driving cars would give people freedom that would otherwise become trapped either in their own homes or a rehab center because they could not travel unless someone is willing to take them places.

Americans love speed, and they love the freedom that convenience brings them. They will give away privacy in a heartbeat, in order to get speed to get things done faster. “Alexa, have every piece of personal information and what goes on in my house in exchange for getting my information faster.” And I see no reason to think that the population will not jump on these services as soon as they are available, even if they are not perfect the first go-round.

Self driving hailing service would mean easy transportation for those that would otherwise have to rely on others. It would be convenience for those who could then free up commute and travel time to engage with something more meaningful. It would mean cheaper transit for people who rely on taxi/public transit services, making their lives better by letting them keep more of their money. In the future, I see the displaced cab drivers (the smart ones, at least) buying into these as soon as they can, and instead of driving a cab, they are running a fleet. Autonomous buses could save lots of money to drive down cost of ridership. Imagine, aside from reduced labor costs, that the fleet manager could tweak the acceleration curves of the driving computer to save fuel. There would be no lead-foot bus driver, because the computer wouldn’t be impatient.

The biggest hurdle, as i see it, is making the ‘smart roadway’ so that every self driving car is not autonomous, but part of a networked grid where they all communicate and negotiate with each other. It’s not far off, and not terribly more sophisticated than the networks we already have in place for things like gps. Once there are a significant number of self driving cars, the communication between them would be standardized so that they can talk to each other. This would also accelerate the rate of improvement of the cars, because the ‘learning system’ for the computers would begin using each car as a system of sensors and processors to increase the ability and functionality of autonomous cars.

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