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July 22, 2008

Electric powered, exclusive robotic car urban transportation zones

Invented by Alvin Wang (nextbigfuture co-author)

This is a plan to enable the safe early deployment of robotic cars, trucks and buses. The robotic car only zones can start off smaller with 10-100 cars covering 10X10 blocks or so and then expanding as the system is proven. Public transportation would be cheaper and better and enable the start of complete shift to completely robotic driven cars which would be safer than current human driven cars and a reorganization of transportation to be cleaner, cheaper and safer without sacrificing time or convenience. 45,000 people per year in the United States die from traffic accidents and 1.2 million people in the world die from traffic accidents. The effective global implementation of a revamped robotic car system would save all those lives and would not need to cost time or convenience. Time can be saved and the system can be more convenient than the current system of human driven cars.

UPDATE: Brad Templeton had written an excellent series of articles on robocars for public transportation.

Computer driven cars are being developed and tested in the Darpa grand challenge but they are expected to take 20-25 years to be ready for deployment to existing roads with other human piloted cars.


Boss, a robotized 2007 Chevy Tahoe, was the fastest of the 2007 Urban challenge competitors by a large margin. Boss averaged about 14 miles an hour over approximately 55 miles, finishing the course about 20 minutes ahead of the second-place finisher, Stanford. It followed California driving laws as it navigated the course and that it operated in a safe and stable manner. So in 2-3 years it should be possible to increase the speed of safe operation up to 30-40 mph, which would be facilitated by adjusting the city streets with electronic markers to make the city course easier for the robot cars.

The Carnegie Mellon team is at this site.

Tartan Racing technology enables Boss to:

Follow rules of the road
Detect and track other vehicles at long ranges
Find a spot and park in a parking lot
Obey intersection precedence rules
Follow vehicles at a safe distance
React to dynamic conditions like blocked roads or broken-down vehicles

High-level route planning determines the best path through a road network. Motion planning requires consideration of the static and dynamic obstacles detected by perception, as well as lane and road boundary information, parking lot boundaries, stop lines, speed limits, and similar requirements.


This new plan is to have only other robotic cars as dynamic obstacles which are registered with the high level routing system (with a known routing path) and to place electronic markers and other navigational aids and local traffic routers to assist safe driving at faster speeds.

Electric cars are expected to not be significant in transportation for ten years or more.

City districts and then whole cities can create an environment that would allow for rapid low infrastructure modification deployment of all robotic electric car driving zones.

There are sections of some cities where cars are banned. These are usually closed streets with open air shopping and people walking. Larger zones can have human driven cars banned. In the robotic taxi/public transit zone, on every corner an electronics filled box or post can be placed that would provide assistance to mass produced Darpa Grand challenge type robotic cars. There would be no human drivers for the robotic cars to deal with. There would be controlled intersections and all troublesome unpredictabilities removed within the no human car zone.

Unlike dual mode transportation which would require guiderails to be built, this plan would only require enough computers and sensors to assist the safe operation of the robotic cars. It could be possible for some designated streets to have bicyclists and if the robotic cars and traffic control is up to it there could be shared roads with separate lanes for bicyclists and lanes for robotic cars.

All the robotic cars could be electrically powered because they would only operate within a section of city or eventually a whole city. When no one is in the vehicle the car would go to maintenance and recharging areas as needed.

Because there would be no human piloted cars, city parking within the zone would be freed up either to park the robotic cars or for increased densification of the city.

Robotic cars could have variety as needed. Some could be trucks for moving cargo. Some could have flat beds which could even transport cars across the no car zone.

If required initially some of the cars could not be electric, but ideally they would be electric.

The robotic car network and zone would integrate with rail transit that came to the city/zone. For example, San Francisco would have robotic cars waiting at the BART and Caltrain stops. There would be mostly pickup to doorstep and doorstep to parking lot or public transit transportation with minimal or zero waiting.

Parking for passengers vehicles that arrive at the city/zone would stop at the edge of the robotic vehicle only zone or go to park and rides and arrive via public transportation.

Robotic car waiting and pre-booking

Cities would be free to determine service level, but pre-booking and capacity planning would allow there to be virtually no wait times for robotic cars.

The dynamic car pre-booking and live booking systems could show robitic car availability similar to booking seats on airplanes.

Given the known rush hour flows each car should be able to make several trips each rush hour. Dynamic pricing would allow those who were willing to ride share or have some rides on buses to be charged less.

Cellphones could be used call for a robotic car.

The Current Darpa Robotic vehicle technology is good enough
Robotic vehicles have navigated a closed course urban setting and a closed course offroad setting. The controlled environment of the zone would match the capabilities of existing robotic vehicles.

Robotic vehicles could provide accident free transportation in the zone/city.

They would help operational costs stay lower so that more vehicles could be operated without needing vehicles large enough to justify buses and bus drivers.

If ten trips per person ratios were sufficient then for 1,000,000 people there would be 100,000 vehicles. Most of the vehicles might only need a top speed of 35-40mph and could be produced for $2500-10,000 each for the vehicle. Assuming a $10,000 average ($5000 for the car and $5000 for mass produced control electronics) then the vehicle portion of the system would be $1 billion. Add another $300 million for the on the street guidance assistance markers and systems and the booking and reservation system. The parking would be the re-assignment of existing city resources.

Bay Area transit agencies, including BART and AC Transit received $922 million directly from the state under that Proposition 1B bond measure rounding out a total of nearly $1.3 billion for area transit.

Add 30% each year for maintaining the vehicles and the system.

The best places to introduce the system would be cities with fairly large downtown cores (Manhattan, Chicago, San Francisco etc...) and in the entire new cities that China is building as they increase urban population by 1-2% each year.

The system is using technology that is ready now in terms already demonstrated in small or large numbers. Increasing the speed means more research and waiting. Plus one hundred times current speeds of 40 mph is 4000 mph which is hypersonic.

Even using the Darpa systems involves scaling up of production and getting unit costs down.

Safety is addressed because everything in the robotic zone is tailored for simplicity. No non-computer controlled vehicles on roads with robots. There need be no large vehicles either. The option of mixing vehicles of any kind is not needed if safety is compromised in any way.

Everything is modularized and able to be separately upgrade. Vehicle power can be upgraded. Vehicles can be upgraded one at a time. control systems and software can be upgraded. Different zones can be separately upgraded. When better tech is ready then it can be adopted just maintain overall system compatibility.

Driverless zones can cover the whole cities and eventually highways as well. The buildings are not moving and when new ones are added the digital maps are changed. The Darpa challenge vehicles have driven urban courses safely. GPS routing can lay out a course from point A to B anywhere in the city. Then it is just a matter of making sure that the robotic cars can be made aware of each other and ensure that there interactions are simplified so that no unpredictability is created.

You would have master routing and overall automated traffic control.

Computerized car people movers that book in their "flight plan" live. With localized (intersection by intersection) safe and fast resolution of local routing conflicts.


16 comments:

randal.leavitt said...

I like this idea. It needs a lot of refinement, but I think you are touching on the essential change that we need for local and personal transportation. The big problem is safety. The improvement needed to increase safety is the removal of the human being as the direct controller of the vehicle. Human reaction times and attention spans are not sufficient for intense, fast traffic.

To make this feasible we have to use different levels. The walking humans should be on the top level, in the sun, and the riding humans should be one level down, where they can travel fast. We need a hundred to one speed increase to make people interested in this approach as opposed to our fun but slow present day cars.

I would not even refer to them as cars. I think of them as transport robots. You go down from the top level, call one up, and tell it where you want to go. It gets you across the city in one minute instead of sixty. Very useful as an ambulance, for example.

Anyway, this is getting at my idea of what an electric car is. An electric car is not a mechanical device powered by a heavy battery and steered by a slow witted animal. An electric car, in my opinion, will not have wheels.

bw said...

The system is using technology that is ready now in terms already demonstrated in small or large numbers. Increasing the speed means more research and waiting. Plus one hundred times current speeds of 40 mph is 4000 mph which is hypersonic.

Even using the Darpa systems involves scaling up of production and getting unit costs down.

Safety is addressed because everything in the robotic zone is tailored for simplicity. No non-computer controlled vehicles on roads with robots. There need be no large vehicles either. The option of mixing vehicles of any kind is not needed if safety is compromised in any way.

Everything is modularized and able to be separately upgrade. Vehicle power can be upgraded. Vehicles can be upgraded one at a time. control systems and software can be upgraded. Different zones can be separately upgraded. When better tech is ready then it can be adopted just maintain overall system compatibility.

theanphibian said...

Why would you use gas powered cars even as a transition? Obviously, these cars are smart enough to plug themselves in - an even easier task than fueling with gasoline.

The largest dimension of most downtowns doesn't go much more than a few miles, and the problem with electric cars is, naturally, the batteries. Something like a 10 mile range electric car would be perfect for the application, and would simply blow the economics of a traditional engine out of the water.

The cost of the computers could take a bite into the attractiveness of this solution. Also, prohibiting other cars on the road is a significant political challenge.

If these challenges can be overcome, then this wouldn't just compete, but outright beat the economics of
- Buses
- Subways
- Personal cars
Yeah, it pretty much wins.

bw said...

Clearly the preference is for all electric vehicles.

Gas vehicles would only be if the electric vehicles absolutely could not be scaled up in production.

20,000 to 100,000 vehicles per city seems very doable, so there should not be a need for gas vehicles.

There are also time savings for the user who would not have to find parking in a city. The smart system could identify and guide the inbound driver to a parking space beside a waiting robot car.

bw said...

In terms of prohibiting cars and the political challenge of it, I will have to find out when I pitch mayors around the Bay Area. San Francisco, Berkeley, Palo Alto, Oakland, San Jose.

randal.leavitt said...

Analysts assume that cars are used for transportation. This is wrong. The primary use of a car is entertainment and information gathering. It is not primarily a transportation device. People like to move around their neighbourhood and see who is doing what, what is being built, how the trees are doing etc. Being able to watch your community out the window is the main attractive feature of a car. People like this so much they will sacrifice the transportation features of a car gladly. For example, speeds have not increased in one hundred years for cars. A transportation planner who proposes better transportation technology that will degrade this entertainment characteristic will fail. Perhaps a network of cameras and an internet connection that simulates driving around would do the trick, but nothing will change in cars until this entertainment requirement is understood and more than met.

Karl Schroeder said...

Hmm... This gives me an idea. I've been thinking about people-movers and driverless electric cars for a while now but hadn't come up with a way to work it that made sense. So what if you did this:

Have these dedicated, simplified zones, sure; but they obviously can't cover the whole city. But what if you combined the idea of dedicated lanes (used for buses in a lot of cities) with these zones. You join the zones using the lanes, or even using the kind of elevated roadway envisioned for people-movers. So you have hybrid of free-ranging cars and point-to-point people-movers.

Anyone want to shoot this idea down? Otherwise, I may have to use it in the novel I'm planning.

bw said...

Why couldn't the driverless zones cover the whole city ? The buildings are not moving and when new ones are added the digital maps are changed. The Darpa challenge vehicles have driven urban courses safely. GPS routing can lay out a course from point A to B anywhere in the city. Then it is just a matter of making sure that the robotic cars can be made aware of each other and ensure that there interactions are simplified so that no unpredictability is created.

You would have master routing and overall automated traffic control.

Computerized car people movers that book in their "flight plan" live. With localized (intersection by intersection) safe and fast resolution of local routing conflicts.

igoldwater said...

Am I missing something or is it you? What about the most important people - the people! Banning human driven cars in the zone would not remove all 'human dynamic obstacles'. The most important 'human dynamic obstacles' surely are pedestrians crossing the roads. What happens when one of your robotic cars knocks down a little old lady?? Were any of them crossing the roads during the DARPA grand challenge? Or do you think all us pedestrians should wear tags or file 'flight plans'? ;-)

Tom Craver said...

I don't think we really need robo cars - buses could work ok, if people didn't have to walk so far to bus stops, and if the buses didn't have to slow down to stop so often to let people on or off.

We just need:
- a program to encourage people to get Segways (loans, training fairs, licensing, legal on side streets, etc).
- buses that will let people roll right on, park and sit down.
- bad-weather riding cloaks, for places with lots of rain, snow and sleet. :-)

Bus stops could be 4 miles apart - with reasonable routing, no more than 3 miles for any segway ride.

With fewer routes, more buses can cover each route - less waiting.

With fewer stops, buses attain higher average speeds - getting you places faster.

Robo-Segways are an obvious thought - either having a transit Segway come pick you up, or having your own that will go home or come get you.

But the main advantage of that is a modest reduction in total Segways, and avoiding modification of the buses. Leave that as a future optimization.

bw said...

The Segways are currently about $4000 per person, because every person would have to have a Segway (owned or rented when they arrive at the zone).

Robo-segways that drop people on and off wwould allow for more Segways to be available per person to lower costs.

===People in the system
Either +15 (second story) foot bridges or underground connections or highly controlled intersections where people are required to cross. People could also be required to carry radio-electronic tags so that the robo-cars have an easier time knowing where they are.

Walking people were not addressed because the solutions are relatively simple and low cost.

jim said...

Tom,
You are almost completely correct, the key is to have a nested transportation system with the first shell around the individual, but the segway is a little to slow at 12 mph it could take up to 15 minutes to get to a bus stop, I think you need something that will go at least 25 mph (time to the bus stop ~7.5 minutes). I like way a segway is controlled but I don't like the current design. If they would make the wheels much bigger and added a chair you would get an electric two wheeled "wheel chair" that goes ~25 mph. The really great things about going with a low mass / low speed solution.
..... no serious injuries in an accident
..... batteries good enough today
..... its cheeper than the current system

And if you made it robotic ( or tele operated) you would never have to worry about parking your vehicle or finding it in a parking lot or getting it repaired or cleaned or paying insurance or worry about traffic violations or even traffic.


jim moore

bw said...

The other way is to have bus stops every 2 miles and keep Segways/electric trikes at the same speed.

Electric trikes would not have balance issues and can be cheaper at $200-500 each already. (Maybe $100-150 in volume.) Foldable or collapsible.

Either make the personal units cheap enough for one per person or enable easier sharing with not necessarily full robotic driving but a return to a scattered docking stations (like the roombra vacuum robots). Can go on standard driving pattern and following homing beacons.

Use part of some roads for unpiloted drive to docking stations. Like bicycle lanes.

Would only need to send to docking if one area was swamped with too many Segway/trikes for projected usage needs based on traffic patterns. Too many people have come to work or a long meeting and need to accomodate others.

Tom Craver said...

$4000 is nothing.

Here in Phoenix, 'we' are building light rail at about $80000 per (hoped for) passenger, before operating and maintenance. More efficient cities might get that down to $30000 per passenger.

I'd expect a "robo-Segway" or other transport would cost at least 2x the non-robotic, so getting even two customers a day to share them wouldn't save anything.

But as you point out, both are a lot more expensive than electric bikes, and the bikes can probably move faster too. I was just thinking that it'd be hard to get them on and off a bus quickly in any significant numbers.

But maybe I'm still over-optimizing the wrong thing. It's passenger convenience and satisfaction we want to maximize, so they'll use trannsit services.

Why not provide an average of 2 electric bikes per passenger? Maybe $1000 instead of $500 for one - ~$25 a month instead of $13.

Then everyone could ride one home at night, keep it, ride it back to the bus stop in the morning, take the bus, get on another to go to work, keep it, and ride it back to the bus in the evening. If anyone else was able to make use of the ones they leave at bus stops during the night and day, so much the better.

bw said...

Tom , you are right with lower cost items there is no need for more sharing with robotics other than the possibility of greater or near perfect safety (which is a significant advantage) and the perfectibility and upgradability advantages for the future.

In terms of the best and cheapest now then working out the details of electric bicycle zones which are optimized for safety and convenience would be the cheapest.

So in terms of maximizing customer convenience at the lowest cost with technology that would work now, then the provision by cities or through state/federal support of electric bikes integrated with buses is the best way.

Folding bikes (non-electric) are $120-140 at Walmart.
there are good folding bikes which can be rolled (pulled) well and where the passenger on a bus would take up only 20-50% extra space.
Weight is now about 20lbs but could be brought down with application of better materials which might not be that much more expensive with higher volume.

A bit of extra research effort would really make perfected electric bike systems.

Having good bikes at all points would be an updated version of Amsterdam.

Trikes and recumbant versions would enable even the elderly and those with mobility issues to ride them. (there are already the electric scooters for the mobility challenged).

They can have weather canopies. Pod covers would allow for streamlining.

Scooter comparison
http://www.neoscooters.com/compare_electric_scooters.asp

62 mph scooter
http://www.treehugger.com/files/2005/03/vectrix_electri_1.php

36 volt system can go 30+ mph e-bike
http://www.e-ms.us/moprin.html

48 volt systems up to 40-45 mph
http://www.metaefficient.com/electric-bikes/the-best-electric-scooters-of-2008-a-review.html

There are also four wheel bikes and electric bikes with two seats like the Rhoades bike with two passenger seats like a stripped down car.

Tom Craver said...

A correction - I said $80000 per passenger for Phoenix' light rail, but the 50000 passenger figure is 50000 *boardings* - roughly 25000 people taking round trips each day. So more like $160,000 per person.

They could have bought 40,000 Tesla electric sports cars and loaned them to people willing to carpool, getting 80000 riders as soon as the cars could be built, AND greatly stimulated the market for electric cars.

Anyhow - the simplest initial response to weather problems with "bike+bus" is to ignore them. Get the electric bikes out there being used, and don't worry if 10% of the time the weather is bad enough that riders have to get a ride to the bus stop or even drive to work.

Only as it starts to become a major factor in transit might we need to bother considering solutions. E.g. on bad weather days, the bus line could hire local taxi drivers to provide dial-a-ride service during rush hour. That could evolve naturally out of a dial-a-ride service for elderly/disabled riders.

I think four mile spacing should be fine - eBikes can get 20mph, and the average bike ride would be about 2 miles (6 minutes), worst case 4 miles (12 minutes).