Are Self-Driving Cars The Apocalypse -- ROAD TESTAMENT

Uploaded by drive on 20.09.2012


MIKE SPINELLI: Self-driving cars.
Is it the apocalypse of automotive enthusiasm?
Matt Farah's here.
Dan Neil's here by Skype.
We're coming back with that on Road Testament.
MIKE SPINELLI: So self-driving cars.
Matt Farah's here.
As I said, Grammy Award-winning R&B sensation
Dan Neil is also here.
You guys were on a car show.
I can't remember-- what was it called?
MATT FARAH: It was very creatively named.
The late--
the average.
DAN NEIL: And that's grading on the curve, for sure.
MIKE SPINELLI: So self-driving cars--
I know Dan is really deep in the technology.
You guys have both at least seen them race.
MATT FARAH: I have been in the driver's seat of a car that I
was not driving.
As has Dan-- the same BMW Track Trainer.
DAN NEIL: At Seca.
MIKE SPINELLI: And NASCAR did the famous--
what was it?
MATT FARAH: The April Fool's post.
MIKE SPINELLI: Right, the April Fool's post last year
that the whole--
MATT FARAH: Well, the problem with a self-driving NASCAR
race is there probably wouldn't be any crashes.
And they would lose all their audience.

MIKE SPINELLI: So outside of motor sports, we've been
seeing Google do a lot of things in the last--
really, what is it?
Two years, Dan?
The Google car, sure.
About two years.
Two years and they have almost $4 million worth of cars that
drive themselves.
The employees now drive themselves to work sitting in
a car that drives itself.
They've made huge progress.
And it almost feels like this could be a real thing now.
I mean, it's like one of those futuristic things we've been
seeing for years.
MATT FARAH: Well, dude, as we've proven in many other
ways, Demolition Man is an accurate
picture of the future--
the Schwarzenegger Library, the self-driving cars, Taco
Bell taking over.
I mean, it's all happened.
DAN NEIL: It's essentially a documentary.
MATT FARAH: It's a documentary of things that haven't
happened yet.
When do we get to then?
Soon, sir.
One Spaceballs reference per show.
So all right.
So let's look at what's on the table right now.
So it's sensors and software that can detect
the road, that can--
MATT FARAH: Detect pedestrians, everything.
Keep people safe enough to drive.
Dan, is that accurate enough for your technology head?
DAN NEIL: Not really.
But we can carry on.
MATT FARAH: Say the same thing but with words
twice the size, Dan.
That's usually how you do it.

The interesting thing is first, this technology's been
underway quietly for decades.
Because dating back to Norman Bel Geddes and the 1939
World's Fair and automated cars, the promise of this
technology is huge.
It essentially digitally doubles the size of the
American infrastructure, more carrying capacity.
It makes cars vastly safer, because they are not relying
on the faulty wetware behind the wheel.
Also, this technology is very, very robust at the moment.
I think one of the things that people overlook is
how evolved it is.
They could roll this stuff out tomorrow but for the testing
and validation phase that prudent
government would require.
But the big differences are flight hardware, that is
computers that can sit in cars in 20 and 30 below 0 and 120
above 0 for years on end and never have a fault.
And then the processing power on board and the processing
power between cars.
The other thing that was huge was when the FCC authorized
the use of a whole part of the spectrum.
It's a millimeter wave spectrum.
That gave cars and the infrastructure the ability to
talk to one another.
And that has been the big change.
So I think people will be surprised how
mature this really is.
MATT FARAH: Well, Dan, two things.
Sorry, Mike.
One thing is the question that I was talking about with Zack
back at my place was, what lane does an
automated car drive in?
Does an automated car go in the lane with
the farthest gap?
Even if it's the left lane and it obviously would be silly to
assume that anyone would program these cars to speed
under any circumstance.
You know what I mean?
No one is gonna--
MATT FARAH: You disagree?
DAN NEIL: Well, I don't know.
I think that there will be a wick.
And you will be able to turn it up.
Because as a practical matter, people often
have different paces.
If they're late for an appointment,
they'll want to go fast.
Now, can you program the car to exceed the law?
That's probably something that has to be
adjudicated in committee.
MATT FARAH: Well, that's what I'm saying.
If the speed limit's 55, but let's call it any highway in
California, 75 is the speed that people move.
Could you program a car to go that fast?
And if not, is the car on its own going to pick the left
lane and sit at 55?
MIKE SPINELLI: Well, pulling it back a second.
What are the benefits of having either all the cars on
the road or a significant portion of them, or even just
a few of them--
MATT FARAH: Well, DUIs would be virtually eliminated.
At least, for anyone who can afford one of these cars.
DAN NEIL: And that's a rather self-centered viewpoint.
MATT FARAH: Save me money on cabs.
DAN NEIL: Is that the first thing you think of, is a DUI?
As a parent, I think about kids coming home from the
prom, though.
And no kid ever needs to die wrapped around a pine tree if
this technology is fully in force.
And there are many others.
Like I said, there's carrying capacity.
There's safety.
If cars are electronically crash proofed, then you can
make them lighter, because you no longer have to surround the
occupants in a heavy steel cage.
And so it's an antecedent to a wholesale re-engineering of
the automobile.
So that's another thing.
And fit for fuel savings.
MIKE SPINELLI: Dan, you were saying carrying capacity.
What are you talking about exactly?
DAN NEIL: Well, there's a thing called platooning.
And when automobiles are talking to each other V2V--
that's vehicle-to-vehicle communications--
they can maintain safer following distances.
And in fact, they could be within just a couple of yards
of one another, because you don't have to accommodate the
human reaction time.
And the car cannot but slow down as the car ahead of it
slows down.
Now, we have a rudimentary form of that in the
distance-keeping radar.
And that's another interesting thing.
Many of the technologies that we have in modern
cars set the stage.
You know, lane--
MATT FARAH: Lane departure, and blind spot.
DAN NEIL: Lane detection.
MATT FARAH: And radar cruise control and all that stuff.
DAN NEIL: In Japan, they have lane correction.
So you let go of the wheel and the car will go
down between the lanes.
And that is a big part of a driver's workload, generally.
MIKE SPINELLI: So like easing traffic volume tie ups, right?
So that's huge right there.
DAN NEIL: Integrating it.
Timing it.
In a system like Los Angeles, getting people to merge
cooperatively, that is a huge fault in the current system.
MIKE SPINELLI: Instead of speeding up to the end of
where the lane ends, and cutting in.
MATT FARAH: Yeah, the greed factor is eliminated there.
DAN NEIL: People drive like idiots, you know.
Computers hopefully will not be programmed like idiots.
MATT FARAH: Well, computers could be programmed to
cooperate with each other, rather than boxing someone out
for a lane.
DAN NEIL: Right.
But what you asked earlier is a very interesting point.
Because as this technology emerges, who gives way?
The autopilot car or the manually operated car?
You're talking about a social change,
the society of drivers.
And I think that these cars, autopilot cars, will have a
zone of privilege.
So that they will be able to go in the left
lane or the HOV lane.
And they will be able to park free and all sorts of other
advantages to encourage the technology.
MIKE SPINELLI: Well, that's interesting.
California already has carpool lanes.
We have some carpool lanes in New York.
MATT FARAH: And you can drive electric
cars in them and stuff.
So maybe you piggyback a little bit there.
But if it's not programmed to speed, believe me, as someone
who uses that carpool lane, there is nothing worse than a
car going 55 in the carpool lane.
Because you can't get out.
MATT FARAH: In California.
MATT FARAH: Well, I have to tell you there's a classist
issue here, because this is going to be expensive
Will the upper classes with their robot chauffeurs have to
give way to the common man or vice versa?
I think this is not a technical issue
but a social issue.
MIKE SPINELLI: Well, it's interesting.
Because of all the social issues, there are a lot of
legal issues, also.
You've got an insurance issue, too.
I mean, is it something where insurance companies will say
that this is such a positive, robust technology that it will
actually give you breaks on insurance that'll offset the
cost of the car?
DAN NEIL: The insurance industry has backed this to
the hilt in Europe and in the United States.
And China, the central government wants it to happen.
MATT FARAH: But I have a feeling though, in America,
because of the sue-happy nature of this country, that
assuming this comes to market in the next 20 years, that
you're going to have to sign a waiver saying, whatever this
car does, I am responsible for.
So if it's a speeding ticket, a parking ticket,
does the car know--
DAN NEIL: If the car gets drunk, for example, and gets a
DUI, it's--
Well, that's interesting, too.
Because I heard this.
And correct me if I'm wrong.
That automakers are concerned about the liability that they
might have by having a car that drives itself.
Are they on the hook?
Or is it going to be--
it sounds more like it's going to be something
where, as the operator--
MATT FARAH: You must have to sign some kind of waiver.
I would love to have it if there was an automated car
that you could drive yourself and it had a
breathalyzer in it.
You sit in it.
You are wasted, I'm driving.
And then you're clear.
Then you're good.
And it needs to have some jokes in there, too.
Like some jabs.
MATT FARAH: Like Siri.
MIKE SPINELLI: Like, Siri, am I OK to drive?
F no.
MATT FARAH: Siri, I have a dead prostitute in my trunk.
The nearest garbage dump is 4.3 miles away.
MIKE SPINELLI: I will drive you there.
This got dark.
MIKE SPINELLI: The show just took a turn.
MATT FARAH: It happens.
MIKE SPINELLI: So it sounds like the legislation allowing
this, that I think California just passed and I think
Nevada's already there, has that--
MATT FARAH: There ain't nothing to hit in Nevada.
MIKE SPINELLI: Well, right.
They've got nothing to hit.
But is that because the insurance companies are
backing it?
Is that kind of a lobbyist sort of way in?
DAN NEIL: I don't know that automation necessarily has the
force of big money lobbying behind it.
But I think that policy makers, public and private
policy makers, recognize that it's a huge windfall.
And as I say, they would be right to privilege it in
various ways.
It is a very powerful technology.
And I think that often this conversation comes up about,
well, what will be lost if we let cars drive themselves?
Don't Americans--
aren't they particularly entitled automotively?
And I honestly tell you--
I don't see anyone objecting to this, even
hardcore car guys.
It's not a loss.
And beside, people are sick of driving anyway.
It's lousy out there.
MATT FARAH: And it's not like there won't be an option to
drive the thing yourself.
It's not like they're eliminating the steering
wheel, eliminating the pedals.
And it's not like Ferrari is going to make a
self-driving 458.
We're talking about, for all intents and purposes, luxury
cars and boring commuter cars.
MIKE SPINELLI: And interestingly, I thought that
we were all going to be against this.
It's going to eliminate the fun of driving
and all that stuff.
But I actually think--
and maybe it comes from living in a city--
that this is a great thing.
And then you make driving--
MATT FARAH: It's the fun driving.
MIKE SPINELLI: It's the fun driving.
You can save driving for just the times when it's fun.
It becomes like a power sport.
MATT FARAH: It's going to be like gasoline in 50 years.
You know what I mean?
Gasoline is going to be so expensive that it's going to
be for recreational use.
And not for getting around.
DAN NEIL: Like crack.
MIKE SPINELLI: Like crack.
DAN NEIL: May I just jump in here?
Matt said something very interesting.
MATT FARAH: For once.
MIKE SPINELLI: That was twice today.
DAN NEIL: Oh, so he's on a roll.
Totally roll.
The deal is this.
Matt says, it's not like they're going to
make you not drive.
And that, I question.
Because first of all, they're going to incentivize automated
driving in all sorts of ways.
So it's going to really be more and more expensive,
costly in time and money, to drive yourself.
Also because of this peculiar relationship between autopilot
and manually operated cars, it seems like there could be a
fair amount of friction.
And I think that there will be penalties attached to manually
operating your car, especially in dense urban environments.
I think that there would be strong incentives to get
manually operated cars off the road.
I mean, that's sort of the law of unintended
consequences for this.
I mean, if there are cost savings, and once the machine,
the sort of legislative machine starts getting behind
this, and the insurance machine--
MATT FARAH: I don't know about--
I think it's going to be tough to get people who like old
cars to give up their old cars.
And someone, somewhere, is going to say it's
unconstitutional to demand someone drive
this type of car.
Right now, as long as a car passes--
DAN NEIL: Driving is so clearly a privilege, though.
It's not a right.
Oh, well, OK.
All right.
MIKE SPINELLI: Well, technically,
though, you're right.
But not technically, sort of socially, I could see a total
automotive Tea Party--
MATT FARAH: A huge backlash.
MIKE SPINELLI: An automotive Tea Party movement, of people
driving Falcons, like, I'll give up this Ford Falcon from
my cold dead hands.
DAN NEIL: Are we talking Australian Falcons?
MIKE SPINELLI: I don't know why I picked
Falcons, of all cars.
DAN NEIL: No, it's a good one.
I like it.
It's free association.
It's cool.
If this happens, Dan might never be able to buy his dream
Facel Vega.
MIKE SPINELLI: That's right.
MATT FARAH: It's your Facel Vega--
DAN NEIL: Matt, did I tell you, at Pebble Beach I saw my
three dream cars, all within 45 minutes?
All sitting on the same field.
MATT FARAH: Sidetrack from automated cars.
MATT FARAH: Dan has the most interesting
list of dream cars.
Dan, share your dream car list.
DAN NEIL: Well, there's the DS 21, Citroen DS 21.
Facel Vega HK500.
And I'm thinking a '77, '78 Aston Martin V8.
Well, I'm with you on that.
I'm totally with you on that.
MATT FARAH: His three dream cars all drive terribly.
DAN NEIL: Impossible to drive.
They're lousy.
They're not even cars.
DAN NEIL: But I'm sorry, to return to point.
So would there be--
technology moving the way it does, I could possibly see an
add-on drive-it-yourself technology market, an
MATT FARAH: An aftermarket self-driving?
Oh, man.
MIKE SPINELLI: So you could have that '78 Vantage with--
MATT FARAH: Oh, my God.
MIKE SPINELLI: With, like, servos on the steering wheel.
MATT FARAH: All you had to say is British car with
aftermarket electronics.
I just got--
DAN NEIL: That's just what the Aston Martin needs.
That's exactly right.
So I think manually operated cars will be de-incentivized.

Look, 30% of high school, driving-age kids did not get a
driver's license last year.
That's up from 12% in 1983.
Forever and always, getting a driver's license as a teenager
is a ritual of growing up in America, being an American.
That is no longer operative.
The other thing is that people are getting out of the vintage
car hobby like they're under gunfire.
People are selling those things.
They're getting rid of them.
Because if you have a perfectly restored vintage
car, you can't drive it on a modern road unless you get a
restomod, which is a whole other set of issues.
And now you've raised the bar of enthusiasts to where you're
working on your own car, you're building your own
restomod so you can just go out and drive
it at Cars and Coffee.
I think that the romance is over for Americans and the
MATT FARAH: So that makes me sad.
I know how Dan thinks.
I know that Dan is a very progressive thinker when it
comes to this kind of thing.
DAN NEIL: I'm just looking at the statistics.
MIKE SPINELLI: Yeah, well, that's the thing.
MATT FARAH: I try to ignore.
MIKE SPINELLI: I mean, the current--
MATT FARAH: I just completely ignore.
DAN NEIL: It's easier that way, for sure.
MIKE SPINELLI: You know, it's hard to not look at the
statistics and say that something
is definitely happening.
It doesn't leave room for a possible social resurgence.
MATT FARAH: Well, I didn't have Skype when I was 16.
I had to leave my house to have sex.
I mean, that was really--
DAN NEIL: That is absolutely right.
And as far away from the house as possible, I'm sure.
MIKE SPINELLI: But the other thing is, though--
DAN NEIL: I can hear Matt's mom, by the way, saying, don't
bring that cooze back here.
Do not bring that cooze back to my house.
MATT FARAH: My mom was very cooze-friendly, actually.
But I had to go pick them up--
MIKE SPINELLI: Good for her.
MATT FARAH: --in my red Mustang.
DAN NEIL: Hit the public restroom, that sort of thing.
MIKE SPINELLI: So all right.
So what about it coming back as kind of--
let's say this happens.
The kids are more into the gadgets, and they sort of
adopt the idea of not driving in a way that--
DAN NEIL: They already have.
MIKE SPINELLI: They already have.
But what about the kids that are into vinyl?
You know?
I mean, what about the niche area of automotive enthusiasm?
DAN NEIL: I think there will be some accommodation.
But I think that it's going to be limited.
And also, gentlemen--
you, me, the three of us-- we are rapidly quickly becoming
model train enthusiasts, right?
MATT FARAH: I used to love trains.
MIKE SPINELLI: That's really scary and sad.
DAN NEIL: The automotive enthusiast community is
growing increasingly narrow, cliquish, eccentric, and
hermetic, right?
MIKE SPINELLI: What are you trying to say?
DAN NEIL: Get off my lawn.
And it's true.
I don't think most kids-- well, I say most.
That's reckless.
I think many kids probably cannot even relate to what we
regard as fun in automobiles.
Just I think the door's closed in many ways.
MIKE SPINELLI: So does that mean eventually we'll be
downstairs with our little hats and the rheostats--
MATT FARAH: With our helmets and our driving suits.
MIKE SPINELLI: Helmets and driving suits with the
DAN NEIL: You asked.
I'm telling you, man.
It's the truth.
We are eccentric and weird and isolated.
MATT FARAH: At the same time, I do like the idea of drive--
maybe-- what about this, Dan?
What if there were certain roads, call them metro Los
Angeles, where it was an automated driving zone.
And in this heavily congested zone, either your car
automatically did it, or you were required
to switch to autodrive.
Whereas up on Mulholland, up in the canyons, out in the
desert, out in the middle of nowhere, it was legally--
you could have the option of driving yourself.
Because these are clearly
enthusiast-oriented roads, versus--
DAN NEIL: Matt, you're on fire today.
That's the third very wise--
MATT FARAH: Actually smart thing?
MATT FARAH: I mean, if it's all GPS-based anyway, right?
Then it should be--
But let's just be clear.
What's the adoption timeline look like for
something like this?
We're not talking about next year or five
years, even, right?
Or are we?
DAN NEIL: Well, I think the technology is fairly
I think it's a regulatory issue.
And as I said, I think the consumer acceptance threshold
is quite low.
As I've said in a story recently, give people a button
that says Home, and they will push it.

But Matt is right.
In terms of the incremental rollout of this technology,
it's feasible--
I think probably advisable--
that there would be zones of automation.
And again, you would be credited or incentivized
somehow to turn over control in dense urban environments.
Oh, there is one other thing that I realized when I was
doing research into this.
In the '90s and the early 2000s, it was all about V2I.
It was about vehicle-to-infrastructure.
And the thought was that the cars would act cooperatively,
like corpuscles in a bloodstream.
MATT FARAH: You dropped corpuscles.
MIKE SPINELLI: That was an excellent analogy.
MATT FARAH: Yeah, wow.
MIKE SPINELLI: And a great word.
DAN NEIL: Oh, did you like that?
All right.
Let me call my editor and put that in.
But what I think is interesting--
and again, it's revealing on the technological side-- is
that manufacturers are no longer talking about
automobiles cooperating with the infrastructure.
They've all become very self-contained.
They have machine vision.
They have proximity sensing.
They have lane-keeping, automatic
braking, automatic steering.
Oh, yeah, electric steering and electric
brakes helped a lot.
So the vision of this technology has gone from being
sort of a cooperative, collectivist, if you will
pardon the word, communistic enterprise--
DAN NEIL: --to being one very sort of individually
determined, and yet cooperative.
It's very much more an emphasis on
the individual vehicle.
MIKE SPINELLI: Well, before we wrap it up--
we talked a little bit in the beginning about racing.
So will racing eventually fall to self-driving technology?
MATT FARAH: I would hate to see that.
Because that sort of defeats the purpose, doesn't it?
MIKE SPINELLI: So what did you guys just go see?
MATT FARAH: Oh, the self-driving BMW.
Well, the self-driving BMW is designed as a--
Oh, the BMW,
MATT FARAH: --training tool.
So it was at Laguna Seca.
And they have a pro driver record the perfect lap.
And you sit in the driver's seat.
And you can either have the car drive you--
and it runs the perfect lap at like 8/10 or 9/10, right?
Or you drive it, but it's got these little vibrators on the
back of the steering wheel.
So if you drift too far off the line one way or the other,
it buzzes you and lets you know to adjust either way.
MIKE SPINELLI: That's sort of cool.
DAN NEIL: It's haptic feedback.
MIKE SPINELLI: Dan, what were you gonna say?
DAN NEIL: That's haptic feedback.
Haptic feedback.
MATT FARAH: It was haptic feedback.
It was neat.
MIKE SPINELLI: It's kind of cool.
But shouldn't the display--
what do you call it?
MATT FARAH: The heads-up display?
MIKE SPINELLI: The head-up display.
Shouldn't the heads-up display--
MATT FARAH: Show you the line like in Gran Turismo?
MIKE SPINELLI: Show you the line like in Gran Turismo.
DAN NEIL: To be honest--
MATT FARAH: That'd work, too.
DAN NEIL: The Track Trainer is a relatively primitive piece
of machinery.
It has LED lights that sort of keep you in the corridor.
But obviously and certainly technically feasible to
superimpose the correct racing line, like a video
game, on the track.
And how much learned helplessness would be involved
in something like that is open to question.
You probably would get very reliant on the line, just like
you are in a video game.
Just like Tom, your insane roommate.
You know, he has the line and basically, he follows it.
MATT FARAH: Regardless of what the rest of
the traffic is doing.
DAN NEIL: Whatever the line is made of, he's following it.
MATT FARAH: Last bit, slightly creepy.
Because this started off as, is it the apocalypse?
MATT FARAH: Now, Google, which everyone is already kind of
scared of and has a habit for maybe abusing our personal
information a little bit.
MATT FARAH: Street View.
If we have all these Google-softwared vehicles
running around, are we going to have real-time Street View?
Are we going to be able to follow your car?
Are we gonna be able to track you?
Is this all sort of a creepy ploy?
DAN NEIL: My God, Matt.
Who are you?
I've never seen--
MATT FARAH: I stopped smoking pot.
All of a sudden, I can think.
MIKE SPINELLI: You're like George Costanza.
DAN NEIL: That's a fantastic point.
MIKE SPINELLI: You're like George Costanza when they had
the contest.
DAN NEIL: Yes, all of this.
I'm sorry.
DAN NEIL: All of this involves--
MIKE SPINELLI: This was less important than
what you were saying.
DAN NEIL: Matt, I think, has identified
something very important.
That's a loss of privacy.
That will be a big threat.
That will be a big talking point as people oppose this
Because in order for a car to go where it wants to go, you
also have to surrender quite a bit of your own personal
anonymity behind the wheel.
It's creepy.
MIKE SPINELLI: And it's creepy.
And on that creepy note--
Road Testament.
Thanks, Matt Farah, Dan Neil.
Always a pleasure.
MATT FARAH: Stay black, buddy.
DAN NEIL: Thanks, guys.
MIKE SPINELLI: Thanks for dropping by.
That's Road Taste-ament, we'll see--
Road Taste-ament, where we'll be tasting-- speaking of
Taste-ament, you're a very good cook.
I just wanted to mention that Matt Farah is a fine--
MATT FARAH: You don't get this fat by accident.
DAN NEIL: You're looking very svelte, Matt.
MATT FARAH: I'm going the right direction.
20 pounds down.
Thank you, not smoking pot.
MIKE SPINELLI: There you go.