Monday, February 27, 2023

8th edition of the 11th year of SmartDrivingCars eLetter

    Seeking NHTSA review of the Origin

R. Grant, Feb. 2022 “Cruise has taken a big step toward our vision of a safer, more sustainable and accessible transportation future. Together with General Motors, we have filed a petition seeking approval from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to build and put the Cruise Origin into commercial service. 

The Cruise Origin is among the most innovative vehicles in history: a zero-emission, shared, electric vehicle that has been purposefully designed from the ground up to operate without a human driver. This means it does not rely on certain human-centered features, like a steering wheel or a sun visor, to operate safely.

At Cruise and GM, safety is our mission. This petition both demonstrates how the Origin achieves safety objectives of existing standards, and helps enable future AV regulations. NHTSA has made clear in public testimony and regulatory actions, that in order to consider the development of AV standards, they first need more information from real world AV operations. We believe this petition can help enable that outcome: learnings from the Origin, which is designed to improve overall road safety, can help inform the creation of new, updated regulations and standards….” Read  more   Hmmmm…..Flashback! This was some of the best news that I had seen in a while when it came out last year, and here we are one year later, and it is STILL at the top of the heap. It bears repeating: Someone who has been actually demonstrating the ability to safely move people on at least some city streets without a driver or attendant (there are only two in the US: Cruise & Waymo) is seriously proposing to manufacture what is actually a driverless transit vehicle that can provide high-quality, demand- responsive mobility to a small group of people when those opportunities arise as well as serve the needs of the individual when necessary . 

Think of the opportunity of the demand-responsive mobility that such vehicles can deliver to our communities, especially the mobility disadvantaged, for whom travel demand is non-stationary and so spatially and temporally distributed that it requires a vehicle to respond to the demand for mobility in real time. Such demand, while served exceedingly well by those of us who can afford and have a license to drive a car, has little hope of being adequately served by conventional vehicles that require the demand to respond to pre-set routes and schedules. The space-time combinatorial of the demand is orders of magnitude larger than the space-time combinatorial of the set of scheduled routes. 

Thanks for coming with me on this trip down Memory Lane. What are GM Cruise/Origin up to these days? Just keep reading. Alain

   GM’s plan to deploy self-driving Cruise Origin on hold as feds weigh exemption request

J. LaRean,  Updated Feb 25, “General Motors’ mission to get 5,000 self-driving Cruise Origin vehicles in cities nationwide hangs on whether federal regulators will grant the automaker’s request to exempt the vehicle from federal safety standards.


GM plans to start building the Origin at Factory Zero in Detroit/Hamtramck this year but needs approval from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to put the vehicles on the roads. The Origin is a small bus-like vehicle that will transport up to six people without a driver. It operates through autonomous technology and has no manual steering controls or pedals. 

General Motors’ mission to get 5,000 self-driving Cruise Origin vehicles in cities nationwide hangs on whether federal regulators will grant the automaker’s request to exempt the vehicle from federal safety standards.


GM plans to start building the Origin at Factory Zero in Detroit/Hamtramck this year but needs approval from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to put the vehicles on the roads. The Origin is a small bus-like vehicle that will transport up to six people without a driver. It operates through autonomous technology and has no manual steering controls or pedals.   “The Cruise Origin is on track to start production this year,” said Aimee Ridella, GM spokeswoman. But she is careful to note, “pending government approval.”…” Read  more  Hmmmm…   OK, now to the present day: Wow! Given the advances that Cruise has made in demonstrating safe driverless operation in San Francisco, coupled with the enormity of the opportunity that Cruise’s driverless stack can make when placed in a vehicle that is welcoming to shared ridership, there are many reasons to be optimistic about their potential impact in the driverless, share-ride space. Origin coupled with the Cruise driver is an ideal vehicle for the provision of safe, equitable, affordable, sustainable, high-quality MOVES -style mobility, especially throughout transportation disadvantaged communities. 


Origin’s potential is so substantial that NHTSA in its public service role should be seeking to have GM build Origin rather than having GM petition NHTSA for permission. Yes, NHTSA is responsible for the safety of vehicles, but they also have a public calling to provide mobility; else, the travel safety extremum can be most readily attained by having everyone and everything stay home and not travel. That’s absolutely silly!  In this case, the mobility opportunity is so enormous that NHTSA should work expeditiously with GM to grant this application. As with Nuro, we have an enormous mobility opportunity that conventionally driven vehicles simply can’t deliver; else, they would have done it many years ago. NHTSA’s mobility responsibility should be demanding that it give Origin the waivers that it needs ASAP, so that society can begin to capture the unique mobility benefits that Origin has the opportunity to deliver. Each day of delay is a day that the improvement in the quality of life of some individuals, especially some that have been very unfairly disadvantaged by the automobile revolution, is delayed. It is about time that NHTSA does something to improve mobility for those who have been left behind by that revolution. Why the feet dragging here??? Alain



 SmartDrivingCars ZoomCast 305 / PodCast 305 w/Michael Sena

“F. Fishkin, Feb. 27,  ” With shrinking populations and vacant office space, Michael Sena says the de-industrial revolution has begun. “The Dispatcher” publisher and consultant joins Alain Kornhauser & Fred Fishkin for episode 305 of Smart Driving Cars. Plus…run flat tires, GM’s Cruise Origin, Locomation, Tesla and more.

0:00 open

1:00 Is it time we admitted the world will change: the de-industrial revolution has begun

21:00 Impact on transportation, automakers

28:40 Run flat tires..from Michelin and more

35:25 GM’s waits for NHTSA okay for deployment of Cruise Origin autonomous mobility

46:00 Locomation denies reports of its demise

47:08 The Insider report on Tesla… and upcoming master plan. Alain’s comments not what were reported.  


MIT Mobility Forum: Spring 2023

1.     Fridays 12:00-13:00 Boston Time Open to the public

  1. Registration:

3.     Hosted by Prof. Jinhua Zhao 


Feb 17 Alain Kornhauser “Envisioning Profitable Autonomous Transit Networks ” 
Feb 24 Hani Mahmassani “Telemobility, hybrid work and the next normal” 
March 3 Liz Renold and David Mindell “Tectonic shifts in science, technology, and industrial policy: looking ahead” 
March 10 Juan de Dios Ortuzar “Modelling Sustainable Options – the importance of habit and perceptions”
March 17 Robin Chase “The case against transportation policy priority one being electrified personal cars”

  Save the Date: 

6th Annual Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit:

Monday Evening, May 22 -> Wednesday 5pm, May 24, 2023


Bridging Transportation Researchers (BTR) Conference

Paper Submission deadline: April 30

August. 9 & 10

On-line Conference



  It Is Time We Admitted That the World Will Change
M. Sena, Feb 26, “During the period between 1870 and 2010, we came to expect continuous growth. This is the era that J. Bradford DeLong has called The Long Twentieth Century, “when the triple emergence of globalization, the industrial research lab, and the modern corporation ushered in changes that began to pull the world out of the dire poverty that had been humanity’s lot for the previous ten thousand years”. Two devastating wars and a decade-long economic Great Depression should have been enough to shake our faith in the inevitability of the Planet’s potential for unfettered expansion. But they weren’t. It was the Second World War that ended the Depression, and in the six decades that followed its end there seemed to be no limit to prosperity for all mankind. Paradoxically, our belief in a fair and democratic future was shaken at what should have been the era’s greatest moment. In December 2009, America’s first Black President was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”. It was the Great Recession which began in 2008 that brought the Long Twentieth Century to an end, and the decade between 2010 and 2020 was, in a word, destabilizing: politically, culturally, socially and economically. It took a pandemic to stop the world from spinning totally out of control. The respite it offered from the manic rushing about in which we were engaged for business, pleasure, and our belief that travelling everywhere was simply something we had to do, gave us the opportunity to see the world and our place in and on it in a different light. A degree of stability returned in 2020, even though some parties (Do I need to mention names?) are acting like it is still the decade of anger and dissatisfaction. The Industrial Revolution brought with it the mass movement of whole populations to places where things would be made. We are on the cusp of a new era, one of deindustrialization. What will it bring?… Read  more  Hmmmm….. Absolutely fantastic read.  Enjoy! Listen or watch the discussion SmartDrivingCars ZoomCast 305 / PodCast 305 w/Michael Sena    Alain


  Envisioning Profitable Autonomous Transit Networks

Kornhauser, Feb. 17, “t has been almost 20 years since the DARPA “SmartDrivingCar” Challenges and 15 years since Google jumped in with the objective of providing demand-responsive automated mobility and we’re still “envisioning” as if this challenge is like that of achieving nuclear fusion… always “50 years away, but once we get there, then the return to society is absolutely non-trivial”. Presented is my perspective on automated mobility gained from a more than 50 year career largely focused on achieving safe, affordable, equitable, sustainable high-quality mobility for our towns and cities. Reviewed will be what was tried and why it failed; where we’ve been recently and why it has struggled; and where is it that we might be going and what are the challenges and chances of success. Looking forward, the concept of Autonomous Transit Networks is presented and assessed using the Princeton Synthetic Daily PersonTrip (PSDPT) data set of the 1.1 billion individual person trips made by the 320 million persons on a typical day. The mobility opportunity and operational challenges of several conceptual deployments are presented. The challenges associated with the scaled realization of such deployments will be discussed., Read  more  Hmmmm…..  See slides and register to get access to discussion. Alain Kornhauser


  U.S. Department of Transportation Funds Innovative Research Providing Vital Training for Next Generation of Transportation Leaders

Staff, Feb. 21, “Today, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced up to $435 million in grant awards for 34 University Transportation Centers (UTC) that will help the next generation of transportation professionals make our roads, bridges, rail, shipping, and airspace safer, more innovative, and more efficient. UTCs advance transportation expertise and technology in the varied disciplines that comprise the field of transportation through education, research, and technology transfer activities. Project focus areas include, but are not limited to, improving the mobility of disadvantaged populations to mitigating impacts of extreme weather impacts on our Nation’s transportation systems to identifying and mitigating cybersecurity risks.  …


“The work performed by our next generation of diverse transportation researchers at these Centers will help the American people travel more safely, quickly, and affordably. The Centers at these two-and-four-year colleges and universities advance U.S. technology and expertise in the many disciplines comprising transportation through education, solutions-oriented research and technology transfer, and the exploration and sharing of cutting-edge ideas and approaches,” said Dr. Robert C. Hampshire, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology.”  …


  • $4 million/year for University of Texas at Austin to lead a group focused on mobility: This UTC will execute the Transportation Heartbeat of America Survey to collect longitudinal data to understand how travel behavior and demand is evolving. By undertaking this breakthrough research for measuring, monitoring, modeling, and managing traveler behaviors, it aims to foster the design, development, and operation of a people-centric, multimodal, intelligent transportation system that meets the needs of people, institutions, and businesses.  
    • Consortia members: Arizona State University, California State Polytechnic University Pomona, City College of New York, Diné College (Navajo Nation), Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Michigan, and University of Washington 


Read  more  Hmmmm…..  Congratulations to all, especially Camile Kamga, CCNY.  See also  U.S. Department of Transportation Funds Academic Consortium Led by The University Transportation Research Center at The City College of New York at CUNY”  Alain


  Robotaxis, cheap EVs, and a new master plan for the future: what to expect at Tesla’s Investor Day

A Hawkins, Feb. 27, “Tesla is convening its first Investor Day event on March 1st at its Gigafactory in Austin, Texas, at which Elon Musk is expected to unleash upon the world his latest Master Plan for the company’s future. Expectations are high, but given Musk’s penchant for leaving past Master Plan promises unfulfilled, keeping those expectations in check may be a wise move.  

Musk has said the event is for “people and life of earth,” adding that “it will be a message of good hope & positivity for the future.” That certainly sounds affirming, but the reality facing Musk and Tesla today undercuts a lot of the optimism of that message. 

Wild stock fluctuationsincreasing competitionrecallsproduct delays, allegations of union busting, and an impending regulatory crackdown are all converging to threaten Tesla’s position as a leader in the EV space. Musk’s disastrous acquisition of Twitter, for which he sold $23 billion in Tesla stock, and his repeated controversial statements on the social media platform, casts a long shadow over Tesla’s rah-rah event. …”  Read  more  Hmmmm…..  I hope to be watching, live J  Wouldn’t it be wild if he announced a shared-rideable Robotaxi (an H-vator (Horizontal elevator).  I can dream, can’t I? Alain


  Mercedes-Benz will add Luminar lidar to ‘a broad range’ of vehicles by mid-decade

A Hawkins, Feb. 22, “Mercedes-Benz will add lidar sensors to “a broad range” of its vehicles by the middle of the decade, the company announced at an investor event in California on Wednesday. The laser sensors will help power the German automaker’s next-generation driver-assist system, which allows for hands-free unsupervised driving on certain highways.

The lidar will be supplied by Luminar, a Florida-based company in which Mercedes owns a small investment stake. The German automaker has no plans to increase its stake in Luminar, though the lidar deal is said to be worth several billion dollars. (Mercedes owns less than 1 percent of the company.)…”  Read  more  Hmmmm … Congratulations Luminar!  Alain


  Autonomous platooning startup Locomation denies reports of its demise

Al Adler, Feb. 24, “Autonomous truck startup Locomation Inc. denied published reports that it is closing.


“We are not shutting down,” company co-founder and CEO Çetin Meriçli told FreightWaves in an email late Friday. “We did reduce most of our non-engineering headcount in the face of economic headwinds.

“Unfortunately, we had an employee give an unauthorized and inaccurate quote, and despite providing further information, the original story ran anyway.”


Several Pittsburgh-area media outlets reported Thursday the company was closing.

An industry analyst told FreightWaves that several laid-off Locomation employees contacted him seeking other job prospects.  It’s unknown how many of Locomation’s estimated 122 employees faced termination. Mericli declined to provide specifics.


Locomation failed to raise additional investment capital, leading to the layoffs, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. The company has raised $105 million since its founding in 2018, including $15 million in October 2022, according to PitchBook. “Obviously, we’re super disappointed; we do feel like we had all the right pieces in place,” Finch Fulton, Locomation vice president of policy and strategy, told the Pittsburgh Business Times. ….”  Read  more  Hmmmm…..  Whew!, Maybe????. Alain


  Elon Musk has promised self-driving Teslas for years. Experts say it’s not even close

T. Levin, Feb 26, “Elon Musk has spent much of the last decade assuring and reassuring customers and investors that driverless Teslas are right around the corner. Spoiler alert: You still can’t take a snooze at the wheel or watch TikTok in traffic. …


While it’s made strides and released an audacious prototype version of Full Self-Driving that owners are testing around the country, Tesla still hasn’t delivered on its core promise of making cars that drive themselves. Some automated driving experts think it won’t happen anytime soon. …


Despite its branding, Tesla’s Full Self-Driving Beta currently requires total driver supervision, just like cruise control or smarter features like Autopilot. Unlike those systems, which work on the highway, Full Self-Driving aims to operate anywhere people drive, from rural roads to chaotic city intersections and everywhere in between. Once software updates improve the system sufficiently, the idea is to convert the driver into a passenger. … 


To be sure, others aren’t so quick to write off Tesla’s way of doing things. Alain Kornhauser, director of the program in transportation at Princeton University, supports the vision-only approach and thinks Tesla is well on its way to autonomous operation. But, he says, self-driving anywhere all the time isn’t realistic….Read  more  Hmmmm.   Well… saying that something all the time is not realistic is not really saying anything.  Not many things are “all the time”.


I do think that Tesla is well on its way to safe Driverless operation in some well-defined Operational Design Domain(s) (ODD(s)) (some roads under some conditions), some of the time, if Tesla chose to try to “calibrate” their system individually  for such an ODD(s). (Since such vehicles would operate only in one ODD at a time and would readily know which ODD it is in, it can use the calibration that has been certified safe in that ODD.  Such an approach can start with a safe in one ODD, then find a second, third and evolve rather than trying to have it safely operate everywhere from the beginning.


To my knowledge, Tesla has not chosen to go down that “start small and grow fast” road but instead has focused to go for the “everywhere”/ “everytime” end of the spectrum.  While one would like to be successful at that end of the spectrum, one  may well find that to be infinitely difficult.


 Waymo and Cruise, which are the only two US companies doing Driverless on some streets at some times, have chosen the more modest approach.  To my knowledge, neither of them, are contemplating the putting Driverless in any consumer’s hands anytime soon, if ever.  That would be  an enormously heavy lift, given the extend of the negative consequences resulting from having even just a very few consumers misbehaving in using their own cars 


Yes, Elon had enormously high expectations and should not be calling his systems “autoPilot” or Full anything, let alone Self-Driving.  And it would be great if he/Tesla, called the features sold to consumers simply “driver assistance systems” and/or  “collision avoidance systems”.   Maybe they should also put labels on these systems as is now done with cigarettes: “ If you don’t stay alert, attentive and prepared to “save your butt”, you will die”.  (Maybe, unfortunately, even with dire warnings, some folks still smore cigarettes L)


As Prof. Missy Cummings pointed out last week, drivers may well have over-expectations about the performance of these systems and are mis-behaving in using them especially with regard to the legal operation of road vehicles which is the responsibility of the driver.  It is the driver that gets the speeding ticket, the stop sign violations, the tailgating ticket… If these driver assistance systems drive at speeds greater than the speed limit and the tickets start going to the makers of these systems that are doing the speeding, or rolling through stop signs, … these systems will very quickly be “over-the-air-updated” to not drive over the speed limit, not roll through stop signs, …


 Anyway:  AutoPilot.. bad name!; Full Self-driving.. bad name!; FSD…, give it up!; Autonomous somewhere relevant… not this century; Driverless somewhere, sometime… exists now (GM/Cruis); Waymo); Driverless a market success in some ODD … hopefully soon (<5 years);   


 I do  favor vision as the dominant sensor simply because our road  environment has been built to best serve our human vision.   Until  these automated systems have their own built environment, which is definitely not going to happen any time soon, then the dominant sensing system should be vision-based.  HD maps are great for fixed objects, but the greater challenge are moving objects.  Moving objects are absent from HD maps.  If you are good enough in-real-time sense moving objects, stationary ones are likely to be a breeze.   As you must all know, I use the term “self-driving” to be what others call “Level 2” … Feet-off, hands-off brain/eyes-on in some places/roads, some of the time.      Alain


  Tesla recalling 362,758 cars with Full Self-Driving mode due to crash risk

R. Mitchell, Feb. 16, “Under pressure from federal safety regulators, Tesla on Thursday launched a recall to repair defects to the experimental Full Self-Driving software deployed on public roads.

The recall affects 362,758 Tesla vehicles and includes certain Model S and Model X (2016-23), Model 3 (2013-23), and Model Y (2020-23) vehicles. To be delivered by over-the-air-software, the fix is intended to repair code that can cause FSD-equipped Teslas to run yellow lights, disobey speed limits and travel straight ahead from turn-only lanes. Recalled models make up about 10% of the 3.6 million vehicles that Tesla has sold to date globally….”  Read  more  Hmmmm.   I commented above with respect to Prof. Cummings’ comment re-excessive speeding corelated with use of advanced driver assistant systems .  Alain


  Tesla disappoints owners with updated language around ‘Full Self-Driving Beta’

F. Lambert, Feb. 27, “Tesla has updated some of the language around its “Full Self-Driving Beta” program following the NHTSA recall, and some owners are quite disappointed.


If you were to take the pulse of Tesla owners on social media this morning, you would find that many of them are confused or even disappointed.  We are seeing a lot of comments like this one from well-known FSD Beta tester Chuck Cook:…”  Read  more  Hmmmm…..  Not surprising.  Alain


   Huge FSD Beta Updates, Semi Insights, New Battery Contract 

R. Maurer, Feb 21, 2023 “ Leaked FSD Beta v11.3 release notes Hardware 4.0 and generation 3 rumors Driver shares thoughts on Tesla Semi Tesla signs offtake agreement for anode materials China insured vehicle report Toyota US EV plans SpaceX update “ Read  more  Hmmmm.   Some good news here.  Alain


  Self-Driving Cars Are Progress at a Price

G. Opeika, Feb. 21, “Tesla’s doing it. So is Alphabet’s affiliate Waymo. Nvidia, the semiconductor chipmaker, is on board, along with Israel-based Mobileye. Even Apple—famous for arriving late to the new-tech party but eventually outstripping the competition—is doing it. Everybody is getting into the autonomous-vehicle business these days. Experts project that self-driving vehicles will account for about 12% of car registrations by 2030 and eventually will make up a large majority.

According to the General Services Administration Office of Motor Vehicle Management, 98% of automobile accidents in the U.S. are caused by human error. …”  Read  more  Hmmmm.   Well…I guess the WSJ “Opinion” has become the WSJ “Sunday Supplement”.  There is both good news and bad news about essentially everything.!