Sports Cars As Self-Driving Cars

Dr. Lance Eliot, AI Insider

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[Ed. Note: For reader’s interested in Dr. Eliot’s ongoing business analyses about the advent of self-driving cars, see his online Forbes column:]

Aha, the joys of driving a high-performance sports car!

You feel the sports car hugging the road and the nimble handling allows you to sweetly make those tight turns.

Some people get a sports car because they like the speed, handling, and the other features that allow for a special driving experience.

Some get a sports car because they love the image of a sports car, and a sports car driver, often seen as someone that relishes the open road, a maverick, and that craves the looks of other people as they turn their heads to see what that sports car is (and who’s in it).

When someone drives a sports car, they can do so on our public roadways or drive it on private so-called closed tracks.

Driving Top-End Sports Cars On Public Roadways

In theory, when you drive a sports car on a public roadway, you are supposed to abide by the driving laws.

It doesn’t really matter that you happen to have a sports car. The speed limit is the same for a junkie jalopy as it is for the souped-up sports car.

By-and-large, sports car drivers seem to end-up in one of three camps for portions of their driving time:

  • Legal
  • Quasi-legal
  • Illegal

The legal driving is usually when they sense that there’s a cop nearby, or when they are jammed-up in bumper to bumper traffic, or otherwise not in a viable situation to do anything other than pure legal driving.

The quasi-legal camp will push every law to the limit, whenever possible.

The illegal camp goes beyond the limits of the law.

They are hopeful they won’t get caught.

For those that want to push their sports car to the limits, there are places they can do so without putting the rest of the public in jeopardy.

Here in Southern California, we had a Porsche Experience Center open up. It provides a 53-acre fun park for Porsche drivers.

Admittedly, these closed course tracks are nice, but there are too few of them to be within easy access of all sports car owners, plus they often are for certain brands only, and worst of all for many sports car drivers it just isn’t fully as satisfying as going on the public roadways.

Drivers Of Sports Cars

Some people hate sports cars and especially hate sports car drivers.

Those pesky and annoying sports car drivers think they are high and mighty.

They think they can squeeze in and out of traffic wherever they wish.

Egoistical. Maniac drivers. Scofflaws.

Even regulators at times will clamp down hard on sports cars.

An extra tax or fee can be a means to get some added dough out of those sports car owners that just must have their sports cars. When the sports car owners complain, they are told they should be happy that they still get a chance to drive their vaunted vehicles on our roads.

The emotional relationship between a sports car owner and their sports car can be as strong as say the personal ties between a dog owner and their pet dog. You’ve maybe seen a sports car owner that talks to their sports car.

Sports Cars As AI Autonomous Vehicles

What does this have to do with AI self-driving driverless autonomous cars?

At the Cybernetic AI Self-Driving Car Institute, we are developing AI software for self-driving cars, and as part of that effort we’re also considering the role of sports cars in a future consisting of AI self-driving cars.

Let’s then consider what the future holds for sports cars.

There are some AI self-driving car pundits that are saying we’ll eventually have only and all AI self-driving cars on our roadways.

This nirvana will allow somehow that all traffic snarls of today to disappear, because presumably the AI self-driving cars will either all communicate with each other via V2V (vehicle to vehicle communication) or V2I (vehicle to infrastructure communication), and coordinate their movement. This will be done either by a master governmental traffic flow system, or by a negotiated peer-to-peer kind of approach.

If you believe that AI self-driving cars will only be permitted to drive in a fully legal manner, it means that those sports car owners aren’t going to be able to drive in a quasi-legal manner anymore and for sure not in an illegal manner. Ouch, that hurts for those sports car lovers. It cuts out a chunk of the joy of having a sports car.

Well, maybe that aspect of being forced into legal driving mode will only apply if you are on the public roadways.

Would we as a society allow for the AI self-driving sports car to be able to drive “illegally” if it is on closed track that is outside the purview of the public roadways?

You would certainly think this would be a reasonable desire by sports car owners.

Look, they might say, I’ll have my AI self-driving sports car drive legally when on public roads, but when not on public roads the sky’s the limit.

Some might argue that this is bound to be a recipe for disaster.

Suppose the AI self-driving sports car somehow gets into sports driving mode while on a public roadway? How would we police this aspect to prevent the AI self-driving sports cars from doing so?

Master Control Of Autonomous Cars

Continuing for a moment the perspective of an AI self-driving car only world, there’s another angle on the sports car aspects.

Suppose we do have some master control or maybe a peer-to-peer coordination system for traffic control.

One approach to sports cars might be to charge them a special fee to be able to use their sports car driving mode.

You can bring your AI self-driving sports car onto the freeway, and let’s say in the mornings when there’s a lot of traffic, your sports driving mode must be disabled. But, in the afternoon, when there is open traffic, you can make use of the sports driving mode, but only to the extent allowed by the master control system or the peer-to-peer coordinating system. You can do this for an extra charge.

Maybe sports car owners would find this acceptable and sufficient.

Some might be upset that they can’t use their sports car driving mode whenever they want.

There might be the public at large that sees this as an elitist kind of thing and though the sports car owner has to pay for the privilege, it seems like only the privileged are going to be able to do so. This will be a societal debate, certainly.

What about a world in which there are a mixture of conventional cars being driven by humans, and AI self-driving cars “less than” level 5 that are therefore co-sharing the driving task with humans, and the AI self-driving cars of a Level 5 that are being driven only by the AI?

Let’s consider the sports car aspect in that scenario, which is actually the more realistic scenario.

Gradual Emergence Of Level 5 Cars

As an aside, for a long time, we’re going to have a mixture just like the aforementioned. At first, there will be very few of the Level 5’s, there will be lots of conventional cars, and some of the “less than” Level 5’s.

Over many years, the mixture will gradually shift such that there will be less and less conventional cars, and more and more of the “less than” Level 5 self-driving cars, and a rising amount of Level 5 self-driving cars. The nirvana world will arrive, if it does, once that mixture becomes purely just Level 5 self-driving cars.

Well, in any case, you get onto the freeway and suppose you see some sports cars that are conventional sports cars and driven only by humans.

And, you also see some advanced sports cars that are AI self-driving cars but at the “less than” Level 5, and so those sports cars are at times being driven by the AI and at other times being driven by the human.

Plus, you see some advanced sports cars that are pure Level 5 and so only the AI is actually driving those sports cars.

Would it make sense to restrict the Level 5’s from not driving in a sports car driving kind of way?

If you do so, why then are you allowing the conventional sports car to be driven by a human in a sports car driving way, and the same for the instance of the “less than” Level 5? In other words, it seems like either they all get to drive as though they are driving a sports car, or none of them should.

I realize you might say that the Level 5 shouldn’t be able to drive in a sports car driving mode because it’s AI and not a human. But, this suggests a distrust that the AI cannot drive as well as a human can. If that’s the case, then the Level 5 self-driving car probably shouldn’t even be on the road. In other words, the AI should be able to drive an AI self-driving sports car, otherwise that vehicle shouldn’t be on the public roadways to begin with.

Which brings us to another key point, namely, many of the automakers and tech firms are right now focusing on getting the AI to drive a self-driving car in its most rudimentary driving means.

Thus, the AI won’t necessarily be able to leverage any special capabilities of the car itself. Thus, if you have a sports car that has this kind of AI, it likely won’t be able to take advantage naturally of the sports car speed, maneuverability, etc.

Sports Car Driving As Specific Expertise

Some consider this to be a so-called “edge” problem.

An edge problem is considered something that is not at the core of the problem that you are trying to solve. In the case of cars, the core problem in the view of many AI developers is to be able to have the AI drive a car in the most simplistic way possible, as though an average adult driver was driving the car. For a sports car, sure an average adult driver can drive it, but if you want to drive it well, and really exercise what it can do, you need to have “above average” driving skills or at least somewhat more specialized driving skills.

Suppose we have conventional sports cars with human drivers, we have sports cars co-sharing driving of the humans with the AI “less than” Level 5’s, and we’ve got sports cars with the Level 5’s. Assume that the AI’s are all versed in sports car driving. Do we allow sport car driving to occur or do we not?

We’d likely assume that human drivers are going to do their usual legal/quasi-legal/illegal sports driving, doing so with their conventional sports cars.

The co-sharing driving creates a conundrum because we might have the AI that opts to drive like a sports car driver, but for which gets into a pickle and suddenly hands over the driving to the human driver, but perhaps the human driver at that point is not versed in sports car driving and cannot then deal with whatever dire situation has arisen.

Or, likewise, the human driver has gotten the sports car into a pickle and wants the AI to take over control, but the AI doesn’t know what to do given that the pickle is underway.

The Level 5 would almost seem like the better choice at being able to then drive the sports car, assuming that it is versed in doing so, since you’ve removed the co-sharing confusion, and you’ve removed the human driver entirely. That being said, what joy remains for the human occupant that is in the sports car of a Level 5?

I began this discussion by pointing out the various reasons that humans seem to love their sports cars.

If it’s a Level 5 self-driving sports car, and you the human have nothing to do with the actual driving, does that drain the joy from being in the sports car?

And, furthermore, if there are restrictions on when the sports car driving mode can actually be employed, will that further diminish the joy?

Perhaps, sports cars will no longer have much interest and therefore the only sports cars made will be either for competitive racing purposes or for collectors to put on display in a museum. Will society as a whole gradually lose its sense of image of what a sports car represents? Maybe over time, this whole maverick thing and the other attributes of owning and driving a sports car will wane.

Some say that people will always relish sports cars. It’s in our blood.

Furthermore, what better way to experience a sports car than by having an expert-level race car driver that will be your electronic chauffeur whenever you wish, 24 hours per day and 7 days per week.


Some of the sports car makers at first insisted they would never make a fully autonomous sports car, but have tended to back-down when they realized that in a future economy of ridesharing, wherein perhaps people don’t buy cars anymore, and use AI Level 5 self-driving cars as their primary means to get around, if there aren’t Level 5 sports cars then there’s nothing left but crumbs for the sports car makers.

Better to join the Level 5 club, than to be on the outside looking in.

Well, however this works out, I think there’s one credo that many of us will always have: I feel the need, the need for speed.

Go out and take your sports car for a spin, while you can.

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Copyright © 2019 Dr. Lance B. Eliot

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Dr. Lance B. Eliot is a renowned global expert on AI, Stanford Fellow at Stanford University, was a professor at USC, headed an AI Lab, top exec at a major VC.

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