Monday, Dec. 18, 2023’-12/18/23

49th edition of the 11th year of SmartDrivingCars eLetter 

 Settle in, folks! I’ve got more than the usual amount to Hmmm. Perfect for those who need an edifying distraction over the Holidays. And I promise there won’t be a test when we’re back in the New Year J


Tesla Autopilot Recall Threatens Its Defense in Lawsuits Over Crashes

M. Nayak, Dec. 15, “Tesla Inc.’s biggest vehicle recall ever threatens to hurt the company’s defense in several high-profile lawsuits it faces over crashes linked to Autopilot.

The automaker’s recall of 2 million cars comes after a top US auto-safety regulator found its driver-assistance program failed to ensure drivers stay attentive….Tesla’s biggest vehicle recall ever threatens to hurt the company’s defense in several high-profile lawsuits it faces over crashes linked to Auto…”

Read More  Hmmmm…. What??? Did M. Nayak actually read the NHTSA Safety recall, or just talk with ambulance chasers? Read it for yourself (below) and decide. Alain


A white background with blue and red text  Description automatically generatedPart 573 Safety Recall Report

Staff, Dec. 12, “The subject population includes certain MY 2012-2023 Model S that are equipped with Autosteer and were produced between October 5, 2012, and December 7, 2023, and all MY 2016-2023 Model X vehicles, all MY 2017-2023 Model 3 vehicles and all MY 2020-2023 Model Y vehicles that are equipped with Autosteer and were produced through December 7, 2023…


Description of the Defect : Basic Autopilot is a package that includes SAE Level 2 advanced driverassistance features, including Autosteer and Traffic-Aware Cruise Control (TACC), that drivers may choose to engage subject to certain defined operating limitations. Autosteer is an SAE Level 2 advanced driver-assistance feature that, in coordination with the TACC feature, can provide steering, braking and acceleration support to the driver subject to certain limited operating conditions. Autosteer is designed and intended for use on controlled-access highways when the feature is not operating in conjunction with the Autosteer on City Streets feature. When Autosteer is engaged, as with all SAE Level 2 advanced driver-assistance features and systems, the driver is the operator of the vehicle. As the vehicle operator, the driver is responsible for the vehicle’s movement with their hands on the steering wheel at all times, remaining attentive to surrounding road conditions, and intervening (e.g., steer, brake, accelerate or apply the stalk) as needed to maintain safe operation.   …It is surprising that NHTSA requires “hands on wheel”, rather than “hand near wheel, since Autosteer is steering, and the responsibility of the alert driver is to override Autosteer, and says nothing about “feet near brake/accelerator,” which is needed if the alert driver is to intervene by braking or accelerating…


In certain circumstances when Autosteer is engaged, the prominence and scope of the feature’s controls may not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse of the SAE Level 2 advanced driver-assistance feature.


Description of the Safety Risk:  In certain circumstances when Autosteer is engaged, if a driver misuses the SAE Level 2 advanced driver-assistance feature such that they fail to maintain continuous and sustained responsibility for vehicle operation and are unprepared to intervene, fail to recognize when the feature is canceled or not engaged, and/or fail to recognize when the feature is operating in situations where its functionality may be limited, there may be an increased risk of a collision.


Description of Remedy Program :  At no cost to customers, affected vehicles will receive an over-the-air software remedy, which is expected to begin deploying to certain affected vehicles on or shortly after December 12, 2023, with software version 2023.44.30. Remaining affected vehicles will receive an over-the-air software remedy at a later date. The remedy will incorporate additional controls and alerts to those already existing on affected vehicles to further encourage the driver to adhere to their continuous driving responsibility whenever Autosteer is engaged, which includes keeping their hands on the steering wheel and paying attention to the roadway. Depending on vehicle hardware, the additional controls will include, among others, increasing the prominence of visual alerts on the user interface, simplifying engagement and disengagement of Autosteer, additional checks upon engaging Autosteer and while using the feature outside controlled access highways and when approaching traffic controls, and eventual suspension from Autosteer use if the driver repeatedly fails to demonstrate continuous and sustained driving responsibility while the feature is engaged.    Tesla does not plan to include a statement in the Part 577 owner notification about pre-notice reimbursement because there are no out-of-warranty repairs related to this condition.


Identify How/When Recall Condition was Corrected in Production :  Beginning midday on December 7, 2023, Model S, Model X, Model 3 and Model Y vehicles in production received a software release that incorporates the software remedy….”


Read More  Hmmmm…. This is what I call a fantastic working relationship between a regulator and a producer to address a safety concern.  1. Identify the problem: driver misbehavior.  2 Work together to construct a software solution imposed by the regulator so that it is now the regulator that has taken responsibility for the proposed solution. 3.  Implement instantaneously using over-the-air updating.  Perfect!


TL;DR Seems to me NHTSA has found driver misbehavior to be the root cause of crashes.  Seems like an enormous win for Tesla with respect to past crashes, and a safety endorsement for the system in the future via the expected near-elimination of driver mis-behavior. Insurance should follow suit by voiding coverage if the driver explicitly  circumvented ay of NHTSA remedies.   Alain


Want more Alain analysis (Alainalysis? J)?  Here it comes!


NHTSA has a full page ad in the Sunday NY Times appealing to drivers to pay attention while driving.  Actually, NHTSA should be out front and appeal to drivers to stop mis-behaving while driving.  Stop completely disregarding not only the basic rules of the road like speed limits, not tailgating, not running redlights and not drinking and driving.  What is being missed here is the cooperative agreement between NHTSA and Tesla that it is the mis-use of AutoPilot by drivers that is the safety challenge, and an agreement by Tesla to actively enforce compliance in the use of the feature. No company wants its product to be used in such a way so as to cause injury to its customer/the public.  One would also like to respect the intelligence of one’s customer.  Unfortunately, the way cars have been sold over the last 70 years, if not since day one, is the freedom to go from anywhere to anywhere at any time in any way. I am certain every reader of this newsletter can instantly conjure up any number of striking commercials showing speeding vehicles, vehicles being driven where they should not, and the teeny tiny print at the bottom of one’s TV screen admonishing “Do not attempt” etc. The central car design principle seems to have been, nothing should be put in the way of using the car however the owner wishes to use the car.  If it were not that, then every car would have an engine interlock system that required the driver to be sober and attentive.  Cars would have speed limiters that wouldn’t allow the car to be driven at speeds greater than the speed limit. We would have automated emergency braking systems that worked instead of collision warning systems. And lane keeping systems rather than lane departure warning systems. Again, I am sure you have other ideas for improving our collective safety as drivers and pedestrians. 


What happened here is that NHTSA investigated for more than 2 years numerous crashes involving AutoPilot, must have concluded that the fault in those crashes was not that AutoPilot failed to work properly when the driver was paying attention, as is clearly articulated by the Tesla owner’s manual; else, NHTSA’s recall directive would have instructed Tesla to either fix those AutoPilot shortcomings or remove the AutoPilot functionality from all of its vehicles as a safety hazard.  NHTSA did not do that because it found that driver mis-behavior was the root cause of the crashes and worked together with Tesla to enhance AutoPilot to more actively enforce the requirement that the driver remain attentive, and responsible, in its use of AutoPilot. Else, the feature must be turned off.  This is a fantastic negotiated recall that allows Tesla to monitor the driver’s use of the system without worry about privacy issues (NHTSA made me do it) and the taking away functionality that was rightly purchased by a customer, for misuse, as defined and specified by the ultimate safety regulator (NHTSA made me do it).  Thus, no class action suit about “give me back my money because you constrained my use …”  This is great.


Plus, the icing on the cake being, Tesla trivially complied with a recall of essentially all of its cars by simply executing an over-the-air update.  Something that would have had substantial financial implications for any other car manufacturer was executed at essentially zero cost by Tesla.  Moreover, NHTSA and Tesla can jointly monitor the effectiveness of the recall to ensure the greatest effectiveness at making sure that drivers remain attentive while AutoPilot is being used.  For example, if allowing 5 warnings before disabling AutoPilot for 30 days are not effective at inducing better driver behavior in the use of AutoPilot, then Tesla and NHTSA can do some A/B testing to determine better values than {5,30}.


On could/should also test the “hands on the steering wheel” requirement versus “foot near the brake”, especially given that newer Teslas have eye trackers that are a better indicator that a driver is paying attention and the assistance that AutoPilot tends to need for an observant driver to “hit the brakes” and slow down, rather than turn the wheel and swerve in order to avoid/mitigate a crash.  I’m surprised that NHTSA hasn’t encouraged that drivers “keep foot near brake” in addition to, or really in preference to “keep hands on wheel”. 

Thanks for sticking with me J Alain


Read More  Hmmmm….  See especially 19:44 Autopilot / NHTSA resolution:

A red and white logo  Description automatically generatedWild Tesla Bot Update, Tax Credit Changes, Autopilot Resolution, Musk’s University

R. Mauer, Dec. 13, “ 0:00 TSLA 0:51 FOMC / interest rates 4:39 Tesla bot updates 8:56 Tax credit changes 12:54 Uber incentives 14:33 Hotel adds Tesla chargers 15:58 Giga Mexico approval 16:46 Cybertrucks at Giga Texas 17:24 Carwow Cybertruck review 19:44 Autopilot / NHTSA resolution 24:16 Musk’s university.” Alain


A book cover of a book  Description automatically generatedSmartDrivingCars  ZoomCast 349 / PodCast 349   w/Prof. Bryant Walker Smith

F. Fishkin,  Dec. 18, “he Tesla autopilot safety recall and the job cuts at GM Cruise top the headlines on episode 349 of Smart Driving Cars. Bryant Walker Smith, Affiliate Scholar at Stanford Law and Assoc. Professor of Law and Engineering at the University of So. Carolina, joins Princeton’s Alain Kornhauser and co-host Fred Fishkin. Plus May Mobility, a new AI Center at Princeton and more.

0:00 open

23:05 GM Cruise cuts quarter of workforce

36:45 DOT response to AV Industry SOS

54:30 Private driverless mobility services to bring employees to work?

1:00:30 May Mobility beginning fully driverless service in Sun City, Arizona

1:01:48 Psychology Today piece on the psychological effects of self driving cars

1:07:54 Governor of NJ announces AI Center at Princeton

1:11:56 The Real Case for Driverless Mobility by Alain and Michael Sena coming very soon  


A colorful circle in a black background  Description automatically generatedHoliday Chart #3: What is old is new again

G. Mercer, Dec. 18, “ At the end of the year we look back and ponder on what has changed, what we have learned, and – maybe – what we have forgotten. It is human nature, since the Renaissance anyway, to focus on the change around us.…

But at my advanced age (68) I am constantly struck by how much has not changed in the automotive business. From the 100,000-foot level, in 1923 and in 2023 both, we are still (in the USA at least) getting around in personally-owned four-wheeled¹ vehicles, mostly made of steel. Powertrains have evolved, performance has soared (a current Toyota Corolla GR will easily beat most 1960s Ferraris to 60 mph), safety has dramatically improved, and comfort is off the charts – but the product (and the process of getting it sold) remains at the fundamental level incredibly stable.

Don’t believe me? I dug out my (paper!) copy of the Automotive News annual almanac from 1958, and browsed the news-highlights section. Herewith is a very biased selection of headlines:

… Chrysler introduces “automatic accelerator” for highway use called… Auto-Pilot…

But you can imagine my reaction when I stumbled on the Chrysler Auto-Pilot, which is just one hyphen away from Tesla’s own device². Plus ça change, oui? And for a massive dose of irony delivered from the past to the present, note that the New York Times article³ about the Chrysler device reports that the company warns “it is not for city driving or congested traffic; it is good only on turnpikes and expressways.” I’ve heard that somewhere before….

I await a storm of protest from Morgan and Reliant Robin owners!

2… Which, to be fair to Tesla, has not even 1% of the functionality of Elon’s gizmo. On the other hand, Chrysler charged only $86 for Auto-Pilot.  … given the 10x inflation over that time period, $86. Was a very fair price for an innovative feature.  In 2014 Daimler was charging $2,500. for DISTRONIC PLUS® with Steering Assist

3…Stepping Off the Gas,” Paul Friedlander, NYT, October 13, 1957”.


Read More  Hmmmm…. I’m speechless! Glenn, you are amazing.  Moreover, in reading Friedlander’s article, it reports on the substantial fuel savings experience of Auto-Pilot.  Amazing that DoTs have never championed the use of such devices.  I have yet to see a sign encourage the use of cruise control o help save the planet and calm traffic flow.  Also amazing that NHTSA hasn’t encouraged the placement of a light or other indicator to allow surrounding driver to realize that the car is being controlled with the objective of maintaining constant speed as opposed to human driver speed behavior which seems to usually be “constant depression of the gas pedal” (which along the Pennsylvania Turnpike drives me bananas.  Is this just too obvious and simple “connected vehicle technology” that enable substantive information about what lies ahead to be readily transmitted to everyone just like turn signals? Alain


A green circle with white lines  Description automatically generated700,000 Trips and Counting

G. Brulte, Dec. 5, “This week in the autonomy economy, The Road to Autonomy Index returned 4.21%, Waymo announced they completed over 700,000 autonomous rides in 2023 and the California Department of Motor Vehicles accused Tesla of falsely advertising “Full Self-Driving”.

The market for autonomy has changed a lot in 2023, some for the better and some for the worse. While the market has changed, there has been one consistency in the robo-taxi business, Waymo. Waymo continues to operate a successful robo-taxi business in multiple cities at a high-level.

With Waymo on track to surpass 1 million autonomous rides a year, the attention now turns to the business of Waymo. It’s a topic that we are focused on for 2024 and we are looking for Alphabet to offer more guidance in the coming quarters about the Waymo business.….” Read More  Hmmmm… Grayson, all excellent!  700,000 is more than a few rides and is an excellent start, but if they continue to focus on giving rides to people who already have just as good, if not better, ways to get a ride, then, as Shumpeter tells me and you, good luck at surviving as part of Alpha-bet or any Other-bet.  Even at a revenue of $100/ride that’s only $70M in revenue to date achieved at a sunk cost of ~ $7B? over the past  ~10years? 


To reach a survival rate of  10% annual return to justify a sunk $7B  requires a 10x increase in $100/ride customers per year, assuming costs are $0.00 cost/ride. 7M rides/year equates to about  20,000 rides per day.  The good news is… there may well exist today that many $100/ride customers.  However, the bad news is…  at that price, Waymo has to compete with Limo/taxi/Uber/Lyft.  Here is a germane anecdote: Elizabeth and I met a guy over lunch while skiing at Park City last week. Turns out he lives in Phoenix, so, naturally, we asked about his experience with Waymo. He rattled off the usual attention-grabbing, myopic and  negative headlines that the media delight in printing (NYT, I am looking at you, in particular). We pressed on and asked if he had ever taken a ride himself. “No,” he said, flatly, “I don’t need to.”  Exactly. He owns his own vehicle and has multiple alternatives to getting around: a $100/ride customer. My guess is that Waymo will be lucky to capture their 20% of similar customers. Thus, the Total Addressable Market (TAM) has to be  ~100,000 rides/day for them to justify their existence at a $0.00 cost/ride. 


The really bad news is … 20,000 $100RidesPerDay are scattered across the USA so diffusely, that there is no opportunity for any productivity in the management of expensive vehicles to achieve any economies of scale to operate at anywhere near $0.00 cost/ride.


Shall we delve into the business case at its most basic level? Let’s go:


In order to have the capital cost of a Waymo car be small on a per-ride basis, it needs to be very productive and serve many rides per day. Assuming there are at most 300 average days of operation per year, a 6% annual interest rate converts to roughly a  .002% daily rate, thus a $1K item purchased at a 6% annual rate costs 60$/year and $0.20/average-300-day-year.  Thus a $100k vehicles cost all by itself about $20/day. Should that cost be $200k/vehicle, then its bare bones cost $40/day.  One clearly sees that to get to anywhere near $0.00 costs, one needs vehicle productivities in rides/day to be more than single digits and approach double digits per day; else, just the cost of the vehicle makes the whole exercise untenable.  Unfortunately, it is very unlikely that there exists sufficient density in sufficient markets to serve 20,000 rides/day with a fleet no larger than  2,000 vehicles scattered across the country.  Thus, the cost to serve those few customers can’t be close to $0.00 and likely can’t be under $10/ride and could easily become greater than $100/ride and voiding any business case for the pursuit of this market. 


OK, so if the $100/ride market is not this technology’s sweet spot, what is?  I’ll claim it is the $5/ride market.  Why? because essentially all of the  1B rides per day market is attractive to a $5/ride cost if the level-of-service is good enough even to those who today give themselves a ride.  Capturing 10% simply by virtue of  affordability, given the technology’s demand-responsiveness, is likely to be 10% or more of the total daily rides market, or 100M/rides per day.  At this price Waymo’s level-of-service would be Shumpeter disruptive and have essentially no competition.  The affordable, demand responsive markets are sufficiently spatially concentrated such that Waymo could readily serve them at vehicle productivities that approach 100 rides/vehicle-day, thus enabling a cost per vehicle to be essentially zero, serving trip lengths that are sufficiently short that operating costs per vehicles scale to be extremely inexpensive, summing to a cost per ride that is substantially less than $5/ride revenue  and likely less than $3/ride, thus yielding a profit margin of $2/ride.  Serving 100M of those rides per day  yield profits of $200M/day equating to ~ $6B/year.  This is now close to the survival need of $7B/year profit.


Expanding to more markets so as to reach 20% of the daily rides market, one can imagine profits growing to greater than $10B/year and generating auxiliary values that could make driverless mobility exceedingly profitable, while delivering enormous societal value to the many who never before had to the quality-of-life enhancements of high-quality, affordable mobility.   


While not necessarily achieving  “moon shot” status by returning 10x over 10 years in corporate profitability, its value could readily contribute more than 1x  profitability over many more than 10 years.  Plus, adding its contribution to the improvement of society does allow driverless focused on those that really need a ride to realistically achieve “moon shot” status, but only if it decides to focus on $5/ride market rather than the $100/ride market. Class dismissed. J  Alain



A green and white logo  Description automatically generated  Police: Men were racing at 100 mph before crash that killed Serra Catholic student

Reuters, Dec. 5, “… Data collected from the Volkswagen indicated that it was traveling at 104 mph at 100% throttle 3½ seconds before the crash, according to the complaint. Two seconds before impact, it was still at full throttle and traveling 107 mph. A half-second before impact, the brakes were applied for the first time. The Volkswagen was going 103 mph.  ….” Read More  Hmmmm…. Since VW records precise data indicating a car is traveling at 104 mph and knows that the car is traveling on a public road in the USA and knows that no public road in the USA allows travel at a speed anywhere near that fast, WHY does VW enable that car to travel that fast? and WHY does NHTSA not issue a safety recall to VW to restrict its cars from being able to travel that fast on a public road in the USA since its cars know that they are being misused by its drivers?  And, while we’re at it, WHERE is the media outrage at human misbehavior behind the wheel? (Unfortunately, I know the answers to those rhetorical questions.) Alain



A black numbers on a blue and white background  Description automatically generated  The AV industry sends an SOS to Pete Buttigieg 

Andrew Hawkins, Dec. 13, “… Update December 13th 1:03PM ET: After this story published, a spokesperson for USDOT sent a statement reacting to the letter.

“When developed and deployed with the appropriate safeguards and consideration of broader societal impacts, Automated Driving Systems have the potential to lead to better outcomes across the transportation system,” the spokesperson said. “However, these outcomes are not intrinsic or inherent to the technology. The net impacts – on safety, mobility, emissions, workforce and otherwise – will be the result of engineering, deployment, and policy choices. This is why the Department’s approach centers on its core policy priorities and the position that safety is fundamental to unlocking the technology’s potential for broader positive impact. … “  Read More  Hmmmm…. What???? I disagree!  The potential of “better outcomes”  is intrinsic and inherent to the technology (in this case, using driverless mobility to give rides to people) because driverless technology  enables an affordable, high level-of-service (24/7 on-demand) to the many who today can’t give themselves a ride and can’t be well served by today’s conventional public transit systems; else “The Department” would not be leaving them behind. 


The brutal reality is: of the billion or so daily person trips throughout the US each day, only about 50% are well served by people giving themselves a ride in their own private car, including a very few are biking themselves or using their legs to walk more than 10 minutes or so to go somewhere at some time. 


About 3% are getting a ride from affordable public transit or paying the substantial cost of being chauffeured by Limo/taxi/Uber/Lift. 


The rest, ~47%, getting a ride in a car from someone when they need to get someplace at the time they need to go or are completely foregoing the benefit of going because the benefit of getting there is completely overwhelmed by the cost of getting there.  Consequently, they decide to just stay home. 


Not included in this 100% tally are those who simply tag along as accompaniment for a ride.  What is counted here are only the people who really want to go someplace for which getting there substantially improves their life.  Those who forego rides because there is no means for which to get there at the time they need to be there, completely forego a substantial improvement in their quality-of-life, ie. “better outcomes”, had a good way for them to get there been available to them


Again: Automated Driving Systems can affordably deliver a quality-of-service that rivals that enjoyed by the 50% who drive themselves.  In other words, the majority of the 50% who can’t for whatever reason give themselves a ride,  yet need a ride, could capture for themselves more of the personal value of getting there had they had available to them an affordable high-quality way to get there.  The “potential broader positive impact” is improved net quality-of-life enjoyed by individuals taking about 500 million person trips every day.  That improvement, along with safety,  should be at “The Department’s core policy priority”.   Alain




A black numbers on a blue and white background  Description automatically generated  The AV industry sends an SOS to Pete Buttigieg

Andrew Hawkins, Dec. 13, “… Update December 13th 1:03PM ET: After this story published, a spokesperson for USDOT sent a statement reacting to the letter.

“When developed and deployed with the appropriate safeguards and consideration of broader societal impacts, Automated Driving Systems have the potential to lead to better outcomes across the transportation system,” the spokesperson said. “However, these outcomes are not intrinsic or inherent to the technology. The net impacts – on safety, mobility, emissions, workforce and otherwise – will be the result of engineering, deployment, and policy choices. This is why the Department’s approach centers on its core policy priorities and the position that safety is fundamental to unlocking the technology’s potential for broader positive impact. … “  Read More  Hmmmm…. What???? I disagree!  The potential of “better outcomes”  is intrinsic and inherent to the technology because it is the technology that enables an affordable higher level-of-service (24/7 on-demand) that cannot be delivered by buses or trains.  Chauffeured mobility can today deliver demand-responsive flexibility comparable to driverless mobility,  but not affordably.  The required human effort, human time, and more than warranted human salary to deliver that flexible, 24/7 demand responsive service is affordable to only the very rich.  Yes, safety is important, but if the policy framework superimposed to (supposedly) address safety is to require a human chauffeur, then technology’s fundamental opportunity to unlock this extra-ordinary level-of-service to most everyone will never emerge. Technology’s cost, even if minimal, is unjustifiable when it is purely an add-on to the unscalable human cost of conventional transit systems. And it certainly can’t be justified by some expectation of future safety improvements on systems that are already safe. 


Allow me to explain in more detail, using the concept of “low-hanging fruit”:

If “The Department” is to have an approach with respect to driverless mobility,  it must first admit that the role of the technology is to give more affordable rides to some by replacing labor with technology.  What today limits “The Department’s approach” is how expensive it is to give many more good rides while recognizing that about 50% of people today going someplace at some time by means other than walking, biking or scootering are by getting a ride from someone. And all but 6% of those trips, a whopping 44% or so, are done by someone giving them a ride in a car.  In the US, that totals about a half a billion person trips every day. 


“ The Department” has done a great job, with the money that it has available, by giving good affordable rides to those who want to go between the places when “many” want to go at about the same time.  Unfortunately, those situations are few and far between and end up being only about 3% of all person trips on any given day, many of which are served really well; unfortunately, the quality fall-off is steep when it comes to trying to increase that 3% “low-hanging fruit”.  By the end of the 3%, the level-of-service is barely acceptable, and the rest of the 97% of the “fruit” is much farther up the tree and hence beyond reach of conventional transit systems. 


Convincing riders to bend further down to become reachable by living in certain places, working in other places, or otherwise changing their behavior for even environmental reasons is a struggle. “The Department” finds itself at a point where it can’t  afford to give more rides because its been so good at allocating its efforts in serving the 3% that each additional ride it tries to give, cost more than the last ride that it gave. The only way for them to give more rides is to use technology to make it much cheaper for them to give that next ride and thus grow from its 3% base and reach more proverbial fruit on this rides tree. 


And by what means might “The Department” reach that higher fruit? I posit that “the ladder” is technology that replaces the chauffeur.  While some worry that this technology ladder will be built on the erasure of human labor, the reality of all automation in our society’s  market place is that it improves the economy to such an extent that the human labor increases!  More people are working today and enjoy a higher standard of living in the world than existed yesterday.  This is a true statement since at least the beginning of the industrialized revolution (except during periods of war). World population has gone up monotonically, as has the world standard of living, all while at first machines, now sensors, computers and actuators, have replaced human laborers.  A transition into driverless will thus naturally mean more and better job opportunities. I acknowledge that dislocation is involved, and that change can be messy, but two things can be true at once (as my wife likes to say): driverless automation has the potential to improve the lives of millions of people over the long term, and that process, as with all previous similar shifts to automated technology, will have challenging effects on some for the short-term, while also offering new opportunities that will most likely  improve their lives.  Alain



GM’s Cruise laying off 900 employees, or 24% of its workforce: Read the memo here

H. Field, Dec. 14, “General Motors’ Cruise on Thursday announced internally that it will lay off 900 employees, or 24% of its workforce, the company confirmed to CNBC.

The layoffs, which primarily affected commercial operations and related corporate functions, are the latest turmoil for the robotaxi startup and come one day after Cruise dismissed nine “key leaders” for the company’s response to an Oct. 2 accident in which a pedestrian was dragged 20 feet by a Cruise self-driving car after being struck by another vehicle.

The company had 3,800 employees before Thursday’s cuts, which also follow a round of contractor layoffs at Cruise last month. Affected employees will receive paychecks until Feb. 12 and at least an additional eight weeks of pay, plus severance based on tenure.  …”  Read More  Hmmmm…. Amazing!  All because someone @ Cruise chose to not be completely forthright about a true “corner case” in which their system did everything right, except it failed to properly assess the severity of the accident (as humans sometimes do), was sensitive of causing further harm by continuing to block traffic (also a human concern AND, I want to point out, think about all the previous media coverage of driverless cars blocking emergency vehicles – here, the car was actively getting out of the way) and being completely clueless about a person being trapped under the car.  A truly learning moment for Cruise and everyone else in the AV industry of an “unknown,” which is now known! 


All systems will from now:

  • have sensors able to determine if an object is under the driverless car before it begins to move,
  • have better means of working with the community at large in assessing the severity of a crash and the virtues, if any, of hastily moving out of the way to let traffic pass. 


What needs to be really learned by everyone is:

  • The cover-up is way worse than the crime!


Hopefully, by today, the woman has recovered from her injuries and is being more than appropriately compensated, as much as is ever indeed possible. 

Also, hopefully, the hit-and-run driver that initiated this incident has been identified and is also appropriately been held accountable. (Have they been found and held accountable? Why isn’t the SF media aggressively pursuing the culprit of this horrible situation?)  


Beyond that, had everyone been completely forthright, none of the rest would have happened. Cruise, by now would have made the necessary improvements, most everyone would be praising this as a learning experience, and driverless mobility could be giving rides to San Franciscans who really can benefit from the high-quality, affordable rides that these systems can safely deliver. 


Unfortunately, GM/Cruise was not sufficiently forthright. Waymo and Cruise didn’t focus their efforts on giving rides to San Franciscans who don’t have access to a high-quality affordable rides. Waymo and Cruise aren’t viewed as “Life-savers” but rather as annoying selfie opportunities for visitors to San Francisco.  Thus, “the way to today” in San Francisco was forged.


Hopefully, Cruise2.0 will learn from this experience by becoming completely transparent, learning from communities as to how they can be most helpful  and really focus their efforts to giving rides to those who really need a ride: “The Real case for Driverless Mobility”.  Alain


  Arizona retirees to get free rides in driverless minivans

J. Muller, Dec. 18, ” Autonomous driving startup May Mobility is launching its first fully driverless service on public roads in Sun City, Arizona, a retirement community northwest of Phoenix….

What’s happening: May Mobility, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is starting slowly, with just two autonomous minivans operating without a safety operator in a 4.5-mile service area within Sun City….

Details: Early riders can use May Mobility’s app to request a driverless shuttle pickup to and from a variety of popular stops, including resident complexes, grocery stores, pharmacies and medical centers.

The shared, on-demand free service begins Dec. 19.

Initially, it will operate Monday through Friday each afternoon.

The big picture: Self-contained retirement communities are an ideal place to launch autonomous vehicles because the slower, simpler roads are typically easier to master.

Plus, there’s an unmet need from aging seniors who no longer drive but still want the freedom to go where they want.

What they’re saying: Edwin Olson, CEO and co-founder of May Mobility, called the launch “a cornerstone for our commercial growth and expansion moving forward.”

Read More  Hmmmm…. Ed: Very nice!   Yes, start where it is easy and focus on giving rides to those who most need a ride. Great news.  Alain


A close up of a logo  Description automatically generated  Driverless cars may already be safer than human drivers 

Timothy Lee, August 31,  “I learned a lot reading dozens of Waymo and Cruise crash reports…….” Read More  Hmmmm….  While Tim wrote this way before the Cruise crash of October 2, and I just saw it, I place it here as a reminder of the safety scene as reported by Tim, for whom I have an enormous amount of respect.  I am trying to track down where he stands today. 

See also: “Kyle Vogt exits Cruise, leaving Waymo as the clear robotaxi leader” and  “California suspension is an existential threat to Cruise”…   “…  Instead, Cruise’s practice has been to show video footage to a hand-picked group of reporters over Zoom—and to prohibit those reporters from recording the video or sharing it with others…

This doesn’t surprise me. Last month, I was treated to a similar viewing opportunity while writing about an accusation from the San Francisco Fire Department that a Cruise vehicle blocked the path of an ambulance trying to take an injured patient to the hospital (the patient died soon after arrival). Rather than sending me video from the incident, a Cruise representative played it for me using a Zoom screen share—and demanded that I not try to capture the video.

The video did contradict some of the specific claims made by a SFFD memo about the blocked ambulance. At the same time, I found it striking that Cruise seemed unwilling to clearly acknowledge the obvious: that its vehicles had malfunctioned and blocked traffic at a crash scene for several minutes….”  I fervently agree! Such practices brought down Cruise1.0.  Cruise2.0, as well as all other driverless mobility wannabees,  must become completely transparent; else, suffer the same fate as other that have chosen to “cover-up”.    Alain


A colorful circle in a black background  Description automatically generatedHoliday Chart #2: Choose your metric wisely

G. Mercer, Dec. 17, “ Those unfortunate enough to hear me speak at automotive events know I have A Problem with how our industry measures itself. We count units, not dollars: how many cars we sold, whether we’re an OEM or a dealer. Thus a Maserati counts the same as a Mini or a Mitsubishi. Few other industries do this: Walmart doesn’t announce in its earnings reports that they sold more socks than ever before: they talk revenue. Without dollars we don’t have revenue, and without revenue we don’t have profits, and thus continued existence of the business…”  Read More  Hmmmm…. Glenn: So true!  Thank you for the reminder.  In the rides business the metric also needs to be passenger revenue, not venture raised or government grant award, each of which comes with grueling strings attached; whereas, revenue from customers is solidly earned in return for the fundamental value of the product offered in the marketplace.  Can’t wait to see some non-zero revenue numbers from anyone in the rides business chasing safety.  Alain



  The Psychological Effects of Self-Driving Cars

M. Wei, Dec. 10, “ … . New research suggests that people who enjoy driving or have a mistrust of AI are least likely to relinquish driving to autonomous vehicles. The group that is most likely to adopt self-driving cars are those who expect it to be an enjoyable and convenient experience. There are additional safety issues, such as the fact that people feel safer and prefer when they are able to take over control of the vehicle if it malfunctions. …”  Read More  Hmmmm…. The reference studies are good ones; unfortunately, out of necessity they are each limited in scope of both the people represented and the technology they presume to document a psychological effect.   

Psychological factors affecting potential users’ intention to use autonomous vehicles is actually a very good paper referencing the incredibly complex psychological aspects of human intention.  It clearly states bounds of its detailed statistical analysis and its results, but makes no attempt to provide a foundation for extending its findings to a broader community of individuals or situations other than possibly implying that they are a representative sample the population and the situation at large.   It sampled “college students” reaction to a nebulous description of the whole list of NHTSA/SAE “Levels” of AVs.  Nice modeling, survey and data analysis; however, implications on a broader set of the population or a specific aspect of AVs is a real stretch. 

Using the UTAUT2 model to explain public acceptance of conditionally automated (L3) cars: A questionnaire study among 9,118 car drivers from eight European countries is also a very good one and is to be commended for clearly stating its scope in its title and appropriately leaves it to the individual as to the extent its findings are relevant to the reader’s objectives. 

Physiological measurements in social acceptance of self-driving technologies is also interesting but as it clearly states “… These preliminary findings reinforced our initial hypothesis that passenger experience in human and machine navigated conditions entail different physiological and psychological correlates, and those differences are accessible using state of the art in-world measurements….”  The paper is more about differences in eye tracking measurements in different situations of “Level 2” type AV where one has the opportunity to take over the driving task and presumably be able to  intervene to “save the day”. .  Not tested were psychological differences between being given a ride by a human rather than a computer a computer, where in both cases one is being given a ride with no opportunity to intervene.


Unfortunately, M. Wei chooses to broadly groups and generalize these good findings without any justification. As much as I appreciate the work that went into these studies, I am still begging researchers to interview those who need a ride; those who do not own a car, cannot drive, and/or are not well-served by public transportation, cannot ride a bike, etc.  Alain


A red and white logo  Description automatically generatedTesla Fights Back Against Media, China Sales Updates, Cybertruck

R. Mauer, Dec. 12, “ Tesla pushes back on Autopilot report from the Washington Post November CPI China sales updates Whistleblower adds to prior claims Early Cybertruck owner shares thoughts Tesla expands to new country Tesla shares Megapack uptime Panasonic announces Sila partnership”  Read More  Hmmmm….  Go get ’em, Rob! Who owns the Washington Post?  No bias there! 😊 Alain


  Bull captured after delaying NJ Transit service at Newark Penn Station

N. Caloway, Dec.14, “There’s new information on a steer that got loose in New Jersey and made its way into Newark Penn Station Thursday. …

The animal is now safely in custody. 

Witnesses at Newark Penn Station had to steer clear as the 600-700 pound animal prepared for a morning commute. ….” Read More  Hmmmm….  In Jersey, we don’t expect NJ Transit to be perfect.  How can we, given all of the unknows that we deal with every day.  I’m certain NJ Transit never envisioned this challenge.  But, they’ve learned and will move forward without public outcry that the train was delayed and without demands that the Executive Director resign.  We need the good rides that NJT gives us, even though they aren’t perfect.  Alain


Finally, it’s time to bring back the beloved C’mon, Man! Section:


A logo with a letter m  Description automatically generated   Netflix’s ‘Leave the World Behind’ takes a swipe at Tesla

S. Connellan, Dec. 8, “Will the end of the world as we know it include a “Night of the Living Cars”? Netflix’s Leave the World Behind makes the case for it, taking a giant swipe at Elon Musk’s Tesla along the way….” …”  Read More  Hmmmm…. What??? Looks like free product placement to me.  J   Everyone has seen real pileups of cars with humans driving into fog.  L  Alain


  U.S. sugar beet farmers pioneer autonomous transport from field to factory

Staff, Dec. 8, “ … How it Works

Utilizing Kratos Defense technology, the system operates on a slave-follower model, where a manned truck leads and another truck autonomously follows its movements…”  Read More  Hmmmm…. Putting aside the deeply problematic language in this sentence, what exactly is “pioneering” here? RR.AI and others have been doing this for years.  Alain




6th  SmartDrivingCar


May 29 (evening) -> May 31, 2024

Princeton, NJ