It’s bad enough our fellow human beings find us seemingly irresistible to run into, and now it appears they may have sent their machines after us too.

As first reported in the Mercury News, December 7, 2017, it was a day that will likely live in infamy for one Oscar Nilsson. Oscar is one of us, a motorcyclist, and a San Francisco-area commercial photographer by trade, who was thrust quite literally into the annals of alleged blind-as-a-bat motoring history when the 21st Century version of “Robbie the Robot” driving his Chevy Cruise Autonomous Vehicle allegedly ran into him. He became – to my knowledge – the first motorcyclist to be struck by an autonomous car that arguably couldn’t see squat on a public road. Just who or what was at fault is a matter of debate.

GM Cruise Autonomous Car and Motorcycle Collide in San Francisco

It was only a matter of time before untold man-hours of scientific research and field testing finally paid off in producing an autonomous vehicle capable of running into motorcyclists almost as well as their human-piloted counterparts, or not, depending upon whose attorneys you want to believe.

Forgive me for anthropomorphizing whatever sophisticated array of sensors, software, and gizmos comprise the fourth generation Chevy Cruise AV, but it seems easier to grasp than saying Oscar was involved in a traffic accident with a glorified Roomba. I can’t ascribe blame to a glorified Roomba; that’s just a bridge too far for me.

We will all get to see whether it is a bridge too far for our court system, as Oscar has obtained the services of an attorney and sued General Motors, the company that gave the car keys to Robbie. Oscar is claiming that Robbie the Robot was negligent in knocking him to the ground while he was legally lane-splitting and was thus responsible for his injuries and damages. Robbie the Robot denies all this. Well, Robbie doesn’t so much, but his attorneys from General Motors, the company that built and programmed Robbie, do. Turns out a computer’s attorneys are no different than a human’s attorneys. Who knew?

Here Robbie details the status of his situational awareness the day of the crash with the aid of his NASA-supplied interpreter

And this is just the start. Some have forecast a not-so-rosy future for those of us with two-wheeled proclivities, or a penchant for performance vehicles in general, in this oncoming automated world. One such harbinger of woe is no less a luminary than Bob Lutz; a former Marine Corps fighter pilot, a “car guy” of the highest order, who has held executive positions with BMW, Ford, Chevy, Chrysler, and who is a performance nut who enjoys twisting the throttle on a Suzuki Hayabusa for giggles and reportedly has a brace of BMW motorcycles. Lutz played a large role in making the Dodge Viper a reality, so this guy is one of us, G-forces get him off the couch, and he’s been in the position to see the future. Cripes, Lutz has made the future at times.

It is one thing for hand wringing moto-scribes to bemoan the decline of western personal mobility in general, and interest in motorcycles specifically, but it’s another thing entirely when Bob Lutz in a recent issue of Automotive News says the whole shooting match is over: cars, bikes, trucks; driving or riding anything. To be replaced by sitting. And all of this inside of 20 years!

“The vehicles, however, will no longer be driven by humans because in 15 to 20 years — at the latest — human-driven vehicles will be legislated off the highways.

Let that sink in for a moment.

“The tipping point will come when 20 to 30% of vehicles are fully autonomous. Countries will look at the accident statistics and figure out that human drivers are causing 99.9% of the accidents. Of course, there will be a transition period. Everyone will have five years to get their car off the road or sell it for scrap or trade it on a module.”

A “module”? That won’t play in Peoria. How could even the most wild-eyed advocate of autonomous vehicles propose eliminating human-piloted vehicles altogether and not expect significant pushback? Who here wants to trade in their Ducati on a “module”? No? I thought as much.

“My reply was that we don’t need public acceptance of autonomous vehicles at first. All we need is acceptance by the big fleets: Uber, Lyft, FedEx, UPS, the U.S. Postal Service, utility companies, delivery services. Amazon will probably buy a slew of them. These fleet owners will account for several million vehicles a year.”

If these vehicles are truly autonomous why can’t they negotiate a roadway with other road users as being tested and fielded now? If they can’t, are they really, “fully autonomous”? If the prerequisite for fully autonomous vehicles to be truly fully autonomous as such that every other vehicle on the road has to also be fully autonomous, these are no longer fully autonomous vehicles at all; this is glorified mass transit.

Bob Lutz is a lifelong advocate of autonomy, the human kind.

And this is progress? For who? The Amazons, Ubers, and Apples of the world who may sell or use them? Undoubtedly. For the, “Safety at all costs” crowd? Absolutely. For the guy with the mile-long driveway in North Dakota who wants to top off his tanks and haul some straw to the back-40 before the next blizzard blows in from Alberta? Not so much. And for those with sporting pretensions – car and motorcycle enthusiasts – what of us? Our autonomy will have been legislated right off the tarmac, the tarmac all our gas taxes paid for.

To listen to Lutz this is worse than some post-apocalyptic Mad Max sequel. At least with that you might run into Tina Turner and you could ride your old Z-1. No, this is safety and efficiency run amok chasing the almighty dollar.

“But dealerships are ultimately doomed,” Lutz says. “And I think Automotive News is doomed. Car and Driver is done; Road & Track is done. They are all facing a finite future. They’ll be replaced by a magazine called Battery and Module read by the big fleets.

“The era of the human-driven automobile, its repair facilities, its dealerships, the media surrounding it — all will be gone in 20 years.”

And you and me along with it, gentle reader. Gone, banned by legislative fiat, verboten. The irony is our first-world status, both as a tech leader and as a Western economic engine, means we who claim to be the freest nation in the world will lose our ability to move about without relinquishing those duties to a machine, whereas all the countries held up by our President as “shitholes” will serve as shining examples of that highway on the hill, where you can still saddle up on your knock-off Honda scooter and go tear-assing around to your heart’s delight just leaning on the horn the whole time. That is if Lutz is remotely right in his prophecy, anyway.

There is no reason this must be a foregone conclusion. The University of Michigan and Virginia Tech have both been doing actual road testing of autonomous vehicles that would co-exist with other road users just fine, including motorcycles.  We reported as much a few years ago: Head Shake – Dodging the Daft.

Just because this new robo-world might satisfy Amazon’s or Apple’s every conceivable want or need doesn’t mean we have to be subject to it. It matters little to me if an at-fault automated Amazon truck runs me over versus an Isuzu turbo diesel dump-body truck full of mulch piloted by an unlicensed Namibian immigrant without insurance. At least Amazon would pay for its mistake. And things like liberty, freedom and autonomy would be preserved for the oddballs that prefer such antiquated notions. They can have my ride when they pry it from my cold, dead autonomous hands.

Ride hard, keep your eyes out of the instrument pod, and look through your corner.

  • Dana Pellerin

    I don’t have a lot of faith in this type of technology. When you look at al the money thrown behind Android and iPhone and the voice recognition still sucks really bad. The last thing I want while I’m doing 80 on the freeway is arguing with the computer in my helmet.

  • therr850

    You have to buy their helmet to get this? What if I am not happy with the fit or all day comfort? One view looked like the front of the helmet is a long way from the users chin. Wind noise? Turbulence inside the helmet? I think I like the display, maybe.

    Just did visit the Web site. $1500 or $2000? And I still don’t know if I’ll like the fit or comfort of the helmet? Sorry. Maybe next time.

  • kawatwo

    Well that cheers me up 🙂 Well said. Let’s hope there are enough enthusiasts on the planet to keep personal mobility truly personal.

  • JMDGT

    A nice morning drive is closer than we think. It is only a matter of time. No driving or riding for you citizen.

  • john phyyt

    First world problem.. Try making someone who had to “sell a kidney” to finance his Tuk Tuk ; Be concerned that you ( and I ) might be restricted in our use of 200 hp dream machines. .. I’m sure he will donate a few bhat so that we can continue to “be free”

    • Starmag
      • Jeff in the lower midwest

        As the rump might say, Africa is huge, and Senegal is a shithole to us- many countries there are a lot nicer. I doubt the Red Barchetta Rush song is going to happen anytime soon in the US, same as the confiscation of handguns. My guess is that old guy or young car guy (or gal) with their 57 Chevy will still be in the slow lane, getting passed by modern robot cars in the fast lane 50 years from now.

        • Chris Kallfelz

          My wife spent a good portion of her childhood growing up in Senegal, she speaks fondly of it, but she’s not right in the head, she speaks quite fondly of me too.

    • Chris Kallfelz

      John, I’ve been struck by a tuk tuk in a senseless tuk tuk on pedestrian act of traffic mayhem, and the fella seemed quite healthy if his volume was any indication. I never thought of him donating anything so we can continue to be, “free.” That would be unreasonable.

    • Prakasit

      I am from a tuk tuk driving country. Tuk tuks are dangerous. I avoid them at all cost. Most Thai people avoid them if they can. They are mostly are for tourist and may be street hawkers who need to carry cargo. Sorry, to hear about your accident Chris. Assholery spans across all nations and tribes.
      As for the shithole lable, perspective is a wonderful thing. Sure, proverty is a real problem. But, you can say that to any country. All I am saying is that dont be surprised, if you spend the time to get to know said countries that majority of people lives a happy, peaceful, self-determined lives.
      People figure shite out. Similiar to free market is the the most efficient.

  • John B.

    I rarely drive a car these days. It’s inexpensive and much better for my productivity to leave the driving to others. Commuting to/from work as a passenger puts nearly an extra hour of productivity into my workday. That’s over 200 more hours of productivity a year. Taking Uber/Lyft to and from meetings and trips to airports puts another 100 or so hours into my yearly productivity. In short, we have passed the tipping point and we’re not going back.

    • Starmag

      Autonomous drivers so I can work more. Sign me up! Then I can afford more crap from China to impress my friends! Just think of the massive boost to my self-esteem from that! Well worth giving up my motorcycle for!

      This is some sort of CEO wet dream. More time for “productivity”.

      • John B.

        That’s not fair Starmag. I am not trying to impress anyone with material goods no matter where manufactured. I like being productive and busy, and though I enjoy driving a car, commuting in traffic is not fun for me. I much rather use that time for work. I guess I could look at Facebook or the news, but I usually go through my email and get things rolling at the office. I’m not being forced to work; it’s my choice.

        I have no plans to give up my motorcycle. Riding is the most enjoyable hobby I ever pursued. That said, if motorcycles are banned in my lifetime, I will find something else to do. I am sure some people really enjoyed having a horse and buggy. Then along came the automobile, and people had to adjust.

        We live in a dynamic world that evolves at an ever increasing pace. We either keep pace, or we become irrelevant. I choose to run faster.

        I have no plans to ever by another automobile. I’m saving the planet! Lol!

        • john burns

          I thought I was going to laptop it in back of an Uber on way to airport the other day, but so bumpy I couldn’t type. Not like aeroplane…

          • John B.

            I cannot use a laptop on Uber rides either. I also can’t use a laptop on an airplane when the person seated in front of me reclines his/her seat. (Is it possible to make flying any less enjoyable?) After 5.5 years, I finally broke my iPhone 5 and bought an iPhone X. I can do a ton of work on that phone. Stop the World – I Want to Get Off!

        • Starmag

          If you enjoy your job, more power to you. I like my job, but I wouldn’t be lost without it. There’s music to be written, pinballs to be restored, art to be created, friends to be enjoyed, oh, and motorcycles to be ridden. Being trapped in an “office on wheels” strikes me as undesirable. I’d rather have less and do.

          I’m going into our supposed “dreamy” future, (actually dystopian, we’ve had plenty of warnings from Orwell and his ilk), kicking and screaming. Autonomy strikes me as being about control, not safety. For me , the perfectly safe life would be the perfectly boring one anyway. You have every right to embrace it if you like.

          Plenty of PS and PM and other scientific predictions didn’t come true. In my opinion, we’re much more likely to hit a hard financial wall preventing the heinous autonomous future . Luckily.

          • John B.

            I reread my original post above and I may not have made my point sufficiently clear. My job involves tasks that have hard deadlines. Doing work while being driven to work and elsewhere enables me to spend less time at work (i.e., have more leisure time). It doesn’t necessarily mean a work more in a given year. If I drove to work and elsewhere that time is mostly wasted.

          • Jason

            I’m not seeing a downside to using the commute to be productive and reducing the time spent in the office. I waste 1 1/2 hours per day going to my job.

          • Campi the Bat

            The worry is that those without such freedom over their work day will be expected to labour during that commute on top of a full nine-hour shift, in the same way that company phones and laptops mean you’re always on call but don’t get to telecommute during normal work hours.

    • Ellie Green

      You’ve got it backwards. Your commute is an hour because there are so many cars. Or you live an apparently unbearable distance from your office. Neither of those things are actually solved by automation. I have zero worries about motorcycles in the future. Maybe when you get sick of stewing in cortisol on your uber ride you can join us there.

      • John B.

        I live 7-8 miles from my office, which seems reasonable. I am not trying to solve any problem. I choose not to drive because that suits me; it’s still a free country right?

        I have no worries about anything. Whatever comes, I can handle it. Last weekend, I rode 700 miles in two days to be with my two sons and watch the Eagles win their first Super Bowl. Riding a motorcycle is awesome; driving is terrible.

        • Born to Ride

          My two friends that I used to always ride with have transformed into car guys. Whenever they ask me when I am going to get a badass car, my response is always “why? So I can get stuck in traffic on the highway and get stuck behind a prius on Mt. Palomar and not be able to pass? No thanks.” Driving is terrible.

    • Starmag

      Uber/Lyft’s businss model is funny. “Lose money ( alot ) on every ride but make it up on volume”. Their only hope is driving (ha) everyone else out of business, then raising prices and/or autonomous cars. Their cash burn is something to behold. I give them three years. Place your shorts now.

      • John B.

        What annoys me is they know when I have a business trip on my calendar and on the day I am scheduled to leave they send me a 40% off my next 10 business rides promotion. Privacy is a thing of the past.

        • Starmag

          Too true. I just had a friend get rid of his Alexa because he was being sent ads to his phone about obscure things he and his wife were discussing in his living room! I’m not giving in easily, I tape over cams and mics on my electronics.

          • Old MOron

            Goddamn! Brave New World

          • disqus_iqqLuguva2

            Duh! The chickens invite the fox into their hen house, then they’re surprised when it bites them.

      • Jason

        Uber and Lyft’s business model is to make money on their cut of the fare while the “private contractors” that do the actual driving lose money on every ride.

        That said, I can see the attraction for someone that has a bill to pay and needs some quick cash. I don’t see driving for a rideshare company as a viable job.

        • Starmag

          Well, that’s the theory, but they don’t make money, they lose ungodly amounts of it. I agree that the drivers take it in the shorts all things, (depriciation, maintenence, etc.), considered.

    • therr850

      Good for you but,,, I get car sick riding in the rear seat and trying to read or look at a computer, tablet or iPhone screen while in motion gives me a migraine strength headache. For me, being in the wind on a motorcycle is the most relaxing way to commute or travel in general.

  • Starmag

    Lolz Lutz. Doesn’t anyone remember Popular Science or Popular mechanics from the 50’s? They were always predicting the future that still hasn’t come to pass.

    I got my driver’s license the DAY I turned 16 for cars and motorcycles. Why does anyone think this is a good idea? If it’s not a good idea why would we allow it?

    Does anyone think Amazon or politicians really care about your safety? Please. Poli- Greek prefix for “many”, tics- parasites who suck your blood, politicians- the many who suck your blood.

    Another great article with good pics Chris.

    P.S. to Kevin and Sean, more Chris Kallflez and Joe Gresh please.

    • Patricia

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      • Vrooom

        With English like that it has to be true.

        • Nicole

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  • Brian Clasby

    I’m still waiting for the flying cars . . . though they will almost certainly be robots.

  • Sayyed Bashir

    I think this article is describing the worst case (and most simplistic) scenario. In reality I think there will be designated lanes for autonomous vehicles just like there are car pool lanes now. We already have truck lanes on freeways. Fleets of trucks will go from distribution center to distribution center without a driver on board and stay in designated lanes. Other vehicles will have to go over or under those lanes, like they do with railroad tracks. So there will be no mixing of autonomous and human driven vehicles. Uber and Lyft is a different story. They will have to learn to coexist with human drivers otherwise they will be litigated out of existence. I think GM is not at the same level of sophistication as Google is. Google has millions of miles of autonomous driving without incident. All autonomous vehicles will reach a very high level of sophistication before being released into the wild. This was just a lane sharing incident. Think of autonomous vehicles in a city environment where people are crossing the street and others are riding bicycles. Taxis are going around double-parked delivery trucks. Buses are pulling into and out of bus stops. All this is not going to be solved in 20 years. Human driven vehicles cannot be outlawed everywhere in the country where there is no need to do it. Airlines can be considered autonomous vehicles (the pilot doesn’t really do anything except set the course in the autopilot, and they have designated pathways in the air). But that has not eliminated general aviation. Horse and buggies were never outlawed. They may not be allowed on some city streets due to sanitation but they are still there (especially in the Amish areas) and as wedding and tourist attractions. So our future is not as bleak as presented here. The current readers and writers of this magazine need not worry about it.

    • Chris Kallfelz

      I don’t know that Oscar will feel comforted by that Sayyed…That, “lane sharing incident,” put him on the ground.

      • Jason

        Oscar was found to be at fault for the accident. (Something missing from the article.)

        • Chris Kallfelz

          According to the SFPD accident report, but that’s disputed. The question remains who got their chocolate in whose peanut butter, hence the lawsuit.

          • Jason

            Oscar can dispute it if he wants but that is were things stand today. He caused and accident and is trying to sue the owner of the vehicle he hit. No doubt he will find a lawyer willing to take his long shot cause with hopes of getting famous.

          • Chris Kallfelz

            It’s a GM test vehicle, the owners are GM, and the test lab is the street. I have no idea if Oscar will prevail in court or if it will even get that far. I wasn’t there. I guess we will find out. His attorney maintains that the accident report itself vindicates his client.

          • Jason

            I know GM is the owner. Their deep pockets explain the lawsuit.

            My point was that the article reads as if an autonomous car hit a motorcyclist. The accident report says the opposite: a biker hit an autonomous car.

          • Chris Kallfelz

            It could be, or it could be the case that GM’s test vehicle failed this test and Oscar wants to be made whole again. Hopefully we’ll find out.

      • Sayyed Bashir

        I meant if a autonomous car cannot even handle a motorcycle beside it, how is it going to handle the mixed traffic on city streets?

        https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9db6eae319f5de6a60f9f4e53bc6de3de08d0f7c2f6ad837cbec2c2cb5d1bf7d.jpg

    • Joe

      “Airlines can be considered autonomous vehicles (the pilot doesn’t really
      do anything except set the course in the autopilot, and they have
      designated pathways in the air).”

      What? Nothing could be further from the truth.

      • Sayyed Bashir

        The take off and landing is automated too.

        • Joe

          No it isn’t. There are maybe a dozen airports in the world that have the ground tech and only the newest and most expensive airplanes have the on-board tech to talk to those systems.
          There are assists to the pilots, but airplanes do not take off, fly or land without pilots, co-pilots and ATC.

  • michael32853hutson@yahoo.com

    pretty dark,man! but in such a dystopian future,mightn’t there be a 21st century Robin Hoodie with his Merrie Men hiding in the forest on camo Trail 90’s? or whatever the kids are riding nowadays…

    • Chris Kallfelz

      If I’m going to be hiding in the woods make mine a Husky FE501…

      …with my orthoped on speed dial…

      • michael32853hutson@yahoo.com

        there ya go!

      • Sayyed Bashir

        I am already ready with my new KTM 500 EXC-F. Just have to cover up all that orange with camo.

  • Fabian

    Lutz is right and it already started; first, legalize canabis. The next generation of stoners will have no inclination to drive anyway. You’ll be driven if and where they want.There is a master plan to control us.

    • Chris Kallfelz

      Ahhh, dope and, “modules,” takes care of that sticky Second Amendment claim too, have a medical marijuana card, lose your firearms…We’ll be reduced to a population of 320 million disarmed stoners with Cheetoes stains on our shirt fronts and very limited attention spans.

      That is a pickle…

      Just say no to modules.

      • Starmag

        And Tide pods.

      • Campi the Bat

        Everyone’s fine with disarmament so long as it only affects “degenerate” poor and minority populations, same as it ever was.

  • Nice perspective! I wrote a very similar column three years ago…not sayin’ it’s better, just sayin’.

    http://www.motorcycle.com/features/skidmarks-squished.html

  • And just to play devil’s advocate, Chris, some would argue that our current transportation system – where NOT spending thousands of dollars a year buying, registering, maintaining and insuring a personal auto (that sits parked 95% of the time) limits your freedom of movement – offers much less freedom than a future where we can take these modules wherever we want quickly, safely and efficiently for pennies a mile.

    • Chris Kallfelz

      I suspect in large part the efficacy of these autonomous modules will depend on the environment one finds oneself in…Beyond that there are so many possible variables it’s hard to speculate…Lutz envisions privately owned modules as the exception rather than the rule. That’s fine for say the DC-NYC-Boston corridor, but for Mt. Vernon, ME? Probably not so much. One man’s freedom in Brooklyn may be another man’s standing in a snow drift in Mt. Vernon.

      The degree to which autonomous vehicles are successful in the marketplace – or mandated by law,- will be to the detriment of all traditional automobile related prices. It’s so hard to speculate because we could elect any number of ways to go right now.

      What does kind of blow me away in all this talk of fleet sales for shipping is how we continue to ignore rail to our detriment, but now I really digress. Anyway, there are a LOT of really big questions that will have to be addressed along the way. It would be nice for once to see questions like how do we want to live come to the forefront rather than what will the 800 pound gorillas in the marketplace demand and what will we be likely compelled by law to comply with. Basically, what Lutz presupposes, a system designed to maximize efficiency and safety

      I’m a motorcyclist, motorcycling is nether the safest nor the most efficient way to get around most days. In the world Lutz describes? We’re the turds in the punchbowl.

      • This is America. The bottom line is the bottom line. If we get in the way of wealthy people getting wealthier, we will be crushed in the wheels of progress.

        • Chris Kallfelz

          Exactly, and that is my – our – concern, and Lutz too.

          • John B.

            Thought provoking comments guys.

    • Chris Kallfelz

      OK, glancing at your ’15 piece? Nice column by the way, you see how the difference between a motorcycling Shanghai-la and a future without bikes follows from assumptions made? If I’m a disciple of Kantor I probably view the future of motorcycling – safe and with much less traffic congestion – optimistically. If on the other hand I’m a follower of Lutz it couldn’t be any worse, we’re legislated off the road.

      Who is closest to right? I dunno, I suspect autonomous and good old error prone human motoring will co-exist for some time together, simply because there is no one “right” answer in a country as diverse as ours. And I think there will be unanticipated problems that make any crystal ball reading beyond that a fool’s mission…

    • disqus_iqqLuguva2

      Sitting parked 95% of the time keeps it off the streets, which UberLyftZipCrap doesn’t. Cities with strong presence of the UberLyftZipCrap are finding that traffic gets much worse from all the damn cars!

  • DeadArmadillo

    This is one of the reasons us old f*c*ers die off. If you don’t like the way things are going now, how do you think you’re going to like it in 20 years or even worse 100 years?

  • jeff benson

    You will no longer be able to drive anywhere except on a paved approved road. No more 4 wheeling. No more dirt biking. Bow down slaves.

  • CrashFroelich

    If your motorcycle is mere transportation, with no purpose beyond getting from point A to point B, autonomy might appear attractive. I’ve never owned a motorcycle for transportation, unless the destination is Nirvana.

  • disqus_iqqLuguva2

    I don’t think legislation will be necessary. Raising insurance rates will do the trick. The insurance industry is the tail that wags us.

  • Douglas

    Since this article (and those similar, where the comments are overwrought with opinions, pontification, speculation, et al) has opened a wide door, I predict it may well become the longest blog in the history of MO…..