Centralised control of driverless cars versus autonomous cars (11/11)

Any issues or areas the interviewer has noted down to return to?

11. I think what I found fascinating was your take on the centralised control of driverless cars versus the autonomous cars, because I’ve heard quite a few American observers say the same sort of thing, whereas I think in the UK and Europe it’s kind of the opposite, we think this central system, because otherwise, how do you get a lot of the benefits? But that’s kind of an interesting one.

That’s more of a cultural difference in part. The US government has been funding connected vehicles in one form or another for, at this point 25 years since the first ITS [Intelligent Transportation Systems] program. The early  IVHS [Intelligent Vehicle/Highway Systems] programs were out in the early 90’s and they are sort of stuck on this centralized role, and they keep bringing it back, and the world is changing around them, but they can’t get off of this mindset.

If you think about where did the best automated vehicle research come from, it came from roboticists at Carnegie Mellon and Stanford because they were responding to a Department of Defence research program (DARPA Urban Challenge). Not a Department of Transportation research program, but a Department of Defense research program.

And then these roboticists from Stanford and CMU get hired by Google (and others more recently by Uber), a firm in the Information Technology sector, not a traditional carmakers or infrastructure agency.

I don’t want to say that the existing firms will all go out of business, but some of them certainly will. What’s the advantage that General Motors or Ford has in this world?  Maybe they will still be able to manufacture cheaply, I don’t know. I’m not even convinced of that. If you think about it, you’re simultaneously changing what the entire car is, the sensors are replacing the control functions, electrification is changing the entire motor system, it’s simpler to manufacture. It is possible there is not even going to be a role for all the traditional manufacturers, and you can just assemble these vehicles in many different places, on automated assembly lines. There’s no special advantage that General Motors has with its traditional internal combustion engine has on these new types of vehicles.

The roads will still have to exist for a while, at least until we get to the flying car stage, but that’s a ways off. And in the roads sector you might see some consolidation, I mean we have many layers of governments operating roads in the US and I guess in other countries too, and we don’t do that with other public utilities in the same way. So the question is, why are there 4 layers of government operating roads, can we get that down to one or two, one which is operating the backbone, and one which is operating the local streets. I think there might be some reorganization there, but that’s largely independent of automated vehicles. There might be some advantages to consolidation by getting the technology deployed to dynamically reconfigure lanes. They are nice thoughts but the guys at local Departments of Public Works are still backwards generally in the US.