Call My Car….

There really are things going on in the world other than the upcoming election (which can’t come–and go–soon enough!).

For example, Architectural Record recently weighed in on the apparently inevitable advent of the driverless car.

First it was Google, mapping the known world with autonomous vehicles. Then it was news of various efforts to perfect the technology, and an announcement that Pittsburgh is going to be the site of an actual demonstration.

In fact, the day when a phantom chauffeur will charge an electric vehicle on its own, analyze the route, exchange up-to-the-moment information with other cars on the road, and pick you up for work—or your kids for school—is no longer sci-fi fantasy. Many of the manufacturers expect fully autonomous vehicles (AVs), requiring no human supervision or backup drivers, to hit the market around 2020—letting you sleep, read, work, or entertain guests as an unmanned sedan ferries you door to door.

As the article notes, the most important promise of driverless cars is a vast improvement in safety. The least reliable part of a car is the driver, and worldwide, 1.2 million people are killed in car accidents every year. Ninety percent of automobile accidents are attributed to driver error.

Architectural Record then explored the questions we should all be asking: assuming the inexorable shift to such vehicles, how will that change both the built environment and our housing choices? How might it change the way we go about our days?

A major consequence could be a radical reduction in parking space. And slots could be packed tight, given robotically nimble maneuvers, not to mention the area saved when no one needs to exit or enter a parked vehicle—ever. (After dropping you off, the car would “valet” itself.) Even curbside spots could become unnecessary, allowing for narrower streets—an efficiency boosted by sensing-and-reaction mechanisms that permit AVs close driving distances, increasing road capacity. The gains could be huge. As Ratti puts it, “Parking infrastructure in the United States covers around 5,000 square miles—an area [43-percent] larger than Puerto Rico.” The freed-up land could be converted to creative and socially enriching uses, providing for art or recreation..”

It’s an open question whether self-driving cars will promote urban density—or suburban sprawl. The article suggests arguments for both options. Some of the potential changes AV’s may usher in have the sound of science fiction:

“Autonomous vehicles promise to have dramatic impact in blurring the distinction between private and public modes of transportation,” says professor Carlo Ratti, director of MIT’s SENSEable City Lab. “After taking you to work, ‘your’ car could give a lift to someone else in your family—or to anyone in your neighborhood, social-media community, or city—rather than sitting idle.” While the average automobile in the U.S. is unused an estimated 95-percent of the time, a robo-vehicle has the potential to reposition itself continually, with network-optimized efficiency, from one passenger to the next. Theoretically, self-driving could lend everyone—including the blind, elderly, and very young—unprecedented mobility, providing a shared system of individually customized, on-demand travel with a fraction of the cars currently on the road.

Reading the article (which I recommend) leaves me with a question that is becoming a daily preoccupation: how can humans be so good at science and technology, so innovative and creative–and so terrible at governing ourselves?

We can invent wondrous things. Why can’t we learn to live together harmoniously?


  1. I cannot imagine males quietly giving up their dominant position of “driver of the car”. Look how hard they are trying to hold onto their position of “driver of the country”.

  2. Are we really moving forward? Can we bridge the widening gap between technology and who we are as natural humans? What happens when the power goes out? Zagger and Evans’s song “In the Year 2525” comes to mind.

  3. What a great question. In wonder if it has something to do with the people who are hired to innovate have ‘read the manual’. A democracy requires an informed citizenry (refer to yesterday’s post).

  4. There are serious difficulties that must be overcome before AVs start showing up in our garages. The most important of these is how to prevent the car from being hacked?

  5. This is Fred Flintsone vs. George Jetson territory; I’m going to stick with Fred.

    This possibility may be routine “In The Year 2525”, but the initial outlay to provide specialized routes (which could NOT possibly be everywhere we need to go) plus the cost of the vehicles and maintenance are not economically feasible and wouldn’t be till far in the future…if ever. At which time we may have developed public transportation available to meet all our needs and have resolved the problems referred to in the article. It also seems to be man’s inherent laziness at the source of this futuristic idea.

  6. As an aside; how many of you watched the newscast of the double fatality two days ago and the resulting explosions and fires from the Tesla batteries which prohibited all first responders, including Fire Department, from even attempting to reach the two victims? Evidently; we aren’t even ready to deal with current vehicle “improvements” on the level of the Tesla.

  7. Greetings Theresa. I have had, on several occasions, the hell scared out of me by a pretty woman on her cell driving a big car. Of course I didn’t have hell in me for a short while. 🙂

  8. I foresee a future ballot measure….”Should self driven cars be banned from public roads?”

  9. My Chrome browser locks up about once a day and requires being restarted. Microsoft Excel, a mature product that has been around for decades, hangs up on a regular basis. My router requires the power being cycled on it once a month or so. The scanner software that came with my scanner crashes every time I try to run it. ..

    I could go on and on with a litany of routine hardware and software failures that are part of everyday life.

    So do you really think we’re going to have driverless cars anytime soon?

  10. The “creative and socially enriching uses” for the freed-up land sounds utopian to me. The reality will be something that the poor and underprivileged, and I mean that word in its economic and political sense, may never realize. All of the innovative ideas assume financial wherewithal. Unless the infrastructure changes described are done in the public domain, with public money, and in urban spaces first and foremost, those without resources will be left further behind. Some of the jobs that might disappear, driver, valet, parking attendant, truck driver, meter attendants, are the very jobs that provide daily opportunities for survival to the poor, especially in the cities. What replaces those jobs will also a question for futurists. Will the AV schedule an appointment in an automated car wash, an oil change or tire changes at an automated bay at the nearest vendor location?
    Again, if the future changes remove the person from the equation, safety will mean more lives saved, but to what purpose? Will the most likely outcomes mean that those who design robotics will be the employed. The building and maintenance of the machines will be done by robotics.
    So much of what has changed in the workplace over the last few decades, if taken to its logical conclusion, removes the human from the equation altogether. Then what? How will the basic needs of the people, most especially the poor, be met?
    Ray Bradbury and his company of sci-fi imaginers have had some sobering thoughts on what the future looks like. Will we all but a few become “waste” people? Or will humans use our incredible brains to new and unthought-of purpose and open the way for more creative and altruistic lives?

  11. Chuck. How about a driverless tractor. You could just sit back and watch your fields being plowed. Or do fields get plowed anymore?

  12. Irvin,

    The fields still get “worked”. The land is disked, dragged and sprayed with everything bad you can think of. The operator of the tractor/combine/sprayer need only sit there and follow a computer GPS guide thus eliminating any thought about where to start, where to turn, how far from the last pass one sets the next pass. Usually the farmer/land owner does not do this work himself. That job now goes to seasonal, part time, minimum wage locals whose parents onced owned the land that they are now paid a pittance to work. Somehow we have convinced ourselves that this is progress.

  13. Hello Theresa. Sounds mighty different from following two horses pulling a one shear plow up and down, or back and forth thru the field. And the smell of the manure that we had spent all spring spreading over the fields seemed to go away after a day or two. I-we, there was usually two or three of us working the field or fields and Mom would bring us a fried egg sandwich and lemonade mid-morning. Now this is just history and not fault finding but we along with our horses did the work. Have a happy day and vote wisely on Tuesday 🙂

  14. I don’t know the answer to Professor Kennedy’s question, but suggest that “teaching to the test” and the decline of the liberal arts in colleges and universities may be more than just coincidence.

  15. JoAnn,

    It’s probably a long shot, but It looks like from this discussion on robots and such, that we, the PEOPLE, at least for some of us, might be on our way to being SOYLENT GREEN. Remember “Soylent Green is People” according to Charlton Heston. Since Donald Trump has the backing of Heston’s baby: the National Rifle Association (NRA) you never know. Do you disagree?

  16. Irvin,

    Sounds like you have a lot of first hand farm experience from the pre-tractor days. So, how is your family’s farm? Still in the family and providing an income for your relations?

  17. Hello Theresa. Thank you for the inquiry . Yes, the farm is still in the family and most likely will stay there for the foreseeable future. The farm is located in Dearborn County. It is not very large (85 +- acres ) and a nephew owns it and a neighbor does what little farming is done. No high tech stuff yet. I lived there in the 30’s 40’s and 50’s and then escaped. No more horse farming for me. I live in Indpls and visit there once in awhile. Enough about me. Again, thanks for the note.

  18. Marv; can’t disagree but I believe we are beyond the age to worry about becoming Soylent Green, it is our grandchildren and beyond we need to be concerned about. Another possibility could be that Big Pharma will claim ownership of Soylent Green recipe and people would need a prescription to get it.

  19. I’m with Peggy…we have to secure our networks so that these cars cannot be hacked. Can you imagine a cyber attack where cars are overtaken and crashing into each other. Talk about mass casualties! Yikes.

  20. The reality is that no sane person would ever propose what we have now. It cannot get worse.

    Tell your phone where you want to go. A comfortable couple of seats show up in front of where you are. You get on with your life until you’re where you want to be. Just like Trump does now.

    Only fully attentive skilled “drivers” on the road. No rules or traffic controls except maximise flow. No vehicle to own and maintain and insure and house and fuel and compete with the Joneses with. No gas stations and parking facilities. No accidents.

    How is that not better in every way?

  21. Perhaps we’ll all be Uber passengers in the future where there is no need for anyone to own a car – just call for one to pick you up. We’ll all be chauffeured by a GPS system. We’ll have no need to build 2, 3, and 4 car garages onto homes, buy auto insurance, provide routine maintenance on vehicles, buy license plates, or pay parking fees. All those who now drive trucks, buses, cabs, and cars for a living will lose their jobs. The economic ramifications will be immense. Driving skills to take over when the GPS systems fail or malfunction will decline to a more dangerous level.

    As we’re mechanizing ourselves out of employment, we’ll need to come up with a way for people to make a living.

  22. Can a guy making $15/hr afford one of those? Or will that minimum wage be $75/hr equivalent by then?

  23. The same disruptive technology that transformed US manufacturing is moving into transportation: robotics. If you think it won’t happen just look 25-30 yrs into our past. Next up for dislocation are professional vehical drivers – some 2.8 million workers in the US. And one of the last professions where someone without post-secondary education can earn a comfortable middle-class income. The technology momentum will not waiver in its march to improve the productivity of both labor and capital. It will lay wide open the realization that our society is saddled with a vast oversupply of unskilled and low-skilled labor that will command lower and lower wages in the global economy of the future. I for one celebrate this for three reasons: 1) it will finally wake people up to the realization that without marketable skills you are destined to a life of impoverishment and that you must take personal responsibilty for investing in your own human capital, 2) policy makers and elected leaders MUST stop talking nonsense about “creating good jobs” and relentlessly focus on the creation of skills, and help people, and especially poor minorities,
    overcome the obstacles of systemic racism and neglect, 3) as I approach the age where it becomes difficult to maintain my independance by driving my own car, I look forward to the time where I can simply call the car around to the front door to ferry me wherever I wish to go.

  24. Don’t know how many of you are familiar with the Craftsman homes of the teens and twenties. These were homes that the building of which employed fine craftsmen creating beautiful built in cabinetry,, woodwork, hardwood floors, ceramic tile, leaded and stained glass windows. This craftsmanship is still available – if you don’t believe it go to architectural brick and tile. I went there looking for tile to make a chair rail kind of effect in the tile I am putting between my counter top and upper cabinets, one row of tile about 15 feet of tile. The cheapest thing that I could find that I would have wanted would have cost me about $300. What I really liked would have cost me about $1000. but in order for my vision of the return of craftsmen coming back to happen somehow the costs of materials and labor have to get more in line with what the average person makes. The craftsman houses of the teens and twenties are modest houses, mostly 800 to 1500 square feet. I wonder how much of the $1000 for the tile I really wanted went to pay the craftsman who actually made the tile, and how much to the middle men and the wholesaler/retailer.

  25. And, Kellyanne Conway, please take Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich with you along with all the other wiseguys who were bucking for positions on the never-to-be Trump cabinet. Check for vacancies in the Hillary administration.

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