Published: Wed, 28 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Last Build Date: Wed, 28 Sep 2016 18:50:30 -0400
Wed, 28 Sep 2016 12:03:00 -0400
(image) A van t-boned a Google self-driving car as its driver ran a red light. The car was pretty well wrecked but apparently no one in either vehicle was greatly harmed. In a statement to 9to5Google, the company noted:
A Google vehicle was traveling northbound on Phyllis Ave. in Mountain View when a car heading westbound on El Camino Real ran a red light and collided with the right side of our vehicle. Our light was green for at least six seconds before our car entered the intersection. Thousands of crashes happen everyday on U.S. roads, and red-light running is the leading cause of urban crashes in the U.S. Human error plays a role in 94% of these crashes, which is why we're developing fully self-driving technology to make our roads safer.
Red-light running human drivers have hit Google vehicles before. For example, Google's latest montly report on its self-driving car project noted:
In that same report, the other four accidents involved human drivers in other cars rear-ending Google vehicles.
Fri, 23 Sep 2016 04:00:00 -0400
(image) When Victoria Herrington got a ticket for having an obscured license plate, she couldn't believe it. All of the letters and numbers on the plate and the renewal sticker were clearly visible. But the dealer's plate frame obscure the myflorida.com on the very top of the plate, and that's why she was cited.
Tue, 20 Sep 2016 12:40:00 -0400The good news is that the federal government genuinely does want self-driving or automated vehicles to happen. Credit a heavily technocratic Obama administration that loves the idea of replacing the poor choices of feckless citizens with smooth, sleek algorithms. Today, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a 116-page report detailing how it plans to regulate the introduction of these cars, which they're calling "highly automated vehicles," or HAVs. So we can have a debate over whether it should be legal to allow HAVs to drive in HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes. The administration wants these cars on the road, but on its own terms. President Barack Obama makes it clear in a guest commentary over at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where HAVs are now being tested on the road. He also makes it clear that the federal government will be deciding what is and isn't safe. Obama and the NHTSA are your parents watching you do a wacky chemistry experiment for a science fair project making sure you don't mix the wrong things together: Regulation can go too far. Government sometimes gets it wrong when it comes to rapidly changing technologies. That's why this new policy is flexible and designed to evolve with new advances. There are always those who argue that government should stay out of free enterprise entirely, but I think most Americans would agree we still need rules to keep our air and water clean, and our food and medicine safe. That's the general principle here. What's more, the quickest way to slam the brakes on innovation is for the public to lose confidence in the safety of new technologies. Both government and industry have a responsibility to make sure that doesn't happen. And make no mistake: If a self-driving car isn't safe, we have the authority to pull it off the road. We won't hesitate to protect the American public's safety. To be completely clear, "For [the Department of Transportation], the excitement around highly automated vehicles (HAVs) starts with safety," is a sentence somebody actually wrote with complete sincerity in the executive summary of the report. Much of the report is technical, dry, and about figuring out how HAV regulations fit within existing federal framework. That is very nearly praise, given the much worse potential alternatives. The NHTSA is providing guidance to the states in the report, trying to separate what the federal government wants to control (establishing vehicle safety standards, managing recalls, issuing guidance to manufacturers) and what it wants to leave to the states (licensing drivers, enforcing traffic laws, managing safety inspections and liability rules) Essentially it's similar to the separation of authorities over vehicles right now, but what they're trying to do is prevent individual states (and cities) from creating their own rules about what an HAV must have or do in order to be allowed on the road. It's one thing to have different speed limits from state to state; it's something else entirely if it's illegal for the vehicle you're in to be on the road in some states but not others. That's exactly what has happened in some states when lawmakers passed their own regulations. But despite the emphasis on making way for innovation and experimentation, make no mistake: The NHTSA is also using the development of HAVs to lobby for more regulatory authority. Buried deeper into the report, after outlining the various processes for car manufacturers to get their vehicles approved, are requests for additional authority to control the process. One of those authorities they're asking for is pre-market approval of new vehicle types and technologies. Read this section and suddenly you might hear the sound of screeching tires in your head: NHTSA adoption of a full pre-market approval approach for HAVs would entail replacing the self-certification process with at least two new statutory provisions. The first provision would prohibit the manufacture, introduction into commerce, offer for sale and [...]
Fri, 26 Aug 2016 11:05:00 -0400It's crazy to ride/drive in a car that you need to take control over only when it's about to crash. You may reading a map; talking on the phone; even have drifted off a bit, lulled into a dangerous complacency by the fact that the semi-automated car works just fine in most situations. Then the klaxon rings telling you to take over RIGHT NOW. Of course, you haven't been paying attention, so it will take at least a few vital seconds for you to figure out why your car's computer has panicked and summoned you to take the wheel. Good luck with that! Yet, that is just the future that a lot of automakers seem to be aiming for as they inch toward full self-driving capability. A nice article in the Washington Post describes this fork in the road toward the self-driving car future. Some manufacturers like Audi will keep adding features that allow for mostly hands-free (but not attention-free) driving on, say, limited access highways. On the other hand, Ford, teaming up with Google, aims for fully autonmous vehicles. Initially their vehicles will operate within specified areas, such as, ride hailing services in cities, but eventually they will safely roam free on America's roads and streets. With regard to the imperative of full automation, in my July article, "Will Politicians Block Our Driverless Future?," I reported: [University of Texas engineer Kara] Kockelman argues that semi-autonomous vehicles, or what NHTSA calls "limited self-driving automation," present a big safety problem. With these so-called Level 3 vehicles, drivers cede full control to the car for the most part but must be ready at all times to take over if something untoward occurs. The problem is that such semi-autonomous cars travel along safely 99 percent of the time, allowing the attention of their bored drivers to falter. In an August 2015 study NHTSA reported that depending on the on-board alert, it took some drivers as long as 17 seconds to regain manual control of the semi-autonomous car. "The radical change to full automation is important," argues Kockelman. "Level 3 is too dangerous. We have to jump over that to Level 4 full automation, and most manufacturers don't want to do that. They want protection; they want baby steps; they want special corridors; they won't get that." Consequently the first law of the robocar revolution, according to [former Google consultant Brad] Templeton, is "that you don't change the infrastructure." Whatever functionality is needed to drive safely should be on board each individual vehicle. "Just tell the software people that this is the road you have to drive on and let them figure it out," Templeton says. "Everything you must do is in software or you lose." Some self-driving shuttles confined to specific areas—airports, pedestrian malls, college campuses—will be deployed, but they are not the future of this technology. In other news, Uber announced that it will begin deploying a fleet of 100 self-driving Volvos on the streets of Pittsburgh next month. While the cars will drive themselves, each car will have a "chaperone" to make sure that all goes smoothly and an engineer to record what is going on. As Bloomsberg reports: In Pittsburgh, customers will request cars the normal way, via Uber's app, and will be paired with a driverless car at random. Trips will be free for the time being, rather than the standard local rate of $1.05 per mile. In the long run, [Uber CEO] Kalanick says, prices will fall so low that the per-mile cost of travel, even for long trips in rural areas, will be cheaper in a driverless Uber than in a private car. "That could be seen as a threat," says Volvo Cars CEO Hakan Samuelsson. "We see it as an opportunity." In the meantime, the MIT startup NuTonomy has just launched the first ever public test of ride-hailed fully self-driving cars in Singapore. And like Uber's Pittsburgh Project, NuTonomy's cars will, for the time-being, have an engineer onboard to monitor and take over driving if necessary. These are steps i[...]
Wed, 27 Jul 2016 16:40:00 -0400Today, everyone understands the concept of "driving while black," or the fear that African Americans are more likely to get pulled over for minor traffic and vehicle violations, especially when they are driving in areas that are wealthy and heavily white or places that are predominantly poor and that depend on traffic fines for revenue. While black and white drivers are pulled over at similar rates for clear traffic violations, black are five times more likely to be pulled over and searched in "investigatory stops." Which puts a fine irony on the "first known traffic stop of any note" in the United States. The year was 1872, the vehicle was a horse-drawn carriage, the city was Washington, D.C., and the offenders was President Ulysses S. Grant. Even more amazingly, the officer was William West, an African American. From the Washington Star's account, as quoted in The New York Observer: "I cautioned you yesterday, Mr. President," answered the policeman, "about fast driving, and you said, sir, that it would not occur again." "Did I?" mused Grant, still with a quizzical smile on his features. "Well, I suppose I forgot it, and that I might have been going a little bit too fast this evening: but hang it officer, these animals of mine are thoroughbreds, and there is no holding them." "I am very sorry, Mr. President to have to do it, for you are the chief of the nation, and I am but a policeman. But duty is duty, sir, and I will have to place you under arrest," West replied. "All right," cried Grant, "where do you wish me to go with you?" Grant ended up forking over a $20 fine. The Observer story, written by Josh Keefe, goes on to explore how the automobile, that symbol of freedom and autonomy, has also become a major tool of surveillance and reprimand. The car, after all, gave rise to the traffic stop, the most common way in which people interact with cops: The traffic stop, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, is "the most common reason for contact with the police." The agency estimated that in 2011, "42 percent of face-to-face contacts that U.S. residents had with police" were traffic stops. The side-of-the-road summit has a long history as a flash point in battles over the use of police power. Rodney King's beating occurred after a traffic stop. The Watts riots of 1968 erupted after a confrontation at a traffic stop. So did the 1967 Newark riots. "Cars are completely transformative," said Sarah Seo, an associate professor at Iowa Law School and author of a recent paper on automobiles and policing in the Yale Law Journal. "The massive growth of police departments really happens after the mass production of automobiles," she continued.... And of course, the rise of the traffic stop also gave rise to the traffic ticket. With the traffic ticket, every traffic stop turned into a money-making opportunity. "Every little town with a main road running through it loved [the automobile], because they thought 'oh we can increase our revenue.'" explained Cotten Seiler, author of Republic of Drivers: A Cultural History of Automobility in America. Policing the roads was "always about more than public safety." Seiler said. "It was about the exercise of the various types of power: local power, racial power and also about making money." It's a fascinating little story, well-written and full of odd historical tidbits such as the opening anecdote about Grant and Officer West. Given the large role traffic stops (and their cousin, automated traffic tickets via red-light cameras) have played in increasing tensions between minorities and police over the past few years, it's well worth a read. Related video about the ultimate traffic-stop nightmare: "Do you have it up your ass?: Drug warriors in New Mexico go too far." src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/mPEXYkffgpw" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">[...]
Fri, 01 Jul 2016 06:01:00 -0400
(image) Almost two months after it happened, the Associated Press is reporting that a driver in Tesla S model car who was apparently riding it in "autopilot" mode was killed when his car crashed into a tractor trailer on a highway in Florida. The truck driver claims that the driver was "playing Harry Potter on the TV screen" at the time of the crash and driving so quickly that "he went so fast through my trailer I didn't see him." There are reasons to doubt that account, as Tesla Motors notes that it not possible to watch videos on the Model S touch screen. According to the AP, investigators believe that the car's cameras "failed to distinguish the white side of a turning tractor-trailer from a brightly lit sky and didn't automatically activate its brakes."
The current version of Tesla's Autopilot reminds drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and remain alert at all times. This is the first known death in over 130 million miles of Tesla Autopilot operation. For reference, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety calculates that in the U.S. there are 1.08 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. As I reported in my Reason June feature article, "Will Politicians Block Our Driverlesss Future?," a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study commissioned by Google estimated in January 2016 that human-driven vehicles crash 4.2 times per million miles traveled whereas current self-driving cars crash 3.2 times per million miles, a safety record that's likely to keep improving as robocars gain more real life experience on the roads.
Demanding that self-driving vehicles be perfect in comparison to human-driven vehicles is clearly not the right standard. Better is more than good enough.
Thu, 09 Jun 2016 18:31:00 -0400
(image) Automobile accidents will become rarer as self-driving vehicles take to the highways in the coming decade. Earlier this year, researchers at Virginia Tech reported that self-driving cars are already safer - they crashed 3.2 times per every million miles traveled versus 4.2 crashes per million miles traveled by conventional automobiles. Nevertheless, insurance companies have been reluctant to cover driverless vehicles so far. Does liability accrue to the owner, the manufacturer, the software supplier, etc.? The British insurance company Adrian Flux has just jumped in and is now ordering policies to cover driverless vehicles. As the press release from the company explained:
The new driverless policy has additional features over a standard car insurance policy. Customers will be covered for loss or damage in the following scenarios:
If updates or security patches for things like firewalls, operating systems, electronic mapping and journey planning systems haven't been successfully installed in the vehicle within 24 hours of the owner being notified by the manufacturer or software provider, subject to an increased policy excess
If there are satellite failure / outages that affect the navigation systems, or if the manufacturer's operating system or authorised software fails
Where there is loss or damage caused by failing, when able, to use manual override to avoid a collision or accident in the event of operating system, navigation system or mechanical failure.
For loss or damage if your car gets hacked or an attempted hack results in loss or damage.
The company evidently expects cars equipped with self-driving features to be involved in fewer accidents, so insurance rates will be correspondingly lower. Perhaps some American insurers will now be encouraged go into this line of business.
If you were a subscriber to the magazine, you'd already have been reading my cover article, "Will Politicians Block Our Driverless Future?" Just saying.
Fri, 22 Apr 2016 06:00:00 -0400Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles, by David Ulin, University of California Press, 152 pages, $16.95 David Ulin is nothing if not indecisive. At one point in Sidewalking, the former Los Angeles Times staffer's book about walking around L.A., he listens, "by turns sympathetic and unsympathetic," to a prelate; the prelate's church, he adds, is "both familiar and unfamiliar." A few pages later, he's contemplating a moment in his life "that could have been any moment in my life or any other." In one of his most remarkable hedges, he writes: "One of the ideas I want to argue against is a sense of Los Angeles' exceptionalism, that this city is fundamentally different than any other, although in many ways it is." He calls Park La Brea "a nonlandmark landmark." He fancies a photo montage that "reflects back to us both what we notice and what we don't." Observing another work of art, he writes: "If a piece of me can't help but be cynical, another piece is equally compelled." In Los Angeles, he declares, "order is a function of disorder, and clarity and chaos go hand in hand." Near the book's finale he poses a question that reveals nobody could have edited this book in a linear read: "Can I indulge in some Keatsian negative capability, holding two opposing ideas in my head?" As if that's the first time. Ulin's persistent endorsement of both thesis and antithesis spills off the page. Promoting his book on a Los Angeles Review of Books podcast, he tells his hosts that "I've been thinking a lot about the fact that all the clichés of Los Angeles are absolutely true. But their inverse is also absolutely true." Discussing a moderately Disneyfied shopping mall called The Grove, Ulin tells the interviewer that it "feels both like a mall and not like a mall." He concludes, "I should hate the mall, but I don't." Even sexuality is wrung through Ulin's ambivalence ringer. In the same podcast, he talks about L.A.'s flashiest cotton candy sexpot, a personality known to the locals as Angelyne. "When I first moved here, I couldn't stand her, because of her shallowness," Ulin says. "Then I kind of fell in love with her, because of her shallowness. Now I'm totally ambivalent about her." So whose shallowness is this, anyway? If there is a firm thesis to Sidewalking, it is that Los Angeles is vague and undecipherable and inspires ambivalent attitudes we are to understand as interesting because they are not interesting. The book documents how a man first dislikes where he is and later evolves into a state of nearly perfect ennui regarding it. For Ulin, what's essential to L.A. is a shrug: "Is that all there is?" Ulin's deep New York roots—which dominate the early part of the book more than Los Angeles itself does—nurture him for a mature adult life as a conflicted L.A. pedestrian. He expresses uncertainty not just about whether this trolley or that Metro line might be a good idea, but even about whether tunnels are good or bad places to be in the event of earthquakes. (They are good places, case closed.) He encounters himself on the street, the café, the sidewalk exactly as he encounters himself elsewhere: entirely irresolute. Trying to tidy it all up, he will permit himself little more than a pop-psychobabble resolution, then finally assert: "This is where I am." Yet this slim book of padded sentences has been received rapturously. The Chicago Tribune found it "thoughtful and poetic." Los Angeles Magazine named it one of "seven books you need to read." Kirkus pronounced it full of "thoughtful personal views." The Paris Review made it a staff pick, claiming in the process that Los Angeles "is the youngest of our great American cities." (L.A. was founded in 1781, 42 years before Chicago.) The Los Angeles Review of Books called it an "always engaging, often riveting guide." Ulin's former paper, the Los Angeles Times, insists his book is "admirably [...]
Sun, 20 Mar 2016 10:00:00 -0400
A "power grab" by the Environmental Protection Agency threatens to crash America's amateur car-racing industry without putting so much as a dent in climate change, warns the chairman of the House Space, Science and Technology Committee.
The EPA's move to regulate emissions on non-road racing vehicles contradicted agency administrator Gina McCarthy's earlier testimony that the EPA did not have authority over non-road race cars and motorcycles.
EPA officials said they are "clarifying" emissions law, yet the Clean Air Act has long exempted non-road vehicles used in competition. The agency has not made a similar move against NASCAR or other professional race circuits.
"The EPA cannot assume powers that Congress hasn't given," Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said at an Oversight Subcommittee hearing Tuesday. Smith accused the agency of "unlawful regulation (conducted) without proper notice."
"The federal government has no place testing emissions at private tracks," McHenry told the subcommittee.
Smith said the "unlawful" regulations "do nothing for health, climate change or the economy" and "could result in billions of dollars in enforcement penalties and significant job losses."
"EPA's actions show that the agency acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner, in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act because the agency failed to give proper notice to the stakeholders that would be affected by this provision," he charged.
Smith said the agency's "backdoor power grab (was) buried in medium- and heavy-duty truck regulations."
Amateur racing interests complained they were ambushed.
"In the table of contents for the 629-page rule, there was no reference to 'Competition Use Engines/Vehicles' or any similar heading," said Christopher Kersting, president and CEO of the Specialty Equipment Market Association.
A petition drive in opposition to the EPA rule collected 100,000 signatures within 24 hours.
The amateur racing industry employs an estimated 1 million people, with direct and indirect sales surpassing $6 billion annually.
This article originally appeared at Watchdog.org.
Fri, 18 Mar 2016 16:00:00 -0400
(image) While FBI prepares for a court hearing next week to try to force Apple to help it break into the work phone of San Bernardino, California, terrorist Syed Farook, the agency also wants you to pay attention to your cybersecurity to protect yourself from hackers attempting to commandeer your car.
This somewhat schizophrenic argument (all tech experts seem to agree that what the FBI is asking for in San Bernardino would weaken everybody's data security) is a result of increasing concerns that our highly computerized automobiles are susceptible to hackers. As we approach a future of self-driving automobiles, it is obviously a risk that cannot be ignored. Wired last year famously had a couple of guys hack into and shut down the transmission of a vehicle while it was traveling down the highway.
So the FBI, the Department of Transportation, and the National Highway Transportation and Security Association have put out a press release and resource page warning consumers about how important cybersecurity is for your vehicles.
Wired takes note of the irony of the FBI calling for careful protection on security and access to digital tools on the one hand while going to the courts to mandate the opposite:
The announcement also notes that drivers should be careful about offering physical access to their vehicles to strangers. "In much the same way as you would not leave your personal computer or smartphone unlocked, in an unsecure location, or with someone you don't trust, it is important that you maintain awareness of those who may have access to your vehicle," the announcement reads. (If only the FBI felt quite so strongly about keeping intruders out of your iPhone.) [Emphasis added]
Mind you, the government is insisting on arguing that ordering that Apple help make a single phone more vulnerable to hacking is an isolated request that cannot possibly get out of hand. But that seems to be an argument presented solely by government representatives. Everybody in the tech industry seems to be lining up behind Apple.
Read more about car hacking here.
Mon, 07 Mar 2016 12:31:00 -0500
(image) A recent projection by Business Insider predicts that as many 10 million self-driving vehicles will be on the highways by 2020. I personally think that that estimate is too low. However, a recent poll by the American Automobile Association finds that most Americans are leery of autonomous vehicles. The AAA polled 1,800 Americans about their attitudes toward self-driving cars and found that 75 percent are not yet ready to trust the driving to robots. On the other hand, most drivers did say that they would like their next cars to be equipped with semi-autonomous features such as lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and self-parking technology. Interestingly, more women (81 percent) than men (67 percent) were afraid of allowing an autonomous vehicle to drive itself with them in it. Baby boomers (82 percent) were more afraid of self-driving vehicles than younger generations (69 percent).
The results of this poll were released during the same week that Google reported that one of its self-driving vehicles was partially at fault in a run-in with a public transit bus. This was the first accident in six years in which one of the company's robot cars was at fault. The car's computer evidently believed that the bus would yield the right-of-way as it negotiated its way around some sandbags in the roadway. The Google car was going all of 2 mph and the bus at 15 mph; no one was hurt in the accident. The company says that it will treat the accident as a learning experience and train future cars to realize that bus drivers can be jerks. Actually what the company said was: "From now on, our cars will more deeply understand that buses (and other large vehicles) are less likely to yield to us."
I predict that the acceptance of self-driving vehicles by the public will be one of the fastest technology uptakes in history. At first, they will be used as long-haul highway freight trucks and Uberesque taxi services in cities and expand rapidly from there. As for me, I can't wait to be chauffeured around by self-driving vehicles while watching a video and sipping Caol Ila.
Question: Are you among the timorous or will you enthusiastically embrace the hands-free future of driving?
Mon, 08 Feb 2016 18:52:00 -0500Florida State Sen. Jeff Brandes of District 22 has offered a very helpful bill to ease the problem—a problem reported about by me here at Reason back in February 2014 for Florida specifically, and in December 2014 nationally—of less well-to-do citizens losing their ability to drive (and thus often to work with any sort of convenience without breaking the law) over offenses that have nothing to do with their demonstrated ability to safely manage a motor vehicle. Key part of the bill, (SB 7046): Notwithstanding any other law, a person’s driver 534 license may not be suspended solely for failure to pay a penalty 535 or court obligation if the person demonstrates to the court, 536 after receiving the penalty and prior to the suspension taking 537 place, that he or she is unable to pay the penalty or court 538 obligation. A person is considered unable to pay if the person 539 provides documentation to the appropriate clerk of court 540 evidencing that: 541 (a) The person receives reemployment assistance or 542 unemployment compensation pursuant to chapter 443; 543 (b) The person is disabled and incapable of self-support or 544 receives benefits under the federal Supplemental Security Income 545 program or Social Security Disability Insurance program; 546 (c) The person receives temporary cash assistance pursuant 547 to chapter 414; 548 (d) The person is making payments in accordance with a 549 confirmed bankruptcy plan under chapter 11, chapter 12, or 550 chapter 13 of the United States Bankruptcy Code, 11 U.S.C. ss. 551 101 et seq.; 552 (e) The person has been placed on a payment plan or payment 553 plans with the clerk of court which in total exceed what is 554 determined to be a reasonable payment plan pursuant to s. 555 28.246(4); or 556 (f) The person has been determined to be indigent after 557 filing an application with the clerk in accordance with s. 27.52 558 or s. 57.082. It's a start, though frankly even with those restrictions many people will doubtless be unjustly forced into penury or inability to work by silly license suspensions, given the paperwork hurdles inherent in all the above. Still, it's a start, as are the slight limitations from one year to 6-month suspension for certain drug related crimes. (Which should, justly, have zero effect on one's being licensed to drive, but...baby steps, I suppose.) Some other details of the bill, from Brandes' office press release: “This legislation will help thousands of Floridians who are caught in a relentless cycle of debt within the legal system. This bill will reduce a major burden on our courts from license suspensions, and it will give many Floridians a means to get back to work.” ...The bill establishes an alternative system for sanctions for the more than 1.2 million driver license suspensions annually. SPB 7046 removes suspension and revocation penalties for certain non-driving-related offenses. Individuals who would have their licenses suspended today for many financial related issues will instead be issued a hardship license. The reform package also reforms a controversial surcharge in law for fines or fees which are sent to collections, and clearly establishes the right of a defendant in financial hardship to enter into community service as an alternative method of payment. Finally, the bill eliminates the felony criminal charge for a third or subsequent driving while license is suspended or revoked resulting from a defendant’s inability to pay a fine or fee. Fox13News out of Tampa with a report on the bill, and three stories of people's livelihoods unjustly screwed up by casual license suspension. Florida suspend[...]
Wed, 20 Jan 2016 09:15:00 -0500"I'm from the government and I'm here to help," declared U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx last week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Well, Foxx didn't actually say that, but his statement was the moral equivalent when he unveiled the Obama Administration's proposal to spend $4 billion as an "investment" to accelerate vehicle automation. The precedents for such "investments" are not good. Why? Because, not at all surprisingly, bureaucrats (and their enablers in Congress) are not very good at picking technological winners. For example, the big government thoroughly top-down idea a couple of decades ago was to combine relatively dumb cars with smart roads. So in the 1990s, the Feds "invested" $650 million in the National Automated Highway System. As a result of these investments, on July 22, 1999, a platoon of Buick LeSabres traveled more or less hands-free 7.5 miles down a specially designed section of Interstate 15. That was about it. A decade and a half later, private companies have been hard at work figuring out how to make vehicles smart enough to safely navigate the government's still dumb roads. (It is true that the DARPA's $1 million robotic car Grand Challenge helped to jumpstart automated driving. Giving out prizes is a quite a bit different from "investing" in technologies.) Over at Newsweek, Cato Institute transportation expert Randal O'Toole asks, "Why Is the Government Investing in Self-Driving Cars?" O'Toole points out that the Obama administration's vision still involves old-fashioned top-down thinking; specifically the construction of vehicle-to-infrastructure communications, i.e., smart roads. O'Toole explains why this is retrograde thinking: Foxx proposes to spend most of the $4 billion on a very different technology called “connected vehicle” or vehicle-to-infrastructure communications. In this system, the government would have to install new electronic infrastructure in all streets and highway that would help guide self-driving cars. But states and cities today can’t fill potholes or keep traffic lights coordinated, so they are unlikely to be able to install an entirely new infrastructure system in any reasonable amount of time. Moreover, the fixed infrastructure used for connected corridors will quickly become obsolete. Your self-driving car will be able to download software upgrades while sitting in your garage overnight – Teslas already do so. However, upgrading the hardware for a connected vehicle system could take years and might never happen due to the expense of converting from one technology to another. Thus, Foxx’s plan would lock us into a system that will be obsolete long before it is fully implemented. Assuming that such a centralized transportation system could be developed, O'Toole also points out that it would enable government agents to comprehensively monitor your travels and even to control the car in which you are traveling. O'Toole concludes: If Congress approves Foxx’s program, the best we can hope for is that Google and other private companies are able to ignore the new technology. The worst case is that the department’s new rules not only mandate that cars be able to use connected streets, but that they work in self-driving mode only on roads that have connected-streets technology. In that case, the benefits of self-driving cars will be delayed for the decades that it takes to install that technology–and may never happen at all if people don’t the extra cost for cars that can drive themselves only on a few selected roads and streets. All government needs to do for the next transportation revolution to happen is keep the potholes filled, the stripes painted and otherwise get out of the road.[...]
Wed, 28 Oct 2015 15:03:00 -0400Three researchers are reporting the results of three surveys that find that most people are utilitarians when it comes to installing ethics in self-driving cars. Basically, most of those surveyed believe that cars should be programmed to sacrifice their occupants if that means that more lives will be saved in situations where harm is unavoidable. This is sort of a version of the famous "trolley problem" in which an onlooker can flip a switch to divert an out-of-control trolley car such that it runs over only one person rather than ten. Faced with that problem, most people say that they would divert the trolley to kill one in order to save ten. In other words, the greatest good for the greatest number. But in the case of self-driving cars, the researchers ask another question: What happens when there is no onlooker, but the one who gets sacrificed to save ten strangers is you as the passenger in the car? Should cars be programmed to sacrifice you? In fact, most respondents agreed that self-driving cars should be programmed that way, but a significant portion believe that manufacturers will more likely program them to save their passengers no matter the cost. Would they buy cars that they know are programmed to make utilitarian calculations to self-sacrifice? The researchers gave respondents three options: self-sacrifice (swerve), random, or protect the passenger (stay). Summed together most said that they think that other people should buy self-sacrificing cars, but they would prefer to own self-driving cars programmed to protect passengers (themselves) or make a random choice between self-sacrifice and protection. Ultimately, the researchers reported: Three surveys suggested that respondents might be prepared for autonomous vehicles programmed to make utilitarian moral decisions in situations of unavoidable harm. This was even true, to some extent, of situations in which the AV [autonomous vehicle] could sacrifice its owner in order to save the lives of other individuals on the road. Respondents praised the moral value of such a sacrifice the same, whether human or machine made the decision. Although they were generally unwilling to see self-sacrifices enforced by law, they were more prepared for such legal enforcement if it applied to AVs, than if it applied to humans. Several reasons may underlie this effect: unlike humans, computers can be expected to dispassionately make utilitarian calculations in an instant; computers, unlike humans, can be expected to unerringly comply with the law, rendering moot the thorny issue of punishing non-compliers; and finally, a law requiring people to kill themselves would raise considerable ethical challenges. Even in the absence of legal enforcement, most respondents agreed that AVs should be programmed for utilitarian self-sacrifice, and to pursue the greater good rather than protect their own passenger. However, they were not as confident that AVs would be programmed that way in reality—and for a good reason: They actually wished others to cruise in utilitarian AVs, more than they wanted to buy utilitarian AVs themselves. What we observe here is the classic signature of a social dilemma: People mostly agree on what should be done for the greater good of everyone, but it is in everybody’s self-interest not to do it themselves. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for manufacturers or regulatory agencies wishing to push for utilitarian AVs: even though self-interest may initially work against such AVs, social norms may soon be formed that strongly favor their adoption. Driver error is responsible for about 94 percent of traffic accidents. Consequently, if the widespread adoption of self-driving cars dramatically redu[...]
Thu, 24 Sep 2015 10:22:00 -0400
In the mainstream media’s telling of the Volkswagen scandal, VW cheated on its diesel emissions standards because (image) it is a greedy, nickel-grasping company that wanted to cut corners to boost its bottom line. But blaming greed for VW’s actions is like blaming gravity for someone falling off a cliff after a good shove.
The fact is that EPA’s crazy emissions mandates shoved VW off a cliff and, if its regulatory authority is not curbed, more companies are going to follow suit, I note in my morning column at The Week.
Drivers want cheap, safe, powerful cars. That is exactly what the EPA's NOx standards made it very difficult for VW to produce. Meeting the agency’s aggressive 2008 edict would have required the company to install a urea tank to neutralize the nitrogen oxide before release. But that would have not only bumped the prices of cars in a mid-range category, it would have diminished fuel economy, and made the cars far less zippy (since the engine is forced to divert power to the tank).
For a company like VW that was desperately trying to gain a toe-hold in a diesel-unfriendly country like America, EPA's NOx standards obviously posed a very difficult dilemma.
But these regulations aren’t the only ones that are going to put carmakers at war with their own customers. Federal regulators (NHTSA specifically) have become overly aggressive on virtually every front. For example, new CAFE standards for light trucks have forced automakers to use lightweight material in the body. This makes it difficult to make safe trucks that can pass federal crash tests.
Some speculate that the Obama administration is determined to regulate away both gas and diesel engines from the market to induce a switch to electrics. Even if the administration isn't trying to outlaw these engines, if companies can't find cost-effective technologies that satisfy such regulatory edicts without pricing drivers out of the market, notes auto expert Sean McAlinden, they might well start flouting the law.
So if Congress wants to curb the growing contempt for federal regulations, it has to go after the out-of-control EPA as much as VW.
Go here to read the piece.