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Autonomous vehicles aren't quite here yet. Despite this the EU, the UK and other governments are investing a lot of R&D into autonomous vehicles.

I wonder what effect this will have on trail travel.

If I can hail a self driving car to pick me up from my front door in Leeds, and if it will ferry me to my destination in Liverpool or London, why would I bother walking to the station to get the train?
 

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Autonomous vehicles aren't quite here yet. Despite this the EU, the UK and other governments are investing a lot of R&D into autonomous vehicles.

I wonder what effect this will have on trail travel.

If I can hail a self driving car to pick me up from my front door in Leeds, and if it will ferry me to my destination in Liverpool or London, why would I bother walking to the station to get the train?
The logistics would be unfeasibly difficult - how would you know a vehicle was going to be available?

What if the last user's child was sick in it? If everyone used them instead of mass travel, think of the congestion. Would people/children deliberately stand in the road ahead of it? What about a cardboard box blown into the road? Would it signal another driver could cut across it when in a queue, and the turning vehicle was blocking traffic the other way? And would it have power for long distances anyway?
 

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Autonomous vehicles aren't quite here yet. Despite this the EU, the UK and other governments are investing a lot of R&D into autonomous vehicles.

I wonder what effect this will have on trail travel.

If I can hail a self driving car to pick me up from my front door in Leeds, and if it will ferry me to my destination in Liverpool or London, why would I bother walking to the station to get the train?
Because it will be a lot quicker, and less prone to disruption, if you hail your self-driving car to take you to the station; catch a high speed train; and then take another self-drive car once you arrive at your destination city.

Which is how most people who could afford to, travelled on business before WWII; your chauffeur dropped you at your local station; then first class into town, then a taxi.

It is possible that we will see developing a network of self-driving coaches using dedicated platoon lanes along motorways (shared with HGVs). But again you would need a local self-driving hire service to get to the motorway. I very much doubt whether individual self drive hire cars will be allowed in platoon lanes; but perhaps they will. Otherwise, I cannot see self-drive from city to city - or between city to rural areas - ever being economic.
 

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I am not sure autonomous vehicles will make any differences to traffic; rush hour traffic is mostly people in their own car using up a lot of road space. If person has an autonomous car or not they are still going to use the same space and be as inclined or not to share it. Thus the traffic will remain as busy and the inclination to use the train the same.

Where I see a difference is the car on demand market. So you call a car when you need it, thus there are less cars on drives and vehicles are used far more intensively. The total cars reduce but the amount on the road remain the same. But again this will not impact on public transport as I can not see the price reducing or congestion changing.

With regard to Jon's points the technical issues are just technical. Cardboard boxes or other litter can be discerned with IR. Gaming cars by standing in the road is as feasible with manually driven cars; both instances involve the car stopping and the occupants getting the kids to sod off. Where areas are marked with paint to indicate other drivers need to be let across then the vehicles have to obey.

Given how little people pay attention (thinking of you Mrs Audi driver on the M25 using her pink iphone SE who was using both hands on her phone and almost knocked me off this morning) I can not wait for these vehicles to become mainstream. Currently a lot of car drivers consider their time driving wasted and thus are happy to email and do paper work while driving.
 

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Can't see it will make any real difference to long-distance journeys, the train will still be much faster and more comfortable. And if anything autonomous cars may increase road congestion at peak periods because they will be programmed to keep a safe distance apart.

Biggest impact IMHO will be locally, with taxi drivers facing extinction. On demand autonomous cars may make late night local travel by public transport less appealing when the roads are clear and journey times are highly predictable. This would have an impact on usage of local trains and on buses. However the owners of the vehicles still need to make a profit, the only difference to an existing taxi is that the human drivers are eliminated (allowing costs to fall significantly).
 

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The logistics would be unfeasibly difficult - how would you know a vehicle was going to be available?

What if the last user's child was sick in it? If everyone used them instead of mass travel, think of the congestion. Would people/children deliberately stand in the road ahead of it? What about a cardboard box blown into the road? Would it signal another driver could cut across it when in a queue, and the turning vehicle was blocking traffic the other way? And would it have power for long distances anyway?
Some thoughts I posted on another board; but maybe relevent here.

My view is that tricky issue with driverless technology will be whether the same roadspace can be shared by driven and driverless vehicles; since the drivers of the driven vehicles - especiall in the case of Uber-type cars - may tend systematically to exploit the safety features of driverless cars to assert priority at road junctions. If so, riding in a driverless car would consist of a series of emergency stops; as manually-driven cars continually pull out of side roads, overtake and cut in, turn right across the traffic stream, and do U turns in the middle of the road. Much urban driving is 'give-and-take'; but having vehicles pre-progarmmed only to 'give' may well result in counterpart manual drivers adopting n 'only take' approach when in the presence of a driverless vehicle. Which in turn implies more rigorous enforcement of road traffic laws; or otherwise simply banning uber cars altogether from urban areas where driverless taxi services have been implemented. In my view, these issues would be much less problematic if only bus services are driverless. Designated bus routes can be supervised throughout with CCYV; so that dangerous behaviours from manual drivers can be detected and punished.

All of which is a special case of the general principles for the economic and functionality of driverless vehicles. Much of the more extravagant claims of proponents of driverless technology rest on confusing these underlying principles.

Commentators talk about the five stages of autonomous functions in road vehicles (though confusingly there are actually six).

stage 0: the standard car with no specialised autonomous functions;

stage 1: autonomy in particular individual processes or actions; e.g. cruise control, ABS braking, parking sensors;

stage 2: autonomous capability for complete functions involving multiple processes; e.g automatic parking, automatic emergency stopping;

stage 3: fully autonomous, hands-off capability for most trips in their entirety; but requiring manual control as a continuous back-up for occasions that the autonomous control technology is incapable of dealing with.

stage 4: fully autonomous, hands-off capability for the entirety of every trip within the 'Operational Design Domain' of the technology. Maybe; only along certain roads; only in the absence of severe weather; only as directed by permanent road signs and signals (hence lacking the capability of responding to contrary verbal instructions from a designated police officer or traffic official; with the necessary additional capability of distinguishing such designated persons from bystanders)

stage 5: fully autonomous, hands-off capabilty for any trip within the region of coverage; in all domains and in all circumstances where a manual control vehicle would be capable of functioning. At stage 5 - and only at stage 5 - driverless vehicles are produced without manual controls, even for backup.

The inescapable factor determining the economics and potential of driverless technology, is that while the big step-up in functioning is from stage 3 to stage 4; the big step-up in technology and cost is from stage 4 to stage 5. Most commentators now accept that stage 3 functioning is so potentially hazardous that it is likely to be legally precluded. A stage 3 'driverless' technology that hands itself back to manual control at exactly the moment when driving attention and skill is most needed, is likely worse than useless. But in technological terms; stage 4 operation is simply stage 3 operation with all the bugs removed; and the predictable hazards fully accommodated in advance. It is universally agreed that almost no features of stage 4 technology could be re-used for stage 5 operation. Consequently, almost all current 'autonomous vehicle' investment programmes are only directed to achieve stage 4 funtioning; with the unspoken assumption that stage 5 will be unachievable (or if not, will be legally inhibited; so that those investiing in stage 4 technology will be protected from losing their investment).

But the key to stage 4 is the prior identification of the 'Operational Design Domain'. In practice this will mean that only some roads on the network will be legally capable of driverless operation; your driverless taxi will take you from door to door along these roads; but beyond them, you will need to use a driven vehicle (or walk). Maintaining a road within the Operational Design Domain will be costly - Google resurvey every road they drive down every day with manually driven vehicles, and it is not unlikely that will be the legal minimum. Which is one reason why driverless buses are likely to be favoured economically over driverless taxis; it is much easier and cheaper to maintain the city bus routes (several hundred miles perhaps) rather than an entire city road network (tens of thousands of miles).

In all of this the issue or marginal costs and benefits will be key; will it be worth the extra cost of maintaining an entire city road network in the ODD, for the additonal functionality provided by driverless taxis? will it be worth the massive technological cost upgrade of moving from stage 4 to stage 5 operation; simply for the occasional additonal functionality of driverless trips in thick snow (say); or down a dirt track?
 

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Some thoughts I posted on another board; but maybe relevent here.

My view is that tricky issue with driverless technology will be whether the same roadspace can be shared by driven and driverless vehicles; since the drivers of the driven vehicles - especiall in the case of Uber-type cars - may tend systematically to exploit the safety features of driverless cars to assert priority at road junctions. If so, riding in a driverless car would consist of a series of emergency stops; as manually-driven cars continually pull out of side roads, overtake and cut in, turn right across the traffic stream, and do U turns in the middle of the road. Much urban driving is 'give-and-take'; but having vehicles pre-progarmmed only to 'give' may well result in counterpart manual drivers adopting n 'only take' approach when in the presence of a driverless vehicle. Which in turn implies more rigorous enforcement of road traffic laws; or otherwise simply banning uber cars altogether from urban areas where driverless taxi services have been implemented. In my view, these issues would be much less problematic if only bus services are driverless. Designated bus routes can be supervised throughout with CCYV; so that dangerous behaviours from manual drivers can be detected and punished.

All of which is a special case of the general principles for the economic and functionality of driverless vehicles. Much of the more extravagant claims of proponents of driverless technology rest on confusing these underlying principles.

Commentators talk about the five stages of autonomous functions in road vehicles (though confusingly there are actually six).

stage 0: the standard car with no specialised autonomous functions;

stage 1: autonomy in particular individual processes or actions; e.g. cruise control, ABS braking, parking sensors;

stage 2: autonomous capability for complete functions involving multiple processes; e.g automatic parking, automatic emergency stopping;

stage 3: fully autonomous, hands-off capability for most trips in their entirety; but requiring manual control as a continuous back-up for occasions that the autonomous control technology is incapable of dealing with.

stage 4: fully autonomous, hands-off capability for the entirety of every trip within the 'Operational Design Domain' of the technology. Maybe; only along certain roads; only in the absence of severe weather; only as directed by permanent road signs and signals (hence lacking the capability of responding to contrary verbal instructions from a designated police officer or traffic official; with the necessary additional capability of distinguishing such designated persons from bystanders)

stage 5: fully autonomous, hands-off capabilty for any trip within the region of coverage; in all domains and in all circumstances where a manual control vehicle would be capable of functioning. At stage 5 - and only at stage 5 - driverless vehicles are produced without manual controls, even for backup.

The inescapable factor determining the economics and potential of driverless technology, is that while the big step-up in functioning is from stage 3 to stage 4; the big step-up in technology and cost is from stage 4 to stage 5. Most commentators now accept that stage 3 functioning is so potentially hazardous that it is likely to be legally precluded. A stage 3 'driverless' technology that hands itself back to manual control at exactly the moment when driving attention and skill is most needed, is likely worse than useless. But in technological terms; stage 4 operation is simply stage 3 operation with all the bugs removed; and the predictable hazards fully accommodated in advance. It is universally agreed that almost no features of stage 4 technology could be re-used for stage 5 operation. Consequently, almost all current 'autonomous vehicle' investment programmes are only directed to achieve stage 4 funtioning; with the unspoken assumption that stage 5 will be unachievable (or if not, will be legally inhibited; so that those investiing in stage 4 technology will be protected from losing their investment).

But the key to stage 4 is the prior identification of the 'Operational Design Domain'. In practice this will mean that only some roads on the network will be legally capable of driverless operation; your driverless taxi will take you from door to door along these roads; but beyond them, you will need to use a driven vehicle (or walk). Maintaining a road within the Operational Design Domain will be costly - Google resurvey every road they drive down every day with manually driven vehicles, and it is not unlikely that will be the legal minimum. Which is one reason why driverless buses are likely to be favoured economically over driverless taxis; it is much easier and cheaper to maintain the city bus routes (several hundred miles perhaps) rather than an entire city road network (tens of thousands of miles).

In all of this the issue or marginal costs and benefits will be key; will it be worth the extra cost of maintaining an entire city road network in the ODD, for the additonal functionality provided by driverless taxis? will it be worth the massive technological cost upgrade of moving from stage 4 to stage 5 operation; simply for the occasional additonal functionality of driverless trips in thick snow (say); or down a dirt track?
I read those stages with abject horror. The idea that somebody will watch the road as intently as if they were driving but not have to do anything is so unlikely as to be ridiculous when people often don't pay enough attention when they are driving.
 

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But the key to stage 4 is the prior identification of the 'Operational Design Domain'. In practice this will mean that only some roads on the network will be legally capable of driverless operation; your driverless taxi will take you from door to door along these roads; but beyond them, you will need to use a driven vehicle (or walk). Maintaining a road within the Operational Design Domain will be costly - Google resurvey every road they drive down every day with manually driven vehicles, and it is not unlikely that will be the legal minimum. Which is one reason why driverless buses are likely to be favoured economically over driverless taxis; it is much easier and cheaper to maintain the city bus routes (several hundred miles perhaps) rather than an entire city road network (tens of thousands of miles).

In all of this the issue or marginal costs and benefits will be key; will it be worth the extra cost of maintaining an entire city road network in the ODD, for the additonal functionality provided by driverless taxis? will it be worth the massive technological cost upgrade of moving from stage 4 to stage 5 operation; simply for the occasional additonal functionality of driverless trips in thick snow (say); or down a dirt track?
Presumably public transport agencies will maintain the ODD for the key routes that their buses run along. They could presumably sell this data to the taxi companies for less than those companies would pay to map it themselves? In this case the companies would only be responsible for mapping specific areas off those routes that they wish to operate in. Might we then see the emergence of a form of e-jitney, where multi-passenger automated minibuses could bring demand responsive transport closer to passengers in specific areas. It wouldn't be useful in heavily urbanised areas, where the density of the bus network would probably make such a service noncompetitive, but for outer suburbs and semi-rural areas it might provide a viable business model.

I also wonder whether it might be a similar service to city fringe employment locations more viable? Currently these don't work with the bus network because the origin points of journeys are too diverse to be economic, but if a taxi company ran automated minibuses along the city ODD network and picked workers up from their local bus stop and then straight to their place of work the numbers might stack up. Just an idea.
 

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nerd, I don't think it'll be as bad as that.

One thing worth considering is that there is significant overlap between the equipment needed for surveying the roads, and for driving autonomously. Even if the surveying quality of standard autonomous vehicles will be lower than a special-purpose vehicle, the sheer volume of data generated by many more vehicles will most likely be superior. Using real vehicles to survey helps with the most important thing - the need to handle real-time changes. Specialist survey vehicles can never run frequently enough to cover all possible driving scenarios, but vehicles out on the road are going to need to handle them. Larger vehicles like buses and lorries might have more sensing kit for a more precise survey and this can be accommodated in the data aggregation functions.

What I expect will happen is that statistical methods will be used to generate confidence ratings about the state of the road. If a vehicle senses that the world around it is significant different than it expected, it will become less confident and start driving more slowly and carefully. If other vehicles independently detect the same problems, the statistical likelihood of the world having actually changed will increase. If that, then vehicles can be more confident about what they're sensing individually. If only one vehicle is detecting differences while others see no change, these statistical analyses can determine that it's likely the fault of the vehicle.

I don't actually think that's any different to how humans do it. If you drive along a section of road a lot, you'll become more confident and drive faster. If the world changes unexpectedly, you'll notice and start driving slower. If that change becomes the new normal, you become more confident again. If you're the only one detecting a change (e.g. the road becoming much bumpier) while others don't, the likelihood is that there's something wrong with your car, so you know to go and get your car checked. Autonomy is only part of the picture for vehicles. The other equally important bit is information sharing between cars and 'the system'.

I remember that Nissan discussed a sort of Level 4.5 system, which seems to be the most likely way vehicles will lose their drivers initially. Needing a human to intervene sometimes doesn't have to mean making that human come along for the ride. Remote control centres can be set up to watch over vehicles and control them remotely if they need a helping hand. If they're at Level 4, they won't have a problem getting into a safe state to wait for the remote human to take control. Platooning technology means that there doesn't even need to be a 1:1 mapping between vehicles and humans in takeover situations. If there's a massive dump of snow on the motorway and the autonomy systems just give up, you only need one human (possibly remote controlled) to control the direction at the front of the platoon. Any vehicles heading the same way just need to follow behind in a train, tracking the same path along the ground. The vehicles following have a very easy time since they don't have to worry about what's in front, since it's just another vehicle. If vehicles are following each other closely, there's very little risk of something jumping in between, and anything which does should be noticeable enough that any autonomy system can safely identify it and bring the convoy to a stop.
 

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I read those stages with abject horror. The idea that somebody will watch the road as intently as if they were driving but not have to do anything is so unlikely as to be ridiculous when people often don't pay enough attention when they are driving.
Clearly at Stage 3 driverless functioning will be legally precluded unless there is a licensed driver, at the wheel and alert to the road, throughout the trip.

At Stage 5, driverless functioning will be legal when there is no licensed driver in the vehicle, and even when the vehicle has no manual controls.

The tricky issue is Stage 4 - at that stage vehicles must still have full manual controls as a backup. And it is presumed that there need not be a licensed driver at the wheel and alert to the road (there would be no advantage otherwise). But must there nevertheless be a licensed driver in the vehicle - at present no one is sure.

If there is no licensed driver at Stage 4 , then the technology should always be able to recognise in advance when circumstances may have changed so as to risk a continued trip being outside the Operational Design Domain; and be able to bring the vehicle safely to a halt before that happens. So when a collision or fallen load (say) blocks the carriageway for traffic behind, there must be a system that can monitor such events in real time, and communicate them to all driverless vehicles intending to travel that route. Which is why current techology is building on the assumption that, at Stage 4, driverless vehicles will be 'autonomous' in badging only; all their actual functions will be centrally controlled, and only operative while in constant connection with that control.

One possibility is that, even in the absence of a licensed driver, there must still be a 'responsible person' in the vehicle who must be in the drivers seat; and who would be legally capable of applying an override 'park-up-now' control at any time.

As you can see, the legal environment is key. The manufacturers will be looking for legislation creating a specific legal indemnity that precludes persons from suing the suppliers of driverless technology in the event of a serious accident involving a driverless vehicle in standard operation. They argue that the technological future of driverless technology is such that limitations on normal legal right will be justified. But legislators will seek nevertheless to create conditions that minimise their being held up as scapegoats if it all goes wrong.
 

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It's hard to envision a world where driver-controlled and fully automated vehicles share the same road space, which is why i don't think manually driven cars will completely go away in the near future.

I suspect the first places to go fully autonomous and ban driver-controlled vehicles will be private sites: larger business parks, university campuses, retirement 'villages', etc. Many of these zones will be in the US where such sites can be fairly large. After that I can see somewhere like Singapore or Hong Kong being the first true city to go autonomous. They are small, very densely populated urban centres where car ownership is very low and rail-based public transport has extremely high usage; functionally they are separate road networks from their neighbouring hinterlands. In the case of Singapore you already have tightly controlled and regulated space and a public acceptance of government interfering spatially.

Here will depend how much road space is given over to automated buses and taxis in urban areas. If a very large amount is, then I can see car ownership melting away quite rapidly. There is still a heavy incentive to own a car if you are part of a family with small children, regularly haul luggage and equipment and have accessibility issues, mostly because it's far cheaper than relying on taxis. However if fully automated electric vehicles start offering services that are cheaper than owning a car that incentive falls away. Once that happens it becomes easier for a city administration to increasingly regulate the space away for driver-controlled vehicles as they become a minority voting bloc (not just roads but also parking space).
 
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Maybe driverless technology can be used to enhance manual driving? Like preventing drivers from getting too close to other vehicles and obeying speed limits.
 

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Maybe driverless technology can be used to enhance manual driving? Like preventing drivers from getting too close to other vehicles and obeying speed limits.
I can see driving by committee working really well. Oh now wait a sec......

It would be like flying an airbus towards a mountain when the pilot banks left, the co pilot goes right and the plane goes straight on because it takes the aggregate of all inputs.
 

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Autonomous vehicles aren't quite here yet. Despite this the EU, the UK and other governments are investing a lot of R&D into autonomous vehicles.

I wonder what effect this will have on trail travel.

If I can hail a self driving car to pick me up from my front door in Leeds, and if it will ferry me to my destination in Liverpool or London, why would I bother walking to the station to get the train?
You wouldn't go to the station to get the train because the "train" would come to you.

Think about what 80-90% of journeys are made up of. They are repetitive, daily or weekly journeys to the same place. So, rather than thinking about whether you would you still go to the train station, think about what would be the most efficient, cost effective way to get you to where you want.

So, for the bulk of our journeys, whether its the daily commute which is currently done by car, train or bus or a combination of them. Whether it's the lorry doing its daily run from one distribution centre to another, or the weekly family trip to the supermarket, these are all repetitive.

These type of journeys will be done be autonomous vehicles, because obviously they would be the cheapest method. Except as I said, you wouldn't go to the train, the train would come to you.

A pod would pick up people up whose destination is in roughly the same place. Once the pod is filled up, it goes to the "train" "tracks" links up with other pods and then at super speeds transports you to the city where you are going.

The pods then break off from one another and deliver their passengers to each of their destinations. The AI would've worked out before a pod was even despatched what destination is required and what vehicle to send.

If 12 people were going to the same city within a few streets of each other, then a 12 person pod would be dispatched.

If 5 families go to the same supermarket at 11am on a Saturday and live near each other, then the AI would send the appropriate pod for that journey. But two other families who live in the same area and want to go the same shop but at 11.10am instead would get the pod most appropriate for them, but at a higher cost than those who all wanted to be at the shop together at 11am and pooled the cost between them.

All based on the journey required and who and how many want it at any given time and the price someone is prepared to pay.

Is this a car, a bus or a train? It will be none of those things, because how we travel in the future will not be defined by type of vehicle, but by type of journey required. And if you're rich, instead of sharing a pod with a dozen others, you get your own one, or on a Sunday you might get your old fashioned car out of the garage and drive along a motorway yourself poodling along at 100mph, while the pods fly above you or underneath you at 1000mph.

When I took my Uber journey a few days ago (the term taxi is starting to die off) I asked the driver if he ever got to choose where he gets despatched. He said Uber decided that. Strike out Uber with AI and that's the future of transport for the bulk of journeys. It's here now, except at the moment its still people driving cars, lorries, buses and trains. Not for much longer!
 

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nerd, I don't think it'll be as bad as that.

One thing worth considering is that there is significant overlap between the equipment needed for surveying the roads, and for driving autonomously. Even if the surveying quality of standard autonomous vehicles will be lower than a special-purpose vehicle, the sheer volume of data generated by many more vehicles will most likely be superior. Using real vehicles to survey helps with the most important thing - the need to handle real-time changes. Specialist survey vehicles can never run frequently enough to cover all possible driving scenarios, but vehicles out on the road are going to need to handle them. Larger vehicles like buses and lorries might have more sensing kit for a more precise survey and this can be accommodated in the data aggregation functions.

What I expect will happen is that statistical methods will be used to generate confidence ratings about the state of the road. If a vehicle senses that the world around it is significant different than it expected, it will become less confident and start driving more slowly and carefully. If other vehicles independently detect the same problems, the statistical likelihood of the world having actually changed will increase. If that, then vehicles can be more confident about what they're sensing individually. If only one vehicle is detecting differences while others see no change, these statistical analyses can determine that it's likely the fault of the vehicle.

I don't actually think that's any different to how humans do it. If you drive along a section of road a lot, you'll become more confident and drive faster. If the world changes unexpectedly, you'll notice and start driving slower. If that change becomes the new normal, you become more confident again. If you're the only one detecting a change (e.g. the road becoming much bumpier) while others don't, the likelihood is that there's something wrong with your car, so you know to go and get your car checked. Autonomy is only part of the picture for vehicles. The other equally important bit is information sharing between cars and 'the system'.

I remember that Nissan discussed a sort of Level 4.5 system, which seems to be the most likely way vehicles will lose their drivers initially. Needing a human to intervene sometimes doesn't have to mean making that human come along for the ride. Remote control centres can be set up to watch over vehicles and control them remotely if they need a helping hand. If they're at Level 4, they won't have a problem getting into a safe state to wait for the remote human to take control. Platooning technology means that there doesn't even need to be a 1:1 mapping between vehicles and humans in takeover situations. If there's a massive dump of snow on the motorway and the autonomy systems just give up, you only need one human (possibly remote controlled) to control the direction at the front of the platoon. Any vehicles heading the same way just need to follow behind in a train, tracking the same path along the ground. The vehicles following have a very easy time since they don't have to worry about what's in front, since it's just another vehicle. If vehicles are following each other closely, there's very little risk of something jumping in between, and anything which does should be noticeable enough that any autonomy system can safely identify it and bring the convoy to a stop.
Not quite as I understand it 1M14.

The key to note is that the functioning of a system for driverless vehicles will be determined much more by legal limitations than by technological limitations. At Stage 3 there can be no doubt that the driver (even if hands-off) is legally liable for the actions of the vehicle. But for Stage 4 or 5 to happen, there must be legal recognition that no occupant of the vehicle is liable for its actions. So whom should a person injured in an accident involving a driverless car sue? For instance, if a driverless car undertakes an emergency stop in normal operation, and a passenger in that car spills their cup of hot coffee. Can they sue for scald injury? Can they sue for their brand new frock? And if they can sue; who is liable for the actions of a driverless car, when it is functioning fully in accordance with its specifications? (Obviously the manufacturer/owner will be remain liable for failures of manufacture or maintenance). This will require specific legislation; and the terms of that legislation will determine how driverless cars can be used. But the courts will strongly resist the idea that a machine can be given legal 'autonomy'; even when technological autonomy can be demonstrated as feasible.

In respect of your first point, the use of roads by driverless vehicles will indeed generate surveillance of road conditions, which will be transmitted back to the central control system. But this will not be sufficient to maintain the full network; as there will inevitably be sections of the ODD road that no driverless vehicle will have driven over in the previous 24 hours. Moreover, the scanning equipment on a driverless vehicle can only detect positive elements in the road; a manual backup will always be required to see if the scanners are missing something (e.g. if a temporary roadsign has been badly positioned so that the scanners cannot read it). Legislation allowing driverless operation will certainly specify a minimum frequency of manual surveillance.

In respect of changing road conditions in real time, driverless vehcles are currently envisaged as having only two modes of operation - centrally controlled, and fully autonomous. Normal Stage 4 operation will be centrally controlled for all vehicles in respect of the road conditions that are detected. There will be no possibility of one driverless car 'deciding for itself'; as in normal operation at Stage 4, driverless cars can't make their own decisions - they do what the central control tells them to, where the central control tells them, at the speed that the central control tells them. But it is inherent at Stage 4 that every driverless vehicle will also have limited autonomous functioning which will override the central control in specified circumstances; most obviously in an emergency stop, or otherwise if the ODD road conditions are no longer found, if communication is lost with central control, or if the vehicle is running out of charge or otherwise faulty and cannot maintain the centrally determined speed. But 'autonomous' running will be legally restricted to one function only - finding a safe place to stop, and stopping in it; and all fully autonomous running will be very much slower and more careful than centrally controlled running. In normal operation therefore, driverless vehicles will never overtake one another (although they may pass them queuing in another lane); but they will be able to overtake driverless vehicles running in 'fully autonomous' mode.
 

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A pod would pick up people up whose destination is in roughly the same place. Once the pod is filled up, it goes to the "train" "tracks" links up with other pods and then at super speeds transports you to the city where you are going.

The pods then break off from one another and deliver their passengers to each of their destinations. The AI would've worked out before a pod was even despatched what destination is required and what vehicle to send.
Sounds rather like a Llyods bank ad. that ran a few years ago. :) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JR4-1kYCyHI

Just to stir the pot:

Even with all the pods filled up, would they not occupy more physical (road) space for a given number for passengers than a train/bus would..? Those of us blighted by living in "that London" know all about playing sardines on the way to/from work - how many (full) pods would be required to replace my 8 car S-Stock crammed with 1000 pax. and how much road space would that require..? I suppose we could convert all the commuter rail and bus routes to dedicated podways.

Pods will be "forced to obey the speed limit" - many UK drivers prefer to drive their own vehicles for just this reason - it allows them to speed.

Of course, there are other human factor to consider in that many people won't want to "share" however convenient it is and will still want "their own" car, for "status" reasons as much as anything else. "Oh we don't use the bus/train/podway - that's for poor people, we've got our own car."
 

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There is a lot of hype about "autonomous cars", but in cities with good public transit they are not necessary and probably more expensive than a normal ticket, though cheaper than a taxi with a driver.

Autonomous cars may have a significant impact on the taxi market as they should be more economical in terms of costs, so towns and suburbs without good public transit should see these vehicles proliferate. It may be that they come into their own in the evenings and nights when people can go out and drink over the limit and take an autonomous car home.

If people can buy their own autonomous car, I would imagine that they will be very useful to take their "over the limit" owners home. They may also be good for long journeys which may be tiring, or for drop offs to busy areas with little parking, following which the cars will have to find somewhere to park till their owners call them for a pick-up.
 
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