Hooniverse Asks- How Much Control Are You Willing to Give Up?

King me!
King me!

Wired has an article about autonomous cars on their site. It claims that traffic accidents cost the U.S. over $230 billion annually. A large part of that being health care costs due to the injuries sustained. Active safety measures, including airbags and ABS brakes are not paying the dividends in lower accident rates that they once did. This leads to the effort to take the weakest link out of the accident-avoidance equation- which would be you and me.
Autonomous cars and smart highways have been the stuff of dreams for decades, but the technology to make it a reality is seeping into cars today. Radar cruise control, active steering and more robust on-board computers are taking driving tasks away from the driver, and are putting them into the cold-metal hands and silicon brains of the cars themselves.
But will it get your pizza to you in 20 minutes or less?
But will it get your pizza to you in 20 minutes or less?

What this means is fewer accidents, closer spacing of cars at speed on the highway, relieving congestion, and the opportunity for you to check out all 247 satellite radio channels as you’ll be pretty much just twiddling your thumbs while getting from point A to Point B.
So, how much control are you willing to give up for all this automated goodness? Speed and braking? Steering? What about if your car chose a different route because of traffic conditions? How comfortable would that make you feel?
Image sources: [Flickr, Wired]

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  1. joshuman Avatar

    On the one hand, I can see the woman in the lane next to me talking on her phone and doing her nails while driving. She shouldn't be in control of the car. On the other hand, I really enjoy hitting the apex and a bit of controlled drift on the freeway on ramps. I don't want to give up any control. I don't even like that one of our cars has an automatic transmission. However, many people would want to give up all control. For them I already have a solution. It already exists in all urban and most suburban areas.
    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/31/SoundTransit_DE60LF_6.png&quot; style="width: 500px; " alt="imgTag" />

    1. Maymar Avatar

      Public transit will be great when they get rid of that whole other people thing. Also, it'd be nice if it were as quick and on time as driving (granted, subways are good for that).

      1. Age_of_Aerostar Avatar

        Disclaimer: I've grown up and lived in metro Detroit my whole live. (we essentially don't have public transportation)
        I hate public transportation. I agree with you 100% about that "whole other people thing."
        Sometimes I want a snack while driving, or a pop, or smoke a cigarette — public transportation is great for that, right?
        One time a group of us took a cab in Chicago, to go to a bar that none of us had been to before. The cab dropped us off, and said the bar was around the corner, but that because it was on one way street, it would be easier to get out there, and it was right around the corner. Of course it wasn't, we got a ride around Chicago for a while, he didn't know where the bar was, and dropped us off somewhere random. I learned my lesson. We found another cab, and got to the bar, which was about 2-3 miles away or so.

        1. Maymar Avatar

          I live in a suburban area, so it doesn't really have the density to support public transit (although I admire that the region's trying). I lived in Toronto for a couple years though and took the TTC while I waited for my insurance rates to come down. I got away with the occational eating and drinking (something innocuous like waffles or tea), but on the other hand, I had my share of complaints. Ever had a bus driver pull over mid-route and grab a cup of coffee? I have, several times.

        2. PowerTryp Avatar

          I'll agree with that, in a place that has had an effective transit system built up with the city it works great but here in Calgary we have a problem called urban sprawl, what that is is we've managed to stuff a million people into a piece of land equivalently the size of three of New York citys (land use only). It was a difficult feat I'll tell you. Here in Calgary with our population density spread out like that and our train system not really going into any real residential area short of the ghetto, the sudo-rich in the south and the university plus our bus system that doesn't run on time we need cars to get around here.
          I will say that a train system could be properly implemented (we're re-constructing most of our major roads) but the city hasn't hired planners but instead chose to hire one road construction guy to do the planning and well he said the solution to packed roads was to build more roads. Smart.

  2. Tanshanomi Avatar

    If BAE (the folks behind the Autonomous Aircraft Landing System) do it, I'm all in.
    If Garmin does it, I'll wait and see.
    Microsoft or Google do it, they'll get my steering wheel when the they pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

  3. discontinuuity Avatar

    For driving across the prairie this would be great, but I'd still rather take the helm when carving mountain roads.

  4. skitter Avatar

    You can have my controls when you pry them from my charred, burned extremeties.

    1. skitter Avatar

      There will be a serious generation gap when younger people truly believe that computers will never let them down.

      1. Tim Odell Avatar
        Tim Odell

        In many cases I find computers easier to deal with and more reliable than humans.
        I prefer robo- or online customer service. The people they employ to work the phones are dumber and more worthless than my computer. Additionally, my computer works the hours I want it to.

        1. PowerTryp Avatar

          Anti-social much?

          1. Tim Odell Avatar
            Tim Odell

            I'm fine with the people I like, but I've got no use for society as a whole.

          2. PowerTryp Avatar

            It's nice to be able to get to know the people behind the blog.

          3. Tim Odell Avatar
            Tim Odell

            Maybe that came across differently than I intended.
            At 27, I've never really known a "good old days" of customer service, where the person you were dealing with spoke accent-free or competent English and had the ability to actually do things without transferring you to some other department or the manager.
            Whenever I have to call to resolve an issue with travel or banking or whatever, the human I'm dealing with rarely has the ability to do anything beyond what an automated system can do. They change my flight to another, they refund me, etc…none of which I needed to be on hold for 10 minutes to do.
            If it goes beyond that to some kind of weird complication, it typically takes 15 minutes to explain it to them, at which point I'm transferred to another department where I get to repeat all the ID info I just communicated (and had to spell out), then repeat my problem, then figure out what the options are…and rarely are those options to my liking or seemingly based on any kind of reason.
            Meanwhile, I do 90% of my banking or other operations via websites, which in my experience have a much higher reliability and ease of use. I can login, transfer cash around and logout in less than a minute. I can look at 47 different flight options at once and pick the cheapest/fastest/whatever and don't need to be put on hold for 5 minutes while they type the Magna Carta into their computer.
            When it comes to society as a whole, this is probably the better explanation:

          4. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

            I'd rather have a person I can't understand than a robot that can't understand me and eventually hangs up. For simple operations, computers are the way to go – for more unusual tasks, and for customer support, it'll take a human's ability to understand for quite a while yet.

          5. name_too_long Avatar

            Are we related?

  5. Tanshanomi Avatar

    Wrong answer. In my town at least, public transit is a joke.
    <img src="http://www.tanshanomi.com/temp/metro.jgp"&gt;

    1. Alff Avatar

      I have stop right by my house, and another within walking distance of my office. Sadly, it's the 3 1/2 hour commute (with 3 transfers) between the two that kills the deal for me.

    2. Thrashy Avatar

      For one summer I rode the bus into downtown from about 119th street. There was a direct route, but it only ran twice a day and got me downtown 45 minutes before the office actually opened for business. After that I started driving to the nearest MAX stop, but even then it turned a 25-minute trip on the highway into a one-hour bus ride. I don't ride the bus anymore.
      This town desperately needs fixed-rail mass transit. Bus "Rapid Transit" is a terrible joke

      1. JeepyJayhawk Avatar

        agreed. I could ride the bus from Lawrence to JOCO, right down the road from work here, but then it's an hour there then THREE HOURS HOME. Plus the mile walk.
        Yeah the Jeep can do 75 for 25 minutes.

        1. Thrashy Avatar

          If something is going to work as rapid transit, it has to be going significantly faster than road traffic, to make up for the frequent stops. A fixed-rail system with minimal on-grade crossings accomplishes this; a bus with a green-light extender does not. A bus system works well as a last resort for people who cannot use the car, or as a last-mile option to extend the reach of a faster backbone system. As a primary mode of transportation is… well, it sucks balls.
          I'm still probably going to use the K-10 connector to commute to classes next semester, though. I can't afford to keep abusing the CRX and/or racking up speeding tickets like I am now.

  6. Tanshanomi Avatar

    I would love for technology to wipe out persisting traffic waves.

  7. Age_of_Aerostar Avatar

    If we give up control, then what does the car matter anymore? Who would care how powerful the engine is, if the whole driving experience is controlled by a computer. Steering feel? Not even necessary without any hands on the wheel. Manual transmission? Why bother.
    The important things in these "future" cars would be how quiet it rides, so you can talk on the phone while "commuting;" the pretty textures and soft feel of the dashboard and switches; the ability to integrate all of your electronic gadgets with the vehicle; reclining, massaging seats, so you can take a quick nap; having the car park itself, so you don't even have to learn that skill.
    ummmmm, wait a minute…..
    I guess we're lucky that we still get to drive, and there are even fun cars out there that you can buy, even if you don't have a million dollars.

    1. Tim Odell Avatar
      Tim Odell

      When you're not using your car to drive (the italics covey meaning), you might as well replace it with the best, most comfortable transportation appliance you can find. It's a fallacy to think you're doing something special with a cool car just slogging through a mind-numbing commute.

      1. Age_of_Aerostar Avatar

        I really like driving, whether it's stuck in traffic, or driving on a fun road, free of other vehicles.
        Maybe it's lame, but I find it a sense of accomplishment in judging my driving performance, even in a daily commute. Looking ahead and make a timely lane change, using experience to know how long I can stay in the right lane, before I should look to merge when the left lane will be moving quicker….. and then at the end, seeing how well I did.
        That's what a part of my drive is every day, and I like doing it. Maybe it's not real "driving" but it's still fun for me.

  8. engineerd Avatar

    An interesting human reaction to safety devices is called "risk compensation". People will, when given a safety device, engage in riskier behavior. This is because they feel safer, and then push the limits more. This is why there hasn't been a demonstrable savings of everything from seat belts to airbags. Accidents still occur, and some of those are still deadly.
    So, should we completely take the human out of the equation? From a purely logical point of view, absolutely. From a human point of view, no way. In fact, I say we go the other way. Forbid seat belts, air bags, ABS, padded dashboards, etc. In fact, put a spike in the center of the steering wheel. Give people an immediately identifiable consequence to poor decision-making on the road way.

    1. Tim Odell Avatar
      Tim Odell

      Death rates per capita or per mile driven are way down because of seat belts. Airbags, I have no data for.
      Additionally, your risk compensation claim doesn't work in reverse…at least not to the extent that you claim it would.
      Maybe people would pay more attention, but accidents happen on the margins. They happen that one split second when you're not paying attention. Everyone who's human has those, and you'll never get rid of them.

      1. Age_of_Aerostar Avatar

        Reasonable safe cars are not the problem. I think what he's saying (or at least what I'm thinking) is that we add all these features to cars to allow people to do things that they shouldn't.
        Dark outside? Why not drive faster with night vision, and xenon lights, and lights that turn around corners. (maybe just slow down?)
        Slippery road conditions? We all need AWD or 4×4 and ABS and electronic traction controls. (we could always slow down, right?)
        etc, etc, etc.

        1. engineerd Avatar

          That's pretty much what I was getting at, but going to the absurd. Hey, a spike on the steering wheel would be cool.
          When given a new safety device, people tend to rely on it to help keep them safe rather than relying on themselves to keep themselves safe. Engineering out a problem is the most surefire way to prevent it, however there can be a human reaction that causes us to engage in riskier behavior because we feel safer.
          Also, while death rates may be down, what about injuries? Deaths don't cost much compared to serious injuries (paralysis, etc.) which is what the article was talking about. Even with all of the safety devices in cars, we are still spending $230 billion a year on auto-related injuries. Considering how many safety features are on cars today, shouldn't this number be less?

          1. Tim Odell Avatar
            Tim Odell

            Seat belts and airbags allow you to trade deaths for injuries. You're also trading serious injuries for minor injuries.
            Seems like a fair deal.

          2. engineerd Avatar

            I agree. I was just going back to what the article said about injuries have not improved significantly. But, yes, I would rather be injured than dead.
            I would also rather drive than sit, unless we had a good mass transit system. I'd gladly commute on a train and/or bus and save the driving for fun. I don't know the stats, but I bet this is safer than driving. It's also more green, at least in perception. So, rather than autonomous cars, why not increase the reach of mass transit?

          3. PowerTryp Avatar

            Cost to the public, people who drive don't want to have to pay for people to take the trains/busses. I personally would gladly pay more in tax to create a bad ass transit system to keep people from using the roads I want to.
            Also concept of ownership, people like to own it makes them feel important, that right there is one of the major causes of this most recent economic declines. I'm not to be taken as any different, I own two cars for a reason and now I'm looking to buy the biggest house I can for the money I make although I'm going to do it within my finacial reach.

          4. engineerd Avatar

            I would gladly pay more in gas taxes for a mass transit system if I had faith in our local and federal governments to actually use that money for the intended purpose. Like I said, I'd rather commute on mass transit and drive for fun. It's so much less stressful.
            The other argument I hear against mass transit is people feel like they will be restricted by it. You can only go where the train goes when it goes there. However, once you have a well developed mass transit system (train + bus + trolley) then you can pretty much get anywhere within a few blocks of where you want to go. As far as train schedules, we're already a slave to a schedule. I have many coworkers that come in at 6:30am so they can leave early all to miss traffic. In some ways, if the trains run at reasonable intervals during commute times (10 to 15 minutes) then you more free to come in and leave at whatever time you wish.

          5. PowerTryp Avatar

            Another problem with mass transit is the whole labour issue, not many people want to drive a bus for a living so finding people and the labour union makes that another difficult proposition.

          6. blueplate Avatar

            Yeah, but isn't part of this a government and culture issue? London, New York, and Boston have awesome public transit that will let you get wherever you want, whenever. Paris goes without saying, and you can get 'most anywhere across western Europe with subsidized long-distance rail transit. Heck, Prague had a fantastic subway system even if I couldn't read aloud the names of the places I was going.
            But, look at Detroit.. no significant trains– I'm looking at you, People Mover (1987), aka the Monorail!
            Bad public works can happen to good people, just look at the Bud Schuster Memorial Highway to nowhere. Even our friendly neighbors to the North created one of the largest International Airports in the world that in retrospect, doesn't seem to have been necessary.

          7. pj134 Avatar

            To that thought, here is an analogy from hockey. In the old days they didn't wear helmets, ocassionally when they went down, they'd snap their head on the ice, causing some serious injuries. Helmets were soon readily available for players, but by the old school, they were seen as being safe, so those helmets really became targets. By making the head an area of the body that wasn't off limits due to having more safety, they caused many many more head injuries, less serious than they could have been as it may be. Additionally, it made it ok for some people to learn in an unsafe manner, because they were unusually huge in highschool/college/juniors and people couldn't take them down as easily, so they learned to play with their heads down. That causes a player like Lindros to have 7+ concussions and a pierced lung because of precieved safety.

          8. joshuman Avatar

            MacTavish approves.
            <img src="http://media.canada.com/88a71aa9-0766-4ee3-befb-15e6b6fe7968/0130mactavish.jpg&quot; style="width: 375px; height: 399px; border: 0" alt="imgTag" />

          9. Age_of_Aerostar Avatar

            Maybe it's the difference between safer vehicles, and safer drivers, and since "you can't fix stupid" best to make the vehicle as safe as possible.

      2. Age_of_Aerostar Avatar

        Reasonable safe cars are not the problem. I think what he's saying (or at least what I'm thinking) is that we add all these features to cars to allow people to do things that they shouldn't.
        Dark outside? Why not drive faster with night vision, and xenon lights, and lights that turn around corners. (maybe just slow down?)
        Slippery road conditions? We all need AWD or 4×4 and ABS and electronic traction controls. (we could always slow down, right?)
        etc, etc, etc.

    2. Age_of_Aerostar Avatar

      Hey, that's my theory too! (but i stole it from NPR's Car Talk)

      1. engineerd Avatar

        There's actually been several studies done on this, not just in relation to autos, but also in relation to other safety devices. We had a safety guy at [REDACTED] who would not let anyone use a back brace unless specifically instructed by their doctor. He had seen in previous jobs that people would practice unsafe lifting techniques while wearing one because they were relying on the back brace to keep them from getting injured.

        1. Age_of_Aerostar Avatar

          I agree with you, but the problem is that people are stupid, and we, as a society, seem to love to make everyone else suffer to protect the stupid.

    3. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

      My three-point safety belt, slightly squishy wheel, four-wheel disc brakes with four-piston front calipers, unflinching, enormous bumpers and steel safety cage are for my benefit. My rear-wheel-drive, lack of ABS or traction control, and zero airbags are also for my benefit – because in my eyes, driving a car is supposed to be dangerous, but not deadly, and if it's safe enough that all the fun has been sucked out, it's not worth driving in the first place. I'm fine with knowing that I won't be walking around that well if I ram a tree, but I also like the reassurance that if I T-bone some moron who runs a red light, I'll survive.

  9. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    In the US?
    I'm cool with automated highways. It's not like I'm engaging in some kind of highly skilled, very involved driving as I cruise along in a nearly straight line at 80+ mph for hours on end. You'd reduce accidents from people falling asleep at the wheel or being road-hypnotized.
    Around town, not so much. The level of complexity involved is too high. I'm not even talking about street lights, I'm talking about humans. Cross walks, kids on bikes, "ohlookhoneyahouseforsale!"s and the like. Humans are too unpredictable to program around.
    The reason I open with "in the US?" is because the real proper replacement for automated highways is a good high speed rail system.

  10. SeanKHotay Avatar

    Mindless highway driving? I’d give a lot of it up, do something more stimulating. Give me emergency control, tho.
    Enjoyment driving? You’d better give me full, manual control. There are a few times I’d like AWD, tho.
    Funny…I’m on the cusp of working on a dual mode transport scheme…

  11. JeepyJayhawk Avatar

    I won't give up any of my motoring control. I barely use the cruise control as it is. But for long distances, I'd love rail. If I can load the super awesome car with me to carve up something interesting, then all the better.

  12. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

    The only way I'll give up control is if I'm taking mass transit. Trains? Great. Busses? Okay. My private car, though, is to be controlled by me. I'm barely okay with an automatic transmission, and I wouldn't drive a car with electric power steering unless I received a significant net profit for doing so.
    Hell, I don't even have ABS or an airbag. This suits me just fine. In a utopian future, cars would be either work trucks or sporty rear-wheel-drive compacts, and everyone would be able to take mass transit to work from Monday to Friday, then enjoy a drive on the weekend.

  13. CptSevere Avatar

    I'm not willing to give up a damn thing. New cars are already too complex and full of gee-whiz gadgets that are just plain junk. I don't mind driving something with an automatic transmission or cruise control, but as far as letting the car drive me around, no way. I'd be waiting for the damn thing to hit a deer, for the computer to crash, something to fail, and you know it will, especially if you become complacent. The more cars do for us, the less competent the average driver will be. Yeah, like engineerd says, make cars do less, and make the humans actually learn to drive, like those of us who take driving seriously do.

    1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

      The deer made me think… I came home last week from a friend's house around eleven-thirty at night, and came to a slight bend doing about 52 (in a 50) on a rural state highway. The bend happened to have a deer standing on the outside of my lane. There were no other cars on the road.
      I braked, but not hard enough to seriously affect my control, and went about halfway into the opposite lane, giving the deer plenty of room to do whatever the fool thing could possibly decide to do. Continued on my way unharmed.
      Because I crossed a double-yellow line, a computer would not have permitted the evasive action that I took. And, of course, if there had been a car coming in the opposite direction, I would have braked harder and gone onto, but not over, the center lines, hitting the deer with my headlight and quarter panel if I needed to. However, the safest maneuver was the legally verboten one, so that was what I did.
      On one hand, a computer might have been able to see the deer before I did. My night vision and headlights are both subpar, so I'm fairly careful at night. On the other hand, my braking distance would not have been much different with ABS, on a dry road with excellent brakes, and I would have at least clipped the deer had I not crossed the center lines.
      All general traffic laws apply in 99% of situations, but in the course of driving there will be the speeding, tailgating jackass who forces you through a stale yellow light, the school-zone light that flashes during spring break, and the deer that forces you into the empty oncoming lane. This is the aspect of driving with which I may never completely trust a computer.

      1. coupeZ600 Avatar

        As a Truck-Driver, we've been hearing about this kind of technology gaining in the rear-view and putting us all out of work for decades. We've blown it off and quite self-importantly proclaimed ourselves irreplaceable for just as long. Now, some of that stuff coming out of DARPA is starting to scare people. Management never made a secret about how they really hated just "turning us loose" and weren't able to look over our shoulder like every other worker, I mean if they didn't hear complaints/accolades from the customers, other drivers, or the police, they really had no idea what you were doing out there all day. This drove them ape-shit, but most of us liked it that way,… a lot, that's why we did it. I hate bosses, and seeing them ONCE at the end of the shift if you're on the early run, or at the beginning of the shift if you're on the late run (because god help a boss that can work a full ten hours) is really one time too many, anyway. GPS and Qualcomm/Globalstar, along with OBTR (On-Board Trip Recorders), ostensibly to help you not get lost and/or screw up your log-book, were never seen by us as anything other than them trying to get in the cab and tell us what to do, and were easily tricked, over-ridden, or otherwise fooled. But a truck that can drive itself,…. Well, this is a different matter altogether. This is why I never use the "self check-out" lane at the grocery/hardware store, or when they make me use it I push every button in as wrong an order and as violently as I can in an effort to screw the thing up, because when they can make those check-out line things fool-proof and can fire the last remaining cashier, the next guy in the cross-hairs is me (or maybe you).

  14. Maymar Avatar

    I'm willing to give up full control, provided I can take back over whenever I like. As much as I enjoy driving, my daily commute sucks (except for a couple good corners, it's a bunch of straight road punctuated by a small town with too many stop lights), and I could find plenty of things to do with those extra two hours – homework, sleep, whatever.

  15. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

    The whole wave-of-brake-lights thing? When I'm on a two-lane road, I simply stay back far enough that I don't have to brake. Nips some of 'em right in the bud.
    Of course, that doesn't work on interstates (where jackasses cut in front of you) or in built-up commercial districts (where similar jackasses pull out in front of you). I don't generally brake for the latter category when the road is clear and dry – the expression on their face seeing a Volvo, obviously not braking, only a few car lengths from their rear quarter can be priceless. I know my brakes well, and take advantage of this in So Don't Do That situations.

    1. EscortsForever Avatar

      I've noticed most people I ride with will automatically hit the brakes as soon as a car pulls out in front of them, even if the car still could floor it and stay far out in front of us. I don't hit the brakes until I'm in the tailgating range of the car in front of me. I think it makes the other car move a little faster and if nothing else, makes me feel a little better.

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