Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car—And How It Will Reshape Our World

Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car—And How It Will Reshape Our World

Posted by jack_miller | Published 6 months ago

With 68 ratings

By: Lawrence D. Burns and Christopher Shulgan

Purchased At: $30.79

An automotive and tech world insider investigates the quest to develop and perfect the driverless car—an innovation that promises to be the most disruptive change to our way of life since the smartphone

We stand on the brink of a technological revolution. Soon, few of us will own our own automobiles and instead will get around in driverless electric vehicles that we summon with the touch of an app. We will be liberated from driving, prevent over 90% of car crashes, provide freedom of mobility to the elderly and disabled, and decrease our dependence on fossil fuels. 

Autonomy is the story of the maverick engineers and computer nerds who are creating the revolution. Longtime advisor to the Google Self-Driving Car team and former GM research and development chief Lawrence D. Burns provides the perfectly-timed history of how we arrived at this point, in a character-driven and heavily reported account of the unlikely thinkers who accomplished what billion-dollar automakers never dared.

Beginning with the way 9/11 spurred the U.S. government to set a million-dollar prize for a series of off-road robot races in the Mojave Desert up to the early 2016 stampede to develop driverless technology, Autonomy is a page-turner that represents a chronicle of the past, diagnosis of the present, and prediction of the future—the ultimate guide to understanding the driverless car and navigating the revolution it sparks.

I would highly recommend this book to both students and adults. The retelling of the DARPA Grand Challenges seriously made me regret not choosing a career in engineering. And the explanation of how the autonomous vehicle has evolved over time was gripping, not only because of the breadth of topics covered (e.g., engineering, mathematics, public policy, business, etc.), but also because of all the known and unknown people you learn about. An exciting and fascinating tale of the past, present and future of autonomous vehicles.

- randall_reyes

This book made me uneasy. It is about three things: (1) Burns's ego, (2) the stupidity of the people who run the big car companies, and (3) the future of automobiles, in that order. The first 98 pages (excepting the 10-page Introduction) are pure padding and not worth reading. The rest of the book is about how brilliant Burns is and how he fought the whole automotive industry (and its stupid, narrow-minded leaders) to usher in self-driving cars. The constant (self) praise of Burns would have rung truer if an objective outsider/biographer/tech historian had written the book. If Burns's portrayal of the big car companies leaders is to be believed, it's downright scary to think these people control the industry that builds our cars, driverless or not. Finally, there's far too much soap opera about personalities, with the result that the supposed core subject (driverless cars) gets lost.

- holland_evans

I can’t get this subject matter of this book out of my mind.

Lawrence Burns starts with a concise, researched summary of the current situation with all of us guzzling fuel to drive a heavy, larger than needed car from one parking spot to another on our occasional trips in our mostly idle personal autos.

I’m in Oakland CA and until reading this book saw no hope for any future solution to Bay area traffic. But Burns lays out the dramatic reduction in “cars” needed if we move from personally owned autos to fleets of driverless cars readily responding to our calls for rides to whatever destinations we have.

Any politician or other public official facing traffic issues should, after reading this book, want their jurisdiction at the head of the line for those city managers thoughtful enough to lead their municipalities in participation in testing these vehicles.

Yes, very sadly there will be tragedies ahead with these vehicles – we’ve already seen some and they too are well documented in this book. But these vehicles have the potential and the promise of dramatic future reduction in accidents. Burns strongly makes that case.

I had a first-hand seat to the advent of the digital camera era and as a result to Kodak losing its enormous businesses in film, in paper, in chemicals, and in picture developing/printing. The automobile and energy production and maintenance businesses face the same fate at the same pace that Kodak faced. If you’re in any business dependent on automobiles – from manufacturing, to parts production, to sales, to servicing, to gasoline production/sales, to parking, to insurance – this book will lead you through rethinking the future of your businesses. Don’t believe it? Don’t think it will happen in the “near” future? Read this book and it’ll make you rethink your futures.

My hope is that this happens before my own car needs replacement, as I’m hopeful it will be the last car I ever own.

- claudia_lewis

Burns is a former GM exec who for years engaged in the thankless task of reforming the company from with, to steer it toward a greener future. He scored some successes by securing GM sponsorship of prestigious teams in autonomous driving competitions in the early 2000’s, but ultimately inertia of the old guard combined with economic downturns and bankruptcy convinced him that he could effect more change by being outside of GM than staying within.
This is a riveting insider tale of the first decades in the quest for developing and marketing autonomous vehicles. Featuring enough technical information to give geeks something to enjoy while not burying the reader with arcane engineering detail, this work strikes the perfect mix. The chapters on the first DARPA autonomous vehicle challenges are particularly compelling and are told in a vivid, page-turning manner.
The author retells the many personal conflicts that plagued the business in the later years, some of which impacted him, but by and large he manages to put his personal biases aside and tell the story in an informative and reasonable manner. However, despite his intentions, the reader can still detect an anti-Uber tilt, although he is open about his allegiances and interests. Another improvement could have been to address some of the autonomous vehicle activity outside of North America. While North America in general and the Detroit-Silicon Valley rivalry (which eventually, as he points out, became a collaboration) in particular were a clear driving force in the development of the autonomous car, there could have been a few more comments on what was happening outside the continent. Ethical issues, too, could have benefited from a little more coverage.
But these are quibbles. Written in a very readable style by a man with deep knowledge of the car business, this is an excellent introduction to the field and a must-read for all who want to know how we got here and where we’re going. It will make you an optimist.

- giselle_peterson

The author repeats himself frequently, especially regarding how visionary he is. The book largely covers the past development of autonomous vehicles which is interesting although wordy. There's a few areas covering the economics that may make mobile services succeed. However, autonomous vehicles always seem two years away. The author doesn't cover why it's taking so long and what the development issues are today.

- killian_carter

Good and well informed. Betrays the silicon valley mindset though with the examples of future users from Ann Arbor.The big breakthroughs may only come when SV can empathise with everyone,not just the high earners,highly educated early adopters of technology.

- kasen_ortiz

Fantastic book that chronicles the start of the self driving revolution. Sets the scene nicely for the future developments too.

Great read.

- allie_robinson

Interesting account if the early development of autonomous vehicles with military purposes.

- connor_parker

This book is a wonderful narrative of industry events and immensely useful insight for anyone active in the selfdriving technology market.

- rowan_lopez

Das Buch gibt generell einen guten Überblick über die Entwicklung der Automobilbranche der letzten 10-15 Jahre, gerade mit Blick auf das namensgebende Thema "Autonomie".
Der Eindruck wird primär vom Autor selbst gestört und der Art und Weise wie er versucht seine Rolle bei GM und später Waymo gleichzeitig bescheiden darzustellen und trotzdem seine - seiner Meinung nach - Wichtigkeit zu betonen. Typische Humble-Brag-Symptome. An einer Stelle kulminiert es in der geradezu schmerzhaften Zusammenfassung, in der er neben den großen 3 Trends (Selbstfahrfähigkeit, Elektroantrieb, Car-Sharing (Uber, Lyft)) auch die EN-V Studie von GM ins Spiel bringt und sie auf dieselbe Stufe stellt. Bei EN-V handelt es sich um eine dieser typischen, futuristischen 0815-Studien, die Autobauer auf großen Events (in diesem Fall die Expo 2010 in Shanghai) als reine PR-Maßnahme vorstellen. Natürlich hat der Autor diese persönlich mit begleitet (zumindest in der Anfangsphase), was in dem sehr langatmigen und enttäuschendem Kapitel zu seiner (inhaltlich erfolglosen) Konzernkarriere geschildert wird. Sofern man dieses Kapitel jedoch übersteht (oder überspringt) bleibt ein recht spannender Eindruck über die DARPA-Challenges und die Entwicklung von Waymo und Uber in den letzten Jahren.

- nora_ramirez

Working in innovation for a car manufacturer, I really enjoyed this book. Well written, entertaining, and very relevant with regards to that autonomous mobility revolution that's looming on the horizon.
Highly recommend.

- sawyer_patel

A fascinating read, in my opinion. The authors provide the past, present and the future of self-driving vehicles and how the concept of personal mobility will transform and improvise in the coming years.

- jaelyn_taylor

Good book

- nyla_johnson

A character driven story about the advent of Autonomous technology

- liliana_rodriguez

a whole book attributed to explaining how smart the author was to predict this revolution and how dumb Detroit was for not listening better. The more money you paid him as a consultant, the more positive he talks about you in the book.

- rylan_long

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