Synthesis Blog

Coming into the semester, I had no idea what to expect.  I was interested in autonomous technology, and I think I knew how to think about the different quandaries that the technology faced, but I definitely did not know what questions to ask.  I was interested in a number of different topics such as the ethical, the legal, and the machine vision problems just to name a few.  But I had no particular direction that I was focused on, and looking back,

I truly enjoyed the first weeks of class, with a myriad of different ideas and problems being mentioned to analyze.  I spent a little bit of time looking at a large number of different problems, but alas that did not help me narrow down my focus.  Every single topic is so fascinating, and so different, which is what makes autonomous transportation such an interesting topic.  As experts in their field, as well as enthusiasts, started to give talks and presentations about what they knew, I realized that I just had to pick a topic and stick with it.  I decided to pick the different problems that we’d run into due to ownership of cars, as well as the feasibility and the form with which autonomous vehicles would take.

Class gave me different and in depth opinions on entirely different topics, and were so interesting that I often spent significant time at night just reading more about the different topics.  I learned all about the different legal and legislative issues that these cars face, the problems that Nutonomy amongst other companies were trying to solve, etc.  But what I really appreciated was the opportunity to reflect on how these different topics were related.  As my knowledge grew, I started to connect the correlation between all these problems, and their affects on one another, and it gave me significant insight into how my problem would turn out.

Now, I’m going to dive in a little deeper into the particular problems I looked at: Car Ownership, and the form that these vehicles will take.  First, I am going to approach what form these vehicles take.

As you can see, there are estimations on how much money will be saved by using shared autonomous vehicles.  This particular estimation has it at 1/3 the price of a personal vehicle, a truly staggering number based on the current price of ride sharing.  It is important to understand what exactly the costs will be spent on and how they will be able to be so low.

As the figure above shows, autonomous vehicles will be able to be so cheap, because they need not worry about so many of the costs that we have to currently.  However, this particular graph only looks at the costs of driving.  In order to understand the full costs, all costs including the non-driving costs of cars must be considered.

This particular prediction believes that the cost of an autonomous vehicle in a ride sharing service will be essentially the same as personal driving.  However, there are a number of different costs that go along with owning a car.  Maintenance, as well as insurance must be paid, and insurance will look very different in a climate with autonomous vehicles on the road.

It is clear, that autonomous vehicle ride sharing will be cheaper, so now the question is can it overcome the other hurdles.  Can it be as convenient or more convenient as owning a personal vehicle?  Will it give the exact same flexibility?

These graphs are all predictions in the US, where personal car ownership is at 50%.  Owning a car seems to be a point of pride as well as a way of life in many parts of the country.  In somewhere such as Singapore, where the government taxes car owners so heavily that ownership is less than 15%, it does not seem that there will be any push back with implementation of ride sharing.  People are already using ride sharing services now, and to have them be accessible for a lower price makes complete sense.  In the US, the attempt is to make autonomous ride sharing so incredibly more affordable that the majority of people give up their own cars.  However, I do not believe that personal vehicles in the US will ever fully go away.  Whether it is owning a personal autonomous vehicle, or just a car that you have to drive, I do not believe that it is possible to have ride sharing be as convenient as personal car ownership.  If I’ve lost my phone, and want to go home, I can only do so with my personal vehicle for example.  I do believe that a lot of people will switch to owning an autonomous vehicle. That being said, while personal ownership might not every fully go away, I do believe that the major form of transportation will be AV’s in the near future, as long as there are no major technical or legal issues.




How much will autonomous vehicles cost?


The Race is On

Over the last week or so, there has been a number of different announcements in the field of autonomous vehicles.  Google’s Waymo, Uber, and Lyft have all made significant moves recently.

Let us start with Waymo.  They have released a video of them testing autonomous cabs in Arizona without a human safety driver present, making them the first in the U.S. to do so.  Below, is a link to a video of their test (Could not figure out how to embed this specific link).

Waymo has recently announced its plans to roll out autonomous ride sharing vehicles that will directly compete with Uber and Lyft.  Their success in Arizona is giving them market credibility, and their extreme amount of patents (roughly 500 more than any other self driving car company in the U.S.) should help keep what they are doing proprietary.  They are in the process of building thousands of vehicles in order to roll out their fleet.

Uber has just partnered with Volvo, ordering 24,000 autonomous vehicles, spending an approximated 1.4 billion dollars.  They have been plagued by a lawsuit from Waymo, claiming a former employee stole information.  By partnering with Volvo, the company is showing that it is trying to monetize their self driving technology regardless of how this lawsuit goes.

Lyft just got a permit to test their technology in California, and they too have ordered thousands of cars to be built.  All three of these companies are fighting to test their technology, win the public opinion, as well as build enough to have a self driving fleet.  It is estimated that ride sharing autonomous vehicles will be significantly cheaper than any other type of transportation once it comes out.

As the graphic shows, it will be incredibly beneficial for the consumer price wise.  And these companies all know that the first to market with good public opinion will make a ridiculous amount of money.  However, they are all ignoring the same problems.  They are racing to win a market that is not ready for self driving cars.  We recently saw that in Las Vegas, an autonomous bus was tested, and due to another drivers’ error, it got into an accident.  The papers all contained the headline autonomous bus crashes.  There is not legislature supporting these vehicles, even though they seem like they will be on the roads in the coming months.  And they still are not letting us know how they will tackle the different machine vision problems (driving in snow for example) that they face.  This race is ramping up into high gear, but many of the most important questions have yet to be answered.



Lyft gets approval to test self-driving cars on public roads in California

Singapore: The Future of Self Driving Cars

Implementation of autonomous vehicles seems like something that will only happen many years down the line.  In the United States, so much needs to change, whether it be infrastructure, laws, ownership, etc.  Actual adoption of these vehicles could take at least 30 years, and that is looking at things optimistically.

In Singapore, it is a completely different story.  There have already been tests of autonomous vehicles (as we found out about in depth from the Nutonomy presentation).  From the presentation, we learned that Singapore is the perfect place for AV’s, due to both the weather and the laws and regulations.  As it does not snow (it does rain in Singapore), these cars should have relatively good visibility when it comes to roads (in comparison with snow).  The Minister for Transport is openly behind AVs, stating that “Autonomous vehicles are fast on its way to becoming a reality on our roads…They can enhance the efficiency and convenience of our land transportation system. Thus, it is important that we do not impede their growth as some cities have done.”

However, there is something else that I believe sets Singapore apart from other countries: car ownership.  In the US, roughly 50% of Americans own cars.  In Singapore, it is a different story.

Only 15% of Singaporeans own cars, so there is a built mobility market of roughly 1 billion dollars already in place.  The government has made car ownership unaffordable for the most part with high taxes and fees.  Because of this, there is a market for Shared Autonomous Vehicles that will not face much resistance, as most people do not own their own cars to begin with.


Autonomous Vehicles will add a whole wave of benefits to Singaporean culture, not including just the financial repercussions.  They will create greater fuel efficiency (reducing carbon emissions, reduce road congestion, save lives (most accidents are the drivers fault), and allow the elderly/disabled to be independent amongst other things.  We have discussed the benefits at length, so I will not expand on all the good that will come from AVs.

Singapore will be the first to market with self driving cars (level 4 and 5), and it could potentially be in the next handful of years.  It will become a safer place, a more efficient place, and it will stimulate the economy.  Because of that, Singapore, already the world’s most expensive city, will go to a whole new level.  They will be on the forefront of the next wave of technological advances, as their efficiency will be unmatched. More business will take place there, as the world’s most successful people will flock to Singapore, taking advantage of all the benefits of self-driving cars.  AV implementation in Singapore will happen, and bring them to the forefront of all advances in the world.



Will Autonomous Vehicles Shape Singapore’s Transport Future?–A-vision-for-Singapore-s-transport/


Blog 3: How time will be spent

One of the most obvious benefits of fully autonomous vehicles is the amount of time that will be saved and otherwise diverted that was previously spent driving.  It is estimated that in the U.S., over 87.5% of people over 16 years of age report that they drive.  Of those people, it is estimated that they spend over 17,600 minutes a year driving.  That number is very similar to the amount that people drive in the rest of the world:

Americans drive nearly 2.45 trillion miles per year, With nearly an hour a day spent driving, it is clear that the time saved will be put to an entirely new use.  Now it is difficult to completely access what time will be spent doing what, but I believe that it will be split up into 3 main categories. The first (and the least noteworthy) is entertainment.

Movies, live sports, and other entertainment will likely have its place in autonomous vehicles.  It will appeal to a younger audience, as well as those who are trying to relax.  However, this is the smallest of the markets.

It is likely that a lot of this time will be used productively (the most obvious choice).  The amount of time could lead to 507 billion dollars annually, according to a Morgan Stanley study, stimulating the economy by up to 5.6 trillion dollars.  This work will result in shorter days, with more time being spent doing other things.

The market that I am most excited about is that which will result from industries transforming to work in autonomous vehicles.  Hair cuts for example, are a great example of a service that could easily be performed in an autonomous vehicle.  There could be certain fast food/quick food options where you can eat while being taken to where you want to go.  I believe that certain industries will shift from stores that require customers to drop in to being in autonomous vehicles.  This will result in more and more of our lives taking place in autonomous vehicles.  It is not out of the question that entire industries shift over to be in autonomous vehicles due to convenience for the customer.  There is a chance that people actually spend time in vehicles simply for the service provided.

Another interesting component is how much time will be saved in certain situations by not needing to drive.  Parents who need to drive their kids around to extracurricular activities can now send cars to do that job.  Jobs requiring delivery (for example, food) will now no longer need a car.  In fact, there is already implementation in San Fransisco of an automated delivery system.  Industries all around us will have a drastically different feel to them, and it will be exciting to see just how much changes.


Americans Spend an Average of 17,600 Minutes Driving Each Year

Autonomous Vehicle Data

Blog 2: The Next Arms Race

Over our history, the world has always been defined by the creation of technology. The invention of the wheel was one of the reasons that Ancient Mesopotamia was so incredibly successful.  Inventions of writing, gunpowder, etc., all set the course of history on a new path, and changed the hierarchy of the power and influence of civilizations.  The cold war was arguably the greatest arms race in history, and it resulted in the United States being the world dominant power.  The newest arms race, is defining the capabilities of what previously manned operations can now be completed autonomously, and one of the most visible is self driving cars.

However, this race is entirely different than previous races, which were generally defined by countries at war (or at least in direct competition) hoping to discover something that would give an advantage.  Therefore, the advances in technology were kept secret, as the work being done could potentially change the outlook of the entire country.  Patriotism was directly correlated with this research, as everything was being done for the country.

This race is entirely different.  This is not a blind race, hoping to discover something – the goal is in mind.  Implementation of self driving cars is being fought over by the auto industry and technology startups.  Most of the auto companies are partnering with tech startups, essentially having tech divisions for this certain product.  This way, there is already the infrastructure necessary.  However, these partnerships do not seem to be sharing any information with each other, meaning that their approaches to this creation.  For example, reference the picture below.

All of these different partnerships will get the same data, but they will approach the solution in a different way.  While the differences might be subtle, I do not think that the different solutions are all equally effective.  These differences will be minute – could be the method of processing data and choosing what to do, could be the order of performing specific steps.  In nearly every circumstance, the differences will not be noticed, but in the right specific dire situation, it will be critical.

In this case, public perception and acceptance is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome.  That is why safety is so important.  Sure these cars will drastically reduce the number of accidents, but people need to feel safe going into these cars.  For them to feel safe, they need essentially 100% certainty that they will not be harmed.  For this reason, safety is of paramount importance. tNow it does not appear that autonomous vehicles will be implemented anytime soon.

The predicted timeline suggests that full autonomous capabilities will be finalized in the next 4 or so years at the most.  If each and every one of these partnerships will have a different system, then there will unfortunately likely be some sort of a hierarchy in the effectiveness of these self driving cars based on safety.  If the price ranges of fully autonomous vehicles is relatively similar, then I believe there will be a couple market leaders.

Now, the question is what does all this mean?  First off, whoever the market leaders are will likely make a ridiculous amount of money, while the unsuccessful implementations will cost billions of dollars. It is interesting how technological advances have gone from changes in a nationwide race for dominance/power to simply different international companies gaining money.  I do think that whatever country implements autonomous vehicles (as well as other autonomous implementations will be evolving more quickly than other countries.  Wherever the world is shifting, those countries will have more manpower, and be better equipped to get ready for what comes next.  Interestingly enough, the fight for autonomous vehicles is being fought over by private companies, but the implementation results still have a country wide effect.  I think that this reinforces that no matter what era the world is in, technology is directly correlated to the hierarchy of the power and influence of countries.


Auto industry goes head-to-head with Silicon Valley’s self-driving innovators

Blog 1: A thought experiment

This blog will be a thought experiment looking into the future of this country should self driving cars be fully implemented.  When I say implemented, I’m assuming that nearly every trucking job is performed autonomously, cabs are autonomous, most individual vehicles are autonomous etc.  I understand that we are nowhere close to a full implementation: a report from BEC estimates that it will only happen by 2050:

This blog post is assuming that Era 3 will be fully implemented, overlooking a major flaw – that the world will be a completely different place by the time that autonomous cars are implemented and accepted.  There might be entirely new industries that employ millions to solve any problems that come from losing this amount of jobs.  But just for the sake of this post, we will assume that Era 3 happens in the near future.  We must be prepared for the possibility and be able to predict how the economy will change without pining all of our hopes on a new market.

In order to understand the effects that autonomous vehicles will cause, we must first understand the driving and trucking market in the United States.  According to a study done in a CNBC article, almost 9 percent of working people in certain places currently operate a vehicle as their primary job.

Apart from just those that drive, there are many related markets that will be affected.  The parking industry will be heavily affected, as there will be far fewer parking lots and much less money resulting from those lots.  Car Insurance will take a massive hit, as it is estimated that roughly 90 % of accidents are a result of human error.  These cars can now legitimately be used to sleep in, heavily affecting motels and even some hotels.  Auto repair will suffer a heavy hit, as cars will not need get into anywhere as many accidents.  All in all, at least 10% of the workplace could be displaced due to self driving cars.

On the flip side, we will save an incredible amount of money due to autonomous vehicles.  Jeff Zients, the director of the National Economic Council claims that “Self-driving cars have remarkable potential to make a significant dent in the $160 billion worth of time and gas that Americans lose stuck in traffic every year, and the hundreds of hours each American spends each year driving,”  According to Melanie Zanona of the hill, driverless cars could save the US 300 Billion dollars per year (explanation can be viewed from link in the source section).  The moral of the story is we will end up with many people unemployed, but a whole lot of money to spend on other things.

It is also important to make one more point about what this blog is ignoring – if driving becomes an automated process, it is highly likely that many other jobs such as being a cashier, a waiter, or a secretary for instance become automated.  This post ignores the changes of every automated  change other than that of self driving cars.

Now I will get into my own predictions.  With the influx of cash, there will be a lot of spending, that will stimulate the economy, and in turn create more jobs.  It is estimated that there will be more money added to the economy than taken away, so it leads me to believe there is nothing to worry about – in fact, it is likely that unemployment will go down as a result of autonomous vehicles.





My name is Vivek Ramchandran and I’m a senior majoring in Computer Science and Mathematics.  I grew up in the Bay Area in a Honda family, without a real passion for cars.  But I am incredibly interested of trying to understand where we as a society will evolve into.  I see self-driving cars as a proof of concept.  Humans have prided themselves on driving for over 100 years, and ceding control of that to software could jumpstart some incredible changes in the way we live.

There are a number of different questions about autonomous vehicles that intrigue me and motivated me to take this class.  I wonder how the machine vision problems are being dealt with, and how the car is processing potential objects it has never seen before.  I am really interested to see how these cars will interact with human drivers as well as other types of self driving cars.  I wonder how the car will react to people exploiting the code base of the car – for example, a human can jump in front of the car to make the car stop and then rob said car.  How will the code prevent a situation such as this from taking place, and how will it judge the context of a situation.  And if all projections work out and self driving cars are widely implemented and successful, I am really interested in seeing how the economy shifts and what happens to the workers such as truck drivers, taxi drivers, etc.

I am really excited to continue with this course, and below are a couple links.


Self-Driving Vehicle Success is Tied to Machine Vision

AI won’t go anywhere unless it has empathy