Hail a Robot

By Lloyd Graff

I am fascinated by changes coming in staid old automotive land.

The battery operated car business is moving rapidly. Tesla may be surpassed by BMW or GM in the next few years, but Tesla may still be the big winner with its mega battery factory in Nevada, which will push the price down significantly on this platform. Never underestimate Elon Musk. Batteries are the game changer in the electric car business. The car is secondary for making money.

Other truly interesting developments include the advancement of self-driving car technology and the rise of Uber, the automated car service that is quickly replacing taxis and changing many people’s driving habits, particularly those of younger urban folk.

Several companies are predicting a viable self-driving car in three years. Certainly there will be regulatory issues to navigate and lawyers to neutralize, but the trend is clear. In some places in this country or elsewhere the autonomous car will likely be driving people around in five years or less.

Now word comes out that Google, which is at the forefront of development of the self-driving car and also a major backer of Uber, is considering competing with Uber. The Uber founders are furious and scared.

While Uber has a big first mover advantage in the automated car service business, Google could cut the wheels out from under it with its autonomous car. Google already comes into the race with elite searching and mapping software. Imagine the price advantage Google could have over Uber with a driverless fleet hailed by a Google App. This may sound like it’s out of the Jetsons, but it is likely within reach soon. It could revolutionize travel, particularly in cities where Uber is growing phenomenally at the moment.

Google currently has $64 billion in cash on its books, but it knows the search business which provides most of its profit can’t last forever. Some people see that business as threatened by the growing number of mobile apps that take away opportunities for search ads on mobile devices. So Google keeps buying companies and developing new products like Google Glass, looking for a home run to augment search. It looks like urban transportation has the potential to be a game changing business of major magnitude. Uber is now starting its own research into driverless cars by backing a team at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, but they are 10 laps behind Google. And, Google, an early investor in Uber, with its own person on the Uber board of directors, knows a tremendous amount about Uber’s operation.

From the viewpoint of the people in the machining world, the driverless car could be a net plus. A lot of old cars will be scrapped. The urban market for vehicles will expand. Rail traffic may be reduced. The pickup truck and SUV market will probably not be disrupted in the short run. I can easily imagine a driverless garbage truck with computer chips in garbage cans and dumpsters.

One reason why car sales are running at close to 17 million a year in the U.S. is the appeal of new technology. Honda’s clever Super Bowl ad with synchronized cars with rear cameras backing into parking spaces highlighted the appeal of new stuff for auto buyers. Scrap rates right now are relatively low as people are making their cars last longer than in the past, but high-tech cars are prompting increased sales despite that.

I believe the autonomous car will give car sales a big shot in the arm. I know I will be an early adopter.

Question: Do you want a driverless car?

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18 thoughts on “Hail a Robot

  1. Mark Rohlfs

    Yes, I will buy one too. We all need them because who isn’t calling, texting and even trying to search the web while driving. Often I think: I really need this car to drive itself right now.

  2. Jack

    Do I want a driverless car. NO
    There are already plenty of driverless cars on the road.
    I meet them everything day, playing with their phone instead of driving their car.

  3. TJB

    I don’t really want one yet as I really enjoy driving but I can think of a long list of folks I wish had a self driving car!

  4. Chuck

    Lloyd, you forgot one benefactor of the autonomous automobile, the bar business! No longer a need for a DD and even those with a DD will be more inclined to throw a few extra back. Bar hopping will take on a whole new meaning, especially in the larger cities. However this might also put a dent in Police revenues, being there won’t be the need for speeding tickets, license checks, drunk driving checkpoints, etc. Heck, we won’t even need car insurance, that would be fantastic!!!

    I think you’ve talked me into it!

  5. Michael Eisenwasser

    I haven’t taken a regular taxi in over a year, Uber is better in every way imaginable. If Uber goes driverless I would be all for it, although I do like chatting with the drivers. I expect driverless cars are inevitable. One thing to consider is traffic. If most cars are driverless they would be able to coordinate routes and traffic would be dramatically reduced. You wouldn’t have to wait for that guy a mile up to move, and then the car behind him to move in response, etc until it reaches you. They would just all move at once. But… I love driving and would rather be behind the wheel than own a driverless car any day. Driverless Uber-style transit is where it’ll explode initially probably, especially in congested cities.

  6. Val Zanchuk

    I think the real advantage to driverless cars is traffic management in urban areas. Much like scheduling production in a manufacturing company, the smoothest flow of traffic and reduced congestion will come from coordinated control of the traffic flow, not from each autonomous car going its own way. Put in your destination, plug into the traffic control network, and go to sleep or read. No road rage, no horns, no fender benders. Check out Kiva robots on YouTube and you’ll see traffic management in action. However, a mix of self drive and coordinated driverless in that enviroment could be more difficult to manage, with too many random variables. With each driverless making its own data driven decisions on route, speed, etc. instead of coordinated control, it could still be much better than our current situation.

  7. Mike

    Not until or unless all cars are driverless. I am less worried about that a driverless vehicle would do than I am about what other drivers would do. I would like to see some real world situations demonstrated where a reasonably competent driver might avoid a collision and how a driverless vehicle would respond in the same situation. Happy photo op shots of people riding down a mostly empty tree lined streets on a bright sunny day doesn’t inspire confidence. Showing what a driverless vehicle with the clear right of way does when faced with a bad driver doing something stupid would be much more interesting.

  8. Erik

    Not me. I like driving too much. I am all for the technology for urban areas, and I think it would be an absolute home run for the elderly and handicapped. To be able to safely travel without relying on someone else would be incredibly liberating for them.

    And people who don’t like to drive, or are bad at it, would probably want this technology. Which would be great for those of us who do like to drive.

    I jumped into the Electric Car experience in October, and leased a BMW i3. After a few months in the quirky little thing, I have to say, electric power is nice. It’s also nice to travel the 50 or so miles I drive a day for a couple of cents.

    Bring on the high tech.

  9. don

    We won’t have a choice. Just as CNC equipment has replaced manual machines, Robots will replace most of our other work. When you have 15 minutes go to youtube.com and search for “Humans need not apply”. It is a very thought provoking video.

  10. Roy

    A driverless car would be a great solution for the senior citizens who have lost their cognitive and reactive capabilities.

  11. Bryan

    NO, I do not want a driver less car at this time. I like driving. I think there is far more development needed before they are safe for all road use applications. I can see driver less taxi cabs in large metropolitan areas as being the first viable use. Imagine, no employee needed to drive the cab. No workman’s comp if they get beaten, robbed, or even killed. I can see the days of the New York City cabbie waning. I can see them used in this application in the next 3-5 years.

  12. Pete

    I don’t see the future of autonomous cars mixing well with human-driven cars (too many bad, distracted drivers) but an autonomous car system (much like bus lines and trolley lines) with dedicated highways for only autonomous vehicles – that may work in the not so distant future. Sort of like the HOV lanes in many cities, but with the option to exit the autonomous system (lanes) and manually complete your journey.

  13. Brian

    Imagine a driverless RV. Could you still get a DUI?
    I am unable to drive for the next four weeks after hip replacement. I’d rather have a driverless car to run me around than the missus!

  14. Jim Bradshaw

    It will be great when all the cars will start moving when the light turns green. One of my pet peeves are those people who sit and act like it’s some fricking huge shock when the driver ahead starts moving after the light turns green. WTF are they thinking. I just want to shout it’s the pedal on the right d***wad. Hit the fricking gas.


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