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A deceptively simple question

Every innovation in transport technology has geopolitical consequences.

Railroads facilitated the great mass infantry wars that ravaged Europe from 1870 to 1945. Rocketry made the Cold War icy-cool. Air travel gave us Douhet's doctrine of strategic bombing. Cobbled roads built by Roman legionnaires made the Roman Empire possible. And so on.

So: What are the likely geopolitical consequences of self-driving cars and trucks?




You mean, apart from a new playground for hackers and security services? Funny, as it happens your own excellent Halting State novel goes part way to answering your query...


Self-driving cars and trucks would seem to be, strategically, just a special case of drones. Ground level drones have a much longer linger time... measured in days, weeks, or months... and can carry heavier payloads for a given power budget. They can't be deployed quickly, though, and if they're large enough to carry a significant payload they won't be stealthy. Automated tanks and walking drones could replace some of the functions of infantry and mechanized cavalry, in the early phases of a ground assault. Remotely operated walking drones could even provide credible "boots on the ground", but they'll be susceptible to ECM for a denial of service attack at least, so I think they'll be tried out but they'll have to be supplemented by local intelligence.


Self driving vehicles are going to help make the Steve Jackson O.G.R.E tanks a reality. I am not convinced that the era of large scale warfare is over forever. Self-driving technology will make the possibility of automated armored attack vehicles a real one.


On a societal level, it will put an awful lot of people out of work, and hollow out the well-paid driving/trucking jobs. There's already pioneer mining projects in Australia which run around the clock with automated trucking.

In military terms, it's hard to say. America gets it in the neck, but western militaries are the most interested in keeping humans 'in the loop' because they define their professional identities by adherence to international humanitarian law. Self drive vehicles would make complex suicide attacks by irregular forces a lot easier, and suicide free. On the other hand, increased automation would allow high tech, low manpower forces (like the UK) to continue to throw their weight around, and the lack of casualties would bypass (to a greater degree) the traditional check on warfare which is coffins being flown home for a cause citizens don't understand.

The greatest effect is likely to be logistics. Consider the 'tooth to tail' ratio in contemporary militaries is usually something like 1 person fighting for 9 people supporting them. The UK found ways to increase its number of fighting troops in Afghanistan by outsourcing logistics to contractors (so 6000 people in country could all be fighting or close logistics support, rather than half of them driving trucks up from Pakistan). If that gets automated, then western militaries will be able to deploy more front line troops, weighted against support troops.


Smuggling. A car that never drives suspiciously at all would be great for smuggling.

The end of open container laws?


(by local intelligence, I mean local intelligent drones - humans - boots on the ground - not spies)


I'm not sure that these aren't more comparable to the invention of the autopilot. Large (relatively) changes in domestic regulation/law regarding them, your examples above, there was a significant change in transport speed and/or capacity. Self-driving cars might bring forth some increase in road capacity via more efficient or tighter separation patterns, but I'm not sure they represent a significant change in access, speed or capacity over 'normal' cars or just buses.


Most construction equipment for building roads is already automated, not just mining equipment. The drivers are mostly safety backups.

I believe a lot of farm harvesting is the same.


Why just self-driving cars and not self-driving drones?

I remember that in Norman Spinrad's novel "Osama the gun" self-driving autonomous armed cars are used to securize frontiers of territories occupied by the US.


Let's start with the basics: learning to drive a car becomes a niche skill, like learning to ride a horse, it's not something that most people need to know how to do.

Owning car becomes a lot less important; we're seeing the leading edge of this with car sharing schemes. Transport becomes a utility that one summons at the wave of a mobile phone. The end of "my car" as an extension of me. The end of the car as important consumer good and ego-signifier in culture.

transport becomes "take me to Croyden", and a car pulls up. Maybe it will take you to a railway station, maybe it will drive the whole way there - that decision can be deferred to the routing algorithms and today's traffic data.


"Ogre" is a nickname, not an acronym. (And Steve Jackson got it from Keith Laumer's Bolo stories.)

But yes, at the very least I'd expect to see one-man armoured vehicles in the not-too-distant future, with the sole crewmember becoming increasingly optional. I don't think Ogres are likely (even with lightweight composite armour, they're simply too heavy to be practical in mobile warfare), but mass armies of drone-tanks are a much more plausible bet.


Let's ignore trucks for the moment. But cars: that's freedom and the American dream (or the freedom of the Autobahn/Autostrada), and self-driving cars are a non-starter in this realm. I mean Jeremy Clarkson evaluates the latest Samsung self-driving car (needs to be reset for regionality as he crosses the border into..)

The stimulus for take up is probably insurance. Honda Robotics in Munich have been looking at "assists" to the driver -- for example signpost recognition, again using the silicon retina. It's able to strip out saliency with extremely low bandwidth. You'd need a frame-rate of about 2-5kHz and processing power sufficient to crunch out the salient features with standard kit (see Tobi Delbruck's youtube clips from INE, Zurich), whereas temporal-differencing does saliency for free,

Now logistics is entirely different. Get the price down, and show a decent return on investment, and Bob's your Uncle (as we used to say in Hatfield, when Viscount Robert Cecil's nephew succeeded him as PM). The logistics measure is factory to shop-shelf (real or virtual) total transport cost. If you can get item-recognition and selection, factory-to-distribution hub, and hub to customer total costs minimized then you're in business. Whether that involves trucks or palletized intermodal transport is a secondary consideration.

So this technology -- neuromorphics -- is of interest even if you don't go the whole hog and get it to drive the vehicle.

One of the problems with cognitive robotics -- as pointed out to me by Chris Melhuish (Director of Bristol Robotics, UoB/UWoE dual position) -- is that roboticists like to be sure about a robot's behaviour, especially when it gets to mix it up with the squishy-bodied meat-sacks. "One ill-timed expansive gesture to emphasise a point, David, and a rigid titatnium robot arm will take your head off!" So we were going to explore the use of flexible structures (e.g. fibreglass, or carbon fibre) for limbs. The difficulty is that controlling such limbs is much more tricky than the rigid case (low-order (O(10) say) degrees of freedom vs uncountably many degrees of freedom). This is even more the case if we endow robots with cognitive behaviour: if the robot learns to "push the envelope" whilst driving, who carries the legal liability? The programmer who gave it the ability to learn, or the machine itself?


What do you mean by geopolitical consequences?

Militarily, nothing will change pretty much. We already have self-driving combat vehicles.

Financially, though, I predict a horrible collapse of the real estate market, as commuting to work from a much bigger distance becomes feasible. Do you think today's suburbs are big? Well, they are nothing compared to what's gonna happen when people can wake up at 6:00, get into the car and sleep for 2 more hours as it drives them to work.


After all of the technical kinks are worked out (too many to list here), and the obvious tensions between pedal-libertarians sorted, the reduction in stress should bump QoL levels for a high percentage of the population. I would include the rise in dc electric powertrains to this equation. Geopolitically, on the downside, satellites will be pressure points for national security... an increase in satellite defense systems  and redundant terrestrial NPS (National Positioning) networks?


I seem to recall you talking about this in 2009 at Montreal WorldCon, and the discussion bent toward the problem of how to provide insurance for these vehicles. (Or maybe the talk was about flying cars. Yes. It began as a where-is-my-jetpack conversation. Krugman was on and on about how the American domestic kitchen hasn't changed since 1955, completely missing the fact that there are more men in there, now, contributing to household labour, because apparently advancements in social equity are not as important as shiny new gadgets.)

Anyway. The insurance would be a nightmare. Or rather, it would be a nightmare for the paying customer. It's a dream of avarice for the insurance provider. Imagine the premiums they could charge for failing to do the latest firmware upgrade!

I imagine it would also change licensing, and tests. Weirdly, you might wind up with more licensed people, who just sit on the lowest tier of licensing. And in turn that means a wider jury pool, draft, voting body, etc. depending on how your area uses the DMV as a data resource. Plus it would mean more people having an identity document with increasingly-close surveillance attached.

It might also change rush hours. You'd be less concerned about getting in to work "on time" if the hour spent commuting could also be spent tidying up that day's PowerPoint or whatever. If you manage to send all the emails, who cares if you're in the office? So there might be less crush. More morning sex, so perhaps longer marriages. More people eating breakfast.

...Now I'm hungry. More later, as I think of it.


In fact, I predict the emergence of Car Sleepers, who will commute to work for 4 hours and more in every direction and sleep ONLY in cars, except on holidays.


In the short term, there will be a sharp divide between haves and have-nots on the road, as self-driving cars will probably be given their own barricaded-off lanes at first. Initially this will be everybody else wanting "those crazy death machines" safely separated from "real" drivers; later it will be embraced by wealthy self-drive owners as a way to keep the riffraff out of their sight on the road. One of the last great equalizers of modern society will be gone.

Eventually there will be self-drive-only roads. Manual-drive access will be roughly as common as bike lanes or horse trails, but the affordability of self-drive will lag this somewhat, so there will be a period of time where the poor simply can't go some places.


We're seeing it already with drones. It's the other side of asymmetric warfare. The poor already have fertilizer bombs and suicide belts, substituting labor for the capital invested in infantry platoons & B-52s. Rich nations are increasingly substituting capital for labor.

The future looks like the Terminator franchise: shiny metal bots fighting hungry humans who live in holes. No need for Skynet, though. Just some guy in an air-conditioned room outside Albuquerque watching on a video monitor.


carjacking, armored car heists, getaways all going to be a lot harder if the authorities have an off switch or routing control. Also if most of the traffic is automated then having a manual won't help much.
somebody missing query all vehicles for last known companion and location


These are mainly from an American point of view, though some of it applies elsewhere.

1. Truck-driving, as noted before, becomes automated. This allows 24-hour scheduled deliveries, since humans are no longer required and thus sleep schedules become irrelevant. I expect a decade (or two) where human "drivers" are required on board, mostly due to union insistence, but that eventually drops away. Shipping efficiency goes up, driving prices down.

2. The roadside motel industry is eviscerated. Destination hotels survive and possibly even thrive. Roadside rest stops will persist-- gotta pee and stretch your legs (A few roadside hotels will doubtlessly survive, possibly as "love motel" type destinations.)

3. Car rental becomes point-to-point; no more going to the rental office to get your car. You just say where you are, where you're going, and when you want to get there; the car shows up where you are at the right time and you get in and go. Rental offices becomes service depots, which kills the counter-clerk side of the business.

4. Due to #3, regional airline service is hit hard. Right now, according to many business travelers I've talked to (including me), the usual threshold for booking a flight rather than driving a car is four hours' drive. Less than that, and you can drive there faster than the TSA-gate-wait-fly-debark-taxi combination, and without the TSA humiliation tango. More than that, and it's generally worth the flight, assuming you can get there direct. Self-driving cars would raise that threshold a fair amount. Figure eight hours' drive as a rough measure, but that is actually variable: I might well auto-auto from NYC to Chicago (a 12-hour drive) because I can go overnight, thus letting me sleep for much of it and work or read or play video games for the rest.

5. Auto-autos start to ship with lie-flat seats with five-point harnesses, at least until better safety systems are developed (crash foam?). Seats also become pivot-able so the whole family can make a circle during the day, then go to forward-facing recline at night. Or rear-facing recline.

6. I suspect that laws will be passed allowing auto-autos to go faster than the posted speed limits, at least on highways. These will be largely driven by auto-company lobbyists as an incentive for buyers.

7. The ability to put long caravans of closely-following autos (think three-foot separation) allows for fuel efficiency increase due to drafting. This happens first with shipping trucks, soon followed by passenger vehicles.

8. Fewer traffic jams.

9. See also Vanzetti's point about suburbia.


It will create a large mass market for robotics, which means lots of money poured into the field, which means accelerated advances in the field, just as the markets for semiconductors and personal computers drove progress in those fields.

And really advanced robotics has some pretty scary consequences. Imagine what the Vietnam war would have been like if the American government had been able to send over a bunch of robots to do all the fighting, without risking any American lives. Most of the American public was pretty apathetic or pro-government about the war as it was, even with all the American soldiers who were killed.

And, of course, one great thing about robot soldiers from the point of view of a corrupt government is that they'll follow whatever orders you give them. Destroy villages? Kill massive numbers of civilians? Torture prisoners? Arrange accidents for pesky journalists? Robots don't have consciences, they won't object, and they won't leak anything to the media.

Similar issues come to mind for domestic policing. And prisons. And let's not forget how useful really small robots would be to spy agencies. "Fly on the wall," indeed.


It will change the cost-per-km of road transport, both in absolute terms and relative to other forms of transport. IIRC, the largest cost component of a truck today is the alert human. Other savings will likely be possible (slow steaming).

This will change the shape of the map — places connected by road will suddenly be "closer" to each other in terms of transport cost.

Here in Australia, we may end up drinking more Australian orange juice and less juice from Argentina. That's trivial, though.

The importance of shipping lanes may diminish somewhat, as they have more competition from the road. Similarly, ports and sea access will be less economically important. The interiors of islands and continents will shrink even as the shorelines remain the same length.


Your self-driving car will inevitably have an NSA-style software backdoor built into it, allowing it to be remotely controlled by agents of the state. The declared reason for this will be to prevent it from being used for crime or acts of terrorism. However wait until the day war is declared, and watch your expensive auto-Fiat or robo-BWM set off on its own for the front, conscripted to join the military as a weapon.


In social terms, places like Florida suburbs with many elderly but no public transport or local stores will remain livable for longer. There will be probably be fewer cars, and fleets of cars owned publicly or by infrastructure companies. This shifts investment away from car manufacturers but also of the extras/aftermarket; investment that will probably shift into homes / portable games to use on journeys.

I am not sure whether people who currently drive to work will shift the now-freed-up time into sleep and longer commutes, as suggested in previous comments; I expect some of that will shift into work on the road (like Googlers working on the gbus between SF and the Mountain View campus); but a lot will go into entertainment (online games / TV / facebook) and some into education.

More world-wide, it'll provide large countries with a decent infrastructure with yet another advantage over poorer countries; the minimum investment required to become competitive with first-world countries goes up yet again. First-world workers will now have an extra productive hour or two per day; some of the cognitive load shedded which will be used for work/innovation; that'll have a huge impact.


Once domestic self-driving cars become nigh universal in some fully industrialized nations, the knock-on effects to non-group tourism should be interesting to watch. Tourists landing in an area where self-driving cars only exist in the urban core, if at all, will be less mobile than they once were. These non-drivers will need a human driver to get them places, and that lack will further drive development of the infrastructure needed for self-driving cars in those tourist-spots.

Being able to drive yourself in foreign countries will be seen as much more of an interesting-adventure than it is now.

Secondary to that, business travelers moving from ubiquitous to none countries will likely have to maintain driving skills. Those traveling entirely domestically can skip the rent-a-car step and just take an automated ride-share to the hotel, and thence on to wherever. In less developed countries this may be doable to the hotel, but the from-whence step much less likely.


Over time, driving becomes a niche activity, looking much like it does already for a lot of petrolheads. Driving yourself becomes a point of pride for certain groups, the people who would be in the Institute for Advance Motoring anyway. Most people don't miss it. Getting a drivers license is no longer necessary, and stops becoming a rite of passage. Road deaths fall significantly. Young people increasingly live in satellite villages to towns as getting to and from social events is no longer an intense pain in the arse that requires a bus that goes home at 9pm, or not drinking.

Road signs disappear, as robo-cars don't need them, and GPS and phones mean that pedestrians, cyclists etc don't either.

People no longer own their own cars, but summon them when required. This frees up a lot of space as you don't need to keep your own car nearby, which leads to the pedestrianisation of many streets. Cars park in central parks in industrial areas and transport hubs. As less people need an individual car sales of vehicles fall, leading to higher prices of vehicles (which are mainly sold/leased to taxi companies/clubs/co-ops anyway). Car companies suffer a crisis as their sales drop, and their focus changes to more reliable vehicles, that cost more and are updated less frequently. Areas that rely on jobs from car companies suffer a local recession due to layoffs from manufacturing plants (hello, sunderland). Cars put on miles more quickly as they don't spend most of their time sat outside a house or workplace.

The car club/taxi firm you use becomes the status symbol equivalent with ones specialising in privacy, speed or comfort and some being really expensive just to show off. A human driver becomes the ultimate status symbol.

The range of electric cars becomes less of an issue as you can quickly swap vehicles mid-journey while you stop at the services for a rest break. (doesn't work so well when you have two grumpy children and 6 huge bags, admittedly).

Your phone checks the checksum of the car's software before you get in to check it matches it's official registered software version after a series of crashes/kidnappings due to hacked software.


Erm, people. Charlie asked for geopolitical consequences.


I think self driving cars and trucks are likely to emphasize existing trends more than create their own, they're not that different from drivable cars and trucks.

Proposed trends:

1) Everybody fights - the logistical infrastructure needs fewer and fewer people as robotics takes over not only driving but production and mining. So, we could be looking at mass participation wars again.

2) If the logistical supply problem becomes easier, then more groups will have the necessary facilities to engage in warfare, so increased low level combat. However, the political situation will probably be the overriding factor here - who would actually want to engage in warfare.


A lot less parking lots, and more density when we reclaim the space. A self-driving vehicle only needs one parking space, and it does not have to be close to anything in particular.

Home delivery of anything, 24/7. Online retail will be the default, with brick and mortar hanging on only if it can deliver some form of experience that is actually pleasant and shoppers.

But cars: that's freedom and the American dream (or the freedom of the Autobahn/Autostrada), and self-driving cars are a non-starter in this realm.

I suspect that in the grand scheme of things these people will be largely irrelevant.

The big societal changes will happen regardless of whether or not human driving remains legal, or for how long, or on what terms. My guess: it will remain legal for quite a long time, perhaps with license suspensions much longer than they are today.

The big changes will come from people who want to use self-driving cars: the disabled, the professional and the indifferent (quite possibly in that order).

The disabled and those who have medical reasons against driving will take up self-driving cars for the obvious reasons. Depending on politics, they may even be the first group for whom self-driving cars will be legal.

The professional have an economic incentive, freight and travelling salespeople both. The invisible hand will do the rest.

Finally, I suspect a lot of people are pretty indifferent to driving. At some point they'll switch for the convenience, or for being able to have a couple of beers after work, or so that the kids can pick up themselves.

None of the big changes need 100% buy-in.


Here in the U.S., there probably aren't too many consequences. A truck worth of goods is worth having a human around to look after it, in much the same way trains still have drivers even though the train hardly needs them. Driverless vehicles make too-perfect drug mules, and are banned from ports of entry for that region. Around here, the fuel and the truck are the real expenses; truck drivers are "independent contractors" who make dismal profits.


Here's another interesting change. Developing countries during the era of self-driving cars won't build a lot of the infrastructure that today is considered essential. Much fewer subways, railroads, highways...


Random thoughts on the geopolitical side:

* All you now need to acquire a cruise missile with a several hundred mile range and considerable capacity is now the skill-set to steal a car...

* More people get really worried about relying on US GPS satellites. Galileo and other alternatives get more funding and traction.

* Silly amounts of military infrastructure is involved in getting stuff from point A to point B. How much of a saving do you get by removing the people? Would it lead to significantly cheaper - but more capable - military structures as more time and money can be invested in the folk who are involved with actual combat?

* Car ownership numbers are already dropping in the US. I imagine he same is true in other parts of the developing world. This can only accelerate as the automated driving / zipcar / uber mashups start appearing. That amount of money and infrastructure is going to be spent in new and different ways.

* Suddenly a lot of brownfield real-estate appears as people figure out new and interesting things to do with garages. New building doesn't need to take them into account. Gradually our towns and cities stop architecting themselves around parking.

* I wouldn't be surprised if it would change the economics of road vs rail transport in places like the UK.

On the humans-being-humans side:

* There's a whole new area of status display around the auto-uber-zipcar rental option you have. The poor get picked up in the shared minivan-bus hybrid. The middle class get the equivalent of smart car with a desk where they can polish up the morning TPS report on their tablet as they swig a starbucks. The rich will have self-drive limo with fold out bed where they can catch a few hours sleep as they drive into the city from their country house.

* The self-driving motor home changes how some folk live on the road (getting 2000AD flashbacks ;-)

* What other interesting things can you do on-the-road? Would self-driving pizza delivery restaurants become a reality?

* Wouldn't be surprised if speeding and other perceived "minor" road crimes committed by human drivers became more and more seen as "serious" as their effect on the flows in automated systems became clearer.



Caveat: we haven't seen a modern economy "fully" mobilized for war yet. It might be different then, but I tend to doubt it. Driving is just not that large or well-paid part of our workforce.

I don't see the increase in suburban sprawl that various commenters have predicted either. The pull of the cities is growing, the push from the cities shrinking, and the suburbs have realized they have to become more like cities. And who wants to sleep two hours in a car to go to work? Have they ever slept in a car? Gah.


To get more technical, what this advance mainly does is replace labor with capital. All the other changes Charlie mentions, even the Roman roads, result in new frontiers on the Kármán–Gabrielli diagram.


The only "geopolitical" implication I see is that various nations need to start preparing for the threat of having a hostile party cripple their internal logistics by hacking the vehicles.

Given how totally many modern societies depend on timely delivery of food, this could have almost immediate and catastrophic consequences for the whole population, not just military.


In general, I agree that the military effects aren't likely to be huge. I don't think needing a driver is a huge military constraint. Possibly relevant: The US had a sharp lesson in Iraq/Afghanistan about the importance of fuel economy, and has been working on it.

On the other hand, needing a driver limits how *small* a load is worth delivering. I'm not sure what the current lower limit is, but I'm guessing 1000 pounds except in weird situations. 10K pounds?

If you have swarms of little robot vehicles and courier drones, what changes? Just in time supplying?

If both sides have self-driving vehicles, they'll have to be armed or accompanied by armed vehicles.

Note about general use: I found out by experience that sleeping in a moving car is better than not sleeping, but after some days, it isn't nearly as good as sleeping in a bed.


A lot of embassies and consulates in developed countries suddenly look a lot more like those in developing countries with tank traps and the like. It's relatively harder (although not impossible) to recruit suicide bombers in the UK and US, and similarly harder to import them from elsewhere. Now get your motivated terrorist to nick a suitable self-driving car, pack it with explosives, crash it into the embassy and BOOM!

I suspect that's the first change.

Insurgents around the world have doubtless learnt that IEDs are really pretty effective. I would imagine that replacements for the Land Rover, Jackal, Mastiff and Ridgeback will look at something more heavily armoured for the humans and with self-driving capacity. If the driver doesn't have to see out after all, you can have thicker armour and so on. Yes, to some extent that's fighting the last war, and I'm sure they'll come up with something else but it's somewhere I'd expect to see it used.

Some military is going to come up with something nasty. Not straight away, but soon. Miniaturised self-driving mines say. Forget treaties outlawing mines, they'll say they're not a minefield because they can be instructed to drive back to base to be decommissioned or some such. You want to deny the enemy that suburb or that city? Drive your micro-mines in an watch them blow themselves up.


I can think offhand of some kinds of stuff I'd be hesitant to buy online, here are a couple:

1) any kind of food I can inspect for problems, and possibly quality difference when I see it in the store(i.e. fresh produce)

2) clothing, since the way a piece of clothing sits on you is very individual, as is(more importantly, for me at least) the feel of the specific cloth against your skin


OK, geopolitics, eh?

The surprising thing to me is the longevity of the national alliances/antagonisms.

England's allies: Portugal (1380-present), Russia (Ivan the Terrible - 1917)

England's enemies: France (still the longest war on record).

England's diplomatic strategy (Edward I to 1950): destabilise any attempt at political union within continental Europe (Perfidious Albion). One could be forgiven for thinking that the Tories and kippers seem to have not noticed that this has now mainfestly and comprehensively failed, and is in urgent need of replacement.

Most of it is down to geography: neither France nor Spain were ever really able to dominate the other to the extent necessary to assimilate the other. And the reason is the Pyrenees. Similarly for "La Manche" and France/England. If either side conquered the other (1066 or 1415) it was only ever temporary; a unified Kingdom necessitated making a decision on London/Paris thereby alienating a large swath of the political players.

The other question -- assuming geopolitics is a euphemism for warfare -- is: does war make economic sense? I think the answer is "no", but the political temptations are all but overwhelming to a democracy. For example, Margret Thatcher would have been political toast had she failed to declare war on Argentina, and therefore I doubt she ever really considered any other course of action. Events pretty much forced her hand. Or the hand of anyone else likely to be PM, and faced with a similar situation.

So self-driving trucks and cars affecting geopolitics? Nah. The technology required for these devices: you bet! So, cognitive robotics for air-interception: bring it on. Cognitive MBTs: not so much. Target selection is so much trickier.

The ability to put long caravans of closely-following autos (think three-foot separation) allows for fuel efficiency increase due to drafting. This happens first with shipping trucks, soon followed by passenger vehicles

Once the tech for this is in place, if gas prices go up significantly over the next 10-20 years (somewhat likely), that will make this style of travel a lot more attractive, putting further pressure on the move to using self-driving vehicles which can take advantage of this, for everyone.


Driving loses its macho associations decimating the penis-substitute market.

Privately owned cars disappear replaced by door to door taxi services. Some of those taxis provide soundproof sleeping compartments. Edinburgh becomes a commuter suburb of London. Areas 8 hours drive from London become the new home-counties. Property prices in places two hours drive from London plummet. Similar major upheavals in the property markets across the developed world.

Al Quaeda car-bombs don't involve martyrdom any more.

Hackers reprogram all the traffic in a major city creating gridlock. Unable to move goods or emergency vehicles riots and looting break out. Thousands die. Microsoft CEO jailed for manslaughter after being found to have released insecure software. Microsoft builds secure software, customers and developers complain bitterly.


There's a short story from the late 60s or early 70s - told, I think, in the form of a series of inter-office memos - describing the development of automated safety features in cars, which somehow morphs from centralised locking system to mobile missile defence systems (and, naturally, counter-measures against same). Might be some ideas in that, if anyone could track it down. All I remember is (a) what I've just told you and (b) reading it in a Gollancz anthology which my father had got out of the library, at around the same time as I read an equally dystopian story called "Consumer Report" (about the systematic militarisation of football hooliganism as a means of containing youth unrest, basically).

I can be less specific.


Systematically hacking the autonomous cars is a new geopolitical risk --- the most convincing on this thread. (Some of the others are happening already, regardless. You don't need to hack an autonomous driving system to provide routine surveillance of motor vehicle usage: license plate readers are already widely deployed, as part of surveillance camera networks. To say nothing of tire pressure monitors.)

Aside from that, autonomous cars and trucks are pretty much another way of using the pre-existing road network. That means in particular they only go where it goes. (So, I'm not at all clear why some think that they'd somehow require dramatically less of it.) They might well use it better --- there's considerable evidence that many traffic jams are the result of glitchy humans overreacting to transient local conditions --- but, much as that might improve lots of peoples' lives day to day, letting them take their eyes off the road probably makes more of a difference. And I'm not sure that those effects are nearly transformative enough to change the geopolitical balance.

Autonomous tanks might be a little different, but only to the extent that the brass doesn't regard the grunts inside as expendable resources already....


Online food delivery has one advantage - it does not need to store fresh produce a couple of days on shelves. In theory that should result in fresher and better product.

Personally I would not mind at all getting an extra pair of whatever I forgot to launder delivered at 08:00 in the morning. True 24/7 retail will rock.

On the other hand, a brick and mortar clothing shop could use the logistics of self-driving vehicles to restock quickly. Perhaps some people would like a clothing shop that has new clothes to offer every day?

When it comes to geopolitics I suspect that it will be cheaper to power self-driving vehicles with electricity. That may have some slight impact on fossil fuel consumption and trade patterns.


Well they tried tankettes before with little success one of the reasons tanks stick with 4 man crews is to make the daily maintenance required to keep a MBT fettled and ready for action easier.

self driving trucks would improve the teeth to tail ratios not sure if it would reduce the need to humans to guard the convoys in hostile areas.

You could imagine where you are doing LRDG raiding having autonomous war pigs (the big trucks the SAS and SF use to resupply raiding parties from)


Daniel Suarez covered the military applications of self-driving cars (autocars) in Daemon and Freedom_tm[1].

The short version is that they allow:

(a). Packet level logistics/supply-chains (packet switched supply-chains vs circuit switched). This is already true, but autocars would allow fine-grained routing.

(b). On demand (JIT) supply chain and automated weapon rental (set an auction for the water or vehicle support you need in 8 hours let the invisible hand of the whuffie[2] market solve it). Command and Control is no longer a command economy, replaced with Auction and Effect.

(c). Really slow cruise missiles that are indistinguishable from SUVs because they are SUVs.

(d). Autocars make nice surveillance and CCC platforms as well.

Outside of Freedom_tm, the US military wants an autocar so that it doesn't have to worry about soldiers/contractors dying to bring supplies between military bases during an insurgency (see Iraq, Afghanistan).

A military that used autocars for logistics would greatly reduce the number of soldiers in support roles. This would in turn reduce the resources necessary to sustain combat forces which would again reduce the resources used. Think the Propellant Mass Fraction[3] applied to war logistics. With automated supply chains, armies flip from 80% support 20% combat forces to 80% combat forces. As logistics becomes easy, so do empires. Nations can utilize recruits more efficiently so you need a smaller population base. Occupation of other nations costs less in terms of your resources and lives. It shifts the balance of power away from traditional guerrilla warfare. A second age of empire building (I don't think this is a good thing). Only those with Nukes are safe from the new empires.

The Roman empire was built on its roads. Napoleon's greatest weapon was his lack of a supply chain (he had a JIT supply acquisition process). Alter the efficiency of logistics and you change everything.



Here's an unintended consequence, although I'm not sure whether it qualifies as "geopolitical":

The world's default driving methods will become those of San Jose, California... because that's where the closest-to-actually-commercially-ready systems are being developed. That means:

* complete inability to handle roundabouts/traffic circles without pausing at the entrance

* no limit to the number of lanes one's vehicle crosses on the way to the exit that one didn't plan on taking

* the less said about merging into traffic, the better

* things are even more interesting on the left side of the road; it's actually a lot harder to "reprogram" across the centerline of perception than it is for people to adapt (it's about sightlines, too)

On the other hand, that sure beats Riyadh or Madrid or Tokyo. (Or Manchester, but that's another story entirely.)


I think you underestimate the "penis-substitute market" and that one won't really go away, even after the current generation of car lovers passes away.
Muscle cars are not always a penis substitute; often more of a hobby, especially when it comes to vintage or rare vehicles, and any dedicated enthusiast will stick to their vehicle ownership for life.

Having said that, I think the way driverless cars will be marketed is as "The Chauffeur" and the first ones will be very expensive, before they filter down to us peasants (kinda like how mobile phones gradually became ubiquitous).

I think the interesting part will be when the haggling starts over whether private companies (like the manufacturer) or the Govt get the jump on things like overriding the destination in case of a city wide emergency, or just downright causing all vehicles to park at the side of the road to let the emergency vehicles through. It sounds mundane until you find yourself trapped inside the car at ground zero, so that the ambulance or fire engines can gain access despite your best efforts to drive the hell away.

What else.. Shopping malls will probably look a lot like airports, with huge roads in and out devoted to fast pick up and set down, rather than taking up parking spaces.

I guess public transport will improve, or we'll have a more efficient traffic control system without carbon units causing havoc. In Sydney I can cycle across mostly busy areas in peak hour that are pretty much devoid of cars, in relative peace. The experience in a car is horrendous, because most of the streets accessible to bikes are blocked to entry by cars. (Yet a huge number of cyclists in this town insist on riding on busy roads "because they can' in much the same way that I could punch myself really hard in the groin, because i can. Sorry, I don't know why I suddenly needed to get that off my chest.)

An automated system could filter traffic away from collision site (if there were still any collisions) and disperse it more efficiently. The carbon units behind the wheels are pretty much always going to cause a traffic jam.

And it would be hard to hack. The current system (carbon units driving) can be hacked with a knife/gun at an intersection. Drive the vehicle onto a bridge and ditch it? City standstill.

Driverless cars and automated traffic control? Hacking one vehicle won't really cut it. Terrorist incident? Divert all traffic in an orderly manner, down those streets that drivers are not aloud on at present.

Finally, even if you owned a vehicle, your rights within that vehicle would be restricted to that of an airline passenger. I think that's the take home for me. Touch the wiring in your car? You better believe that's a paddlin!

Like if you took the current car makers and threw in some crazy DRM shenanigans.


Militarily speaking, we see drone tanks, and drone tank battles, with comparatively small loss of life (of at least military personnel).

God will no longer fight on the side of the heaviest artillery, but on the side with the deepest and most robust industrial base. What are you going to do when your fleet of robot tanks is destroyed before the other side runs out?


In the west, urban sprawl will probably become more pronounced but less dense as self-driving cars begin to fill the niche between distances best traveled by car and distances best traveled by airplane (one-hour and two-hour flights will disappear except as charter flights and on holidays when someone in the upper middle class can have his toyota drive him from New York City to Cleveland, OH in eight hours while he naps). This means that rather than having dense urban developments surrounding airports (the equivalent of cities following ports historically), you get dense urban developments following businesses and points of interest at a much larger distance, with less population density at the urban core amongst people who are in the middle area (they can afford a car, but cannot afford to take a charter jet to work every day or -- in the united states -- take a train in places with no subway system). This will probably also leech off some of the people using the subways and using greyhound busses, since it has all the benefits of these means of transport (being driven by someone else while you pay attention to something else) with none of the drawbacks (the drunk man who took a crap on the seat next to you and is now trying to get you to give him a blow job). It will probably also eat up some of the users of taxis, but taxi services will switch over to this as well. I suspect that it will not annihilate private ownership of cars, although it will tip the balance toward (now less expensive) taxi service in urban areas amongst people who might otherwise keep their own car.

Outside the industrialized world, I suspect that it will be heavily abused in a military context, but also (interestingly) in an industrial context. The extremely wealthy will be able to use this tech to expand small puddles of wealth and infrastructure and to hop between them without requiring as many outsiders to rely upon. This may actually increase the instance of silo'd off gated communities.


JIT military supply is one of those things that sounds great to certain types of mind, but is actually unavoidably followed by hideous problems. Most obviously, the minute it becomes not-quite-in-time, your problems tend to spiral out of control. Napoleon, as you observe, did very well by having his armies live off the land - until the march on Moscow, where there simply wasn't enough to live off. The survival rate for his soldiers was about one in five, including those who deserted long before the going got tough, despite the fact that total combat casualties amounted to around one in ten. That leaves 70% of his army dying cold and hungry due to lack of supplies.

If you routinely store six weeks worth of gear anywhere you set up a modest-sized base, the loss of one convoy to enemy demolition of a bridge is a nuisance, and a set-back[1]. If you're under attack, and today's (lost) convoy was carrying the ammunition you need to keep the guns firing tomorrow, the base is in very serious trouble. Come to that, if you've become used to a certain level of attack, and the enemy unexpectedly steps things up, the fact that you're not in a position to fire off a normal weeks worth of ammunition in the next twelve hours could easily cause a permanent loss of the soldiers and equipment in the base.

To summarise: JIT systems are efficient; efficiency is the enemy of redundancy (choose one: you can't have both), and sometimes redundancy is the better of the two. There's a reason why airliners have multiple redundant control systems when you could make the plane cheaper (and lighter, and so save fuel) without them.

[1] and, if you aren't using robotrucks, a rather regrettable loss of life


When I mentioned just-in-time military supply, I didn't especially think it was a good thing.

I assume that the tech for self-driving cars isn't that far from the tech for off-road self-driving devices, which might eventually include walking and climbing as well as rolling.

If satellites are crucial, then there might be satellite wars.

Satellites might not be crucial-- how far can ground-based or near-ground-based orientation go?


Under pressure from robocar owners and robotruck fleet owners they will finally build a bridge between Alaska and Siberia and a bridge between between Gibraltar and Africa.

Eurasiamericafrica will become a reality. People will be able to have a car drive them from Cape Town, South Africa to Santiago, Chile.

Robotrucks will make container ships disappear nearly completely,giving faster, more reliable service (not prone as much to oceanic storms) everywhere in the supercontinent. Prices will drop since it is easier to have standard robotruck fleets produced, operated serviced and maintained by robots than to try to do so with huge one-off container ships.

Commerce and peace will flourish like never before except for "off highway" places like Australia, New Zealand and other islands. Hopefully those isolated portions of the globe will once again be united fully with the rest of humanity when giant nuclear hovercraft are developed.

So much money will be made in small taxes on the bridges that income tax will be abolished everywhere!

And maybe those delicious Paarl valley fruit juices (I like the pomegranate and lime ones best) will be sold at a reasonable price instead of having luxury level stickers. I am withholding the company name since this blog is advertising for Charles Stross and not for a particular brand of South African fruit juice.


self-driving cars will probably be given their own barricaded-off lanes at first.

Nope. Not going to happen.

Reason: self-driving cars are not an all-or-nothing proposition. There are cars on the road today with adaptive cruise control, radar assisted anti-collision, automatic parallel-parking, and lane departure alarms. There are cars coming on the market within the next 12 months that extend lane departure warning to active lane tracking and have the ability to run in convoys. We're seeing new features added, so that cars take over increasing amounts of the workload. We're not going to go straight from entirely-manual-everything to push-button robot cars in one go; it'll take about a decade.

And the early iterations are out there on the roads right now. So no, we're not going to see separate roads. (If nothing else, there's no space to put them in most of the developed world.)


Self-drive changes the speed of vehicles and the nature of the road.

When you're not paying a human to drive it, you drive a vehicle slower for fuel efficiency. If it needs to be there at 8am tomorrow, 5 km/hr overnight to the next town is fine. You see a road full of slow-moving vehicles.

Just as important as self-drive is that the vehicles are in constant communication with each other. They know whats round the corner. For country roads, a single-lane road now carries (infrequent) vehicles in both directions comfortably, as you can pull in / move on a single, twisty country lane knowing you won't encounter another vehicle for 1.4km, by which time you can pull in.

You can redesign roads. Add rails. Expect to see an end to the road/rail split: newer roads would have embedded rails similar to trams. Steel rails means heavier loads can be carried. This is Important: Interstates are built to tank-carrying standards. Now general roads can carry heavy armored loads.

This has consequences in, ahem, "policing" operations. heavy, long-lived armoured drones on all but tiny bike tracks ...


Postal services could be packetised. Just drop off your package in a car, and it takes it to the depot, where it gets switched to a car that's going closer, and so on.a bit of fettling with the addressing and you could have some sort of TOR service for physical objects. Makes drug, weapon and biological smuggling a lot lower risk in places with a road link.

However, i'm going to guess that it'll be easy to add government mandated sensor packages to all the compartments, testing for drugs, explosives, toxins etc, with options for cctv and audio recording. Depending on how the car ownership model works it'll be hard for crims to get about anonymously.


... wait until the day war is declared, and watch your expensive auto-Fiat or robo-BWM set off on its own for the front, conscripted to join the military as a weapon.

Nah, you're thinking small here. Try a couple of other options:

1) Belgium* declares war on Andorra*. That night, Andorra fires up the C & C software they bought from a Bulgarian hacker group a few years earlier. The next morning, as everybody heads off to work, all of the Belgian military leaders, politicians, and business leaders find themselves being driven straight into an Andorran internment camp. (Or, if they're not so nice, into a bridge pillar at 90 kph with the airbags disabled.)

Possible conclusion: software development skills continue to rise in significance as a national resource, as compared to natural resources or manufacturing.

2) Unfortunately lots of people have already pointed out the potential for self-driving cars = home-brewed ground-based cruise missile, or I'd have staked a claim to that one. So I'll have to think bigger too: you can move a lot more by ground than by air. How about state-backed ground-based cruise missiles - really big ones?

The Oklahoma City bombing in the US showed just how much explosive force a couple of guys can pack into a medium-sized amateur-driven truck, with home-brewed explosives. Set aside for now "tactical" nuclear warhead deliveries - which could be stowed in an SUV or small van, and some of them in the trunk of a sedan. Let's say we're dealing with nations with a bit bigger industrial base and a bigger military budget than Andorra, but unable or unwilling to escalate to nuclear war. India and Pakistan* perhaps, or a war between Poland** and Germany**. Let's consider just the full potential of conventional explosives.

One auto-driven semi+trailer or semi+double combo should be able to carry at least 50,000 kilos of high-grade military explosives, something like RDX. That would be roughly equivalent to an 80 kiloton blast, or about 5 times the yield of the Hiroshima bomb, or a sizable fraction of a Luftwaffe Blitz raid on London. Putting tank traps around the national capitol really won't cut it.

Of course, they could easily be stopped at the border - or they could if a small fleet of van-sized vehicles with anti-personnel payloads hadn't been sent ahead to "clear Customs" for them. For purely AP use, I'm assuming something like a 1 ton payload, give or take, formed into a roughly toroidal or U-shaped charge and designed to shape an explosively-formed metal projectile. I expect a carefully chosen size and number of these could kill all defensive personnel and clear typical customs barricades without making so big a crater as to make the roads impassable. Of course, the attacker could also have them drive themselves up to the entrance of Army bases, recruiting stations, munitions factories, and other targets of interest before detonating. Again, one ground-missile can go in first to partially clear any obstacles and defenses, followed by another to get in deeper.

Now there's an interesting deterrent. What is the defending nation going to do? Stop all trucks on all roads? There goes their war economy.

Possible conclusion: There are some reasonable defenses against this - requiring IFF transponders in every vehicle comes to mind - but they're probably not trivial. On the national borders, maybe we'd be forced back to the days of border fortresses and elaborately defended roads - say, surrounding cities with deliberate flimsy bridges which can be dropped into a moat. And that's got its own nasty failure modes.

* Country names selected purely for amusement value; no national rivalries implied.

** Nah, that would never happen.


1) Less jobs - Driverless taxis & deliveries would wipe out several job-roles. If it results in a reduced risk of crashing then people might feel more comfortable sharing cars, or renting theirs out as a driverless taxi when they are not using it. This and reduced attrition due to increased safety could mean less vehicle production.

2) Enables stricter policing - The police can hijack your vehicle and force you to pull over, they know you were in the vicinity of the crime when it happened; your vehicle is spying on you. Maybe none of that would be needed, since if you commit a crime then your own vehicle could arrest you and deliver you to the nearest police station! Improved emergency services response times due to intelligent traffic control. Your vehicle could be easily commandeered. Your speed could be limited.

3) Social & time-saving benefits - No more driving the kids to school, just throw them in the back and let the car take them! Better mobility for OAP's and poor-sighted or disabled drivers. Less deaths caused by road accidents. No age-limit on driving.

Geopolitically though? I'm not sure how all this would play out. Could you hit a rival country with a DOS attack on a major highway via a vehicle botnet? Spam bots at an enemy fuel depot to disrupt their supply chain and halt their military advance, or congest their cities to cripple the workforce and watch their share-prices drop. Corporate espionage using civilianised drones to facilitate a hostile-takeover bid.

Good topic Charlie.


I confess I'm puzzled by all the people here who seem to think that sleeping in a car is desirable. Even if your robocar has a comfortable full-sized bed in it (unlikely, except for the rich, and very fuel-expensive to haul around all the time), the vibrations, noise, and likely rapid changes in light levels are going to mean that you get very low quality sleep. You probably also won't get enough sleep, unless you're a very heavy sleeper. If you don't have a good quality full-sized bed, you're going to have the problems that passengers sleeping in current cars do, on top of that. Getting a nasty crick in your neck while your partner drives you to a holiday destination is one thing. Sleeping in a position that does that to you on your daily commute to work is going to be much worse.

Quite enough of the population is permanently sleep-deprived as it is, thank you very much.


A key point I forgot to mention about the militarized "ground missile" trucks of my previous post:

Notice something [not] there? No main battle tanks. No drones. No billion dollar fighter jets or bombers. No years of investment in training troops.

Until the day before the war starts, the only investment for this wing of the military would be the preparation of the "warheads" themselves, preparation of the plan to requisition more trucks in the event of war, and the investment in software development and testing. (When there's not a run up to war, they could even do secret dry runs on neighboring nations' territories; who's going to notice one extra truck on the road carrying a full load of copier paper?)

Removing the constant drag on the economy of maintaining a large military as a deterrent could be a geopolitical advantage in itself.


From a geopolitical standpoint, it seems to me that self driving cars mean the end of oil. Self-driving cars (and the scheduling software that works with them, whether centralized or distributed) will be better able to schedule recharging time very precisely. Automatically recharging a car would probably be easier than automatically filling it up with gas. As a consequence, I see the influence of oil-producing nations diminishing tremendously. There will be tremendous social unrest & revolutions in those countries once the oil rent stops, as most of their population is not ready to produce income (I'm mostly thinking of the Gulf states here).

On the other hand the added needs for distributed electrical power will require a brutal improvement in all aspects of power generation & transmission. I would expect nuclear to make a come back and the environmentalists' focus to shift accordingly. The power grid evolution might well be a constraining function on self-driving electric car adoption.

Poor countries will fall further behind as they cannot afford the huge infrastructure needs both in terms of power & equipped roads. I would expect that China might have better chances to transition and India to lag even further behind and loose political power accordingly.

Some new materials needed for the electronics and the batteries will see orders of magnitude increases in demand. Countries that have a near monopole on those will see their standing increase.

There will be much money invested in automation (duh!), batteries, etc, which could lead to further improvements in those areas.

In my mind, this is the only foreseeable technology that has the potential to match the productivity shock of the large scale adoption of steam, electricity, train, cars, and computers. Not sure exactly what the geopolitical consequences would be but they would be massive and would include a multi-decade economic growth spur.


Not if you have oleo-pneumatic suspensions, like they have on high level Citroens and Teslas.


Let's try another angle:
We know that self-driving cars are mobile platforms with lots of sensors, optical and otherwise.
We know that they are connected to the data networks, radiating a wealth of gps-tagged images, traffic speeds, temperature readings, identity of occupants, and other data.
We can expect that any government will want and will get access to all of this data.

What are the political consequences of that?


Hmmm. I think, geopolitically, self-driving cars may depend critically on two events in the next 5-10 years.

One is what happens with the NSA/etc. mess. If it turns out the internet backbone is too critically hacked, people in general may stop depending on it for life-critical functions. STUXNET was a warning. While we're still pretty stupid about installing internet-accessible infrastructure, that market may dry up and blow away if it turns out that too many people are too good at hacking it, and that the attackers are always ahead of the defenders. An internet accessible lock may be fun, but a key lock is cheap, and better yet, it can only be hacked by someone standing at the door.

So my first prediction is that self-driving cars depend on hackers. If it turns out that the internet is too unsafe to hang infrastructure on, we'll probably see humans left in the system for the foreseeable future.

Second issue is Space War One. I don't know if this will happen, but if we get a superpower rumble (say between the US and China), the first targets will be things like GPS satellites and the comsats that run drones. What better way to cripple the other side's most advanced weapons and level the battlefield? Inertial guidance was never as good as (or as cheap as) GPS, and I seriously doubt self-driving cars will run on inertial guidance. If the GPS and communications infrastructure gets taken out or proves too vulnerable, we will never see self-driving cars, let alone self-driving tanks and trucks.

The point here is that, while self-driving cars may be technically possible, their safety depends on the safety of the internet and other systems that run them. That safety is highly questionable at the moment.


In the US there are already plenty of people living a nomadic life in big motorhomes. Many of them are retired and have plenty of money, ut not everyone.
Maybe we will see the rise of neonomads, people living in motorhomes going back and forth on the roads chasing the next job opportunity ? With the EU allowing free movement of labor we already have this to some extent, lots of people from eastern Europe come here to Sweden to work. We like to pretend its not happening, but it is quite common.


Assuming self-driving cars come to pass, what might happen?

Chile will make some money from lithium, but unlike oil, lithium gets reused quite a lot, so a lithium cartel will not be equivalent to an oil cartel.

China currently has a near-monopoly on rare earths, but the US (and presumably other countries) have poured money into prospecting for rare earths and opening (or re-opening) mines for rare earths. It's unclear how this will play out. I will point out that China appears to be heading for a US style real estate crash of epic proportions. This may mean that rare earth exports will jump in the next 5-10 years (due to China trying to export anything it can), which may spur development of renewable power grids elsewhere. Once China recovers, things will get interesting, if they can re-assert control over the rare earth supplies needed for solar cells and wind turbines.

As for urban design: We're NOT going to see more suburbanization. The problem there isn't just long drives, it's the increasing cost of gas and the lack of good, cheap batteries with a 200-300 mile range. I'll predict that self-driving cars (with a 100-200 mile range) will drive urbanization, as people buy homes within electrical driving distance of work. Urbanization is also being driven by a bunch of other forces, ranging from issues over water, fire, infrastructure repair, even ecological efficiency.

In the US, given how reluctant some (perhaps most) power companies are about supporting distributed power suppliers (rooftop solar and micro-wind), but these power sources keep getting cheaper and better. What we might see is the growth of an electrical "sneaker net" based on electrical cars. Self-driving electrical cars may do more than just recharge at work, they may be used to shuttle power from one place to another in their batteries. While this sounds stupid, if the power companies don't want to move your power through their lines, this is another way to do it, and the market may even support it. I can see people renting out their cars to move batteries around while they're at work, rather than just letting them sit idle through the day. I suspect such a market will be transient, but if power companies aren't willing to build smart grids, this is an alternative.

Another critical infrastructure question is how good roads have to be for self-driving cars. Humans are somewhat better at responding to problems. If the US doesn't invest in maintaining infrastructure (roads and bridges), then it may be difficult to automate cities. The advent of self-driving cars may spur investment in infrastructure.

If it turns out that self-driving cars can negotiate crappy infrastructure, we may see self-driving cars and an electrical sneaker net take off in the giant cities of the Third World, simply because it might be easier to create a cellullar sneaker net than to convince the government to build a smart electrical power grid, just as cell phones have taken over without the creation of conventional phone systems.


Yeah, for the electrical sneaker net we'll need much better batteries than what we have today, and that means suburbanization galore.


BTW, did anyone read the novel City by Clifford Simak? It describes the end of urbanization after the invention of nuclear batteries, and it's from 1952. There were no self-driving cars, but everyone was using helicopters with unlimited range instead...


If you have self-driving cars and trucks, then you have the software to make any ground vehicle self-driving. They all become semi-autonomous munitions capable of delivering their kinetic energy, augmented by any chemical potential carried. Cars, trucks, trains, ships, and aircraft are probably irrelevant except as obvious targets. The real munitions will be smaller, cheaper, and easier to manufacture.


Personally, I'm doubtful about future suburbanization, at least in the US. There are too many problems that go with suburbs.

These include:
--Roads. Who's going to pay for building them and keeping them up? Where I am, we have a perennial fight over people who don't like potholes and don't like paying taxes to fix them. I don't think this will get better, especially since we don't have the bridge issues that plague other municipalities. Still, major road-building isn't in the new county general plan.
--Water lines. With global climate change heating up, long water lines to supply spread out development are a real pain, and smaller cities won't have the pull to get water that bigger cities will. Absent large desalination plants (which will require condemning some very expensive coastal real estate), I suspect many suburbs will dry up and blow away if they can't keep the water flowing. Note that, in the western hemisphere, drought has been a city killer for thousands of years, and there's no reason to think that we've solved the problem.
--Electrical power grid. This is a jury-rigged mess in the US, and NIMBYs are fighting more lines, for both good and bad reasons. While I can theoretically see some new developments incorporating a local smart grid based on their own rooftop solar or wind, in practice, I think this is going to be too expensive for most new developments. The consequence is going to be another level of diffuse infrastructure for someone else to take care of, assuming someone's willing to shoulder the cost of building it in the first place.
--Fire. This is an increasing problem. The data I've seen (and I'm working on this issue) strongly suggest that the large majority of severe wildfires get started in areas of low density homes (aka the wildland urban interface, aka suburbia). Severe fires are already a multi-billion dollar problem, and neither the feds nor states like California can afford to fight the big fires that are happening now. Fire fighters have, for at least the last year, made triage decisions about which houses can be saved and which are "historic" (i.e. they're history). One very good solution to this is higher density housing with a "defensible space" around it. Since this is a major issue for both the fire industry, the environmentalists (that's my side), and even the insurance industry, I suspect there will be major changes in where and how new homes can be built, based on fire threat as a function of landscape and housing density. It is ultimately a planning problem, and the planners are starting to wake up to it.

New general plans in at least one county I'm aware of emphasize development of higher-density housing closer to existing urban cores for the next few decades. While people may laugh at these documents, this same county is still trying to build roads and bridges that were on the 1950 general plan, never mind that they don't make sense any more.

So no, I don't think suburbanization will take off, at least where I am. It may elsewhere, but when New York State and Georgia are both having water problems, I suspect this is a general diagnosis for much of the US. I can't speak to Europe of course. Anyone there?


Cheaper road nets, helping developing countries industrialize faster.

Let's say you want to build a factory in Chad to provide goods for the European market, to take advantage of inexpensive central African labour rates. Chad's closer than China, and communication with the factory doesn't involve 2AM conference calls.

You'd need a way to get goods north to a suitable Mediterranean port.

A modern two-lane highway with four 4-metre lanes, a 3-metre median, and 3-metre shoulders costs $800K - $1.8K per kilometer to build, and is at least 27 metres wide. Maintenance costs are non-trivial.

With tightly-clustered trains of automated vehicles all traveling at constant speed, you could use a single narrow track less than 3 metres wide. Occasional wide sections would allow northbound and southbound traffic to pass each other, or allow urgent freight to move past convoys moving at more fuel-efficient speeds.

It wouldn't be a full order-of-magnitude savings in infrastructure costs, but it could make a big difference in where we locate tomorrow's factories. And it could make a big difference in the standard of living of those who currently only dream of a factory job.


You don't just get one thing. If you get automated trucks, you also get automated soldiers. And you get smarter automated large vehicles and dimmer automated small vehicles. (Or you can adjust cargo capacity.)

What time period are we thinking of? Much of this following speculation will happen probably a decade or even more after the automated trucks first appear.

If you're thinking about weaponizing it, think about an automated electric motorcycle with a built in machine gun. (But you're going to need really good shock absorbers on that gun.)

Also, it's not going to just be something that the wealthy groups use. Yes, they're going to be expensive, especially at first, but not for long. Automaed trucks, etc. will be so useful that they are going to be widespread, and the computers aren't THAT expensive. Smaller vehicles will have a more limited range, but will also be cheaper. Think of a WWII destroyer convoy, and also of aircraft carriers. Now imagine something the size of a large tow truck that's carrying a fleet of automated motorcycles or smaller.

But this is going to make rare earths so valuable that even low value ores are worth refining, and the current high value ores..phew! That's a geo-political stressor.

So how are these things powered? That's another geo-political stressor. Solar power is going to mean they need lots of solar cells, have indefinitely long range, and need to lay up and charge often. That pushes things in the direction of smaller vehicles. So you get really small vehicles that, perhaps, carry automated wasps (low speed target seeking missles) rather than bullets. It saves on mass, and increases efficiency so you can carry more. Can a wasp be made "intelligent" enough to home in on a particular targeted individual? Who would consider this a good idea?

Then, if you're less violent, you could use spies rather than assassins. But could something the size of a wasp or a moth recognize what's important? Possibly automated mice would be better. Lots of them using short range ultra-sonics to communicate, so they can evaluate things in parallel. Of course, if what you want is sabotage rather than spying, you don't need as much intelligence.

To figure the effects (geopolitically) you need to figure:
1) How much they depend on resources not generally available.
2) What the minimum size is?
3) What the range is.
4) Just how smart/autonomous are they?
Naturally all of these will change over time (except, possibly, 1).

Which brings up the final consideration: How much ephemeralization is going on? If, e.g., variations on carbon live up to ALL of their promises, then there won't be an need for any rare metals, etc. I find this a dubious proposition, but a possible one. And one that would have effects all up and down the spectrum. Diamone memories handled by graphene transistors communicating over graphene wires insulated with graphene insulators...possible. Not really convincing. But if so, expect every country to go isolationist.


Coordination of traffic management networks across borders could be interesting; if I ride in my Canadian car into the US, what level of access does the US guidance network want to my car? What about compatibility issues, especially when you think about Eurasia?

I assume that the spectre of self-driven cars full of explosives will mean that a centralized, government owned network will be in place by the time things really get going.

Energy costs are still going to be the bottleneck crunching the burbs - whether you have to be awake for the trip or not, you still have to pay for the fuel, and that scales with distance.


Certain types of vehicle become increasingly unworkable on public roads - motorbikes, for example, will be VERY difficult to automate, as will the scooters that a lot of people rely on for transport in the 3rd world. We might see Segway-equivalents replacing them for some purposes, but they don't map well into the same functions.

Rolling this out on its own would cost the GNP of most countries for a year or two, but if you can tie it in to other technologies and transport systems it might be more affordable - for example, if you build new super-safe roads on their own they'll be prohibitively expensive, but if you put a chain of windmills and some communications infrastructure down the middle it might be more affordable.

Of course this gives you some horrible vulnerabilities - if a big transport nexus is also a big communications and power distribution nexus it's going to be an obvious target for terrorism / warfare.


Motorbikes are actually rather easy to automate, except for object recogniztion, discriminization, etc. Seqways have a built-in gyro, but you could easily add such to a motorbike. (In fact, I think I read about one in the early 1960s. Didn't have much advantage with a human driver.)

Segways are actually a bit LESS adapted to automation, but just because they are basically less efficient, require wider passages, etc. OTOH, they *do* already have a built-in gyro.

P.S.: What do you mean "rolling this out"? These things will use currently existing roads and ways. Even sidewalks. Are you thinking of putting "third rails" in the highways? Yes, that would be expensive. And only needed by rare individuals. It *would*, if already built, make implementation cheaper, but not enough cheaper to justify building it. (I've heard of a plan to use wireless chargers at stoplights. It was suggested to make non-trolley electric buses more efficient. I haven't heard that anyone has implemented it even in that limited, and plausibly justifiable, area.)


As far as I can tell all of the advantages outlined above to military applications of self driving vehicles also apply to insurgents, with the added bonus of increased operational security since there are no drivers to detain.
This may, ironically lead to the no private vehicles in strategically and politically sensitive areas of cities.
You walk or take public transport.


Oh and pet drivers licenses...


I'm not sure how you get an 80kt yield from 50 tonnes of conventional explosives. Unless RDX is 1600 times more powerful than TNT (and Wikipedia says it's only 1.6 times), the blast should have a yield on the order of 80 tonnes. Still a large explosion, but hardly a city-levelling nightmare bomb. Are you sure you didn't misplace a decimal point or something?


OK - I live in London so my perception of this may be different to someone who lives in rural USA. I am also cynical about the reliability of this stuff, if that wasn't already apparent. I should add that I've been a biker for 40+ years and really doubt that motorbikes will be as easy to automate as you think, especially for the sort of loads they're used for in e.g. India or Africa.

Even for cars, to make these things work you are going to need good predictable roads and predictable traffic flows, because they are not going to cope well with surprises. In particular, you will probably need navigation a lot more reliable (and less hackable) than GPS for older urban traffic systems - current GPS systems lag two to three junctions behind reality in many parts of London, especially when there are tall buildings around. In some cases it may be easier to close off roads and make users take alternative routes to minimise the number of complicated traffic interchanges.

This means you are going to have to roll out a LOT of navigation aids and road improvements. In third world countries especially this will probably amount to new roads, in older European cities the minimum is probably a high density cell-based navigation system with a ton of security features built in, and plenty of leeway for adding in "don't use this road because half of it is dug up to add a new gas main" warnings.

I hope this makes things clearer.


1. Truck-driving, as noted before, becomes automated
And hijacking moves from an occasional crime to a recognized industry.


The geopolitics begins at home: there will be one attack with hacked vehicles, and that's it for civil liberties and an open web.

It doesn't actually matter of the perpetrators are bearded foreigners from someplace with a lot of oil money - or a lot of collateral damage from drone stikes - or domestic fundamentalists with crucifixes, because the blame will fall on the intended targets and 'truth' is whatever the mass media report it to be.

Who would be American authorities find a useful scapegoat? China? Islamic terrorists? Anonymous?

China won't be blamed... Probably.

Al-Qaeda? Cool, we're already bombing islamic terrorists of any sex and age and political affiliation, and we can do some more of that. Lots more, if autonomous navigation is now good enough for public highways; but its difficult to see any unexpected geopolitical impact that we're not experiencing now, with the technology we've got.

The geopolitical consequences are actually worse for the USA if a local clique of 'hackers' is blamed because the authorities will lock down every compiler IDE and Linux distribution and after-school computing club, making programming as 'dangerous' and difficult to to as homemade chemistry.

Of course you'll all be safer, citizens. And we'll stop 'piracy' too.

Twenty years later, the active population of bright young people playing around with computing - 'hacking' as the term was intended - will be zero. Zip. Nada. There will be a handful of experts working in locked-down military installations, but how brilliant will they be allowed to be? Will they question? Will they think laterally, orthogonally, revolutionarily, or just wacko let's-try-this-anyway?

Meanwhile, there will be villages in Afganistan and in the Palestinian prison-territories and Indonesia where teenage kids with hacked tablets and no supervision play whatever games they damn' well like. And maybe India: the country's too chaotic to become a digital-totalitarian surveillocracy like latter-day America.

That's a population of millions of enquiring minds: some of them will be obsessive geeks; some will be brilliant mathematicians; a handful will be geniuses, quirky and creative enquirers who ask all the interesting questions...

...And see straight though all the backdoors and the bureaucratic security of the plodding and unquestioning crew-cuts in arcologies in Texas who are a tiny, tiny working population of 'Approved Programmers' in a world of locked-down Windows boxes with a fixed set of applications that no-one ever tries to tinker with.

That's a world in which anarchic Geopolitics will force Ameirica to give up driverless cars. And GPS - hacked too often; and realtime engineering feeds from aircraft engines - hacked too often; and robotic surgery and responsive dosage systems - hacked too often; and, eventually, electronic billing systems and money without metal tokens having measurable precious-metal caratage.

The Free Computing World may well be a chaotic, even dangerous, place to be: but if they're too chaotic to imprison all the advocates of open-source collaborative software - and hardware, as 3-D printing means that real-world objects are increasingly 'programmed'and programmable - then the Free World will continue using and developing technologies that Locked-Down-America abandons.

Not so much Geopolitics as Geoanarchy and Jesusland; and there's holes in all my speculative arguments. But it's a possible future and the mass-market breakthrough of technology so vulnerable -lethally! - to cyber-warfare will almost certainly accelerate America's descent into total surveillance and lockdown.


The implications for surveillance have been alluded to. Airport security theatre around every large downtown, intensification of infowar arms races, etc. GMF.

Economic geopolitical effects:

Reducing the cost of land transport relative to that of sea transport will increase the attractiveness of inland cities (compared to that which they have now). So there may be a drift away from the coasts. In affluent countries, inland cities on plains also have the land for the new five- or six-car family and the required roads.[1] Ankara vs. Istanbul, New Delhi vs. Mumbai, Dallas vs. Houston, Indianapolis-Cincinnati-Columbus vs. Chicago and Detroit, etc.

Sea transport will still be so much cheaper than land transport for many goods and many routes that I don't think that the importance of the Strait of Malacca or the Suez and Panama Canals will decline noticeably (HP's shipments of laptops from inland China to Europe by train notwithstanding).

On the other hand (give me a one-handed economist, etc.) the hinterlands of developing countries become more competitive, so the effect may be to reduce total long-distance sea trade (compared to the non-auto case) as advanced developing countries favour their own back yards.

The demand for oil will increase a bit, compared to the counterfactual.[2]

So: increased importance of OPEC, intensified resource grabs in Africa.

Internal political effects:

The black economy will be hit. "Wastage" during transport is still one of the main ways goods make their way into the black economy. Sealed autonomous trucks (that unlock at destination only) reduce the possibilities for this, and also for informal drug smuggling. I have no idea what the implications are for the most part. But there is one possibility...

Certain countries' political elites may be nudged into creating better institutions. Operating as a "stationary bandit" becomes a bit more difficult, so, in order to maintain income, they have to undertake orthodox productive activities--and therefore invest in mass education, infrastructure, etc. That would be strange.

Extension to agriculture and earthmoving:

In 'advanced' countries, agriculture will need even fewer people, which will increase the popular influence of the Green movement and the political influence of Big Ag.

In "short Africa" (below the Sahara, above South Africa), poor rural Africans will be displaced by foreign land grabs even more rapidly, as the foreigners spot a profit opportunity and their governments sell out as they have always done. The foreigners' farms will be an excuse for increasing foreign (para)military presence in Africa. Add the unexploited mineral resources, and Africa will perhaps be the terrain of the next Great Game.

Extension to mining:

Autonomous machinery will reduce costs and increase the 'reach' of miners into depths and areas where humans can't survive or don't want to work. The long-run decline in ore prices should resume.

* * *

[1] For affluent families, those that can afford the cars and "need them, so that Jocasta and Andrew can go to the Steiner school and all their after-school and weekend things, it'd be simply without their cars, darling", the cost of fuel is almost negligible. It's not a constraint, even if prices double or triple.

Likewise for taxis and transport companies. Reduced costs, reduced prices, increased sales--assuming price elasticity of one or greater, which seems reasonable. And there are new possibilities in tourism. For example, single-family guided tours, with the vehicle as guide. Demand for oil will probably go up, compared to the non-autonomous world.

[2] Electric vehicles are less than 0.02% of the global car and truck market (zero percent for medium- and long-haul trucks) at present, and most of the vehicle market is now in developing countries. Even assuming free availability of power, range limitations overcome, etc., under any realistically possible growth rates we're at least 50 years away from electric wheels nirvana.


Mobile data centers. Without the need to leave space for humans to inhabit vehicles, you can pack a van or truck with as much communication and power equipment as possible. Imagine a fleet of Wikileaks or Bittorrent servers, commected via a wireless mesh network, traveling on a random, endless circuit of the world's highways.

Readily accessible drone vehicles. Insurgents steal a bunch of cars, pack them full of explosives, and override the vehicle OS to simultaneously drive into the target.
To counter this, cities will establish vehicle free "protected zones", much like the foot traffic only centers of old European cities. Remote disconnect of all vehicle traffic approaching the borders.


Hi! First time poster here, with two remarks.

Firstly, as far as commuting is concerned, self-driving cars have existed for decades. They're called "Public Transport" and "Trains", and you can safely get to your workplace and back home in one of them while sleeping. However, the prospect of being able to sleep while commuting doesn't seem to be attractive enough to use them for a lot of people.

Secondly, if we're talking about motorized individual vehicles here, the question becomes how they'll be powered. Because the internal combustion variant is an evolutionary dead-end. It won't exist anymore in a couple of decades. Which again points into the direction of an effective and reliable, ubiquitous public transport system as the way for people to get around in the future.

Thus, I'd say that the geopolitical consequences of self-driving cars (if we're talking about individual cars) are going to be negligible.

Trucks may be another matter, but again, they won't exist as we know them now once we've run out of oil.


A couple of OTOH comments to previous posts: first, current cars are already hackable (some even wirelessly), but I don't see this as a major impediment for driverless cars. Most people working on it don't rely on the internet to drive the car- they use on-board sensors and on-board processing. Some of the sensors get information from outside (traffic updates, navigation, weather etc.) and these can definitely be hacked, but without overt government intervention I don't see the "all cars stop by the roadside" or "all heads of state crash into a tree" scenarios as realistic.
Second, GPS is not the only game in town. Glonass, Galileo and Baidu are very much real, and most navigation chips in the coming years will support all four off the shelf. Block the enemy's navigation and you blocked your own as well.
Third, driverless cars will increase rush-hour road utilization by at least a factor of two, most likely more. This means a shorter rush-hour and faster average commute everywhere they are ubiquitous enough. Even if nothing else changes, this is a huge tick up in productivity.

Which leads me to the geopolitical question, which these days is most often economic in nature: who will be the first country to ban human-driven cars, when will it happen, and who stands to benefit? Try this gedankenexperiment: the next US president stands behind a campaign-trail promise (which everybody mocked) to ban drivers from US roads by 2020 (with exceptions for some rural areas, private roads, industrial parks etc). Google partners with a couple of US auto-makers to come up with a full line of compatible offerings, as well as after-market kits for people who don't want to scrap their old car (with subsidies from the government for some intermediate period). Foreign car makers are all but wiped out from the US market for a few years, save for a few die-hards who kit their Maybachs with Google's after-market kit, and a few luxury models from European makers who managed to get in on the party on time (but for completely different reasons). Canada and Mexico are forced to scramble and get their legislation in place to not be in violation of NAFTA, which leaves more opportunities for US lobbyists to provide a more welcome environment for US cars (and corporations). A few years later Japans follows suit, so their domestic industry will not face the home-court advantage the US companies have; EU takes a few more years to get its act together, and by 2030 most if not all of the developed world has banned human drivers from its roads, while making the US auto industry a world-leader once again, and with some clear technological advantages to guard its moats with (Mazda still using GM's after-market kits in the older/smaller models for years before they can get the home-brew technology cheap enough to be competitive). China will be left behind, because their auto fleet is too old and too dispersed to justify the upgrade (and their road network and economy don't justify a country-wide ban, meaning the rich will have foreign driverless models, and the poor will drive local brands). Japan may or may not upgrade its status on the world stage as an economic power. Africa and most of Asia will sink even deeper into development traps (and with every foreigner requiring a chauffeur to show them around, there will be more room for shenanigans). If the EU combines their switch with a push for electric cars (thanks to the higher population density in most areas) and more reliance on sustainable electricity (water, wind, geothermal, solar) this could be a huge shift in EU's fossil-fuel consumption, and EU-Russia and EU-Gulf relationships.

And Google finally finds another revenue source except advertising, which will be very interesting to watch.


One thing I haven't seen mentioned is the dramatic change to car/truck design. Current designs are based on unavoidable constraints - the need for a driver that sees the road directly ahead, and an ability to visualize objects behind and to the sides, along with the means to manipulate the control systems for the vehicle. All of those constraints disappear with self-driving vehicles.

As a trivial example, the concern that a number of posters up-thread have mentioned about the silliness of sleeping in a car goes away. A current-design car is very uncomfortable to sleep in; unconstrained-design vehicles might not be at all uncomfortable. In fact, I expect that the variety of configurations would be significantly greater than currently available. The vehicle you use would be provided based on your need and likely use case - an overnight run might require a vehicle with a bed, while a mid-day run might use a vehicle with a desk and entertainment system, or a gym-on-wheels for those who want to get in some exercise.


About the batteries: A Nissan Leaf has a range of 120 miles and a battery of 24 kWh. Let's assume that means 5 kWh per mile. Let's also assume that a kWh costs about 10 cents (it currently runs about 6 cents in my area, and solar can get produced around 13 cents, so it's going to be somewhere in this range). A Leaf also takes 8 hours to charge from empty, using a special plug.

This actually sharply limits the range of a potential battery sneaker net based on electrical cars. It might be useful in densely packed areas, particularly if we get away from batteries, for example by using charged electrolytic fluid pumped into a battery/tank. On the longer haul, maybe not so much. Vanzetti, you're quite right about the need for better batteries.

Still, I suspect that in the less developed world and in disasters, physically transporting stored electricity will become an industry, simply because it's more flexible than trying to build a grid and get it to run.


>with every foreigner requiring a chauffeur to show them around

As opposed to now where foreigners drive their own cars in 3rd world cities? Chauffeurs or guides are pretty much standard.

Episode 3 of the Dominion tank police anime had an automated truck full of explosives being driven into a city center... the ep is up on youtube ...but it hasn't aged well.


Charlie, these self-driving cars are being launched in our world, the one we're occupying at the moment, right? The one with the global warming problem, and the diminishing reserves of fossil fuels, yeah? Oh, and the potentially rising sea levels. Just checking.

I think the self-driving passenger car will be the last desperate gasp of an automotive industry desperately trying to cling on to economic power in a landscape where the cost of fuel is only set to rise, and the cost of power ditto. I'm vaguely aware there are some experiments with making an electrically powered car capable of running on solar power (I think that's running here in Australia), or at least of being charged "on the go". But I get the strong impression we're running close to the edges of what's economically feasible for the majority of people at present. The rising costs of fuel and car ownership are starting to intersect with diminishing marginal wages for everyone outside the top 1 - 2% of income earners, and a lot of people these days are finding it's cheaper not to bother with running a car, if they're able to access important services without one.

I suspect for things like freight, public transport and similar, the hard equations are already starting to come down to "how much can we carry for the minimum fuel cost?" (if, indeed, they haven't been that particular equation the whole time). This means bulk freight methods (such as rail) are really starting to look feasible again. The self-driving container may become useful as a means of completing the final leg of the delivery process (and yeah, it's going to probably turn into self-driving containers, because once you have the drone tech, why bother with a whole extra layer of shipping material around the edges which is a truck?) but I suspect for the sake of convenience, things like rail and sea freight are going to be a huge money and fuel saving measure. One railway engine pulling two hundred cars loaded down with shipping containers is a much better fuel/load/pollution ratio than even a hundred engines carrying one or two containers each.

Alternatively, we may see a genuine "road train" system starting up - a string of drone containers all linked together as they leave the main port or depot - all direction coming from a single unit at the front of the string, with units regaining individual control as we come to certain core nexi in the transit grid. (And now I have this image of all the containers arranging themselves in port to the tune of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice"...)

Oh, and bye-bye to the stevedoring workforce... when the cargo can load and unload itself, well, we don't need (notoriously union-prone) dock workers, do we?


without overt government intervention I don't see the "all cars stop by the roadside" or "all heads of state crash into a tree" scenarios as realistic

Put a child, or child-sized mannequin, in the street. Wait for a RoboTruck to stop. Empty the truck, or at least take as much as you can haul away. Two street kids, a crowbar, and maybe a blowtorch puts you in business.


If countries adopt incompatible standards and regulations it could make international travel and trade more difficult. It could also be used to favor domestic manufacturers.

It could also spell the end of mass transit, including international ground transit. In terms of flexibility and time cars are more efficient. Using automated cabs or timeshare systems, people may stop using the bus or train. Eventually they will either away or only be used by the poor.


As several others have alluded, the big disruption in driving over the next 10-20 years is more likely to be greatly increased fuel prices than automated driving.

If I had to bet it, I'd bet constant-dollar gasoline prices will about double in 10 years, double again by year 20, and keep going up.


To take things sideways, there's the question of how the software will be written and provided.

The old Microsoft model would have everything proprietary and "unified", with a very small number of dominant suppliers. But the world has changed. And the car companies know that there's an impedance mismatch between their design cycle and computer design cycles.

What really will happen, is that car companies will agree on one or a few standards, and design cars with standards-conforming compute platforms. There will be APIs to sensors and effectors. And there will be an app market. This is Land Rover's idea, not mine.

This has consequences. Since we're talking geopolitics, it matters to malware and the NSA. On the economic side, it will allow very very small players to computerize niche-market vehicles. (I was tempted to say, mobile platforms, but you-all would have thought of cell phones, not golf carts.)


This is a subject that lots of people get very excited about but tend not to think clearly about. Or they think what has the car done already, this is an improved car therefore we will have more of that. Ergo more sprawling suburbs.

Lets look at the fundamentals. These are still vehicles that need to run on energy and take up certain amounts of road space and co exist with non automated vehicles, such as pedestrians, cyclists or manual cars.

There have been no break through's on battery design and therefore electric cars are going nowhere. Petrol engines are going through ever more technological development and we are likely to see development of more hybrid vehicles.

Therefore people will have to pay the fuel bills for these vehicles. Do you wince when you go to the petrol station now, what if you lived twice as far away?

Vehicles occupy actual physical space and still need somewhere to park when not in use. There is not enough space in most cities for people to abandon public transport for their own car, how exactly will everyone fit on the same streets.

There may be some scope for vehicles driving closer together on motorways, but they have to co exist with manual drivers and leave enough space for pedestrians or cyclists to navigate the streets as well.

Also people will still need to park there car. In theory people imagine these cars dropping them off at work and then tootling off either home again until the evening or finding some cheaper place to park. In the first option that's doubling your fuel bill for no reason. On the other imagine a city where care are running around trying to find free parking, can you imagine the conflicts caused in nearby residential areas, never mind all the traffic from these cars driving on the roads, with no passengers in them at all. Then one of the chief advantages of having your own car is it's availability, it's no good if it's parked itself 15 minutes away.

Lets look at the other idea that no one will own a car anymore. First off all, automation will creep up on as as car makers keep adding more features to their cars. Owning a car has many advantages. Mainly it's always available to you. How many of you keep stuff in your car. You don't have to worry about it being pristine, no worries about dog hairs, or mess from your kids messing up the hired car. People will also like to have a car the drives better or has a different style, or luxury level etc etc.

Making cars self driving is not going to make a Zip Car any cheaper than it is now. Sure if there is large customer base then it will be more widely available than now, but how big will that be?

On the whole changes won't be so big, but they will add up.

Auto cabs will again be important, but how much a difference will it make. How much does the cab drivers labour cost now, compared to the ownership and running costs of a cab now? If we are being generous if cab fairs halved what difference would that make to your travel habits now?

I feel public transport could feel the biggest effect.

I live just outside London in a medium sized town with good rail links but terribly expensive buses and quite cheap cabs. If that happened here bus service would collapse because cab fares are only just over twice the cost of bus fare, especially over shorter distances.

But in larger cities fares are lower and the roads busier, commercial services could still continue, especially is buses go driverless as well.

If autocabs are cheap most cities could not cope with the traffic and owners of these vehicles would not build a vehicle fleet big enough to carry everyone to work in the morning just for half their vehicles to sit idle until the evening. Like everything capacity will be regulated by price in peak demand periods pressing taxi hire on your phone could prove expensive while in the late evening really cheap.

On that basis alone public transport could survive in many places, in a truly networked future mini buses could ply major transport corridors between key traffic generators such as hospitals, colleges and shopping malls, picking up and dropping off fares that are going in the same general direction.

In the future it may be more desirable to live neat a major road as fares will be lower because of all the competition between buses and cabs, while those living off obscure cul de sacs could either be faced with a walk to a reasonably busy road or high fare surcharge for door to door service.

If you could not afford to run a car in this future you could be faced with a multiple options when you request a journey on your 'Mums house' hot key listing half a dozen options by time and price, starting with direct cab ride to multiple linked journeys from where jump in and out of different mini buses that are criss crossing the city or linking up faster routes be any existing rail links etc.

Trucks between distribution centres and factories could be completely automated, but for deliveries to customers will still need to humans to supervise deliveries.

The insurance industry could push people to automated cars a lot quicker than they may want. Insurance premiums for automated cars will be so much lower than manual cars People over 70 and under 25 may soon find they can't afford to insure a manual car. As the pool of automated drivers increases higher risks will be spread over a smaller pool and premiums will riser even more. At some point the insurance premium will mainly be about the odds of being hit by a manual car and the propensity of you cars electrical system to catch fire.

Business Parks and retail centres will be denser with automated high rise car parks with large valet parking drop off zones. All those empty surface car parks can be filled with more buildings

The forces driving people back into the city will continue. It is the long term price of fuel that will determine the size and spread of commuter belts and how densely they are inhabited. Rural Pubs and getting sloshed at family gatherings may be transformed by no longer needing to worry about drink driving laws.

Societal changes could be bigger than city form. Safe roads may mean parents will start letting their walk and cycle to school again, thereby reducing traffic. on other richer families could own a few Tata Nano nent generation Kid Kabs, no longer will parents act as their teenagers chauffeurs, you too could have a little £3,000 hybrid runabout that will pick and drop them off a pre approved locations, outside school, the mall, sports club or Auntie Jennies etc.

Free bus passes for the elderly could morph into free travel for up 5/10/15 miles from their house with discounted rates thereafter by whatever means available, it could be cheaper than the current system.

London has half of all bus travel in the UK, It and the next ten largest urban areas might be the only ones left with a regular bus routes rather than a loose newtork of auto mini bus system responding to peak flow patterns.


With respect to sleeping in cars, and changes to car designs: passenger vehicles might go windowless.

Safety glass is heavy, and hurts fuel economy.

Wide expanses of glass encourage thieves to break in and steal your valuables. Theft will be a problem when your vehicle autoparks in a distant lot, far from the busy downtown core.

Glass adds little structural strength to the vehicle. A smooth shell of carbon fibre would be safer, stiffer, and lighter.

If you sleep while traveling, windows are unwanted.

If you work while traveling, windows let in glare that obscures your laptop/tablet screen.

If you ever do want to see the view, you can just patch into the exterior cameras.

Self-driving vehicles with reclining, sleeping passengers may end up looking like low, smooth glossy teardrops or jellybeans, with no glass at all.


Put a child, or child-sized mannequin, in the street. Wait for a RoboTruck to stop. Empty the truck, or at least take as much as you can haul away. Two street kids, a crowbar, and maybe a blowtorch puts you in business.

It is easier to rob a normal, human-driven truck. The RoboTruck will be completely sealed and recording everything around it. And it will automatically contact the authorities.


Hmm, geopolitical, well, most of the issue aren't geopolitical as such, but let's give it a go.

First of all, as the transition progresses, we fairly soon reach a point where the biggest cause of accidents are human drivers. It won't take long before the human as driver starts to be outlawed on particular roads, reducing the accident rate and increasing efficiency/capacity/etc.

So we reach a point were driving is out and roads are for automated, connected, robot drivers only.

From a geopolitical standpoint, what you then have is the scope to stop people travelling. Think the US no-fly list, but a no-travel list. And think it as being the general norm, rather than the exception. A great way for implemented transportation rationing as the oil supply dries up - you simply stop the plebs moving about.

You can thus make ghettos pretty easily, only allowing undesirables in particular areas; indeed driving them that way. You can then implement triage fairly easily, cutting those regions off from supplies, etc.

The freedom to travel becomes negotiable - joining the freedom to be online - and each individual has only that freedom that the government (or big business) defines they should have.


1. The automobile industry shrinks to a tiny fraction of its current size, as the number of cars that has to exist at one time drops from 2 per household (with most sitting in the driveway) to 1 per person actually going somewhere right now. Resulting job losses have significant impact on low-skilled labor.

2. All those "boots on the ground" we want to avoid in war can now be avoided; see Patricia Anthony's "Cold Allies". The war calculus is now purely economic: how much money am I willing to spend to inconvenience the other side? Poor countries' willingness to spend the lives of their citizens becomes irrelevant. Result: rich countries become even more dominant geopolitically.

3. Oil consumption rises significantly as the inconvenience of driving drops. People live farther from work and take more recreational trips.


Self driving cars/trucks have very small geopolitical consequences other than electric cars being amortized over larger numbers of people with a consequent fall in demand for oil. The cost of Lithium is a small part of the cost of a Lithium battery.

Self driving planes move cargo (food, mostly) from the southern hemisphere to the northern. That has financial consequences. Fresh tropical food becomes much cheaper. LNG drones take LNG from stranded resource areas like Nigeria to downtown London.

Internal consequences are equivalent to turning back the clock a hundred years, to when children ran free in much of the OECD because we had trams that would take children long distances quite cheaply.


Geopolitical consequences …
Huge pressure on underdeveloped nations to upgrade their roads / infrastructure / in-house software & hardware skills.
Could be interesting on the labour market….


Vanzetti @ 13
Fuel still has to be paid for, it still takes up road-space & you have to have it parked somewhere at the end of the journey (or some of them @ least)
This is the self-abusing wet dream of the hate-the-railways fanatics & it ain’t going to happen.

See also Charlie @ 55
There is the SPACE problem for cars, even with sharing.

AND Heteromeles @ 71
Thank-you, nice one.

AND Rational Plan @ 95, too!


Myerweb @ 20 (see also 41)
Your point 7 … already exists, a;; over the planet.
it is called …


Dave Lester @ 40
England's diplomatic strategy (Edward I to 1950): destabilise any attempt at political union within continental Europe (Perfidious Albion).
Prevent any hostile power or grouping from taking over the Netherlands/Belgium - & it is still our policy


Presumably the old practice of wrecking might make a comeback. Desparate people would have no qualms about forcing a driverless drone of a cliff and theymight not feel too fond of the security personnel.


Fuel still has to be paid for, it still takes up road-space & you have to have it parked somewhere at the end of the journey (or some of them @ least)
This is the self-abusing wet dream of the hate-the-railways fanatics & it ain’t going to happen.

What if your self-driving car brought you to the self-driving 500 km/h train? :-) That could make the commute distance even bigger.


Well, the main geopolitical consequence probably will be the effective shrinking of continent interiors. That's economic rather than military, so hopefully there won't be much blood spilt, but it'll probably be pretty significant all the same.

For historical precedent, consider Timbuktu: once an important transport hub, its importance declined once sea transport became cheaper and safer.

There'll probably be a few places that suffer a similar fate by virtue of road freight becoming much cheaper.

And who wants to sleep two hours in a car to go to work? Have they ever slept in a car? Gah

Having spent chunks of my live commuting by bus and train I can assure you that people regularly sleep for hours in considerably more uncomfortable situations ;-)

And that assumes that the car interior retains its current form factor. Which it doesn't need to.

When you're not paying a human to drive it, you drive a vehicle slower for fuel efficiency. If it needs to be there at 8am tomorrow, 5 km/hr overnight to the next town is fine. You see a road full of slow-moving vehicles.

The haulage industry is already pretty good at optimising for fuel costs because they're significant. The human drivers are already driving to fuel-efficiency based metrics. Automated drivers might be a bit better - but it's unlikely to be an order of magnitude saving. It certainly won't produce trains of slow traffic since most vehicles are most fuel efficient at 55-60mpg.

The savings you'll get are through being able to operate 24/7 - and not needing to have drivers on staff.



... And the long term alliances with Russia and Portugal fit in where exactly?

Belgium was a British creation of 1830 -- as you say to act as a buffer state between the rising unified state of Germany and France. But earlier, we played off Spain and France against each other. And that involved -- post Charles V -- the low countries.
Similarly the diplomacy of Edward 1 revolves around building a coalition to defeat the French (includes the Low countries), much as 500 years later Pitt the younger attempts to do the same to Napoleonic France.

My question to you is: how on earth are we going to split the Netherlands and Belgium off from the rest of Europe today? Is a strategy to provoke antagonism between France and Germany viable today? How do we do it?

I believe that the FO approach today has been to seek eastward expansion of the EU to counteract the Franco-German hegemony. Unfortunately, populus former Eastern-block countries once admitted, seem to go native and support Germany rather than the UK, e.g. Poland.


I'm noticing a certain lack of mention of peak oil, and climate change, which leads me to think that some posters are a bit wrong regarding both the price of petrol and the possibilities for long distance driving.
Of course should everything be switched to battery power, somehow, that will help, but then there's the cost of the battery and charging it up, which, if we can get things sorted out to deal with climate change (because if we don't we're going to have difficulty surviving the next two centuries) we'll not have lots of energy to spare transporting people.

Not a geopolitical issue, but I can see improvements in de-odourising and fancy smell and chemical eating fabrics because who is going to want to use a smelly car after someone has slept in it for several hours? I don't however see that having much of an effect on geopolitics.


Ohhh... the job issue is going to be a doozy. With a very quick google:

So - that's nearly 3 million jobs gone. Not included the number of manufacturing jobs that disappear in the auto industry as we move to needing fewer vehicles in total, and other second order job losses (parking, traffic wardens, traffic police, etc. )

To put that in perspective as of July 2013, the unemployment rate in the United States was 7.4% or 12.0 million people.


I'm noticing a certain lack of mention of peak oil, and climate change, which leads me to think that some posters are a bit wrong regarding both the price of petrol and the possibilities for long distance driving.

Everyone is simply assuming NO APOCALYPSE. No one is going to develop and build new infrastructure in Mad Max world, so there is no point discussing self-driving cars in that context.

Not a geopolitical issue, but I can see improvements in de-odourising and fancy smell and chemical eating fabrics because who is going to want to use a smelly car after someone has slept in it for several hours? I don't however see that having much of an effect on geopolitics.

The interior of a public-use car will be sturdy. All plastic, I assume. You either bring your own sleeping bag or get a single-use one.

And they will bill you more for littering in the car. :-)


@113: Actually, in a Mad Max world, selvdriving cars may make a lot of sense, since it doesn't put your physical body in harms way. The question is if you can produce them and fuel them.

Even for cars, to make these things work you are going to need good predictable roads and predictable traffic flows, because they are not going to cope well with surprises.

I think you underestimate how good we're getting at robotics. We already have automated cars driving in "normal" complex city traffic with few problems. A quick search on youtube will find some examples (see for example.)

The march of Moore's Law is making algorithms and methods that were impractical a few decades ago trivial now. The robotic cars also have significant advantages with sensors (radar, 360 vision without blind spots, etc.).

When it comes to dealing with surprises more effectively - but bet is on the robots within ten years.

I can see improvements in de-odourising and fancy smell and chemical eating fabrics because who is going to want to use a smelly car after someone has slept in it for several hours?

Yeah, the death of the privately-owned car may or may not eventuate. At least some people will prefer having their own car precisely for this reason, possibly quite a lot of people.

There's also the "mobile locker" aspect.

Quite possibly many families will go down from two cars to one, if one of those two cars is currently spending its days parked at an employer (or at a train station), but I would suspect quite a few people will in fact keep one car privately. The self-driving aspect will just make them more convenient and useful.


A point about parking a self-driving car: you all get out of the ca, and it parks. Without a gap for opening the car doors either side.

That's just halved the footprint... And brought a number of suburban garages back into use, as most were built for smaller cars.

Cant see any geopolitics in that, though.


Come now, that's not what I said at first, although I admit I did suggest things would get difficult later in the post - climate change and peak oil, both current and building problems, needn't necessarily lead to a Mad Max world (and a mad max setup isn't stable for anything more than a few hunter gatherer tribes anyway). But they will have major effects on geopolitics, rather more so than self driving cars. Both 'problems' can cause major upset without an actual apocalypse, but will have material effects upon the possibilities of self driving cars, e.g. one poster upthread assumes lower fuel prices, which is unlikely to say the least.


Yeah, I'm not sure if the big change that the transportation industry is facing will be a geopolitical issue. Threatening the whole population with almost immediate famine is, though.

The effects will be dramatically fast. Unless the country can bootstrap an alternative logistics operation quickly, the stores will run out of food a day after the attack becomes apparent. The country-wide riots will follow within a week, tops. After that the administration must focus their attention inside and any military responses will become secondary.

It would be extremely easy to set up and hard to recover from, too. It just requires a platoon worth of hacker cells distributed around the target country to initiate and keep going. Cutting outside communications will not help, either.

The country-wide riots will follow within a week, tops.

Why are we so sure there will be riots?

Mostly during disasters people tend to come together and help each other out.


Hezamu- you're assuming the cars need the internet to operate, and thus are hackable at a large scale. Since this is an obvious failure mode, I assume the car will be engineered to operate with no connectivity, and rely on the on-board sensors alone if needed. That's what the Google experimental vehicles are doing today.
Of course, every platform is hackable, and many of them hackable by a remote attacker, but unless the hackers in question have access to the NSA's mandated backdoor installed in the same place using the same protocol by all the diverse car manufacturers selling into the US, I don't see your scenario as real.

The NSA backdoor, though...


Every innovation in transport technology has geopolitical consequences.

There seem to be two major forces at work. First, the nature of how self-driving vehicles are organised. Second, the energy freed up by handing the chore of getting around to robots.

Self-driving vehicles can be implemented with two attractors. First, centralise everything: the Central Vehicle System routes all cars, yielding a Minority Report future of small, fast, closely packed vehicles. This leads to lots of ways to attack The System. Previous commenters seem to think this would mostly be related to explosives, while I think those are low-probability events and we should instead consider jammed location/direction signals and vehicles blocking critical bottlenecks. Moreover, The System would be more prone to the latter class of problems even without nefarious intent, the occasional bulk fertiliser transport failure notwithstanding.

The second option is to decentralise: each vehicle talks to its neighbours and negotiates speed and direction. This directly mirrors how we currently do transport, with people providing the distributed control system. However, we are only in the beginning stages of being able to design truly distributed artificial systems like this; engineering is still driven by 18th-19th century ideas which are most easily realised via central control. If one looks at the state of the art in related fields (see for instance and and for recent examples), then it seems the focus is still on centralized systems. There is research on distributed approaches, but this is early stage and less prevalent than the centralized approaches.

An incredible amount of human energy is used to get around. In developed countries this is often commuting by car, in developing countries mostly walking or cycling; add stressful public transport to the mix.

When self-driving vehicles do overcome the barriers to adoption (perhaps in 25-30 years for widespread use), a lot of human energy will be freed up. People being productive while not moving much from their home may reinforce the trend, if not counteracted by increasing social pressure to physically congregate with others to do "real work". Will this energy be used for consuming more entertainment, or will it be used to create more things and to organize?

Perhaps a big reason why unions and "progressive" social movements have been on the retreat in the Anglo-Saxon part of the world since ~1950 is the rise of commute times and increasing presenteeism in workplaces. It is hard to find energy to get passionate about issues that matter if one has just spent 9 hours at the office and another four hours travelling.

So there seem to be two countervailing trends. More energy may lead to people in Anglo-Saxon countries thinking, organizing, and speaking out about issues that matter to them more than has been the case in the early 21st century. Countering this will be a continued increase of entertainment, games, sexual stimulation, cheap food, all designed to tweak the pleasure centres, and which make people more docile and passive. (Insert conspiracy theory here, to taste, though it doesn't seem necessary to postulate more than self-interested actors.)

The 1% have for centuries avoided wasting energy on getting around: take a taxi around London, hop in the business jet, summon the driver, keep a private coach on hand, get others to come to you for meetings. The 1% seems to be characterized mostly by a high level of motivation, and the freedom from constraints to act on that motivation. If there is more free energy sloshing around, will this lead to the elite pushing for more wars to soak up the excess energy of the now-unruly populace, or into a flowering of social enterprise and better communities?

Working perpendicular to this axis is centralization of the transport system. With increasingly centralized ways of getting around in the medium term, and increased opportunities for stimulation to soak up excess energy, increased motivation of the 99% may be depressed for some decades, even without more wars.

I suspect while the Anglo-Saxon part of the world is wrapped up in this tug-of-war, other places with different power dynamics may use their newly released infusion of human energy to increase innovation. (This includes the elite enclaves within the Anglo-Saxon sphere.)

In short: I expect self-driving cars will lead to a shift in global power towards countries with fewer incentives for inequalities to accumulate and grow. This may lead to a response by the large high-inequality power blocs to neutralise the advantage and channel their population's excess energy outward. Will the USA invade Mexico, China invade Japan, or Russia invade Ukraine, by 2040? It seems possible.


Nestor (89)- I'm not talking about the short-stay people. There are plenty of long-stay aid workers who stick around in the same country for months, sometimes years. The language barrier is the only one they currently face, and learning a foreign language is sometimes easier than it seems. Even if you don't speak the language, a local guide does the talking for you, and obviously adds some filtering, but they can't tell you _who_ to talk to. Once you add the driving barrier, though, the local guide dictates who you see and where you go, and not just your communications (and as I said, communications issues can be overcome). And investing the time in learning to drive in a foreign country (possibly not as developed as the one you grew up in), while not speaking the language and only needing the skill for a tour of three months... that just ain't gonna happen.
This will have impact on tourism as well, obviously, though I see even less tourists driving themselves in the less developed countries where this might be an issue. Even today most of them don't drive.


who is going to want to use a smelly car after someone has slept in it for several hours?
That's pretty much how I feel about public transport. Let's see, this seat and the floor below appear to be wet with urine, this seat has suspicious damp stains, the other seat is sticky with what appears to be hard candy, this one would force me to share the seat with someone who has apparently not discovered either bathing or toilet paper, this other seat... or the compartment is full of smokers, so if I even board, I'll come out smelling like a used ashtray.


There are public toilets that get an automatic wash after each use. Public cars could be designed for the same treatment.


If the technology and infrastructure for self-driving cars dropped onto the market today, there are still some thorny legal problems to deal with, at least in countries with legal systems using or descended from English Common Law.

The primary problem is liability. Your vehicle injures someone or damages their property, who is responsible?

Your wife, who was aboard the vehicle at the time?
You, as the registered owner?
The vehicle's manufacturer?
The subcontractor who wrote the software?
The individual programmers who worked on the software?

In the USA, at least, liability law is very flexible. Early adopters will be facing the possibility of bankruptcy or imprisonment with their purchase of a new Auto-Zippitymobile.

Also, I'm still skeptical about this magic software that is supposed to guide these vehicles. A friend of mine works for an airline that maintains a whole fleet of flight simulators. The software base on them is half a century old; every bit of it tested and signed off by the FAA. The investment in the code base is so huge, they have custom-made computers running the original 1960s FORTRAN compilers.

An airplane autopilot is almost trivially simple compared to a car... and after fifty years of maintenance, bugs still show up. But in a simulator, all it does is flag a bug report instead of killing people.

Devices like the THERAC-25 and the Airbus, in the hands of certified professional operators, only kill a few people at a time. An auto manufacturer thinks in terms of millions of units, operated by entities not quite as smart as chimpanzees. Who file lawsuits at the drop of a hat.

The first autodrive lawsuits will probably be on reality TV, more entertaining than Watergate or the OJ or Zimmerman trials...


This will require much coordination and the need for networks of trust of various types. Societies that have been burning up their seed corn when it comes to social trust will visibly come up short.
Given how much slower and expensive residential broadband is in most of the US compared to Europe or East Asia, given the implications of NSA backdoors for the reliability of the software required for self-driving vehicles, and given the state of US healthcare, there may be a lot of retired baby boomers in the world's only superpower wondering why Chinese "have jetpacks" (so to speak) and they don't.
Also, the karmic payback for Silicon Valley having gotten in bed with the US military-police-surveillance complex may be intense.
I also suspect that this will shift the advantage considerably to electric vehicles over internal combustion engine ones. (Even if most of the "batteries" for those electric vehicles consist of a lawnmower motor running steady state to power an electric generator)


Cycling will boom. The main thing that's holding it back at the moment, in those countries where it's not already a popular form of local transport, is (fear of) widespread dangerous driving. If the cars are suddenly all driven safely - well, what a change for the better. Bring it on.


It will happen over time though. For example, the average age of a car in the US is 11.4 years right now. And since the features of self driving cars will hit the luxury market first, it is probably several decades before they are common.

Even if we assume the first commercial car is introduced in 2015, it probably won't be until the mid 2030s that they are the norm.

Ride-sharing companies like ZipCar will probably be the first businesses built around the cars. Imagine being able to pull up an app on your smartphone, and have the nearest car drive over to you.

I do see some political problems arising from cab companies and drivers though. In many cities there are strict limits on the number of cabs that can operate. Is a self driving car a cab?


Plus, if the rental cars/automated cabs all come with bike racks on the back, it makes transit even more efficient.


That's still a wide road (mostly 4+ lanes) and fairly light traffic.

Re automation, text OCR is a mature technology by anyone's standards, as I think you'll agree. I use a recent OCR program, a good scanner, etc., and still expect to have to correct 10-15 errors per page on many of the documents I scan.

We aren't going to agree on this, so you might as well give up on trying to convince me.


In terms of military hardware, the tech would allow for a one man MBT. An Abrams, for example, has a crew of 4 -- driver, loader, gunner, and commander. This tech would let you get rid of the driver, and combined with other things would probably let you get rid of the gunner. We likely don't really need a loader either.

So you can reduce the crew compartment of an armored vehicle significantly, and even bump up the armor. The commander just tells the tank what to do, it handles everything else.

The end result is that a small but wealthy country could field a military equal to much larger countries. Singapore could outgun Malaysia.


Okay, time for some geopolitically-relevant speculation about self-driving cars: a weapon of mass disruption.

Take two percent of the cars in the Bay area.Or Jakarta. Send out the firmware update that says: B R I C K.

Into a pre-existing citywide gridlock.

Would it need special routing sofware to locate bricks on critical junctions? Would we need to wait until it's 20% instead of 2% ?

The end state is a gridlock which doesn't dissipate by 'evaporation' from the perimeter, because the few 'free' cars that can drive out will leave behind a new perimeter two hundred miles in length. Clear a hundred blocked junctions and the perimeter's a hundred and fifty miles around. Have you got enough tow trucks and construction equipment on hand to do that in a day? As in: can you get them there from neighbourig cities, through the traffic?

A day later, and every vehicle's a roadblock, abandoned by its driver. John Brunner mentions mobile crusher units being used for this, but we haven't built them yet: and tanks don't crush a car down small enough.

A week later, the city has been shut down.

And yes, this one's plausible because there definitely will be Apple-style 'brick-me' codes to stop the owners 'jailbreaking' their car, and a mandatory 'Police Stop' code.


It is easier to rob a normal, human-driven truck.

The human adds an unpredictable element, including the ability to distinguish context fairly well and the potential for violence. Programming a robotruck for violent self-defense is probably a nonstarter for liability reasons, at least in the first world.


Send out the firmware update that says: B R I C K.

How about designing a car that you can't remotely brick? Make the firmware read-only. :-)


MBT is considered by many to be an outdated concept, anyway.


Everyone is simply assuming NO APOCALYPSE.

Rising gas prices, even if the rise is fairly big, should not be confused for the apocalypse. The most likely trajectories for the future are neither apocalypse nor unlimited growth, but simply a bunch of stuff happening with a mix of good or bad.


How about designing a car that you can't remotely brick?

How about *buying* a car that the manufacturer can't brick?

I doubt that you can buy a phone with that assurance; and, while you and I can probably jailbreak a tablet and install any applications that we need, I doubt that many members of the public could achieve that - and 'jailbreaking and getting away with it for a while' isn't the same as knowing that it can't be bricked tomorrow.

No company with the resources to mass-produce a self-driving car will manufacture it without a mandatory switch to convert it from motor vehicle to mortar-bound construction material.

...And this is no more speculative than a glance at the publicly-disclosed existing practices of tech consumer manufacturers. Now factor in an NSA backdoor, and accidental backdoors through incompetence, and a federally-mandated 'Police Stop!' code that turns out to be hackable.


I don't know where you live, but that's a completely inaccurate, indeed libellous, comment in my neck of the woods (Sheffield, UK). I've been commuting by tram (usually) or bus (at the moment, because they're re-laying the tram rails) for the last 13 years – it's cheaper than petrol plus parking. I've seen vomit exactly 3 times – once it was a lad in the seat in front of me who looked the worse for drink, the other two times it had happened at some earlier time and been covered in sand. All three times it was on the floor. Of course all UK public transport is non-smoking – I agree smokers smell, but that doesn't seem to transfer like live smoke. I've been held up twice when a bus broke down, a few times in winter when idiot car-drivers had fender-benders that left vehicles across the tram tracks, and a few times at rush hour when someone collapsed in a crowded tram and we had to wait for paramedics. Generally, public transport is clean, reliable within a few minutes, and not expensive (my 5-mile commute costs me roughly £2 per day, on a weekly ticket – I could reduce that a bit if I were organised enough to get a monthly instead, but you have to go to the travel centre for one of those). And yes, it takes a bit longer, mostly because I have to walk to the tram stop – on the other hand, I can work on the tram.

Yes, I know this isn't really on topic, but that comment annoyed me!


I suspect that TRX is from Texas or similar - one of the places in the US anyway where public transport is for the poor and disadvantaged rather than for everyone.


Yeah, I just used it as an example. But for the same manpower, you could have 4 lighter vehicles with a single commander.


Probably this is about how to fight the last war but...

Unless we include a general purpose robot and lots of AI in the picture, you will be able to automate the logistics of a fighting army and maybe the front lines themselves, but the rearguard will still be humain domain.

Consider this:

You have a drone swarm (both aerial and terrestrial) fighting in the front lines. You have to keep them supplied with fuel and ammo, so you have automated ammo and fuel runners as well. However, if one of your drones is damaged for whatever reason you ight like to have a base nearby where repairs can be made by human tech personnel. The base itself can act as ammo and fuel depot, supplied by yet more auto trucks from further back in the supply chain.

This may lead to the strange situation where the front-line soldiers (sitting on a bunker back home, remote - controlling the robots) are much safer than the rear-guard troops (which need to be reasonably close to where the robots are). It also allows for a single human operator to manage whole groups of drones, in the manner of real-time strategy games (Age of Empires, indeed).

Ocuppation of hostile territory becomes simpler with no humans to risk. Decree a curfew and the unblinking eye of the panopticon will be able to enforce it 24/7 at minimal human cost, particularly if you don't care about how many weddings you mistake for armed uprisings to be stomped by a sawrm of drones, guns ablaze.


That's most of the US, really. And one reason wealthier towns and suburbs try to prevent mass transit stops in their area.


I don't really see a lack of fuel being a problem in the next 50 years.

And a lot of the price of gas is taxes. It costs twice as much in the UK as it does in the US, mainly because the UK taxes it more.

Basically the price of oil could double, and Americans would only have to start paying as much as British do right now.

Conversely, if the price goes up, the UK and other countries could cut the taxes on it if they so desire to keep the price stable. (Though they'd have to tax something else to keep revenue stable).


I don't know where you live, but that's a completely inaccurate, indeed libellous, comment in my neck of the woods (Sheffield, UK).

I think you can extend this from Sheffield to basically all of Europe. Smoking in public transport has been banned for decades. Trains, busses and trams are usually well-kept (it depends a little on the financial situation of town/state/country, of course), and more or less on time.

Also, if you compare the true costs of driving your car per km to the ticket fare, public transport always wins by a large margin for a single passenger (and by far the most car traffic is by single drivers). The balance begins to tip when you have two or three people in the car, but then again, there are usually reduced fares for small groups as well.


I'm noticing a certain lack of mention of peak oil, and climate change, which leads me to think that some posters are a bit wrong regarding both the price of petrol and the possibilities for long distance driving.

While I didn't mention the buzz words directly, I had this in my first comment above (#85):
"If we're talking about motorized individual vehicles here, the question becomes how they'll be powered. Because the internal combustion variant is an evolutionary dead-end. It won't exist anymore in a couple of decades. Which again points into the direction of an effective and reliable, ubiquitous public transport system as the way for people to get around in the future."


The problem with gas isn't the price, it's the energy return on energy put in to get it out, and that's still falling. This is one problem with fracking: yes, there's a lot of gas in the ground, but when you have to inject large amounts of pressurized steam, you're using a lot of energy to get it out. A lot of oil will end up staying in the ground, simply because it won't make economic sense to get it out. This is also true for coal: the US may be the Saudi Arabia of coal, but much of it is crappy coal that takes more energy to unearth than you get by burning it.

The other problem with gas is that it's so intensely politicized and speculated upon that the price doesn't reflect the cost. For example, in the US, we pay a bunch of taxes in the gas price, but we don't US military bases along our oil supply lines to keep the oil flowing. And that doesn't even begin to cover the games the oil companies play to try and influence politics by jacking prices before elections.

On the flip side, solar is currently doing something like a Moore's Law increase in efficiency, although efficiencies are rising with area of solar installed, rather than linearly with time. Solar currently is about twice the cost per kilowatt hour as gas and falling (it's five times cheaper than it was 20 yeas ago). Gas production costs are currently rising and are going to keep rising. My guess is that, within the next ten years, those cost lines are going to cross, and electric cars and such really will make sense.

As for self-driving cars, I still stand by what I first said: what happens with the NSA and hackers is probably going to drive safety concerns more than anything else. Currently, we live in a world where every computer system not totally air-gapped is hackable, and self-driving cars pretty much have to be wired. Unless we change the safety equation somehow, I'm not sure we'll see self-driving cars as more than a niche market, caged where they won't do too much damage, or limited to isolated systems like collision avoidance.


Currently, we live in a world where every computer system not totally air-gapped is hackable, and self-driving cars pretty much have to be wired

Again, you don't have to allow the car to run alien scripts outside the service lab. I don't see why any sane car company would allow that, as they are the ones who stand to be sued if the car is hacked (and last I checked, NSA personnel uses the same roads as everybody else, so they'll settle for spying on your car's output).

Beyond that, the car should be able to drive using only its own sensors. Everything else (GPS and traffic reports) should be ignored when it's not consistent with sensors' input.


I agree with you 100%. Self-driving cars and trucks won't work in the US on regular highways and city roads. They'll get shot down for liability reasons, like you said. They'll never get a chance to prove that self-driving vehicles are actually safer than human driven vehicles because the grid of ubiquitous sensors will never get built.

But the US is only one country.

The vast majority of humanity lives in nations that aren't totally hamstrung by liability laws and other such things as in the US. Even the old Commonwealth countries don't have liability law problems like the US. In those countries ubiquitous sensor grids will get built and self driving cars and trucks will become the norm, in city streets and on regular highways.


They'll never get a chance to prove that self-driving vehicles are actually safer than human driven vehicles because the grid of ubiquitous sensors will never get built.

Hmmm. I thought Google's car is already safer, with no sensors involved but its own.


Actually, researchers have already hacked into cars. IIRC, they used something like the radio, which was part of the car's common computer system, then used something like a buffer overflow attack to gain access to the rest of the system. Mostly, I can't be arsed to google it, but said attack happened in the last two years.

I agree that it's profoundly stupid to let a car run an alien script, but you know, most car makers (along with most device makers) seem to be profoundly stupid about computer security. That's one reason why I look at this prophesied "internet of things" as one of the most idiotic ideas to come along since leaded gasoline.


"The only "geopolitical" implication I see is that various nations need to start preparing for the threat of having a hostile party cripple their internal logistics by hacking the vehicles."

This would also be the first major IT infrastructure built after the NSA revelations. There would be a strong push for open-source, since any commercial software would have a 100% chance of having US back doors.


Ah the first advance not driven by porn :-) By which I mean, old people. I don't know if this counts as geopolitical, but all of a sudden taking the keys away from grandad just got a lot easier (or older folks become somewhat more empowered than they already are.) I admit a personal component to this one: The only serious accident I've been in was in 1994 when the jellybean I was driving was side-swiped by a big cigar-colored caddy. Driven by a guy born in 1907 and very anxious to leave the scene without a police report being filed. I'm somewhat partial to Bruce Sterling's Holy Fire and this seems to be of a piece with the theme of the book.


A point about parking a self-driving car: you all get out of the ca, and it parks

And a variation on long distance journeys. The car drops you at the ticket hall, takes itself round to the Motorail (Which has been revived for this comment!) carriage, loads itself and plugs in to the recharging (using power from the overhead electrification) socket. At the far end it's waiting for you outside the station ready to go, having made any changes on the way. It knows you made the changes because the passenger carriages have readers for the RFID car keys you're carrying.


Here's one I don't think I've seen yet (apologies if I missed it as I skimmed some comments): the destruction of the Republican party as it currently exists. Also the Canadian Conservative party, and any other party that is based firmly in a rural/suburban voting base.

I'm on the side of those who believe that suburbia shrinks (or urbanizes itself – lots of twin cities scenarios as the largest suburban areas densify their cores). There are a couple of drivers for this – downtown parking lots shrink as car ownership shrinks and cars can head off to depots to charge/refuel themselves. Condo ownership becomes cheaper as the developers no longer have to create parking lots quite as large, shopping mall parking lots shrink, even new bungalow-style housing in larger cities doesn't need a two-car garage anymore. Land in cities may, briefly, actually become cheaper as all this dead space is freed up for new development.

Obviously, these are changes that will take a generation. Those over 40 will keep their two cars, their garages, and their commuting habits, even if they switch to self-driving. But for those born now or under 20, there is less and less reason to buy a car at all. The carless lifestyle works best in dense urban areas; the speed of the existing movement of people from countryside/exurbia to cities speeds up.

When people move from suburbs and the country to cities, their priorities change. One of the reasons that Obama won in 2012 is increasing urbanization; the US Democrats are the party of urbanites, the Republicans are the party of the suburbs and rural areas, by and large.

Here in Canada, the traditional path to political power is to grab the votes of the suburan ring around Toronto, plus either the West or Quebec, plus a handful of seats in the Maritimes. If those suburban areas around Toronto collapse into a series of urban cores, connected by rapid transit and shared cars as much as by individually-owned cars, the political calculus shifts. I'm sure most people reading here can imagine the effects if a dozen or so electoral districts around their home town suddenly shifted allegiance.

I'm not saying that the Republic Party is gone, by the way, just that it fundamentally changes and drops a lot of its current shibboleths, probably after a long period in the wilderness.


Since driverless cars allow movement of physical objects without a person attached to those goods this means that their use for criminal activity is attractive. Geopolitically I translate this as requiring much more rigorous border control for unoccupied vehicles. (It doesn't matter if it takes a lot of time, no impatient human on board).
I see more intra-country checkpoints for such vehicles too.

Cost of transport of goods declines further both because humans no longer need to be paid (except as guards for high value goods) but also because cars can be optimized in shape and cost for automation. They can be simple and cheap to manufacture. This will further reduce trade friction costs increasing trade volume, except for the aforementioned border control.

Whether cars (or other vehicles) become autonomous or not, much more extensive tracking is likely. Which is likely for both defensive and offensive security. (Think Google street view from any vehicle). This is probably only transitional as personal devices like advanced Google Glass-like devices will provide unparalleled potential for surveillance (willingly or not).

Driverless cars could make foreign travel much more safe and secure, as they can be programmed for local driving laws, guarantee all local laws are obeyed, allow longer driving stretches between destinations and have interiors difficult to penetrate (all steel versions with minimal windows). Will this be allowed for any car, or must you rent one at the border?


Hmm trying to think of geopolitical issues is a though one. To give it a go: first thought is that SDCs will make journey times not only faster but also smoother and less stressful. This is all thanks to platooning/swarm behaviour that would eliminate many sources of traffic. Thanks to this SDCs should be able to maintain a higher average speed with less range between max and min. The implication of this is that certain journeys and places will become more desirable. Perhaps heavily built up cities will become even more popular over rural areas as getting around them is now less stressful and faster?

Another possibility is that travel between countries (especially ones with no border control i.e. schengun zone) becomes easier and cheaper. From a uk perspective it might even be possible to convert some of the channel tunnel to road. Not sure what the full ramifications are of people having international travel at far cheaper cost than rail or air albeit at slower speeds is.


dagc75 writes:

"You have a drone swarm (both aerial and terrestrial) fighting in the front lines. You have to keep them supplied with fuel and ammo, so you have automated ammo and fuel runners as well. However, if one of your drones is damaged for whatever reason you ight like to have a base nearby where repairs can be made by human tech personnel. The base itself can act as ammo and fuel depot, supplied by yet more auto trucks from further back in the supply chain."

One technology that my robotics friends are currently investigating (though its still in its infancy) is that of extracting electrical energy from bio-digestion. As I remarked: "The army of robotic warriors eat the dead enemy combatants, consuming everything biological like a ravaging swarm of electronic locusts? Cool!"


as for the one man tank,, look at the likes of battlefield 3.. one player does operate the tank,
the only problems youd see would be in maintenance etc


When populations run out of food there tend to be riots. Often insurrection. A recent example was the "Arab Spring", but it's a recurrent pattern throughout history.

Also, when a disaster happens the first reaction is usually to help those around you. If, however, it continues and gets worse this reaction wears out, and other reactions take place. How long it has to continue for this to happen depends on lots of things, some of them are, how familiar are you with your neighbors, how related are you, how much organization is being maintained, etc.


The automated car could creep up on you. Considering the reliability of google maps or some the narrow lanes my Nokia Here Maps wants to direct me down while visiting my sister in the country, it would be a while before I would want to push the seat back in my car and snooze to my journey only to woken by the blart of tractor by Tractor pelting down a country lane or the car telling me I have arrived at my destination in the middle of destination post code, meanwhile the restaurant is now where to be seen.

Considering the reality of parking most UK suburbs most people need to half park on verges and pavements for their car to be near their house or flat, I;m not sure I could trust such a car to do the same. how could it judge was acceptable illegal parking (ignored by everyone) or parked randomly across the grass or completely blocking the pavement.

What could happen is your car becomes essentially a dodgem car with an invisible force field.

It stops you hitting the car in front, won't let you cross the path of another car or reverse into another one etc. it keeps you in lane, avoids cyclists and observes pedestrians.

A properly updated city maps system, would keep you under speed limit. it could navigate 95% of the route for you, while you text, sing to music play games etc, but you guide the car into car park and find a space you like before pressing park. Or once you get to the correct street, you need to look out for where you want to go and find a car park etc.

You could entirely self drive in so far you choose the route you are going and are twitching the steering wheel, but the car is still keeping you straight and watching the speed limit and traffic lights etc. The car learn where you like to go and you have pre sets in your car and you can just press home, mum's work etc and off you go or if drunk promptly fall asleep till you get there.

Sophisticated cars could fool you into believing you are really driving the car and that you could easily handle that old 2018 jaguar.

I suspect an automated driving licence in the future will be a simpler version of the UK theory test with no more than a requirement of a few hours clocked on getting familiar to the controls of such a car. On the other hand being licensed to handle an old car could be the equivalent to be required to taking a police driving course requiring months of training before being allowed to drive your 'heritage' vehicle.

The car industry will not collapse, many people will want their own car, just from convenience sake. Some will downgrade to fewer cars, but the car industry could continue to innovate. People could have one heavy duty family car that is a petrol/electric hybrid, but the second car could be an electric runabout with a robust chassis with a swapable fashion driven body. who knows with the future of materials the cost of small car could plummet.

The could go the way of washing machines, with no service needed for 50,000 miles and to be junked at 100,000 all for the bargain price of £3,000.

It's a trend already seen at the bottom of the market now. My Mum bought some brand new Korean Micro Car on the lowest tax band years ago, She moaned the other day about have to replace some tires after 5 years, but I don't think she's managed to do more than 3,000 miles in year probable a lot less. The only problems it's suffered are parking mishaps from other Seniors In her coastal town, you need to learn zen driving there and accept that 3rd gear is an occasional treat and beware cars drifting or darting out of junctions.

Car makers are desperately trying to figure out ways for you to spend more money on a car with more luxury touches and higher performance.

But at the bottom end is commodification, with a car that is cheap to buy and run. There will be a big enough market for the car company that guarantees all you need to pay for is new tires and brake pads for that first 100,000 miles. Cost of ownership is a big issue for a large percentage of the market. Cheap insurance (from automated driving)and low maintenance costs will pay for a lot of high priced fuel.

The second hand car market could got the way of the second hand appliance market. Sure the higher up the market you go these things will be different and there will still be expensive status symbols, but I don't think cars are going anywhere, we've spent hundreds of billions building cities around them.

Car sharing or auto cabs will also be an important component allowing some people to drop owning a car. But a autocab will gain mileage much more quickly and so will need to be replaced much more quickly as well.

If car sharing takes off then so will market segmentation from cheap econoboxes to why not rent a soft top in summer or Mercedes cruiser for that long trip. Going to the DIY store then a pick up will do, got a date how about something low slung and sparkly. All options glistening on your phone as scrawl through ads.

A big city with no space with for everyone to have their own car, could manage the roads with road pricing, depending how the local populace votes every street must maintain a certain level of mobility. Flexible 10 person cabs could package journeys together either picking people up directly from their homes if it's near a main road, or the area is dense enough or from park and ride lots.

In american suburbs each major subdivision could have it's own park and ride site, where mini buses pick people up to take to work or school etc,

In big enough markets you could have automated 'publix bus' with low fares, a no social exclusion policy but with full tazer coverage, while posher suburbs could support 'executive links' with massage chairs, privacy screens and exclusion of those registered as social maladjusted from their court records. An automated bus service with no driver has maintain safety and so ways of discouraging bad behavior may be needed.

If we really have to worry about really high fuel costs then investment in direct induction main roads might make sense as a way to make electric cars feasible (think Kim Stanley Robinsons Gold Coast).

Even a small fall in car ownership, with say the bottom third no longer being able to afford the fuel would eliminate nearly all road congestion, bus networks would become profitable again and (fares would fall, in the UK, in the rest of the world subsidies would decline) with more passengers using them. Most inner suburbs would be able to support the building of tram lines as a paying proposition.


From a uk perspective it might even be possible to convert some of the channel tunnel to road

Possibly the northern bore, from the points 20 to 30 km from the British shore?

Seriously, you've got two tunnels, one in each direction. Your option is basically to convert a whole tunnel, or not. Since cars alreadly go through the tunnels in large numbers without this, I don't think they'd bother.

(Driving onto a car train takes a little while, but the train is quite quick through the tunnel, so overall it's about the same sort of time)


People are really loving the electric car thing, although I don't think that's exactly on topic; but I think I have to puncture the electric autocab balloon.

For the private in-town runabout, yes; that's where electrics are good now and being able to drive themselves doesn't change anything.

To replace cabs? Nope. Not going to happen. Your dream killer here isn't the 100km range, it's the eight hour recharge time. No cab that takes that long to recharge will be able to compete with a gasoline burning equivalent that can refuel in ten minutes; the cab company would need three to five electric cabs to compete with one petrol burner, and the economics there are obvious.


From a politics is local standpoint: I would expect municipalities large and small to suffer from loss of income due to automation enforcing traffic ordinances. For example speeding under automatic control would become almost non-existent.


Geopolitically? No huge change, other than secondary effects from increased unemployment.

The tech may allow for a "one man tank" - but it's not going to happen. Even a three-person crew is a sod; the least I've seen is a Vetronics project called "Verdi 2" in the mid-1990s, that had a two-person crew for a reconnaissance vehicle. Track-bashing is hard: if the tank turns across too steep a slope (varies according to conditions) it can throw a track; refitting the track to the tank is a whole-crew job (just like reloading it; tank ammunition is heavy stuff). Spreading camouflage, refuelling, removing camouflage. Preventive and recovery maintenance (tanks are high-stress items, so they break far more regularly than a car or truck). You can't run a shift system with one person; you still need the other crew members to watch while one sleeps or eats or washes or toilets. The British Army is down to nine armoured regiments, and thirty-odd infantry battalions - that's not enough to take a small city, far less a country, and more autonomous tanks won't make a difference.

Autonomous terrorist bombs already exist - the IRA was using proxy bombs in the 1980s, namely holding someone's family hostage, and telling them to drive the car-bomb to the police station "or else". Nothing new there.

I do think that the autonomous parachute technologies look interesting - airdropped supplies that go to within ten meters of where they're needed, because helicopters are an inefficient way to deliver small loads. I also think that the exoskeletons, load carriers, and evacuation devices being developed are more likely to make an impact - BEAR, Big Dog, or HULC combined with autonomy gives you a lot more interesting fire/rescue workers. Think air-dropped rescue robots post-disaster (earthquakes do tend to ruin roads and break airports).

Finally, can people please step away from the "robots are good because the military wants soldiers who just obey orders" trope? It's both untrue and demonstrates ignorance - read up on the Boyd Loop, look at why France was taken in 1940. Western armies now are better-educated than ever before - Sandhurst is now looking at over 90% of its entrants being university graduates, and the US armed forces virtually insist on a postgraduate qualification if you want to make a full career as an officer.


You replace the battery, you don't immobilize the car for 8 hours. This makes even more sense for a taxi company with a fleet of cars and it's own parking/charging facilities.


The recharge time could drop - there are some interesting results coming out that mean your eight hours could drop to ten minutes. At which point, things get very interesting.


The first autodrive lawsuits will probably be on reality TV, more entertaining than Watergate or the OJ or Zimmerman trials...

I don't know about OJ. My wife was working in an airline reservations call center at the time. First time EVERY in anyone's memory before or since that the phones 99.99% dead as the verdict time approached. It got eerily quiet for a few minutes then calls started coming in again. US story.


Cycling will boom. The main thing that's holding it back at the moment, ..., is (fear of) widespread dangerous driving.

Not everyone, and maybe not even 1/2 of people in industrialized countries who need to "get around" have the ability to cycle. I know I don't in my area. I suspect the same for OGH. And cycling in places like Chicago is definitely not a year round option for all be a sliver of the population.


Basically the price of oil could double, and Americans would only have to start paying as much as British do right now

Sure, but then Americans would have to drive the way Brits do, and that's hard in the short term (e.g. 20 years). America's geography is more spread out, its city layouts are more car-dependent, and its existing vehicle fleet is heavy on pickups and SUVs, but light on compact sedans. In the short term, trillions of dollars of capital and infrastructure would need to be replaced to make that work. In the longer term, gas prices will rise even further.

P.S. I seem to have had an HTML glitch in an earlier version of this post.


I suspect that TRX is from Texas or similar - one of the places in the US anyway where public transport is for the poor and disadvantaged rather than for everyone.

The NYC subway/bus system can meet his description also. at times And it is used by almost all but the super rich there.


... you'll take the wheel from my cold dead hands" yells the Australian Motoring Enthusiast senator...

... on r/motorrights, someone is complaining about a passenger who demanded to be let out of the car when he took control...

... Stallman furious as electronics safety body seeks to regulate not just autonomous vehicles but all computing devices...

... spate of minor injuries reported from CarOs 3.0 with third party skins, loss of original development team from 1.0 and 2.0 days blamed...

... 10,000,000 vehicles withdrawn after correctness proof of new microkernel questioned...

... US ceases import of CPUs from China after compromised chips found by military, but still refuses to sign International Hardware/Software Verification Treaty citing concerns about restraints to innovation, trade, intellectual property. Rumours persist that an backdoor was inserted in both CarOS v2.5 and GoOS Pineapple Sundae...

...Saudi authorities authorize unchaperoned travel to pre-approved destinations...

...Harmonious Society network reforms to be introduced in Europe after patches to the mandatory software environment reach final approval stage, spell effective end of onion-routing, anonymity on the internet...


I hate to deflate your opinion of car companies' intelligence, but as pointed out upthread Rover is laying the groundwork for in-car apps.


Already exists; the only difference is there's a human in the driver's seat. Meet the taxi-hailing app Hailo.


The largest social effect may be in the advance in sensory technology. There are certainly amazing advances happening once there is major competition between huge corporate entities, and serious daily tests in the field the sophistication spike and tech cost per sensor drop will move us into a "smart" object world.

Connecting a light sensor to the web to monitor something in your home is certainly possible, but it's a one off and only useful for special cases. When there is a "sensor net" that is transparent to 'plug in' new devices it may take off like crazy.

Science Fiction example, a man pulls out a gun in a crowd, instead of waiting for police, dozens of empty cars reorient their plans and surround and isolate the perp.

During the Boston bombing, there were long lines of staged emergency vehicles soon after the event. Sort of just waiting. In an automated vehicle world all cars would be always staged and ready to be purposed.


I can't stop thinking about the potential for government directed movement of people. The first thing a government does in relation to automated vehicles is to dictate the roads vehicles should preference. Traffic managers can finally predict and plan with accuracy.

A new and effective international negotiating tactic emerges - If you don't agree with our demands we'll funnel all our trade, and any vehicles moving through our country towards your border through one particular border crossing. The efficiency losses are an incredible threat for any trade negotiation.

Government directed movement of materiel and people could lead to a sort of politically motivated, passively encouraged 'forced' migration. Don't like a particular minority that tends to be located in one ghettoised area of a country? Make their commute longer or consistently have any traffic emanating from the location funneled through another, more accommodating, parcel of land. Sit back and watch the population move.

Easier to orchestrate a genocide. Easier to ensure populations don't get any crazy ideas of insurgency. However, it also makes it easier for insurgents to predict traffic patterns. Evasion is easier, IED use becomes more widespread. Massive props to the earlier comment on self driving mines, very well thought out.


Comments are HTML. HTML tags start with a < character. If you don't want that to happen, type &lt; instead. And to get the & character, type &amp;

Preview is your friend.


I can't vouch for the accuracy but I find modal transport costs of $0.37 per ton/mile for existing trucks, $0.03 for rail, $0.10 for sea. Air cargo was apparently several dollars per ton-mile.

If human drivers are half existing costs that's $0.19 for driverless trucks, still more expensive than sea or rail.

It would be useful to see what time dynamics play into this; trucks are loaded and go, ships cargos build up in port, ship arrives, is unloaded, is loaded, departs, and the process repeats at destination. Trains less so, similar but faster to load and run more frequently.

I am not sure it changes those shipping dynamics enough for geopolitical impact.

It might change warehousing dynamics - and last mile customer delivery. Not clear.

The interplay between car, bus, train, taxi shifts but very complicatedly.


One of the things that killed the "tankette" (1930s I think) was the sudden ubiquity of 30 to 50mm anti-tank guns that could defeat an inch or so of armour.


High end? Well now maybe, in the 1970s the Citroen GS(A) had oleo-pneumatic suspension, and was sold as an equivalent to the Honda Civic, Toyoota Corolla and VW Golf/Rabbit (to pick examples that should be about World-ubiquitous).


ISTR Liz using an autoRTB Segway in Rule 34.


BetterPlace tried to build a nation-wide battery-exchange network (in Israel) and went bankrupt trying. A taxi company, though, would need one battery-exchange station, and could have a fleet of identical cars, solving two of BetterPlace's problems - the cost of large numbers of battery-exchange locations, and persuading manufacturers to make cars with identical batteries.

I think that DC fast chargers (charging in about 30 minutes) are a better solution for the autocab than battery-switching. If the vehicle's in use : charging time ratio is about 10:1, then the benefits of moving that up to 100:1 with battery-exchange are somewhat limited - the car still has to drive to the recharge location, so you can't get down to less than a few minutes. The capital cost of the battery-exchange station is significant ($500,000 for BetterPlace, not including R&D) and the ROI is poor compared to DC-fast-charge.


There was serious consideration being given to medium-weight wheeled tank-a-likes about a decade ago, 6 or 8-wheeled AWD armoured fighting vehicles in the 35-40 tonne range and armed with a modern 105mm-class gun in an autoloader turret. The crew was reduced to two, a driver and a commander/gunlayer housed in separate couchette compartments. With 21st-century traction control and AWD they were expected to be able to go anywhere a tracked AFV could go but be air-transportable in something like an A400M. I don't know where the various wheeled-tank projects went to but the existing MBT fleet operated by the Big Guys is showing no real sign of wearing out any time soon.


$0.03 for rail, $0.10 for sea

And people wonder why the Chinese are building the rail-net they are.

There seems to be some serious talk about a 1420mm gauge electrified rail-link through Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan from the Chinese to the Iranian border.

That would allow through-trains from China to Europe. Five-day deliveries instead of 45 days on a ship, or eleven on the (at capacity) trans-Siberian railway, which requires two transshipments at the breaks-of-gauge.

HSR would actually allow Paris-Beijing for passengers in about 70 hours, but you'd need to spend a lot of money upgrading rail through mountains in Iran (the other big set of mountains on the route, in Turkey, are being worked on for domestic reasons).

I really don't see how self-driving trucks help; there isn't a road infrastructure through central Asia any more than there's a rail infrastructure at present, and no-one actually wants to go there; they just want to get through from Europe to China.

Trucks are going to be great for shorter-distance and more flexible exports, but the kind of volumes running from China to Europe; they're going by train.


Maybe movie-plot threats about hacking vehicles keep coming up because it's hard to find geopolitical implications otherwise, but... really? Cars are not only going to be remote-vulnerable but have enough shared vulnerabilities to take over multiple percent of the vehicle fleet in a single day? That doesn't even happen with PCs now, and there's a lot less diversity among PC operating system makers than among car makers. For that matter, military aircraft (drones and manned alike) rely on a huge amount of software and use remote communications but don't get pwned over the air. Same for commercial aircraft and satellites. Some people actually do know how to write high integrity software, it's just not worth the cost for most corporate and consumer oriented computing systems, where everyone says they want security with their mouths but otherwise with their buying habits.


Sorry, this is away from the geopolitical.

I find myself wondering, like some others just how hackable a self-driving car is going to be.

Yes, it's going to listen to GPS data. So it's going to be a little bit connected. But the nature and bandwidth of the GPS is pretty well known so hacking down that route is pretty hard. You might decide to also listen to other wifi areas that tell you their location. Quite a few do - but if you're building for anything like a secure vehicle you wouldn't or you'd add a million layers of firewall on top of it.

Given you've got a vehicle and solid state memory is relatively cheap, compared to just about any vehicle except a bike, I'd expect all self-drive vehicles to come out with a world map on them, in enough detail to drive via onboard sensors and the self-drive systems to be smart enough to cope with traffic signs saying the road is closed for roadworks and the like. If you're going to programme it to drive safely for children running into the road you've got to be asleep to miss that one.

You get the solid state map to update by plugging in to a trusted source. Yes, that can be corrupted of course.

There are going to be cases where that's not good enough. Most of them are in commercial settings. If you replace the taxi driver or the lorry driver, you want to be able to say the equivalent of "Anyone near London Road for a pickup to the station?" or similar.

Governments might try to legislate to have overrides built in - until some hacker group takes over all the self-drive cars to prove it's a dumb move. Let's hope they're a group that does it for the LOLs and just slows and parks them. It's figuratively bloody embarrassing all round but a damn sight less literally bloody than crashing them all. I suspect we'll have a rise in taxi ranks, and perhaps an equivalent for commercial vehicles. Somewhere they can go and hook up to a somewhat secure system to get new orders (and in the case of taxis wait for new fares). Taxi drivers become taxi maintainers, checking over the cabs, giving them a quick clean, checking for obvious defects and the like.


Self-driving cars and trucks are part of a wider trend in the automating away of unskilled and semi-skilled jobs.

What does the world of 2030 look like, when there are no taxi driving jobs, no lorry driving jobs, no production line jobs, almost no retail jobs, no warehousing jobs etc?

A world where maybe 40-50% of the population are permanently unemployable, and indeed one where a great number of these unemployables are young men, is going to have to figure out what to do with those people.

I'm not sure I have a solution.


Yes, it's going to listen to GPS data. So it's going to be a little bit connected. But the nature and bandwidth of the GPS is pretty well known so hacking down that route is pretty hard.

For what it's worth, GPS hackery has been demonstrated in a modern equivalent of the Cornish wreckers. (Thankfully as a PoC rather than for real). Do this with trucks, and I can imagine their control circuits deciding to stop the vehicle rather than to try to work out which of what-they-see and what-GPS-tells-them is correct.

At which point yet another method for road piracy has arrived. Who needs that mannequin in the road? (What do you mean, a mannequin is cheaper? Spoilsport!)


Oh, I can make those make sense; by "tankette", I had things like more in mind.


Right, before Charlie reveals his hidden purpose in posing this question, perhaps we can have a go at geopolitical.

First, a bit of background on me: I work on this cutting-edge science stuff in my day job. There are some interesting differences between the usual SciFi perceptions and what the world's scientists and engineers can do today and are working on for tomorrow. The other thing is that I have been involved in low-level international negotiations, probably best described as influencing European science ministers.

So my worm's eye view on geopolitics is to ask: what motivates our senior politicians? Do they actually drive what in Britain we'd call Foreign Policy?

(*) Motivation for politicians: the main motivation is to survive, either to get a better job next year, or for the PM, to survive through to the next election. In the UK it is relatively rare for any senior minister to actually understand anything about his brief, and even rarer for them to have the managerial skills to achieve anything.

(*) Thus, much policy is decided by relatively junior civiil servants e.g. Bob in "the Jennifer Morgue".

(*) Now the UK is currently in something of a transitional phase and does not appear to know whether to be part of Europe or not. What's important to realise is that as far as I am aware no one things that this involves preparing for war with our continental neighbours.

(+) We haven't the resources to undertake anything on this scale.

(+) What's in it for us taking over Luxembourg, say? Could we translate
such a conquest into cash? (No!) Could we hold onto it (No!) Is there any
political will to take this course of action (No!) (If you are American, make
your own substitutions: Mexico or Canada say?)

(+) Even colonial police actions (Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya) are not really
undertaken with conquest in mind.

(+) In short: "Imperial Overstretch starts the moment you leave your own soil".

So, modern geopolitics is about "influence" and "what's in the national (economic) interest." I am not saying that old-style wars of conquest are impossible, its just that they are monumentally expensive and spectacularly unlikely to succeed as conquests. Even as colonial police actions, much attention is (or should be) paid to "hearts-and-minds", and "exit-strategies".

So my thoughts on the geopolitics of smart vehicles are still: they don't change the nature of the strategic considerations, except in regard to making warfare even more expensive to contemplate.

(Other comments: I don't understand why there's so much emphasis on internet connectivity and GPS for smart vehicles. We're working on cheap scene recognition, and cognitive (= ability to learn) architectures that allow our robots to figure out where they are in the same way that the Mark 1 Hunter-Gatherer software works in old-style HomSap.

To get an idea of what we're doing check out Tobi's webpage:

... in particular the traffic images in case-study 3.

Tobi, does the visual sensor stuff, his wife does silicon hearing, and we do the brains. As it's all biologically inspired, it links together unbelievably easily for those of us brought up on the problems of standard computer interfacing.)


BetterPlace had several problems, some unavoidable, some very avoidable:

1) Israel is a tiny market. Essentially we have less people then the metropolitan area of NYC(or London), and are spread somewhat sparser. This means you can't build a cluster of replacement stations in NYC and NJ and rely on townies who want to just commute between the two.

2) Better place with the car design that required the battery to be replaced from bellow,rather then one that used a rolling shelf that would allow replacement from the back of the car. This meant each station had to have a 3m pit dug as part of the building phase, which was costly and restricted where the stations could be erected.

3) Due to Israeli electricity costs BetterPlace's electrical car uses cost more then every other option

4) reports say you had to agree to a minimum yearly charging fee that was equivalent to ~10,000KM a year, and agree to charge at their stations only for the first 4(IIRC) years

there are more, but these are the essentials.


As for how to attack a car, there's an article at‎:

"Comprehensive Experimental Analyses of Automotive Attack Surfaces" by Stephen Checkoway, Damon McCoy, Brian Kantor,Danny Anderson, Hovav Shacham, and Stefan Savage (University of California, San Diego)
Karl Koscher, Alexei Czeskis, Franziska Roesner, and Tadayoshi Kohno (University of Washington) (appears from other evidence to have been published around 2011)

Relevant part of abstract:

We discover that remote exploitation is feasible via a broad range of attack vectors (including mechanics tools, CD players, Bluetooth and cellular radio), and further, that wireless communications channels allow long distance vehicle control, location
tracking, in-cabin audio exfiltration and theft. Finally, we discuss the structural characteristics of the automotive ecosystem that give rise to such problems and highlight the practical challenges in mitigating them.

Now, if I wanted to hack California, what I'd do is:
--wait until the state installs a large fleet of self-driving, electrical cars.
--wait until the state experiences a high load on the electrical grid and calls a Flex Alert (if you google this term, you can find a nice graphic showing total and predicted load on the California net). This normally happens during heat waves when many air conditioners are turned on.
--hack into whatever portion of the electrical fleet I had access to
--tell the engines to use maximum power, rather than maximum efficiency, to discharge as many batteries as possible. If you've ever seen Top Gear, you'll know that most high end and midscale cars have their engine performance tuned by their internal computers, and many have high performance settings. Apparently, for the sake of convenience, the computer running the car is hooked into the radio, the GPS, and everything else, even though this makes the car vulnerable.
--Watch the rolling blackouts as everyone tries to recharge their cars at once.
--Do this repeatedly. I know from experience that car companies upgrade software at dealerships and repair shops, so once the car companies figure out the fix, they've still got to ship the disks (!) and get every vulnerable car in to upgrade their systems. Assuming they have the electricity to do so.

Sad thing is, it's going to take something like this to make them take computer security seriously. As a comparison, three-point seat-belts were patented in 1955, and Victoria, Australia, was the first state to make them mandatory in...1970. Similarly, modern airbags first appeared around 1970, and became mandatory in the US in 1998. My guess therefore is if researchers are hacking cars in 2010 and 2011, the first relatively hack-resistant cars will appear between 2025 and 2030, depending on the severity of the hacks and how long it takes the car companies to lose the resulting law suits and to take action. If a plethora of fatal head injuries took 15 years to convince anyone that seatbelts were mandatory, I doubt that anyone will take non-lethal car hacks seriously within a decade or two.


I'm sure that BetterPlace could have worked better, no doubt on that one.

But battery-exchange is capital-intensive compared to charging, and imposes much more interface-compliance burden on the car manufacturer than conventional (slow) or high-wattage DC (fast) charging.

What that means is that it would need to get far enough ahead that the competitive advantage (charging in a minute rather than an hour) can force everyone else to follow. Which means that BetterPlace had to be a big success; no-one will raise a billion dollars to try again, while plenty of people could have raised a billion to be the second battery-exchange company.

In five years' time, there will be DC chargers in enough places that we'll be too far down path-dependence to change. And no-one is throwing money at battery-exchange right now - because BetterPlace just went bust.

It was a better solution in the medium term, but path-dependence is going to kill it; one charger is useful, but one battery-exchange station isn't.


Yeah, though it would be a bit different with self-driving cars. You wouldn't actually need a driver, so a company like Zipcar could extend their service range. Right now you park in certain spots (there's a lot with 8 of them near my work). With this, you could call one from the nearest lot, or where ever the last person parked it. It really improves the efficiency and convenience of the service.

That raises legal questions though, which will probably have to be worked out. Are driverless rental cars that you rent by the hour and deliver themselves to the customer legally cabs? If they are, it puts a lot of restrictions on them. And I can see cab companies in places like NY making the claim that they are cabs and bringing it to court, since it hits them directly in their wallet. You could find your self driving rental care refusing to plot routes to or through certain cities...

On the commercial vehicle side there are some interesting options for short haul and delivery. Adapt containerized shipping to deliveries. A store could have an automated truck drop off a sealed container with their merchandise, then come back the next day after the employees have unloaded it. (Assuming we still have stores).

Or a company like Amazon could come up with something like locker trucks. A bunch of sealed hatches on the outside of the truck, when your delivery comes you just punch in a code and it opens the one with your package. They could have an 90% automated commerce system, from the warehouse to your door. Combine with a mobile app that tracks you, and you could be notified when the truck is nearby and if you want to accept delivery.


BetterPlace were fairly explicitly out to use their first-mover advantage to make the market "theirs" - they would mandate battery placement and access in all electric cars in the country, for instance. They attempted to expand to Ireland and got told to go piss up a rope, as no-one was interested in giving them a monopoly.


I meant there is a directly analogous service available today - I've yet to see it fail to produce a taxi within 5 minutes. See also; taxi ranks, which directly model the ZipCar parking lots. Automated ZipCars would make it cheaper by removing the humans, but I fail to see how it would change the model significantly.

Palletized deliveries! Atomic units of delivery within containerized transport, allowing your automated truck to deliver to several shops without internally subdividing the space. The same as we do it now, just without a driver presenting the warehouse manager with a clipboard - RFID tagging or something similar could do onboard inventory management.


I think you're using the wrong comparison. A better one is surely the safety of petrol tanks or the like. Once the problem came to light there was more demand from the public to sort it out, whereas with seat belts and the like, people were more "Oh well who cares it won't be me that gets hurt" or "Why should I do as some stupid TV advert says and belt up" or just "Freeeedum!"

Whereas once there's been one proper hacking case involving your next door neighbours car, preferably involving it not being in their control and with potential for an accident, people will be clamouring for an answer. Especially since hacking involves the personal agency of the nasty hacker person. So as mentioned above, it'll end up a good excuse for even more surveillance society stuff. Remember, free access to the internt is dangerous!


Perhaps. This was in response to comments that "oh, you can't hack a car, and who would want to do that anyway?" that came from upstream. Apparently it's already possible to hack a car. One might even argue that cars are deliberately being made hacker friendly, because having everything wired together makes it easier for mechanics to maintain the entire car. If we couple this design philosophy with a desire to let older people have the freedom of a car when their reflexes and senses degrade, the situation is, unfortunately, ripe for exploitation.


Things we are already seeing or have seen:

Car industry collapse leads to frantic government spending to prop up jobs that are heavily automated or cheaper overseas.
This is not just Detroit: it's happening to Australia as we speak.

This pushes a lot of skilled workers out of reliable income and the ripple on effects decimate communities.

I predict this happens world wide - manufacturers like Tesla become the new normal, and the production line worker:robot ratio rapidly skews far more in favour of the robots.

Unions will gain power, strikes be more commonplace, and a limited form of Luddite behaviour is likely to be witnessed.

Now, stop picturing this happening in the US, Australia, etc; and picture India.
"India's Vehicles per 1000 people had a positive growth of 52.5 (%) in the last 6 years from (2003 to 2009)."

Massive population, most either university level educated or a worker bee, thrown out on their ears. Places like this are at much more risk: A government bailout leads to rioting at the drop of a hat.

Get a place with a local population working hard in miserable conditions thrown out of a job; and in controlling the protest you have the makings of an uprising. It's not hard to imagine dissidents from extremist countries filtering across borders and tapping into this unrest.

Thus you get more terrorism - but directed against robots, automata and more.
A general rejection of technology by the lower classes could greatly upset the wider IT industry; as stigma becomes attached to automata and programming.

If the economic engine of indian outsource IT turns off "overnight", that leaves a bunch of western companies in a wide range of sectors vulnerable.

Most of the companies that have used offshore are not the spitting image of innovative - instead, they are large behemoths filled with inefficiency and red tape.
Imagine the impact of large financial services providers trying to do an emergency onshoring of their operations - this will not end well.

Western governments would begin to get very nervous if the finance industry's ability to write new mortgages was choked to the point of stagnation by red tape and screw ups that would inevitably result.
The GFC we went through was the result of calculated but risky lending practices by generally smart, if unethical parties.
If these kinds of people lose access to their financial instruments (mortgaged backed securitisation), you'll see a lot more panic, chaos, and dirty laundry aired.

Another GFC scale public loss of faith in the banks might be enough to finally incense the US population to get off twitter or the couch and get out to protest: the new car they bought that they can no longer afford will at least drive them to common locations easily.

... and now they've got an hour or two more spare time to really sit back and think about what they'll set fire to in today's riots...


I think the biggest effect at a geopolitical level will be the disruption of the markets when the economies collapse from the job losses that some have predicted.

The automation of driving leading to equivalent of quantitative easing with regard to jobs, might be needed. OTOH if the power elite decide that this is not in their best interests then perhaps we will see the return to a more feudal power structure, and consequentially more wars; for definitions of wars that might be considered police actions.

This really is a question about analysing what those in power want?


"$0.03 for rail, $0.10 for sea

And people wonder why the Chinese are building the rail-net they are."

George Herbert's figures are taken from this site. Actual transportation economists consider ocean freight significantly cheaper than rail.


Sea freight is great if you want to deliver goods to seaports as end-of-journey. Access to river and sea transport is why a lot of countries have their largest cities historically located on major waterways or estuaries. China, on the other hand is basically square and sea freight can't go far inland absent a Mississippi which it doesn't have. Rail on the other hand can go anywhere on land just about, including to and from seaports. The extra cost at this point is trans-shipping which is minimised by containerisation but still involves a time and cost penalty; moving stuff by road/rail to a seaport then a cheap coastal journey to another seaport on the same landmass followed by another transshipment to rail/road is more expensive in total cost compared to keeping it land-borne assuming there is a route or a railway that can handle the traffic.

Self-driving road freight could overtake rail though and it has the advantage of intinsic last-mile capability; imagine large road-trains of slipstreaming container trucks using overhead power catenaries like trains, trams and trolleybuses do operating on cargo-only superhighways running between cities. As they approach their target city or town they disconnect from the overhead and proceed on the normal roads to their final destination on battery power. Buses could use the same roads to move people around although the speed would be limited to mesh with the fixed-speed freights.


A friend on mine has made the suggestion that we replace the grid with batteries. Going well beyond the "use the battery for local power", he envisaged a network of self delivered batteries moving power from where it is generated to residences. The transport losses were apparently on a par with transmission losses, but the link with driverless cars is the self delivering batteries would move in convoys on existing roads. This system could stabilize the grid and invalidate the "hack California" scenario if implemented. I could see different implementations, but any electrical distribution system that can create large buffers of stored energy would work to stabilize the energy distribution system.


Existing driverless cars require the passenger to be behind the wheel for emergencies. Not quite the ideal of relaxing, working or even sleeping on a journey. But how long before we can hire people to take on that role remotely from cheap labor countries? One person could monitor the progress of a number of cars and take over if a signal indicated help was needed. What might that cost for the busy commuter?

Or are we simply better developing better telecommute options and have the driverless vehicle do its automated navigation in a building instead?

Driverless trucks where point to point physical goods delivery is not going away seems to me to be the only reasonably certain application. And if 3D printing becomes very advanced, the total volumes and distances traveled may be a lot lower than today.


I could spend a lot more time at the pub. Just short of the kind of time where I can't actually find the car again when the evening is wrapping up. Presumably this would allow for a lot less DUI checkpoints. This might lead to less municipal revenue in the form of issued tickets. Perhaps that would be balanced out by more disorderly-in-public notices.

I'd arrive to work a lot more relaxed. Fifteen years of fighting rush hour twice a day, five days a week, and boy-howdy am I ready to turn the keys over to a robot, NSA et al be damned. I'd welcome not being frustrated with my fellow drivers.

I think it would be a boon for pedestrian traffic as well. A few iterations of pattern analysis of a given area's day-to-day use would allow for spreading traffic patterns out over a wider area, decreasing congestion. It would also show you where you don't need streets at all, and that land could be re-purposed for public use, perhaps.

Oh! And when the City decides they're just going to suddenly do some road construction and not tell anyone about it in a way that makes useful sense, presumably the car's nav system will be updated with that information in real time. One hopes.


There will be people who resist changing over to driverless cars. Some people are hideously carsick unless they are driving (and thus can anticipate every change). I am married to one of them. We cope with my driving by him lying in the back seat trying desperately to nap, and letting him on anything really curvy. Also, some peoples' schedules are different than others. "Today is Tuesday so I take the kids over to their father and then I go to work..." and thus find it difficult to car-share with neighbors (when gas went over $4 I tried to coordinate with neighbors who work at the same place I do, and it wasn't as easy as it looks). Not to mention the uneven use problem--does Little Minnie, who uses a car once a week, get charged as much as Big Max, who cruises the gut every night looking for chicks?

And what of people who would rather not be traced? (various smuggling of various items, including cigarettes, booze and Other Stuff, not to mention people hauling a body or other stuff they would rather not have anyone see them dispose of), plus people who simply want a bit of basic privacy (teens going off to snog without the 'rents finding out). I can see a cottage industry in "I Know Nuth-INK!" Rent a Cars to people who have...issues with people knowing where they have gone for the night.

And people who live far out in the boonies and who can't wait for a vehicle to show up to take Johnny to the ER after losing a hand in the combine might object, too.

Me, I'd rather read than drive any day, but I'd rather not be in a robot car if I was going to someone's house to smoke dope rather than to a writers' group meeting. Not that I would...but whose business is it, anyway?


I suspect that TRX is from Texas or similar - one of the places in the US anyway where public transport is for the poor and disadvantaged rather than for everyone.

Have a hard time seeing how this works with single family dwellings. Lots of space taken up by driveways and battery attachment racks set up for unattended automated swap outs. And you can't have anything in the way. Like another car. Or the lawn mower.

Seems more suited to multi family dwellings. But as N>5 or so it would seem to make sense to just have a better grid.


One scheme that I can see happening, that no one else has touched on, and it does touch upon the "geopolitical" arena would be a variation of the self-driving cars. Instead of comfy seats, they're just plastic buckets that dump the passengers/cargo out at the destination. These new Black Marias will be used for deporting undesirables such as homeless and Roma. In past decades (in the US), homeless/vagrants were put on busses and sent to some other city. Now, the police have their own Black Marias to ship them off to the desert/wilderness where the passengers are dumped on the side of the road. Plausible denial exists in the form of "well, they were alive when the car left town."

It has been a while since I was in Europe, so I'm not sure how border controls exist. Will the self-driving cars have their own express lanes for border control? If so, I can see the Black Marias being used to dump Roma (and maybe hooligans that the police would normally "beat and release") in far off lands. In the worst and systematic cases, these vehicles could be routed to remote areas for periods long enough for passengers to expire from dehydration and hypo/hyperthermia, then dumped in mass graves where one isn't going to worry about evidence appearing in future war crimes trials, or needing enough Hilfswilliger/Sonderkommando (one automated backhoe should suffice).

I can see a legitimate use for self-driving prisoner transports, as that would allow arresting officers to transport prisoners back to "the station" for processing without requiring police officers to actually drive vehicles large enough for transporting prisoners (for example, if your "patrol car" is a Segway, where do the prisoners go?).

I put the criminally abusive situation first because I am old enough to remember the bus-deportations inside the US; and what some folks are like. And perhaps folks have been forgetting the secret rendition flights of the past decade. There is far too much evil in the world, and it isn't isolated to places like NK or SY.


I tackled that upstream at 88. The bottom line is that batteries have to get a lot better in order to make moving batteries a good option--except in emergencies.

As for a smart, distributed grid, I suspect the better answer is going to be something combining small generation (solar, small wind, biogas, cogeneration from the waste heat of cloud servers, etc), plus something akin to bacterial quorum sensing in the local power grid. Rather than trying to have one central control station try to match frequencies, load, impedances, and what-have-you to keep the line voltage within specifications, maintaining the proper power devolves to local grids that sense the local energy environment and decide on the fly how to react, in consultation (a quorum) with other local generators. If enough little smart generators are talking to each other via the power lines, comparing what they're sensing about power flows, and collectively making decisions about how to route, store, and use power locally, it might be very hard to shut down the grid. Possibly too hard, since over-riding something like this will definitely be made difficult for simple security reasons.

Actually, the geopolitical implications of self-driving grids might be as interesting as those for self-driving cars.


I can't stop thinking about the potential for government directed movement of people. The first thing a government does in relation to automated vehicles is to dictate the roads vehicles should preference. Traffic managers can finally predict and plan with accuracy.
Remember Alice in Wonderland; "You can't get there from here."

The USSR used to play games with maps, distorting the locations and distances between cities and bases, or sometimes not showing them at all.

When everyone is using the same electronic maps, the same satellite view, the same satellite navigation, and the same autodrive, whole sections of a country could simply vanish. Even if you detected a "hole", you'd have to hike or bicycle in to find out what was there. And then you'd likely be eaten by a grue...


Well that quote was bogus.

I meant to quote:
he envisaged a network of self delivered batteries moving power from where it is generated to residences.

Oh well.

That's pretty much how I feel about public transport. Let's see, this seat and the floor below appear to be wet with urine, this seat has suspicious damp stains, the other seat is sticky with what appears to be hard candy, this one would force me to share the seat with someone who has apparently not discovered either bathing or toilet paper, this other seat... or the compartment is full of smokers, so if I even board, I'll come out smelling like a used ashtray.

I've never been on a plane like that. That's public transport too, you know.

I've commuted on trains, trams, underground trains and buses. None were anything like that bad.

The only unpleasant experiences in many years of travelling on just about every form of public transport have been train toilets - but all public toilets have the same basic problem. Oh, and rare hot days when it was overcrowded and the ventilation wasn't working - when I'm sure I smelt at least as bad as everyone else!

If you've never got on a taxi late at night that the previous passenger threw up in...


Something the size of a weaponized Segway has interesting possibilities for special forces and intelligence gathering. They could be air dropped from cruise missiles and self destruct at the end of the mission, with nor risk of having one of your humans killed or captured.


No, China doesn't have a Mississippi. On the other hand, they do have the Yangtse, which is slightly longer and has nearly twice the flow, so I expect they cope.


Carlos writes in part:
"George Herbert's figures are taken from this site. Actual transportation economists consider ocean freight significantly cheaper than rail."

(link to , which was correct)

I found a confirmation on rail costs:

A little less than 3 cents per ton-mile for 2002, about 3.7 cents per ton-mile for 2011 according to that site.

I'm having a hard time nailing down current container shipping costs; they vary all over (freight lines charge what the shipper can bear, more or less). Statistical studies seem to show it goes on the average as low as 0.8 cents per ton/km (1.3 cents per ton/mile) but that's for the newest biggest ships. It looks like it was 3-4 times that 20 years ago, with the smaller ships.

This is slightly embarrassing, as my senior thesis project was a jumbo containership design, but I have not stayed plugged in to industry cost developments.


one thing might be slower spreading of the next HIV truck drivers in sub Saharan Africa where a major vector for the spread of aids I believe


The costs quoted by George Herbert for water transport seem to be seriously flawed. Ton/miles for exports seem to be only for getting the cargo to the edge of US territorial waters. Cost seems to be for the entire trip.

Will McLean


err no your not going to be able to reduce the work load in a MBT both in terms of daily maintenance and especially when your in combat.

And driving along a know set of roads in a non hostile environment is at least 2 orders of magnitude easier.


The interwar tankets had such poor armor that a hard stare from a RSM could go straight through them.

Joking aside easily carried anti tank rifles or HMG's would go through a tankette like a hot knife through butter.


Considering I'm cited on the third page of hits on Google for "cost per ton mile"...

The proper comparison is difficult, but if you break it down into fixed and variable costs, the variable cost of rail is about an order of magnitude higher per ton-mile than the variable cost of ocean shipping. (The economic geography of the world would be very different were it the other way around!)

But fixed costs for rail are lower than for ocean shipping, so you get a nice little problem in linear programming to find the point where one becomes more affordable than the other.

And that's one motivation behind Chinese intracontinental rail. The lower wage areas are now substantially further inland than they were even a decade ago.


The geostrategical implications might depend somewhat on the infrastructure the system uses; are we talking really autonomous vehicles or vehicles dependent on a somewhat "intelligent" environment, e.g. RFID chips in street markings, reflectors in road signs etc.? For the latter, expect a somewhat stronger emphasis on international standards, I guess nobody wants to repeat the problems with track gauges in trains:

This is going to need international treaties, which have a tendency to spill over into different areas; quite a few won't like "giving up national souvereignity", but we know how the game "base vs. superstructure" goes.

For ore direct changes, I somewhat doubt this is going to have that much influence with areas where you have working public transport systems, though maybe we will see more of a switch from trains to the street, with trains taking over from planes; though one could guess this is already happening.

Personal experience says the difficulty of driving depends somewhat on the area, with highways quite easy when you're not rushing, rush hour traffic in the city like hell, though most of these are just material and, at least in my case, me being quite bad with stayin g attentive with boring tasks, where we know computers are much better, and residential areas somewhat in the middle, but if there is an accident, it might be with a pedestrian or a cyclist. So maybe at least for some time residential areas will be off limits for driverless cars, which might have effects like gated communities/ghettos, where historically the distinction was somewhat fluid.

I guess the biggest changes will be in areas where we have little public transports now; truck drivers in Africa are already mentioned, driverless cars taking somewhat over from buses would be somewhat similar to mobile phones taking over from fixed line systems:


For Africa, I found these maps:

Seeing that quite big areas have more than 10 hours travel time to market centres, and I guess schools, shops and like will go with the market centers, and there are quite some roads around, driverless car might have interesting effects.


Something the size of a weaponized Segway has interesting possibilities for special forces and intelligence gathering.

At least one group tried mounting a servo-equipped M-16 onto a Segway. It was about as practical as it sounds, but the basic idea is not obviously impossible.

As far as tanks go, forget the automated MBT; think of the Goliath tracked mine from WWII, an early attempt at a remotely operated attack drone.


The further inland Chinese manufacturing gets, the shorter the rail routes to European destinations, and the longer the routes to the ports - and even from Chinese ports, you're looking at a less efficient Suezmax and canal fees or else going all the way around the Cape of Good Hope, both of which are much longer than the land route.

One other Chinese strategy for this is their efforts to build rail through Myanmar. From Chongqing to Yangon is about as far as to Shanghai, and Yangon is a heck of a lot closer to Europoort.

This sort of bulk export is not going to be much affected by self-driving cars, though if the same technology can be applied to trains, then multi-day long-distance journeys don't have to change drivers, which is a big saving in the middle of nowhere (the cheap way is to get a new driver to board, drive for an eight-hour shift, disembark and then take a train in the opposite direction the next day; if it's somewhere no-one wants to live, then you have to carry multiple shifts on the train and pay them while they're not driving)


Your classic MBT hull will last a LOMG time; It's all the ancillary bits that are expensive (Fire Control, Thermal Sight and the odd new engine...)

And the system integration. Right now the US is having trouble funding the recapitalization, all of the equipment that saw recent use should really be rebuilt and upgraded, but it's not a sexy program, just tradesmen in rust belt communities. And MBA types subscribe to the lump of labor theorem, so won't understand that these (tradesmen skills) and the industrial base to MANUFACTURE things like new track sets (or high end FWD run flat tires) cannot be summoned out of thin air at will.

I recall hearing (1979?) that it was two years after the 1973 (Yom Kippur) War before the US received a single additional MBT hull (Cast M60 in those days), which is about the same time it took to tool up for Grant/Sherman production in WW II, so we are probably looking at the same time constraints these days.


Locker Trucks? Really?

The last twenty feet is the real problem in the delivery world. I am NOT going to sit on the roadside waiting for the Amazon truck for my $25 purchase, someone needs to carry it from the vehicle and drop it on my front porch.

One of the problems of the USPS (US Postal Service) these days is Amazon using them for the "Last Mile", they drop a pallet of packages to be sorted and delivered on the dock at the local Post Office every day. For which the USPS receives the minimal local delivery rate, which may or may not be enough for their costs.

So the Amazon contractor can cut their fleet cost in half to get the pallet to the Post Office dock with an automated truck, but somehow it has to be sorted, loaded on the carrier delivery vehicle, and get on my front porch. Or box in the vestibule if you live in an urban apartment, Of course Doormen and live in Concierge would provide OK jobs for a lot of the American Underemployed, but Americans would have to learn to tip better. And actually let "those people" live in their buildings....


Actually, some of this still happens here in the US. Homeless Veterans have shown up HERE (NW Arkansas) supposedly because the Fayetteville VA has "better" programs, so the Kentucky (?) State Police was handing out bus tickets...

And my County Sheriff has to find transport for them for the last twenty miles from Rogers to Fayetteville (in the next county).

If you are a bike/Segway officer, you call for a squad car to do the transport.


Forget the self-driving cars themselves for a moment: think about what a flood of all those 'old' regularly-driven cars will do for (or to) 3rd world countries. Scrapping that sheer mass of metal is sure to be outsourced to the sort of countries that currently scrap oceangoing vessels, and you can bet that most of those cars are going to be 'recycled' by driving them off the cargo ship and keeping on going. While 1st world countries may be able to transition to electric fleets and widespread solar and nuclear power grids, oil wars are only going to get much, much worse in places like sub-Saharan Africa when cars are a penny a dozen but fuel is worth as much as water (or more, now that moving water around can be packetised rather than by expensive and tappable pipelines).

Personally, I'd like to have a go on an automated all-terrain multiped motorcycle (aka a robohorse).


As far as I can tell, a lot of the traffic on the trans-Canadian railway is Far East product being shipped in through Vancouver, transhipped onto double-stacked railway cars, hauled three few days eastwards and then put back on ships at Montreal to continue on to Europe.

(A mile long container train of double-stacked containers is quite an impressive wall of stuff.)


I’ll have a punt at a geopolitical impact.

Building on the weaponisation of small self-driving (or self-moving) drones and a comment about mobile landmines I wonder if the same technology used for self-driving cars might give terrorists / freedom fighters / malcontents a permanent edge in turning terrorist tactics into long term political gains – but not the long term gains they are perhaps aiming for.

One of the problems with terrorism is that it is badly targeted. The actual decision makers are unlikely to be the victims of a terrorist attack. Certainly in the West that appears to be the recent experience. They are generally too well shielded and spend most of their time inside a pretty good security cordon. They rarely gather in one place that makes a soft target. It’s been a long time since the Brighton Bombing and the Downing Street Mortar.

I am imagining a ISO container filled with thousands of small, mobile, solar powered anti-personal mines with an internet connection. I’m thinking basically a hand grenade with legs. Each is programmed to stalk someone who is connected to the establishment in the target country. You could go biblical and target the first born son of every MP or the siblings of every Congressperson. The container is sneaked into the target country, deploys it’s payload. The payload then slowly and carefully makes their way to the their target and waits for until sufficient other such devices are also close enough to their targets to guarantee newsworthy numbers of dead and injured victims in the first strike. The rest loiter looking for later opportunities.

The short term response is that we don’t negotiate with terrorists and the terrorist organisations that instigated the attack are vigorously pursued. But the method remains and allows any reasonably competent and well-resourced terrorist organisation the means to physically threaten key decision makers or their immediate family en masse and from a distance.

Longer term, to paraphrase Sun Tzu, the only way to get terrorists to stop terrorising you is to make them want to stop. Even better make them not want to become terrorists in the first place. Which is probably best done by making sure any potential terrorists grow up in prosperous, stable democracies with good civil liberties and human rights and decent job prospects or at least a comfortable dole. None of us are secure unless all of us are secure – and this includes the children of the rich and powerful.

This is perhaps a way of changing the interests of the Governing Party so that they are more closely aligned to the interests of their own citizens and downtrodden citizens in other countries. It also perhaps returns us to a situation where our own Western governments have to keep their own citizens on side per the Cold War for fear that they will become effective domestic terrorist sympathisers.

Any country with a fluid or porous border has a long term interest in making sure it doesn’t have too many basket-case nations near it and the actual governments of these places share that interest very directly.

Cue either a series of unsuccessful attempts to bomb “host” nations into the stone age or an attempt to genuinely bring peace, prosperity and freedom to the world.


I think the economic impacts are small. Economically making self-driving cars are a subset of being good at making things and making computers work. So it doesn’t change the relative value created in any particular economies much.

It’s a bit of a blow for countries who are very heavily dependent on oil and a boon for countries that import a lot of oil as I think self-driving cars make electric cars much easier.

War fighting I don’t feel qualified to say much about beyond my very speculative punt above.

I see self-driving vehicles being a small but significant economic boost generally and having a beneficial effect on the cost of living as transport costs fall.. Lots of labour freed up from driving. Delivery logistics become much cheaper and easier. Thousands fewer killed and maimed on the road leading to the not-now-dead being more economically productive and the now-not-injured needing less medical care.

This steady economic boost in itself might have the geopolitical effect of keeping Western citizens content enough with their lot for just long enough for Asian and African labour productivity and wage levels to equalise so we can go back to hammering the capitalists for better pay.

In Europe where public transport network and population densities are little denser I wonder if self-driving cars actually move people out of cars to do more walking or cycling. Cheaply preventing tens of millions of Europeans dying of a heart attack is a geopolitical impact all of its own. Assuming a spot lease / car club / fractional reserve model of access is available someone like me or like OGH living near the middle of a relatively dense city would have no need to own our own car. If I can get a cheap taxi door to door or a cheap, more frequent and slightly more flexible bus service or much more flexible home delivery I don’t need to own my own vehicle and the savings would be significant. Now that I don’t own my own car I wonder if I’d be more or less likely to want to take a motorised vehicle at all for shorter journeys.

I did some thinking on the cost of self driving bus services


With universal uptake,the maximum speed on motorways will go up maybe even scrapped. It would be faster to commute between say Manchester and London then between outer boroughs and central London.
Inner city driving is going to be a nightmare as pedestrians can cross street without fear of being run over. Same with cyclists.


War will be lots cheaper in summer and near the equator (solar vehicle drones). Countries with lots of snow will have a logistic disadvantage in winter.

Mass evacuations from your [insert favourite threat] can be arranged in a timely fashion. Or mass kidnappings if the threat turns out to be faked by your [insert favourite conspiracy].

People with drug problems can work longer in positions of power before being discovered and forced to resign.

Google Android cars will collect information. Sanitise it for the masses keep the rest for governments, corporations.

You will have to take a bike to an unsanctioned protest.


War will be lots cheaper in summer and near the equator (solar vehicle drones).

Solar insolation at the equator at midday on a clear day is about 1kW/m2.

That's not very much by transport standards. My car would need to have 100 m2 of roof to have an equivalent to its petrol engine. Oh wait, I've assumed 100% efficiency - better make that 200 m2.

OK, that's an inefficient car and I'll allow you 50 m2 instead.

Your drone isn't going to be that large. So it will have to sit there for ages charging its batteries before going into action - an ambush predator is its likely modus.

Solar powered vehicles do exist, but they're pretty marginal at the moment. There's a road vehicle or two, but they're quite slow and have extreme teardrop streamlining covered with solar cells. They do OK on the Australian Outback roads, but it's not exactly military robustness. There's also a solar plane or two, but again you're looking at something more like a sailplane than an F-16.

Liquid hydrocarbons are still pretty good - very high energy density, a really quick recharge (Formula 1 teams used to refuel at about 12 litres per second, but then they can also change all the wheels on a car in under five seconds), and a widespread infrastructure. As a second option, electric with recharging stations. But mobile solar would be a niche option IMO.


I think the Chinese have had foreign naval vessels further inland than the USA have any time since the "War of 1812" (and that was a special case, using vessels engineered for and built on the Great Lakes). If anyone's dubious, web search "Yantzee Incident" and take note that hits for the film count since it's a dramatisation of history.


I know that cheers; Certainly a Cardan-Loyd and fresh air were more or less functionally identical to a Boys (and I suspect a Barrett, but surviving tankettes are too precious to use as range targets). My differentiation was that 1930s anti-tank guns could destroy the engine and transmission castings rather than maybe kill the crew.


That's possible, but you'll cut several thousand miles off the routing I think, and certainly weeks off the time factory to retail which is a cost of production and distribution, but not one that's always ascribed to the transport mode.


F1 used aircraft, particularly military, refuelling technology to achieve those rates; the only "unusual" thing about it was using it on a car.


The tankette turned out to be not much use, but they did feed into the development of vehicles such as the Bren Carrier and it's descendants. In the British Army, the Carrier was in every infantry battalion, a Carrier Platoon with 13 Universal Carriers, and 6 more carrying the Mortar Platoon.

All this meant that, apart from the possible use of Carriers as a recce vehicle, the battalion had a useful group of light armoured vehicles that could deliver supplies, evacuate casualties, and were adequately protected against shell splinters and rifle bullets.

By the end of the war the Motor Battalions were using American-built half-tracks, but I think it was the Carrier Platoon in the ordinary Infantry Battalion that was more significant for the development of APCs. Everyone knew what they could do.


Ok, I'll bite: Other than possibly ground pressure, an Universal carrier type (inc Bren and Carden-Loyd) was better than a truck how?


Existing driverless cars require the passenger to be behind the wheel for emergencies.

I'm pretty sure that's for legal reasons, or at best for reassurance. Humans as backups for automated systems are often rather bad at the task, and I would fully expect to find that this is the case for driving, too. Once the situation has turned into an emergency, bringing a human who hasn't been keeping up with things into the control loop can only end badly, regardless of whether that human is local or remote.

At best, humans might be able to untangle the situation after the computers have resolved the immediate emergency, but in that case either the computers can resolve the rest of it, or it's a job for ambulances and tow trucks.

Current laws require an on-board driver who is legally responsible for the behaviour of the vehicle, which is why the current prototypes always carry one. Early prototypes may have also been sufficiently unreliable that an alert driver able to take over would have been a benefit. Once it goes mass-market, an alert driver will simply not be available, and therefore the system will not be able to rely on one.

Legislative change will be needed, but I suspect it will go toward fully driverless, rather than having a remote driver (much less a remote driver in a different jurisdiction).


Good point about efficiency. A drone without recharging stations would either have to be light as a bike (plus human weight?) or use big camouflage nets for charging (not deployed when moving). Yeah, I was rather counting on the solar charging infrastructure being solved in the same timespan. Otherwise there will not be solar powered vehicles though maybe still solar powered drones.


I think the Chinese have had foreign naval vessels further inland than the USA have any time since the "War of 1812" (and that was a special case, using vessels engineered for and built on the Great Lakes).

Given that a foreign country is on the other side of the Lakes, from a geopolitical standpoint they aren't really 'inland'.


Are you seriously suggesting that Chicago is not several hundred miles from the US-Canada border?


All other things being equal, the number one reason people don't buy electric vehicles is something called 'range anxiety'. Break past that and see electric sales go up, up, up.


For values of "range anxiety" that mean that I positively know that a pure electric vehicle would need recharged twice on a trip I make regularly with today's technology.

So you need to better than double stored power before I'd even get to the point of wondering "will I make it there before the battery goes flat?"


One of the problems of the USPS (US Postal Service) these days is Amazon using them for the "Last Mile", they drop a pallet of packages to be sorted and delivered on the dock at the local Post Office every day. For which the USPS receives the minimal local delivery rate, which may or may not be enough for their costs.
Shippers with pallet loads of mail negotiate "bulk rates" with the USPS. Generally, these are presorted to some degree, usually down to the individual carrier level.

The USPS does not lose money on bulk rate mail, no matter where it enters the delivery chain.

The reason for the USPS' monetary troubles boil down to, basically, Congress and they it plays three-card Monte with the USPS' financials. Money in, money vanishes into the General Fund, substantially less money left for operations, oh my...


> self driving cars

A further thought on unattended vehicle operations is that once a vehicle leaves Surveillance Land for the real world, there's nothing much preventing it from becoming a ready source of spare parts. Even if the vehicle isn't completely dismembered, there'll always be a ready market for tires and batteries if nothing else.

Even in Surveillance Land, I doubt having a car drop offline is going to result in a high-speed police response.


Er, no. It's not values of range anxiety that mean 'I've driven 50 miles and I alreadt have to recharge'; it's values of range anxiety that mean 'I've driven 50 miles and I have to recharge and there's no place to do it.'


Mandating a human in the loop in planes makes sense - if something goes hairy in a way the autopilot can't deal with there's no other recourse, and if things go hairy there can be only seconds to recover. Ground-based drones can failsafe in a way utterly disallowed to autopilots; switch on brake and hazard warning lights, coast to a stop, and contact a Higher Authority (who can be the passenger, the AA, or the cops) for help. Anything happening too quickly for this to be a viable way of coping, the humans can't help - and we have the material to educate the 'driver' to cope with these situations. (~100 years of insurance reports and court cases have established the correct course of action in pretty much every failure mode a moving car has.)


> tanks

Modern armor thinking seems to be set along the Guderian concept of tank divisions maneuvering on plains. As they've gotten larger, their theater of operations has been reduced. In the latter days of WWII, several German operations to the east stalled when their bigger-better-heavier Tiger IIs were unable to negotiate soft ground that the Soviet T-34s, at less than half the weight, had no great problem with.

Barbara Tuchman's "The Guns of August" describes how the German tanks operated in WWI. They advanced through wooded areas, between or over trees, negotiated narrow lanes with stone fences, and similarly were able to enter villages with narrow streets. Most tanks had motorcycle outriders to find clear paths the tanks could negotiate; many tanks traveled with troops in trucks or on foot. Basically, they were mobile light artillery and armored tactical command points.

Tanks got bigger and heavier by WWII, but looking up the size, the Panzer II was only slightly larger than a Nissan Armada SUV. While the reference material I have mostly discusses Kursk and other large armor-to-armor engagements, it appears that, at least in the early days, the Germans were still using a lot of light tanks for basic troop support.

By Desert Storm, the US Army was sending "tank companies" into Iraq, consisting *only* of tanks; no trucks, no infantry, and no real air support.

I'm not seeing that kind of mass armor in the relatively near future. As the miracle of cheap electronics makes targeting and guidance cheaper, the big tanks will start looking more like targets than fortresses as they become more vulnerable to bombers and drones.

A 9-ton Panzer II is barely more than an armored car by modern standards, but I see the utility of that sort of vehicle becoming much more important in the future. There are always those danged wooded areas, and then the urbs and suburbs.

A car following a marked road, or a tank on the plains or desert, is one thing. You could probably use IR and radar to judge how large and what kind of a tree you might have to go around instead of over. But when you get into populated areas your software has to get *much* more sophisticated.

- that stream: we radar the depth at .7 meters, with a 7.5 degree approach at the embankment. But is the embankment dry clay, wet clay, soft dirt, or stone? A whole class of "tank retriever" exists for that specific problem.

- that nice open area between the houses in the suburbs: the grass is always greener over the septic tank

- that open field of flowers: might be a moor or a bog

- and, of course, et cetera

For a tactically effective tank, or one used for infantry support, I think you're doing to see tank crews for the forseeable future.

However, considering the "target" problem, we might see a lot of the crews operating their tank from outside the vehicle, nearby, where they are available to support the vehicle when needed, but not actually inside it.


Are you seriously suggesting that Chicago is not several hundred miles from the US-Canada border?

Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are effectively one body of water: you can sail directly from one to the other. (Unlike the other lakes that are connected by rivers.) Which means a British ship in Lake Huron can sail into Lake Michigan, in the same way that one in the Atlantic can sail into the Mediterranean.

So given a British naval force on Lake Huron, getting to Chicago is just a matter of sailing along the lake — which is much simpler than trying to sail up a river. Which is why Chicago is 'coastal' rather than 'inland' in terms of naval access. (From an 1812 perspective, of course.)

To drag this (admittedly geopolitical) thread back to OGH's question, I think that self-driving cars alter the landscape by allowing the manufacturer (or whoever has influence over them) easy access to a country that uses them. Looking at what data mining can do with online purchasing, then adding in locations and data from on-board sensors, and getting very fine-grained data about a population and any individuals-of-interest within it seems to be easier and more reliable. Given that lethal strikes in foreign countries is already (apparently) legal, it means that anyone seriously opposing the Governing Party becomes much more restricted in what they can do and remain below the radar.

So, self-driving cars as an extension of the panopticon, by turning most physical movement into a matter of record.


I'm thinking smaller, as in automated personal (individual) self-driving cocoons - approx. 3' wide, 7' long, 4' high. In comparison with current private vehicles: much less metal for engine and chassis, less plastic for the outer shell/windows, therefore much less weight which translates into considerably less power/fuel, roadways and parking space/surface needed.

Historically, once things get to be quite small, they become more toy-like financially and emotionally. This might translate into more cottage industries springing up to provide custom whatever.

Such vehicles would be tied in to one's smartphone which would be the brains for all activity. Why spend money on yet another 'brain' when the smartphone is already available and if not completely ready yet to do this type of navigation, has all of the connectivity already built-in to patch into whatever command center such a vehicle would have to patch into.

The human impact --
a) small children would be driven to school as such personal travel cocoons would have built-in nanny cams so mum and dad could keep an eye on them until they arrive safely at school/return home;
b) teenagers could probably still find ways to make out;
c) seniors could safely nap on the way to tea with a friend or their doctor's appointment;
d) car-jacking would be physically easier as such a light weight 'vehicle' could be easily lifted up and stowed into the back of a 22-wheeler.

As for the car-bomb -- I'm assuming a largely plastic shell, therefore easily penetrable by devices such as an infrared detector which by this time would probably be a standard police smartphone app.


Right now the US is having trouble funding the recapitalization

Anyone want to wargame an MBT versus an equal dollar value of autojeeps with a missile launcher strapped to the roof?

If that goes the way I would suspect (the MBT kills the first 5, perhaps 10, and then...) that would suggest that lightly-militarised civilian vehicles would straight out _win_ against any standing peacetime army.

That's a new thing in the world: no mass training, no new science, no overwhelmingly popular just cause, no large proportion of a continent's GDP. All you need to conquer an industrialised country is a building-full of engineers and a factory or two.

The geopolitical implications should be obvious; I suspect it would end up looking something like the movie Elysium. Except probably islands rather than a space station as the counter, as a: nukes, b: different math applies to ships, and c: there is no such thing as a mass-market civilian submarine.


All other things being equal, the number one reason people don't buy electric vehicles is something called 'range anxiety'. Break past that and see electric sales go up, up, up.

Range anxiety is real. A friend with one was going to the movies with his wife last winter. She asked for heat. He turned it on. Then he had to tell here they had to choose between heat and maybe not getting home. Running the heater cut the range from something like 50 to less than 15 miles.


The USPS does not lose money on bulk rate mail, no matter where it enters the delivery chain.

Bulk rate mail is not the same thing as a negotiated bulk rate.

The USPS is inefficient at so many levels it would be a larger disaster if not owned by the US Gov.

I just go to to pick up a certified signature required letter. Took 15 minutes and at first they said it had been sent back due to time. When I pointed out that it was before the send back date they looked some more. It was mis filed in their 1895 system of filing such things.


Ok, I'll bite: Other than possibly ground pressure, an Universal carrier type (inc Bren and Carden-Loyd) was better than a truck how?

For its time... remember that this is 1940, and four-wheel-drive technology isn't mature yet. Anything that can be seen will be shot at, and you face the problem of getting ammunition up to your forward troops, and casualties backwards. You have to stop your trucks short (otherwise you'll only get one journey out of them) and ferry the ammunition forward to the soldiers firing it / stretchers back to the aid post and ambulance. The trucks have to use roads and tracks; they can't go cross-country.

Having a light armoured vehicle that can cover that gap, means that you're not using a significant proportion of your troops as mules. If it can survive shellfire splinters, and direct fire from light weapons, great. Given that it's only five feet high, you can use folds in the ground to hide it, and get close to your forward positions.

It doesn't replace your trucks, it supplements them for certain jobs. If you want an equivalent for the APC, you look at the Kangaroo conversions of Sherman, Ram, and Churchill tanks - take off the turret, and carry troops forward behind armour (these days, look at Achzarit and Namer).

The universal carrier became obsolete once airburst fuzes became widely available for artillery (the VT fuze, essentially a omnidirectional radar that senses the approaching planet); the carriers were open-topped, and once you have to stick an armoured roof on it you might as well use a bigger and heavier vehicle. Once 4x4s got going, a Landrover could be used for most of the jobs concerned, at a seventh of the price of a basic tracked universal carrier.


Re: Various comments regarding auto-trucks changing the landscape of shipping.

According to Google Maps (which refuses to chart a route across the China - Khazajstan border but otherwise does just fine) it's 11100 Km Shanghai to Hamburg, driving 135 hs straight at an average just above 80 Km/h and crossing 4 borders: China - Khazajstan - Russia - Belarus - European Union (in Poland). If Russia manages some sort of free transit agreement out of the former Soviet Republics then you're down to just two borders. Automate a lot of the paperwork and scanning and you can have a cargo leaving a warehouse in China and arriving 7 - 10 days later to a warehouse in Europe. It will not be cost-competitive with bulk deliveries of cheap materials, but for time-sensitive stuff or high cost products such as electronics it will beat ships hands down.


Anyone want to wargame an MBT versus an equal dollar value of autojeeps with a missile launcher strapped to the roof?

You're forgetting artillery. Even the fragmentation stuff will chew up unarmoured vehicles, let alone smart weapons like the sensor-fuzed weapon.

You autojeep is still $75k vehicle with a $100k sensor on top, driving around with no way to reload its $20k missiles; it's just been taken out by a $10k barrage of dumb artillery, or a $10 burst of MG fire. Meanwhile, you've now got unarmoured troops chasing around and trying to reload, maintain, and camouflage the only vehicles moving in the warzone.

Forget wargame, try reality. If you're in jeeps with high-tech anti-tank weapons, then even a troop of fifty-year old tanks wins. As the SBS found out in Iraq in 2003, apparently...


Errr, no. THe MBT is part of a weapons system which includes infantry, armoured cars, helicopters and other stuff which basically means that in the case where lots of autocars can swarm nearby, they'll get destroyed by other methods, or if they can't swarm near it, it won't be attacked. It's not a case of a game of 1 tank versus 100 small vehicles, it's tank + infantry + jeeps with machine guns + anti-missile systems + helicopters + satellite observations to spot the factory + cruise missiles to destroy the factory and power supply sources etc etc, versus swarms of autocars which have only limited fuel/ charge in them because the invading army just destroyed every power station and the national grid and the oil pumping stations and depots etc.

The thing the cars need is the missiles, and do you think the methods of building them are going to be cheap and easy?



Cite facts before insulting the post office next time.


By Desert Storm, the US Army was sending "tank companies" into Iraq, consisting *only* of tanks; no trucks, no infantry, and no real air support.

Errrr - I don't think so. Rule one, beaten into everyone since 1940, is "tanks without infantry support are doomed". And vice versa. The second they stop, nasty infantrymen with evil minds will start to sneak up on them.

Don't confuse peacetime organisation (all the tanks in one unit, all the infantry in another, makes administration and logistics easier) with wartime battle-grouping. Typically, a tank battalion would swap companies with an infantry battalion, and be organised according to the task at hand.

Any tank company has lots of trucks. We're talking fuel consumption measured in gallons per mile, not miles per gallon. Put a company of fifteen of them on the battlefield, and they can't exactly stop at at gas station - there's a non-stop flow of trucks ferrying fuel and ammunition forward. An armoured brigade might have five or six thousand soldiers, and only 200 armoured vehicles (of which only fifty are tanks).

Geopolitically, this means that equipping an army large enough to actually fight a war (as opposed to the occasional parade, and some shiny kit in barracks) is almost too expensive for anyone other than the US. Which is a nice thought; Pax Librii, anyone?


No one else is. Why just me?

And my example was accurate. I watched them while they hunted and searched through their filing system.

And I've looked into how they operate at various times over the years.

Here's a fact. (And it may be expired but I doubt it.) Those delivery jeepettes or whatever they are. A repair shop with the contract for some of them told me how they don't have to follow any emissions control rules. They are basically 4 cylinder pollution spewers. What would it do to their costs if they had to use vehicles that meet the same safety and pollution standards as the rest of the vehicles on the road?

And friends in the shipping business tell me about how things compare between the USPS and the for profits.


Barbara Tuchman's "The Guns of August" describes how the German tanks operated in WWI. They advanced through wooded areas, between or over trees, negotiated narrow lanes with stone fences, and similarly were able to enter villages with narrow streets. Most tanks had motorcycle outriders to find clear paths the tanks could negotiate; many tanks traveled with troops in trucks or on foot. Basically, they were mobile light artillery and armored tactical command points.

I read "The Guns of August" last year and I would really like to get my hands on your copy because it clearly comes from a fascinatingly different time line -- one in which the Kaiser's army was equipped with Hitler's Panzer divisions!

(The German army first fielded the Sturmpanzerwagen A7V in late 1917 -- "The Guns of August" ends its story in autumn of 1914! And the A7V was a dog -- a tank with a crew of 18, so bad that the Germans preferred to fight in captured British tanks.)


Anyone want to wargame an MBT versus an equal dollar value of autojeeps with a missile launcher strapped to the roof? If that goes the way I would suspect (the MBT kills the first 5, perhaps 10, and then...) that would suggest that lightly-militarised civilian vehicles would straight out _win_ against any standing peacetime army.

The MBT plausibly kills the first fifty. But then it runs out of ammo for the main gun, the cupola MGs need reloading while it's under fire, and autojeep #51 finishes it off. Cost of 50-odd jeeps at $20,000 each: $1M. Cost of an MBT: $5-10M.

(But my real guess is that 2D drones will lose out to 3D drones. And big strategic high-alt 3D drones will lose to swamrs of these, with a brain-control chip in the pilot's seat and a stinger loaded with tetrodotoxin.)


I don't know about the last part of that. Big strategic high-alt 3D drones have an advantage in that it's hard for little things to go high and fast. And as I type this maybe we're back to little things carrying rockets that go after high and fast big things. So we have F16s the size of a Prius? That only go 1/3 the speed of sound?


And friends in the shipping business tell me about how things compare between the USPS and the for profits.

I can't speak for internal US mail, but getting stuff fromthe US to Canada the USPS wins hands down. Typical for-profit markup for shipping a parcel is about 50%!

For Pelgrane Press, it's apparently cheaper to ship books from Canada to England and back than it is ship to Canada from the US distribution centre.


1: Because I noticed you.

2: My father worked for the post office. I have a vested interest against lies about it.

The post office has a bunch of problems, but you're nowhere close to any of them. So, once again: cite facts, not anecdotes, if you're going to insult the post office.


Incidentally, I've been scarce on this topic because I've been at FutureFest in London, then traveling home, then exhausted.

Discussions at FutureFest showed up just two major geopolitical-related consequences of self-driving vehicles:

1) Disaster relief. If your big logistic hubs (WalMart, Home Depot, Tesco ...) are working but you've had a city or urban core whacked (nuke, localized quake, industrial disaster) the self-driving autos can be co-opted to act as "last mile" shuttles for getting supplies to survivors who may be injured or too disoriented to drive themselves out. Also to function as robot ambulances (with no paramedics, but able to route the wounded to the nearest triage station autonomously). With backhoes/JCBs to clear rubble and open paths, this may make short-term recovery from future urban disasters much easier.

2) The key political consequence is: internal repression of dissent becomes easier. "Mob" is a contraction of "the mobility", after all. You can have the cars of dissidents deliver them straight to the police station or football stadium for processing. Or simply refuse to take them to the demonstration. Or park and lock the doors in direct sunlight for a couple of hours ...

Yes, bicycles. But bicycles don't mix well with mobs of malevolent police-controlled robot cars. Or even with regular riot cops with batons.


lies about it.

I've told none. Unless the folks who talked to me told me lies. Personally knowing the owner of the auto repair shop (8 or more bays) I suspect he was telling the truth.

Watching how they filed registered mail in a large office serving a large area with my own eyes, I wasn't lying about that.

Knowing how rates are set. I know what I read about federal rules.

As to people working there. I have nothing against most of them. Like all larger organizations they have a few rubes that are used to blow things out of proportion. But I was talking about policies and practices that I and others have observed first hand.

Lies. Nope.


People in the latest large scale public demonstrations (Egypt, Occupy, Turkey, etc) already live in high density urban centres where everything is within spitting distance. If push comes to shove they can walk, then camp there for however long it takes to make the authorities blink.

And disruption of public transport to discourage the ones too far away is likely to affect the infrastructure even worse than the demonstrations, or at the very least add to it.

And anyone willing to camp in a public square for a week and possibly get confrontational with riot police is unlikely to own a car.


I can't speak for internal US mail, but getting stuff fromthe US to Canada the USPS wins hands down. Typical for-profit markup for shipping a parcel is about 50%!

The problem with this is that we don't know if they USPS is loosing money hand over fist doing this or if they have a real price advantage cross border due to them being a part of the federal government. Or if they are forced to do it below costs due to laws of Congress or treaties. I have no idea.

My point is that this doesn't speak to are the efficient or not.


You can have the cars of dissidents deliver them straight to the police station or football stadium for processing. Or simply refuse to take them to the demonstration

These two I can definitely see happening, the first because any publicly owned SDC (and public transport in such an age is IMO likely to be dominated by social taxis and minibuses with semi-variable routes) is going to require CCTV and digital payment as a way to catch people who vandalise. Wouldn't be too far of a stretch for the footage to be fed through a police database for matches against criminals and troublemakers.

As for the latter haven't similar things already happened with the police shutting down public transport during protests?


The post office has a bunch of problems, but you're nowhere close to any of them. So, once again: cite facts, not anecdotes, if you're going to insult the post office.

You called me a liar. You refer to anecdotes. Everything I talked about was either public knowledge on the record, something I observed directly, or things told to me by the people who saw them and they are people I've known for years. So the source was either me, public records, or people I know directly.

I'm not a liar. Go away.



Please stop talking about the USPS, everyone.

Also, discussion of today's US political news (the government shutdown) is forbidden on this thread.

Let's just not go there, folks. Okay?


Or trust it after the first incident of mass car mediated arrests happens. That's one trick they'll be able to pull only once.


A flying drone is going to be even more effective when paired with a Big Dog on the ground to act as a Forward Air Observer.


Difficult to talk about geopolitical consequences without any specific focus, timescale, nor perspective.

So here's a few more mundane issues:

roads, and rules of the road, will gradually change (roads become not so "entertaining"), transportation will become more like limousine/cab/bus/train, conspicuous consumption will change, new crimes will come into being, much corporate turnover will occur, people will bemoan the golden age of transportation and others will mock them for that...

spinoffs will include infrastructure (independent of mobile phones) with different constraints from both "mobile" and from "general purpose computing". I would expect further turbulence on issues such as safety vs. innovation, with both taking a back seat to spectacular issues promoted by people such as ourselves.

Turns of phrase (such as "taking a back seat" and perhaps such as "turns of phrase" should also be expected to evolve).

I'd expect the usual clashes such as between early adopter "haves" and late adopter "have nots", with much angst over "missed opportunities".

But the most significant effects depend on a lot of the details (and on the participating communities and families) and thus should be time dependent.


You must know a really cheap jeep supplier. Your $20k jeep with auto drive and sensors obviously doesn't include the launcher price (thermal imagers are expensive, as is decent quality night vision equipment), let alone the missile. As with everything else, you get what you pay for. Cheap military equipment... isn't, really. Don't want to spend cash on thermal camouflage? Watch as your jeeps are spotted and destroyed by the dozen.

Worst case in your example, the tank fires its smoke dischargers, or (as is standard for Russian kit) dumps diesel into its exhaust to create a lot of smoke fast, or calls for a smoke fire mission on its own location, or (most likely) its accompanying infantry take on the jeeps. Or its wingman takes on the jeeps while it reloads. Or an attack helicopter, or armed UAV, fires a missile to destroy a missile. Or it withdraws and comes back later.

...the jeep can't be autonomous and everywhere; decent ATk kit is always scarce, so it has to mass those fifty jeeps where needed, so they need to travel - and to fit into a C3I and logistics network. Take on the maintainers, and the jeeps are much less useful.

Yes, quantity has a quality all of its own. But consider this; the Iraqi Army didn't just roll over in 2003, it was still mounting battalion armoured attacks on Coalition forces a week into the war. The Allied forces managed to deal with it at a local level, without the British losing a single tank (other than to a single blue on blue cross-boundary screwup). Lots of motivated, intelligent, soldiers with good anti-tank weapons in and around Basra - and they didn't manage to kill a single Challenger 2. .


I have a prediction that runs counter to a lot of the expectations above.
The hard and software piloting cars will be behind air-gap security. At most there will be a heavily restricted and extremely paranoidly coded feed for traffic warnings to the routing software, and that too will have a hardware cutout available.

Alternatively, the main geopolitical effect of selfdriving cars turns out to be the spin-off applications from the money poured into hacking and bug-proof software architectures. No one is going to drive a car that can be hacked.


Charlie writes:
1) Disaster relief. If your big logistic hubs (WalMart, Home Depot, Tesco ...) are working but you've had a city or urban core whacked (nuke, localized quake, industrial disaster) the self-driving autos can be co-opted to act as "last mile" shuttles for getting supplies to survivors who may be injured or too disoriented to drive themselves out. Also to function as robot ambulances (with no paramedics, but able to route the wounded to the nearest triage station autonomously). With backhoes/JCBs to clear rubble and open paths, this may make short-term recovery from future urban disasters much easier.

Critically important here is the need to have the vehicles be truly autonomous. GPS and internet connectivity have to be strictly optional additional extras, otherwise you're in trouble when network connectivity goes down, or the vehicle is in a tunnel for an extended period of time.

2) The key political consequence is: internal repression of dissent becomes easier. "Mob" is a contraction of "the mobility", after all. You can have the cars of dissidents deliver them straight to the police station or football stadium for processing. Or simply refuse to take them to the demonstration. Or park and lock the doors in direct sunlight for a couple of hours ...

Again, this is true only if you feel your vehicle is safer with, rather than without, external control. You _really_ don't have to link everything together. You _can_ do this of course, but resilience requires whatever system is put in place should remain functional if all the fancy stuff fails.


The problem with this is that we don't know if they USPS is loosing money hand over fist doing this or if they have a real price advantage cross border due to them being a part of the federal government. Or if they are forced to do it below costs due to laws of Congress or treaties. I have no idea.

Given what I know of Canada Post's economics, the difference is the profits of the private couriers. Canada Post doesn't lose money on international parcels, and it's much cheaper than couriers.

When a courier charges the same for a parcel from Detroit to Windsor and from Detroit to Mongolia, I see no reason to believe that price in any way reflects cost.


Sorry, saw this after I posted my last entry.


Bit of digging - the unit cost for the most recent batch of M153 remote weapons station (less maintenance, training, spare parts, etc) came to $50k per unit for Kongsberg - down from nearly $90k for the first batch. Still not cheap, doesn't include the weaponry.


It would be interesting to game this our you could probably do it using the striker rules set.

the jeep platform might be cheap but the electronics and fire control gear going to be very expensive - from experience playing striker it was all the ancillary gear that made top end power armored troops expensive.


Your $20k jeep with auto drive and sensors obviously doesn't include the launcher price (thermal imagers are expensive, as is decent quality night vision equipment), let alone the missile.

Sure, it would cost a lot if you procure it from the usual suspects.

On the other hand, $20k sounds expensive, if you buy second hand and apply a cheap after-market kit. Or maybe you don't even pay for them after the first few, just take them at gunpoint. Only 1 in 5, or 1 in 10, needs an anti-tank weapon. Some of the rest can have anti-infantry machine guns (or gas: no point worrying about retaliation against your non-existent troops). The rest can be armed with empty grey boxes. Losses don't matter when your unmanned vehicle is cheaper than most of the easy ways of destroying it.

Another way of looking at it: there are 254 million registered cars in the states, and only ~8000 MBTs. There almost certainly aren't enough tank rounds in inventory to take out 10% of the potential opposing forces.

Of course, taking out the factories before they are deployed works. But that applies to both sides. Which is what makes the geopolitics resemble to run-up to WWI. Back then, some of the more experienced but dumber generals would go on about how the machine gun really changed little too...

Most important question: will these things be called Carleks? They do have the same weakness: stairs.


For those who don't know, Striker was a part of the Traveller game system, dealing with military ground combat. There were detailed rules for creating combat vehicles. The combat rules themselves were unusual for trying to deal with the problems of changing orders in the middle of a battle. Essentially, it treated most of the force as NPCs.

I once used the system for a game involving some "traditional" wargamers, who got a bit frustrated with the delays imposed. It was also a huge amount of work for me as umpire. Far from a disaster, but not fun enough to repeat. The miniatures wargaming hobby has been making some effort to reflect the time needed for a general to issue new orders since the 1960s at least.

And, just to point up the relevance, having a general issuing orders to a military force, because things are not working out as planned, is what reveals the effective armies. Having troops who don't need detailed orders gives you a big advantage.

As I recall the Striker rules, they were give you a chance of representing the command and control differences between the German and Russian armies on the Eastern Front. Or some of the differences between the Frech and British armies in 1940.


On the other hand, $20k sounds expensive, if you buy second hand and apply a cheap after-market kit.

I'm thinking in terms of the self-driving equivalent of a technical. Missile launchers and target acquisition kit? Forget it: I'm thinking more like 250kg of ANFO in the trunk. Each beater simply has to have enough smarts to make a kamikaze run at the MBT. Sooner or later the MBT runs out of ammo, and then it's in a world of hurt.

This breaks if there are a bunch of MBTs with infantry support and a resupply chain. But it's dirt cheap -- the cost of ANFO is within an order of magnitude of the cost of diesel oil and fertilizer, and the delivery platform is the circa-2030 equivalent of a £1000 ten year old fourth-hand pick-up truck.


Hmmm. And we put car security in with the TSA...

While I like the concept of having cars for makeshift emergency logistics, in practice a lot of clear areas will be used for things like triage and field hospitals, and cars may be desired to, oh, evacuate vulnerable people. Wouldn't it be good if a self-driving semi plows through a makeshift encampment on the assumption that it's all trash?

Similarly, most people caught up in a protest area aren't protesters, and having all vehicles hackable by the cops on an area-wide pretext is kind of stupid. Letting cars detain everyone inside them (without knowing who is inside them) makes them murder devices. And of course, there's absolutely no reason to think that the police backdoor will remain secret very long, at which point it becomes a critical vulnerability.

This problem goes back a long ways. Decades ago, LA trained community emergency response teams (CERT), whose basic job was, in the event of natural disasters, to provide emergency help for people in their neighborhood for the 24 to 48 hours before official help could get in. That network never deployed (fortunately), but after 2001, lawyers got involved. Due to liability issues, it was decided decided that the CERTS had to be volunteers with the fire department and to go where ordered and do what they were told, rather than save their own families and neighborhoods first. A lot of CERTs quit, because they had signed on to rescue their families and friends, and didn't want to be told to leave these people stranded and go where some incident response commander thought they were needed.

I foresee this same problem seriously hampering the deputizing of self-driving vehicles in emergencies. A lot of people (and I'm one) are happy to carry emergency supplies in the car and use them. However, we are not happy to be yanked around by some uninformed reactionary political flak in a fancy uniform who is in the grip of elite panic.

Mandating a human in the loop in planes makes sense - if something goes hairy in a way the autopilot can't deal with there's no other recourse, and if things go hairy there can be only seconds to recover.

I was actually thinking in part of planes with that comment... I don't really follow plane accident and incident reports, but I get the impression at least some of the recent ones have exactly this sort of interaction between automated systems and human operators as one of the contributing causes. Humans who weren't keeping up with things as much as they should have, or who don't have the right mental model of what the automated system was doing in the lead-up to the emergency and possibly even what parts of the automated system remain engaged and what parts are now manual (and what parts are malfunctioning).

That's with highly trained and experienced operators who do this as their primary occupation.

Ground-based drones can failsafe in a way utterly disallowed to autopilots; switch on brake and hazard warning lights, coast to a stop, and contact a Higher Authority (who can be the passenger, the AA, or the cops) for help. Anything happening too quickly for this to be a viable way of coping, the humans can't help

I'm sure there are complications even to that, such as failed brakes, but yes. Unlike in airplanes, you're unlikely to have a slow emergency, the kind in which there are many minutes or even hours to sort things out. There are only fast emergencies, where as you note the humans can't help, and situations where pulling over and getting a tow-truck is a viable strategy.


hm, first of, who's to say the technological advances that make drone technicals feasable don't work with tank defense, too, with tanks deploying a score of autonomous segways or aerial drones to get a parameter the technicals can't pass. the first ones are likely cheaper than technicals, the latter won't be that much in the damage area of anfo explosives and might make targeted hits with he round. of course, there could be enemy drones. err, shit, lem already went there when he assumed future weapons to become ever smaller...

come to think about it, segways or at least lowrider technicals might be a better bet for the attacker for later detection and smaller target, too.

on another note, we're speaking about unshielded comsumer electronics on the battlefield, so i guess fielding some active denial systems or similar microwave weapons should be fun...


err, thought this post was lost, tried to repost it but first of somewhat improved it, only to see it worked the first time already. gotta love economic android tablets and blogs, whatever, assume this version supersedes the old one...

hm, first of, who's to say the technological advances that make drone technicals feasable don't work with tank defense, too, with tanks deploying a score of autonomous segways or aerial drones to establish a parameter the technicals can't pass. the first ones are likely cheaper than technicals, the latter won't be that much in the damage area of anfo explosives and might eliminate the technicals through targeted hits with he rounds. of course, there could be enemy drones against those defences. err, shit, lem already went there when he assumed future weapons to become ever smaller...

come to think about it, segways or at least lowrider technicals might be a better bet for the attacker for later detection and smaller target, too. one could minimize weight of explosives with shaped charges like ieds. btw, the idea is not that new:

on another note, we're speaking about unshielded comsumer electronics on the battlefield, so i guess fielding some active denial systems or similar microwave weapons should be fun.


"Each beater simply has to have enough smarts to make a kamikaze run at the MBT."

This is not easy or simple. Recognizing a target and then hitting it when it dodges while shooting back and laying down smoke is not an easy problem. Especially since the whole focus of robot cars will be on avoiding collisions.

It's a lot harder than turning a Cessna with an autopilot into a precision guided cruise missile, which hasn't happened yet either.

The technical is at best 70 year old technology by first world standards. The self-driving vehicle is not yet in production, even in the first world.

Will Mclean


Getting back to the original question. I think it creates bigger divides world wide between the haves and have nots.

In the US and EU we talk about this spread. But look at India or China. Or Brazil. We of the northern western hemisphere look downright tight knit.

I see this as a part of a larger trend. (Speaking of what I see the most here in the US.) Each time we raise the bar on minimum standards for things we push a few more people "out of the middle class". Housing standards. Car standards. Whatever. We raise the base cost of doing life. If auto driving cars take hold to the extent that they are preferred/mandatory (in some cases) then the extra costs (I know there's some debate here) will push a car out of reach of more people. And into the hands of dirty filthy corporations. Who rent them out like those home furnishings places rent couches and microwaves at ridiculous prices.

In the US it pushes more people into being poor and makes the burbs more middle and upper class. Poor get pushed into very rural or very urban areas.

This is a postulation, not a firm thesis. But one that's been kicking around in the back of my mind for a while.


kamikaze run ...
Especially since the whole focus of robot cars will be on avoiding collisions.

I suspect that a part of a kamikaze software mods will be to remove all the small scale collision avoidance programming when "going in". The robot car will likely not mind running over the small to medium bump, stick, body, what ever. Or even a scrape with a tree that takes off a door panel.


Written like someone who doesn't live in an area where you can already go 40 to 50 miles without being able to refuel.



First successful and "modern" (diffs on both axles and on transfer box) 4wd system patented in 1893, Marmon-Herrington converting trucks to 4wd in 1930, although the M3 scout car didn't enter produciotn until 1940.


Paras 1 and 2 - yes, in terms of sail. HMS Amathyst (see original message) was not a sailing vessel!


TBF, the A7V might make some sort of sense on road; they did have a distressing habit of getting stuck and/or falling over on muddy or rough ground.


I suspect that a part of a kamikaze software mods will be to remove all the small scale collision avoidance programming when "going in". The robot car will likely not mind running over the small to medium bump, stick, body, what ever. Or even a scrape with a tree that takes off a door panel.

Did you see Delbruck's "robotic goalie" in the link I posted up-thread? That'd be quite a good point-defence sensor.

But on to my main point:

I worked with NASA and NIA on collision avoidance algorithms for the FAA. It's tricky to point to this stuff today -- what with NASA's websites being off line -- but when they're back up, check out Cesar Munoz's work. What we were doing was endowing each aircraft with enough sensors and an algorithmic collision avoidance script to ensure that if you fly one plane towards a flight of twenty others they joggle around to create a gap for the one to fly through the rest. (Cesar has a nice video of this). There is no central direction, instead the algorithm is distributed and works with lots of 1-1 individual negotiation.

The other thing we did was to use this idea to permit rapid deployment from carriers, by "road-training" a pair of F14s to take off and land at minimum distance. I didn't witness the test, but Cesar tells me that the pilots had to be very firmly told to "let the planes do the flying"!

What I'm advocating as "do-able, but economically non-cost-effective, as of today" is endowing cars and trucks with this sort of 1-1 collision avoidance technology. There's no need for central control, and, as we found with FAA requirements, every reason to make the software completely autonomous so that interference/hackers/HostilePowers/etc/etc cannot cause the kind of accidents that most of you seem to relish in this thread.

In short: "hackers gain control of your automated car" isn't going to happen. No engineer is going to sign off on a project that's so fraught with danger.

(Actually, that may not be quite true. Anecdotally, automatic brake control / engine management software (for cars) is written by the worst of our undergrads, because the better ones realise just how difficult doing the job properly is going to be. And the better ones also realise that by signing on the dotted line they have made themselves responsible for all that subsequently happens. Aircraft avionics, at least that with which I'm familiar [NASA/Rockwell-Collins/Boeing] for DreamLiner is run through NASA/SRIs' Automated Theorem Prover Technology (PVS) to completely eliminate bugs introduced between specification and implementation. You can of course still mis-specify your problem!)


i'm not that sure about regulations dragging middle-class people down. first of, a competing (somewhat conspiracy) theory i heard was one of the effects of outlawing old vehicles was the acquisition of new ones, thus keeping industry and jobs going, though that is more of a joke...

somewhat more earnest, quite some of these regulations lead to smaller costs in the long run, with something like lower fuel costs or just the sam vimes principle in general:

on another note, keeping the cheap end out of the market might mean a short-time deficit in affordable goods, but it also creates a new market for cheap goods that adhere to the regulations. of course, it could also create a new client population for leasing, hints of disaster capitalism, anyone, but keeping the cheaper bidders out should be a problem.

last but not least, regulations are one way of keeping the market for lemons from happening, which i guess is a bigger problem for the middle class than others:

that is not to say there are some downright stupid regulations around...


Self driving vehicles, and the unemployment they cause is "AI in your face". I suspect there will be a psychological backlash against automation manifesting as a "right to work" or "wealth distribution" pressure ie Socialism might make a big comeback due to this. Throw in some Luddite terrorism as well, on a small scale.

In the past, job losses due to automation is hidden. You lose your job, or cannot get one, but never see the inside of the building and the automation infrastructure (by definition - you are not employed there). This is different.


Regarding disaster relief I think you are dead wrong. Especially in that case you want crewed vehicles. A crewman can clear a bit of rubble from the road. An automatic vehicle cannot.


Hmm... past 'innovations in transport technology' have a) allowed more traffic to travel along a route and/or b) shorter travel times and/or c) cheaper, safer travels. Often all of them in varying proportions. In addition they have had unintended consequences on many occasions; for example, motor vehicles made horses disappear from the battlefields, radically changing logistics, and air travel meant summits became a matter of routine, changing the very meaning of 'diplomacy'.

Self-driving vehicles seem at least partially different to me. They could allow denser and faster traffic in highways but, would the difference be significant in geopolitical terms? I think that's unlikely.

However, removing human drivers can have other consequences. First, self-driving vehicles can be made smaller and cheaper, and second, they don't need rest, or sleep. And that could change many things on the battlefields.

For example

- Those vehicles will be, all of them, equipped with cameras, radars, etc, and dedicated military platforms, tiny, discreet, and cheap are certainly doable. Reconnaissance and good, old espionage are probably going to become unstoppable, surprise unachievable. Even media reporters could become omnipresent. Try to move an armored column secretly by night, see every detail reported on the Net ten minutes later and nerds from all over the world arguing in 4chan if that thing on the front of your tanks is the new APRV13 sensor.

- Soldiers have always needed time to rest, eat and sleep, combat can't occupy but a small fraction of their time. In that aspect, autonomous combat platforms can be truly revolutionary... battlefields could become 24/7/365 environments in which combat drones fight literally without pause, humans can't survive for long simply because fatigue will get them, and military units need several commanders of equal rank operating in shifts because high intensity combat never stops.

- When a soldier is dead or wounded, he's out of action for good. Even if he recovers completely, the process takes weeks. Machines, on the other hand, can be repaired and/or cannibalized for spares. That, on a fully automatized battlefield, would make possible for badly mauled units to recover incredibly swiftly if they can retire their 'killed' and they possess the workshops, the spares and the repairmen (not that they have to be men... they could be robots too)

It goes without saying that such a drone force would wipe the floor with a lower tech, 'human' army... and also that a war fought mainly by robots, with relatively little blood spilt, spectacular, fought on every TV on the planet, and spectacularly expensive too (a war really intensive in capital) would be something truly new, as new and different as the Great War in 1914...



From Charlie's original post: "Railroads facilitated the great mass infantry wars that ravaged Europe from 1870 to 1945. "

Could widespread avalability of self driving cars, trucks, etc, etc do the same thing for places like the gnarlier corners of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia where there's not much in the way of railways, heavy airlift is unthinkably expensive for the likely players (Boko Haram, LRA, Charles Taylor's Liberia, and the like)?

That could be messy...


ISTR reading somewhere (may well be Heinlein's Starship Troopers) that for every front-line combat soldier the USA has, there are 9 logisticians, cooks, truck drivers, managers and the like supporting him. That would seem to support your argument.


It is already messy. Many of these guys are poorly trained thugs driving around in a Toyota Hilux or similar. When your weapon of choice is the machete because that's the cheapest way of killing unarmed civilians, the purpose of your vehicle is to deliver your people to their target. When you've got those guys already with the vehicle, you might as well have them drive it.

The same applies to civilian use of such vehicles - and if you're a farmer driving round your pastures dropping off feed for your animals, then you do not want a self-driving vehicle, because it'd just get in the way.

(Combined harvesters getting that 1000 hectare crop in, though? They're pretty close to self-driven already)

I can see an overlap between self-driving and manual-driven vehicles. The truck from a central depot bringing goods to individual stores? That'd be a good place for a self-driver. The van carrying individual shopping baskets of goods from the stores to consumers? Not so much, because of all the gnarly human decisions ranging from where to leave the van while you carry the stuff to the door, to the "the customer's out, which neighbour do I leave it with?". It doesn't stop the van having self-driving abilities, and there may be a marginal utility to that (allowing the driver to do paperwork, perhaps), but it needs a driver there, and s/he needs the ability to control it.


The pyramid is much taller when you figure in the non-military support. And then there's the entire civilian defense industry behind that...

I'd heard the usual "an army marches on its stomach" and "firstest with the mostest", but it wasn't until I read the six volumes of Churchill's history of WWII that I got an idea of how much of war is logistics; how much infrastructure it takes to get one armed fighting man to the right place at the right time. The fighting part is important, but in many cases the real war is between the opposing teams of bean counters.


Assuming car ownership levels remain high (bear with me), then instead of postal services going to your place of residence, the self driving vehicle goes to a local collection hub and gets the package/ letter loaded on to it using the registration numbers in the same ways that post codes are used now.

I say SDV as opposed to car as I can see car co-ownerships or on demand transport (maybe even packetised transport for people) taking over. The SDV could be a drone with a US style mail box on it that lives on a kennel on the balcony then climbs out when its needed /summoned.
While a road driving pizza cook house won't happen, sending your mailbox out to collect take-out might make sense.

The other thing that might (*might*) happen is that the traveller is king. (And yes I mean the Irish Traveller). Self driving camper van. Mobile communications. In theory you could do certain kinds on work in the back while the car slowly goes to a destination. The job could be programming, telephone/video support, tinkering in all form of meaning or a, ahem, sleeper-van-of-negotiable-fortune. Anything where the location is either not important, or on-site is a requirement. Or as was mentioned above, by Vanzetti, car commuters.

Something that I can also see if the park-and-wake car-park. I drive a lot, usually at unsocial hours so I can be at a location during the social ones. Being able to climb in, sleep and arrive would be great. However, I can see the car trying to wake me up at the destination. A lot of cities have a park and ride for commuters, why not a climb in, get near the destination in a snooze button zone until the driver wakes up enough to finish the journey. Tourist locations could have these as mobile hotels.

As for the problems of sleeping in cars, I have problems staying awake in buses.

Hotels, not just roadside hotels, will be effected badly. They will become service stops or high end service destinations. The middle will not hold very well.

The "armoured car heist" (tqft9999) will be a more interesting get away car. The loot and actors can be split among a number of different cars (or the smaller SDV) and regrouped (or just the contents grouped) at a different location. Hacking SDVs to group, then disperse, then way-station before returning to their first programming will be an effective way of not having the evidence.

Expect CSI to have a corpse-mobile episode. The body was killed *somewhere* on the logged driving route.
Expect SDV to be an excellent body dumping measure. Was it Sherlock Holmes with the body on the side tracks when it fell off as the train turned?

The homeless will increase. I'm not talking about living in your car (that will happen) but the forgotten. They will quite literally not be seen when an automated SDV is taking someone from point to point in a potentially windowless car.

Mobile communications and data devices won't vanish. Some functions will become part of the in-SDV system, but the mobile is just too handy. Also if commuting to work (as opposed to while working) is an issue, you'll need it (and the maps etc) if your SDV is off somewhere. I can see the mobile being a summoning and identification device (standard rechargers help the dead wallet problem).

Human drivers will be a status symbol. Fake humans in the "drivers seat" will happen. Elvis will be a taxi drivers.

Politics... more time spent in the "home"? A meet-space group will get a lot done, but for politicials there is the "less time with family" problem. Meet-space will be even more important.

Police systems will divert SDV traffic from a trouble spot. SDV diversion hacking replaces DNS to take down some venues. Similar for and against for military support.

And a night time disruption, accidental or on purpose, will have might higher fatalities as many die in their sleep on the road.

Mesh communications. If the telecoms companies can have their masts driving around the city to provide support, then hackers can get their own mesh comms working.

Car-home designs will become standard. Essentially a shipping container on wheels. Which allows for "car apartments". Multi-storey self contained SDV homes or home offices can be racked, stacked and packed with self docking utilities (power, water, fibre) and the apartments can drive off.
If a fire breaks out, the apartments can self evacuate.


for example, motor vehicles made horses disappear from the battlefields...

It took decades to achieve this. The figure I recall was that 75% of Wehrmacht logistics in WW2 was horse-drawn; another tale is that the Soviet encirclement of Stalingrad cut the German artillery units off from their prime movers, limiting their movement, because the horses had been withdrawn to the west to forage.

Horse-drawn milk floats were only replaced by electric milk floats in the 1960s/70s (doorstep milk deliveries have now almost disappeared around here, doomed by supermarket prices, longer-life milk, and better refrigeration). Consider that pit ponies were still in use into the 1980s with the NCB, and longer in private coal mines.

Even now, there are mule trains used in mountainous country, and at least one UK cavalry regiment hired local horses for patrolling during their tour in Bosnia in the 1990s.

combat can't occupy but a small fraction of their time. In that aspect, autonomous combat platforms can be truly revolutionary... battlefields could become 24/7/365 environments in which combat drones fight literally without pause,

They already are 24/7, stopping only to maintain and replenish the equipment. Operation GRANBY (the UK part of DESERT STORM) was 100 hours largely without sleep on the part of commanders; with armoured vehicles almost constantly on the move between fights, and soldiers catnapping whenever they could.


So far as I know, the US marines still have their mules and muleskinners, although they're playing with the equivalent of robotic mules, if they can figure out how to make them bulletproof.


for every front-line combat soldier the USA has, there are 9 logisticians, cooks, truck drivers, managers and the like supporting him.

That was true up to about 1995. Starting with the end of Bush41's term and through the Clinton administration in the US there was a movement to privatize many/most of those jobs in the military. So soldiers stopped serving in the cafeteria, cooking, mowing the grass, etc... Which saves a lot of money (in theory) during peace time. But when you go to war those costs sky rocket. Especially when the war isn't the 6 month action planned for during the cold war. And now that we've been "at war" for 12 years .... the cost savings haven't been there.


Much of what you discuss was discussed in the 80s. But many of us in the trenches then knew it wasn't possible, no matter what the "suits" said. It's only now with much faster computers and huge storage (RAM and disk equivalents) that we can do such things. Back in the 80s there was all this talk of elegant efficient code writing by perfect programmers who will never exist. Now we can throw hardware at it and let people code at a high level somewhat "wastefully" but correctly without cute tricks.


Come on everyone, this is silly!

Wheeled drones are a no-no, except in simple thug-like civil war situations (like Syria now or Bosnia)
A major power would simply have a EMP-generator (Parabolic mirrors, coupled to BIG capacitor-banks) to fry the electronics of any enemy w-drones. Other vehicles would have to surrender their internal control to external directions, to get "in" ....
For emergency rescue in disaster areas, you will need two vehicles, both remotely-operated - the rescue vehicle itself & its satellite, which is a rubble-clearer, looking a bit like the current mine-disposal tracked vehicles in use.
For pure, "Normal" civilian use, however ... then self-drivers are going to change the planet, hugely.
Can we concentrate on that, please?


In short: "hackers gain control of your automated car" isn't going to happen. No engineer is going to sign off on a project that's so fraught with danger.

I think you underestimate the ingeniousness off hackers.
In fact it's already quite simple for current cars once you have physical access to the car: see paper. Self driven vehicles will almost certainly contain a cell phone link, so that gives an attack surface for remote control.


I don't think most of the geopolitical implications are going to be of the military type. After all, many countries have a response to large-scale threats using nuclear-tipped ICBMs. Canada can send truck bombs everywhere in the US, and then Canada will simply be crushed, one way or another.

Another area is worth considering: domestic law. When auto-driving cars are more reliable, safe, convenient and fuel-efficient, people everywhere are going to want them. However, much of Google's driverless car technology is based on their street-view photographs. Some states don't allow this type of mass photography as it is treated as an invasion of privacy. There will be forces (both inside and out) to have the laws changed to adopt this new technology.

Another example would be the standards for sign-age and driving rules. US drives on the right. UK drives on the wrong. I think that there will be pressure to normalize this across the world to substantially reduce the development effort and risk associated with supporting differing local standards for road rules.


Another example would be the standards for sign-age and driving rules. US drives on the right. UK drives on the wrong. I think that there will be pressure to normalize this across the world to substantially reduce the development effort and risk associated with supporting differing local standards for road rules.

Not gonna happen. Per wikipedia, "Today, about 60% of the world's population live in countries with right-hand traffic and 40% in countries with left-hand traffic. About 70% of the world's total road distance carries traffic on the right and 30% on the left."

Are you going to tell Japan, India, and about half the population of Africa -- not just the UK -- to switch driving sides and reorient their entire road networks? Fixing the software is far cheaper.

Not to mention that US road signs are archaic, difficult to interpret, and employ a sub-optimal design language. Sort of like the US addiction to Imperial measurements -- something that virtually every other country on the planet has abandoned.


I think it is a mistake to think self-driving vehicles is a change of individual Geopolitical significance. It is really just a sub-category of the replacement of humans in tasks involving significant sensory based cognitive load. That change has a much wider Geopolitical significance and extends the existing and expanding downgrading of clerical activity.

So the real change is automation of human activity and the general displacement of the traditional workforce. What happens when major industries only need capital investment and bosses to run them. What happens when all us aren't needed anymore.

So my view is it just another step on the ladder leading to human obsolescence.


Analyzing the issue as just a change in transport capability is probably best done in a military context. Traditionally armies that require supplies have a maximum range based on the transport system being used. This is determined by the ratio of "fuel" to "supplies" at the start point of the supply route. Horse transport gave a very short range (unless you tried to feed the horses by foraging which is very slow). The significance of each revolution was the ability to project supply long distances using lower volumes of "fuel" rather than reducing the manpower required to operate the supply system.

The final conclusion is that self-drive would actually make a relatively moderate difference. The economics are interesting but not of any real Geopolitical significance.


I'd heard the usual "an army marches on its stomach" and "firstest with the mostest", but it wasn't until I read the six volumes of Churchill's history of WWII that I got an idea of how much of war is logistics...

Alexander the Great is reputed to have said, "My logisticians are a humorless lot... they know if my campaign fails, they are the first ones I will slay."


US road signs and many state-centric peculiarities won't be problems when fully robotic cars and truck come about. The US has enough space for creating new, dedicated highways for robotic vehicles only, with signs perfectly normalized and digitized.

Just think about France and their TGV. Even though France is more densely populated than the US they still found the space for dedicated new tracks for it.

In fact the US has enough space to have both the new robotic highways and ultra high speed things like Elon Musk's Hyperloop.

Part of the secret lies in the small footprint the new robocar and roboruck highways would have. Since all of the vehicles on them would be driven by computers they would not need the present wide clearances.

Then, there's also the liability incentive. Anyone getting a vehicle on the new highways would have to sign away all liability considerations. They would not be public roads, so they would not be hamstrung by the overwhelming present of trial lawyers in the US.

Of course, in countries not hamstrung with liability concerns like the US the robotruck traffic would co-exist with normal traffic, if ubiquitous sensors grids were present.

From a geopolitical point of view this would mean that all the robotruck traffic between Canada and Mexico (and further on to central America and South America) could just speed through the US without stopping at the borders. It would be the same for Euro traffic bound (or coming from) South America when the Bering strait tunnel would be built.

Borders would not be considerations for commerce between any 2 countries on the great international highways. No need for sleep breaks or other breaks for robotrucks so you can go through a country without stopping.


You're really missing the point.

Self-driving vehicles won't be sudden new arrivals with no intermediate stages: they'll arrive by the gradual addition of more and more automation features in regular automobiles and trucks, over about a decade. This is already happening. No need for dedicated new highways, and no liability issues -- as over 90% of road traffic accidents are the result of driver error, insurance for self-driving vehicles will be cheaper than for human drivers.


Has anyone mentioned miniaturisation in combination with this technology? I know people mentioned ground based drones, but what about a foot-long delivery truck? Imagine a drug dealer with 50 of the things - he takes payment in a bitcoin equivalent over the phone then sends a truck to your door (the truck texts you when it's about to arrive). No employees and an economy of scale lets him lower the price = Cheap drugs on the streets. Couple that with reduced counterparty risk. Eek!


Drugs are already cheap in the streets. Cheaper than ever, apparently. Perhaps this would be the final nail in the coffin of the war on drugs, but the prison industrial complex seems pretty well entrenched in the US...


The US has enough space for creating new, dedicated highways for robotic vehicles only, with signs perfectly normalized and digitized.

I don't know what part of the US you live in but unless you're thinking between cities west of the Appalachian mountains there really isn't all that much room for brand new roads of any size unless they are a widening project (still a lot of push back) or roads into new developments. East of them you can pretty much forget it unless you're driving cars around deer and bears as a goal.

About the only major city I've seen with such space MAYBE is the Dallas area. And you'd still have a lot of issues finding enough space there.

I think self driving cars would be a natural in NYC. But look at the way you have to get from the 3 airports into the city. There's no direct route yet today from any of them. And I'm sure property owners would keep any attempt at a new "path" in the courts for decades.


It seems to me that the more important detail about tanks is not as military fighting units but tracked vehicles in general for agriculture and civilian infrastructure uses. The latter get much more use than the former. That does not extrapolate to the future of autonomous vehicles.

However, AVs can drive at times of the day and night when people can't (or shouldn't). That is good for transport and delivery. Also they can drive over large agricultural areas while being guided by GPS.


Countries with a greater share of their freight traveling by truck would benefit more. So would cities and regions with congested roads.

Expect governments to impose regulations to make it harder to use them as suicideless kamikazes: mandatory LoJack, tighter screening of owners and renters, etc.

Will McLean


"The-Personal-Motorized-Errand-Runner" - an automated vehicle with embedded smartphone connection can drop off/pick up your laundry when ready, then pick up your groceries/meal at the neighborhood drive-thru grocery store/restaurant, wine for dinner, etc. while you're working and at the end of your business/work day, pick you up and drive you home via the quickest route. This would cut quite a bit of commuting time overall because fewer side trips on the way home during rush hour. The smartphone is a necessary feature since you would need a means of real-time verification/confirmation/payment.



I would point out that the usual way to update the firmware would be during annual service. The manufacturers have a vested interest in ensuring we do this, and so I do not see any advantage to connecting any cellphone access to the firmware. As I say, I don't see this being done _deliberately_, though cluelessness is always a possibility.

NASA has two standards for software: one for unmanned vehicles and a rather more secure one for manned space flight. The unmanned systems _can_ be updated mid-flight (see Cassini), but a rather more limited set of possibilities are permitted for manned craft.

I'd like to believe that cars will be at least as secure as spacecraft and aircraft; if only because there are far more of them and so any bugs will become manifest much, much, earlier.


Woetwins writes:

Has anyone mentioned miniaturisation in combination with this technology? I know people mentioned ground based drones, but what about a foot-long delivery truck? Imagine a drug dealer with 50 of the things - he takes payment in a bitcoin equivalent over the phone then sends a truck to your door (the truck texts you when it's about to arrive). No employees and an economy of scale lets him lower the price = Cheap drugs on the streets. Couple that with reduced counterparty risk. Eek!

Miniaturization is here and now. Imagine a 100g micro plane with facial recognition on board. I'm going to give it a go for next summer in Telluride, Co.


Many cities already have constructed extensive networks of HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) Lanes in parallel to the existing freeway infrastructure. Such lanes could easily be repurposed for self-driving vehicles.


ISTR reading somewhere (may well be Heinlein's Starship Troopers) that for every front-line combat soldier the USA has, there are 9 logisticians, cooks, truck drivers, managers and the like supporting him

I'd be surprised if it were that few. Heinlein wasn't exactly experienced in the ways of the Army, or even USMC. Read Joe Haldeman instead...

It's inaccurate to class everyone not in a rifle section, tank crew, or attack helicopter (i.e. "not a front-line combat soldier") as a "logistician, cook, truck driver, manager and the like". For instance, there are combat engineers, artillery, signallers, medics, military police, and intelligence types. You need bridges built, and routes marked, and obstacles cleared.

Even within an infantry battalion of 600ish soldiers, only half of them will be in rifle platoons - the rest will be pioneers, or manning the mortars, the radios, the trucks, the machine guns, driving the ambulances, treating the wounded, purifying the water, making sure that everyone gets paid correctly.

Equally, the logisticians will often be on the front line - there was a Territorial Army truck driver from Edinburgh earned his Military Cross in Iraq in 2003, during a firefight around his convoy. Or Leigh Ann Hester, a military policewoman awarded a Silver Star for defending her US convoy.

There's even the canteen manager on HMS Ardent during the Falklands War - John Leake DSM, managed to kill an attacking Skyhawk.


Unless governments are very effective at controlling the new technology, it should make it a easier to move contraband, human and otherwise, across borders. For a North-South border, have a robocar waiting just North of the border when you cross.

Will McLean


what about a foot-long delivery truck? Imagine a drug dealer with 50 of the things

"Fido seems to have tried to eat one of the kids' toy trucks. Then he stared intently at his paw for six hours."


Or just build a single track railroad, still the cheaper alternative.

Most of the west of the Mississippi US "Main Line" Railroads are STILL single track, I vividly remember watching the long freights (mostly containers!) in 1977 on the then Southern Pacific when traveling on Interstate 20; Pull in at a rest stop, see the same freight consist chugging along that you observed two hours ago.


Awfully sorry, Mr. Tingey, but no, I don't think we can.

If EMP-generators were that lethal, then any kind of electronic/electrical equipment would be useless. It would mean armies of today or tomorrow couldn't use guided missiles, radios, radars, computers, GPS... vehicles would have to be 100% mechanical; good luck starting their engines with a hand-crank, aiming their weapons using Eyeball Mark I sights and controlling units using running messengers, flags and arm waving, ground phone lines if you are lucky.

In short, it would mean returning to 1914-1918. And that would be a major geopolitical change in itself.


Charlie @ 317 ( & garrett.kajmowicz @ 316)
There is also the horrible suspicion that drive-on-the-left is inherently safer, as most people are right-handed & an even larger proportion of the population is right-eyed. Think that through & you will see why RHD/”keep left” is safer?


Nestor @ 324
Cracks are showing …
Just this week a serving Chief Constable in the UK has declared the “War on Drugs” lost & recommended legalisation & safe distribution (Licensing in other words)
The usual shrieks of hype-&-hate from everyone else, of course, but it’s a start.


J.carl.henderson @ 331
Err … they are called RAILWAYS - & they are not going to go away.
Nice try, no banana.


ramosjan2008 @ 336
EMP-generators are very short-range – so very good for defence, especially of a fixed installation, useless in the open or in movement.
You need a chunky (like connected to the grid) power supply & big (like I said) capacitor-banks, capable of fast discharge.


I certainly hope for smaller, more human scale automatic transport within cities. Something pallet sized and quiet to replace delivery trucks.

Today the incentive is to make delivery vehicles as large as possible, to maximise the amount of goods one driver can transport. I hope automated vehicles will change this, or allow it to be changed in combination with some regulation.

Didn't think of the drugs angle though. Isn't that a rather limited market compared to everything else we need to transport?


In the sort of time-frame we're talking about -- 2020-2050 and later -- I suspect EMP generators will be classified in the same basket as nukes, gas, and biowar, as weapons of mass destruction with a serious anti-civilian bias making their use an almost certain war crime.

Here's a thought experiment to demonstrate why: Suppose your home burned down tomorrow and on the basis of your household insurance you set up in a new-build flat with all-new appliances. It's 2013. Now it's 2020. Things have gone to hell in a handbasket and the Bad Guys™ set off an EMP device that affects your dwelling. What are the effects?

1. There's no electricity because your smart electricity meter is toast.

2. There's no gas because your smart gas meter is toast.

3. There's no water because your smart water meter is toast.

4. Solar panels might survive but their charging circuitry is toast.

5. The phones are dead -- both cellphones and POTS (POTS is now IP-dialtone).

6. The central heating controller and its remote sensors are dead. Ditto the hot water system (this is the UK: it's probably an electronically controlled combi-boiler). Ditto the washer/drier machine, the diswasher, the refrigerator, and the cooker (all electronically controlled).

7. The light bulbs are all toast because they're all LED devices (or archaic CFL bulbs with controller electronics).

8. Your car is toast. (Well, not your old Landy, but any car built after about 1990 with electronic engine management.)

9. Your bicycle is toast. At least until you haul out a toolkit and unbolt that nify mobile phone connected anti-theft device that's designed to fail safe and lock the wheels when you take your phone more than two meters away from it.

10. All your consumer electronics are toast (needless to say).

Basically, EMP might or might not effect military kit that is EMP-hardened, but civilian infrastructure is not EMP-hardened, and the effect of using EMP devices in an inhabited area will be to bomb them back into the 18th century, pre-indoor-plumbing never mind pre-internet.

9. Your bicycle is toast. At least until you haul out a toolkit and unbolt that nify mobile phone connected anti-theft device that's designed to fail safe and lock the wheels when you take your phone more than two meters away from it.
I wonder how long after introduction of this anti-theft device it would be before the first video would be uploaded to Youtube of it going off mid-cycle after the cyclist's phone falls out of their pocket ...

What are the likely geopolitical consequences of self-driving cars and trucks?

IMO self driving cars are not in the same league as the invention of paved roads, air transport or the railroad.
It's a refinement of an existing system.

One thing that I think would happen is the demise of public transport in a lot of countries that will allow selfdriving vehicles on their roads. Why bother with bus and train if a selfdriving car can take you from door to door. You could share the ride to make it cheaper.

One downside is that we may find surgeons roaming the streets with clubs to create enough work for them when there are no more horrific injuries from car accidents to fill their working days.


And widespread use of EMP would result in loss of information, documents, photographs etc as bad as if someone had actually bombed the houses as in WW2. Think of the billions of digital photographs which don't exist outside a hard drive. Sure, some have been printed, I'm sure there'd be enough to allow people to recognise families etc, but it would be like the Curious Yellow virus.

Which reminds me, maybe I should get a nice metal box (With non-conductive padding) for my backup hard drive and earth it to the radiators...


Which reminds me, maybe I should get a nice metal box (With non-conductive padding) for my backup hard drive and earth it to the radiators...

On the other hand, this discussion made me think how to (relatively) easily and (relatively) safely make and test EMP pulse generators at home. Just for !!SCIENCE!!, of course.

While doing that, a large deserted area and a proper Faraday cage could be useful, though.

I think most of this train of thinking is because I have been reading a crafts book (it says "for boys" in the title, for some reason) from 1966. It has instructions for example on how to make a transformer from 220 V to 40 V, and then one application for that is to build a lead battery by yourself. You could use the transformer to charge the batteries, in series you could probably charge 4-5 of them at the same time. The thing to look out for is the generation of hydrogen, you want to stop before the batteries explode.

However, some of the ingredients are somewhat difficult a) to get by b) to work with in an apartment building. For example, I don't really want sulfuric acid or lead casting at my home. I'm not even sure where I would go for hydrochloric acid...

A small EMP generator could be possible, though.


I think your prediction of the demise of the hotel is wrong. Lots of people use hotels as destinations rather than just rest stops. I can positively swear to the number of regular correspondants on this blog that do so being in double figures.
Also check roughly how many "package holidays", say, Thomas Cook sells every year.


I wonder how long after introduction of this anti-theft device it would be before the first video would be uploaded to Youtube of it going off mid-cycle after the cyclist's phone falls out of their pocket ...

The designs I've seen use a clamp to clip the phone to the handlebars, where it works as a satnav unit and speedometer (and, presumably, can also do the job of a helmet camera for recording idiot car drivers). IIRC this gizmo is either already on sale, or in active development.


Although I've never used a motel (at all in fact), I suspect the roadside motel could be in trouble (I assume it's still there). People will be less likely to be driving, think they feel tired and pull into the first place they see and hope it's not called Bates Motel.

OTOH if I go to Edinburgh I no longer know anyone well enough to ask for a bed, and I'm not cheeky enough to presume on OGH to that extent, even if he's got the room. Someone in Edinburgh would be getting their money out of me if I had to be there for a few days. That sort of hotel/b&b business for people at their destination, whether for work or pleasure will survive however we travel. At least until we can just beam ourselves home.


I may be the only fan of the "Fast and Furious" movie series on here. They feature a variety of technologies that could be used to disable drones, revolving around targetted EMP jamming all on-board electronics, or even enabling remote control of electronically controlled functions, such as Electronic Stability Programs (You could, for instance, use that to lock the LHF brake and spin a car out of control).


A cycle courier I know says they're around and has one but he knows someone who knows someone. I can't find one with some google-fu, even with the name on the side of his model.


The city I live in has these cute little trucks running around in the city center: (in Dutch, sorry) - they run on electricity (part of which is generated on the roofs of the vehicles), they aren't as heavy as normal trucks (a big plus in a medieval city with lots of cellars) and they replace 8 normal delivery vans. They're not autonomous (yet?).


I've also heard (first-hand) reports that the cheap Chinese clamps don't actually clamp all that well. But maybe a simple elastic cord + clip can function as a failsafe.


Lead casting isn't that bad, just do it outside and don't stand over the melting lead breathing the fumes. All metals give off fume which is dangerous, it's just that you get more from lead because it melts at a lower temperature (well okay I've forgotten the thermodynamics and physics involved). Sulp[huric acid is easily gotten as drain cleaner. Hydrochloric is more difficult, but the old way was to distill salt in concentrated sulphuric acid, I'll have to try that some time. But you're right, apartment buildings tend to make all that sort of experimentation rather hard.

On motel's, yes, I can see them having a tougher time, but after sleeping in your car people often need somewhere to tidy up, have a shower, stretch, toilet facilities etc etc, so the motels could cut their rooms in half and remove the beds and call them "Freshen up stations" or something. Obviously they'd have to charge less though. I'm sure it would reduce the possibilities for pscyho driven films though...

Hmm, that's a point, would it lead to any changes in storytelling patterns and methods the way ubiquitous mobile phones have?


I don't see roadside motels going away. At least in the USA, rising airline costs and TSA hassle seem to be pushing a lot of travelers back to cars.

I can't do 24-hour Road Warrior trips any more, but the last few times I've decided to break up a trip and get some sleep, I was astonished at how hard it was to find a motel that had a vacancy.


> paved roads

While useful, they were uncommon and quite expensive. Many required continual maintenance until the paving depth was enough to prevent them from sinking in the rain. Meters of depth.

The big advance in land transport wasn't paving, it was the ditch, which wasn't invented until the 1700s/1800s, depending on who you credit for it.

The ditch, low-tech and mostly ignored (or cursed), provides a place for water to go, so all your fine paving stays put. In fact, the ditch lets you build an all-weather road with loose gravel, or (depending on the soil type) plain old dirt.

The ditch was a bigger, more important advance than self-driving cars will ever be, because the ditch is what makes it possible to have useful roads.


Replacing horses with motor vehicles was indeed a long process, so long it is still unfinished, but in Napoleon's times an army could very well include more horses than men (cavalry, artillery, ammo wagons, supply wagons, officers mounts, remounts...) Today, they are almost living fossils in niche environments.

And regarding 100 hours of active campaigning, I bet they needed at least 48 hours of rest after that feat (now, I hear a little voice inside my head repeating 'machines need maintenance, machines do need regular maintenance')


Then EMP-generators are fixed, bulky and require a lot of energy to do their thing... that seems even more like a recipe for a return to 1914-1918 (if they are actually so lethal against hardened military equipment, and I confess that's way beyond my limited knowledge)


I've watched Time Team, and I am sure that they kept finding Roman roadside ditches.


Here's what I think might happen when cars can drive themselves:

1. Nearly immediately, truckers and cab drivers lose their jobs.

2. 5-10 years on, lawsuits and insurance make it far too expensive for most Americans to drive, if you don't have a self-driving car, you won't be able to afford the insurance on your 1990 Toyota and you'll be forced off the road. Larry Ellison will still be able to drive. It will be a marker of status to drive your own car.

20-50 years into the era of ubiquitous robots, we won't need human labor. Our economic system, is based on a fundamental assumption that human labor is valuable and necessary, will completely break. Either 99.999% of us starve or we we come up with a new way to divvy up the goods (and services).

Without a new way, the planet depopulates and there are like 1,000 gazillionaires living on vast estates with every desire or whim provided for by machines.

The big challenge is to our philosophy of life.

Without work, most of us will struggle with the questions: Why are we here? What are we to do with our time on this earth?


I'm pretty sure that an EMP weapon breaches Articles 51 and 54 of Protocol 1 to the Geneva conventions, which cover indiscriminate attacks affecting the civilian population and their means of survival.

Battlefield EMP might be OK.


The reason to connect cars to the cell phone net work would not be firmware updates but for knowing where it is (and remote control, in fact). When there's no one inside the car, there's still an owner or operator somewhere who needs to know what the car is up to right now.

Hackers wouldn't use the regular firmware update mode to get access to the software anyway. Instead they exploit subtle programming errors like buffer overruns to re-route program flow to their purposes. Such errors have been found in GSM baseband processors and can be triggered when the device logs into a rogue base station.

And you might have noticed that the car industry has not the same security standards as NASA.


EMP generators that can actually achieve a kill on unhardened electronics have a range measured in metres, even for a truck-mounted unit with a few dozen kW of electrical power to play with. That damned square-cube law at work, folks. The EMP testbed I saw once at A Place Not To Be Named had a transmitting grid size of a circus tent powered by the National Grid, again an effective range of only a few metres.

A bunch of us once worked up a design for a stealth EMP briefcase meant to knock out a jukebox in an otherwise nice pub; it would only have worked when it was placed next to the offending device due to range limitations. Other applications were considered, someone mentioned "doofdoof cars" and everyone nodded or said "Ohhhh yesssss". There were other publicly accessible soft targets it could have been deployed against though -- cash machines, traffic light controllers, FTTC street boxes, pacemakers...


That damned square-cube law at work

I'm surprised: I would have expected the inverse square law to be the one in effect.


I predict lots more money going to lawyers. But that's true of all technological progress.

9. Your bicycle is toast. At least until you haul out a toolkit and unbolt that nify mobile phone connected anti-theft device that's designed to fail safe and lock the wheels when you take your phone more than two meters away from it.

Miniaturization caught up in the last decade, there are motorcycles with EFI setups now. I think you can still get carburetor equipped bikes new, but probably not for too much longer. So, the bike might still be dead, alarm or no, for the same reason the car is.


Ahem - when Charlie says 'bicycle', he means a two wheeled pedal driven vehicle. You appear to be talking about a different beast, namely the motorbike.


Yeah the future will continue to be unevenly distributed, as per Gibson, so I doubt the bycicle thing will be anywhere near ubiquitous. Point taken on the rest of the stuff.

How long does an EMP effect last? I imagine it's a continuum from "totally toasted" to "just reboot it".

And I imagine if they're really necessary focused EMP weapons that use interference from various weaker sources to target a precise area might be developed (Talking entirely out my ass here but it sounds plausible?)


Nobody's mentioned roads yet?

Nearly all of the area of a road is really there because human drivers do stupid human stuff. Shoulders, extra space in the lanes, the pavement in the center of each lanes...

If you assume self-driving vehicles when you're roadbuilding, your road goes from one ten-foot-wide swath of asphalt for each lane to two one-foot-wide swaths. You put in occasional "ramps" for lane changes, with markers so that the auto-driver knows when it's allowed to do that. Cost of roadbuilding goes down by probably three-quarters, and it takes much less time to lay the pavement down. If you can build self-driving motorcycles, you get footpath-sized roads not unlike the ones the Chinese used for millenia. (‎ has a reasonably good description.)

Since we're talking "geopolitical," look at the military applications. You can build a narrow-gauge tracked vehicle that will build an entire temporary paved road, moving at walking speed, and not using all that much material. (Lotta rammed earth going on here, or maybe dirt with binders added.) Suddenly, new supply lines grow themselves, at a rate of maybe fifty miles per day. You end up with supply *deltas*; no huge depots, no ammo dumps, just a widely distributed mesh of tiny roadlets with tiny beetly carty things carrying all the stuff.

And you might have noticed that the car industry has not the same security standards as NASA.

NASA had outside locks on the shuttle?


I suspect the roadside motel could be in trouble (I assume it's still there)

In the US. Roadside hotels popped up like mushrooms in the 50s as people had money and cars and vacations. You drove (non interstate limited access) for 6 to 10 or 12 hours in a day and then stopped and crashed for a day. Typically you didn't make reservations as the driving distance was determined by how unruly the kids had gotten.

The interstate system struck a big blow that that industry as people got to move off 2 lane roads through every small town with a stop sign onto those things where the only reason to stop was bathroom breaks and disciplining the kids. You could eat in the car. If you drive older non limited access highways in the US you can see the bones of many of these motels. Many now cater to the local hourly trade or transient workers like those in construction.

Now people are flying for vacations. Which further reduces the demand for these road side sleeping quarters.

Now add self driving cars and I can see something like I've hear of in Japan where at the edge of major cities you have a bath and dressing room you rent for an hour or two.


a simple drone weapon idea for you,
a medium sized remote control plane, petrol powered. the gubbins of a ps3 or the like,with its camera, and a hdd full of images of tasty enemy armoured vehicles
and the warhead of an RPG7. as the vehicle flies alone on some sort of meandering path it looks for a target, then dives on it.
put those on your autotrucks


I can't imagine EMP weapons being deemed WMDs; they don't hurt people at all.

Indirect effects have to be pretty catastrophic to count as an antipersonnel weapon. Denial of services doesn't count enough. Even the worst non-nuclear-pumped EMPs aren't going to damage wide enough areas that you couldn't crawl out of the damage region before your next meal.

EMPs with range either are directional or are explosive pumped. The biggest explosive pumped ones are nuclear pumped. Conventional explosive pumped ones ... Keep in mind, we are only talking about 4.2 MJ/kg of explosive raw energy, and only a fraction of that ends up radiated in the EMP. Using inverse-square one can figure out what reasonable energy flux will be at various ranges. It drops pretty quickly. To get 10x the range you need 100x the explosive.


EMP generates induced currents in circuitry, wires etc., conductors of any and all types. Power transmission lines are particularly susceptible as the pulse from a nuke can induce mega-amps in conductors not meant to carry them but digital and analogue electronics also get induced currents, not as big since the conductors are a lot shorter. If the pulse is minor the induced current will simply flip bits or add noise to a signal, if it's big enough... the old saying is that anything will work as a fuse once if you put enough current through it.

Rebooting may not work if for example your flash BIOS or SSD has been corrupted. Reloading the OS from paper tape will work, almost certainly.


Yes high tech Striker games get interesting at even medium tech levels we did one at the gladiators in one game most of the game time was one sub one minute engagement between squad of power armour guys and some drones firing califorum rounds. High tech warfare is like the Monty python hiding sketch lots of hiding followed by short busts of ultra violence.

In addition, this was not the default tech level at TL15, which was the standard top of line for the main civilizations each man in a tier 1 lift infantry was costing around 30-50M credits to outfit not counting the cost of the FTL transport plus supporting vehicles.

I solved the low tech CPR round problem by giving each suit a pair of X ray lasers which where normally tasked just for point defence.

Then you had the real expensive units like the jump commando’s which where 100% teleport capable powered armour troops.

Though I did find out the hard way that for “panzers” you should not forget that as they are flying the floor of the tank needs to be well armoured learnt that lesson the hard way after I over flew a flack panzer.


I presume it woudl be physically attached to the bike and have a kill switch like jet skis do if the phone fell off it would pull a physical switch which disabled the entire anti theft system.

BTW dara o'briain science club recently demoed an airbag for cyclists which inflates before you hit the ground to protect the head in case of a crash.


I can't imagine EMP weapons being deemed WMDs; they don't hurt people at all.

Ya think?

Tell that to the patient on the operating theatre table when the lights go out and the heart/lung machine stops.

Tell that to the people trapped in self-driving cars when the electrics cut out at speed and the central locking fails in the locked position.

Tell that to the folks on board airliners in flight, or high speed trains when the signaling goes down.

There are plenty of circumstances in which EMP will cause civilian fatalities -- possibly mass fatalities.


The people betting on main battle tanks in the MBT vs. self driving jeep swarm showdown seem to be assuming an equilibrium where MBTs have every sensor, software, and computing advantage of the jeep (and then some), plus much better armaments and armor, plus doctrine and tactics designed to neutralize the threat of jeep swarms. That doesn't seem plausible at least for the first war where self-driving vehicles play a combat role.

Military equipment is developed and deployed on much slower cycles than the yearly model refresh followed by makers of civilian mobile computing devices and cars. In the first war where you have kamikaze autopilot jeeps vs tanks, the tanks are probably several years behind the jeeps in autonomous operation, or even still dependent on human crews for most defensive actions. The crews probably aren't trained to deal with suicide jeep swarms if they were previously used only by SF authors and imaginative war game commanders (who were considered unrealistic cheaters when they worked outside the box). Automatic point defenses to take out approaching vehicles faster than humans can react? EMP weapons specifically for disabling repurposed civilian equipment? I doubt it will happen until you have the combat losses to prove that the threat is real.

There are all sorts of ways that tanks could theoretically protect against kamikaze vehicle swarms, but they have to be considered a real threat first. Look at some of the many youtube videos showing tanks in urban combat in Iraq and Syria. A lot of them look like they'd be pretty vulnerable if one of the nearby civilian vehicles had a large explosive charge in the trunk and suddenly made a suicide run at the tank. If the robot swarms make their first appearance only after ground combat is already under way, how fast can the armored force regain a position where a million dollars' worth of kamikaze jeeps take out less than a million dollars' worth of armored vehicles on average? Keep in mind that major equipment upgrades or redesigns take a long time.

Hydrochloric is more difficult,

Hm, actuallysome local hardware stores sell a diluted solution in the litres, which might not be suitable for some applications, but who knows. Wroks wonders for cleaning bathrooms, BTW, if you keep clear of sensitive materials. Yeah, you're invited to roll eyes...

It's also quite effective for etching platines, though getting the peroxide is something of a bummer. Still better than getting formaldehyde or glutaraldehyde for fixating animal samples, though.

As for sulphuric acid, well, there are some drain cleaners, though I'm not that sure about some additives. My personal batch is from the local "farmer's supermarket" from the batteries department.

Speaking of chemicals, let's just say drugs and political extremism lead to paranoia and violence... on the part of educt sellers, law enforcement and hobby chemists. Might be even worse if you have a certrain, err, ethnic look to you, if my somewhat, err, mediterranean looking brother's fun with police searches is any indication. Thankfully he has not my strange hobbies. ;)

But than, it's always fun teaching some chemistry:

Going back to self-driving cars, how will modding car programs fare in a similar scenario, think the jail-breaking and overclocking crowd?


I agree, but the actual legality might still depend somewhat on the circumstances of use. BTW, a no-EMP world is basically a no-nukes world, and even though nobody uses nukes ATM, IMHO it's debatable if using those against military targets would be a war crime under the conventions in question.

For a more low-tech example, take explosive projectiles, which are the very starters of modern war law conventions. But then, there is this:

As for the inverse square law, most examples mentioned seem to be into any direction, so maybe means of directing the energy might enhance range somewhat:

On another note, humanitary law is codified by state parties; most military hardware is hardened, so they are not that dangerous to militaries, and they are probably quite effective against assymetric threats (to shun the dreaded terrorist/freedom fighter terminology), so I guess there might be some impertus to keep them legal. Yes, chemical weapons are similar, but they are not that effective, so banning them hurts no that much...



I can't imagine EMP weapons being deemed WMDs; they don't hurt people at all.

Ya think?


I simplified, but I was responding to an equally simplistic initial proposition.

Tell that to the patient on the operating theatre table when the lights go out and the heart/lung machine stops.

Side effect. Could similarly be caused if there are faulty batteries in the equipment and a truck drives into the wrong power pole, and the hospital doesn't have enough redundant power.

Yes, you can ascribe the particular death in this case to the weapon, but it's not a necessary outcome of using the weapon, nor a unique effect of the weapon.

As with any weapon, using a weapon in warfare (under the various laws of war) within an area populated by civilians requires that the military objective be considered and compared to the risks of civilian casualties. That does not require that the civilian casualties be zero; only that they at worst be proportionate, and that they be minimized compared to the military objective.

Me walking into an active OR with a man-portable EMP and triggering it, knowing it will disrupt life support for the man or woman on the table, is possibly murder, because of the specific circumstance and knowledge of effects. Using an EMP near a hospital without that specific knowledge or intent will pass the laws of war, though it's reckless.

Tell that to the people trapped in self-driving cars when the electrics cut out at speed and the central locking fails in the locked position.

The risk of a catastrophic power failure in any vehicle has to be a design constraint from the beginning. If the default behavior kills people, rather than slows reasonably without changing direction and letting them get out, then the vehicles will not be approved for people riding in them.

Tell that to the folks on board airliners in flight, or high speed trains when the signaling goes down.

Trains routinely stop if they lose signaling.

Aircraft, with FBW only aircraft now becoming common in civilian use, are a potential problem. They're decently better off than some of the other potential targets, as they must routinely survive lightning strikes and have airframes that are nearly faraday cages.

One could say that the odds of one being within a 1 km radius of a random non-airport city location are pretty low, and that usage of an EMP is statistically unlikely to kill someone that way.

Intentionally right near an airport, to catch aircraft taking off or landing on purpose, less so. Again, context and intent and knowledge. An EMP big enough to kill planes this way is probably bigger than a MANPADS and similarly expensive..

There are plenty of circumstances in which EMP will cause civilian fatalities -- possibly mass fatalities.

WMD don't make death a potential risk; they kill large numbers of people in their target zone, with no discrimination. They put everyone at risk.

EMP weapons are indiscriminate, but also will not affect most people in any way that could kill them, and could conceivably be deonated in the middle of a large city with zero civilian casualties, direct or indirect. You could not do that with any of CBNR.

A typical use might well cause some fatalities, and could possibly cause a lot in the wrong place at the wrong time, but that does not a WMD make.

I understand what you are getting at, that this is a real risk, and these are serious disruptions we're talking about at best. But there's a real risk of diluting the significance of WMD by stretching the term inappropriately. An EMP is designed to kill mass electronics. A WMD is designed to kill mass people. The Syrian 330 mm chemical rockets, for example, weighed about 100 kg each with 50 kg of Sarin, and killed approximately 175 people on the average per rocket, indiscriminately. These were WMDs and used outside any reasonable law of war even if you exclude their CW nature; they were fired randomly into a city and killed nearly entirely civilians at home in the middle of the night.

It is likely that 8 EMP bombs landing in the same locations in Damascus would have had zero fatalities. It is likely that the same impact pattern of EMPs in Manhattan or central London at that time of day would have zero fatalities. At the worst time of day, it is likely that such attacks would have very small numers of fatalities at worst.

That one can conceive of ways to kill hundreds or thousands does not mean any random use in built up areas is going to be a mass killing.


If you assume self-driving vehicles when you're roadbuilding, your road goes from one ten-foot-wide swath of asphalt for each lane to two one-foot-wide swaths.

Oh, my, that's a creative idea! Relevant, too - and I quite enjoyed the article on the Chinese wheelbarrow.

Unfortunately, it doesn't hold up to extended consideration. Certainly not in any area where vehicles routinely meet gusting cross-winds (a driving adventure I've encountered more than I'd like). I suspect they'd be a good idea only at very low speeds, but have some application there; I see driveways constructed as two meter-wide strips and a grassy median already.

At least we're back to a related question, that of road design. Maybe road signs will begin to disappear?


If you assume self-driving vehicles when you're roadbuilding, your road goes from one ten-foot-wide swath of asphalt for each lane to two one-foot-wide swaths.

A train track?

Not really viable for a paved road. You still need a roadbed capable of supporting the load and withstanding erosion. Narrower lanes, especially in areas where speeds will be low, might be in order, but you'd still need to protect the entire surface. And allow for things like crosswinds.


EMP weapons will be classified as "Weapons of Mass Destruction" only if it is politically useful for the dominant world powers (whenever EMP weapons become practical) do so classify them. Details like "numbers of civilian deaths" will likely not enter the calculations, save for after the fact propaganda campaigns.


For people not sharing vehicles I don't think this'd reduce carbon emissions at all - your car will drop you off then drive off to some place cheap to park. It could even raise emissions.

On another subject has anyone built an effective EMP device which doesn't require a nuke to power it?


It's easier to protect against EMP if it's taken into consideration during the product design phase of every electronic device.

The EU, Australia, Canada, and other countries with product safety requirements could add a clause to the relevant standards (such as EN 60950, which covers Information Technology Equipment, and the standards created for SDCs). Most commercially-available electric and electronic devices sold in those countries already must comply with the standards, with verification already performed by third-party agencies. Turn over your keyboard or mouse - if you're in the EU, you'll see the "CE" compliance identifier, and markings of product safety compliance agencies such as TUV, DEMKO,or VDE.

As consumers replace failing or obsolete devices, they'll buy devices designed to meet the new standards. Eventually, nearly every processor on every toaster, refrigerator, and car would have EMI shielding, optical isolators on every data line, and zener diodes connected to ground on every power line. An EMP weapon's effective range would be greatly reduced, only overwhelming the protection on consumer products in close proximity. A traditional bomb might end up doing more damage.


What about self-driving offices and self-driving houses? Anybody who has a job requiring lots of face time goes from hot-desking to a permanent office in their car, complete with conference room.

I wonder what new kinds of face-to-face jobs emerge when you're not wasting any time in transport at all? Seems like some services that are sensitive to number of clients visited per day become more attractive. Greatest boon to high-end prostitutes ever.

Same paradigm for recreation and some lifestyles: you spend all of your time visiting friends or interesting places while holding down your job. How much more chic is that than social networking? Or simply, how different?

Business air and rail travel take a big hit; the annoyance of leaving your office/home/car to board a plane or train without all of your stuff exceeds the long-haul cost advantages, at least for trips within 500 miles--especially when you can travel at night.

I wonder if you see a lot of car-carrying mass transit, either trains or lighter-than-air craft? The weight issue isn't great...

Much, much higher density on roads, at much higher speeds. Highway construction and maintenance spending has to go way up.

As lots of people have mentioned, rapid and near-total collapse of trucking and livery jobs for humans.

Near-total collapse of brick-and-mortar stores. The cost of driving groceries direct to the home plummets. Mid- to high-end goods can be trotted out to your location (mobile or otherwise) for your perusal, then purchased and delivered on the spot. I wonder if that becomes a tonier version of Amazon.

Energy consumption intensity goes up by at least a factor of 5. If you don't get Mr. Fusion or some really dense battery technology, this may be a limiting factor. Even dense batteries require pretty dense electrical sources. Relying on renewables becomes a losing game of catch-up, chasing demand. Either you get really bad greenhouse gas issues or everybody learns to love Big Brother and His Nukes.

Suggestion for another one of these: What are the consequences of lighter-than-air passenger and freight at, say 200 kJ/tonne-km?


OK, I was trying to remember the lectures on war crimes I received from RMP all those years ago.

Here's the list on the beeb's website:

What acts are war crimes?

War crimes are defined by the Geneva Conventions, the precedents of the Nuremberg Tribunals, an older area of law referred to as the Laws and Customs of War, and, in the case of the former Yugoslavia, the statutes of the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague (ICTY).

War crimes fall into three groups - or four if you include genocide.

Crimes against peace

planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances

participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the above War crimes

Violations of the laws or customs of war, including:

Atrocities or offences against persons or property, constituting violations of the laws or customs of war

murder, ill treatment or deportation to slave labour or for any other purpose of the civilian population in occupied territory

murder or ill treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas

killing of hostages

torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments

plunder of public or private property

wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages

devastation not justified by military necessity

Crimes against humanity

Atrocities and offences committed against any civilian population, before or during the war, including:

mass systematic rape and sexual enslavement in a time of war
other inhumane acts
persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated

Now, the reason for listing this is that politicians need to primarily watch the first category. In the UK, I suspect that part of Jack Straw's current haunted look is down to anxiety at his part in the Iraq Invasion (He was the UK's answer to Condi Rice, who appears to be made of much sterner stuff). As his deputy legal adviser resined over the invasion, claiming it was illegal, he has very little room to argue that he didn't know what he was doing carried legal liabilities.

But notice what this does for the modern war. To avoid being hunted for the rest of your life, as a politician you must only use proportionate means to achieve your objectives. No "Nuke it from orbit, just to be sure!" Instead, you'll be looking for minimum force to nudge your opponent into the course of action you desire.

As a for instance consider the contrasting fates of two SOE projects: Operation Foxley and Operation Anthopoid. Anthropoid was authorized because after SIS tricked Deputy Fuhrer Hess into flying into a trap in Scotland, Heydrich made a formidably competent deputy to Hitler. Operation Foxley (assassination of Hitler) was cancelled for fear that any replacement would be more competent.

Perhaps in Charlie's Laundryverse, the reason that Angleton has kept the Sleeper in play, is not that he lacked the power to downsize it in 1919, but instead that it is far more incompetent than any alternative.

So instead of flattening Nevada (who would notice?), perhaps an enemy of the US would look at highly targeted, and deniable methods of attack? Certainly the UK has no desire to obliterate Russia. If for no other reason than "where are we going to buy our winter fuel from?"

Or, in other words: why is there an obsession with peta-death-crime in SF, when it is cheaper, more cost-effective, and subtle to deal out death on an individual basis?

One of my little day dreams is that someone, somewhere, will add the WarCrimes expansion pack to a first person shooter.

After calling in a full company 8" howitzer strike on a lone sniper in the belfry of Ste-Mere-Eglise, obliterating the town, and causing political repercussions between the Free French forces and their supervising OSS/Jedbergh units, L/Cpl Spunkmeier was turned in by the men of his own section who were no longer prepared to follow such a madman. Spunkmeier's CO, W Calley, having established the facts, turned Spunkmeier over to the MP's, who after forcibly pointing out the error of his ways over an extended 6 day interview, during which they graciously permitted him to continue breathing, sent him to the glasshouse at Shepton Mallet to await formal court martial. Three long months later (during which the offending player is locked out of the game) Spunkmeier takes the last long drop in the sleepy Somerset market town.


If any of my students fall for "ye olde overflowing buffer trick" in any production code they write, then I assure you I will do my damndest to ensure they are failed out of CS!





Now this is a set of issues that need attention.

In short, if we get cheap cognition[1], then what are we all going to do?

Furber: "Just like the 1780s people will adjust and find a new niche to occupy".

Me: "Like what? We've just put 95% of the planet out of work."

Him: "Something will turn up."

Me: "Hmm..."

So what do we think will happen to such a society?

[1] Cognition: ability to learn in an unfamiliar environment.


It's the first and second Protocols to the Geneva Conventions which cover indiscriminate attacks on the civilian population's means of survival, and the USA has never ratified them. Amongst the things it would cover would be an attack on the nuclear installation which released radioactive materials, and breaching dams. What the Dambusters did in 1943 would now be a war crime, as an attack on "works and installations containing dangerous forces" intended to release those forces.

If you want a trickier example. the Nationalists, in the Spanish Civil War, opened the sluices on the dams on the River Ebro, raising the river by some 3.5m and washing away bridges, during the Battle of the Ebro.

Anyway, the First and Second Protocols also ban nuclear and biological weapons because of their indiscriminate effects. You could use a small nuke for purely military purposes, but there is still the fallout. There's an obvious question that raises about the plans to replace Trident: it's an expensive scheme to deploy weapons of doubtful legality and rather limited use.

This is getting a bit adrift from the subject of the thread, and I could go on at some length about the tendency of governments to make laws which the government then ignores, without even an explicit exception.

Lord Acton was right.


Something to think about: what will self-driving Google Streetview cameras lead to?

Will similar tech be used for news collection?

Will there be a camera SUV wandering a city, carrying a few subsidiary drones (large quad-copter, maybe a walker which can enter a building) and a news reporter. With overlay effects, does the reporter need to be with the vehicle?

A big of CGI trickery: an HDR image of a polished spherical reflector captures the incident lighting on a scene. It helps add correctly-lit CGI objects to a background plate. If your reporter is lit by an array of variable brightness lamps, you get something close to an on-scene image.

Matching the lighting was the problem in the early days of CSO images, that and the edges. It might be easier with full CGI, but getting a live-equivalent frame-rate in real time is pretty demanding. But I can do, with this computer, what needed very specialised hardware some twenty years ago. Even the famous Video Toaster had to be special. (And it really is that long since Babylon 5 started.)

I would still need the right hardware to get the signals in and out. And HDMI is an encrypted data stream, this isn't trivial.

But self-driving vehicles collecting news footage, you could have a drone in the danger space of some large fire. What does it do for both news reporting and incident management. What if there has been a drone hovering at the windows of the WTC, looking those trapped people in the face?


Charlie @ 342 #8 LURVE that comment!
And, I deliberately choose, if possible, chip-free kit, which I can take a bash at repairing, if I can – getting a lot more difficult, now, of course & as for phobile moans, there is no escape, resistance is useless ….


Ro67 @ 344
For the hundredth time … you will still need road-space for the damn things, so wrong, again … grrrrr …..


@ 346
“small EMP generator”
Yes. One-shot, in a briefcase … charge up @ home, through transformer, with something like well over 10 Farads of fast-discharge capacitors, wired up in parallel. Reflector inside one end of case, relay-operated microswitch in handle, connected to caps & discharge.
Press button & presto, peoples in-ear jingle-jangles [ & watches & heart pacemakers (oops – see Charlie @ 376 also) & quite possibly the tube train you are in …] stop working.
Which is why I didn’t make it.
See also Nojay @ 362


I've seen both names used for the same formula.


Wrong about WHAT?
Where did I say that roads will go away???
Your comment doesn't make any sense at all.


You've assumed no need for emergency evasion (so perfect reliablity of all vehicles and their tyres), that all vehicles with have more or less the same track, and that no-one will wish to travel faster than their lead vehicle.

Even without those assumptions, I think that a more detailed cost and structure analysis will show that at least some of the "useless" bed and surface supports the parts you actually use, and that your saving would be about 75% on materials and nothing on labour. Labour costs may actually rise since all wear occurs on these strips so they may need resurfacing and replacing more often, and most of the labour costs are incurred in edgings which you've at least quadrupled the number of, or are costs per linear distance rather than costs per unit area.*

*I've not done the analysis in detail, but did at least do Business Studies including Cost Accountancy at college, and one of my Uncles worked for a road builder.


AFAICS you didn't say that in #344 anyway.


I can't imagine EMP weapons being deemed WMDs; they don't hurt people at all.
I know two people with pacemakers, and two more with insulin pumps.

That damned square-cube law at work
I'm surprised: I would have expected the inverse square law to be the one in effect.

I'm guessing he's thinking about energy: for a given magnetic field strength, the energy it stores is proportional to volume. So doubling the effective range requires eight times the energy. Not quite correct, of course. But close enough.


Aha. I was thinking in terms of flux. Since the pulse is a pulse, I was thinking we shouldn't need the volume of the sphere, merely of a thin skin on its surface.

(For values of 'thin' which are probably many multiples of the diameter of the sphere.)


What if there has been a drone hovering at the windows of the WTC, looking those trapped people in the face?
If that person was me, and I survived, I would hunt down whoever was operating the drone and it would be very ugly afterward.

The helicopter news vultures who got shot at during Katrina kept pretending they didn't understand why.

"Hey, I see you're going to be burned to death|drowned|eaten by a grue; I'm going to profit by selling video of your misfortune for the benefit of our corporate sponsors."


The people betting on main battle tanks in the MBT vs. self driving jeep swarm showdown seem to be assuming an equilibrium where MBTs have every sensor, software, and computing advantage of the jeep (and then some), plus much better armaments and armor, plus doctrine and tactics designed to neutralize the threat of jeep swarms. That doesn't seem plausible at least for the first war where self-driving vehicles play a combat role.

As I've pointed out before, MBTs don't travel unaccompanied in built-up areas unless operated by incompetents (ignore the 2003 "Thunder Run", it's a very isolated use case). They travel as part of an all-arms grouping; there will be infantry there to screen the MBTs from other infantry, and fire support teams making indirect fire support available (whether mortars, artillery, or close air support).

Quite apart from the "kinetic" responses available, consider the combat engineering response - dig a ditch or rig a barrier (remember the cartoon showing a Dalek at the bottom of a staircase?). Cratering or rubbling the approach roads is five minutes' work with a cratering kit, a tow chain, or the dozer blade on one MBT in the tank troop; jeeps don't typically have a gap-crossing ability, AFVs do (search on "Fascines").

Arguing about whether a lone MBT is overmatched by a jeep swarm is like those awfully shallow fanboi programmes that try to rank "the best tank" or "the best fighter aircraft". It just doesn't work that way in the real world - like trying to compare Spitfire against Bf-109, without considering their employment doctrine and how they worked alongside the radars and operations rooms.

My second thought is to ask exactly how many tanks the US lost to car-bombs and RPGs, in Iraq from 2003 onwards (answer - very few). After all, if you want to assert that "hundredweights of ANFO will defeat the tank cheaply", you have to wonder whether it's been tried before - it has, and it has mostly failed. Drive off, replace antennae and cracked glass, repaint. You might argue that suicide car bombers are more vulnerable than autodrive systems, but then every single one of the (probably more than thirty) infantry present for every MBT is carrying a automatic weapon able to stop a car by shredding tyres / breaking engine blocks, and many will also be carrying weapons capable of taking on light armoured vehicles.

Final thought? Search on "Trophy" and "Arena". Active protection systems for MBTs are already in service.


HOV and dedicated SDC lanes.

In general I agree with CS that there will be a decade(s) long transition to SDCs.

And most all existing HOVs that I've seen do not exactly have a clean break between themselves and normal lanes. Well except those hideously expensive ones south of Wash DC.

I keep meaning to look up the cost per mile as they extend it another 9 miles south of Quantico. Never seen so much large earth moving equipment per mile except for Dallas. I'll hold my final thoughts till I see what that huge project on I635 in N. Dallas turns out to be. Double decker 8 total lanes each way or some such. I've heard HOV on top, chaos on the bottom.

As to all those comments about how small dedicated roads can be, everyone seems to be assuming no maintenance. If we really want roads that are packed bumper to bumper with SDCs then we almost need 3 lanes so maintenance doesn't wreak traffic in an area. The more you pack in a road the worse things are if that road has to close. Oh, yeah. Leave room for the equipment to maneuver also. So at the end of the day the total road width per traffic capacity might be smaller than the width of regular roads, it will not just be 2 10 foot lanes for a total of 20'. And there will be an accident or break down at some point. Do you really want a 20 mile backup due to no breakdown or 3rd land option for the broken cars?


Go google for the Cambridge Guided Busway. It uses something like your idea, except that it has mechanical guidewheels that run along a raised edge to keep the vehicles on track.

Cost - too damned high, as it still required the full underbed even though it saves road width by being able to run oncoming vehicles inches apart. It also overran horribly and had to be redone because of build problems.

And it requires specialised vehicles that have the correct axle width to keep the wheels on the individual tracks. A car or two has turned along it and promptly got rather unhappy.


This sort of discussion came up over at rocketpunk, specifically in the context of dreadnoughts vs dreadgnats. A real-world cite was made in the use of missile boats vs. the frigate or destroyer. Especially when comparing NATO vs. NATO, all ships are carrying the same warshot, a Harpoon ASM. We aren't talking destroyer-sized shells vs. battleship-sized shells. Tube vs. tube, it would seem the more you could field, the better. But exercises have shown that the quality of the platform weighs significantly in how effectively it can be employed. Bigger ship = taller mast = better detection and targeting, plus better sea-keeping abilities, endurance, etc.

So on the side of bigger and badder, both Iraq wars seem to clearly support the American approach, at least as far as the shooty bits go. As far as winning the peace, not so good.

But if we look at Vietnam, the figures I heard was something along the lines of $70k in training and equipment for every GI in the field and more like $200 for every VC. Even though the Vietnamese lost every battle, they won the war.

If we take the tank vs. autocar scenario off the empty plains and put it in a city environment, just think of automated missile ambushes. Don't put your launchers on autocars. Just imagine if you could do non-line-of-sight targeting. A buzz drone gets a visual ID on a tank, sends the firing request to a disposable launcher hidden in trash in an alleyway. It only needs a clear path straight up. Launches, arcs in on tank, 15 seconds between detection and destruction.

The US wasn't pushed out of Iraq, it didn't quite bleed out so much from the thousand cuts but the money burned to support the occupation grew too great. Our treasury bled out.


Possibly side-tracking here, but if cars are being automated, why the hell do trains still need drivers right now???


just think of automated missile ambushes. Don't put your launchers on autocars. Just imagine if you could do non-line-of-sight targeting. A buzz drone gets a visual ID on a tank, sends the firing request to a disposable launcher hidden in trash in an alleyway. It only needs a clear path straight up. Launches, arcs in on tank, 15 seconds between detection and destruction

Too late, been done. The USMC had a program called "Dragonfire" or similar in the 90s, aka a "box mortar". The idea was to have a remote-controlled mortar that you could just drop off and leave. Add a top-attack smart mortar round (Swedish Strix, or BAE Merlin / Griffin) and Robert's your relative. The disadvantage of doing the target marking loop with a laser target marker (and then having a laser homing shell like Copperhead or Krasnopol), rather than passive IR like Strix, is that MBTs have carried laser warners since the 80s (because it told the crew that someone was working out their range)

Of course, this has been considered - hence the Israeli "Trophy" and Russian "Arena" tank active protection systems.


Define "need" please?

At least part of the answer is tradition, law and like. When there's a train crash, like the one in Spain a couple of months ago, having a driver gives us someone to blame. If there's a billion lines of code driving the train, it's currently a bit less clear cut. At least at the moment. The places where we tend to have it - UAVs, guided missiles and the like - there's a level of accepted failure of the equipment and you don't tend to have passengers (or the families of dead passengers) suing for negligent homicide.

Of course it's not always the driver's fault. There was a crash a few years ago here in the UK where improper maintenance was to blame and a train piled into a station. I'm too tired to remember all the details of how it panned out now but my vague memory is they tried pretty hard to find a person who actually worked for Network Rail (the company responsible to the maintenance work) to pin it on. Whether or not they got the right person (or any person) if they were fair about trying to find the person or people doing the job who were to blame that feels like a reasonably just approach. Tracking down which line of code caused the crash and which code monkey wrote it - assuming it wasn't a malicious hack - and holding them responsible seems pretty harsh somehow.

I've not got any code that's in the public domain that's ever going to be in that sort of thing, but I do have code I wrote in the public domain for eCommerce these days as well as online education. I really don't want someone suing me because an adaptation of a bit of my code crashes in a future adaptation of someone else's version of one of my bits of code that's running a training simulator that's been hacked into an auto-doctor that's killed someone. (That's vaguely plausible, I've written code in the medical training area.)

So that's at least part of why we have train drivers still.

I suspect as well, self-driving cars are, in some ways more interesting - trains aren't really a challenge - go faster, go slower - but it's also easier to actually get a car and an area of "real" car territory to test it on. You can buy a clunky old car, borrow a parking lot on a Sunday morning or whenever it's quiet and away you go. £500 and your test rig and you're done. Buying a train engine and a section of train track is a bit trickier in a lot of places. And a lot pricier.


Some trains are automated, like the DLR in London. In Masdar city automated PRT has been installed.


I started worrying about my code killing someone thirty years ago when I was involved in robotics research. At one point my boss was hired as an expert witness to write a report for a civil liability case where someone got killed by a CNC machine going wrong. The core cause of the fatality was literally a "+" sign rather than a "-" sign in the wrong place, the tool feed direction resulting in a carbide-tipped tool exiting the CNC machine by punching through the safety casing and then through the operator standing next to it.

As part of this report I got to review the source code controlling the CNC machine since my boss wasn't much of a coder; as I went through it I kept on thinking "what would happen if this position sensor broke, or that actuator suddenly went to its limits due to a driver stage failing high?" while the code I was reviewing assumed everything would always work perfectly.

Things are better nowadays; I know this as the death toll of people working around these devices is not a national scandal.

When there's a train crash, like the one in Spain a couple of months ago, having a driver gives us someone to blame.

Ah, so as a society we still need resident sin eaters ;-) Sounds rather primitive. Something along the lines of 'Lottery in June, the corn's heavy soon.' Also one scary Night Gallery episode.


The disadvantage of doing the target marking loop with a laser target marker (and then having a laser homing shell like Copperhead or Krasnopol), rather than passive IR like Strix, is that MBTs have carried laser warners since the 80s (because it told the crew that someone was working out their range)


I don't suppose I need to outline the fun to be had by lasering things from a distance - if at all possible from a laser somewhere far away from the operator, and for bonus points near something owned by someone you don't like. If you're lucky enough to have a known route the tank must use, you might even just set up a mirror for the laser.

It might surprise some people how quickly the cost of .50 caliber rounds adds up, never mind tank shells. And of course, once the crew has suppressed a few empty buildings and plywood infantry standees there isn't as much ammo as before...


No, HOV lanes are quite real and common in the US:


WHAT EMP Weapons?

The Nazi's Had an EMP "Program"

No One since has gotten any closer than they did, for diverse technical reasons, other than the (accidental) effect of Nuclear Weapons.

Very unlikely to happen outside of an SF Game/Novel, barring some major technical breakthroughs.

No doubt there is some DARPA money going into it, but unlikely to ever create a working system.


One reason CNC Machines are (were) so popular, they let management get rid of those pesky unionized machinists.

I see the same thing in some of the enthusiasm for 3d Printing, no need for those pesky tradespeople. This is based on the sociology literature from the 1980's about CNC.


Apparently the recent Spanish train crash was the fault of the driver, in that the whole track was automated EXCEPT for that fatal bend and the driver was distracted by a phone call just at the right moment. Having a partially automated system that requires human intervention not to fail at crucial points while leaving the human to drum his fingers for 90% of the duratin is of course a recipe for disaster. But setup aside, the responsibility in this case seems clear.


One reason CNC Machines are (were) so popular, they let management get rid of those pesky unionized machinists.

It's more of a side "benefit". The biggest thing a CNC does is it makes for very accurate duplicates. The same reason that machine tools in general took over. Interchangeable parts.


No, I didn't say that.

Tingey seems to be thinking that roads will become very crowded with autonomous cars.

He's wrong.

I live in Holland where there are 7.9 million cars on the road in 2013. There are parking places for all these cars. I'm going to assume that every car can seat 4 people. 7.9 million x 4 = 31,6 million seats. There are 16.7 million people in Holland so there are close to 2 seats per person. More than is needed.

It may very well be that the introduction of self driving cars will reduce the number of cars on the roads. Less cars that require less road because self driving cars don't need 2 seconds between them to keep things safe. 10 cars on the same strech of road instead of 2.

Another thing about self driving cars is that they may be used more efficiently than the cars we drive and own now. I own a car. It is used about 3 hours a week out of 168 hours in that week. Room for improvement I'd say.

At night when there are far less people to transport they might be used to transport cargo if that is efficient and cheap enough compared to trucks. Seats fold away and they can be used to move mailorder packets or something like that.


To go somewhat for the advocatus diaboli:

[guy with great beard sitting on my shoulder]Funny thing that is, in an ideal situation this also means

a) the capitalist can produce cheaper
b) competitors are blessed with the same kind of suck
c) the, err, liberated workforce has less money to spend, which means our friend has to either sell less at the same price or try to sell more at lower prices. Even if buying power stays the same, there is a certain allure to the idea of producing cheaper, thus initiating a potential race to the bottom.

On another note, trade unions are something of a two-edged sword with regards to workers' rights:

So rejoice, fellow comrades, the soon to be late capitalism both provides us with the means for a worker's paradise free of drudgery and the liberation from false consciousness to get there.[/guy with great beard sitting on my shoulder]

If you forget they talked like that for about 150 years, it even makes sense...


Err, first of I think the German scientists in WWII get hyped to much both by enemies and (somewhat hidden) supporters, but let's not go to the Vril folks, hmkay?

Second of, I don't know of any EMP projects by the Nazis. Now the usual guys I could ask about Nazi skunkwork are either out of reach(the local air force afficionados) or dead(an uncle with a history of building planes), so I can't be sure.

As for implementations, there has been quite some research in the 50s, especially be the Russians:

Where the name always gets me asking about procuring some plutonium from Libyan terrorist, but I digress...


on the laser warners,,, has anyone ever thought about just shining lasers at enemy tanks?
wouldn't have to be high powered, just enough to make em fire off the smoke, panic, randomly fire.....
after that constantly happening, your warning system becomes useless

on a slant, the dreadgnats/ dreadnaughts..
wouldn't this mean that spacefighters i.e xwings, starfuries all those things,, are actually useless?


Don't get me started on space warfare. Here's a hint: there ain't no stealth in space!


In a slightly longer reply than Charlie's - reread the original. The benefit the dreadnaughts have is higher masts, therefore longer detection ranges to horizon.

This may be a benefit in the desert, although I believe there's a lot of sand dunes and stuff to hide behind, but in many land combat settings, vehicle suitable ones, detection ranges are far, far less than the theoretical horizon of even a quite small vehicle - the theoretical horizon for a standing person is about 5km.

But, at least in most bits of space - there's a whole lot of nowt to hide behind. Unless you start inventing really naughty physics (like cloaking devices that screw the laws of physics as we understand them. JK Rowling at least had the excuse that magic worked in her universe). So as long as your Starfury or whatever can carry something big enough to threaten your capital ship, it's a threat.


There is in the merchant princes universe. We saw a permanent dimensional gate in the bunker in the dead earth. Planets move so this means the gate moves too, so put it on a ship, and use it as a heat dump to another universe - presto, stealth space ship.


> I think the self-driving passenger car will be the last
> desperate gasp of an automotive industry

I'm still wondering where the software is going to come from, how it's going to be tested, who is going to be liable for it, and how patches and upgrades are going to be handled.

Even comparatively simple applications like engine management, transmission control, and antilock braking were a long, tough slog for most automotive companies and their vendors. How GM managed not to get sued into oblivion over the Delco II ABS system is still a mystery to me. Or why the early Suzuki TLR1000s would just stop running, or the "PROM of the month" program for the GM P4 ECMs, or...

*Then* you're going to have to persuade the insurance industry, which likes hard numbers to feed their calculators, that your self-drive system is at least as good as a human operator per vehicle mile. Few people can buy a car with cash; financing generally requires insurance. No insurance, no sale. It was suddenly-inflated insurance rates that killed off the horsepower wars of the 1960s and the turbo cars of the 1980s; it didn't matter if it was a "Rabbit Diesel Turbo" with 23 raging horsepower; the "turbo" part made the insurance as expensive as a luxury or muscle car... assuming your carrier wasn't one of those that refused to insure any turbocharged vehicle, period.

Even with all the planets in alignment... "Sorry, no MOT for you. Your Volvo Estate is four years old now, and the manufacturer hasn't come out with an update for the new self-drive spec yet. You'll have to hire a wrecker to take it away; it's unsafe to operate on public roads. And being that the car is so old, I wouldn't expect any updates to be available. There's a breaker's down the way, you might get 50 for it."


Forgive me if this has been covered; I'm skipping over the last 250 comments.

In the original post, Charlie said "Railroads facilitated the great mass infantry wars that ravaged Europe from 1870 to 1945"

It started earlier than that; without railroads the South's secession in 1860 might have been successful. As it was, the USA could use a coastal, riverine and land-based attack strategy.


Happened to see this on CBS This Morning (this morning):
Driverless car no longer just science fiction

Hadn't realized how far they've come--haven't been paying attention. The more relevant bit starts about 3min.


while I'm at it...
There's something wrong about a gas-powered robot that sounds like a lawnmower.
Boston Dynamics' "wild" new robot


Cambridge guided pus-way?
That gives SLOWER services than the railway in 1922?
What a success (NOT)


Charlie & others ....
Er ...
How well protected are we now (never mind another 10 years' time) againsta Carrington Event (Which we already know can & does happen) ??

Should we be afraid, & what domesestic protection steops can we reasonably take??


Carrington Events are mainly a danger to the power grids and transformers. There is also likely to be at least 12 hours warning, and maybe several days. I am assuming there are plans in place to shut down the grid within these timeframes.


Except for satellites in orbit using passive sensors


Sorry, Charlie, but this one's backed up by bogus science given by an 'expert' of dubious qualifications, namely John "I'll Believe Aluminum Doesn't Cause Alzheimer's When My Encyclopedia Tells Me So Schilling. Being a 'rocket scientist' doesn't make you an authority on any topic outside your purview, say statements about basic optics. You know, like the constant radiance theorem ;-) Note in particular slide 18 on page 9 (Étendue: VI) which shows that yes, despite the legions of oh-so-clever contrarians saying otherwise, it's quite possible to narrow the solid angle of radiation by simply increasing the area of emission. And for which I received considerable grief for pointing out, btw.

Again: Note that I'm not saying one word one way or the other on whether this is impossible or not and I certainly don't want to start yet another prolonged and probably quite nasty subthread thrashing the whole dreary thing out yet again. I'm just saying these so-called demonstrations are bogus and please don't link to that page as if it contains some sort of definitive 'proof' of the same, thank you very much. "Yes, Mr. Stebbins, it is true the square root of seven is irrational. But you're not being marked on the accuracy of your statement, you're being marked on your proof of it, which, sadly, reflects poorly on me by being a mishmash of gibberish and arithmantic numerology."


automotive industry

I'm still wondering where the software is going to come from, how it's going to be tested, who is going to be liable for it, and how patches and upgrades are going to be handled.

Interestingly the disk drive industry is looking at the auto industry as to how to build their firmware. Auto engine computers basically don't freeze up or crash such that you would notice. They constantly have a low level kernel type of software running that monitors the rest of the system and decides when to reboot such that you don't loose more than about 1 rpm or less of control.

This after drive manufacturers have all stated that about 1/3 or 1/2 of the drives they get back work fine. They have to assume they cratered and were just pulled off line and returned when a power cycle would have "fixed" them.


The self-driving car will destroy the economic rationale for personal car ownership. Self driving cars will put us all in "Johnnie cabs."


I'm still wondering where the software is going to come from, how it's going to be tested, who is going to be liable for it, and how patches and upgrades are going to be handled.

You are many years too late; back in 2010, the average new American automobile shipped with over ten million lines of code to control its embedded systems, and nearly as many microprocessors as electric motors (around twenty, and rising rapidly).

You may have noticed recent large-scale car recalls by the likes of Toyota, and Ford mailing out USB sticks with firmware updates to hundreds of thousands of customers? Bugfix releases. (And at least one of the bugs -- the Toyota throttle full-open bug that could only be reset by holding down the "start" button for four seconds -- had fatal consequences.)


Overly complex IMHO.
Back in the 80s I had a 2.0L Capri that did 37mpg average and (apart from the rust) almost foolproof. I did 260k in it before the bodywork became too much to repair.

The self-driving car will destroy the economic rationale for personal car ownership

As if this was a bad thing. I remember a few years back I was walking down the street and had a sudden perspective shift - we've all grown up in this environment and we find it normal, but for an instant I saw everything with new eyes and the amount of cars around us is staggering, zooming past, parked, at any moment there are probably more cars than people around you. It's insane.


I remember a few years back I was walking down the street and had a sudden perspective shift

Me too.

(I lived happily for a decade without a car, in the late 90s/early 00s. Okay, I lived in a city that was laid out way before the car came along to pervert our sense of distance, but car-free living is possible if the urban environment is sane.)

I think by 2200 people will think of the 20th century car culture the way we think of the 18th century duelling culture, with gentlemen carrying small-swords everywhere and prepared to defend their "honour" to the death, during an age that had neither antibiotics nor effective anaesthetics: a jaw-droppingly casual acceptance of entirely avoidable participation in a culture of lethal violence (cars being instruments that, like swords or muzzle-loading pistols, are capable of inflicting lethal injuries on other people depending on the skill and intent of the operator).

Don't get me started on space warfare. Here's a hint: there ain't no stealth in space!

Hmm, I'm pretty sure that there are possibilities for stealth in space, they just haven't been explored well very much. It probably won't work the way it does in movies, but you can say that about pretty much anything you see in movies...

Most of the arguments about space apply similarly to air, yet there is such a thing as a "stealth fighter". It's stealthy against particular detection technology; presumably the same could apply in space — if you know the enemy's technology, or location, or some other key detail, you can hide from that one enemy.

One sensible treatment of stealth in space that comes to mind is Arthur C Clarke's 1949 short story "Hide-and-Seek". I think I've seen variants elsewhere.

Even Han Solo's blending in with jettisoned rubbish is not entirely ridiculous.


The reason there ain't no stealth in space is primarily heat. A spacecraft is at least 300 degrees kelvin hotter than its background. With a sufficiently good infra red detector a spacecraft would stick out like a flood light in a dark field.

I suggest this article for a further discussion on the issue:


Please don't go there. These type of threads tend to a shrimp & algae type of discussion, unfortunately: too many dogmatic assertions about too many unknowns. Looking back over those threads it strikes me even more forcefully that the people most invested in one side or the other were behaving like they were gamers rolling up stats; sure there was a nod towards plausibility. Had to be, given the background setting. But there wasn't nearly enough time spent on the topic before people started to (rather aggressively) stake out their turf. So what were being tossed around as 'facts' wasn't actually physics; it was factoids about physics, if you take my meaning. Project Rho, unfortunately, contains big chunks of factoids, and not just on the (to my mind) irrelevant detail of stealth.

Let's just say if I see something about 'The War of Northern Aggression' in a history text, I tend to view not just that particular chapter with some skepticism, but the rest of the book as well. And that's all I was saying when I posted my reply.


I prefer to look at it from the point of brain machine interface.
now we have machines that are being controlled by thought alone. why not upgrade to drones and cars and everything else?
we could go further and say a "ghost in the shell"
i honestly do not think this drone "driver less" activity will stop, not until we arrive to iain m banks Minds??


What is this 'thought' you speak of ;-) Seriously. I'd have thought that the eye/hand thing would be a much quicker interface, probably more trusted to boot.


Our thoughts tend to be a jumbled mess. Filtered through our muscles when we are doing something like driving a car. I can't imagine keeping out extraneous thoughts the entire time I'm driving a car.

Of course now you can postulate a filter on this interface so that only "car driving" thoughts get from you to the car.


I won't comment yet again on the provenance of a 'rocket scientist' when it comes to the physics EM and telescopy; I've already posted a link to the constant radiance theorem to show why. But I think even non-physics people get the idea that

"As of 2013, the Voyager 1 space probe is about 18 billion kilometers away from Terra and its radio signal is a pathetic 20 watts (or about as dim as the light bulb in your refrigerator). But as faint as it is, the Green Bank telescope can pick it out from the background noise in one second flat."
isn't exactly the support the author apparently thinks it is. In fact, I suspect that when the average reader is clued in to the facts that V1 is doing everything it can to be the opposite of stealthy and trying to draw attention to itself, that the guys looking for it knew where it was beforehand, and that they used a big chunk of the world's radio-astronomy resources to pinpoint it to boot, well, the average reader might possibly - and quite logically - wonder how something that would be difficult-to-impossible to detect if those caveats didn't otherwise apply could possibly be the supporting evidence the writer obviously thinks it is. As opposed bringing to mind those rigged missile defense tests the military boosters claimed were proof that space-weapons 'worked'.

Iow, I wouldn't link to this piece as if it came to this conclusion only after unprejudiced and judicious considerations of the physics and mechanics of the situation. I think it would be more appropriate to label it as a piece pushing a point of view by, among other things, implying experts were consulted in the writing of the article on when in point fact the 'expert' in question is John Schilling[1] of "I'll Believe Aluminum Doesn't Cause Alzheimer's When My Encyclopedia Tells Me So" fame.

Just sayin'.

[1]Please note, I'm not trying to imply Schilling is a hack; in fact I'll say he's quite good at what he actually does - which is 'rocket science' and not astronomy or remote sensing. IIRC, he also fell back on his 'rocket science' credentials when making that expert medical judgement I mentioned abve.


Skiiping an awful lot of comments (I've been very busy & I'm tired ...)
Vulnerabilty to EMP "attack" err ...
How vulneable are we now ( & how vulnerable in 5/10 years time) to a Carrington Event - given that we know these do happen?
Wake-up call?


I've just repeated myself ...
TOLD you I was tired ....

Sorry, folks!