Thursday, April 6, 2023

14h edition of the 11th year of SmartDrivingCars eLetter


  While On-Road Driverless Slows, Ag-Tech Autonomy Players Are Plowing Ahead

R. Bishop, March 30, “The John Deere Company wowed the crowds at the 2023 Consumer Electronics Show in January with their high-tech agricultural equipment. At their exhibit, heads craned upward in awe to take in the 120 ft boom of their precision spraying technology, straddled atop a massive tractor. At the CES 2022, Deere & Company introduced a fully autonomous tractor.

In the months since CES, we’ve seen multi-faceted challenges for companies seeking to transform road-running Automated Driving Systems (ADS) into a profitable business. ADS developer Embark announced a shutdown and Locomation appears to be on the same path. The mood of investors is uncertain, especially given troubles in the banking sector.

Against this backdrop, the off-road world is becoming increasingly interesting for companies developing autonomy. Caterpillar and Komatsu brought the first commercial ADS’s to mining operations well over a decade ago. At that time, although the tech was very expensive, a business case could be made for equipping the huge mine-hauling trucks at open pit mines.

Since that time, thanks to the tidal wave of AV development for passenger cars, trucks, robo-shuttles, delivery robots, and more, the tech cost has now come down to reasonable levels for other types of industrial operations. Plus, the tech robustness has progressed by leaps and bounds. The result? Use cases are expanding rapidly in areas such as agriculture and construction. For this article, I’ll dig into the Ag space to examine the linkages with on-road autonomy….”  Read  more  Hmmmm…..  Right on, Dick! Such a timely and excellent post. 

As I wrote last week in and is repeated below… “ The objective of the 6th SmartDrivingCars Summit will be to put the eventual manufacturers of driverless passenger vehicles together with the eventual operators of transportation services to decide if there is a business to be made from delivering affordable mobility to a large segment our societies who are underserved by the current options: private cars and public transport.

It’s already happening with military and work vehicles”…  !  Alain


Currently playing episodeSmartDrivingCars ZoomCast 312 / PodCast 312 w/Helen Pen, GM of Baidu Apollo Autonomous Driving USA

  F. Fishkin,  April 3, “#Baidu #Apollo is now operating in three cities in China including Beijing, providing fully driverless rides to passengers. Helen Pan, GM of Baidu Apollo Autonomous Driving USA joins Alain and and Fred and Jerry He of CARTS to discuss the progress and plans. Join us for the wide ranging discussion plus the latest on the upcoming 6th Annual Smart Driving Cars Summit! For more information about the 6th #SmartDrivingCars Summit:

0:00 open

1:10 Helen Pan outlines status of Baidu’s autonomous mobility efforts in China

3:50 Pan says Baidu Apollo has paying customers

11:52 Alain asks how Baidu is operating the services

21:07 What are hours of operation and where are vehicles able to operate

28:14 Pan outlines advantages of autonomous mobility and the business model

50:38 Helen on Apollo going Open Source with Apollo Open Platform

55:00 Apollo’s hardware & software integration + OEM partnerships

58:00 Who will operated the service?

1:01:00 6th Annual Smart Driving Cars Summit is approaching

1:03:20 Alain on object of summit


The 6th Annual Princeton SmartDrivingCars Summit

May 22-24, 2023 | Princeton University, Princeton, NJ

Understanding the Business for Driverless Work Vehicles & Finding the Entry Point for a Radical Innovation…   Providing Affordable High-quality Mobility to Those Without a Personal Car.

The objective of the 6th SmartDrivingCars Summit will be to put the eventual manufacturers of driverless passenger vehicles together with the eventual operators of transportation services to decide if there is a business to be made from delivering affordable mobility to a large segment our societies who are underserved by the current options: private cars and public transport.

It’s already happening with military and work vehicles, with Oshkosh and Robotic Research, and John Deere, Caterpillar, Komatsu and others manufacturing driverless vehicles that are getting the jobs done in military operations, on farms, mines, warehouses, seaports, and airports, jobs where experienced drivers are too few in number or where driver safety cannot be ensured. They will be at the Summit during the sessions on Driverless Vehicles in the Line of Duty to explain how they have made the transition to building tools that safely meet the market requirements for both affordability and performance.

After twenty years of development, it’s time for the companies that will build the vehicles and the organizations that will operate the services to take the leadership position. Sensor manufacturers and software developers have gone as far as they can go, and some of them have already had to drop out of the race. Car manufacturers and energy companies are making the same mistake they made twenty-five years ago when they said they had to wait for a battery breakthrough before they could build an electric car. There is a ready and sizeable market for an inexpensive transport solution that has the flexibility of a passenger car for people who cannot drive themselves or afford their own car.

We have focused too much on the equivalent of the battery solution, on the technology, and not on the need. At the SDC Summit in May, we will focus on the need and how to satisfy that need. Join us in Princeton to be part of making this happen.  Alain


  Waymo retires its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan

K. Karosec, March 30, “More than five years ago, a newly minted Waymo took the wraps off of what would become its first commercialized autonomous vehicle: a Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan loaded with sensors and software.

Now, the minivan, a symbol of the early and hypey AV days, is headed for retirement as Waymo transitions its fleet (a must read) to the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace vehicles equipped with its fifth-generation self-driving system.

When the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid AV was first revealed, it might not have been what people expected from the former Google self-driving project turned Alphabet-owned business. The design wasn’t ripped from the pages of a graphic sci-fi novel and it was hardly flashy. But the white minivan — highlighted with the same blue and green accent colors found on the Waymo logo — embodied the company’s aim. Waymo wanted a friendly looking vehicle people would feel comfortable using….

Waymo never got close to the 62,000-minivan order it agreed to in 2018 as part of an expanded partnership with Fiat Chrysler. But the minivan did become a critical part of its commercialization plan and over its lifespan the fleet provided tens of thousands of rides to the public, according to the company. (Waymo has never revealed detailed figures of its minivan fleet beyond that its total global fleet is somewhere around 700 vehicles.)…” Read  more  Hmmmm…..  Wow!!! Deployment has barely started and  Waymo is already  “retiring” fleets.?  Seemingly, in part, to obtain “ … On Thursday, the White House gave a shout-out to Waymo ” What???  Washington isn’t even interested in AVs.  In their last funding round USDoT didn’t find a way to award even one penny to AVs, yet they’re still in the CV business. That  straw didn’t  break Pacifica’s back!

Is new vehicle availability expanding so much faster than new market opportunities that these vehicles aren’t worthy hand-me-downs to less deserving ODDs?

New Jersey hasn’t even been visited by one and let alone given any opportunity to serve the many in New Jersey who would really appreciate the Pacifica’s mobility opportunities and have their quality-of-life substantially improved by the non-retirement of these vehicles. 

So, I’m pleading with Waymo, please look at how to re-purpose these Pacificas in New jersey and please… don’t do to these what GM tried to do to the EV1s.  Don’t crush’em all!

To help out, I bid to buy today, the first 2 that you “ retire”.  As well as offer to purchase an option to buy 8 more within 6 months, 90 more within one year and 400 more within two years.  Cash!  Seriously! Call me!   

Please Don’t crush’em all!  Alain


  Remote Control Excavation, Autonomous Hauling & More – #CES2023

K.. Pyle, April 3, “Opening up the workforce to those who physically wouldn’t be able to do the jobs is one of the benefits of Caterpillar’s latest generation of products. At CES2023, Alan Pumklin, Market Professional, Autonomy and Automation for Caterpillar, gave Viodi a tour of some of their Cat® Command offerings. In short, these solutions are making it possible to abstract the control and management of their mighty machines from the dirty and important work these amazing implements perform.

The products on display encompass remote control, semi-autonomous and autonomous solutions. Specifically,… .”  Read  more  Hmmmm…..  Excellent video.  Enormously relevant to upcoming  to 6th Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit.  Alain


  Designing Mobility for the Next Billion Passengers

K.. Pyle, March 24, “If we’re overlooking this population, we’re losing out on a huge moneymaking opportunity,” states Michele Lee, Senior Public Affairs Manager, Accessibility for Cruise. Speaking in the above interview, Lee echoes recent Cruise-funded research from the National Disability Institute (PDF) that found that the adoption of accessible Autonomous Vehicles by people with disabilities could increase employment by 9.1M and U.S. GDP by 3.8% ($868 billion).

It goes beyond the quantitative, however, as autonomous vehicles provide potential improvement in quality of life by providing greater freedom of movement for those who otherwise would have to depend upon others.1 In the above interview, there are clips of Lee demonstrating the accessibility of Cruise’s Origin driverless vehicle.

Sasha Blair-Goldensohn adds that the opportunity is providing mobility for the next billion users. He points out that designing for accessibility helps people of all abilities, whether parents with strollers, tourists with luggage, or delivery companies. As he says,,… .”  Read  more  Hmmmm…..  Excellent video.  Also enormously relevant to upcoming  to 6th Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit.  Alain


  Here’s how John Deere’s electric robots can plant 6,600 seeds in 3 seconds 

M. Lewis, April 4, “Agricultural giant John Deere’s new tech, ExactShot, enables farmers to use electric robots to plant and fertilize seeds at an incredibly fast and precise pace.

I’m at the John Deere Tech Summit in Austin, and Nancy Post, VP of embedded software and solutions, talked us through ExactShot, which is planting and fertilizing technology that gets hooked up to John Deere tractors and is all about precision, speed, and volume.

John Deere’s speakers are all emphasizing the need to “do more with less.” They assert that with the global population expected to grow from 8 billion to nearly 10 billion by 2050, farmers need to increase production by 60-70% on today’s arable land.

So, citing labor shortages and tight growing time windows, the 186-year-old company is hot on output and automation. John Deere’s folks acknowledge that climate change is making agriculture even more challenging, so efficient and sustainable agriculture for both small and large farmers is only going to help… “ Read  more  Hmmmm…..  Also enormously relevant to upcoming  to 6th Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit.  Alain


   Baidu (BIDU) robotaxis offering fully-driverless rides continue to take over China

S. Doll, March 17, , “Apollo Go, tech company Baidu’s robotaxi service, has received a permit to offer fully-driverless rides in Beijing, expanding its autonomous ride-hailing service to three major cities in China. Following the awarded permit, Baidu is now the first company in the entire world to offer fully-driverless rides to the over 21 million residents in China’s capital city.

Baidu has previously been primarily known as a search engine giant in China, but has turned its focus toward EVs, AI, and autonomous driving technologies the past several years. In fact, its Apollo ecosystem has garnered over a hundred partnerships with various manufacturers and suppliers including Toyota, Ford, and Volkswagen.… “ Read  more  Hmmmm…..  Looks like we may need to look to China to lead us into our driverless future  We’ll need to pay attention at the upcoming  to 6th Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit.  Alain


 Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit Collapses 

M. Lewis, April 4, “It is a blow that will resonate throughout the British aerospace industry for a long time.

Great Britain had bet on Virgin Orbit, the company of billionaire Sir Richard Branson, to become a space power. But these ambitions, which manifested themselves in the development of a satellite manufacturing industry, have just taken a huge blow.

The company is ceasing operations “for the foreseeable future” after failing to secure a funding lifeline, only five years after it was created, CEO Dan Hart told employees on March 30, according to CNBC.

“Unfortunately, we’ve not been able to secure the funding to provide a clear path for this company,” Hart said, according to an audio recording of the meeting.… “ Read  more  Hmmmm…..  At least one company, SpaceX,  is deploying extraordinarily well in this industry.  See the following.  Alain


  SpaceX Moves Up Starship Launch Date, New Clues Suggest

S. Cao, April 4, “SpaceX could be targeting April 10 or April 11 to launch the maiden orbital flight of Starship, according to new clues from a NASA calendar, activities at SpaceX’s test site in Boca Chica, Texas, and a tweet by Elon Musk.’

Starship’s orbital flight is a hotly anticipated event for space enthusiasts and Musk fans in recent months. The two-stage rocket, standing at nearly 400 feet tall and designed to fly humans to Mars someday, will be the tallest spacecraft ever flown to Earth’s orbit if the launch is successful.

SpaceX previously aimed at launching Starship in March and seemed to have coordinated a date with NASA, which deploys an aircraft called WB-57 to monitor spacecraft activities during missions like this. A placeholder for “SpaceX Starship launch” was seen on NASA’s Airborne Science Program calendar in February but was later removed.

Over the weekend, NASA put two placeholders for WB-57 on April 10 and April 11 for imaging missions. WB-57 was the observing aircraft used in past Starship test flights to suborbital space, so the placeholders could be reserved for Starship’s orbital launch.… “ Read  more  Hmmmm…..  Time for me to get ready to revisit Boca Chica.  Yea!!.  Alain

 Master Plan Part 3: Sustainable Energy for All of Earth

F. Maire, April 5, “This paper finds a sustainable energy economy is technically feasible and requires less investment and less material extraction than continuing today’s unsustainable energy economy. While many prior studies have come to a similar conclusion, this study seeks to push the thinking forward related to material intensity, manufacturing capacity, and manufacturing investment required for a transition across all energy sectors worldwide..… “ Read  more  Hmmmm…..  There is a lot t

o absorb here right from the beginning… the enormous amount of waste heat (64%) that our economy produces today. Our cleanest source of energy is reducing waste heat. (Figure 3, p4)Seems so simple?  Alain


Massive Tesla Production Plan Rumors + Ford Mach E Sales Drop

R. Maurer, April 4, ” ➤ Tesla production plan rumors for next-gen vehicle ➤ Tesla to expand FSD Beta in China? ➤ FSD Beta mileage accelerating ➤ China March sales ➤ Tesla opens in Turkey ➤ Model Y LR expanded to new countries ➤ Price cuts in Australia and New Zealand ➤ Tesla continues searching for litigation team members ➤ Earth Day contest ➤ Brand Finance interview:    • Tesla is the Fast…   0:00 Intro / TSLA

Read  more  Hmmmm…..  Continues to be interesting.  Alain


MIT Mobility Forum: Spring 2023

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


Hosted by Prof. Jinhua Zhao

  Save the Date: 

6th Annual Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit:

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


TRB Automated Transportation Symposium

San Francisco, CA, July 9-13


Bridging Transportation Researchers (BTR) Conference

Paper Submission deadline: April 30

August. 9 & 10

On-line Conference