The driverless car is coming

When I express my enthusiasm for autonomous vehicles, which I’ve done on this blog recently and to many patient friends over lunch tables in the last few weeks, they sometimes respond with skepticism:

“Well, I can see we might have better cruise controls, or smarter braking and automatic parking systems, but I don’t think we’ll ever be able to take our hands of the wheel completely.”

“But the car is still a relatively recent invention, and look how far it’s come already”, I reply. “It’s only a little over 100 years since the Wright brothers first managed to fly 100 feet, and we pretty much have self-flying airliners. Do you really think that in 100 years we’ll still be pointing these deadly human-controlled missiles at each other on narrow roads?”

That, at least, is the neat turn of phrase I might employ if the lunch hasn’t involved much wine or beer by this point. And they usually admit that, yes, maybe, perhaps I have a point.

“And so the question isn’t whether we will get driverless cars, but when, and what the route is between here and there. It will start with smarter cruise controls — it already is, in fact — and then maybe certain highways will have special lanes in which you can take your hands off the wheel if you’re appropriately equipped. Maybe some airports will allow self-valet-parking cars in the car parks. And soon, as we’re resurfacing country roads, we’ll be building in the wires that will make the whole driving process cheaper and easier and less dependent on complex maps and camera systems. But whether you think it’s going to be in 100 years, or within my lifetime, or — as I sincerely hope — before I retire, it is going to happen.”

This is pretty much the point that Matt Honan makes in this Buzzfeed article, but, of course, he does it better than me even without beer.

And he can speak more authoritatively about Google’s cars, because he’s actually been in one.

Thought for the day

Reading a second Dan Brown book constitutes the triumph of hope over experience.

Early Saturday Morning


I was up a bit earlier than usual for a Saturday, but one of the good things about the year drawing on, for a somewhat lazy photographer like me, is that I’m much more likely to be up at sunrise in the winter than I am in the summer! This was a quick iPhone snap while walking Tilly.

Full of the joys of autumn

It was beautiful at Holkham Beach today. Everyone was having fun…


Really wish I’d been the one in front of, instead of behind, the camera in some of these. I’ve never ridden in a place like this.



Those having fun included, of course, Tilly…



Click for larger versions.

Ergonomics vs etiquette

How can we make our road network more efficient? Be less polite, says this article by Guy Walker at Heriot-Watt.

Imagine you’re driving along the motorway, with three lanes of emptiness ahead of you. Then you see signs warning of roadworks and lane closures. As the traffic thickens and the point arrives where the closed lanes have to merge, what happens? Does everyone make maximum use of the available road space and allow others to merge at the head of the line with a friendly wave and a spirit of mutual cooperation?

Their models suggest that this and other social pressures have a dramatic influence on how efficiently we use the roads.

We call this phenomenon conformity and there is a lot of it about. Research shows that drivers approach junctions faster and brake later when being followed compared to when they are on their own. Other research describes the pressure we all feel to keep up with others, sometimes even when it is not safe to do so. People the driver knows, such as passengers, tend to inhibit speed. In other situations, with anonymous other drivers, it has the reverse effect, as we can see in the early merging in response to upcoming roadworks. None of us wants to experience the aversive stimuli of being hooted at or blocked from merging, nor being regarded as a ‘typical white van/BMW/Audi/Volvo driver’. These factors all sound rather trivial, but they are clearly a more powerful determinant of behaviour than the rational optimisation we, and engineers, would like to assume. And it gets worse. Through social learning these behaviours feed back into the wider driving culture to themselves become local and national norms of behaviour, continually reinforcing what people will keep conforming to.

The case of merging lanes could easily be solved by a sign saying ‘Please use both lanes as far as possible’. But the more important question for you to ponder today is this:

Isn’t politeness always at the expense of efficiency? And isn’t that, really, part of the point?

Send not to know for whom the bell tolls

Richard pointed me at this wonderful life-expectancy simulation. Very sobering – a bit like visiting an ossuary – and fascinating, too.

It reminds me that I haven’t yet ported my Time’s Wingèd Chariot watchface to my Apple Watch. I’d better get working on it while I still can…


I picture a ne’er-do-well hobbit, probably an associate of Ted Sandyman’s, who is seldom seen, but is believed to be the source of much unexplained mischief at St Catharine’s College. He goes by the name of ‘Slippery’ Underfoot…

Slippery Underfoot

People who live in glass houses…

…may want to install their lavatories elsewhere?


Modern mammon

Universal_Contactless_Card_Symbol.svgYesterday, I used my watch to buy entrance tickets at the Botanic Garden, and coffee at its café. This morning I paid for petrol using Paypal on my phone, and then used my watch to buy lunch at a local cafe and groceries at a local store.

I only had to get my wallet out today at the market, but that was to buy an old-fashioned apple pie, so I didn’t mind using an antique payment method.

I am looking forward to the day when wallets are things you see in costume dramas, though…

My vegetable love should grow…


It’s an embarrassingly long time since I last visited Cambridge Botanic Gardens. Probably measurable in decades.


And that’s a pity, because it’s walking distance from my house and, as I discovered again today, it’s really a very pleasant spot.


A ham sandwich is better than heaven

From this interview with Tom Maudlin

It’ s easy to prove that a ham sandwich is better than heaven, because:

  • Nothing is better than heaven
  • A ham sandwich is better than nothing

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser