Friday, May 12, 2023

19th edition of the 11th year of SmartDrivingCars eLetter

    Waymo doubles robotaxi service area in Phoenix in bid to grow driverless trips tenfold

K. Korosec, May 4,  “Waymo is doubling its commercial robotaxi service area in the Phoenix metro area, an expansion that will add new suburbs and connect previously isolated sections of the sprawling and car-dependent desert city.… “ Read  more  Hmmmm… This has the potential to be important news.


Phoenix has been a great “Proof of Technology/Safety” for Waymo.  Safe, driverless mobility has been established in a substantial Operational Design Domain (ODD).  The objective of that “Proof of Technology/Safety” was:  operate safely throughout the ODD without attendants. The performance metric was essentially no disengagements and essentially no crashes throughout the ODD with an attendant on board. Then pull the attendant and demonstrate essentially no disengagements and essentially no crashes throughout the ODD.  


Proof of Market requires the service be attractive enough such that sufficient individuals choose Waymo One as the means by which they go from point A to point B, leaving at or about time t.  For Waymo One to be the chosen by an individual means it had to be -perceived by the traveler as being THE best way to go for this trip at this time.  Not the 5th best, or the 3rd best or even the 2nd best.  It had to be THE best for that individual for that {A,B, t}. 


Users of Waymo One come from an addressable market made up of trips that would be taken by conventional means, had Waymo One not existed, plus the inducement of new trips because Waymo One is so much better than all other options so as to make the destination + the travel so desirable that the individual decides to make the trip rather than not go. 


To become #1 in the eyes of a potential customer, Waymo One has many positives:  

  • It is safe:  OK, but not substantially safer than other ways Arizonians have among their choice set as to how to travel.  Likely not enough to elevate Waymo One above their current way to go.  So safety by itself is not a differentiator. In economic jargon, the demand elasticity of safety is essentially zero at current safety levels.
  • The technology: OK;  however, this is a “one and done” greatness that generates a “selfie” on the first use and little perceived benefit thereafter.  The cost of customer acquisition is so non-trivial that it needs to be focused on repeat customers and not “one & done”s;  where the service is rarely perceived to be better than one’s own car or an expense account ride hailing, taxi or limousine trip.
  • Service is inexpensive and can be made affordable with vehicle productivity and scale:  Great!  This is an attribute that is really important at the current moment to folks who don’t have access to their own car and who are paying their own way.
  • Service is high-quality in that its flexibility can allow it to respond to a customer’s demand rather than having the customer change their desire in order to correlate to a schedule and a route:  Great, especially to those for which affordability is important so there isn’t need to trade off price with service.  Moreover, the service can be made even better in the future such that even car owners may change their car-buying behavior because Waymo’s service has become so good and so affordable that they pivot. 


My recommendation would be for Waymo to concentrate their “Proof of Market” on serving customers who currently don’t have access to their own car, can’t readily get a ride from someone, and will appreciate how inexpensively Waymo One can afford to deliver a safe, high-quality ride.  Once focused on serving the mobility desires of this market segment, then Waymo One can pass the “Proof of Market” test by achieving a vehicle productivity of 100 person trips per day per vehicle.  That productivity allows them to scale and be relevant and profitable. Is it any surprise that I am suggesting they work with us in Trenton and on other MOVES-style projects? 😊  Alain



 SmartDrivingCars ZoomCast 317 / PodCast 317

F. Fishkin,  May 12, “Smart Driving Cars episode 317 Waymo, Cruise, Elon and more. Join Princeton’s Alain Kornhauser and co-host Fred Fishkin for the latest on autonomy, mobility and more.

0:00 open

0:30 Waymo expands robotaxi service

6:26 Lyft shares struggle

10:45 GM Cruise expanding service in Texas

17:30 Neighborhood animals visit podcast

18:45 Time to go beyond proof of technology

23:52 Nuro pulls back

25:55 And TuSimple threatened with delisting

26:40 Consumer Reports’ Chris Harto on can the grid handle EVs

32:13 Elon Musk finds new CEO for Twitter

33:00 Musk’s Boring Company expanding operations in Las Vegas

37:12 Princeton Smart Driving Cars Summit postponed, EcoMotion taking place in Tel Aviv




Mobility 360 | May 22 -> 24   




GM robotaxi unit announces major expansion in Texas

W. Johnson, May 10, “Autonomous driving technology is quickly becoming a top development priority for many automakers, especially as Tesla continues to widen its lead in the sector. GM’s autonomous driving unit, Cruise, not only operates as an in-house testing lab for its upcoming technology but also as a standalone robotaxi operator, which hopes to take the ride-hailing sector by storm. Now, Cruise has announced yet another expansion in service, coming to Houston and Dallas later this year.

The announcement of the service expansion was made by the Cruise CEO on Twitter this morning, indicating that Dallas and Houston would be recieving robotaxi service in the coming weeks. Though it should be noted due to regulatory hurdles, robotaxis, for the time being, will need to have human operators watch over the driving until Cruise can receive the appropriate licensing…..”  Read  more  Hmmmm… As with Waymo, Cruise has accomplished a “Proof of Technology/Safety;” this is an attempt to do a “Proof of Market.”  Delineating an ODD carefully will be paramount. Defining a Total Addressable Market that allows enough travel opportunities by folks who are likely to choose Cruise as their absolutely best option, from their perspective, to use to make that trip will be crucial. Else, that person is not going to use Cruise for that trip, making it really hard for Cruise to have a successful “Proof of Market.”  Again, I’m suggesting that Cruise work with us in Trenton and other MOVES-style projects that are in places where a well-run system has a good chance of achieving sustainable ~100 personTrip/vehicle/day thresholds.


  Nuro plans for more layoffs as the AV sector’s economic woes deepen  

A Hawkins, May 10, “Robot delivery startup Nuro announced plans to layoff a portion of its workforce and to pause its commercial operations as it pivots to more research and development. The news comes amid a broader set of financial challenges for the burgeoning autonomous vehicle sector….”  Read  more  Hmmmm… Yipes!  Nuro may be on the same path as Waymo, going after the wrong customer.  Delivering groceries to folks who have cars and can readily get to Kroger may not make them the mode of choice in enough people’s minds.  Maybe if they focused on delivering groceries to folks who don’t have a car available to go to the grocery store, they might be achieve better results.  Alain


*     Can the Grid Handle EVs? Yes! 

C. Hortp, May 10, “A question that frequently comes up when discussing electric vehicles (EVs) is: “Can the grid handle it?” The short answer is “yes.”

Getting that answer, however, takes working through a number of other key questions and doing a little bit of math. …”  Read  more  Hmmmm… The math looks pretty good; however, the “EV Efficiency” is in kWh at the vehicle and electricity generated is in kWh at the power plant.  Unfortunately, there are non-trivial losses, I believe, in getting electricity from the power plant to the location on the road where the electricity is being used to move vehicles.  I’m not expert enough to weigh in as to the extent of the difference, but one thing that stands out in the Lawrence Livermore energy charts is: energy losses ae non-trivial. Alain  


Who is Linda Yaccarino, Elon Musk’s pick for Twitter CEO?

K. Ables, May 12, “After months leading Twitter, the company’s owner, Elon Musk, has tapped NBCUniversal ad sales chief Linda Yaccarino to take the reins as CEO.

NBC plans to announce her departure from the company Friday morning, according to two people familiar with the discussions who requested anonymity to describe sensitive internal discussions. Thursday evening, a source familiar with the matter told The Post that the two were in advanced talks about the position. ….”  Read  more  Hmmmm… Excellent!  Alain


  Elon Musk’s Boring Company plan for a 69-station ‘Vegas Loop’ is anything but nice

A Hawkins, May 4, “The Boring Company, Elon Musk’s mostly unreliable tunnel digging venture, has won the approval to expand its “Vegas Loop” system to — wait for it — 69 stations. Nice? Not really.

The tunnel system is Musk’s supposedly futuristic idea to alleviate road traffic by shifting some of that bumper-to-bumper traffic underground. The expansion, approved by the Clark County Commissioners, allows The Boring Company to construct 25 miles of additional tunnels for a total of 65 miles and 18 additional stations.….”  Read  more   Hmmmm… I realize that this project has its detractors, but the bottom line, imo, is that it’s beginning to look like a substantive Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) network.  Underground is certainly a better way to create an exclusive guideway, if it can be constructed affordably.  Very interesting!   Alain


  Lyft shares tumble as investors react to dim outlook

R. Bellan, May 4, “Lyft shares tanked as much as 12% moments after the company reported first-quarter earnings as investors placed more weight on a dim outlook and lower quarter-over-quarter revenue than other financial gains. 

Shares have since stabilized in after-hours trading, now trading down about 10%.  

Lyft beat both its own revenue expectations and Wall Street’s, but it wasn’t enough to assuage investors focused on the ride-hailing company’s future. …” Read  more  Hmmmm… As we’ve stated from the beginning, without driverless, ride hailing can’t scale because the next driver one needs to grow to serve the next trip/day will choose to drive only if they are paid more than the last recruited driver.  This fundamental dynamic makes it most challenging to realize economies of scale.  There are only so many expense account airport trips and must-get-there trips by people without cars that can afford, write-off or swallow the cost of an Uber/Lyft chauffeured ride.  Alain


  TuSimple continues its slide into the ether with new delisting warning

K. Korosec, May 11,  It wasn’t that long ago that self-driving trucks company TuSimple was on a tear — raising funds, locking in partnerships and hitting some development milestones that seemed to push it to the front of the AV pack.

A string of internal scandals and executive upheaval that resulted in the ousting of co-founder Xiaodi Huo, an SEC investigation and a restructuring in December has left the former darling of the nascent self-driving trucks sector in shambles. And now it’s on the cusp of being delisted from the Nasdaq exchange.… “ Read  more  Hmmmm… Not surprising. Alain


Mobility 360 | May 22 -> 24

Smart Mobility to impact our communities, environment and our world



  Save the Date: 

6th Annual Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit:

Postponed until further notice; stay tubed


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