The world goes gaga for cool concept prototypes

One sign of how interest is building is the large reaction to some recent concept prototypes for robocars, two of which were shown in physical form at the Geneva auto show.

The most attention came to the Swiss auto research company Ringspeed’s XchangE concept which they based on a Tesla. They including a steering wheel which could move from side to side (and more to the point, go to the middle, where it could be out of the way of the two front seats,) along with seats that could recline to sleeping positions or for watching a big-screen TV, and which could reverse for face-to-face seating.

Also attracting attention was the Link and Go, an electric shuttle. In this article it is shown on the floor with the face to face configuration.

This followed on buzz late last year over the announcement of Zoox and their Boz concept, which features a car that has no steering wheel, and is symmetrical front to back (so of course seating is face to face.) The Zoox model takes this down to the low level, with 4 independent wheel motors. I’ve met a few times with Zoox’s leader, Tim Kentley-Klay of Melbourne, and the graphics skills of he and his team, along with some dynamic vision, also generated great buzz.

All this buzz came even though none of these companies had anything to say about the self-driving technology itself, which remains 99% of the problem. And there have been a number of designers who have put out graphic concepts like these for many years, and many writers (your unhumble blogger included) who have written about them for years.

The Zoox design is fairly radical — a vehicle with no windshield and no steering wheel — it can never be manually driven and a full robocar. Depending on future technologies like cheap carbon fibre and cost-effective 3-D printing for medium volumes, it’s a more expensive vehicle that you could make, but there may be a certain logic to that. Tesla has shown us that there are many people who will happily pay a lot more to get a car that is unlike any other, and clearly the best. They will pay more than can be rationally justified.

Speaking of Tesla, a lot of the excitement around the Rinspeed concept was that it was based on a Tesla. That appears to have been a wise choice for Rinspeed as people got more excited about it than any other concept I’ve seen. The image of people reclining, watching a movie, brought home an image that has been said many times in print but not shown physically to the world in the same way.

It’s easy for me (and perhaps for many readers of this blog) to feel that these concepts are so obvious that everybody just gets them, but it’s clearly not true. This revolution is going to take many people by surprise.

No windshield and/or reverse facing seats

Having no windshield on a passenger car is a bad idea. A lot of people get carsick in small vehicles above slow speeds without being able to look out ahead in the direction of travel. The reverse facing seats have the same problem.

This is not as much of an issue at lower speeds and/or in larger vehicles (limos, caravans, busses, airplanes, trains), but people still get motion sickness in those. On trains the effects are minimized due to the necessary wide turning radii at higher speeds.

I can also imagine families with strained relationships or fighting kids where it's advantageous that the passengers are NOT sitting facing each other, and they have barriers between them like seat backs. (I remember many long family roadtrips when my sister and I were children and not getting along where it was better that we were in different seat rows.)

I personally hate facing opposite the direction of travel even on a train. I suspect many other people do, too.

Honestly I think if there was all that much desire for people to be able to more directly face the other passengers in a car that there'd already be reconfigurable front passenger seats that did this. These do exist in some vans, but it seems that the majority of the time those seats are locked in the forward facing direction. Plus I imagine they add to the cost of the vehicle, which would apply to robocars as well.

Rear facing

Indeed, there are people who are bothered by facing backwards, but these vehicles all have forward facing seats as well, so that would only be an issue (in these designs) if more than 2 of the people disliked facing backwards. That could happen of course, and the others (not the Zoox) have seats that can flip. (As do some trains.)

People tolerate having no forward or rear view on trains, planes and to some extent, buses, so I think many can handle the lack of windshield but I agree it’s too soon to lose it. The robocar allows the windshield to be an array of windows though, which is stronger and cheaper and easier to build and maintain — the big giant sheet of glass is expensive and structurally weaker.

I’ve been looking for studies on how many would be bothered by facing backwards. Many airlines now offer seats that face backwards. They are less popular (they get chosen last) but people don’t get that bothered by them as far as I know. Facing backwards is actually a little bit safer, especially in forward collisions.

In fact, one argument is the ideal single person car is a teardrop where you face backwards, with your feet in the pointy tail — safest in a forward impact and most energy efficient to boot.

I expect you can put down a privacy screen if the family is glaring at one another, or flip the seats if that’s an option.

Chrysler had a minivan where you could flip the 2nd row and get face to face. They discontinued it, so it does seem it never really resonated strongly with minivan customers.

But as I point out, the big thing about the excitement around these concepts is they are making people see, rather than think about cars that really are quite different from what you understand.

Exploring concepts

It remains to be seen whether a concept like the Zoox with two permanently rearward facing seats would be successful, but I suspect not. I similarly wouldn't expect the designs with flippable seats to have them used that way all that much, and/or worth be the extra cost, much like the lack of success of those kinds of seats in vans.

That reverse-facing teardrop single passenger vehicle sounds like an instant market failure. :) It wouldn't even have the benefit of facilitating face to face conversation with another passenger.

Just looking at human furniture throughout history, though, it's clear that directly facing someone you're interacting with isn't necessarily a topmost desire for that interaction. See: Couches, benches, bars, etc. We have necks and torsos that turn, so we can accommodate 180 degrees of interaction easily, and perhaps 270 degrees with a bit less comfort. There's also a huge amount of communication that's done when we're intentionally not facing each other. Some gender bias even exists: Men are more likely to not look directly at each other than women. Think of two boys talking to each other while facing in the same direction as they're sitting on a log, or walking along a path.

I'd be interested to see concept designs that tried different optimizations, like investigating any benefits of seating perpendicular to the direction of travel. This is very common in busses, intra-city rail vehicles, people movers, etc., so it's likely to be more easily accepted for smaller vehicles as well than reversed seating would be.

Not facing

We do like sitting at 90 degrees, but we don’t like conversations with people in the back seat of a car. Alas, sitting sideways is more disconcerting to people than sitting backwards in a car.

With robocars, my view is you order the car you want for the trip. I see the most common car as a 2 person face-to-face. If you are alone, pick your seat, probably the forward facing one. This is a narrow car, though.

If you want a 4 person car with all facing forward, or side facing benches, you can order it, though in some cases you will just take “first available” for short trips.

Skinny cars lane splitting vs short cars

I see the most common car as a 2 person face-to-face.

And I will politely disagree. :) This means either a skinny, long car (which introduces other issues), or people's legs will have to alternate or be side to side, or the people will be sitting in a more upright position as if they are at a dining table (which would not be comfortable on trips of more than just a short duration).

From a wider perspective a two seat vehicle of any kind with side-by-side seating is perfectly acceptable, if not more desirable, for both passengers. Switching to face-to-face seating gives no real benefits to passengers in a two seat vehicle, but it introduces detriments such as making it more difficult to physically interact with the other passenger like handing things back and forth, holding hands, or otherwise being intimate (ah, humans...). It's only when you go to front-and-back row seating arrangements that you introduce difficulties with passengers communicating between the rows.

There's a technical ideal of narrow vehicles allowing road capacity increases by allowing lane splitting a la motorcycles, but I don't think that this is a practical ideal for the passengers. It's also a significant regulatory hurdle to allow lane splitting by non-motorcycles. Plus long skinny vehicles only provide benefits when there are plenty of other long skinny vehicles around them so they can take advantage of their lane splitting ability. This becomes a chicken-and-egg problem.

Instead I think a better ideal is short two passenger vehicles with side-by-side seating like SmartCars. Two SmartCar-sized robocars in tandem would take up about the same roadspace as two lane splitting face-to-face seating vehicles. Some benefits of the SmartCar-sized vehicles then are that they still take up less space on the road when sharing it with other, larger vehicles; there are no new regulatory issues; and they can park perpendicular and more easily exit a parking space than two "double-parked" skinny vehicles sharing the space of a single larger vehicle. They'd have more direct passenger access from the curb than would the outside vehicle of a "double-parked" skinny vehicle pair, as well. On top of all that, this type of vehicle avoids all the redesign and retooling that would be needed for a more radical concept like skinny, long face-to-face seating vehicles. As we all know, the auto industry is highly averse to radical vehicle redesigns, and exciting auto show concepts always get watered down into much more conventional looking vehicles if or when they ever make it into production.

Styles of cars

Many car styles will exist, because finally it becomes practical to make cars for specific single purposes, where today nobody buys those because they want all-purpose cars.

Now most trips are single person, short distance. The vast majority of trips. So you will see vehicles aimed at that. And if you include 2 seats you have an even bigger fraction of trips. Many cars hardly ever see 3 or 4 people unless they are used by families.

It is true that for short trips at lower speeds, aerodynamics are less crucial, so you might see people sitting upright, like dinging room, train or aircraft seats. If you want to go on the highway, and wand aerodynamics, you will seat them lower down like coupe and sedan seats.

Face to face does not mean a very long car, however, not when you remove the constraints of modern cars — big engine up front, trunk in back. Instead you have smaller electric motors, and a battery pack which makes up the floor, keeping the weight low. I mean airlines put two sleeper business class seats face to face (with a TV wall between them) in just 10 feet by overlapping the footwells for sleeping.

Another design, also from aircraft, is found on British Airways biz class, where the two people are face-to-face and side-to-side in a space 40 inches by 72 inches. Each person has about 26” for their seat, IIRC and if they lie down flat they get a narrower space for their feet. Many designs are possible, and airlines have of course thought hard about how to pack business class seats, including sleeping. The BA design lets people have privacy or chat and hand things to one another. Because of the car’s ability to drive “on rails” they could be about 50 inches wide in a 12’ wide lane and share it.

These narrow vehicles would not “lane split” (drive down the lane markers) but just drive two to a lane. Which they can do easily, and if two ever encounter one another on their travels, they can easily pair up. They could even find one another via cell modem, one slowing down slightly to wait for the other, if it means getting a special price on road use or access to restricted lanes, which it should. (Motorcycles already get carpool lane access thanks to their efficiency.)

Side by side seating will also exist of course. Not as good for conversation or family play. Parking space is not really an issue for any of these vehicles as I outline elsewhere.

And no, it is trivial to exit a parking space of double parked robocars. Even if it’s a human driver in the inner space, they should be able to leave almost like the other vehicle isn’t there, as long as there is just one gap in the line of double parked vehicles, and no radio is even required!

Nobody makes cars like these because everybody wants all-purpose cars, so the vast majority of cars sold are 4-5 seats, with a trunk, highway capable, etc. If you can be much more efficient with trip specific designs it’s a win. Of course the larger highway car can still serve the solo urban customer, so you will have a few more of those than strictly needed.

I think some of the core designs will be:

  • 1-2 person, short urban trip (electric)
  • 1-2 person, long trip (hybrid or liquid fuel)
  • 3-6 person urban van
  • 4-8 person long distance vehicle
  • 8-16 person transit van/shuttle
  • Truck (though perhaps not, just use single vehicle plus no-passenger cargo vehicle)
  • Mountain/offroad vehicle (kept only in regions that need them)
  • Sporty vehicle for fun driving
  • Convertible/roof off vehicle

My point still stands

...that I disagree with your prediction of "the most common car as a 2 person face-to-face." :)

Regarding the other points: By "lane split" I meant lane sharing like motorcycles do. Mixup in terms.

I'm still skeptical of 2-passenger vehicles being able to lane share unless the passengers are seated in tandem. In a face-to-face configurations there are too many competing optimizations for freeway vs non-freeway driving, etc. You could wind up with long, low, narrow vehicles optimized for freeway driving then coming off the freeways and interacting on city streets with short, tall vehicles optimized for non-freeway use. If you're going to own one of these, which type do you buy? When you request a robotaxi is the right type going to be immediately available, or will you have to wait? Essentially they're overspecialized, and the larger market is less likely to accept this.

"Side by side seating will also exist of course. Not as good for conversation"

I disagree. Again, see: Couches, bars, two seats on one side of a dining table, existing side-by-side seats in airlines and trains, the two front or back seats in cars, etc.

As for parking, rearranging double parked vehicles is always going to be more cumbersome than having perpendicular-parked short vehicles that can just pull out directly. No gap is needed for the sliding-puzzle-like rearrangement that double parked vehicles would need to avoid having at least one vehicle pull out into traffic to let an inner vehicle out.

I don't expect the available car types to become quite as specialized as you do. I think there'll be more 2 passenger vehicles than there are now, but they're much more likely to be shorter vehicles with side by side seating that optimize road space front-to-back rather than by lane sharing, and they'll be more flexible than you expect about being used for both shorter and longer trips. Robotaxis for local trips could be a bit more city-optimized, but then if a robotaxi becomes significantly cheaper than a human driven taxi there will be more desire to use them for longer trips. This disincentivizes optimizations for local-only use like lower top speed, more upright seating, etc.

Types of vehicles

Highly specialized vehicles are unlikely to have too many private owners, though if my commute is an urban street one, I could see having an urban-only vehicle which I own, and hire a taxi for highway or multi-person trips.

I am not sure why tandem is much easier than F2F for lane sharing. If the cars are about 1.5m wide, they can lane share no matter how they are arranged inside, if they happen to encounter one another on the road.

Side to side is tolerable, but for a group of 3 or 4, F2F becomes much better. The main thing is that F2F and narrow is much more energy efficient.

In the plan I outline on my parking page, you can have as many double or triple parked vehicles as you like, as long as there is one gap in each row — normally there are many gaps for driveways or other uses, so that’s not a big issue. You don’t need a gap on the inner row, however.

As an inner car puts on their turn signal to leave, the car blocking them inches forward, causing the vehicle in front of it to also inch forward, and so on, to fill the gap in front (or behind.) No radio needed, though you could drop the latency a small amount with one. The car puts on their turn signal, watches the gap “move” to be right in front of them, all the way out through all the rows if need be, and drives out. Total gap needed around 1.5 car lengths, but again, if there is any clear driveway, or there is room to temporarily move out into an intersection (because the cross street also has parked cars) you can do this readily.

If you add radio to this (not V2V but via cell phone if desired) you can do fancier things, as well as even fancier things in closed parking lots, so you don’t need any gap at all. In those cases you just need two spare spots in the whole lot, in theory.

Two-person vehicles

"I am not sure why tandem is much easier than F2F for lane sharing."

Basic design. If a seated person in a vehicle is represented by \_, two people in tandem looks like this:

\_\_

while face-to-face looks like this:

\_ _/

It should be obvious that a tandem arrangement can be better optimized for total volume taken up inside, which leads to shorter cars, and thus higher road capacity.

"Side to side is tolerable, but for a group of 3 or 4, F2F becomes much better."

But the focus of the discussion is on two-person vehicles. Also, "tolerable" is way too strong of a word. For only two people, side by side seating actually has advantages that are not present in face to face seating. It could actually be argued (and I have been) that face to face seating has *more disadvantages* than side by side seating in a moving vehicle.

"F2F and narrow is much more energy efficient"

...at higher speeds, where passenger discomfort at facing opposite the direction of travel in a small vehicle increases, making that seating arrangement much less desirable, and thus less marketable by manufacturers.

You've not been able to refute my statement that "rearranging double parked vehicles is always going to be more cumbersome than having perpendicular-parked short vehicles that can just pull out directly." In fact, bringing up driveways only helps my position: It's easier to fit shorter cars into the small gaps that exist between some driveways. Also, having a whole bunch of vehicles shifting around to let one parked on the inside get out is wasteful of energy. Finally, if there are no existing gaps due to driveways/etc. then double-parked narrow vehicles need to either leave a gap in order to allow the sliding puzzle rearrangement, which wastes space, or one of them will need to pull out into traffic to open up a gap, which can negatively impact traffic flow. Both of these are sub-optimal, and perpendicular-parked short vehicles have neither of these problems. Not only that, but with perpendicular-parked short vehicles your car is always going to be in the same spot you left it, rather than shifted over by one or more spaces or rows. :)

Parking structure

To get to the parking issue. The problem is that on existing typical roads, the first vehicle you park perpendicular, you’ve blocked off around 20’ of road — or whatever the longest permissible length is. With parallel park (which is no harder for robots than perpendicular) you get to put in one row, taking about 6 to 8 feet, and then you can add a row. Now it’s true, the first vehicle in the 2nd row means you have now lost double the maximum permissible width, though that’s less than the maximum permissible length. (Robocars can park inches apart.)

You could do a system where cars first park parallel, but once that space is full, every car switches to perpendicular. However, there is a major downside with that, namely the human parked cars. In a parallel system, human parked cars can park on the curb. (Though they need room for a driver to get in unless they park backwards.) Robocars can take the 2nd and 3rd lanes of double parking.

The movement of a whole row is not really that wasteful with electric vehicles. And on average it would be half a row. We’re talking about driving 5 metres a few times an hour. 27 hours of dense parking before you’ve moved a mile. Of course, you only park super dense like that when you need to, normally you try to leave more gaps or not double park at all.

Yes, one can pull out into traffic, and that is not an issue, because you don’t have double parking during periods of thick traffic, or you could not be taking the lane away. If you have driveways, you need to leave some gaps. You don’t need to leave a gap for every driveway, but you need enough so that one can easily open a gap at any driveway that somebody is trying to enter or leave, and to even do 2 or 3 at once, which sometimes happens. So it’s a tradeoff of how much you want the parking space vs. the cost of the energy.

Now back to car design. F2F is a bit longer, but length does not affect drag that much, while it can modestly affect weight. Tandem in a narrow vehicle is highly annoying for conversation — most people would rather have side-to-side in that case, and do it only if the two don’t wish to talk. Conversing front to back seat is highly annoying in today’s cars, even with the passenger who can turn around to look at you.

The market will offer many designs, including one-seat, 2 seat F2F, 2 seat side-by-side, 4 seat F2F, all of which will be popular. I am less convinced that 2 seat tandem or 4 seat tandem will be particularly popular, but if they are, people will make them. On the other hand, for bus/carpool service, people will indeed want multi-seat tandem, riding with strangers.

Mixing it up

Heh, once you get to mixing in with human-parked vehicles you lose the sliding puzzle shifting ability of double parked narrow vehicles entirely. Considering that human-driven and -parked vehicles are going to be around for a long time (even if all new car sales became robocars today, how long would it take before people stop driving their existing cars?), it becomes kind of a moot point.

As for two-person tandem vehicles, I wouldn't expect them to be popular, just as I don't expect two-person face-to-face vehicles to be very popular, for the various reasons I've outlined. The whole point here is that I think you are overenthusiastic about both narrow vehicles and face-to-face seating arrangements. The aim of my engagement in this conversation is a hope that raising these considerations betters understanding of both technical issues and others' perspectives, to improve the larger advocacy of things like self-driving vehicles to the general public. :)

(Meanwhile I just took another look at the concept images at the top and noticed that there isn't actually enough room in the Ringspeed concept for everyone's legs to be comfortable if there actually are four people sitting face to face in the vehicle, plus having the front seatbelts attached to the rotating seats rather than the frame of the car poses extreme technical challenges in getting them to conform to safety standards.)

You don't lose it

No, you don’t lose good parking with human parked cars. The human parked cars park wherever they ordinarily would — along the curb, in spots in parking lots. It is only the robocars which are allowed to double park or otherwise box in other cars, human driven or robocars. If boxing in human cars, they probably should leave enough room for them to walk into their car, but once the human gets into their boxed-in car, they would just signal or start driving out almost as though the robocars were not there in the way, because they can have the ability to start moving out of the way, and they will plan their parking to allow this. That’s why they would leave a gap in a new row of double parked vehicles, so that they can more easily get out of the way quickly for the human driver who wants in.

Now it is true that once a row of robocars is double parked, it’s hard for a human driver to then find a parking space. Hard, but it might require some radio coordination, in that the cars could move out of the way to allow the human to drive in to a free spot. Admittedly it would seem rather odd at first. You drive up to a double row of cars and somehow you guess that a spot on the curb is available for you. So you come up to the end of the row and put on your right turn signal. The double parked robocars see that, and if there really is a spot available for you on the curb, within a few seconds the cars reposition so there’s a gap to let you get to the curb spot. (If the curb was full and not all non-robocars, which is the situation we’re talking about, one of the robocars pulls out as well, but after about 10 seconds of jockeying, there is a tunnel you can drive into to your spot at the curb. If there is not enough room for you to pull that off, then the cars don’t offer this to you and you move on.

That may be a bit complex and so perhaps never implemented just to please the human drivers. However, the idea that human drivers just park where they normally do, and other robocars double park on them but move on demand is easy to implement. While it would be super-polite for the robocars to dance to free up interior spots, there is not legal duty to do that, the way there is a duty to move out of the way if you double park. A financial incentive might exist, in that spots suitable for non-robocars will be more expensive than spots that can only be used by robocars. In fact, spots that can only be used by robocars might well be close to free.

As for face to face, I agree that the market will decide that. Certainly there are people who think it’s quite interesting. Most people will tell their taxi company “send me a car for 2 people, the lowest cost one that meets my standards of comfort for this trip” and the taxi companies will send whatever is available, and most people won’t care. Sometimes you will have 2 people and they will send a van because that’s what they have (no extra charge.) Some people will insist on particular configurations, and pay a little extra for those, and the market will adjust supply to match demand.

Now, I am saying that narrow vehicles will be cheaper. More efficient (if they get to any speed) and also more efficient in road space. I am imagining a world where people actually pay for the road space they use. That’s some time in the future. Today we reward motorcycles in a few ways — vastly greater access to parking, carpool lane access and lane-splitting ability. We do it because they are more fuel and space efficient. (Carpool lane is both because they are more fuel efficient and because they are single person vehicles, even though they can take passengers to a degree.)

If we had a city — and this would be a more congested, non-US city probably — that charged the real cost of a vehicle in road space as well as road damage and fuel, we would see a market pressure for narrow, smaller vehicles, as well as lighter vehicles.

99% of the problem

"the self-driving technology itself, which remains 99% of the problem." As engineers and problem solvers perhaps the daunting task of replacing our magnificent human minds with artificial ones superior to the task seems like the harder problem by far. But it is quite likely that our biases cause us to have this backwards. Imagine if we put 99% of the effort into marketing and PR. I'm not certain, but the dotcom bubble tells me that untold billions would be spent on whatever engineers and technical people would be required. I think everyone visiting this blog is pretty confident that this technology has a shot at working, but normal people are definitely not so sure if they even are aware of the fact that, by now, they should have an opinion.

Superior to our mnds

It’s important to note that robocars won’t be superior to our minds. They don’t see like people and don’t drive like people. They barely “think.” Which makes them less than people in many ways, but more than them in enough. They will be looking in all directions at once, never distracted, and in 3D, not trying to create a 3D world out of 2D eyes. They see with their own light, not reflected light, and with radar. They have perfect recall of the map and understanding of where they are. They will have perfect understanding of physics. All by working very differently than humans do, not superior.

Superior at not having cognitive biases against car AI too

I agree 100% with what you said. Just to clarify, I'll reiterate that I wrote, "replacing our magnificent human minds with artificial ones _superior to the task_". (The task of driving.) Clearly driving AI does not need to be human-like in any way. It doesn't even need to sport a decent game of chess. It just needs to drive the car. That does however present many tricky situations that will inevitably not all be foreseen (despite this excellent blog and other very smart people). Some people will die because of autonomous cars. Of course, people are definitely going to die whether they drive themselves or have an AI do it. Readers here probably think the AI will ultimately be a much safer option. The broader point that I was making was that I'm not sure if it's as obvious to the general public that this is true. Look how seat belts were resisted. People don't understand big complicated safety numbers very well. They just think about how their toaster can't make a properly toasted piece of bread, therefor they'd rather do the driving themselves, thank you very much. I actually believe that the most important way to get people to broadly accept and encourage the concept of autonomous cars is to promote the idea that you can watch TV (or send texts or any number of stupid things I actually see people doing on the freeways). Once this is generally realized, I think we could see the technical aspects become the major obstacle. The current obstacle to autonomous cars is a failure of imagination on the part of the general public (not the readers of this blog). For example, I remind my friends who say "but I like to drive" that I'd rather play GT5 in my car while it's in freeway traffic than control my actual car.

People give all answers

I have met, and seen in studies, people of every stripe, including those who say you can take the twisted steering wheel from their cold dead hands, and a larger number who are foolishly ready to trust the technology before it’s ready.

There will be no shortage of people lining up. The question is whether the courts will put too much liability on it. If they do, other courts in other countries will not, and that’s where it happens. It’s a big world.

People again

That's my point, that worrying about liability is a social issue. If everyone in a country were as optimistic about autonomous cars as I am, then there would be laws passed to obviate any legal problems with their implementation. Unless autonomous car proponents are quite wrong about the ultimate destiny of self-driving technology, lives will be saved and costs will be controlled. The only thing that seems to stand in the way is the portion of the population that is overly skeptical. Maybe you're right and the technology will find a home in a country with a more enlightened populace (or dictator). Fortunately, I think that this will be like electrification - dangerous and scary at first, sure, but once some country is reaping its benefits, all able countries will be scrambling for it.

Carpooling

I can see how robocars will make carpooling more attractive by removing the fear of the driver's skill.
I think however that implementing on demand carpooling is perfectly possible with existing technology.
I miagine the real barrier to carpooling is he loss of privacy. People feel awkward enough sharing an elevator. If buses went door to door with simlar journey times to cars and at considerably less cost, would people still travel by car for their privacy?

Not quite

There are ways to do on-demand carpooling with human drivers but that is a lot harder than doing it with vehicles that can pick up and drop people off, where doing a transition from vehicle to vehicle can be seamless and fast and synchronized, and people don’t have to be coming from the same location or going to the same location to make it work.

I have an article coming on robocar shared ride potential, and I think it offers some really nice abilities, like a 16 seat robotic van where the seats are more like airline business class seats, with comfort, screens, desks and privacy, instead of bus or car seats, and people even prefer it to a private car.

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