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Old 05-30-2014, 09:42 AM
 
Location: Pittsburgh, PA (Morningside)
12,416 posts, read 11,913,851 times
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Much has been written this week on the autonomous car that Google premiered - a two-seater prototype with no human controls (steering wheel, brakes, etc) at all. Comparably little attention, however, was given to some other aspects of the car, which makes it uniquely suited for urban car sharing.

The car, for example, cannot go faster than 25 miles per hour. There are regulatory reasons for that, as vehicles which can go faster than 25 miles per hour have to have conventional driving controls. But coupled with this the front section of the car is built out of a squishy plastic, which means if the car by chance hit a person, the accident would not be fatal. Obviously a low-velocity impact for a passenger would also not be fatal in most cases. Now, a 25-per hour speed limit would be a big hurdle in most places. But it's not really in many traditional cities. In many cities, there are few off-highway roads besides some major arterial streets with higher speed limits, and you can easily avoid driving on these entirely.

Thus (presuming the cost of the prototypes drops enough, and remaining bugs are worked out) the economics of using the Google Car in an urban environment already make sense. Indeed, Uber (who doesn't seem to have coordinated with Google) immediately commented how interested they were in this technology, as their "taxi by cell" system would work even more smoothly with no human drivers involved.

Regardless, I presume that the day we start seeing a lot of these on the road is probably at least another 3-5 years away. But I'm feeling pretty confident the first thing they will replace now will be urban services, like traditional taxis and zipcars. Which would mean that within ten years, cities will begin feeling a lot less car-choked than they do today.
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Old 06-04-2014, 10:07 PM
 
Location: Seattle, WA
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The average speed of busses in cities is 10-15 mph, so 25 mph would be a huge improvement! So far the Google cars only work on specified, well-studied routes, which also suggests bus routes. Run the automated cars as "personal rapid transit (PRT) on wheels" for short distances and automated minibuses for longer distances. This would not take business away from cabs as they still don't travel flexible routes and they don't drop you off at the curbside in front of most businesses.

But let's forget about automated vehicles on the road for a minute--why do our rapid transit systems--even brand new light rail systems--still require operators in every train? These are dedicated, well-studied routes by any definition, unless someone has a death wish, they never interact with pedestrians and other cars!
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Old 06-04-2014, 10:24 PM
 
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Why would cities be less car-choked than they are today? If you're just replacing the driver with a robot, the number of taxis would remain the same. And while the maximum speed is 25 miles per hour, the actual speed depends on traffic, so there isn't really any speed advantage over a cab with a human driver. What is the advantage of self-driving cabs?
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Old 06-05-2014, 08:14 AM
 
Location: Pittsburgh, PA (Morningside)
12,416 posts, read 11,913,851 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wburg View Post
Why would cities be less car-choked than they are today? If you're just replacing the driver with a robot, the number of taxis would remain the same. And while the maximum speed is 25 miles per hour, the actual speed depends on traffic, so there isn't really any speed advantage over a cab with a human driver. What is the advantage of self-driving cabs?
Self driving cabs have a few advantages over other services.

1. Compared to a Zipcar, they are more convenient, because they can drive to you, and you don't need to park them.

2. Compared to a traditional taxi, they should be both much more reliable (less waiting around to see if they ever arrive) and far cheaper (no driver to employ).

3. The advantages versus more modern taxi services which use cell-based hailing (uber, lyft) are less, since they tend to be speedier in terms of picking a driver up. But ultimately a self-driving car should be cheaper than even these services can provide.

Thus in the short term, I'd expect that self-driving cars will replace all of these services where regulation allows. Hell, Uber has basically already said that as soon as they can get them they'll do away with human drivers entirely.

The real change is they should eat into car ownership in urban households which use mass transit heavily for work commutes, but feel the need to own a car for travel between neighborhoods, such as socializing or shopping. As it stands now, it's cheaper to own a car for these purposes, even if you use it seldom.

Let's say, for example, you spend around $5,000 in a year on your Prius, between payments, insurance, gas, and maintenance. You don't commute, but you drive your car around four hours a week. The average hourly cost of your car then is around $24.04. This is a pretty high price, but in most parts of the country, the effective hourly cost of a cab service is significantly higher than this. Hence unless you're drunk, it doesn't make logical sense. You can drive much cheaper than this using a Zipcar, but it might not work for you if there are none in your neighborhood - and even if there is one it may be difficult to get access to one without advanced notice.

Self-driving cabs will change all this, provided the cost of a per-hour rental is low enough and supply is enough to get them to your house within a reasonable time. They suddenly make it a bad deal to keep a car around just for evenings and weekends. Congestion on the streets themselves shouldn't actually drop much, at least not right away, although the self-driving cars would have the advantage of having live traffic feeds. But there will be many, many less cars parked, because the four hours of time you use a car per week now is 2% of the car's time, which will mostly be split (except maybe in the dead of the night) between other drivers. Hence we'll begin to reach "peak parking" and be able to see many lots and garages converted to better uses - particularly in central business districts.

Due to the way car demand will work however, I don't foresee hourly rentals replacing 9-5 commutes for a long time. This is a time period, after all, where car usage is at its peak, and if companies wanted to meet total supply, they'd need to have a lot of cars which sat around idle not making money most of the day. This is the reason I don't see these services completely replacing car ownership in the suburbs, and also why I don't think the core elements of mass transit (e.g., lines to a CBD or university district) will be made obsolete.
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Old 06-05-2014, 08:20 AM
 
Location: Charleston, SC
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It's an interesting idea. Are there any urban areas scheduled for test runs as of yet?
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