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Conan O'Brien's Google Car, Nissan in 2018 and more


I'm in the home stretch of a long international trip -- photos to follow -- but I speak tomorrow at Lincoln Center on how computers (and robocars) will change the worlds of finance. In the meantime, Google's announcement last month has driven a lot of news in the Robocar space worthy of reporting.

On the lighter side, this video from the Conan O'Brien show highlights the issues around people's deep fear of being injured by machines. While the video is having fun, this is a real issue that will dominate the news when the first accidents and injuries happen. I cover that in detail in my article about accidents but the debate will be a major one.

Nissan announced last year that it would sell cars in 2020. Now that Tesla has said 2016, Google has said civilians will be in their small car within a year and Volvo has said the same will happen in Sweden by 2017, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has said they might do it 2 years earlier.

As various locations rush to put in robocar laws, in Europe they are finally getting around to modifying the Vienna convention treaty, which required a human driver. However, the new modifications, driven by car companies, still call for a steering wheel that a driver can use to take over (as do some of the US state laws.) These preclude Google's new design, but perhaps with a bit of advance warning, this can be fixed. Otherwise, changing it again will be harder. Perhaps the car companies -- none of whom have talked about anything like Google's car with no controls -- will be happy with that.

The urban test course at the University of Michigan, announced not very long ago, is almost set to open -- things are moving fast, as they will need to if Michigan is to stay in the race. Google's new prototype, by the way, is built in Michigan. Google has not said who but common speculation names not a major car company, but one of their big suppliers.

The Ernst & Young auto research lab (in Detroit) issued a very Detroit style forecast for autonomous vehicles which said their widespread use was 2 decades away. Not too surprising for such a group. Consultants are notoriously terrible at predictions for exponential technology. Their bad smartphone predictions are legendary (and now erased, of course.) A different study predicts an $87 billion market -- but the real number is much larger than that.

This article where top car designers critique Google's car illustrates my point from last week how people with car company experience are inclined to just not get it. But at the same time some of the automotive press do get it.


The Google clown car is cute, but it's still a box. How likely do you think it is that the VLC will ever see production? Do you know what the response was like to Oliver Kuttner's talk at Google? Since you posted about it, I've been trying to follow news on their progress, but there's been very little of that. Worrisome.

Not too much news from Edison2 but interesting news from Local Motors on their light, low part count 3D printed prototypes.

Local Motors

Dear Brad,

I was wondering if you could provide some advice.

If someone much younger has a lot of original ideas and good content on the subject of technology, how do they go about the long-term plan of becoming a featured conference speaker and lecturer?

I assume for all the various keynotes and talks you give, that they cover your travel expenses, and sometimes even pay you a speaking fee.

What was the 'inflection point' for you?

Would you be willing to write an article, to that effect, on how to start appearing at conferences and becoming a speaker (assuming a person's content has merit)? Some key pointers, etc.

Though I am not sure there is a magic formula. You need to be a good speaker able to inform as well as entertain. You need to be authoritative -- why are they listening to you? And you have to go out and speak for free for a while so people see you and want to invite you to events with a budget. It is not something that happens overnight.

Google's car looks awful as a car because it's not a car. It's a taxi. It's not intended for a society where personal vehicle ownership is the norm, which means that aesthetics are not a significant factor. Does anyone anywhere choose one taxi over another based on how they look?

What's going to happen is that cars, like physical-print books, will become luxury items. There will be hobbyists who have an old kit car, or something that they use for racing or autocrossing on the weekend; but for actual place-to-place transport we'll all just ride in self-driving boxes.

Status still counts, even using a taxi, but I agree in that it is far far less a factor in choosing a taxi compared to buying a car. My first impression of the ugly look was that Google had made a mistake that made the concept look laughable. But from what Brad has said it sounds like the silly look is to make it look a harmless both to the public and the car industry (IMHO they have overdone it.) My guess is that it is a transition style and vehicles using this technology in the future will be made to look more hi-tech, without loosing the pedestrian safety of the shape. I fully agree with your outlook for cars being replaced by taxis. The 2nd car of a two car household will be the first to die.

I totally agree with you. An even better model for something that was once ubiquitous and utilitarian that now is the domain of the idle rich and extremely dedicated enthusiasts are, of course, horses.

The very interesting linked article with the car designer's reactions sum up the misconceptions brilliantly with a massive dose of irony from the former chief of design for McLaren, Lotus, MG etc who says, "The concept of just sitting there and doing something else rather than driving suggests a passive approach to life, which I find rather sad." I could not have dreamed of a more idiotic, ridiculous thing to say. For people whose life and hobby is driving, not driving is seen as an empty life. Obviously for the 99% of the other people stuck in traffic (texting I'm noticing) the opposite is true.

And these are the guys mapping out our transportation future.

Xed, it sounds like the first shots fired in a skirmish as the car industry gradually turns into the new tobacco industry. Corporations will often react strongly and unethically against trespassers threatening their turf. But if the economics of the technology do become overwhelmingly competitive against existing technology then I hope they learn the lesson given by Kodak. My guess is that when they realise driver-less taxis means building less cars, they will fight it while publicly appearing to also offer some support for it.

It's very frustrating. I'm sure that these guys aren't idiots or bad people and it's just that their perspective is so biased from their successful car industry careers. But since I saw the first DARPA demos and understood that It Was Happening I've been amazed at the cold reception to such an incontrovertible improvement to quality of life. I've been struggling to think of what I personally can do to help promote this technology. I've been working on projects which I think might help, but I'm just one guy. Maybe as a respected visionary in this field you could help formulate some things the rest of us could be doing to overcome the obstacles that still face autonomous cars. These things could be political, social, technical, or whatever you think. Reading the retrogressive comments on the recent excellent Big Think YouTube video of you talking about the technology makes me really worried. How can we best change opinions? Thanks again for your work and advocacy.

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