AUTONOMY by Lawrence D. Burns


The Quest to Build the Driverless Car—and How It Will Reshape Our World
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Tired of paying hefty insurance bills and parking fines? A self-driving car may be the flying car of our near-future dreams, as this all-for-it account makes clear.

Given that Burns is a former General Motors executive with responsibility for R&D, as well as an adviser to Waymo (formerly Google’s Self-Driving Car Project), it stands to reason that he’d be a fan of the autonomous car. Some of this book is the usual by-the-numbers, back-slapping, you-are-there reporting from the front lines of the lab and test track, as when the author writes of one robotics experimenter, “Whittaker was another big guy, an inch or two taller than Urmson at about six-foot-three, with shoulders that look like they’d brush the sides of interior door openings.” The pro forma stuff notwithstanding, though, Burns and co-author Shulgan provide a series of winning arguments for why we should be wanting to see self-driving cars on the road. Despite well-publicized failings, for instance, they will lead to a substantial decrease in accidents and fatalities—and given that road fatalities are climbing after years of steady decline, that makes a good starter. Burns also notes that automobile ownership is inherently inefficient; at most, the average driver uses a car for 5 percent of a waking day, and “when we do drive these vehicles, they’re terribly inefficient,” with only about a third of the chemical energy used to drive them translating into kinetic energy. The author argues that the business of motorized transport is the most disruptable on the landscape, and while the writing is too often like traveling down a potholed road, the reasoning is sound, and the thought of not having to look for an empty parking space seems payoff aplenty for entertaining this modest proposal.

A provocative look at a rising industry that may soon change the nature of the world’s too-busy roadways.

Pub Date: Aug. 28th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-06-266112-8
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2018


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