Friday, August 30, 2019

  Former Star Google and Uber Engineer Charged With Theft of Trade Secrets

M. Isaac, Aug 27, "Anthony Levandowski was once one of Silicon Valley’s most sought after technologists.  As a pioneer of self-driving car technology, he became a confidant of Larry Page, a co-founder of Google, and helped develop the search giant’s autonomous vehicles. Uber wooed him to gain an edge in self-driving techniques. Venture capitalists threw their money at him.

But on Tuesday, Mr. Levandowski, 39, fell far from that favored stature. Federal prosecutors charged him with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets from Google. …

The criminal indictment against Mr. Levandowski from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California opens a new chapter in a legal battle that has embroiled Google, its self-driving car spinoff Waymo and its rival Uber in the high-stakes contest over autonomous vehicles. The case also highlights Silicon Valley’s no-holds-barred culture, where gaining an edge in new technologies versus competitors can be paramount….

According to the indictment, Mr. Levandowski downloaded more than 14,000 files containing critical information about Google’s autonomous-vehicle research before leaving the company in 2016. He then made an unauthorized transfer of the files to his personal laptop, the indictment said. Mr. Levandowski joined Uber later that year when the ride-hailing firm bought his new self-driving trucking start-up, which was called Otto….

“The Bay Area has the best and brightest engineers, and they take big risks,” John Bennett, the F.B.I. special agent in charge of the San Francisco Division, said at a news conference on Tuesday. “But Silicon Valley is not the Wild West. The fast-paced and competitive environment does not mean federal laws do not apply.”Mr. Levandowski’s next court date is Sept. 4. If he is convicted, he could face a maximum of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine for every count and additional restitution.

“All of us are free to move from job to job,” said David L. Anderson, United States attorney in the Northern District of California. “What we cannot do is stuff our pockets on the way out the door.”…"  Read more   Hmmm…  Central to this technology is the perception of personal safety and trust.  Lying, cheating & stealing can’t be part of this industry, else it will never emerge from the venture stage.  If DeiselGate and the Uber crash weren’t enough, let this be the next wake-up call to this industry to clean up its ethical behavior.  Hopefully the FBI will also aggressively pursue all cyber attackers. It isn’t cute, nor a virtual reality game. It is hard serious work and creativity focused on improving the quality of everyday life. Alain

   Smart Driving Cars Podcast Episode 122

F. Fishkin, Aug 30 , " The indictment of former Google and Uber engineer Anthony Levandowski, what Waymo’s riders have to say and the latest on Toyota, Cadillac and more in the latest Smart Driving Cars podcast with Princeton’s Alain Kornhauser and co-host Fred Fishkin. "  Just say "Alexa, play the Smart Driving Cars podcast!".  Ditto with Siri, and GooglePlay …  Alain

  Who Are the Companies Making Driverless Claims

M. Sena, Aug 28, "THERE ARE MAJOR differences between, on the one hand, air-planes flying without a pilot at the controls after takeoff and before landing, unmanned aerial vehicles (a.k.a. drones) being flown remotely, trains moving between air-port terminals without an engineer, and ships at sea glid-ing through the waves without a captain at the helm, and on the other hand, cars and trucks driving themselves on public roads. The DARPA Challenges unleashed a swarm of whiz kids who believed otherwise. Sergey Brin, one of Google’s founders, decided that his company was going to spend its cash hoard on being first to develop a driverless vehicle and scooped up some of those kids. Elon Musk chats up his stock price by saying he already has solved all the problems of cars driving themselves so TESLA owners can watch videos instead of having to worry about keeping their eyes on the road. Clueless investors have been lost in the smoke everyone is blowing. Car executives, who (should) know better, watch their stock prices and market capitalizations tumble and have no alternative but to play along…. "  Read more  Hmmmm…  A very profound and interesting read.  Michael: another excellent Dispatcher.  Alain

  The Case for Vouchers: An Alternative to Congestion Charging

M. Sena, April 2010, "Premises:  In urban areas around the world, traffic congestion mitigation and environmentally hazardous emissions reduction have been grouped together as inseparable parts of a single goal toward which public policy initiatives are addressed.

Traffic congestion is a triple edged sword.  It wastes time (money), wastes fuel (natural resource) and increases harmful emissions (health). …

Common Wisdom:  … Congestion charging is an effective way to reduce unnecessary trips into high traffic areas without disturbing the everyday business of the district….

Alternative Logic:  Congestion charging causes external effects that are not accounted for or compensated by the collection of fees.  Congestion charging is a regressive tax that discriminates against lower income drivers without directly compensating them with improved accessibility to required services or desired activities… "  Read more  Hmmmm… Michael Sena’s comments to my posting of    Fair and Efficient Congestion Pricing for Downtown Sea   in  Alain

  Waymo Riders Describe Experiences on the Road

A. Efrati, Aug 26, "The Information analyzed internal feedback about the performance of Alphabet’s Waymo self-driving taxis on public streets, covering more than 10,500 rides in July and part of August. The reports from riders using the service in suburban Phoenix and in the San Francisco Bay Area, portions of which we describe below, provide an unprecedented view into the most high-profile autonomous vehicle development effort in the world, underscoring the extreme difficulty of making automated taxis mainstream.

All autonomous vehicle developers have internal metrics for the performance of their vehicles. General Motors’ Cruise, which has struggled to launch a robotaxi business on the streets of San Francisco, has experienced substantial glitches and calculated that its prototypes are 10 to 20 times less safe, on average, than typical American drivers, as The Information previously reported. At Waymo, which is the furthest along in terms of carrying real passengers, the feedback those riders provide on their trips is a way of evaluating Waymo’s software performance. Ultimately, Waymo is seeking to compete directly with Uber and Lyft in ride hailing, its executives say.

An overview of Waymo rider feedback can be found in a separate story here, while a more detailed breakdown appears below.  "  Read more  Hmmmm… Most interesting. Also read next article.  Alain

  Waymo’s Backseat Drivers: Confidential Data Reveals Self-Driving Taxi Hurdles

A. Efrati, Aug 26, "ne passenger in a Waymo self-driving car complained that the awkward end to his ride felt like he was getting dropped off by his dad. Others said their Waymo rides made them late to work. Another praised his car for coping admirably with “idiot drivers” of the human variety during his ride.

The rider feedback is part of a trove of internal data viewed by The Information for more than 10,500 trips in vehicles operated by Waymo, the self-driving car division of Alphabet, the parent company of Google. For more than two years, Waymo has been ferrying passengers in the self-driving vehicles on public streets as it refines the technology in the hopes of a wider rollout. The passenger ratings and feedback come from rides that occurred in July and part of August—mostly in the Phoenix area—and show improvement compared to Waymo’s performance during 2,500 rides in the first quarter of the year, based on an earlier analysis.   "  Read more  Hmmmm… Most interesting.  This is not easy, but enormous real progress. Hopefully Lyft/Aptive will release their user findings from Las Vegas.  Not only does the technology need to be perceived to be safe, but, obviously, customers/trip-makers need to find it to find it as their best option.Alain

  Are We There Yet? An Overview of the City of San Jose/Daimler Autonomous Vehicle Community Presentation

K. Pyle, Aug 23, "Are we there yet? This familiar refrain, often asked by children on a long family road trip, could be applied to the autonomous vehicle. Paraphrasing Gertrude Stein, knowing that there is a there, may be the most important question. Will the addition of autonomy create, as folks like Robin Chase and Lauren Isaac suggest, be a heaven or hell scenario or will it be something in between? While we have just left the metaphorical driveway on our autonomous journey, the August 21st, 2019 presentation from the City of San Jose/Daimler suggests that smart people are looking at autonomy to improve the quality of life for all, which is a laudable objective….

The trial will start in a tightly controlled fashion and will start with communities that need mobility the most, such as the visually impaired.  The trial will focus on pooling of people which promises a reduction in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) and congestion by reducing the total number of vehicles needed for a given number of trips.

The audience was engaged and asked thought-provoking questions, including:…

While Wednesday’s meeting was well-received, the 40 or so attendees represent a fraction of the population in the trial area. The challenge will be getting the word out and eliciting feedback to the larger community…."  Read more  Hmmmm… Creating a "welcoming" environment for these vehicles by the folks who live, work and play throughout all of the neighborhoods permeated by the neighborhood streets used by these vehicles to get folks from where they are to where they want to go is a very challenging task.  It will be absolutely necessary when these vehicle shed their driver/attendant.  (It doesn’t sound like that eventuality was discussed; even though, without that eventuality, these "tests"/demonstrations have zero chance of surviving as operational entities.  Alain

  Chinese Driverless Startup Strikes Pact With Toyota

Staff, Aug 25, "Chinese autonomous-driving company struck a partnership with Toyota Motor Corp., a boon for the startup seeking to take on U.S. rivals such as Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo. and Toyota are teaming up on a pilot project as they attempt to accelerate the development and deployment of self-driving vehicles, according to a statement from on Monday. The companies will start the pilot in September on public roads in Beijing and Shanghai, using Lexus RX vehicles and’s autonomous driving system, said Toyota spokesman Maki Niimi…."  Read more  Hmmmm…  Another test with attendant/driver.  Hopefully one of these tests will achieve sufficient "public trust" such that it can begin to offer such services without an attendant or driver.  Only then can these pilots begin to deliver real value to the communities that they serve. Still a long way to go. Alain

  Cadillac’s Last Stand? Storied Brand Aims (Again) for Revival

N. Boudette, Aug 27, "Few American brand names have ever achieved the stature of Cadillac, which was once so closely identified with excellence and status that it became shorthand for anything that was top of the line. And few brands have fallen as far…

Cadillac became known as a “grandpa” car brand. It now trails far behind Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi on a global basis, and ranks just sixth in luxury vehicle sales in the United States….

Mark Reuss, G.M.’s president, has said Cadillac had one last chance to pull off a comeback. And under Mr. Carlisle, it is betting on technology, something that distinguished Cadillac in its glory days. …

.. one of the selling points he is counting on: the Super Cruise driver-assistance system. Using radar and cameras, it is able to pilot a car on divided highways. Drivers don’t even need to keep their hands on the wheel. As long as they look straight ahead — an infrared camera monitors the eyes — Super Cruise does the steering, braking and accelerating as needed….  The system has the potential to set Cadillac apart from other luxury brands, even Tesla….

… The Center for Auto Safety, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group that tracks traffic accidents, said it was unaware of any crashes involving Super Cruise in the two years it has been on the market.  … Great news…

…G.M. is doing little to take advantage of the technology. It is available only on the slow-selling CT6, as part of an options package that pushes the price to $78,000. The car’s sales have fallen 60 percent this year, … Whoops… There aren’t many out there to crash….

…The system will become available in a smaller sedan next year, the CT5. But S.U.V. models won’t get Super Cruise for another two years or so. That means the brand’s signature technology won’t be on its most popular models for some time.

“That’s just one of these unfortunate prioritization dilemmas,” Mr. Carlisle said, again sitting back, hands free, while Super Cruise piloted us down I-94. “Had we thought of it a little earlier, we would have gotten to it sooner.”"   Read more  Hmmmm… As compared to what Elon says and has done with AutoPilot.  So sad!  So bad!  C’mon Cadillac! Alain

Tesla claims new insurance product will offer lower prices

T. Lee, Aug 28, "Tesla announced Wednesday that it is launching a new personal auto insurance product in California. Elon Musk said in April that Tesla would offer an auto insurance product the following month. Tesla now says the product is available in California for all Tesla vehicles going back to the original Roadster. The company plans to add additional states over time.

An April filing with California regulators indicated that Tesla planned to offer a Tesla-branded auto insurance product in partnership with the State National insurance company.

Tesla says that its insurance offering will be 20% to 30% cheaper than conventional insurance products.

"Because Tesla knows its vehicles best, Tesla Insurance is able to leverage the advanced technology, safety, and serviceability of our cars to provide insurance at a lower cost," the company argues. …True….

One way Tesla could seek a competitive advantage would be to harvest data from vehicles about individual customers’ driving habits. That could allow the company to offer lower premiums to customers with a safer driving profile.

But Tesla explicitly disavows this approach. "Tesla Insurance does not use nor record vehicle data, such as GPS or vehicle camera footage, when pricing insurance," the company writes. …Good….

One possibility is that Tesla’s insurance won’t actually be cheaper. Some customers on Reddit reported receiving quotes significantly higher than their current premiums." …Not surprising.  The safety features are essentially useless to someone who is already a very safe driver. Nothing to make safer. The fundamental advantage of the technology is for "bad" drivers… "16 year olds" … They really need help!!

…"  Read more  Hmmmm…Of course!  Alain

Tesla launches its own insurance program, claims up to 30% cheaper

F. Lambert, Aug 30,  "… Electrek’s Take….If you are in California, let us know in the comment section below what kind of quote you are getting and how it compares to your current insurance.

Electrek’s Jameson Dow, who is based in California, tried it and got a $152 per month quote for his Model 3. Dow currently pays $180 per month with All State.

It’s looking good so far, but that’s just one example."  Read more   Hmmmm…   Interesting.  Alain

  The Driverless-Car Pile-Up and the Folly of ‘Industrial Policy’

M. Gibson, Aug 26, "If our best and brightest venture capitalists can’t pick winners, the government doesn’t stand a chance.   The idea that the government might successfully support and steer innovation is making a comeback as wonks both left and right show a renewed interest in “industrial policy.” But faceless functionaries steering anything from D.C. should terrify us all. Even the most credible, savvy venture capitalists and entrepreneurs fail at an astonishing rate. Why would a bureaucrat with a ton of money do better?  To see how difficult it is to push the frontier, take the coming wave of innovation in the auto industry.

Over the past three years now, I have watched from my perch at the corner of Broadway and Front Street in San Francisco as a small fleet of SUVs suffers the most dreadful punishment outside my office window. Circling and circling, sometimes farther and sometimes closer, but always coming back like two-ton boomerangs, these SUVs have taken the same routes around the same city blocks, every day, day after day.

It would make Sisyphus weep, so I can only imagine how the drivers must feel. Why would anyone condemn them to this fate? The rack of lidar sensors, radar, and cameras on top of each vehicle gives it away. Their owner, a startup down the street called Zoox, believes that if the fleet captures enough data — if it encounters enough wildly different urban anomalies that might pop up on the road (a plastic bag in the air, a bike on the back of a car, a child chasing a ball in the rain) and learns to recognize and plan around them — then boom! The age of self-driving vehicles will have arrived, ushering in the greatest tectonic shift in transportation since the Wright brothers took off at Kitty Hawk….

Musk has to exaggerate because Tesla is a car company whose stock trades like a tech company. Tesla might sell 400,000 cars this year. By contrast, Ford might sell 6 million, GM 8.5 million. Granted, the Tesla Model 3 looks and drives like a dream. But when you count salaries and overhead according to Tesla’s own quarterly statements, it costs more to make a Tesla than people are willing to pay for it. And that calculus includes the federal subsidies that will dry up on December 31 of this year. Ford is worth $35 billion and makes money on its cars. Tesla is worth $40 billion and doesn’t. How is this math possible?…

Well, win some, lose some, wreck some. The venture-capital industry and the autonomous-vehicle market wouldn’t be nearly as exciting if some people didn’t get sacked, sued, go under, blow up, or beg for mercy in Chapter 11 proceedings every so often. For those in the grandstands watching the tech world, it’s lights out and away we go. The industry is one or two hairpin turns away from a colossal crash of bankruptcies, acquisitions, foldings, and consolidation. If the prize is rich and the future a golden promise, there is still a long way to go, and in the short term things are going to get nasty.

In fact, we estimate that ninety percent of the startups in the autonomous-vehicle space today will not exist in five years. A startup called was putt-putting on fumes when Apple scooped it up for pennies in an acquisition this summer. Driving-assist startup Scotty Labs was just acquired by DoorDash. Intel bought the automotive-camera maker MobileEye for $15 billion. Ford and Volkswagen recently announced they were teaming up instead of going at it alone. For the industry itself, this is the beginning. But for many of the players, the end is near. … to be expected. Many/most(?) companies are formed to be acquired to then contribute to the success of the acquirer….

The big crunch is coming because, over the next year, all the major auto and trucking companies will decide on who will be the suppliers for their main production lines in 2022. This won’t be for full self-driving, but for something a little more modest if still vitally important: a car so safe it is incapable of crashing. Once the major auto companies settle on their suppliers, once the music stops, it’s going to be kaput for anyone else who doesn’t have a chair…." Read more  Hmmmm… Some interesting insights.  Alain

  Waymo urges U.S. to ‘promptly’ remove barriers to AV’s

Reuters, Aug 30, "Waymo, the self-driving car unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc., on Thursday urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to "promptly" remove regulatory barriers for cars without steering wheels and brake pedals.

Automakers must currently meet nearly 75 auto safety standards for self-driving cars, many of them written under the assumption that a licensed driver is in command of the vehicle using traditional controls.

"NHTSA should move promptly to remove barriers while ensuring safety," Waymo said in a letter posted on Thursday after the auto safety agency sought public comment in May "on the removal of unnecessary regulatory barriers to the safe introduction of automated driving systems."

NHTSA should first work on addressing those safety standards that assume a human is behind the wheel before revising rules to address alternative seating configurations, Waymo said. That will "enable the timely deployment" of vehicles without manual controls, Waymo added.
General Motors Co. in its comments said "it is imperative that NHTSA continue to drive this critical dialogue with a sense of urgency so that the necessary regulatory evolution keeps pace with advancing technology."…" Read more  Hmmmm… A better approach may well be to create a whole new agency/regulatory framework for driverless road vehicles… vehicles that don’t require an attendant onboard as opposed to "Tesla AutoPilot-like"/Self-driving  cars that absolutely require inside the vehicle an attentive licensed person ready&able to take over manual control. These are two very different technologies that are NOT interchangeable.  Railroads, airplanes, trucks and marine  all have their own safety administrations.  Driverless vehicles are a different "mode" and deserve their own oversight/regulatory administration.  Alain 

  Preliminary Estimates

Press release, Aug 22, "The first NSC estimate of total motor vehicle deaths in 2018 was 40,000, down 1% from the final 2017 total of 40,231. In the first six months of 2019 the decrease accelerated, with motor vehicle deaths decreasing 3% from 2018 estimates.

Motor vehicle deaths for January through June 2019 totaled 18,580. This figure is down 3% from revised estimates from the corresponding period in 2018. The January through June figure for 2019 was also down 3% from the final 2017 estimate. The estimated annual population death rate is 11.8 deaths per 100,000 population, down 3% from the preliminary 2018 rate. The estimated annual mileage death rate is 1.2 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, stable from the revised 2018 rate…" Read more  Hmmmm… Some "good" news.  Could it be that Safe-Driving Car technology is kicking in and helping?? Alain

Tesla receives tax exemption on all its cars in China as it increases prices

F. Lambert, Aug 30,  "n surprising news for Tesla in China today, Tesla received a sale tax exemption for all its electric cars in the country, but it also increased prices at the same time.  The price increase was expected as the trade affects the exchange rate and requires adjustments, but the tax exemption certainly comes at a surprise.

China has a 10% purchase tax on cars, but the industry minister posted an update on their website to add Tesla’s Model S, Model X, and Model 3 to a list of exemptions…"  Read more   Hmmmm…   Interesting.  Alain

Tesla Model 3 gets the nod from police over cost and performance, bye-bye Dodge Charger

F. Lambert, Aug 30,  "The Bargersville, Indiana, Police Department is updating its fleet to Tesla Model 3s after they figured out that they will save a lot of money on gas, and that the Tesla Model 3s don’t compromise performance compared to the Dodge Chargers.  We are starting to see Tesla vehicles becoming quite popular with police departments all over the world…."  Read more   Hmmmm…   Interesting.  Now cops can use both hands to eat donuts  (Sorry, that wasn’t nice.  I have trouble trying to be funny).  No Charger is going to beat these 3s off the line.  Alain

  How Uber Got Lost

M. Issac, Aug 24, "… “We boosted our margins saying our rides were safer,” one former employee told me last year, as I was reporting a book about Uber. “It was obscene.”…

That level of chutzpah is difficult to imagine from the chastened Uber of 2019. Two years since Mr. Kalanick’s ouster, and three months since a humdrum public offering, the company is in many ways a shadow of the juggernaut whose global presence once felt just shy of inevitable….

The issue, as a number of financial commentators have pointed out, is that the gains have been captured almost entirely by pre-I.P.O. investors in the private market. Anyone who bought shares of Uber on the day of its stock market debut is in the red. … "  Read more  Hmmmm… not the best article but a few interesting insights.  Alain

How Mobileye sees commercial robotaxis on streets by 2022

PodCast, Aug 25, "n this episode, Tusk, the CEO of Tusk Ventures, and Michael Eisenberg of Israel’s Aleph VC talk to Erez Dagan, the executive vice president for Products and Strategy at Mobileye, ….

Dagan also discusses how the streets of Jerusalem are the best place to stress test the self-driving vehicles, which must be able to respond quickly and safely to situations that arise on the road yet not become a nuisance due to an excess of caution. …"  Read more   Hmmmm….  Listen to PodCast.  Part of the shame here is that it is that they are preparing to do Driverless in too large of an Operational Design Domain (ODD)that may well be too challenging, rather than establish a successful service in a much simpler ODD.  This may be subtle, but the focus should be on the trips and trip makers that one is looking to serve and to find the combination of trips and streets for which the technology will be the safest such that a very satisfied customer set can be built upon to grow rather than looking for just the streets.  My point is that they should be focusing on where the best customers want to come from and go to that they can most easily/safely serve.  Maybe I’m being too picky.  Alain

  Streets ahead

Charlemagne, Aug 1, "Hurtling along a “cycle highway” by the River Scheldt in Antwerp recently, Charlemagne only noticed the electric scooter when it was too late. Spinning tyre met stationary scooter, British journalist separated from Belgian bike and Anglo-Saxon words were uttered. How irritating and obnoxious these twiggy little devices can seem with their silly names (“Lime”, “Poppy”, “Zero”) and their sudden invasion of the pavements of every large European city. Everywhere they seem to be in the way, abandoned precisely at those points where prams, pedestrians or speeding journalists need to pass.

And yet your columnist refuses to hold a grudge, because the rise of the electric scooter is part of a broader and welcome phenomenon: the gradual retreat of the car from the European city. Across the continent, apps and satellite-tracking have spawned bike- and scooter-rental schemes that allow city-dwellers to beat the traffic. Networks of cycle paths are growing and creeping outwards; that of Paris will by next year have grown by 50% in five years. Municipal governments are lowering speed limits, introducing car bans and car-free days, pedestrianising streets and replacing car parks with bike parks…."  Read more   Hmmmm….  Maybe?  Beijing, Shanghai, … were each essentially 100% bicycles when I first visited in 1978. Taipei still today is largely motor scooters.  Maybe!  Alain

Half-baked stuff that probably doesn’t deserve your time 

 C’mon Man!  (These folks didn’t get/read the memo)

Simply ClickBait

 Calendar of Upcoming Events:

September 4-6, 2019
Pocono Manor, PA

4th Annual Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit

evening May 19 through May 21, 2020

On the More Technical Side