Investing in infrastucture and the automated car.

Warning: Some one spiked my kool-aid today so…
It’s been said that nothing gets the economy going like the next big thing. Cell phones, computers, etc.

With that in mind, I’m wondering if congress passed a budget of say 500 billion or so for automated transport. (AT)

We could hold a ‘summit’ (for lack of a better word) in which we got all the major car manufacturers, engineers from all relative fields and basically challenge them to make AT a reality. We could tell them we have all the funding you need to do stuff like refit all the roadways in the US with any kind of sensory equipment needed. We can send up Newer (better) GPS satellites and we can fit all the NON-smart cars with (Free) RFID tags to make it easier for smart cars to see.

I realize that there are still major gaps in technology that still need to be addressed before such a thing could come to fruition. But ya’ know what? When JFK gave his famous speech about “A man on the moon before the end of this decade”, we had only spent twenty minutes of manned spaceflight in space. What a ballsy statement for our president to make! I’m glad he did it though; the reasons are obvious.

So with that in mind, is it really so crazy to think with the right amount of funding we could make AT a reality in ten years time?

I’m thinking one of the biggest benefits would be to large corporations. I’m no business major but I got to believe that being able to move goods and services with such ease would have great appeal.

And then there would be a boom to the auto industry.

Infrastructure. As in, the supporting structure that underlies a system.

Aside from the cost which would vastly exceed $500 billion, even if it were only limited to rebuilding major highways, what precisely would be the impetus and advantage of doing this? The technology to field an automated driving system is already extant without a supporting infrastructure; Google has automated vans that rove around taking pictures for Google Maps. Of course, they rove at slow speeds (<25 mph) and stop and alert their home base if they get confused, but they don’t require an extensive infrastructure, and the current GPS is sufficiently accurate to located a quasi-stationary body to within a few meters, provided that there are enough satellites in view to refine a solution.

The same technology (with suitable fail-safe methods) could potentially be implemented for, say, cargo haulers…thereby putting hundreds of thousands of drivers, many of whom who have no other saleable skills, out of work. There is probably a modest cost savings to shipping companies in terms of labor cost but that there is no serious discussion of such a proposal, despite the trucking industry treating drivers like disposable resources, indicates that the savings aren’t there. I question that it would make distribution substantially more efficient, as the bottlenecks in current systems are at distribution and intermodal points in the chain, not drivers getting lost or dilatory.

I fail to see the perceived demand for an automated passenger car, and the large scale efficiencies in an automated system depend upon efficient mass control algorithms which anyone familiar with heuristic computing and neural networks will acknowledge as being difficult to implement in a robust fashion.

If the United States were going to invest untold billions of dollars in some kind of infrastructure renewal project, it would be better to develop and build a more robust electricity distribution grid rather than the dangerously unstable hodgepodge of semi-independent systems that currently co-exist. See JASON report “Impacts of Severe Space Weather on the Electric Grid” JSR-11-320, November 2011.


How would subsidizing the unemployment of thousands of truckers and increasing the deficit even more help, again? I mean I know it something like A) Increase taxes, B) Create automated road system (don’t bother me with details, damn it!), C) …, and D) Profit, but I’m missing the big picture where this helps America. Or anyone else, except maybe some shippers yearning to lay off his long or short haul truckers while getting the tax payer to pay for a system that might benefit them in a very vertical fashion.

Each one would want to make THEIR design the de facto standard to get a leg up on the competition. Telling them you have all the funding needed is like giving them a license to steal from you, pad their bill and game the system. It’s a Bad Idea™.

Is your idea that $500 billion would be seed money to develop such a system, or would your expectation be to produce a design and deploy (and maintain?) such a system for that figure? If the former, then make sure you buy a few cases of KY first. If the later, then put down the doobie and walk slowly away from the keyboard. :stuck_out_tongue:

Oh, I’m pretty sure we could do it. DARPA has developed a lot of this technology already, though it’s not ready for prime time from what I understand. But I’m not seeing the benefit here, to be honest. It would cost a hell of a lot more than $500 billion (and that’s capital costs…gods know what it would take to maintain such a system, if you are talking about having it on, say, all major freeways and large cities), and I’m not seeing us getting a real return on our collective investment. If you want to spend that kind of scratch on something, then my vote would be space exploration and exploitation technology. Set up a series of increasingly difficult but lucrative X-Prizes and do what NASA is already doing, which is outsourcing their orbiter systems to private industry to develop based on their requirements, instead of trying to design, develop and build their own system. Let’s put a man (and a woman) on Mars within this decade, and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are freaking cool, and it’s what a great nation like ours SHOULD do.

Yeah, it could probably happen in 10 years, assuming you could talk the tax payers into expending the huge amount of money and resources to make it work for the pretty nominal gains you’d get for having such a system. My WAG is your $500 billion a year for 10 years would probably buy just about anything you wanted to do (hell, you might be able to build a space elevator for that kind of scratch…well, maybe if you gave it 20 years instead ;)). The trick would be trying to get the tax payers to fund something like this for 10 years. :dubious:!!

Again…:dubious: Why do you think it would be a boom to the auto industry?


All the people who can’t drive would buy a car?

They already have. Evidence is the people driving up and down our street all day.

Who says we need some huge infrastructure program? It’s already happening, with the needed “infrastructure” in the car.

I like the idea of my car driving itself, but don’t think we need a huge project to get there. It will come in phases, just like many other technologies.

Personally, I would love a car that could just handle interstate driving. And I wouldn’t mind if I had to drive in the city, as long as I could put the damn thing on “automatic” as I’m making the snoozefest drive between San Antonio and Houston, or Atlanta and everywhere.

Yup, me racked out in a sleeping bag made out of air bags, napping across Wyoming and Western Nebraska.

Precisely. It is dreams like this which create progress. :smiley:

But I don’t think we need a $500 billion “Manhattan Project” to get there.

This could be a great boon for the economy. Automated cars and trucks mean that companies would not have to waste money on trucks parked while their drivers sleep. They could be programmed to be driven at times where traffic is less, making all cars move faster. They could be driven in a way that saves gas. The cars would never drive drunk, sleepy, or while texting which could dramatically reduce the number of accidents.
However, if the benefits to automated cars are so great then there is no reason to use taxpayer money to achieve them and if they are not as good as I think then it would just be a waste of taxpayer money. Plus as soon as government gets involved, so does politics. You would have companies chosen based on who has the most influence in congress and not the best system. Rural states would have disproportionate influence because of their overrepresentation in the Senate.
What government needs to do is to clarify regulations refarding automated vehicles and liabilities in the case of accidents.

Yup, this is how we get there.

Many cars already have some automation, be it automatic braking or parking assist. Soon this technology will get approved for something like a more automatic cruise control for highway driving which I imagine will eventually turn into something more like an autopilot.

Who commutes everyday and doesn’t dream of a “drive me to the office” button so you can read the newspaper or surf the web (or, God forbid, answer work e-mails) on the way to work?

I doubt that the technology is ready for prime time, and throwing a hunk of money at it in the hope of making it ready would be a gamble at best.

That said, XT’s “unemployed drivers” argument is a classic example of the broken window fallacy (as can be seen more easily by a thought experiment: suppose autodriving cars already existed and someone proposed banning them to stimulate employment).

It’s nothing like the broken window fallacy. In the broken window fallacy, deliberate destruction is caused on the theory that by smashing lots of windows you’ll stimulate growth in the window making industry and thus, magically, benefit all of society. Here we are talking about a government program funded by taxes that would certainly put some non-zero number of long haul or short haul drivers out of business. I wasn’t commenting on whether this would be a net gain for society or a net loss (I have no idea…I’d need to see more details in how it would work and what the actual costs would be), but we aren’t talking about destroying things in the expectation that it will somehow benefit society, unless you want to make the case that it’s the taxes that will be ‘destroyed’ (i.e. wasted) and that it won’t be a new benefit to society in the end…in which case, you should probably be talking to the OP about the fallacy. :stuck_out_tongue:


I fully believe we’ll have automated cars within 50 years, and I don’t believe it requires a real infrastructure. The smarts and ability will be based on the cars themselves, with potential traffic efficiency gains to be made by linkage to some sort of traffic control network in high traffic areas (that’s the part that will probably come latest and require the most advances.)

I’ve read that a Carnegie Mellon team was able to get a GMC vehicle driven by a computer that had better response time, handling, and etc than an average human driver.

However I’d expect this technology to come out very, very slowly. First State governments have to approve automated driving on their roads (Nevada just did on a limited scale.) I imagine the first iterations will only be seen in expensive luxury vehicles, and further I imagine there will be requirements that the driver remains alert and at the wheel at all times to handle anything that might come up.

It’ll be a long time before any DMV signs off on letting automated cars on their roads and allows the driver to legally sleep in the back seat.

I have a friend who works for a major train company in their IT department, he said that they could theoretically run all of their trains automated these days but that he doubts it will ever happen because society isn’t comfortable with big trains rolling around with no humans on them to control them when necessary. For that reason I seriously doubt that we’ll see tractor trailers going around driverless anytime soon, the driver’s job will just transition into “paid monitor” meaning they’re in the cab ready to act if they need to, but they’re just paid to physically be present most of the time.

I’ve been a fan of the opposite approach: Personal Rapid Transit. Instead of automating cars on existing roads, scale down trains to the point that they are essentially cars. Then with things already on rails, the “automating” part is a lot easier.

You’d have to run rails everywhere, or it wouldn’t be as flexible a system and you’d still need cars.


Certainly that would be the big disadvantage, how severe it is depending on the layout of the area it’s in. But running rails out to within walking distance of everyone is a significantly smaller problem than running rails out to every door.

PRT essentially looks at the same problem and tries to fix it with a “trains are already easy to automate, so let’s make them more flexible” instead of “cars are already really flexible, so let’s make them automated”.

I don’t think the OP’s idea is as daft as some of the posters above seem to suggest.

Firstly, yeah, the technology right now is moving at a fair clip but progress towards an automated network remains slow because so many things need to come together. Sensors on the road definitely makes things an awful lot simpler and safer, as well as the highways agency ensuring all new roads meet some kind of automated car approved standard. The legal framework needs to be there. A standard for approving the AI let alone public awareness and manufacturers’ backing etc.

I think government definitely needs to be involved, it’s just whether it’s at the invest $500 billion level that is the question.

Secondly, it’s a false economy to believe that automating X jobs simply puts X people out of work. Automating things grows the economy. It’s a good thing that we don’t need to pay people stand at intersections with red and green flags.
And in this case, it’s much more than just the benefit of not needing to pay some guy: an automated network can run much faster, with far fewer traffic jams and far fewer accidents.

Finally, yeah consumers will eventually see the benefits. I get as much of a hard-on from driving as the next man, but give me the chance to play skyrim during the long commute to and from work? Sold.

I would imagine a hybrid version of this, where people would have their personal cars, which would drive on roads to a highway where a number of them would link together to form a single convoy that would speed down the road at 100 miles per hour each car drafting on the cars in front of it. Then exiting when they need to.

The hardest part of getting putting automated cars in place I think will be overcoming the publics distrust of technology. Even if automated cars result in 90% fewer accidents than manual cars, every one of those accidents will have people saying it wouldn’t have happened if the car was operated by a person.

I’ve got one of them. It’s called a bus driver.