Friday, April 17, 2020
17th edition of the 8th year of SmartDrivingCars

   Can Robotaxis Survive A Pandemic?

B. Templeton,  April, 13, "Almost all the self-driving car fleets are out of operation right now. The primary reason is that testing these cars is not an “essential service” and so the safety drivers who supervise them are not allowed to come to work. Most companies use a team of two people in each car, which would create a disease risk, and to top it off, the roads are empty and this unnaturally easy, making testing less valuable.

Questions arise about what happens in the robocar world if we need to suffer another pandemic in the future. The Covid-19 crisis took place before the commercial deployment of robocars, but that won’t be true later. I covered some issues in my article on delivery robots, but let’s consider what we’ve learned this year:

Uber/Lyft LYFT and Taxi rides are way, way down, and not just because all travel is way down

  1. Transit ridership has cratered, and service has been cut
  2. Delivery demand has vastly increased
  3. People worry if drivers might be infectious
  4. People don’t want to touch things, from seats to scooter handlebars, that others are touching

All travel is way down, but people are particularly suspicious of travel with other people, be it transit, or riding with a driver. They are also concerned about sitting down in a vehicle where somebody else just sat. With parking plentiful, there are incentives to go back to using your own car even if you previously used something else. Scooter services like Lime and Bird have also suffered major declines.

As noted in the delivery article, while delivery robots are always good in a time when there is a massive surge in demand for delivery, it’s pretty easy for a driver in a van with an automatic door to never have to touch the packages, just like a delivery robot. With massive unemployment, human driven vans are probably the best answer to the delivery demand surge…."  Read more Hmmmm… Not a pretty picture, but with every challenge, comes opportunities… Listen watch more on Pod-Cast_152/Zoom-Cast_152. Alain

  Smart Driving Cars Pod-Cast Episode 152 – Brad Templeton

F. Fishkin, April 17, "Can robotaxis survive a pandemic? Internet pioneer, self driving car consultant and author Brad Templeton joins Princeton’s Alain Kornhauser and co-host Fred Fishkin in a wide ranging chat on the impact today and the future. Plus…Uber, Zoox, Waymo, Tesla and more."   "Alexa, play the Smart Driving Cars podcast!".  Ditto with Siri, and GooglePlay …  Alain

Smart Driving Cars Xoom-Cast Episode 152 – Brad Templeton

Video version… Watch Zoom-Cast 152  .  Alain

Note to readers…

The SDC eLetter is in its 8th year, the audio Pod-Casts are in their 3rd year and above is the link to the 4th video Zoom-Cast.  Dick Mudge, Fred Fishkin, Jeremiah Liu and I have begun experimenting with extending the Zoom-Cast to include a live component, a Zoom-inar, to bring in some of your thoughts and comments in real time.  These will need to be scheduled in advance and will require a pre-registration on your part.  They will also require agreements on some acceptable behaviors by all involved as well as some funding sources to support the production costs.  I’d love to have feedback from you as to the scope, viability and value to you of such an initiative.  Please email me at with subject:  Thoughts on SDC Zoom-inar.  Thank you in advance for your contribution.  Stay safe and healthy.  We can make it through all of this and help others who are in need. Alain

We’re going to try it!!!  

·         Monday, April 27, Live starting at 5 pm GMT

·         Live SmartDrivingCar Zoom-inar in advance of TRB’s Automated Vehicle Symposium (AVS 20) in July 27-30 still scheduled to be live in San Diego. 

·         Featuring the AV Shark-Tank‘s… Dick Mudge, Alain Kornhauser,  Jane Lappin, Brad Templeton, Michael Sena, Sven Beiker and  Jim Scheinman 

·         "Is it the Best or times… or Is it the Worst of times ????  CovidCar

·         Produced and Directed  by Fred Fishkin, Jeremiah Liu and Ken Pyle

·         Access to live Zoom-inar requires pre-registration @

·           It is free but contributions/sponsorships will be appreciated to help us offset non-zero production costs.

  The Automotive Industry in a Post-COVID-19 World … Lessons learned from a global shutdown

M. Sena, May 2020, "THE CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK offers a convenient opportunity to those who are critical of The People’s Republic of China’s economic and political rise to speak condescendingly of the country. How could a country which purports to be a global power allow such abysmal food hygiene practices that periodically result in epidemics and global pandemics? The practice of capturing, selling and eating wild animals (e.g. bats and pangolins) that are considered sources of pestilence has been outlawed in the West for over a century or more, yet it has continued to be allowed in The People’s Republic of China, provoking regular outbreaks of epidemics that result in sickness and death both inside its country’s borders and all over the world.2 There is truth in the criticism, but it is hypocritical nevertheless.

When China opened up its trade in the 1970s, I do not recall that there were any demands placed on China to improve its food hygiene laws, eliminate its use of engangered animal species in its homeopathic medicines or to move to a transparent, democratic system for guarding intellectual property. Western businesses rushed to China to sell their products into a market of close to a billion people in the middle of the 1970s and to have their products produced at a cost that could not be matched anywhere else. The Chinese Communist Party made no secret of their motives for opening up trade with the West, nor of their ambitions: They wanted to make the country rich to increase the Party’s and the country’s power. No one in a position of power, be it the President of the United States or any of the other leaders of Western countries, raised their voices in protest. Instead, it was “Globalization here we come! Full speed ahead.”…"

 The virus has been used as an example of why driverless vehicles are a good idea. If you are infected with a contagious disease and need to get to a hospital, a driverless car is a good way of getting there, goes the argument. There is some merit in this, but, hon-estly, if we are living in a world in which COVID-19-type outbreaks become the normal, it would be better for everyone to walk around in space suits with their own life support systems. My proposal is to re-deploy all the smart engineers working on driverless technologies to develop individual life support suits, cures for all viral infections, safe nuclear energy and inexpensive hydrogen fuel cells….  

“Lots of people need to get to places that public transit doesn’t go to, and many of them don’t own cars because they can’t afford to buy them or to run them, or they are too old, too infirm or for some other reason incapable of driving them. The cost of a taxi is prohibi-tive because you are paying for someone to drive it and these driv-ers have to make a living wage. In other words, we shouldn’t be trying to help Uber finally turn a profit. We should be delivering mobility to people who don’t have it.”  THE DISPATCHER, April 2020  ‘…

Maybe at some point all of us are going to have to choose sides in a global plebiscite. Do we want to live in a world in which our movements and choices are dictated by a centralized authority that has the power to plan for everyone on the Planet what we shall do and how we shall do it, a central authority that has been given its mandate to save us all from all catastrophic disasters for-ever? Do we want to turn over willingly to such a central authority the power to save humanity from the perils of pandemics and cli-mate change in return for giving up our freedom (as Hayek warns against)? Or do we want to live in a world in which each individual, in his or her own way, will find the means to preserve humanity while also preserving the individual freedoms that those who came before us fought so hard to obtain? I know which one I will vote for as long as I have the right to choose. Unfortunately, in such a plebiscite, if my side loses, I can be sure that my opinions won’t be worth much in whatever future I would experience dur-ing my remaining time on Earth."  Read more Hmmmm… Well said Michael.  Another excellent and provocative article.  Must read!  Alain

  EBay Names Walmart E-Commerce Executive Jamie Iannone as CEO

M. Schuetz, April 13, "EBay Inc. named Walmart Inc. e-commerce executive Jamie Iannone as chief executive officer, bringing in a manager with outside digital experience as the online marketplace seeks to placate the demands of activist investors.

Iannone, most recently operating chief of Walmart eCommerce in the U.S., will take up the CEO position at EBay on April 27, the company said in a statement Monday. Iannone previously ran the e-commerce unit of Walmart unit Sam’s Club, and worked at EBay as a vice president and in other roles from 2001 to 2009…."  Read more Hmmmm…  Warmest congratulations to Jamie, former student, and eBay for making such an excellent choice.  Alain

COVID-19 Antibody Seroprevalence in Santa Clara County, California.

E. Bendavid, April 11, "… These prevalence estimates represent a range between 48,000 and 81,000 people infected in Santa Clara County by early April, 50-85-fold more than the number of confirmed cases….


A hundred deaths out of 48,000-81,000 infections corresponds to an infection fatality rate of 0.12-0.2%…."  Read more Hmmmm…  Read the whole paper VERY carefully.  Details are extremely important here.  From my reading, this is a good paper.  Alain

  There Must Be 860 Ways To Build A LiDAR Sensor For Autonomous Vehicles— Part 1

S. Rangwala, April 12, "DARPA started it all. With the Grand Challenge a decade ago – with researchers competing to drive robotic cars through unpredictable terrain, with planned obstacles, and as fast as possible – without a human driver…

A clear winner in all of this is the intense focus on sensing and perception, and the role of LiDAR as one of the key enablers of the autonomy utopia. …  Over 80 venture funded LiDAR companies exist today, initially focused on automotive LIDAR….  Apart from the euphoria, there are reasons why so many companies could even convince investors that they should exist. Considering the various design choices available on wavelength (4), LiDAR type (3), laser types (3), detector types (4) and scanning approaches (6) yields 864 combinations. …

But this is not the whole story – there is great promise in some of the 864 combinations which have not yet been funded !"  Read more Hmmmm… Sabbir, very nice.  I can’t wait for Part 2.  Alain

  Watch Tesla Autopilot Traffic Light & Stop Sign Response In Action

S. Lovejoy, April 17, "Not long ago, we showed you a video of a Tesla Model 3 responding to traffic lights. It was the first of its kind. We were fortunate to get access to it through or friend and colleague Kyle Conner (Out of Spec Motoring & InsideEVs US YouTube channels). Not long after that, more news about the features surfaced. Since then, we’ve been waiting for Tesla to officially release it.  Read more Hmmmm… Be certain that you are paying attention, being responsible, not misbehaving, nor being a jerk, when you uses these capabilities.  See video of Stop sign performance… one example which may or may not be representative of your experiences… USER BEWARE (It is only your life and those driving around you that’s at stake here.)!!!   Alain

  Tesla issues strong ‘Beta’ warning for new traffic light and stop sign feature

F. Lambert, April 16, Tesla has expanded the release of its new “Stopping at Traffic Lights and Stop Signs” in the early access program, but it is issuing a strong warning when activating the feature…

The vehicle will continue straight and will not make turns.

… The Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control feature will not control for all intersections; therefore, you must pay attention and be ready to take immediate action at all times, including braking.

This feature may be conservative and slowdown often at first. Over time, as we learn from the fleet, the feature will control more naturally. Performance may be degraded in difficult environments with pedestrians, rain, direct sunlight or when approaching traffic controls that are obstructed.…" Read more Hmmmm…  I repeat from above (you can’t say it too often … e certain that you are paying attention, being responsible, not misbehaving, nor being a jerk, when you uses these capabilities.  … USER BEWARE (It is only your life and those driving around you that’s at stake here.)!!!  Alain

  Tech Talk with Techstination’s Fred Fishkin

K. Pyle, April 17, "From interviewing Amazon’s Jeff Bezos when he first started talking about selling books on the Internet to interviewing a peanut farmer who would go on to be president to being engulfed in the horror of 9/11, Fred Fishkin’s career as a reporter could have been written in Hollywood. Since the 1970s, he has been the ears of the listener allowing them to hear the story; often unfolding in real-time from a payphone booth or over a period of days via his award-winning investigative reporting.

The above interview, filmed via video conference due to the COVID-19 shutdown, provides a glimpse of how developed and continues to develop his craft. Along the way, he tells his own Good Morning Vietnam-like story and how that shaped his career and life. His career and life continue to intersect and a technology hobby, intended to spark an interest in computers for his kids, led to a new radio segment on New York City’s WCBS…. "  Read more Hmmmm…Very nice.  See video.  Alain

  Driverless vehicles in the age of the novel coronavirus:  Voyage’s path forward

M. Dickey, April 13, "he COVID-19 pandemic has led to different outcomes for different businesses. While some have stood to benefit (think Zoom, Facebook and bidet startup Tushy), others have been hit hard and laid off employees in order to survive. But there are some that fall somewhere in the middle. Autonomous driving startup Voyage believes it is not explicitly benefiting, but it’s not at risk of going under either, says CEO Oliver Cameron.

Cameron’s response to the pandemic centers around three areas: passenger operations, technology and company-building. While operations have halted, Voyage  is moving forward with its technology and has shifted the company to a 100% remote-work environment. With a post-pandemic world in mind, Cameron envisions more demand for autonomous vehicles…. I believe we’re somewhere in the middle….


“In the short term, everyone’s impacted,” he says. “There’s a slowdown in everything. In the medium and long term, we’ll be fine because I believe the demand is still there for driverless vehicles and even more so for those disproportionately impacted.”  Read more Hmmmm…  Not much else he can say. Alain

  U.S. self-driving car startup Zoox agrees to settle lawsuit with Tesla

Reuters, April 14, "Zoox Inc said on Tuesday it had settled a lawsuit with Tesla Inc after admitting that some new hires from the electric carmaker were in possession of certain Tesla documents when they joined the U.S. self-driving car startup.  Tesla lawyers filed a lawsuit in March last year against four former employees and Zoox, alleging the employees stole proprietary information and trade secrets for developing warehousing, logistics and inventory control operations.  Zoox said the settlement required it to pay Tesla an undisclosed amount and undergo an audit to ensure that none of its employees had retained or are using Tesla’s confidential information…."  Read more Hmmmm…  At least Zoox admitted it, but that doesn’t make it good behavior.  Alain

  Xpeng Motor’s New P7 Smart Electric Vehicle, Powered by NVIDIA Drive, to Roll Out in China This Month

Press release, April 16, "The super-long range smart sedan Xpeng P7 is the company’s first intelligent EV to be powered by the NVIDIA DRIVE AGX platform, which features the high-performance, energy-efficient Xavier system-on-a-chip (SoC). It is equipped with 12 ultrasonic sensors, five high-precision millimeter-wave radars, 13 autonomous driving cameras, plus one in-car camera with HD map and high-precision positioning. The smart electric sedan will bring several autonomous driving feature-firsts to Chinese customers, including Level 3*-ready full-scenario autonomous driving functions for highways, urban roads and valet parking.

Delivering 30 TOPS (trillions of operations per second) of performance while consuming only 30 watts of power, Xavier is the first production-level SoC dedicated to automated and autonomous driving that meets today’s rigorous safety standards and regulatory requirements. Architected for safety, Xavier offers the redundancy and diversity necessary to process data from a variety of sensors, and is the path to production for highly automated and autonomous driving systems…."  Read more Hmmmm…  Very nice that the Zpeng P7 has the array of cameras, radars and nVIDIA’s DRVE AGX platform, but what is a "Level 3-ready"… system?  I suspect that it is a system that has the sensors (notice … no LiDAR), and processors, but not the software (read "intelligence") to enable the driver to be not be available/alert to drive even for a meaningfully short period of time.  Sorry, this is Level 2, NOT 3!  Alain


  Uber Says Engineer Is on His Own for $180 Million to Google

J. Rosenblatt, April 18, "Uber Technologies Inc. says a guilty plea by its former star engineer is proof that he’s a liar — and supports its decision to make Anthony Levandowski alone shoulder a $180 million legal award Google won against him.

The ride-hailing firm, which recruited Levandowski in 2016 from Alphabet Inc.’s self-driving car program, ended up firing him after the companies became embroiled in one of Silicon Valley’s highest-profile trade-secrets disputes…."     Read more  Hmmmm… Anthony needs to hurry up and collect.  Uber may not be around for him to win anything.  Alain

  Tesla vehicles are going to drop you off and park themselves later this year, says Musk

F. Lambert, April 16, "With Smart Summon, Tesla introduced a significant upgrade to its capacity to remotely and autonomously move its car, which the automaker refers to as “summoning.”  Tesla owners can “summon” their car when parked in a parking lot — triggering the vehicle to drive to you.

The feature has been working relatively well, but many owners don’t find it that useful…….." Read more Hmmmm…  At least some owners have brains.  Yea!  his is not only StupidSummon is not only Stupid  it is really Stupid.  Elon Please stop.  Rolling out these features in an incremental way is simply only going to cause problems created by the handful of  irresponsible users.  Alain

    Draft Program   4th Annual Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit   Postponed until Evening Oct. 20 through Oct. 22, 2020

A. Kornhauser, Feb 6, "The focus of the Summit this year will be moving beyond the AI and the Sensors to addressing the challenges of Commercialization and  the delivery of tangible value to communities.  We’ve made enormous progress with the technology. We’re doing the investment; however, this investment delivers value only if is commercialized: made available and is used by consumers in large numbers.  Demos and one-offs are "great", but to deliver value that is anywhere near commensurate with the magnitude of the investment made to date, initial deployments need to scale.  We can’t just have "Morgantown PRT Systems" whose initial deployment has been nothing but enormously successful for 45 years (an essentially perfect safety record, an excellent availability record and customer valued mobility).  Unfortunately, the system was never expanded or duplicated anywhere.  It didn’t scale.  It is a one-off. 


Tests, demos and one-offs are nice niche deployments; however, what one really needs are initial deployments that have the opportunity to grow, be replicated and scale.  In 1888, Frank Sprague, successfully deployed a small electric street railway system in Richmond, Va.  which became the reference for many other cites.  "… By 1889 110 electric railways incorporating Sprague’s equipment had been begun or planned on several continents…" Substantial scaled societal benefits emerged virally from this technology.  It was eventually supplanted by the conventional automobile but for more than 30 years it delivered substantial improvements to the quality-of-life for many. 


In part, the 4th Summit will focus on defining the "Richmond" of Affordable Shared-ride On-demand Mobility-as-a-Service.  The initial Operational Design Domain (ODD) that safely accommodates Driverless Mobility Machines that people actually choose to use and becomes the envy of communities throughout the country. " Read more Hmmmm… Draft Program is in flux.  Consider all named individuals as "Invited yet to be confirmed". Alain

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

Sunday Supplement



    Chinese driverless car firm launches autonomous deliveries in California as lockdown continues

A. Kharpal, April 17, "Chinese driverless car start-up has launched a delivery service in Irvine, California using its autonomous vehicles as people remain stuck at home due to the coronavirus outbreak…. Once a customer in the Irvine area places an order on Yamibuy, an autonomous car will pick up the package and deliver it to the destination. The customer can either come to the car to collect it or an operator, who will be in the car, will drop it off at the doorstep…."  Read more Hmmmm…  What????    ClickBait!!!

Calendar of Upcoming Events:s

SmartDrivingCar Zoom-inar 1

AV Shark-Tank:

"Is it the Best or times… or Is it the Worst of times ????  CovidCar
Live April 27, 5pm GMT

Register Here



Postponed, until Evening Oct. 20 -> Oct 22.

4th Annual Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit

Princeton University

Princeton, NJ

On the More Technical Side