Autonomous Cars

Table of Contents

Electric Cars

Some years back, this blog mentioned a bankruptcy or major merger prediction. No evident mergers on the horizon, but bankruptcy for one or more of the incompetent ninny automakers is a threat that's becoming more real by the day.

I like to think of myself as a bit of an enthusiast when it comes to cars, but that's just making the best of a bad thing. It's probable that gasoline/internal combustion (I.C.) cars got solidly established, only due to vast subsidies thrown at the petroleum industry. And the taxation to pay for the infrastructure, like highways. Refineries, distribution systems, pipelines, oil exploration — all of it, enormous investment, was financed on the backs of taxpayers.

Right now, yes, I.C. is better, because of the issues of electric range and charging, but that's only because of all the infrastructure investment the taxpayer paid for, for I.C. cars, while shunning electrics. Again, this has to be emphasized, because it doesn't seem to penetrate into popular consciousness that a good chunk of the effort in setting up refineries, oil production, roads, automobile plants, and probably even service stations, is subsidized by government, meaning us.

Electric cars were marginalized early last century, since they were potentially more economical and with more potential for sophistication, when they wanted a market for their new "snake oil," petroleum and its by-products (Rockefeller senior sold raw petroleum, called "snake oil," as a cure-all medicine for people's ailments).

Now we're seeing some attempts to discredit the new electrics, flying in the face of actual owners that really like their cars. They're focusing on two particularly discredited notions, and one with some validity. That electric cars are "coal burners," because some power plants are run on coal, that we won't have the power generation capacity to provide for so much new demand on the electrical distribution system, and that they're, "too impractical for their long charging time and inconvenience for long trips."

As though people just got in the car and drove 24 hours straight without any breaks.

Lots of places run hydroelectric and other forms of basically non-polluting generation. And most cars will charge at night when the utilities want more demand to balance out their production without having to constantly change output, which is inefficient. Even for coal plants, it's easier to cleanse the exhaust output from one source, than from millions of cars.

Also: electric cars "reuse" a lot of their energy, with regenerative braking. So net energy consumption is down versus gasoline cars that do not and cannot recover energy.

If the thought, effort and investment that went into the improvement of gas vehicles had been applied to electric cars and their batteries, we'd long since have had fantastic, practical electric transportation.

The whole "car craze" is nearing the end — perhaps it was a foolish phenomenon that should never have been necessary. Electric cars were more than adequate, then and now, plus they're quicker, to boot. Electrical power would have been far superior, and saved a lot of peoples' health. Exhaust fumes work to poison the population, particularly when full of lead — an element that is now said to have been unnecessary for even those old engines.

Nevertheless people love to snort up the smog — or at least are complacent. And some auto journalists love to pile the scorn on electric cars. But they don't consider how wildly stupid gasoline engines are when used in cars.

To try to make them ante up a few hard-gotten gains, engineers have to pile on complex engineering solutions like variable valve timing, variable compression, direct injection, multiple scroll turbochargers, engine start/stop, 9- and 10-speed transmissions and CVT transmissions, and more. In chainsaws, marine motors and airplanes, engines make more sense because of their range, flexibility and relatively light weight compared to a motor with batteries.

After over 135 years of development, we still face the absurdity of having to spend thousands to fix our cars. Sometimes it's something minor, like a bad seal, but still a multi-thousand dollar job. Or perhaps the timing belt broke on an interference engine, completely ruining it. To repeat, it boggles the mind to think of how I.C. engine got a foothold. And it can go at any time! Just over something like a plugged lube channel that can freeze a bearing.

Nope, I.C. should have never reached such penetration in the market, and it only got a foothold, then a monopoly, because of illegitimate use of tax money to foster an otherwise unsustainable business model. There's no way to assess the damage decades of unnecessary tetra-ethyl lead used in cars has caused, but at least now people uniformly agree it was bad.

People who get agitated about the passing of combustion engines don't think things through, but often just froth at the mouth and bare their teeth. Then they seize on excuses. "You'll be recharging every few miles, and never get anywhere! I'm not going to look like a fool and sit for four hours at a stretch to recharge 80% and only go 200 miles!"

Or there is that repetitive lament that the power companies will "brown out" with all the new demand, when it's already been made clear that most electrics will recharge at night and actually improve grid efficiency via load leveling.

The sour attitudes themselves prove they aren't even trying, but just looking for a snivel session.

Someone else thinks the electrics won't be much fun. Another thinks they're being shoved down our throats and aren't justifiable in a "free market."

First off, most everyone, sensibly, likes electric cars for their clean operation, fierce acceleration and quiet running. Just because you don't have a spewing exhaust from a stinky engine screaming like a banshee doesn't mean a car isn't "fun." There can still be premium cars, sports cars, and so on.

Electrics are a boon to the average person who won't have to finance oil changes, nor the absurd repair bills for hopelessly complex I.C. engines, nor pay for gasoline. The sky won't fall on the petroleum industry, either, because petrochemicals still have huge markets for plastics and other synthetics, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, lubricants, asphalt, jet fuel...

We can't have a new system, like electric car-based transportation, then sit around and cry about their shortfalls, nor tolerate disingenuousness. A new system requires new support systems and new thinking. Electric cars should be Volkswagen Polo-sized, Kia Rio-sized, and better streamlined and otherwise optimized for efficiency, not looking exactly the same as the gas cars they're setting out to replace. It's a fool's errand to bitch and gripe and whine that electrics aren't as convenient as gas when they never properly committed to them in the first place.

We can't use exactly the same model as for I.C. cars, and expect things to be exactly the same as they were before. The mindset has to change somewhat. We should embrace a new transportation model, where cars are:

  • smaller
  • lighter
  • more aerodynamic
  • cheaper (which they should be, electric vehicles being much simpler)
Plus, we have the considerations of:
  • social adaptation
  • infrastructure adaptation

Probably worth the effort, if only to somewhat temper the bleating, shrieks, moans, cries and crocodile tears of "Global warming! Global warming!" and "Peak oil! Peak oil!"

I still get a grin thinking of Jay Leno's antique electric that he had to "prep," merely by topping up the 100-year-old battery with some water! I think it was the 1909 Baker Electric, since he seems to have a few early electrics. So it appears that batteries don't have to be so bad after all.

Having said all that, sorry to seemingly pull a 180, but as I've always said, electric cars are no solution either. Speaking of the thought, effort and investment required for electric cars, that too would be, perhaps not "vast," as for gas cars, but substantial. Running "Charge-Ways," live charging lanes, down one or two lanes of the highways, already successfully tested, would be a big step. And of course, improved charging infrastructure would be a must. Again, these unfathomable crocodile tears over "straining the power grid" are complete hogwash. All of these systems need to be improved over time, and they act as if maintenance and capacity increases are a completely foreign idea, with hysterical theatrics about how we'll be plunged into darkness. What a clown show.

So, since we don't have those improvements, due to these political machinations, full electric cars are too impractical today. They're a dead end, a leaky holy grail.

Just one flaw of many: Suppose there's a big blackout. Millions of pure electric cars won't charge, shutting down the country (with gridlock when not fully-charged cars try to make it to work anyway and go flat along the way).

This is not to say that electrics can't eventually dominate, as resistance towards real solutions is thwarted, that is. It appears there is no true technical issue to resolve and we could be traveling long distances on highways without any trouble, and with fewer batteries, using that charge rail we just mentioned, like electric toy slot cars, or electric trains. (Or, on-the-go inductive charging, another thing already existing and functional.)

A constant source of amusement is the mindless cackling and babbling of the masses and media (same thing, really). The Toyota Prius has 48+ MPG, in a sporty, responsive, reliable and (now) good-looking vehicle, but there isn't a single peep about how this is a breakthrough. That kind of mileage would have been considered impossible, and would have been, not so long ago, in anything but maybe a soapbox racer with a chainsaw engine.

Meaning? Hybrid is way to go, now and well into the future. All this just goes to show that, politically, they're again glossing over the real solutions so they have "problems" they can "tackle" and "solve" and make it look like those worse-than-useless arses have a purpose, while engineering the destruction of civilized society.

Hybrids

"Hybrid" refers to a combination. For cars, that's generally having both an electric motor and a gas or diesel engine in the same car. Cars should have, and could have been all hybrids, 20 years ago or more. They already used two electric motors: a starter motor and an alternator, it would have been a proper evolution to combine those, with the added benefit of using this larger motor partially for propulsion. One of the other added benefits would be, hey, you jump in the car and go, allowing the car to limit the strain on the gas engine until it had a proper warm-up (and you wouldn't need to sit in your own pool of noxious gases while letting the engine warm up).

Hybrid is the best compromise, that's not really a compromise, but a solution, as long as you realize complex hybrid vehicles have been very expensive to repair when they reach very high mileage.

Prius

Having said that, the Toyota Prius seems remarkably reliable. I still remember being impressed by one used as taxi. I asked the driver about it and he expressed a lot of enthusiasm. Keep in mind, this was a taxi, but it showed little wear, at 260,000 km (160,000 miles). Almost spooky. At some point, all mechanical devices will require maintenance, so you can't really gripe too much about the Prius if it's showing this kind of endurance.

The Prius proves a point. Somehow, by adding an electric motor and heavy battery pack, you can massively improve the efficiency of the gas engine. So how much more do you improve it by ditching the stupid engine and its paraphernalia, then? That gives it away: If the car is more efficient with two propulsion devices than one, one of those devices must surely be a dud.

Which should be true, but in the case of I.C. and Electric, the two complement, filling in for one another's weak areas. For the electric motor, the weakness is solely attributable to batteries.

Yes, batteries leave something to be desired, but they were never developed and optimized for cars. Still, the first Tesla, modified from a Lotus Elise sports car, used laptop-type batteries in bundles, and managed to be quicker in a straight line than the I.C.-engined car it was based on.

As is so often the case when we actually sit down to examine a so-called "problem in society," we find that the answer is right in front of us. In the case of the "oil crisis," we must ask, "What would a 48 MPG average do for gas consumption?"

Turning to the figures, 25.4 was the approximate average MPG in 2021, so we'll say the Prius doubles that. Meaning, if all new cars going forward were equipped with the Prius's hybrid system, or a knock-off, we could theoretically double fuel economy, which is to say, use half the oil for light-duty vehicles that we use now.

A good old internet search reveals that the United States consumes an average of 20.6 million barrels of oil a day. Forty percent of that — 9.1 million barrels — is used to power motor vehicles. Oh, my. So with the simple expedient of switching to hybrid propulsion, the States could save around 4.5 million barrels a day! 1.64 billion barrels a year. Another search that anybody can do shows most refineries are producing in the range of 100-250 thousand barrels/day of fuel.

Say what? That would mean the output of 18 of the largest refineries would not be required, in the U.S. alone.

First, we need to ask, who thinks they'd want to make these shutdowns were there such a grand achievement in fuel savings? They don't want to shut down refineries or curtail production. So, they can't really tolerate much of a reduction in consumption. There are various factors involved, but mainly, that's their profits, their business.

So they rigged a scam with politicians, years ago, so that, of light-duty passenger vehicles (which include cars, vans, SUVs and pickups under 8500 lb. Gross Vehicle Weight), pickups accounted for five of the industry's 10 best-selling vehicles in 2020, and 40% of the "big-three's" sales. In 2021, percentages fell but pickups were still the third-largest class in the United States, after compact crossovers and mid-sized crossovers. This was accomplished by having different CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) restrictions between passenger cars and trucks, vans, minivans, and SUVs, with cars having the more stringent requirements. A typical, transparent, con, where they feign environmental heroism, but the reality has no relation to their cheap words.

Autonomous Cars

Johnny Cab

The push for cars to go automated, has a twist where we'll still pay through the nose, and they'll still make the police presence known. What excuses might they use for a police presence if the cars drive themselves? Well, they'll just do what they always have: Not modify the "laws" to reflect the changes in technology. You'll still get hit for "speeding," even if the car is self-driving, because, "it's your responsibility to ensure your car's computer is in good order and won't allow car to speed."

And there will be "emergency roadblocks" to ensure vehicles on the road are unmodified, "safe," etc. After all, for saafeteee, all those computers, cameras and sensors will have to be very well maintained! Even "drunk driving/drunk riding," checks, just because.

Self-driving cars could be a terrific boon. For one thing, you could set up their algorithms so there were never any traffic jams. By reducing and increasing speeds of travel as appropriate, you could approach the multiples of uncongested traffic that our roads were designed for. It's the bad driving idiots, the Road Tards, that muck everything up, so pulling them out of the picture would make everyone happier. There would be no motivation to run red lights, velocities could be much higher, there would be no daily tension for the commuter...

Too good to be true. You can count on government to step up and ruin the potential benefits for all of us. Not only that, the generic "every-car," will mean no more distinct brands or styling. That is pretty much inevitable, like the "Car of the Future" farce at NASCAR. It will certainly save the manufacturers from the costs of annual styling changes, but make the roadways and the drive that much less interesting. That'll just be part of it, though.

Some people think we'll all be on bicycles and on foot while a very few rich travel in electric cars, but that's a limited view. The future is dystopian, but we'll probably all be able to buy, or at least travel in, cars, with the disadvantage that these self-driving cars will simply drive you to the police station over complaints, "something someone saw" on a surveillance camera, fines, behind on your cable payment, didn't buy a dog license this year, you name it.

And of course, like other forms of government and corporate buggery, they will be used as spy devices. They already are — General Morons' OnStar system, for example, can listen in on your conversations, and has been used for exactly that. It's na├»ve to say that "they" will always know where you are, minute by minute, where you shop, eat, visit, since they're already mostly there. There seems to be big money in this form of profiling/tracking, because the information they gather on us is sold and exploited.

From sex life to politics: car driver data grab presents ‘privacy nightmare’, says study

If You’ve Got a New Car, It’s a Data Privacy Nightmare

Yes, there are many reasons they want to spy on us, and they do, in every way imaginable. For one, the aforementioned money to be made in profiling. If someone knows your behavior, they can sell you things, fine you, frame you, sell your information to others...

For another, it's because the government is composed of many criminal psychopaths. When you have a bunch like that, they think it's nice to have scapegoats to cover for their own crimes — and also nice to have blackmail material over others. It's just a matter of course for politicians and their minions. After all, it's done to them to ensure they toe the line.

Digital currency and self-driving cars are two very "out there" pushes by government. The technical problems and social push-back may make them pipe dreams. For example, the infrastructure investment for autonomous cars, when government is always crying poor, is an issue.

Bob Lutz, a talented former bigwig at GM and Chrysler — one of the good ones — said it's a 15-25 year wait to full automation, and cottage industries will cater to the rich who want to drive themselves around their private property. Not just Lutz, but a lot of people are predicting this sort of thing, but there are things that point against it, too, like the effects on the auto industry and, consequently, the whole economy.

They're going to have to also modify roads and intersections to make them amenable to automatic control, with the introduction of sensors that interact with the cars. (Things are otherwise too complicated for automation, like 4-way stops, or snowy or flooded roadways.) Thus, there are technical issues that work against the plan.

As noted, there's also going to be hesitation by greedy government that will think it can't live without all its ticket fines, license fees, parking meter fees, gas taxes...

Also, high speed travel on the highways would make the airlines sour, since it would make cars a much better alternative to planes over contiguous land areas. Don't worry about that, they'll still hold the same ridiculous speed restrictions. Because "safety," despite the fact that the whole point of cars is to get from point A to point B, fast.

You also have to wonder if they are thinking of using autonomous cars to replace public transit — trains and buses, which actually would be a smart move.

Ride-sharing has its limitations, since most private car owners don't want to use them in a system where they can be defiled by careless strangers. Of course, we could end up with a stratified system where the really rich will still be able to purchase and drive their ostentatious rides, while the rabble will be locked into the shared autonomous paradigm, maybe being allowed to drive kiddie cars at the special Disneyland ride, "Back in the Old Days," or something.

If they really want to push self-driving cars, look for a ramp-up of reports discrediting human drivers, on how unsafe driving is, how many fatal accidents there are, "The Tragic Human Cost," and so on. And how safe and convenient the "new way" will be. If they go this route, you'll know they are committed to the autonomous paradigm.

The idea of autonomous cars is a very old one, going back to the Fifties, and before. A Utopian ideal, then. Now, full of sinister connotations.

Favorable and Unfavorable

What people might find favorable, governments find unfavorable, and vice-versa. It's a mixed bag with autonomous cars.

They could reduce gridlock, save resources, free up drivers to relax or do something productive while on the road. They could mean less money spent on gas, elimination of licensing and fines. All positive for the average driver.

But the ability to track everyone is desirable only to government and those with bad intent. Unemployment due to reduction of car industry workers (and cascading results of that), is no bed of roses either.

And the reduction in gas consumption will be an excuse for more government bellyaching: "We can't keep up the roads, there's not enough money coming in from gasoline tax!"

Of course, that will spell higher taxes on electricity, and some new road tax or two.

People (like in the bus drivers' union), think that there will still be buses, subways, "public transit." There is a harsh reality awaiting these people, since they should become redundant and unnecessary with robot cars. Existing and future subway tunnels and above-ground guide-ways could still be employed as useful passages for these cars, though.

There could be no traffic lights, but instead threading, with vehicles slowing but not having to stop in intersections.

The Charging Issue

If structured as a sort of "hive" of cars, autonomous cars will automatically drive off on their own to a charge station when not in use. And even if batteries don't progress, you could just switch cars at a rest stop. Even the problem of long distance travel for battery cars is solved, with a relay system where new cars are swapped out for old (also negating the need for any "battery swap" stations, put forward as another idea to solve the range issue).

With this system, the only people needing to charge will be those who have too much luggage or are moving house. This is a model easily adapted to trucking, where only the tractor cab portion of the truck need be swapped, something they're already familiar with.

But why would you really want or need to?

Tolls, if applicable, for your use of electricity, would be collected at the exits, automatically. Battery or hybrid cars could thus choose to recharge on the "Charge-Way." This would be a great starting point to autonomous driving (and perhaps the only sensible way to really start implementing it practically).

The Charge-Way and car interact, so the driver can sleep or watch movies, whatever, after setting his destination. The car could be rigged to wake you up at your exit. Then, after a long non-stop trip, you'd arrive with more range than when you started, not something gas cars could boast.

Why is this not being implemented? Because electric is another deliberate boondoggle. It's not a sincere effort to really make electric cars practical. It's the same situation as with Henry Ford's hemp oil fuel. Not profitable enough.

It's not as if it doesn't work exactly this way for electric trains and buses, and not that this very system of a power rail for cars wasn't tested. A quick search uncovered this site, which describes how Sweden opened a road with an embedded charging rail, after testing it under salt water, finding it didn't create any hazard.

There is a technical improvement with a charge rail, too: The rail can run the motors, directly. That means elimination of the inevitable losses incurred in charging and discharging a battery. As well, power can be fed back to the rail, when the car is braking, especially down a hill (especially when the car's battery is fully charged).

An important point to consider: the cars could have smaller and fewer batteries. All this talk about their environmental burden? Well, this system alleviates the problem. Batteries wouldn't even have to improve, though they will, with time. Batteries not only are limited and charging time hogs, but they're incredibly heavy. Fewer batteries means the electric car is more efficient.

Any on-the-road charging, of course, shouldn't be a taxpayer-subsidized freebie, but should be done on a toll road system so it can calculate a consumption fee for the electricity use, as already implemented in the Swedish road.

Advantages

There's still only a partial recognition of how far-ranging and sweeping the effects of autonomy could be.

No buses, subways, or public transit are required (along with their concomitant problems, including the drunks, fare jumpers, and assorted idiots people are jammed in with).

But also, there will be no need for car rental agencies. Hallelujah! No need for horrible long-distance bus trips, fewer planes. Cheaper point to point transportation that can drive you while you sleep. Rather than those expensive boondoggles with Amtrak and monorails to nowhere, simple practical rapid transportation, unhindered by rails or airport requirements.

We have to imagine we could re-purpose existing subway tunnels to provide tunnels for cars to make rapid progress through cities, without the traffic jams of old.

Perhaps people will be more comfortable with a "Johnny Cab"-style robot driver, or even just a computer monitor with a "Max Headroom"-style face on it, as it is more "comforting," people having the sense of it being "in control," and able to deal with situations, as opposed to just an anonymous and empty shell driving around.

With autonomy, we would also not be limited to just one vehicle type, but could get custom transportation depending on needs, anything from a mini city car to a bus, or even a semi. Why not, if you need it?

Never a "no start" in the morning or evening.

And of course, seamless prioritizing for ambulances and emergency vehicles will be made simple. The system could be programmed to make cars automatically yield, without the need for raucous, disruptive sirens and dangerous maneuvers through traffic.

Charging areas can be situated in spots with lower land use costs. No gas stations (or need for tankers transporting gas), no traffic jams, the ride can be tailored to comfort (for example, by traveling at a mostly constant speed). No queuing waiting on oil changes, for service or insurance.

Electric autonomous cars could also free up parking lots, free up roads, and thereby liberate land for more productive uses. Land in cities is becoming so expensive that this possibility is very attractive.

Homes won't even need garages any more, freeing up a lot of space, perhaps to put a suite in, as replacement.

True luxury, really.

Disadvantages

  • Spy cars: They'll know everything you do, and you probably won't even be able to stop to take a whiz behind a billboard, if that's your thing. It will (necessarily) know and track all your movements.
  • Dispossession: There will be no sense of having a personal possession, a safety and security item, your personal car, at your beck and call, until the apprehensive feeling dissipates, if the system is rigged to be timely and reliable. At first there will be too few autonomous cars as the system is rolling out, but then they'll, by necessity, push manual cars off the road. Will that lead to more off-roaders and private roads? That's unpredictable.
  • The cleanliness issue: Again, people use cars, airplanes and buses, mostly without leaving things in a shambles now. If there's a type of damage/cleaning deposit assessed to people, they'll be cautious, too.
  • Loss of control: Giving up control means a corresponding loss of the fun of driving.

Manufacturers

Modification and consolidation of the car companies will have to happen, because there'll be no need of huge capital outlay to research and produce basically the same product across manufacturers. That would be unnecessary wastage.

Presumably Ford, GM, Stellantis, BMW, Mercedes, VW, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Citroen, Hyundai and the rest would each have to become autonomous car service providers, but there won't be a need for all these companies. They will merge. It's only a matter of time, and this is already an ongoing process. For example, FCA and PSA, have just merged to create Stellantis.

Or, existing companies can adapt. The upside is that a new product, consumer robots, can replace cars on the assembly line. As noted in a previous article, it's odd that no forward-thinking company, like Honda, is already planning or doing this. They could even implement a novel idea: a large "dog robot" that can be configured so it can be ridden like a horse.

It should be very efficient to have one set of optimized chassis for electric cars, but a downside is no competition to spur improvement.

Car Services

On the other hand, manufacturers (or perhaps they'll be called "transportation service providers"), will have incentive to build better, more durable, longer-lived cars since there will be no need for planned obsolescence. Instead, they'll want to get as much use out of each vehicle as possible.

Car services, where autonomous cars are shared, look to be inevitable.

Autonomous cars stationed all over makes for a much easier situation for tourists, too.

People could opt for ride sharing, as a cheaper alternative, as well. It's common in Latin American countries to have cab sharing.

And of course, automated deliveries, even cross-country, would be another profit center.

Discussion

Despite the disadvantages, it does appear that the move is toward autonomous cars, and so electric cars are getting subsidized and publicized. Note that it's the push for more government control over our driving that partially motivated this, since it is somewhat easier to have total control over the fundamentally simpler electrics.

With a commitment to the elimination of I.C. engines, comes the potential benefit — for government and automakers — of another "Cash for Clunkers"-style debacle, where everyone is forced to get their non-automated/non-electric cars off the road, and to have to buy new cars.

The car industry isn't just subsidized — to the tune of tens of billions each year by direct cash handouts. There are indirect payments, like "Cash for Clunkers," that paid car dealers a $3,500-$4,500 subsidy from the federal government, after discounting a new vehicle purchase to someone who traded in an old car.

There will be a huge backlash from the collector car community, if gas cars are restricted, of course. There will probably be certain special concessions for them — if they're willing to pay through the nose for permits to travel — and then they'll probably be limited to certain roads only.

At first, I thought it might actually be a great boon to get the crazies away from the steering wheel, but, on further consideration, driving within and around robotic cars may be more frustrating than the unruly mayhem of the mob — the "madding crowd." At least most people are trying to proceed quickly, while robot cars will move at the lowest common denominator — that is, dead slow.


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