Self-driving vehicles

Government Roadblock: Feds Should Just Get Out of the Way of Self-Driving Vehicles

"All government needs to do for the next transportation revolution [is to] get out of the road."

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robonomics

"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. In contrast, Foxx's is a costly way of doing more harm than good.

Here's hoping that gridlock in Congress will derail this proposal.

O'Toole's article is well worth your attention, especially including his tart observations about the Obama administration's back-to-the-future embrace of 19th century transportation technologies such as trains and trolleys.

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  1. The Google government is notably handy but no less evil than the one that pretends to be.

    1. Agile Cyborg, more than ever, we need your guidance in navigating the narrowing lanes of fresh freedom water constantly threatened by the corrosive currents of Caesar’s cum.

  2. Government learned its lesson when it didn’t get in the way of the tech boom in the late nineties. It won’t let the next big thing get away without heavy regulation and zealous application of the precautionary principle, that’s for sure.

  3. Well, of course the government’s model is centered on ROADZ!!1eleventy!! A road-based system would necessitate huge amounts of money and resources be devoted to the government to put this infrastructure in place. And, of course, the government’s “strategic choices” about how to implement this could give them unprecedented measures of control.

    1. ROADZ are gauche, Billy. The future don’t need no goddamn ROADZ!

      1. ROADZ? Where we’re going, we don’t need ROADZ.

        1. …Somalia? It is mostly coastline, I guess.

  4. Thus, Foxx’s plan would lock us into a system that will be obsolete long before it is fully implemented.

    That’s what government does.

    1. Like passenger rail?

    2. Which anyone who has ever worked on a government program can attest. I still wake up sometimes in a cold sweat after nightmares about some of the programs I’ve worked on.

      1. My experience is to wake up to LMAO…clowns couldn’t find their asses with both hand and a map…

  5. Yes, and that’s going to happen because we know that what government always does is to get out of the way, and that libertarian moment is real.

  6. Hard to imagine that Mr. Bailey doesn’t know this, but when government sees a development like this that will ultimately involve trillions of dollars, our friends in Washington see yet another opportunity to bilk the system. Like so many other industries, players in self driving cars will be forced to jump through government hoops and also “ante up” for privilege of participating. Our government is a criminal enterprise that never misses a change to enrich itself.

    1. They just want to wet their beak.

      1. dip their wick, ink their pen, fuck us up the ass?

  7. Giving out prizes is a quite a bit different from “investing” in technologies.

    Yes indeed it is. “Here’s the goal, find the best way to get there” is how a free market works. You figure out a better way than your competitors, you win a big bag of money. There are plenty of business books written on this hands-off style of management. Tell your employees where you want to go, not how to get there. Unleash their creativity in problem-solving. And who knows? Maybe one of them may figure out where you want to go might not be the place to go to get what you want, maybe there’s a better place you should be going.

    (Although I suspect that a big part of the government drive for technology-enhanced travel has something to do with the idea that technology can be designed with backdoor access. Government doesn’t want to enhance your freedom to travel, government wants an over-ride switch on your freedom to travel.)

    1. Dammit.

      Insert after “maybe there’s a better place you should be going”:

      But if the free market already works by handing out prizes to those who figure out the best way to get where we want to go, why the hell do we need goverment – other than, duh, obviously to tell us where we should want to go and beating us with a stick to make sure we want what they want, or at least pretend to.

    2. I was listening to some podcast recently where someone said that the problem with renewable fuels is that there is no way for anyone who invented one to recoup their money on it in their lifetime because they’d have to spend so much to build new infrastructure to support it. (Also the evul fossil fuels industries would pay you for your invention and then bury it to preserve their profits)

      1. Also the evul fossil fuels industries would pay you for your invention and then bury it to preserve their profits

        I love seeing this brain-dead argument. Somewhere in the evil lair of the oil companies, there exist all of these miracle solutions. Yet for some reason the blindly profit-minded companies don’t bring them to market.

        … maybe they aren’t miracle solutions after all…

        1. Do you know what a 200 mpg carburetor would do to the big oil company’s profits ?! Of course they bought the rights just to prevent it. There’s no other explanation.

          1. … in a country where people drive more when gas is cheaper.

            Not to mention that car companies are paying multi-billion dollar fines for being unable to meet the ridiculous fuel economy and pollution standards “voluntarily” established by the EPA.

            But somewhere there is (yet another) engineering and/or physics class being spoonfed this same stupid lie so that it will forever live on.

            1. None of my engineering/physics profs ever said anything that stupid.

              1. I had a physics professor that did, but he was a communist. Really. He taught a seminar about how physics demonstrated communism or some such nonsense. I only had him for general relativity and sometimes he would veer off into weird places.

  8. Well, since it’s odds-on that the government will track your travels in the driverless car, they may as well be involved in making sure the reporting system gets designed properly.

    1. What do you think things like OnStar and EZPass are for?

      1. Why do you think I have neither one?

        1. It’s only a matter of time before the feds require all new vehicles have them.

        2. If they don’t already. Like the backup cameras.

          1. Bought a car last year with the backup camera, and the salesman proudly told us cameras were going to be mandatory in the future because 300 kids a year are run over in their own driveway (no idea if that’s correct). I calmly told him my mom had that covered 40 years ago with common sense. She wouldn’t back out of the garage unless we kids were all in her sight. He had nothing; I had literally rendered a car salesman speechless.

            1. I had literally rendered a car salesman speechless.

              Now if only you could find a way to render politicians and lawyers speechless too…

            2. I’ve done that as well, but I used a large caliber pistol…

      2. EZPass saves time and money – fewer tollbooth op…never mind…

    2. …they may as well be involved in making sure the reporting system gets designed properly.

      And by “properly” you mean a complete clusterfuck with at least 100 security vulnerabilities so that not only will our government know where you’ve been, but every other government on the planet, Anonymous, and any other hacker who wants to.

      Oh, and the government will naturally also give itself the ability to shut down any car at anytime. Of course, they’ll sell this as a “safety feature” so that if someone steals your car or kidnaps your kids (WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF TEH CHILDRENZ?!) they’ll be able to stop them. The fact that they can also use it to ration the amount of driving you’re allowed to do (in the name of fighting global warming, natch) is just a nice bonus.

      “Sorry, citizen, but you’ve exceeded your allotted mileage for this month. No more driving for you until next month. If you want to avoid these problem in the future, might I suggest you buy a Tesla, since electric cars don’t have a mileage limit. Good day.”

      1. except for the self limiting battery charge, you can go as far a you want in 15 minute increments interrupted by 20 minute charging times and (despite the ads) an alarmingly slow speed as mandated by the gummint)

        1. Electric cars are still trying to overcome the same hurdles that caused them to lose to internal combustion engines a century ago. They are better, but so are IC engines.

          But the breakthrough that will cause electric to leapfrog gas and diesel is just around the corner. /sarc

  9. What about us brain-dead slobs?

    1. you’ll be given cushy jobs!

    2. You’ll all be named Beverly.

  10. I wonder,here in Ohio the state uses traffic fines for lots of ‘revenue’. What are they going to do to replace that money? I’m certain they will think of something. The state patrol is always asking for more laws and ‘tools’ ‘ to make their job ‘easier’.

    1. User fees. Just as you pay a fee for registering your car which pays for the cost of collecting the fee to register your car, you’ll pay a fee to cover the cost of collecting the fee for using the roads as well. It’s just that the cost of collecting the fee to cover the the cost of collecting the fee for using the roads is several orders of magnitude higher.

    2. More to the point, what will they do with all those fine civil servants driving around with no one to ticket? Police pensions don’t just replenish their own revenues. Police unions and their traffic court judge cousins are probably sweating bullets over the idea of fewer traffic tickets.

      1. Civil asset forfeiture ? I mean, can you prove your driverless car Wasn’t used in a drug deal ?

  11. They are “investing” so that when self-driving cars become a thing, liberals can say government invented it.

    1. They are investing in it because greedy capitalists who only care for a profits are too stupid to see the massive profit potential.

      1. That comment is literally dripping with sarcasm.

        1. are you sure that’s sarcasm it’s dripping with???

  12. 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… STIMULUS!!!1!!! … INFRASTRUCTURE!!!1!!!!! … MULTIPLIER EFFECT!!!!1!!!111!!!!!

    WHY DO YOU HATEZ TEH EKONOMEE!!!!11!!!!!111!!!!!

  13. SHUT UP AND GIVE ME MY SOLAR ROADS!!!

    1. wind powered cars…haza

      1. or is that HAZZAH? I can never keep that straight

    2. In 2009, Solar Roadways received a $100,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the Department of Transportation (DOT) for Phase I to determine the feasibility of the proposed project.[5] In 2011, Solar Roadways received $750,000 SBIR grant from the DOT for Phase II to develop and build a solar parking lot…

      From SBIR grant money, Solar Roadways has built a 12-by-36-foot (3.7 by 11.0 m) parking lot…

      So, $850,000 dollars so far to build a 12 x 36 foot parking lot. Something tells that the cost to build, install, and maintain this is far more than the cost to build, install, and maintain asphalt.

      But hey, that’s what giant bags of taxpayer money are for, amiright!!!!

      1. If I understand their concept is that the parking lot itself is a solar panel you can drive on.
        Wouldn’t the solar panels less effective if you, you know, park a bunch of cars on it and block the sun ?

        1. Good point, I hadn’t even thought of that, but yes.

  14. 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.

    Hey, if it causes my commute to require exosuits, jet packs, drones, and various elements of parkour a la Assassin’s Creed, Infamous, Titanfall, Prince Of Persia, COD:AW, etc., etc. what’s the down side?

  15. -U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx last week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

    Perhaps his business cards should read, “Highwayman”.

  16. When I write the constitution for the second American Republic, there will be an article specifying any government official who calls spending an “investment” will be drawn and quartered and the pieces put in jail.

    1. any government official who calls spending an “investment” will be drawn and quartered and the pieces put in jail head put on a stake in front of the capital building, and the pieces sent to the various state capitals as a warning.

      FTFY.

  17. Government Roadblock: Feds Should Just Get Out of the Way of Self-Driving Vehicles

    The problem is, can we get out of the way of self-driving terminators vehicles?

  18. I want skip over self driving cars and go right to self flying cars.

    Then I don’t need no stinking roadz!

  19. As long as those hackable computer-operated monstrosities get out of my way.

    They have a long way to go to reach the accident-free miles I have.

    Until long after that – they need to stay off-road – preferably forever.

  20. DoT will succumb to the pressure of the Teamsters, and others, to ensure that “good union jobs” are not endangered by the conversion of “over-the-road” hauling to autonomous vehicles.
    ….If it saves the life of just one child…

  21. Surveillance can be done by the government or by corporations, and either way it threatens our freedom. What we need are laws to ensure that self-drive taxi services can be used anonymously, just like today’s taxis with human drivers.

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