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Driverless Cars Could Make Transportation Free for Everyone -- With a Catch (theatlantic.com) 177

Want a gratis ride? You'll just have to stop at some stores along the way. The Atlantic explores a possible future with autonomous cars: In a world full of autonomous autos, transportation will become free. Not just hands-free, or driver-free, or go-wherever-you-want free. But free as in beer: complimentary, gratis. Summon a car and travel for nothing -- that is, so long as you are willing to make a stop or two en route at sponsoring locations. Picture a not-too-distant future where a trip across town is available to anyone who will spend 15 minutes in McDonald's on the way. Not a fast-food fan? Then for you it's Starbucks, a bookstore, the game parlor. Rides with a child stop at the Disney store, while teenage girls are routed via next decade's version of Zara and H&M. Unlike today's UberPool, with its roundabout routes and multiple passenger pickups, "UberFree" features tailor-made routes and thoughtfully targeted stops. Realtors could pay to have the cars drive slowly past featured properties for sale, past the nice new elementary school in the slightly more affluent neighborhood.
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Driverless Cars Could Make Transportation Free for Everyone -- With a Catch

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  • by redmid17 ( 1217076 ) on Friday December 22, 2017 @04:03PM (#55791509)
    I'd rather pay to ride public transit or drive my own car instead of living in that dystopian hell. If you think that's a realistic view of the future, I weep for your parents -- they clearly failed you -- and humanity in general.
    • by farble1670 ( 803356 ) on Friday December 22, 2017 @04:08PM (#55791555)

      If you think that's a realistic view of the future, I weep for your parents

      Thinking it's realistic and thinking it's awesome are different. I can think it's realistic and still think it's awful.

      Anyway, people have shown time and again that they are willing to trade privacy, subjection to advertising for a free product or service. Seems pretty realistic to me.

      • I do see it as a probable future (good luck sustaining a business off those of us who will pay to avoid ads). I can see lots of people on Slashdot saying, as they explain away their use, "I just get more work done while the Uber-free is driving all over and am a unique individual who never pays attention to ads anyway."

        • "I just get more work done while the Uber-free is driving all over and am a unique individual who never pays attention to ads anyway."

          Which is a neat trick when the car ejects you from the seat and forces you to either go inside the damn store or cool your heels in the parking lot for 15 minutes.

          Still, the business case is completely absent. The folks you want to drag into a store can afford to not need an enforced-shopping-trip-subsidized ride. And the impoverished needing to get from Point A to Point B

          • The folks you want to drag into a store can afford to not need an enforced-shopping-trip-subsidized ride

            I'd have said the same thing about e-mail, but even pretty rich people (and small-to-mid sized companies, even with lots of cash) use ad supported email. In the new world, driverless cars get more and more expensive as they need to meet standard 103.1.4 (not backwards compatible) for road use, and they are only available in 10k car lots. I suppose you may be able to buy one, but it'll be prohibitive eve

            • Sure, get millions of people using a very inexpensive service, then ads can help pay for it (but don't forget all the free email services that collapsed). The support costs for a million people using email is vastly less than the cost of a million people riding in driverless cars. A penny per email will make money, whereas a penny per ride will bankrupt the idiots who try this dumb idea.

              • A penny per email will make money, whereas a penny per ride will bankrupt the idiots who try this dumb idea.

                You do realize that today, taxis have static and even display-based advertising, right? That's right, they pay to install an LCD panel and whatever small computer and connectivity is required to drive the ads.

                Advertising is priced on sales conversion.

                See an ad for McD's on a web page: low conversion rate.
                Forced to stare at a screen for 20 minutes in the backseat of a taxi: higher conversion rate.
                Forced to wait at McD's for 20 minutes: high conversion rate.

                The only idiots are the people that are blind to the

                • Yes, I realize so much money is spent, and I think it's foolish. It's wishful thinking. That piece of plastic with a McDonald's ad is not paying for the entire ride, otherwise we'd be riding for free or at a significant discount. For a $20 taxi ride, how man burgers would you have to buy at McDonald's to bring in an extra $20? That's a lot. And for the taxi driver, they're really getting paid a 3 or 4 digit sum to keep that ad in their taxi for several months. That's a very tiny advertising cost. Payi

                  • That piece of plastic with a McDonald's ad is not paying for the entire ride, otherwise we'd be riding for free or at a significant discount.

                    No one is suggesting that. They are suggesting that a shared ride system that drops off 10 people at McDonalds would pay for the shared ride.

                    I think it's foolish.

                    You can think that all you want but it doesn't change the fact that advertising is extremely lucrative. Advertising has a proven payoff.

      • Anyway, people have shown time and again that they are willing to trade privacy, subjection to advertising for a free product or service. Seems pretty realistic to me.

        But they're very resistant to inconvenience in transportation, which this would be. "I don't want to take the fucking bus! It'll take like 15 minutes longer!!! I'd rather belch out my carbon dioxide, spend 20 minutes finding parking, and potentially get in a fatal accident than put up with public transit!"

        I would be surprised if UberFree doesn't end in literal bloodshed.

        • If your bus system takes only 15 minutes longer to any given destination, you're incredibly fortunate.

      • Except that advertising does not earn that moch money per person. If advertising was so lucrative that watch ads in a taxi ride could cover the entire cost of the ride, then there would be no such thing as pay TV since they'd be paying us to watch.

        • Except that advertising does not earn that moch money per person.

          You think there's a difference between seeing an ad for McDonalds on a web page, and being forced to wait for 20 minutes at a McDonalds? Would one of those tend to produce more sales?

          • Waiting an extra 20 minutes at a McDonald's when you were trying to get to the grocery store is going to make the passenger HATE McDonald's, and hate the driverless car experience.

      • Driverless cars are possible, but not on streets where there are teenagers who are always in a hurry. Its sad, but it's true. And in the snow belts, I would really be impressed if a car could manage drifts, salt spray clogging up the cameras or detectors that guide the vehicle.
        Perhaps the safest way to have driverless cars is to have an overhead system that monitors each vehicle in its range, and can control the vehicle, instead of that software residing within the vehicle. Far less complicated, and safer

    • Also the bus gets cleaned at least once a day, if your AIUber arrives with only puke in it you're lucky.

      I love Utopian shit, what a future we could have if filthy humans weren't filthy humans.

    • Agreed, I'd rather drive myself then wait an extra 15 minutes somewhere random.

      • by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Friday December 22, 2017 @05:19PM (#55792123) Journal

        The whole idea is stupid. I could hack around that in about 30 seconds of trying.

        You want to go to BigBoxCo

        Option 1: "Take me to BigBoxCo", but it makes one stop at McDonalds and waits 15 minutes there.

        Option 2 : "Take me to McDonalds". And when you get there, "Take me to BigBoxCo" (no wait)

        Option 3: "Take me to BigBoxCo", stops at McDonalds, you and your friend get out and get into the next car "Take me to BigBoxCo", meanwhile useless car is useless for 15 minutes, waiting for you to come back.

        The real way to do it is to put a big screen TV in it, and play ads for the duration of the trip. You could even do games (for a fee) while en route. Play against the car next to you.

        • And how do any of those hacks get you directly to BigBoxCo without paying?

          Option 1 is the service itself and not a hack. Option 2 would take you to other places first in order to get the free ride so it would be Home -> Tour of Neighbourhood -> McDonalds -> Starbucks -> BigBoxCo

          If you tried Option 3 too many times then you would just not get picked up anymore or always have to pay for your rides. And the second time you ask to go to BigBoxCo if you opt for the free option it will take you to som

        • The real way to do it is to put a big screen TV in it, and play ads for the duration of the trip. You could even do games (for a fee) while en route. Play against the car next to you.

          I've already seen taxis with video ads, while I'm already paying for the service.

        • I was thinking it would be more likely that an screen would play ads the entire trip and they would still charge you full price plus charge businesses to advertise.

             

        • Ads still wouldn't pay enough to cover the cost of the car. Unlike youtube videos, you can't share the same car with a million riders.

      • Agreed, I'd rather drive myself then wait an extra 15 minutes somewhere random.

        That's the part which makes no sense. How often do you go out and just randomly drive around town? Probably not very often. If you have somewhere you need to go, you want to . . . go there.

        This is a good example of why I'm not rich. I'm not willing to spend my time thinking up scams . . . ooops, I mean business plans . . . . that involve taking money from someone while providing nothing of value in return.

    • I wouldn't worry - if trying to get people too poor to afford their own car to come to your store were viable, they'd already do it with buses.

    • by jrumney ( 197329 )
      Anyway, if it's anything like Bangkok, the kickbacks from stopping at stores will be extra profit for the taxi mafia, and certainly not passed on as savings to the customer. I'd expect savings from not having a driver to feed to be likewise.
    • I'd rather pay to ride public transit or drive my own car instead of living in that dystopian hell. If you think that's a realistic view of the future, I weep for your parents -- they clearly failed you -- and humanity in general.

      Both your preferred options will still be available to you, so I don't get what the problem is. If you don't like it, don't use it. And I'm sure you'll also be able to engage an autonomous vehicle for a fee that will take you directly to your destination. In fact, I expect that if you're in a hurry you'll be able to "bribe" other autonomous cars to make way for yours so that you can speed along. For those with no money though, it'll be a blessing to be able to travel for no out-of-pocket expenditure, at the

    • Autonomous cars are the solution looking for a problem. Lots of folks are spending lots of money on the development of this technology, so we will eventually have autonomous cars . . .

      . . . but when we have them, what will we do with them . . . ? I guess a lot more folks are holding wild west brainstorming sessions, trying to think up something else useful to do with autonomous cars. I think we'll see a lot more wacky ideas over the next years.

    • I'd rather pay to ride public transit or drive my own car instead of living in that dystopian hell. If you think that's a realistic view of the future, I weep for your parents -- they clearly failed you -- and humanity in general.

      Consume or be stranded, citizen!

    • by Higaran ( 835598 )
      What about when I just need to go to work, and back home? I mean this would be a great supplement to a family, like to get rid of the kids on the weekends, or if you wanted to go out and not need a designated driver. For every day use, most people would not make enough at work every day to cover their uber ride back and forth.
    • I'd rather pay to ride public transit or drive my own car instead of living in that dystopian hell.

      Why would it be a dystopian hell? UberPool is opt-in only. People who want to pay full price just pick UberX. I assume it would be the same for this UberFree idea.

      If you think that's a realistic view of the future...

      This idea already exists anyway, but with shuttles. In the San Francisco Bay Area, there are free shuttles that take people from the Bart station to different malls and there are free shuttles that take people from the airport to particular hotels.

    • Again, companies have a deluded idea of the value of their marketing, just like they do with advertising. Buying a hamburger at McDonalds does not pay enough to cover the driverless car. The profit from a meal at McDonalds is very small, vastly smaller than the cost of a taxi or paid rideshare. Even if every rider stopped to get a happy meal, it's still a terrible business model.

  • They will pelt you with Ads. and If you listen to it and answer a quiz based on it to make sure you don't tune out, they will pay you some money and drive you wherever you want to go.

    Now the idea is public. Prior art. No one should be able to patent this.

  • sounds delightful! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rogoshen1 ( 2922505 ) on Friday December 22, 2017 @04:07PM (#55791553)

    How is this any different than being herded like fucking cattle?

    It seems like any time there's a trade between personal responsibility and autonomy for safety/efficiency -- It's never for the benefit of the everyday person. Regardless of how it's spun.

    They'll have to pry my cold, lifeless hands off of my steering wheel.

    • IDK, I ride public transport. At least the occasional train station musicians, break-dancers, and random people talking to you provide free entertainment. A self-driving car will be the combination of being herded like cattle and sterile hell. A sensors deprivation bubble on wheels, without the fun of driving yourself or the charm of serendipity, random interactions with other humans. People will be whisked from home to work to activities with no opportunity for "unapproved" interactions. This future w
    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      Just sit back and relax. Let someone else do the driving [wordpress.com].

    • How is this any different than being herded like fucking cattle?

      They'll have to pry my cold, lifeless hands off of my steering wheel.

      "Manual driving" will acquire hipster nostalgia, like those vinyl records they're always on about. Georgia and Tennessee will set up State Driving Parks, where after your Uber drops you off at the visitor center you will be able to rent classic Corvettes and drive yourself around a loop of imitation small villages with classic Main Streets, drag strips, drive-in theaters, Sonic Drive-Thrus, and some "inspiration Points" in view locations.

      • they're wrong about vinyl records, and they'd be wrong about this one too.

        Ceding control over something as fundamental as how you get from point a to point b, and leaving it in the hands of people who's vested interest is either in selling shit to you, or controlling you -- is just an incredibly bad idea.

        • So you're the guy who tried to break into the cockpit, yelling something about "I wanna drive!" on that last trip to Europe?

    • The everyday person is the one who gets the choice between paid transportation and ad-supported transportation. As long as the choice exists, it's really hard for me to believe that this is bad for the everyday person.

  • Soo reading this article I just thought of something stupid that might make this not work. So get piss drunk with beer so you don't remember the ads since hopefully it'll get you there eventually?

    • So get piss drunk with beer so you don't remember the ads

      Get drunk and get taken to Taco Bell (with inflated prices), a high pressure sales pitch (goodbye inhibitions) or a brothel. It doesn't matter if you remember, your cash and any credit you can get are gone.

  • by jabberw0k ( 62554 ) on Friday December 22, 2017 @04:17PM (#55791649) Homepage Journal
    Doors lock, windows opacify, and a bit of knockout gas later, welcome to Secret Police Headquarters where we will cleanse you of those unapproved thoughts, for you own good of course, Comrade.
  • Can't wait for the Johnny Cab from Total Recall.

  • stopping at every strip joint on my way to work sounds kind of fun *gig*

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Friday December 22, 2017 @04:31PM (#55791767)

    ... cab drivers would direct customers to cabarets (strip clubs) from which they received kickbacks. Once inside, it was not unknown to have a couple of large bouncers meet you at the door on your way out if you hadn't spent enough on lap dances or the overpriced drinks in the establishment.

    Explain to me how this new system is different.

    • It still happens, and not just in third world countries. Beware of this when traveling. The foreign office of your country should advise you if that's likely where you are visiting... and not a few Eastern European (but EU) countries are on that list.

  • what about being liable for parking lot accidents? The store may ending being the one to pay up or at the very least have to court to defend them self's.

  • But free as in beer: complimentary, gratis.
    This is not true if there are ads. Then its not free.
    I will keep my car thanks. I drive between 3 different location constantly and transport equipment between them.
  • ummmm.... nope.
  • In 90s, I used to stay in Pasadena. During 1994 World Cup, Pasadena businesses started free bus service which will take people from across the town to downtown and Rosebowl for free. It had good coverage and frequency. Not sure if it is still there and if not when did they shutdown but it was there at least for 3 - 4 years that I know of.

  • not everything needs or should be left in the hands of the 'free' market. Especially when the market isn't exactly free. I paid for all those roads you know... And I probably paid for the research that made the self driving cars work (public University + subsidized student loans). I've never understood why people, especially Americans, are so keen to pay for things and then give them away to rich folk so they can sell them back to you. Is maintaining our psuedo free market really that important? If you thin
    • It the American Dream. Everyone here thinks that they will filthy rich in the future so we believe that the Free Market is gods greatest gift.
  • by hey! ( 33014 )

    Talk about a captive audience.

  • So the idea presented in the summary probably wouldn't be popular enough to work, but there is a similar idea that would potentially work. The key idea in all of this is that transportation costs in electric self-driving cars are low enough to do things that would be crazy now.

    So what could work is businesses offering free rides to and from their businesses. You want to shop at Amazon Whole Foods? They'll send you a car. Want groceries from Price Chopper, you'll have to figure out how to get there yours

  • Alternatively I suspect that households will continue to purchase a self-driving car - simply because sharing a car which doesn't go directly where you want it to smacks too much of public transport.

    However the majority of families will only need one car to cover all the activities that they'd previously require two for - simply because a self-driving car can drive itself between two locations without the need for a human to be in control.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Sounds unlikely. If there are enough cars you can rent on relatively short notice, that will be vastly cheaper.

      • I don't really see any way that autonomy changes the game in such a significant way that it will make bus or a taxi be able to compete with personal ownership once removing the driver. The advantage to personal ownership is that you have a vehicle in your driveway that will take you anywhere you want to go immediately. and the vehicle is set up how you want it. Autonomous services will always have some sort of waiting involved; a service simply won't have enough cards ready near every person who needs a r
  • Uber: "Sir, your Uber ride will be free, but only if you stop at the Purple Rhino Gentleman's Club."

    Me: "Oh well, if I have to, I have to."

  • If people are being taken to destinations chosen by a sponsor can they keep criminals from arranging to have victims taken to an arranged soon-to-be crime scene? Want to rob, kidnap, rape or murder someone? Arrange a free ride sponsorship that makes a "special stop" somewhere remote.

    Sort of like Craig's List, but without the target knowing they will be "meeting someone".

  • iRobU is SO Convenient!

  • where even stupid advertisers would subsidize this. The smarter among us live "out here" where this would never fly. Yeah, it's 26 miles round trip to the beer store. It's also a 45 minute drive to the nearest place crime happens. You can keep your cities. I'll take the fresh air, good food, good people, and lack of bullshit over that anyday. I can bring home a truckload of whatever and not need to go out all that much, all it takes is a plan.
  • I was thinking Stallman's "free as in speech or free as in beer" where you can get free beer but no choice in the kind of beer. So a free ride but no choice in where the ride will go?
  • Create a company that croudsources the most convienent "destination" and orders the right combination of requests to bypass the most wait times. Much like a cross between partial leg air fare calculators and ad blocking. Future billionaire that cashes in on this, you are welcome.
  • by Artagel ( 114272 ) on Friday December 22, 2017 @07:38PM (#55793033) Homepage

    I remember being a tourist in China. The good old CITS had the van/bus stopping to visit various shopping locations between historical or cultural stops. This would fit right into their model.

  • âThe âoesponsoringâ money comes from somewhere (hint: thatâ(TM)s you)â

  • Me from 2009: https://groups.google.com/foru... [google.com]
    "This essay explain why luxury safer electric (or plug-in hybrid) cars should be free-to-the-user at the point of sale in the USA, and why this will reduce US taxes overall. Essentially, unsafe gasoline-powered automobiles in the USA pose a high cost on society (accidents, injuries, pollution, defense), and the costs of making better cars would pay for themselves and then some. This essay is an example of using post-scarcity ideology to understand the scarcity-

  • The cost of a taxi probably cannot go below $1/mile (US). The average distance of a ride varies by city, but let's say 5 miles. So $5 is the cost that must be covered. How much would a customer have to spend at the mall to pay for that taxi ride? The profit margin at retail stores varies from 1.3% (pharmacy)-3.5% (high end department store). So the average customer would have to spend at least $200 per trip to make this business model pay. As others have pointed out, the wealthier customers will not use thi
  • 15 minutes translates to different dollar amounts for different people. For the minimum wage employee, that's a few bucks. For the overpaid lawyer, that might be several hundred dollars. You do that twice a day five days a week, that adds up no matter who you are. Of course, you'd no longer be able to say that 15 minutes saved you 15% on your car insurance by switching to Geico.

  • Not just hands-free, or driver-free, or go-wherever-you-want free. But free as in beer: complimentary, gratis. Summon a car and travel for nothing -- that is, so long as you are willing to make a stop or two en route at sponsoring locations.

    And free from privacy; what you do and say inside the car can be recorded and shared with an uncountable number of others who would otherwise have no idea what you did or said. The car you ride in is not your car, so you'll have no permission to inspect or modify the car

  • This is not the way it will go. With no requirement for drivers, McDonald's and Starbuck's will come to me - all goods will come to me. The fixed locations become pure kitchens and warehouses. If I want to eat someplace different on a special occasion, I may go to a location designed for that but the food of whatever type I choose will still be brought to me wherever I may be, not made there.

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