Autonomous Cars 101, with Brad Templeton


The first thing to understand before looking
at cars that drive themselves is just how much of our lives cars have become, especially
in the United States but really all around the world. There are 33,000 Americans killed
every year in car accidents. More killed in car accidents in the United States than in
its entire history of war going back to the Revolutionary War. We have 1.2 million people
killed around the world. It’s one of the world’s major diseases – if it were a disease – in
terms of killing people. And we also give 25 percent of all of our energy to personal
transportation and 25 percent of our greenhouse gases are going to the car. Now this is not
true in Manhattan, but in Los Angeles it’s estimated that more then half of the land
in the city belongs to the cars, its garages, its the driveways, its roads, its parking
lots, all these things land that belongs to the car. We have given up so much of ourselves
and we depend on the car for so much it’s shaped our cities, it’s shaped our lives.
The fact that now cars are going to be a computer thing. That the computer is going to be the
most important part of the car, the thing that drives the car will be more important
than the engine. And this will be on the Moore’s Law curve we’ve talked about getting better,
not the engine getting better every year but the important part that drives it getting
better every year the way computer technology and network technology do. We’re going to
rewrite really important elements of our society when we make transportation one of these computerized
technologies. Most people thought that cars that drive themselves
were something from the science fiction. I still routinely run into people who say “This
is not in my lifetime, 20 or 30 years away.” But if this is clearly wrong and it is becoming
more and more clearly long as time goes on. The most famous project and the most advanced
project has come not from a car company but from Google. And I worked actually on Google’s
team for a while in building that vehicle. So they have both logged about 700,000 miles
driving on ordinary city streets with their vehicles. And they’ve now just released in
May of 2014 they have released a new vehicle that’s they’re building from scratch, designing
from scratch which has no steering wheel in it, no pedals, you just get in and you have
given it a destination probably on your phone and away it goes and takes you there. And
that’s the real game changer when it comes out. The car companies also are all working on
efforts. Every major car company has some sort of effort and Nissan and Mercedes and
a Volvo have all announced they’ll be selling cars in about 2020 that look a little bit
more like traditional cars. But what Google’s car does it’s a vehicle that can run without
a steering wheel and thus it can run unmanned and that’s where it gets really interesting.
Because a vehicle that can run on it’s own is a vehicle that can deliver itself to you.
It’s a vehicle that can refuel or recharge itself without you having to worry about it.
And it’s a vehicle that can store or what we used to call park itself, although it may
mostly function as a taxi. And as a taxi it wouldn’t even park it all it would just go
and pick up the next person it has to pick up. So today when people buy a car they go into
the car dealership and they look for a multipurpose car. They ask: “What car do I need for my
life?” Because they think “Well I ski twice a year so I need an SUV, even though I live
in the city and I need an SUV to get me up to the mountains every so often.” Or the number
one selling car in America, the Ford F150 pickup truck, which is not what most of those
people need. But we all go and buy at least a five-passenger sedan, a multipurpose car
for all of our needs. When he think of cars as fungible objects almost that can be delivered
on demand because you pick up a cell phone and you ask your car to come to you, well
suddenly you don’t have to get a multipurpose car, you can get a car for that trip, the
car that you need today; the car that you need right now. That is a very different car
from the cars we’ve made for the last century these big fat boxy things. This is a car most
of the time for one person because almost all your trips are alone. Sorry, unless you’re
a very friendly person, they’re alone and they’re just short trips across town. But
we buy a car that’s able to take five people hundreds of miles and that’s very wasteful.
It’s very energy inefficient and it takes a lot of space on the road too. So if most trips come in little small electric
vehicles in particular that are good enough for one person or two people face-to-face
and they have a desk in them and a screen so that you can work or watch videos and do
things and takes no time, it’s a very different vision of transportation and it’s a much lower
energy vision of transportation, particularly as you enable electric vehicles. Now, today
people don’t buy electric vehicles that much, they buy some; there’s certainly some press
being made about it, but it’s really a small portion of the car market and they are worried
that the car will run out of range or it will take hours to recharge it when they’re done.
They don’t want the hassle of plugging it in. But a robot doesn’t care about any of
those hassles, and robot doesn’t care about anything. And because of that you can get
a vehicle that is electric because you don’t care about the range. You don’t care about
the power train at all. It’s very different from the way cars are sold today. So we have
lots of small efficient vehicles. These vehicles are so efficient that they don’t just beat
out the cars we’re riding in now, they beat out the trains and the buses, even in Manhattan,
even in Japan. That’s how efficient small lightweight electric vehicles can be at carrying
people in terms of energy used to send a person a mile. So, this would mean the United States would
no longer have to import oil from overseas. And you’ve probably seen there’s a pesky habit
that the U.S. has of going to war over the oil imports from overseas. It would be a very
nice habit to be broken of. It also means reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 200 million
tons. It means getting rid of all the parking lots we have in our cities. Because if we
don’t have to store vehicles in the same way, suddenly there’s a land of bonanza in so many
towns, maybe not the dense downtown part but all of the surrounding territory where so
much of that land is parking lots and or cars. Suddenly we’re going to turn some parking
lots into parkland, that’s going to be pretty nice. We also have tricks to deal with congestion
and that’s pretty big. If you invest in real estate you probably have heard a mantra that
says the value of real estate is based on three important factors right, it’s an old
joke, location, location and location. We’re going to change what location means because
transportation is really what location is about. It’s having a short trip either on
foot or on wheels or in transit or other things to the things in your life that you need to
get to – shops, people, work. The whole nature of retailing is going to
change because we’re also going to build delivery robots that never carry a person and they’re
small and they’re very, very cheap. And they can get you anything in 30 minutes, not just
a pizza. Now we do have a society that’s decided the pizza is the most important thing in the
world; you have to be able to get it in 30 minutes no matter when, no matter where you
are, but what if you can get anything cheaply in 30 minutes? What does that mean for shopping,
for retailing, for how we use goods, how we own goods? It’s going to change a lot more
of our lives then people think to have cars that are smart in this way. A lot of people want to know when this is
going to come out. And I make jokes about naming a specific day and time. So we’ve seen
forecasts from many different companies. Sergey Brin first said Google he thought would have
cars in people’s hands and 2017. Widespread deployment not then but it’s happening in
the later part of this decade and real deployment in the early part of the 2020s. The car companies
have said 2020 is sort of their target year. Most of them have said that. Although Tesla,
because Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, has the largest testicles of anyone in Silicon Valley…
he said he thinks he’s going to have a car in 2016, we’ll see if he delivers on that.
Volvo though has also said they’ll have cars running around their headquarters town in
the hands of civilians in 2017. So there’s a lot of people willing to make predictions
for really quick delivery. Now, will they spread like wildfire like smart phones or
will they spread like electric cars really, really slowly? Well, I’m betting on more like
smart phones, but that’s not a bet that anyone can promise the answer to. We’re not talking about vehicles that will
be perfect, it would be hubris to suggest they could be perfect. There will be accidents,
there will be injuries and there could unfortunately even be fatalities. And we do have a strong
fear of being hurt by machines, and good reason. It’s something to be afraid of. But the social
question is if you don’t like being killed by robots you’d rather be killed by drunks,
because that’s what’s happening today. Forty percent of the fatalities on the roads here
have drinking involved in them. And robots, for better or worse, very rarely drink. They’ll
make mistakes but for different reasons. And so as a society it’s an interesting question,
something you’re very scared of but which is actually safer on the whole. Nobody is
going to release this technology until they’ve got to the evidence to themselves, to their
lawyers, to the public that it’s doing a better job than people are at driving. So you’ve got something that is better than
people but it’s more frightening and you could indeed see societies jumping back from that.
However, whichever country decides to jump back, another country will jump in. And there
are many countries which can change their laws and their liabilities and their rules
very quickly in a way that the United States maybe can’t. And so there will be global competition
to see who rules the new car industry. And I really mean the car industry. There is a
lesson that we teach over in Silicon Valley about what’s called disruptive technology
and when we go through disruptive change in a technology. It’s very uncommon for the big
players from the earlier generation to make it through to the new world. How many of you
are using a Kodak camera, for example? Not too many. So I fear for the car companies
because they will die, some of them, as we move to this new world. And the places where
cars are made may shift. Detroit has a big challenge in front of it and it’s going to
face against wherever the new industry comes from. But Japan, Korea, Germany, they also
need to be afraid; they’re the centers of car manufacturing today. But politicians actually
are aware of this and they’re interested in seeing ways to make sure that their economy
becomes dominant in this world. And that’s why they’ve already passed laws in several
states and now in other places around the world to enable this technology rather than
slow it down.