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Skynet Marshmallow Bumper Bots
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jducoeur
Just came across this nice little article from last week -- the Oatmeal got a chance to ride in one of Google's prototype self-driving cars, and gives his thoughts. It's an interesting and thoughtful read, and unusually for the Oatmeal, it's SFW. Well worth the read: he makes a compelling argument that while, yes, they're not perfect, they have the potential to make a lot of peoples' lives better, and it's worth rooting for the project to succeed...

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I love this article.

My favorite point is about how it could transform the lives of the disabled. Jatina has been talking about this to me since it was first announced.

Yes, I am ready for the Skynet Marshmallow Bumber Pots.

This could let me get downtown without relying on the T! (Since driving in Boston is awful and one cannot find parking in Somerville that does not require a permit.)

Once this is widely adopted, the parking issue will go away. It will take time, as the defined-by-car-ownership generations will mostly have to die out. But once auto-drive cars are a reality, individual car ownership will be WAY more expensive than using the auto-drive equivalent of ZipCars. The number of cars in individual hands will drop steadily as people adapt to the idea.

Vernor Vinge's _Rainbows End_ (2006) depicted such a future, and I've been waiting impatiently for it ever since, hoping I'll live to see it. Which I might.

On the other hand, expect to see people set their self-driving cars on 'circle the block', while they go in and shop for 2 hours. Curing a parking problem by creating a traffic and pollution problem.

For places like Maine, they could be a real boon. We have a large elderly population, terrible winter conditions, and sparsely populated towns. Getting into town is one of the big hurdles for 'age in place'.

Personally, I can't wait 'til I can have the CAR go buy beer.

"expect to see people set their self-driving cars on 'circle the block',"

That's a thing that could happen during the adoption phase, but won't make any sense once people mostly don't own cars at all. You get out of the ~AutoZipCar, the AZC router algorithm decides where to send it next (including 'park', if it's a low-traffic area). When done shopping, you say "pick me up", just like you'd call a cab. Assuming the program isn't an idiot, it'll have plenty of cars assigned to "shopping shuttle duty", so you get picked up in seconds.

"I can't wait 'til I can have the CAR go buy beer."

Seems like small-package delivery on demand will be a much more widespread thing once this system is in place. You call the beer place, they call the AutoCar, and send it to your place with the beer. The delivery charge will be included in the price, and probably comparable to the surcharge for getting a pizza delivery today.

That's a thing that could happen during the adoption phase, but won't make any sense once people mostly don't own cars at all.

More importantly, assuming the AutoCars are billed in a sensible way -- and the most sensible approach is by the minute/mile, very much like cabs -- then there is a strong economic disincentive to circle the block. (The cost per minute/mile must be much lower than current cab prices for the system to be attractive, but in principle it's the only correct way to avoid abuses. Getting the economics right is probably 5% technology, 5% business plan, and 90% getting the regulations right.)

Seems like small-package delivery on demand will be a much more widespread thing once this system is in place.

Yeah, that's a good point. It's the same general philosophy as Amazon's controversially mooted "delivery by drone" idea, but probably a *lot* less controversial once AutoCars exist. Indeed, if they get to the point where it is legal to have not just driverless but passengerless cars (which I expect to be an argument, but it's totally logical), then it is hard to imagine this *not* becoming a very common delivery approach for small items -- I expect it's a win/win mode of operation...

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