Google sees stranded seniors as big market for self-driving cars

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    Mar 03, 2016 3:10 AM GMT
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    SAN FRANCISCO/NEW YORK (Bloomberg) -- Florence Swanson has lived through every American car from the Ford Model T to the Tesla Model S. Now, at 94, she has stepped into what Google hopes will be the automotive future: self-driving vehicles.

    After her painting of a guitar player won a Google contest, she became the oldest person yet to ride in a model with the company’s autonomous technology.

    “You haven’t lived until you get in one of those cars,” the Austin, Texas, resident said of her half-hour excursion. “I couldn’t believe that the car could talk. I felt completely safe.”

    http://www.autonews.com/article/20160302/OEM06/160309948/google-sees-stranded-seniors-as-big-market-for-self-driving-cars


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    That's one ugly looking car, but a great technology.

    Also a double edged sword. Many seniors are perfectly able to drive, so I hope it doesn't give the DMV's an excuse to force them into giving up their licenses before it's time. I have a few relatives who enjoyed their cars up until their mid-nineties with no accidents.
  • bro4bro

    Posts: 1035

    Mar 04, 2016 4:49 AM GMT
    Hmm, this raises an interesting question... will people who have no driver's licenses be allowed to operate a self-driving car? Physically disabled people? Small children?

    Don't know if you noticed, but a Google car caused an accident last month - it ran into a bus, apparently because the car's software expected the bus to yield (bad assumption!!!)

    http://www.businessinsider.com/google-self-driving-car-accident-2016-2

    "We've now reviewed this incident (and thousands of variations on it) in our simulator in detail and made refinements to our software," Google said in its statement to Engadget. "From now on, our cars will more deeply understand that buses (and other large vehicles) are less likely to yield to us than other types of vehicles, and we hope to handle situations like this more gracefully in the future."
  • dumbbell

    Posts: 32

    Mar 05, 2016 2:11 PM GMT
    There have been many famous instances of (often) prominent and/or important experts dismissing as impractical, impossible or irrelevant some budding technology which would later prove to be otherwise -- the locomotive, the lightbulb, television etc.

    Google-Car is not in this category.

    Even in aviation, ten thousand times more tightly controlled in every aspect and detail of its operation, we still do not, even though it is theoretically feasible, have computers or robots controlling the aircraft without a competent human to switch off the technology and take over by hand. Even autopilot is an aid, in no way a pilot replacement. This is in an environment of highly-trained professionals all following the same rules, protected by generous built-in safety buffers -- something that in no way describes automobile traffic.

    The fact that this "self-driving car" topic seems to get as much "serious" press as it gets does not say much for any kind of progress on the real human intelligence front -- indeed, this seems to be declining in direct proportion to the artifical kind.

    With Google-Car, the suggestion is that you would have untrained people, or people incapable of taking over control of the vehicle, whizzing along through city traffic with potholes, unknown obstacles, construction and random pedestrians and animals running everywhere. Then there's weather -- crosswinds, ice patches, snowbanks that aren't programmed into Google's all-knowing "brain".

    Even if the idea were feasible, which it is not, it would hardly be worth thousands of Google-Car deaths and maimings.

    Anyone who uses GPS as a driving aid knows that the thing is handy much of the time, and at others will tell you to merge onto a freeway that you're already driving on, or steer into a brick wall or a river, or the wrong way onto a one-way street -- it does all these things under ideal weather and road conditions with absolutely no surprises going on.

    Google should focus their efforts on something more viable like teleportation or head transplants.
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    Mar 05, 2016 3:12 PM GMT
    I thought drivers of autonomous cars sometimes had to override them for special situations? Could an impaired senior do that?

    Also, here in South Florida, we encounter unexpected blockages of multilane roads all the time. That aren't announced and may only last a few hours. It could be just county landscapers working on the shrubbery of a grassy median, but a lane is out. Plus we have permanent road construction activity. Our standard state license plate has oranges in the center. I contend it should be orange traffic cones instead. icon_razz.gif

    And when you come across one of these lane blockages without warning you have a snowball's chance in Florida of moving over into the bumper-to-bumper moving lane. No one will let you in. You could sit there forever. The solution is to just force your way over, horns blaring.

    How would the software programming of an autonomous car handle that? Have you sit there until late that night? I remain dubious of these things. And their track record in California road trials has been mixed.
  • Apparition

    Posts: 3529

    Mar 06, 2016 4:02 AM GMT
    Except the cars are already a reality so your point is moot. The cars are going to be here en mass in less than 5 years. In another 10, the will start replacing all the decaying road cloverleafs with computer controled only un signalled flat intersections instad of all the bridges and ramps, and the cars will fly through at full speed staggered as if nobody was at right angles to you. Soo much cheaper to build
  • dumbbell

    Posts: 32

    Mar 06, 2016 3:00 PM GMT
    Art_Deco is right. Just because a technology exists and has been demonstrated under clean-room perfect conditions does not mean that it has any practical application in the real, imperfect world.

    If these cars are dependent on a complete reworking of highway and road infrastructure, they will remain in the hoverboard category -- whimsical fantasy with no real-world application.

    Municipal budgets are strained as it is just with trying to keep potholes filled -- there is no money for science fiction fantasies. Work to retrofit the interstate system with Google-Car infrastructure could probably be completed some time after the earth has crashed into the sun. Then there's the matter of connecting up all these fantastical installations.

    And the all-important question remains of the unknowns and unknowables related to weather and moving objects like people, animals and other vehicles not under Google control. It's one thing to set an airplane to fly a beam through the air where there are no ruts or ice patches to send it careening out of control, it's another to try the same thing with a car without a one-mile buffer around it.

    There may be some limited application for this in gated seniors communities in California or maybe Florida where conditions might allow a limited network that would take people from their retirement cottages on a little track to the medical center or to a nearby shopping or community center.

    This has no potential to be something where you load up the car with the kids and the dog in your garage in Cincinnati in February and type in an address in Toronto and press "go".

    Given the realities of weather, traffic and real-world road conditions in most North American cities, this wouldn't even get you across town without incurring a few deaths and lawsuits.
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    Mar 06, 2016 3:22 PM GMT
    Points well taken, and thanks everybody for the input.

    Many new cars have the beginnings of these technologies, but they're designed for distracted drivers...not impaired ones. They actually "drive themselves" but for only about a minute. They monitor the cars around them, plus the lane markers, but will get confused when you come across new pavement with no lines, etc. and signal a warning for the driver to take over.

    The future of this is good. A common accident among the elderly is the "turn left into oncoming traffic" which can be fatal. So, I hope this tech can evolve to reduce or eliminate these accidents and enable seniors to drive longer. But it will always be unwise to put a small child or person with moderate dementia alone in the car....as they shouldn't be alone, period.
  • Timbales

    Posts: 13993

    Mar 06, 2016 3:30 PM GMT
    The technology is there yet, but eventually autonomous vehicles will be able to function using only sensors and cameras to maneuver safely in traffic, which will be a boon for many people who physically cannot drive.
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    Mar 06, 2016 5:17 PM GMT
    Timbales saidThe technology is there yet, but eventually autonomous vehicles will be able to function using only sensors and cameras to maneuver safely in traffic, which will be a boon for many people who physically cannot drive.


    I imagine a crucial step in this is to implant sensors into the road. Lane markers can be covered up by snow or leaves, and leave the car unable to detect its place on the road.
  • Timbales

    Posts: 13993

    Mar 06, 2016 5:23 PM GMT
    S2Ki said
    Timbales saidThe technology is there yet, but eventually autonomous vehicles will be able to function using only sensors and cameras to maneuver safely in traffic, which will be a boon for many people who physically cannot drive.


    I imagine a crucial step in this is to implant sensors into the road. Lane markers can be covered up by snow or leaves, and leave the car unable to detect its surroundings.


    I think that in order to be safe and successful, a car will need to be able to work 100% on it's own. Outside signals like markers, beacons integrated into existing traffic lights and street lights, communicating with other cars, etc would be a great assist, but shouldn't be relied on 100%.

    I'm wary of the 'semi-autonomous' car. I think we'll see more accidents where people didn't take over control fast enough because they weren't paying attention - eating, sleeping, reading, staring at their phone, etc.
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    Mar 06, 2016 5:50 PM GMT
    Timbales said
    S2Ki said
    Timbales saidThe technology is there yet, but eventually autonomous vehicles will be able to function using only sensors and cameras to maneuver safely in traffic, which will be a boon for many people who physically cannot drive.


    I imagine a crucial step in this is to implant sensors into the road. Lane markers can be covered up by snow or leaves, and leave the car unable to detect its surroundings.


    I think that in order to be safe and successful, a car will need to be able to work 100% on it's own. Outside signals like markers, beacons integrated into existing traffic lights and street lights, communicating with other cars, etc would be a great assist, but shouldn't be relied on 100%.

    I'm wary of the 'semi-autonomous' car. I think we'll see more accidents where people didn't take over control fast enough because they weren't paying attention - eating, sleeping, reading, staring at their phone, etc.


    Yes, I agree. I hope these options are more toys than ordered for practical uses. I would never order it, unless I had $5,000 to burn and wanted something to entertain myself on long trips.

    I found a review from Car and Driver on cars where it's currently available. Tesla has the best system, while the Germans come in second and Japanese bring up the rear. Cadillac has Super Cruise on their new CT6, but not available at the time of the article.

    http://www.caranddriver.com/features/semi-autonomous-cars-compared-tesla-vs-bmw-mercedes-and-infiniti-feature
  • gymnerd

    Posts: 136

    Mar 07, 2016 5:36 PM GMT
    How soon until self-driving car company appears to replace both Taxis and Uber?

    I love the idea of giving seniors and others more mobility, just wondering what happens to another job sector when the humans are all replaced...
  • dumbbell

    Posts: 32

    Mar 07, 2016 10:57 PM GMT
    Any jobs lost to the technology would be more than made up by the burgeoning new demand for more lawyers, funeral directors and artificial-limb manufacturers.
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    Mar 08, 2016 3:37 AM GMT
    Being lost in all this is the personal joy of driving. You know, on an open road, when it's curvy with hills, that I LOVE to drive. Have for 50 years now. Is that gonna end now?

    And then I read about intersections built solely for these self-drivers. What about those of us who ride motorcycles? I guess we're banished, outlawed, made obsolete. What happens to us? Are we left out of this automated Utopia? This Brave New World of mindless car passengership?