Self-Driving Vehicle Revolution to Wipe Out 4 Million Jobs

But we’re not prepared.

Tesla made headlines the other day with the first traffic fatality caused by its “Autopilot” system, which had failed to “see” a big tractor-trailer rig that had pulled right in front of the car. But humans fail to see things too, and gruesome accidents are happening with humans behind the wheel. Last year, 38,300 people were killed in traffic accidents in the US, up 8% from 2014, and 4.4 million were injured enough to require medical attention.

Other manufacturers all have similar or better systems than Tesla’s beta version, but they’re more conservative in their hype and what they allow drivers to do.

On Tuesday, Ford, touting its plans for self-driving taxis and other autonomous-vehicle services, took reporters on a spin through the neighborhood in its self-driving cars. It will roll out its services in big cities first, such as New York and Detroit, and will initially limit the service to cities.

Uber is now starting to test about two dozen partially self-driving Ford Fusions in Pittsburgh, and surely there will be some accidents too. There are always accidents once you put enough vehicles into motion.

Ford is doing it because that’s where the future is. And the money. It’s expecting 20% profit margins from these services, rather than the razor-thin margin in its regular business. Sales of autonomous vehicles might account for 20% of its total sales in the US by the end of this decade, it said. That would be huge, and fast!

GM and other automakers have similar plans. Google, Apple, and many other companies are plying the field, not by making the actual cars – no one cares about them – but by developing the software, sensors, services (such as mapping), and the “passenger” interface (since there won’t be “drivers”) to make the package work. Everyone is doing it. Huge amounts of money and talent are flowing into it.

There will be delays, setbacks, and gruesome accidents. Some people will call for putting an end to this. And others will refuse to get into those cars. But this is happening.

When I replace my car with something that can figure out on its own how to get me safely and quickly to my destination – a moment that can’t come soon enough, as far as I’m concerned – it won’t have much impact on the economy.

But what’s happening in the commercial sector will be a mini-version of the industrial revolution: doing away with professional drivers.

And the magnitude of this problem is breath-taking. Here are some numbers about the people in the US working in the trade:

  • 1.8 million heavy-truck and tractor-trailer long-haul drivers in 2014, expected to grow 4% a year (BLS), with a median pay of $40,260 in 2015. At this growth rate, there will be 1.94 million long-haul drivers by the end of this year.
  • 1.33 million delivery truck drivers in 2014, expected to grow 4% a year (BLS), with a median pay of $27,800 in 2015. They’re picking up and/or delivering packages and small shipments within the city or region, driving a vehicle of 26,000 pounds or less, usually between a distribution center and businesses or households. At this growth rate, there will be 1.44 million drivers by the end of this year.
  • 233,700 taxi drivers and chauffeurs in 2014, growing at 13% annually (BLS). They earned a median pay of $23,510 in 2015. One in five worked part time. This doesn’t – or doesn’t fully – reflect the “rideshare” drivers working for Uber, Lyft, and the like.
  • “Over 500,000” rideshare drivers are estimated to ply the trade in the US. It’s a high-growth sector: the number of Uber drivers in the US doubled in 2015 from the prior year to 327,000. Half of them worked 15 hours or less per week.

So by the end of 2016, if these numbers play out, there will be over 4.1 million people who drive for a living. Over 3.5 million are doing it full-time.

But for companies in the sector, the total cost of drivers, including wages, benefits, and taxes, is among the biggest expense items. Plus, drivers get sick, need vacation, and can’t drive 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Uber reportedly lost $1.68 billion in the first three quarters of 2015, up 150% from the same period a year earlier. That’s a lot of dough to burn through. And much of the cash drain would go away if it could just get rid of the costs of its drivers!

Trucking and delivery companies are looking at this math from their point of view. Automating the driving process could save them a ton of money. And the big ones are all thinking about it, and spending money on research.

No one is going to switch to fully autonomous trucks next year. This will take some time. But given the amount of resources pouring into it, it won’t take all that much time. A few years perhaps before the first significant numbers are starting to crop up.

Then what? What are the 3.5 million professional and trained full-time drivers going to do? OK, some of them are going to retire by then. But this is still one of the big job opportunities for people without a degree in engineering, willing to be trained and willing to work hard and long hours. These opportunities are now scheduled to go away.

And what are the part-timers going to do? How are they going to supplement their incomes to maintain their consumer spending, which is so critical to this economy? Are they going to tighten their belts further?

Over 4 million jobs is a big number. These people can’t easily switch to writing software. There’s no room for them in manufacturing. Even the fast-food sector is getting automated, as are many other jobs, including writing stories for the major wire and news services. It all might be happening faster than society is prepared to deal with it. And we’re not even talking about it!

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  162 comments for “Self-Driving Vehicle Revolution to Wipe Out 4 Million Jobs

  1. David says:

    I normally agree or absorb from your articles but not this time. The transition will be slow. Plus who is going to take that package from the back of the delivery trick and bring it to the door or front desk. Front ward driving technology may be “there” but I suspect backing a tractor trailer into an offset dock space is a distance off in the technological future. There are fewer truck drivers than needed so autonomous trucks will absorb demand before taking jobs. Make a fire truck self driving and you still need all the crew to fight the fire. One guy just doesn’t get premium pay for driving.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Back in the day, you’d walk up to the counter in a store and tell the clerk what you wanted. They’d then go and get all the items, pile them up in front of you, and ring them up. Then supermarkets showed up: you had to run around and get your own stuff. But you would still go to the cashier, and they’d check you out and bag your stuff. Then self-check out started showing up, and now you’re your own cashier and bagger. You can do the entire shopping trip without a human involved.

      Self-driving delivery vehicles could boil down to the same thing: shift the work to the customer.

      So you might have to step outside to the driverless delivery truck and pick up your package from a special door/window in the truck where it has been deposited by the system inside the truck.

      When a company gets a delivery, their staff would unload the truck.

      This would be a relatively small problem to overcome. I think the technology faces bigger problems at this point, such as: how well will it work when the road and everything else is covered by snow? (But humans don’t do well in that environment either)

      • alexaisback says:

        ” But given the amount of resources pouring into it, it won’t take all that much time. ”

        Actually it is one big scam right now. They are, and they include ford to uber, blowing billions on this and getting no where fast.

        Why Well LIDAR right now costs about $ 80,000 per unit. And LIDAR works well on a sunny day, but it does not work in heavy rain or snow.

        Alternative is Ground Penitrating Radar – but the expense and the mapping is extraordinary.

        So companies like Ford create their own “cities” to drive around in. STILL cannot do it in heavy rain or snow BUT
        what they do is additional markings and signage.

        So what they want is the FEDERAL GOV to pay for marking and signage on all Highways, extraordinary marking and signage

        Meaning how can an autonomous truck know where it is when there is 4 feet of snow blanketing the surroundings and a 6 foot pile of snow on the roadside from plowing and it is snowing. It cannot know at this time.

        So the inevitable is GOVERNMENT SUBSIDY — but will 2 million taxi drivers protest against government subsidy to wipe them out ?

        Without government subsidy I do not see it happening and there appears quite a fight if the gov were to subsidize.

        This is still in its infancy – the cars cannot even drive in heavy rain. Google’s for example is programmed to shut down in rain.

        . Other problems exist too – a bird poops on your lidar.
        The computer cannot differentiate between a police officer waiving for you to stop or a crossing guard, or someone walking on the sidewalk.
        It will be interesting to watch but right now it is ALL HYPE and false hope to raise funds, billions and billions of funds.

        • EVENT HORIZON says:

          You are correct.

          Last week, I was driving with the MOST SENSITIVE and advanced “Visual-Detection 3D” system available today inside an auto. This system is more advanced than anything every built by today’s technology corporations. 1st Class.”Bi-Nocular”, two receiver for back-up redundancy, Full Color Spectrum, Dual software (bright light detection and Night Detection, each independent). Peripheral motion detection is the most advanced.

          Anyway, there was an elderly man crossing the street in front of me. The SUN was right above his head. My MASSIVE Chevy Avalanche Tank turned right in front of him and missed him by about 6 inches. You would think that the World’s most advanced, sensitive, accurate 3D, Range Finding System, would have detected him. Nope. The glare of the Sun blinded the entire software and hardware of this Advanced System.

          The old mad almost got killed, and I almost had to go to jail for Involuntary Man-Slaughter, Negligence, etc.

          So, what system failed? my eyes.

        • Meme Imfurst says:

          Google is quitting, that says a lot.

          Truck drivers, taxi drivers, Teamsters, pizza delivery…just take those jobs away and you will find you are not dealing with ‘grocery clerks’. These boys will make sure the whole concept will be so expensive and dangerous, that like Google, the idea will die and be exited.

          All these lost jobs and who has money to buy a pizza delivered by a drone? Catch one in a net and you have free pizza and a new toy. I can just see Amazon offering the same cash reward for drones the grocery does for ‘finding and returning’ carts. Cars, trucks….well, now you are talking big money.

      • Matt says:

        Bad weather will be avoided. A push alert will be sent with instructions to exit when there’s sufficient notice. When caught without notice (i.e.: sudden and persistent contact patch friction loss), a self-driving vehicle can pull over, stop and wait indefinitely for the next push notification to resume travel.

        The job loss estimate may be a bit light. Today’s fuel tanks are sized to correspond with bladders. Add the fact that a self-driving vehicle that doesn’t stop is more fuel efficient, and we can expect to see cross-country-sized fuel tanks. Truck stops will have to adjust accordingly — and by “adjust” I mean “downsize”.

        Electronic drivers also increase reliability. They won’t exceed the designed operating envelope of the drive train. They will also adhere strictly to maintenance intervals. Truck service centers may have to cut their staff by 50% or more; while not needing as much expertise. Remove & replace rules the day in a non-driver-owned rig.

        The backing-in solution is trivial. Right now, docks are backed-into because the cost is borne by drivers, not the builders of the docks. If self-drivers save sufficient shipping costs, positive NPVs will be presented by hungry construction contractors to commercial dock owners for reconfigs that let a self-driver pull up & pull away.

        • alexaisback says:

          No Citizen in the North of the US will agree with you.
          It just poured here, and no human wants to pull over and wait 20 minutes. And no one is giving up a day of school for their kids or work because of a little snow.
          Fed Ex is not missing a plane shipment because their truck is designed to pull over because of a little rain, neither is the US post office missing delivery to your home nor many other companies delivery of food or anything else.
          This past week the weather service guaranteed the hurricane – and it never came. What would you propose, shut down all trucking and then find out the hurricane never came. Avoid bad weather that may never arise ?
          No it is in its infancy. Tons of HYPE because as said by author UBER losing BILLIONS they need to feed the machine and they get money by HYPE.

        • Intosh says:

          There is always a certain amount of hype with any technology at its infancy with a high disruption potential, but it will happen. It just makes sense from a strictly productivity and efficiency point of view. It might take 15-20 years instead of 5 or 10 but it’s practically inevitable.

          Just because the technology cannot be deployed in bad weather today doesn’t mean it can’t be in 5 years. The technology is available. Most work now is on the algorithmic side, which requires time and lots of trials and testing to train. It’s rather ridiculous to underestimate the technology. If the weather was bad enough to stop the computer, it was bad enough to stop a human driver as well.

        • Intosh says:

          Forgot to mention: Some dude named George Hotz developed a self-driving car kit for around $1000. This shows that the tech itself is available and relatively cheap. If a one-man team can developer such a kit, imagine what the Googles of this world will be able to achieve in this sector within a few years.

        • alexaisback says:

          The featured Prius, which starts at around $24,000, is optioned up with a $75,000 to $80,000 Velodyne LIDAR system, visual and radar sensors estimated to cost about $10,000, and a nearly $200,000 GPS array. Not to mention the cost of the driving computer and software.

          Google’s Autonomous Car
          The sensors and chips for this car astronomically expensive. For instance, LIDAR alone costs around $75,000. Prices as to the whole setup cost around $150,000. This is way beyond the price scope of 99% of drivers. However, the costs in the future, once economies of scale kick in, are expected to drop and be able to be scaled down readily.

          The difference between Velodyne’s $80,000 64-beam lidar, and a $150 single-beam unit, underscores an important point: not all lidar is created equal. There are three primary levels of automotive applications—one for mapping (like what Google and Nokia do); another for limited driver-assistance functions; and the more forward-looking fully self-driving vehicles.

          The Holy Grail is a small set of lidars scanning fully around the vehicle, from the foot of a pedestrian 1 m away to vehicles 100 m (328 m) down the road—at the same cost as today’s radar. Cameras or radar will likely provide redundancy.

      • mulch says:

        Yeah right. Wolf Trucking company, fully automated mind you, is going to tell Walmart, ” We’re parked out on the street. Come and get it. It’s your dime.” ROGL!

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Truck backs up to the dock. Warehouse worker drives in with forklift, unloads the pallets. Truck leaves.

          There were places that did it that way decades ago, including our own warehouse. Zero new in that regard. It doesn’t matter whether the truck backs itself against the dock or whether a driver does it.

        • Jon laughing says:

          @WR.. who replied..”Truck backs up to the dock. Warehouse worker drives in with forklift, unloads the pallets. Truck leaves.” Why on earth (since we are talking Science Ficition or Popular Mechancis 1960) would the warehouse worker be driving the forklift???? If the truck is selfdriving, the forklift would be too. Let’s at least have a consistent scenario. Because I’m actually going to “drive” by in my flying car cause there won’t be any pedestrians to hit. But I will still have to be concerned about those with their jet-pod-backpacks on.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          You’re correct: self-driving forklifts are old hat. Amazon’s fulfillment centers have been automated for years, including self-driving forklifts. But not every run-of-the-mill warehouse can afford that kind of technology.

      • Derek says:

        There are also robots suit already developed in Japan that can carry up to 60 pound of weight that you don’t have to. If everyone has these suits or their own “personal robots”. No true human laboror will be required.

      • Brian Moucka says:

        The comments sound like those convinced that it’s impossible to get humans into the air a hundred years ago. Yes there are hurdles but it will happen. The state and federal government will have to set standards for road and highway safety and detection systems the auto manufactures have to comply with. It will happen.

      • al says:

        I am absolutely opposed to thedeveloped ecomies adopting a ‘robo.based’ economy. taken to theextreme (ala spielberg’s A.I) it will be a disaster. because we have already progressed along this path, is not a reason to continue along it the priorities for this world:

        -use less energy (all energy finally decays to heat; however eco-friendly the source)
        -reduce world human population growth(at 7.5 billion, wecannot cope with food demands now – we cannot tow another 1.5 earth-size planets here, to sustain 10 billion.(no, this is not an argument to replace people with robots)

        establish a supra-national replacement for the united nations and WTO, TO TRADE INTERNATIONALLY, MEMBERSHIP MANDATORY

        naive,utopian, ipractical??? – no, oce back on the gold standard, major ecomies would become more stable, allowing more time for acheiving these goals, not figging automated cars.

    • RsTade says:

      I disagree with your point. Deliver packages! That right there is a huge cost saving. You can hire a lower skilled workers in place of the driver. Muscles are cheap. Lower skill set means lower pay. So that driver will have to accept a much lower salary if he or she refuses, well like I said before muscles are cheap Yes it might take time but it is going to happen. I mean companies are throwing Manhattan project type of money and resources at this problem

    • “… [W]ho is going to take that package from the back of the delivery trick and bring it to the door or front desk[?]”

      The ride-along drone, like the three-wheeler that hangs off a sheetrock truck.

      I do not look forward to this new world, beyond just losing my job to a bot or algo.

      • Coaster Noster says:

        It will be a two-wheeled package delivery vehicle, two round wheels (i.e. four bowls made into a pair of 360-degree turning wheels) that can “catepillar-inch” up any stairway, fit in any elevator. Gyroscopically held upright. And it has a camera with 360-degree field of view, up and down as well. That doesn’t even need autonomy…a guy sitting at a desk can view through the cameras of about ten two-wheeled delivery vehicles simultaneously.

  2. 60's liberal says:

    A good read especially when one puts the data from BLS. As far as the trucks are concerned, that is going to take a substantial period of time; will mov, yes, but the engineering and software are difficult to develop for safety reasons;;;; besides, there will be manual jobs like delivery from the truck to the destination and picking up the load from the customer. Ever notice how many hands are involved when a person after having sold his/her house needs.

    Another point: Japanese are beginning to use robots in food assembly;;;;;; the illegal immigration issue will slowly subside when the feedback from no/low job opportunities in the U.S. begins to percolate back in Central America.

  3. unit472 says:

    Getting from A to B might be the easy part. Where to park and what to do with the cargo once there is not so easily solved. A meter maid might have some mercy on a truck driver double parking or stopping in a bus zone to make a delivery because she can see him doing his job. A driverless truck owned by a fleet is just going to be a cash cow for her to ticket.

    Then I can envision those ‘convoys’ featured in Smokey and Bandit movies where 18 wheelers clog and hog an interstate. I can put my turn signal on and a human driver might be kind enough to let me change lanes to reach an exit. Will a non human driver do the same?

  4. Phil says:

    Another question.

    What does this mean for the associated Unions and their pensions.

    If no one is employed there is no reason for Unions and no one paying into the pensions to support retirees.

    • AeroFX says:

      TAX every single ‘robot’. Every single robot worker gets a SSN and Corp America pays the tax. The time is now for the tax code to get on step with this. Make no mistake – there is no alternative. Work is still being done and value created. TAX EVERY SINGLE ROBOT or automated system that replaces workers.

      • Bryce Nelson says:

        I agree with AeroFX here. A robot tax makes perfect sense. Shouldn’t the goal of humans be to work less, not more with all this technology?

  5. David in Texas says:

    I would expect autonomous trucks to show up first on long haul interstates. For this to happen, though, the industry will need to work out the issues of speed and spacing for autonomous vehicles:

    1. Aside from direct driver costs, the other big advantage of driverless trucks is that the trucks will slow to the optimal fuel economy speed (the savings from doing this now would be offset by higher labor costs).

    2. A line of several dozen trucks going around 55 mph would mean that a single idiot going only slightly faster in the passing lane could cause a miles-long backup. Many trucking companies put governors on their trucks, and most regular interstate drivers have seen this while stuck behind one truck as it attempts to pass another and takes 10 minutes to do so.

    3. Thus, some system of creating at least 1/4 to 1/2 mile between chains of a certain maximum (3 or 5 trucks) would have to be imposed to keep interstate highway traffic flowing.

    I agree that it will happen eventually. However, I think there are still details that have to be worked out before it does.

    • Al says:

      A great opportunity to pull up on front of the truck bring it to a stop and unload it in the middle of nowhere, then torch it and drive off with a truck load of free stuff. So truck drivers replaced with Security Guards.

    • mulch says:

      So you agree. OK. Thanx. Dave. Is it OK if we call you Big Dave

  6. Charlie says:

    ” … and 4.4 million were insured enough to require medical attention.” Funny typo.

  7. Bobcat says:

    If you think engineering or software jobs are safe from automation, you have another thought coming. White collar jobs are perhaps in more immediate jeopardy than blue collar jobs.

    I highly recommend Martin Ford’s book, Rise of the robots.

    Entire occupations and profession are about to be eliminated. None of the presidential candidates are talking about this.

  8. Lisa says:

    I have doubts about Uber’s self-driving car play. Yes, it would eliminate the costs of the drivers, but as far as I know, the fee Uber pays to its drivers covers a whole bunch of costs it would have to take on if it went all automated: the car itself, fuel, insurance, maintenance, and storage. Right now, the driver takes the car home and parks it on his/her street, driveway, or in his/her garage. Sure, these self-driving cars can run all night, but there’s only so many places where there’s actually substantial demand all night. Most of those cars will have to go somewhere or just drive around with no passengers, burning fuel. Or, Uber will have to find places to park them, and will probably have to pay for that.

    The only way I see the self-driving car play work out is if the cars are still owned by somebody else. For example, I work from home. I used to commute by light rail. So, I don’t need a car most of the time. If I bought a self-driving car, I could in theory “share” it via Uber. Having it out there driving people around, making some money for me while I’m working would make sense. But, this idea depends on people buying these cars — and being able to afford them. I’m sure some people will buy them eventually, but I’m not so sure enough people will do so fast enough for Uber to become profitable.

    • EVENT HORIZON says:

      And when YOUR self-driving car has an “accident”, you’ll get a nice “demand” letter from a Personal Injury Attorney demanding full compensation for YOUR passenger…………….see you in court.

    • mulch says:

      Call me a hopeless romantic but I envision Uber motels where automated cars can share a night together, after their shift, participating intimately in private rituals of procreation.

    • Mike Earussi says:

      I’ll pass on that. Having a passenger piss on my seat or take a razor blade to it just for fun is not something I’d care to happen to my nice new car. Renting your property to people you don’t know almost never works out.

      • pbrower2a1 says:

        There are already terms for rental cars. Some rental companies will not allow people to smoke or even take a pet along. (I could tell you whether a used-car owner took his dogs for rides. Dog claws can really scratch up a dashboard. One is responsible for malicious damage.

        I would not be surprised if a car rental agency eventually prohibits people from drinking or eating in the car. One might spill a soda or drop some greasy fries.

  9. Dan Romig says:

    This has happened in Ag with both planting and harvesting. Of course, driving a tractor or combine in a wide open farm is a bit different than driving in traffic.

    • nick kelly says:

      It’s not a bit different- it’s completely different. You’re on your own property- there are no applicable laws ( except the usual ones re: negligence) and no other traffic from other parties.

      The large mining companies also have self-driving ore trucks- on their own property. They are essentially street cars without tracks- following the same route- which could have guide beacons along the route.

      One thing to be determined ( along with a dozen others) what happens if the GPS transmitter goes down. Do a million cars pull over?
      The odd thing about all this: why is the obvious app- the bus, not getting more attention?
      It goes around the same urban route all day- it has large dedicated parking spaces, it has a highly paid driver ( in Canada anyway)
      My theory as to the hold up- it calls the bluff. There is no reason why a self- driving bus shouldn’t be running next year. Why are all the outfits dabbling in this diving in the deep end- and believe me, if you think parking in a crowded lot is a pain now, wait until a few of these things are in the dance.

      • Rupert says:

        First electric powered driverless bus now being trialed in Perth, Western Australia. French technology. They expect early deployment of a fleet.

      • Richard Hill says:

        A mining company in Western Australia has a large fleet of so-called self driving trucks. However, like air force “drones” they are actually controlled from a centre in Perth some hundreds of km away. One operator can handle several trucks. Some of the in-vehicle drivers can get jobs in these centres.

  10. r cohna says:

    The probability is that driverless cars in cities will be powered by electric engines not gasoline.This will reduce pollution and reduce consumption of gasoline,which is the largest single product (almost %50 by volume) from crude oil refining.In turn this will lower oil prices with all of its implications for oil producing countries and sections of the US.

    • Mike B says:

      It is a common fallacy that electric cars are “pollution free” but in actuality all they do is shift the generation of the pollution from the tailpipe to a smokestack somewhere. The electrons that charge up the battery still need to be generated.

      That said, having the pollution generated at one spot that can be better scrubbed, monitored and perhaps mitigated is still a good thing.

      Then there is the issue of lithium supplies….

      Main point is. There Aint No Such Thing As a Free Lunch.

      • Nicko says:

        There is plenty of lithium in the world…it can even be mined from sea water.

  11. Insta says:

    All it takes is one driver at a terminal to move the tractor rigs between trailers and back trailers up to loading docks to replace the many drivers that were trucking down the interstate previously.

    • David Sullivan says:

      We already have that person at the terminal they are typically called yard dogs by people in the industry.
      David the trucker

  12. RD Blakeslee says:

    An android texts a call to be picked up by a self driving vehicle; The ‘droid needs to pick up some chips to plug in. Payment by bitcoin from virtual reality account.

    Mankind disappeared some years ago.

  13. Bruce Adlam says:

    I don’t see it happening for a long time .you can’t guarantee digital or GPS signals 100% of the time they all ways crash at some point that is not tolerable. I can’t see how you can stop that .signals through free space is not 100% reliable no matter what they don’t

  14. It is well to remember that one company’s employees [costs] are many other companies’ customers [profits].

    What goes around, comes around….

    We also have a problem with our “pay-as-you-go” pension system [Social Security] How will the robots contribute to FICA to pay the retirees?

  15. Steve M says:

    This will take all the fun out of NASCAR. Or perhaps make it more interesting. I’m not sure.

    Regardless, I’ll pass on the self driving car and wait for the first self driving horse; running on neither gasoline or electricity, but hay.

    • RD Blakeslee says:

      I’m 85, Steve, and am here to tell you the self-driving horse was common in the days of fresh milk delivered from a horse-drawn wagon to households. The horse stopped at each customer’s house while the driver jumped off, set the bottled milk on the porch and picked up the empty bottles.

      The horse moved on to the next customer’s house (skipping houses in between) and the process was repeated.

      The delivery man never touched the reins.

      • Steve M says:

        Thank you. That was the point.

        The ones who sharpen their minds can’t see that God hands out the brains, even to so-called “dumb” animals.

      • night-train says:

        Back in the early 1900s a renown geologist in the southeast rode a mule that learned to stop at outcrops so that the rider could nap in the saddle. Low-tech, but effective.

  16. Tyler from Grand Rapids says:

    I work in the industry and it’ll happen. I still think slower than we think combined with the obviously incredibly efficient and well intended thing we call the government legislating the legality…. o wait

  17. Petunia says:

    I’m a techie and I’m not holding my breath. This is the 8 track tape of the auto industry. The real innovation is flying cars.

  18. Kreditanstalt says:

    Nicole Foss calls this naïve faith in man’s ingenuity and inventiveness-if-freed-from-restriction “techno-optimism”. It seems to most affect those of a libertarian or “conservative” bent but many statists and even socialists fall victim to it too…

    WHO is going to (be able to!) pay to buy, operate or use these vehicles? With what earnings? From what breadwinning jobs? And who would WANT to?

    Each new technological improvement, feature or function also is typically taken up by a smaller and smaller share of potential users. iPhone 15, anyone?

    Bring on Jim Kunstler’s ‘World Made by Hand’ instead, please!

  19. EVENT HORIZON says:

    In my area is one of the Largest and most powerful Personal Liability Legal firm.

    They are salivating at the thought of the first injury law suits. There are MILLIONS, if not BILLIONS, of dollars to be made in suing the “manufactures” of “self driving” cars.


    Let’s have “self” operating Dentists and Gynecologists. Really. Let’s have self re-pairing Toilets. Really.

    Damn, I wish I was a Personal Injury Lawyer now. There are MILLIONS, if not BILLIONS to be made.

  20. EVENT HORIZON says:

    The technology for “Self Flying Airplanes” has existed for over 20 years.

    Auto-Pilot, Ground Radar, Laser altitude devices that can measure Altitude to less than an inch…

    Why don’t we have “Self Flying Airplanes” today? Think of how much we can save by having NO Flight Crew. Hell, have self-service for drinks and food. Let the passengers get their own peanuts and drinks.

    Flight attendants and such are so ’50’s

    We can have Self Flying Airlines with NO CREWS.

    So, why don’t we have this? Just one accident, and American Airlines will have a class action, Multi-Billions dollar law suits from the dead 250 passengers.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      We already have self-flying planes. For now they’re not carrying passengers. But that’ll change.

      We have subway trains that transport hundreds of passengers – without a human driver/engineer on board. These trains can react faster to someone jumping on the tracks than a human could. They’ve been around for years. At first people had all kinds of fears. Now no one cares.

      My parents died in a Boeing with pilot, copilot, full crew, and 150+ passengers. This stuff happens. It didn’t stop air planes (or me) from flying.

      • SteveW says:

        I find it very interesting that all this time, energy and money is being poured into self driving cars. If it takes ten years to perfect it, it should coincide with the collapse of the oil industry.

        Reminds me of all the time, energy and money spent on tight oil sources. A complete fiasco, one that will never repay the time, energy and money invested.


      • mulch says:

        I’m sorry for your grievous loss, Wolf. But the point is, Corporate enjoys inserting humans, as a buffer, into the process so that it’s legal team can deflect blame on poorly resourced employees that staff this buffer in the event of something catastrophic.

        Torts is a business model that technology doesn’t address.

      • Richard says:

        How awful, Wolf. I am so sorry.

  21. d'Cynic says:

    Ha ha. My first reading of the title was: Self-Driving Vehicle to Wipe Out 4 Million. :)

  22. Michael says:

    Build something no one needs, something no one wants,
    something that is not even fully legit, something that you
    could endlessly hype – IPO and profit.

    This in essence is Uber’s exit plan even before they copied
    taxi app idea and some said code.

  23. EVENT HORIZON says:

    These “soon-to-be-unemployed” 4 Million people will get great jobs in:

    1) Cleaning up the accident damage on the roads.

    2) Towing away destroyed “self-driving” cars which won’t be able to “self-drive” themselves out of the accident zone….

    3) EMT and Fire Suppression crews.

    4) Working as, or for, Personal Injury Law firms.

    5) Software programers who will have job security always trying to figure out why that “self-driving” car drove “itself” into that child exiting the School Bus…………..

    6) Un-insured, Self-Driving Vehicle, insurance salespeople……how do you sue a car? Who is the Defendant? How do you check the driver’s license of a “self-driving” car? What if the “self-driving” car is under the influence of 10% Ethanol? If a car with no driver, drives into a person, and nobody saw a driver, did an accident really happen?

    …”Self-Driving” cars and trucks will produce more jobs needed to clean up the mess of self-driving cars and trucks.

    • d'Cynic says:

      7. Hackers breaking into self-driving cars’ software and self-driving them to hacker’s garage.

      8. Private detectives paid to locate escaped self driving cars.

    • mucl says:

      What happens when the driverless car drives itself over? We’ll need special courts to preside over these weighty matters.

  24. Mike R. says:

    Will never happen. This is peak hype by the peak tech crowd.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      I think you’re confusing the “crowds.” This is a game played by the big-old company “crowd”: the automakers.

      They’ll be building the cars. They might then own a lot of those cars, and you can get a car via your app if you need one for a trip to the store. That’s what automakers are thinking. They’re looking at this as a paradigm shift. And they’re going to be on the forefront or die.

      Urban vehicles (passenger and cargo) are first.

      • Marty says:

        Nope. It’s the silly-con valley’s next combined with their all police state, all the time, nothing more.

        Just like Theranos–it’s futuristic idea with a Big Brother goal.

        The goal is controlling the people, as always. It’s just an extension of hackable cars with the internet of things. Michael Hastings times 10.

        Eg. I jump in my car and tell it to take me to the next state over where there’s no sales tax on the washing machine I want to buy. But, I need authorization to go to over the border, and the self-driving car won’t go there.

        Wolf, your lack of imagination is shocking.

      • JerryBear says:

        I worry about the awful accidents that will happen when self driving trucks encounter situations they were not programed to deal with. Human truck drivers spend years learning how to do this and it is not easy. I have never met a computer whose judgment could even begin to compare to that of a trained human mind. And do you really think the public will be willing to put up with the appalling amount of collateral damage that things like this will inevitably cause.

  25. Sam says:

    Welcome to the Future. In downtown San Francisco, a new automated eatery called Eatsa is dishing out 30+ variations of food without any visible human interaction.

    You order via a kiosk or mobile app, customize for allergies and preference, pay using your credit card (it remembers you for the next order), and within 5 minutes, you see you your name on the leaderboard with a cubby number. You go to the ‘cubby’ a small microwave like window with tinted glass, tap on it and voila your meal is ready for you to eat.

    No tipping, no errors, consistent experience every time. The future seems to require less human labor. Humans in the future will be part of an automated workflow, filling the gaps between automated systems.

    • chris Hauser says:

      automat. but what happens when it’s the wrong order? or unsatisfactory?

      on another tack, an interesting article in bloomberg was carlos slim’s interview where he thought three day workweeks were the answer.

      for whom?

    • nick kelly says:

      Again this is a variation of the vast majority of robotic, or automated operations. It is a packaging operation.
      What robots don’t want are unforseens- a warehouse or bulk- into- individual packaging op never needs any variation in the action required by the robot.
      An example of a robot we all use is the ATM- but we don’t think of it as one.

      I have no doubt that versions of self-driving vehicles for urban trans are feasible- think street car without tracks.
      But driving a car in the full variety of experience ( other than around a mapped urban route) involves extraneous and unpredictable variables.

      I’m surprised that more people don’t think it is odd for Ford to leap into robotics, where the key challenge is software.
      Boeing is a plane maker- without looking it up I’ll bet it doesn’t make avionics- including the auto-pilot ( which is a glorified cruise control, not a pilot)
      Ford doing robotics is like Apple doing transmissions.
      Re: Uber: as soon as this outfit has a run on its stock it’s done. It loses billions. If it had ALL US taxi revenue it would be overvalued.

      Everyone is trying to look like they are on the cutting edge- so buy my stock.
      I think this self- driving scenario will turn out to be the bleeding edge.

      After the Tesla self- driver fatal- the regulator should have ordered it to stop calling its system self- driving.

      Time will tell.

    • JerryBear says:

      That sounds an awful lot like those automats that were all the rage in the 40’s. I doubt this will be any more successful in the long run. People need that human contact.

  26. Chicken says:

    Perhaps truck drivers will be referred to by these machines as “Meat Bags”.

  27. Edward E says:

    Well they’re running me triple screamer hot lately, will read up more on all this. This fluff piece from Forbes says we’re going to be highly paid short hauling, yeah right. Doesn’t sound like much fun, I love to long haul… go to the Carolinas this time of year for the muscadine grapes and wine. Michigan right before the election for the Flying Monkey Ale ‘Hoptical Illusion’ thus never sure who I voted for, cannot blame me, Jawja for peach preserves, etc…

    Truck Driver Shortage Is A Shortage Of Imagination

  28. Tone says:

    The police will have to replace the subsidized funding or raise taxes when speed limits are upheld and traffic signals obeyed.

  29. Nik says:

    If you google WiFi Truck Convoy in Europe April 7th amazing amount of trucks in Convoys..with only the Lead truck having a Driver..with the rest running along the road on a WiFi link..Truly stunning,yet spooky in its employment ramifications…thanks for reading

    • mulch says:

      That is correct. Truck drivers are behind the curtains of their sleepers while the semi careens down the highway, hooked up to mobile local area networks (MLANs) . But their dispatchers don’t know it. The truck drivers can sleep or do whatever back there while getting paid for every mile. Drivers will one day look back on this era as the golden age of trucking, nostalgically.

  30. Duane says:

    As in all new technology, time will be the test. Living up north, I find that cars and trucks deteriorate at a rapid pace with the salt,snow,gravel,dirt,cold,warm temps,and generally crappy roads. One has to wonder how mechanically sound the car has to be before it is unreliable. One year , two,three before I have to buy another car. My car is 20 years old and go’n strong and good enough for the driving up here. I don’t see a self driving car being any where near 20 years old and functionally safe. Then there’s the reason people buy the big truck…. Not to sit in and have it drive, but to get behind the big old wheel and go for a ride out in the woods. Americans have always been car crazy and time will tell if they will change. The only way private owners of self driving cars will be able to go this way is if they order a ride (rent) so the car can be reprocessed and liability is not on them.

    • Marty says:

      Duane, you bring up an excellent point, which is the useful life of a car computer that has been upgraded with “patches” to its software for years. You know what happens to your computer with that idiotic practice, now coming to a self driving car near you.

  31. Humpty Dumpty says:

    The majority of commenters today seem truly threatened by the self-driving car with near shouts of ‘ain’t never gonna happen’ or ‘it’s all hype’ It is a curious reaction.

    The ONLY issues to resolve are the legal ones and they are not small, but over time, will become resolved . The technical issues are easily solved and well underway – my engineer friends in these companies say they are much further along then most people would ever imagine.

    So, it’s not when but how long from now – with the profits compared to current auto sales structures, the waiting may not be very long at all. This is the rise of the robots, indeed.

    I also like the link at the end, Wolf, to the CEO’s conference – we have entered a new era where so many will be idle – and so far, it has not been comforting to see the allegiance governments have to themselves and their central banks compared to citizens pushed to the economic sidelines. Because of that, car makers see an end to multi-million unit car sales where margins are now paper thin. That is only one industry already making the huge adjustment to so many who will be unable to buy their products as the market is now structured.

    The car companies have found a formula to provide a service not sell a vehicle and make a ton more money while improving the budgets of the average and below average income consumer. That’s win win, not hype.

    • night-train says:

      True. Denial is the first response to unwelcome news. Automation is, and will be, the great social disrupter. At some point in the near future, there will be a baked in 25%, more or less, hardcore unemployed. Folks better start planning for dealing with that.

      • chris Hauser says:

        the new demographic is already here.

        and we are it.

      • EVENT HORIZON says:

        Any “self-driving” car hits me? My wife? My Children? There is HELL to pay.

        I’m suing for EVERYTHING I can get out of the company. I will
        “hire” the most greedy, nasty, clever Personal Liability Law Firm I can find to sue the soft-ware company, the hardware company, the engine supplier, transmission supplier, distributorship, dealership, etc. etc. etc. Glare on the windshield? Hello Pittsburg Glass. Sensores not perfectly clean? Hello Windex.

        And, the defendant, the “self driving” car will have no defense.

        $100 Million, here I come.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          How’s that different from a car with a driver hitting your wife?

        • Bryce Nelson says:

          The only thing different about a car with a driver hitting your wife is the frequency. Humans make far more driving errors than autonomous cars. So yes you will still be able to sue if you get hit, but the chances of getting hit will be far lower. Accidents are already lower with autonomous cars, so I really don’t know what Event Horizon’s argument is.

          Insurance will cost less for autonomous cars through lower accident frequencies. Also, having no driver in some of these autonomous vehicles will lower personal injuries that cost insurance companies a boatload.

  32. Peter says:

    You’re buying the hype Wolf (understandable for living in SF).

    You’re confusing what’s technically possible with what’s readily incorporated into our human system of expectations, laws and practices.

    It’s the whole expectations thing that is most troublesome.

    I expect not to be killed by my car or another car. Driver-less vehicles throw a monkey-wrench into that equation big-time.

    Will every town in America be able to insure their roads are pristine smooth and pot-hole free, bird free and deer free so our dumb cars can navigate properly?

    What if a gps satellite goes down or sunspots? Thousands may die as their cars careen off the roads.

    Tires blow out- will the vehicle be able to choose between careening into a school bus vs a tree??

    We have an infrastructure problem in this country. I can’t see these automated cars driving through Minnesota in the winter (or Chicago for that matter).

    And lastly- Are Americans so whipped as a people they want the US govt following every action in their cars? Not to mention the car cameras that will be photographing everywhere the car goes. You lose 100% of your privacy.

    Good article Wolf. I predict many communities will ban these cars from traveling on their roads.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      I can at least answer one of your questions: ” Are Americans so whipped as a people they want the US govt following every action in their cars?”

      Yes. Look at how popular smartphones are.


  33. Merlin says:

    Time to re-read the Asimov robot series and review the three laws of Robotics:

    “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.”

    • mulch says:

      It’s past time to repeal those archaic laws.

    • nick kelly says:

      You surely can’t believe that these ‘laws’ are other than fictional desirables?

      One of the active applications of robotics is weaponry- and the targets aren’t other robots.

  34. David Calder says:

    KC has had a fully automatic warehouse in Ogden for more than 20 years now. 7 stories and no humans. The pallets have metal strips on the bottom and follow a preset path and are automatically stacked and retrieved. These pallets can load themselves on outbound trucks but had to be manually unloaded at the destination but that could change in a blink. This won’t stop with cars.. Add in buses, trains, fork trucks; virtually anything. From Stephen Hawking to Art Cashin can see where this is headed.

    • nick kelly says:

      The difference: the warehouse is a completely self-contained environment- the task never varies.
      A car driver has to be able to deal with any of a variety of unforseens.

      ‘The pallets have metal strips on the bottom and follow a preset path…’

      Exactly . This is roughly the practical use of self driving vehicles in the short term.
      Prediction: if and when self drivers overcome the technical and legal challenges and actually arrive on our streets, the mall parking lots will quickly ban them- You will see signs: ‘Cars with drivers only’
      and another ‘Drop off zone for self- driving cars’
      The reason; their constipated, hesitant behavior will drive humans to road rage.

      • David Calder says:

        Nick, our buses now follow preset routes as do trains and even planes. As far as having a metal strip on the bottom of a pallet that strip will be a virtual one for delivery trucks and in general route trucks.. Anything that’s been given an address like a taxi or an airport shuttle will have their route preset and controlled just like that pallet. I don’t like it and will fight against it but how many people shopping at Home Depot have given up and now use self-checkout? How many people will refuse a self driven taxi when the only option is to wait for the few drivers who still drive and are competing against a machine that works for free and doesn’t take tips? The one thing we can bet on is anything that can be done by computer driven machine will be..

        • nick kelly says:

          I agree- that is the short term way to do this- but it’s not what the self-driving true believers are hyping.
          One question to ask all the time: will your self driving car be capable of human control or not?
          Everyone would like a car that can take over when they are tired- a free chauffeur!
          The market for a car that can ONLY be self- driven (no human controls) and can only be driven over mapped routes is a completely different sell. The market now for individual consumers might be close to nonexistent.

          PS: Mr. Ford’s visionary leap into this is not shared by shareholders. They want to bring back Mullally as CEO, who would probably focus on the now.
          In several previous posts WR has predicted a huge crash
          in auto sales and the new sub-prime, their financing.
          It is easy to forget that the only reason Ford didn’t need a bailout in 2007-8 was because it had almost gone bankrupt just before the GR- it mortgaged everything, the land under the factories, the Ford logo (since redeemed) everything.
          This re-fi could never have been achieved once the collapse began- Ford too would have needed a government loan.

          One thing with Big Three- back out trucks and they don’t look so good. Look at the bitchy ads- more hauling power than X, better gas mileage than Y.
          Ten years ago they never mentioned the other guy.
          Desperation is in the air.
          They’ve sold a truck to every guy that needs one- and for every one of those- several to guys who don’t need one.

  35. night-train says:

    Well I’m not giving up my horse for one of those newfangled horseless carriages. Many of the comments here point out potential problems for driverless vehicles. And you can safely bet that those problems are being worked on. All that is needed is time, money and a demand. Nothing says demand like huge potential savings for large corporations.

    Thank you for using our automated sales system. Your purchase has been credited to your account and your credit card has been charged. You may expect your purchase to be delivered by drone within the next three business days. Please press 1 if this is satisfactory. Please press 2 if changes are required. To speak to a human being, you are a human fossil and it ain’t happening.

  36. 1964 says:

    It can’t come too soon.
    Perhaps we’ll see the return of the neighborhood pub.

  37. Dan Romig says:

    Lot’s of comments, but what about the enjoyment of driving a performance car and/or motorcycle?

    I enjoy driving my mint condition ’95 Lexus SC400, and have performance wheels, tires, brakes and suspension. Since I live in Minneapolis, I have a set of snow tires mounted to another set of wheels. I would not switch to auto-pilot driving unless mandated by law, and I doubt I am alone in this. Anti-lock brakes and traction control are all the computer help I need.

    Ain’t no auto-pilot going to drive my Kawasaki ZRX1200 sport bike in traffic, but some techies probably have worked on motor bikes too.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      I used to love driving too. I barely survived my motorcycle years (and swore I’ll never get on another one). And I loved sports cars. Nothing like putting a rear-wheel drive vehicle into a four-wheel drift around a tight turn with a big drop-off on the right and a rock wall on the left, and no idea what’s coming at you. Used to love those sorts of things – the feeling of control, the feeling of being on verge of losing control, the rush…

      So I totally understand. And there will always be cars for people who love to DRIVE. Just like they’re still making vinyl albums for people who love LISTENING to music. They will be the kinds of cars and motorcycles you’re talking about – not basic transportation equipment.

      • nick kelly says:

        OK you were an adrenaline addict who has kicked- that is good.
        I never did like danger but loved and love driving.
        However I don’t live in a crowded city. I don’t even want an automatic- enjoy shifting.

        When I look at car ads on TV it seems to me that the love affair with the automobile, and driving is undimmed.
        A metaphor for their proposed mass replacement with self drivers: ‘procreation now automated- sex obsolete.’

        The motorcycle is a whole different league in terms of danger ( no wonder you liked them!)
        As a teen I had a motor bike and was one of the few in my little gang unscathed. One guy got his foot caught in the spokes- took an hour to get it out.

        You are roughly 70 times more likely to be killed on one.
        Two have recently lost control on the highway near here – 3 dead.
        Good weather, good road, no sharp turns…?
        I can’t help thinking that ‘ape bars’ where the driver’s hands are reaching way up, are a guarantee of loss of control if something goes wrong.
        If you hold a steering wheel the wrong way you can be failed in your test- just happened to a friend- such a weird mod to a bike’s steering just to look cool is stupid

        Major league baseball, for one, has it right in big contracts- no motorcycles.
        As they say when the manager walks out to change pitchers: he’s seen enough.

      • David Sullivan says:

        Will there always be . manually driven cars? How much of an improvement in accident rates do automated cars need to provide before the cost are insuring a manual car is cost prohibitive?

      • JerryBear says:

        Wolf, you are right about the vinyl. Digital music just somehow lacks gonads. But I feel the same way about computerized cars, I just hate them! I drove a standard with rack and pinion steering and regular brakes for many years and I loved the sensual feeling and handling. It was like I could feel the road beneath my feet.

    • Very active thread showing awareness/dread and interest/concern in the coming tsunami of “robotic” change about to break onto the workplace and society/culture.

      From the historical perspective, this appears to be at least as a profound change to the economy/society/culture as was the “industrial revolution” which largely eliminated the small independent craftsman, for example spinners and weavers, and the independent producers such as clothing stores and dress shops which produced their own goods for sale. We are well into the elimination of small, independent retail establishments, which are being displaced by the giant chains.

      No one knows what the establishment of a permanently unemployable “underclass,” because there are no jobs, (and which may well be a majority) will be, but it will be severe and profound.

      A few critical questions:

      1. With huge numbers unemployable, who will buy/consume the products produced, and how will these be paid for?

      2. Should a “human equivalent” tax be imposed on producers using robots, where the robot owners pay an amount equal to what the displaced workers, at minimum wage, would have paid in FICA and income tax?

      3. Who is to own/control the robots?

      4. How will the robot “profits” be allocated/distributed?

      5. How will the available work be allocated, and what criteria is to be used?

      • JerryBear says:

        I think some sort of socialist distribution system will be in escapable with basic goods heavily subsided or outright free. We may have a negative income tax for most people too. Money is already largely meaningless, it would not involve any major financial difficulty. I think most of the free enterprise and work will be involved in producing luxuries which obviously cannot be socialized. Many people would be willing to work hard for the goodies of life. as for essential human work, the ones doing this will be admired and envied. Hours and days of work could be limited to allow all who are qualified and really want to work to do so.

    • Indeed! For all our love of and identity with the motor vehicle, it seems as if we’re spending a lot of time figuring out how to not drive them. Seems to me as if all this investment (intellectual, financial, and otherwise) in self-driving cars would be better spent fixing our existing rail infrastructure and taking it further with more light rail, trolley, even buses. Self-driving cars do nothing but make already bad drivers worse, and probably next to nothing in reducing energy use and congestion. One of those, “Just because we can, should we?” technologies in my not-so-humble opinion.

  38. AeroFX says:

    Tax all automated systems and ‘robots’ who replace workers. All taxes paid now to be paid by that robot or system. We wont be running out of workers at all. With proper taxation Social Security and other things will be paid as they should be by those Corporations and its ‘workers’. Make them PAY!

    • While this seems reasonable, what is to stop the mega corporations from simply locating their “robots” in Mexico and then importing the super cheap goods into the US?

      We are constrained by the corporate written NAFTA, TPP, and TPIP trade agreements, which sold out the majority of citizens.

  39. Ptb says:

    The real elephant in the employment room. The need for far less people to carry t simpler tasks.

  40. Mick says:

    Wolf – I dont usually comment. Really love the articles and especially the comments & interactions from your generally intelligent and insightful readers. You have put together a great site.

    That said, you are right on – the self driving car is happening. I am surprised by the level of skepticism among the commenters. This is no fad – its a shift and will change everything (probably in ways we cant even comprehend right now)


  41. dave says:

    just gonna say im not a fan, i love a long road tripper, i love cruising down the highway. this seems like a good idea if you are in a major city or for older people who shouldnt be driving can still keep their freedom, but is it truly freedom? or a loss of freedom?
    until all vehicles are self driving i think anyone who uses this option is an idiot. with so many drivers on the road who are illogical algorithms will have a hard time adapting to crazy and what you are trying to accomplish is for not just more wrecks and death.
    how thought is this? if the car does the driving why would you by a sports car. any performance car that is fun to drive. ford will be selling fewer mustangs and gm corvettes. what is a ferrari going to offer you to buy their car if you cant drive it. people buy these cars for the pleasure of driving. all you will need is a big box on wheels.
    the good news is municipalities wont need as many cops. if the car is driving there will be fewer speeders and bad drivers fewer tickets less revenue. less lawyers.
    and hackers will have a whole new system of computers to hack. home might belong to someone else and you are powerless to stop it. i think we need to revisit the movie maximum overdrive

  42. patrick k says:

    How ever long it takes and with jobs lost it will be worth it. Those 4 million jobs lost will turn into 20 million new ones. The transition to driverless cars/trucks will be akin to autos replacing horses. What it will lead to is anyone’s guess but if past is prologue it will be worth it. If nothing else, it is estimated that 75% of current auto production will not be necessary. All the space in cities dedicated to parking will not be necessary. Your garage will become another bedroom. Those are just for starters. The list is almost endless. The only thing that is certain to slow it down are politicians who depend on tax and fine revenues for car owners. Some small towns depend on their speeding tickets to meet payrolls.

  43. Jacob says:

    Not only will self driving cars monitor the surroundings constantly, they will be feeding that
    data back into the system to improve it.
    From road traffic to road conditions and everything in between.
    Think about how much improvement there has been in most of these labor saving systems.
    Self driving vehicles are next , not soon , but surely on the way

  44. Shannon says:

    I live in a college town. Many of the student cars are held together with duct tape and wire. These automated vehicles will only be certified to ‘work properly’ if the car is in mint condition.

    So what if the tie-rods or sway bar links go? How about misaligned tires or gradual problems with the suspension or struts?

    People will be required to instantly take the car off the road if there are any defects.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      But why would you want to own a self-driving car? Just call one up, and it shows up at your door when you need it, on its own. Let someone else worry about parking, maintenance, insurance, etc.

  45. Robert Murphy says:

    Wolf, I think your number is significantly understated. You haven’t included the reduction in jobs related to the reduced number of traffic accidents that will eventually be achieved. Auto Repair and Insurance Companies will be greatly affected. They’re also going to lose jobs.


    • Wolf Richter says:

      You’re correct. I just focused on drivers. But that kind of epic change in how an economy operates has drastic impacts elsewhere – and probably over time causes many more job losses, though some other jobs will be created, but not nearly enough.

      Look how automated warehouses are operating. Just a few people and mostly machines. Busy warehouses used to be beehives.

  46. Terry says:

    Add up the job losses from personal injury firms, Chiros,insurance company’s, auto repair shops etc as technology makes cars crash proof, not that far in the future.

    • nick kelly says:

      Re: personal injury firms.
      A specialty like mergers and acquisitions?

      Don’t mean to be sarcastic but personal injury and divorce ARE the vast majority of law billings and in Canada MVA are the overwhelming majority of injury claims. (Unlike the US, where you can claim millions if someone hurt your feelings, our damages have to be actual, with punitive a max of triple the actual)

      If someone could wave their magic wand and bring the true self- driver, as billed by the hype, into mass operation tomorrow, at least 80 percent of your typical 1-5 person law shop goes bust.
      That’s the promise- accidents disappear and so does liability.
      But IF there is an accident- who or what is liable?

      True self- drivers, which I think are possible but not feasible in the near term may save countless individual accidents and replace them with one BIG ACCIDENT- the day the GPS went down or was hacked.
      The self-drivers have a common centralized input.

      If you are a lawyer doing run of the mill MVA stuff and over 40 I wouldn’t worry too much about your job disappearing.
      But for a while you may be doing both- the usual and lots where the self driver f*cks up and you sue a biggie like Tesla for millions.

  47. DanB says:

    Oh, thanks god it is only a tip of an iceberg. Think electric cars – no internal combustion, hydraulics, exhaust, fuel and other systems. Body 3d printed at your friendly corner robotic print shop. Fuel comes from power wires. Car repair shops would be largely gone I hope. Oh and cars are shared – GM, FORD and others in business of landing you money so you can buy their product will be gone as well. Analysts replaced with computer, oh and don’t forget the next major thing – I can’t wait for computers to program themselves. World will be very different in 10-20 years, or hopefully a lot sooner.

    • nick kelly says:

      If it wasn’t for your last 4 words I would have thought you were making fun of this whole robotics thing- it reads like sarcasm.
      Ten years ago was 2006- what is FUNDAMENTALLY different now? There haven’t been any major technical breakthroughs.
      Elon Musk ( who I give all credit for being a disrupter) has said anyone can use his patents. This is not as magnanimous as it sounds because he has no fundamental patent. There is no difference between the batteries of 2006, or the motors, and the ones now.

      The material deposited over and over by the 3D printer is plastic. The main utility of 3D is for a manufacturer who uses it to create a MOTHER- an exact model of the item to be manufactured.
      From the Mother he takes a mold, which can be used to mass produce the item.
      You could theoretically use the mother itself- but only within the limits of the 3D plastic ‘ink’ it is made of.

      Much of the hype re: 3D ( and is it ever hyped) thinking it alone can make anything- ignores materials science.

      You could use 3D to create molds for jet engine compressor blades, but the blades themselves have to be titanium.

  48. naresh says:


    i noticed a garbage truck using a clamp to pick up the bin and put it back on the curb for household garbage collection . i remember when there used to be 2 or three lads doing it.
    so now the driver does everything i guess that is the future.

  49. Cambric Finish says:

    I am a programmer, so let’s take a little tour on how we are going to program some very simple situations for our fully autonomous car that can drive in any conditions a human can, no restrictions else you are hedging your bets. So, the pizza is put in our driver less car to deliver the pizza to your house 8 miles away. 1 mile away our car is waiting for a red light for 3,4, 5, 6 minutes, what have
    you programmed it to do, stop at red lights for how many minutes, then what? Same situation but there is man in blue with a badge waving at you, how does your program respond? Same situation with a man in a yellow coat waving. Same but the man is across the street on the corner blowing a whistle. Same but there is a barricade across the street with an arrow pointing left (blocking for a parade maybe?).
    Same but there is a small sign on your side of the street that says Detour to Elm Street. Let’s try something else, there are boxes on your side of the street blocking all lanes, what does your program say to do. There is a moving van blocking 3/4 of the street, does your program say go around into on-coming traffic to pass?
    There is a delivery truck blocking your side and no way around, there is a drive way to your right, did you program the car to try to maneuver using the driveway to return back the other way. Maybe there is an animal blocking your lane, laying on the road. Did you program it to run over the animal. Did you program it to run over boxes?
    There are boards strewn across your side of the road. Nails on the road. Stop?, cross over into on-coming traffic?, run over the nails? Remember, the program is receiving sensory input which it has interpreted all the objects it can. What is simple for a human to determine, say a man across the street waving frantically for you to stop, palms facing you. How does a computer determine the intensity of the wave, the facial expression, who the person is looking at. Driving is not only about keeping the car between lanes and not hitting things but also interpreting confusing or ambiguous situations all the time. The only way we will know how this works is by testing the program by running our autonomous car in ever more challenging conditions and dangerous conditions without a driver to bail it out. You are really ready to put millions of these cars on the road in the next five years or so, testing their ability to interpret complex scenes and make instantaneous decisions based on how a programmer decided to control the car for a virtually infinite number of possibilities. At best, I think any viable product will have very severe limits for the environments in which it can operate. A fully autonomous car within ten years,
    I would not even want to be a pedestrian with those on the loose.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      You’re ignoring essential parts of the driverless universe (Google them!), including traffic lights that communicate with cars electronically, cars that communicate with cars so that they can (for example) drive bumper to bumper and know when the first one is breaking, traffic control personnel that have electronic devices (smartphone with special app?) on their belts that communicate with cars, and so on.

      Local detours are not YET part of the mapping system. But it’s not hard to handle: stick a simple electronic device on the detour sigh that tells the car about the detour and how it goes.

      The boards with nails on the road is the same problem humans face: humans either run over them and get a flat, or drive around them, or stop, get out, and removed the boards, or stop and wait …. causing a traffic jam. Nothing changes.

      The insurmountable problems you imagine have already been surmounted.

      Do you know how many pedestrians get killed in San Francisco every year by cars with drivers? A lot! In 2015: 24!

    • Nik says:

      I am about as Low-techy as a person can be these days..lolol However,as a programmer You Want to Install ALL the Answers,correct? In your comment references to that not the job of AI in the whole confused Vision,Applications and Decision-making processes involved in this ‘Driver-Less’ universe…?

    • Nicko says:

      Living in a mega city, I use uber exclusively for my transport. It’s cheap and efficient. However, the human driver is the weakest link. As to your fears of obstacles on the road….the simple and obvious solution is to establish exclusive, autonomous driving lanes (Many cities have bus lanes, or heavy truck lanes).

      • nick kelly says:

        This will have to be done to get this thing truly functioning- with the lane wired and/ or beaconed.
        The lane will be ‘aware’ of SDV ( did I just make up something?) and of those in front and behind. These things will require a ‘smart’ lane- not to function in a test with a human ready to take over, but to be FEASIBLE.
        The tough part, sorry A tough part is parking. They will have to have large dedicated drop off spots, like a bus.
        I predict that if they were turned loose without same, malls and/or municipalities will ban them from parking lots, as humans go mad with road rage at the SDV’s nervous, over-reactive attempts to park.
        Folks who think these things can be turned loose on anywhere that’s google mapped may reflect that TV was working in 1929, but wasn’t really feasible for another 20 years.

    • mtspace says:

      Good point! Mankind are in possession of a much better technology which is capable of processing all this information in blazing speed and it’s free. For the price of two burritos a day you can have that super computer working for you. It’s called gray matter. It’s here. Versions have been upgraded for millions of years and it’s nearly perfect.

    • Ian says:

      Great post. In short there are millions of visual signals that it is almost impossible for any sensors to pick up never mind translate into action. Wolf’s reply about all the other systems being in tune and communication with the driverless cars is perhaps fine but we are nowhere near that so how do we in the meantime integrate the old ‘analogue’ and new ‘digital’ systems. Hence my post below asking for someone to explain where the legislation and regulations are on this, I have not seen anything on it but the cars are starting to appear, how is this right?

      • Wolf Richter says:

        Humans cannot pick up those “millions of signals” either, and they certainly cannot process them. Humans are terrible drivers. They can see hardly ANYTHING when it gets dark or foggy or when they’re drunk… Vehicles with human drivers killed over 38,000 people in the US in 2015!!! And injured 2 million more.

        In San Francisco alone last year, 24 pedestrians got killed by vehicles with human drivers (SF is not a huge city … 850,000 inhabitants). How can you NOT see a pedestrian? But that’s human, not so see even big things.

  50. It’ll be good for paramedics, tow trucks and attorneys.

    • Cambric Finish says:

      Thanks, Wolf. I admit I have done almost no research on the technology. However, my point was not that such scenarios can’t be handled but all such scenarios must be handled. And when there are a set events that the program has no response, it will respond in inexplicable ways, like driving into a large truck. Your premise is it will be better than human drivers, yes, maybe, eventually. You can see by the response to this that there is a deep concern about the road that gets us there. Pun intended.

    • TheDona says:

      The Liability issue is something that has not been addressed at all. So, yes, definitely good for the Attorneys.

      Have not heard anything from Insurance side. This in itself could stall it out as a no go for decades. Which perhaps by then the technology will be ready.

      Right now all of this hoopla is to keep these companies in the public eye to raise even more funds.

  51. Kauf Buch says:

    …and, how many job losses due to:
    1) passengers in these vehicles killed in accidents caused by them, and
    2) pedestrians run over by these vehicles?!?

  52. thejerkstore says:

    Where is all the energy that is required to power said robots, vehicles, gps systems etc going to come from? If some individuals are to be believed the energy return on investment is as 1/4, (1 barrel returns 4 barrels) compared to the boom of 1/40 and that the shale revolution has yet to be profitable methinks that we need to be concerned with finding energy, than being concerned with robots. Not a peep about any of this.

    • SteveW says:

      You are so right. All of this speculation and calculation is just so much mental masturbation until we find a solution to the approaching Seneca cliff in petroleum products and everything that relies on them.


  53. Even though the idea of self driving cars may seem brilliant at first, it’s kind of stupid. Yes, it would be good for the blind, the physically impaired and the party drinking. But with so many unemployed people making next to nothing salaries, and the astronomical costs of this new technology it just doesn’t make any economic sense. That only make sense if you are trying to get rid of people (workers) just because you don’t like them. That cold be the case. If you are trying to improve transportation and have billions to burn why not invest in public transportation that will unclog our streets and roads, reshape our urban environment and bring people together?

    • Coaster Noster says:

      “get rid of people just because you don’t like them.”??

      What about the fall in oil prices? Was that because we don’t “like them”?? I mean the 250,000 people laid off in the drilling business, the refineries, US Steel (drill pipe orders dropped, so many plants closed).

      If you follow the Institute for Transportation Studies (as I do) you would know that “vested interests” would prefer individuals in cars, buying gasoline, and driving fast. Improving public transportation is so costly, and budgets so meager, because Congress won’t fund it: donors to elections demand no improvement in “socialist transportation”.

  54. Coaster Noster says:

    I observed the sign hanging from the recent TechCrunch in San Francisco:


    Well, everyone is focused on the vehicle, and no one is talking about the infrastructure: roads, and the cost of road-building. Pedestrian overpass on I-80 in San Pablo, CA: $17 MILLION!! 50% of Los Angeles County, is pavement. There is a backlog of ONE TRILLION DOLLARS of road and bridge repair in the USA. It’s an unsustainable system.

    I think everyone will be surprised (except, ….me!) as to the “pivot” and “Disrupt” that will take place in the whole Freeway/highway mode of travel, and its infrastructure. Just going to “driverless” and “autonomous” won’t be the key.

    Count me as a “love to drive” guy, but ownership and driving have become negatives. Will love to give it up soon (except on a Nürburgring-type track!!!)

  55. Ian says:

    Maybe I have missed something but whenever I read about this the first thought in my head is – “when did the laws change, or did they not have to, or does nobody care”? This is a monumental step to essentially allow a car to control itself but it seems like things are just barreling on without any change to legislation. Surely there must be some form of minimums; what happens when your car goes for a roadworthy test, who is going to check that the auto pilot is working correctly?; how do these cars interact with normal drivers?; what are their weak points? There are a multitude of questions to be answered but I don’t see them being asked by the authorities or plans being made. I am not against this, I am just aghast at the ease in which it seems to be inserting itself. I was totally shocked at the report of a death in a Tesla where apparently the thing was on auto pilot, I thought hang on, how is this allowed? We live in such a nanny society where everything is legislated, I cannot believe that this just slipped in. Please explain someone.

    • Coaster Noster says:

      Ian, you are assuming that a majority of these cars will be individually owned. As was forecast by the CEO of Lyft, autonomous vehicles will typically be owned by fleets, not individuals:

      Fleet maintenance is the only way to economically operate autonomous vehicles. Unless you can own a $120K Tesla and feel no financial pain, private ownership of a vehicle, as John Zimmer has stated, will disappear in ten years, except for rural environments.

      Lyft can afford, and assume, the liabilities involved. When it is your business, and not simply a household chore, things are taken care of: mandatory! How many cars have you seen, dragging a damaged bumper? Not a lot, but it illustrates a point: the sooner we take private maintenance, and insurance, out of the financial burden of people’s lives, the better off in so many ways.

      Car companies see the shrinking water hole of car sales coming. They want to be certain to “drink” at the coming sales water hole, however small, rather than be crowded out. Better to be downsized, than extinct.

  56. Tim says:

    Is this what we’ll get?

    Dave Bowman: Hello, HAL. Do you read me, HAL?
    HAL: Affirmative, Dave. I read you.
    Dave Bowman: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.
    HAL: I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.
    Dave Bowman: What’s the problem?

    Dave Bowman: HAL, I won’t argue with you anymore! Open the doors!
    HAL: Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.

    I’m confident that industry/gov will make the wrong decisions. The vehicles will be making decisions based on policy. You can get any color car you want, as long as it’s Hal.

  57. pbrower2a1 says:

    Another industry that could get hurt: roadside motels. If one can simply put the car on autopilot and sleep while the car gets one on an overnight journey between Chicago and Denver, then one might not need to stop in a motel overnight. Of course persons in the car could start their journeys around bedtime ….

    Another unforeseen consequence. Of course people might use their cars more, which would be a boon to the energy business.

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