22 Jun

Sebastian Thrun: Google’s driverless car

There are two inventions that I’m really looking forward to.  These aren’t massive inventions that will solve all of the planet’s problems, but they would make a difference.

The first, the invention of the office robot dog.  I did a summer retreat once while on student council (a long time ago) and the cottage we were staying at had a bunch of dogs that lived on the premises.  These dogs would run around and just randomly show up to say ‘hi’ and it was always a welcome surprise.

Mind you, real dogs are a pain to maintain.  They require food, water, exercise and this strange emotion called ‘love’; that’s a long list of things just to keep up a novelty while working.  (Home pets are different, so let’s just accept this difference for the theory)  Ergo, to save a great deal of effort and possibly any allergies / fears, the invention of the robot office dog.

The second invention, is the robot car.  The appropriate nomenclature today is ‘driverless car’, which is a term that simply feels more acceptable as something to insert into the living traffic of today.  (Robots, they get no respect)  The link is below:


Length: 4 Minutes, 14 seconds

Date Filmed: March 2011

One Sentence Summary: “Humans really are crappy drivers, and there’s a lot of hope ahead.”

How it Related to me

Now this is an idea I would support!  I have driven countless hours coming to and fro from the workplace, to meet friends downtown, to go off on gallivanting trips across country.  If I could have used that time doing something else, anything else, it would have been great.  Even if it meant more time playing stupid games on my phone, handheld or reading a book, it would be worth it.

Let’s talk about another car innovation for a moment, the electrical or hybrid vehicle.  This is a great idea for those that are looking to save the environment and at the same time, slowly ween away our reliance on gasoline.  It actually makes sense on many levels but just reducing our general carbon footprint alone is a worthy enough cause.

As an individual who wants to be an early adapter, I thought this would these cars would be the shiznit, the cat’s meow, the freakin’ A!  That even if I didn’t adopt the cars early, there would be many others who would and I could simply buy a used version sometime in the future.

This, quite obviously, hasn’t happened.

And why not?  If I was so grand on the idea of buying a hybrid electric, why haven’t I?

It comes down to pricing point.  The simple fact I’m writing in a blog must be evidence enough that I can’t afford high end items.  (I’m just joking, I’m certain there are many bloggers out there who are wealthy.. somewhere)  And when the hybrid vehicle came out costing anywhere from 10K to 15k more than the same vehicle without the ‘bells and whistles’ of an electric / magical engine that made many potential buyers pause.  Ten thousand dollars more?  Just to be eco-friendly?  How much gas would I need to save in order to make up that value up?

Now admittedly this was a time before when gas prices were only considered ‘ridiculous’ and it had not yet reached the ‘what the fuck this is bullshit’ pricing of the modern day.  In any case, I remember doing the math and realizing that I needed to be driving that one car for over ten years before I was ‘saving money’ from using less gas.  This hurt.

But for a ROBOT car.  Er, but for a DRIVERLESS CAR.  I’d gladly pay the extra ten thousand for that.  Heck, I’d even allow a whole mess of other features that would be deemed inappropriate.

– Car has a maximum speed of 50 km/h -> Sure, I didn’t need to get there that fast anyways.  You know what?  I’ll write my next novel on the road instead.

– Car insults you every time you turn it on -> I can take it, I’ve got rhino skin.  Just get me to my destination without having to look at the road, or be conscious for that matter.

– Car uses TWICE as much gas as a normal car ->  I actually believe this WILL be a mandatory part of the driverless car.  Why?  I don’t know, to appease the oil barons and car manufacturers or something.  Maybe it’ll need to have a constant burning ‘Olympic style torch’ to signify it’s a driverless car.  I don’t care, just put these damn cars to market already!

Because that I am THAT TIRED OF DRIVING.  Actually, that’s not entirely true, I really enjoy driving.  I enjoy driving much more than the average person I’d surmise and it isn’t too uncommon that I’ll go out for a drive on an evening just to get out and feel the city.

“Won’t you miss driving then?” -> Quite possibly, although I’d imagine that initial models will have some kind of ‘manual option’ where one could turn the driverless driver off so you could drive the driven drive off the driveway.  Driving on, even without a manual option, I’d still be content with it.

Wait, given the limitations set above, where each day’s drive costs twice as much, takes double the time and you get to be made insecure through verbal conversation, doesn’t this exist already?

The answer is yes.  They’re called Taxis.

And as much as I dislike taking cabs, the driverless vehicle I’ve described so far is pretty much a glorified taxi cab that has one distinct difference.   The necessity of your own awareness to the outside road, the driver and the fare itself, is strictly voluntary.  That added privacy and comfort time, is well worth it.

That and drivers today are suicidal / ignorant / suffer from compulsive disorders.  People want to use their cellphones, they want to be texting and chatting and surfing.  A decade ago, there was a ‘distracted driver’ ticket where drivers who were distracting themselves were targeted for fine.  One woman, was applying make up, painting her toenails, talking on her phone and driving.  Some guy, was pulled over while he was making a sandwich.  Come on, isn’t obvious that the people want one thing?  Robot dogs!

I mean, driverless cars!

What Caught me Off Guard

This talk is filmed / posted on March of 2011.   2011!!!  If this was an Apple product, we’d be on version 3.0 by now.  Shouldn’t there be a dent of market share of driverless products by now?


Where is the driverless car today?  Is it still an idea coming to reality?  How much will it cost?

Without needing to look it up, I know the driverless car is currently being tested in the United States.  I’d gladly be a test flunkie for it here in Canada.

And although the car is yet to be in production for sale, there is a state that is preparing for the eventuality.  This would be Nevada during March 2012.  Link:

The Google driverless car has appeared in other media as well.  Including television shows like Nova, Stephen Hawking’s Brave New World and others.  (Not to mention hypothetical versions of driverless cars like in Minority Report, Total Recall and Knight Rider)

The wikipedia link for autonomous car is here:

Despite my best efforts, I cannot find a solid link on how much the driverless car would cost.  However, the costs of the equipment used have been made public, and the costs are mind shattering / overwhelming.  Approximately $150,000 of equipment are thrown into one of these babies and that’s putting the initial line of driverless cars to be in the hands of the super rich only.  (Article can be found here:

So now that its been discussed, what can I do?

Unfortunately, it’s the same story that was told for the electric vehicle.  I need to wait and hope that it will become popular and heavily integrated into society.  Maybe then I’ll be able to buy a used one.


– Updated every Friday

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Posted by on June 22, 2012 in TED Talks



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