Urban Velo

Let the Robots Take the Wheel

It is no longer a matter of “if”, but “when”. According to this Wired article, manufacturers and federal regulatory commissions are expecting vehicles that are, in part, self-controlling to hit the market in two years. TWO. YEARS. Humanity is finally catching up with our dreams to live in a Jetson’s-like world.

Please, bear with these posts about self-driving cars, because I think they are important to us as cyclists. Personally, I’m about to sell my car off and revert back to bike only living…again, and so the efforts to change automobile transportation seem even MORE important to me now. We, as cyclists, know better than most that people SUCK at driving, to tragic ends, so any technology that takes the operation out of human hands and puts it into a predictable and pre-established technology gives me great hope for the safety of more vulnerable (that’s us) road users. Although I’m often skeptical of rapid technological advances, I think we need this right now, especially with the rapid advance of social media technology and the impetus for drivers to TEXT ALL THE TIME. I’m now more afraid of texting drivers than I am drunk drivers, because I see them ALL THE TIME, and the LAST way I want to die is from some inattentative driver telling the world what they just had for lunch.

As the article details, manufacturers are experimenting with various levels of self-driving cars where drivers have more and less interaction with the vehicle. The TOTALLY automated car is still a ways off and poses the greatest legal/moral challenges, but cars that slowly take away the decision making and safety corrections of the driver are closer and closer to implementation. I know people freak out over the loss of human control to robotic control, but considering how inherently destructive car operation is, the support of this self-driving technology is a risk I’m willing to take.

Please, discuss.

About Scott Spitz

Commuting, touring, kid hauling, couriering, mechanic work, sales, advocacy, fixed, free—Scott has had his hands in it all over the years.

View all posts by Scott Spitz →


  1. TomOctober 26, 2012 at 10:50 am

    I just read about drones spontaneously starting up with no human intervention, and I worry about the first software crash or failing sensor on a self-driving car and what that means for any nearby cyclist.

  2. scottOctober 26, 2012 at 11:31 am

    Fair enough Tom, but what is the ratio of a failing sensor in a self-driving car to failed judgement of operator in a traditional car? I’d put my trust in sharing the road with controlled vehicles over subjective human operation.

  3. James SOctober 26, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    It’s not going to happen in any meaningful numbers. The economy is going to continue its death spiral (for a lot of reasons – peak oil, crushing debt, demographic transition, environmental destruction, etc.) and the few people who buy new cars will not want to spend more money for this technology. So assuming they can even work out all the technical problems as well as the liability issues, I predict that only an insignificant percentage of cars will ever be able to drive themselves. Might as well wait for your personal jetpack.

  4. TomOctober 26, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    That’s a good question. Given our legal system and liability concerns, I suspect that testing for self-driving cars will be extremely rigorous, so your trust may be well placed. I can see it working on interstates a lot sooner than in residential areas, however.

  5. DanOctober 26, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    You’re going to see much wailing and moaning, much “the sky is falling” craziness in the years to come. Professional drivers (Teamsters, taxi drivers, bus drivers) will oppose this due to loss of jobs (that were never good to begin with). Perhaps our best bet is the Baby Boomers — an aging population that is kinda technically savvy and doesn’t want to be put in the old folks home…imagine Grandma and Grandpa, both 97 years old, driving to see the grand-kids! That’s the spin we need on this — freedom, fewer accidents, etc.

  6. Scott NOctober 26, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    Worst. Thing. Ever.

  7. kristinOctober 26, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    Because investing all of this money in faster, cleaner, better public transit just doesn’t make as much sense as something that lets people be lazier, fatter and dumber.

  8. ScottOctober 27, 2012 at 5:55 am

    Kristin, for the sake of argument how does faster, cleaner, better public transit make people not lazier, fatter, and dumber. Public transit is automated transportation, just like these cars. That argument just doesn’t work.

  9. GregOctober 27, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    Scott, having relied on mass transit in Tokyo, I can say I have never done more walking since. Mass transit does not deliver you right to your garage nor does it take you through the drive-thru at your favorite burger bucket. It forces you to plan your day. You can’t just come and go willy nilly burning gas all the while.

  10. JoelOctober 27, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    I can’t wait for this. I drive once a month and hate it; I just see ways to die all around me. Self-driving cars could be a great compromise for people who won’t give up the personal freedom of having their own automobile. If the cars are self-driving than surely they could be networked to allow them to communicate and to form long, tight pace lines for greatly increased fuel efficiency and speed.

  11. kristinOctober 29, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    Thanks Greg. MTE.

  12. EricOctober 29, 2012 at 9:08 pm

    As stated above, we are far from fully automated cars but a combo of human and robot awareness will make driving safer, especially when cars can communicate with each other to create efficient traffic flow, which is ideal on a freeway. As for cycling in the city, we need our own space not shared space with cars, but a car with sensors to warn the driver of an “obstacle” is better than a car w/o sensors that veers into the bike lane while the driver digs for a dropped Cheeto. We are ALWAYS going to be a carcentric culture, if we can decrease fatalities for peds and bikes by making cars “smart” then lets do it.

  13. BorisNovember 4, 2012 at 9:26 am

    I might be a pessimist about this… Maybe the robotic car would work better without unpredictable cyclists on the road. Ergo, cycling will be banned on the roads, where the man wants to put robotic cars.

    Another thought: any car, or set of cars, that can be programmed to avoid collision, can also be hacked to seek collision.

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