Thursday, May 7, 2020
20th edition of the 8th year of SmartDrivingCars

  While COVID-19 Batters The Airlines, Driverless Car Technology Marches On

S. Rice, May 4, “A while back, my colleague and I wrote an article about how driverless cars will disrupt the airline industry. We were not the first ones to say this, but we were the first to publish consumer opinion data to back up our claims. This is particularly true for short haul flights, as the majority of respondents said they preferred a driverless car for road trips up to eight hours over the hassles of flying commercial—even when the flight might take less time. Their reasons included wanting to avoid long security lines, delayed flights, lost baggage, small seats, and crowded airplanes.

Dr. Mattie Milner recently defended her dissertation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which focused on what type of person would prefer a driverless car over flying commercial. Her findings showed people prefer driverless cars over commercial flight for short and midrange drives. …”  Read more Hmmmm…  Many/most prefer driving their own conventional cars rather than flying commercial on short haul routes (500 miles or less).  This has been true for years.   Driverless cars would simply offer the same opportunity for those that for whatever reason don’t have access to drive their own car.   Airlines have struggled serving short-haul flights since 9-11 because of the time overhead introduced by the additional security.  Physical distancing may well be the nail in the coffin for local airports and short-haul flights. Cargo flights could provide some respite.  If Amtrak ever went “engineerless” (how trivial is that compared to driverless cars!?!) it could run frequent 1 (or 2) car “trains” between most cities.   That would really be the nail in the short-haul airline coffin.  Heavens… the freight railroads could run frequent inter-modal freight services.   Whew!!! Alain

  SmartDrivingCars Pod-Cast Episode 155 – Alex Roy2

F. Fishkin, April 29, “The continuing impact of Covid-19 on autonomous vehicle progress. But it may not be all bad news. Alex Roy…host of the No Parking Podcast and Director of Special Operations at Argo AI….joins Princeton’s Alain Kornhauser and co-host Fred Fishkin for that plus Tesla, Intel, Lyft, Uber and more. Listen and subscribe!”   “Alexa, play the Smart Driving Cars podcast!“.  Ditto with Siri, and GooglePlay …  Alain

SmartDrivingCars Zoom-Cast Episode 155- Alex Roy2

Video version… Watch Zoom-Cast 155 – Alex Roy2  .  Alain

SmartDrivingCar Zoom-inar 001 The Driverless New Normal Debate

Note:… SmartDrivingCar Zoom-inar 002 – Transit in the New Normal…Will the Bus be Thrown Under the Bus?… Tentatively set for Monday, May 18, 2:00pm New York Time

  The Relentless Startup Fast-Tracking Ford’s Self-Driving Cars

Alex Davis, May 5, “Meet Bryan Salesky and the team of resourceful engineers at Argo, the little company trying to crack a big problem: safe autonomous driving….

Given his early career trajectory, you might be surprised that Bryan Salesky now finds himself at the forefront of the race to deliver the self-driving car. Red-haired and blue-eyed, he was born in the Detroit suburb of Woodhaven, Michigan, where his father did factory work in a steel mill. As the steel industry cratered in the 1990s, his mother remarried and the family moved around, winding up in Pittsburgh.

Salesky earned a Bachelor of Science in Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh in 2002 and, uninterested in continuing the kind of education that meant writing papers for professors, decided against grad school. Instead, he took a job at Union Switch & Signal, the company George Westinghouse founded in 1881. There, Salesky worked on software that kept trains from colliding while traversing “dark territory,” the long stretches of track ungoverned by signal systems…

Salesky was slotted in as Urmson’s lieutenant. The man who had kept real trains on their tracks would now keep the metaphorical ones on schedule….”  Read more Hmmmm…  Alex, very nice article!! Both of you, keep up the good work.  Alain

  Do Autonomous Vehicles Need LiDAR??

S. Rangwalla, April 30, “… Typically, the argument for not needing LiDAR as an obstacle avoidance and safety sensor goes as follows – “humans do not have a LiDAR and they drive reasonably well, so why should a computer need LiDAR?” The answer seems pretty obvious – computers today do not replicate human intelligence – they do not think like humans, from a perception and decision-making perspective. And they need other crutches as stated eloquently by my fellow Forbes author, Brad Templeton. Additionally, LiDARs for AVs are also used to develop 3D maps and provide vehicle localization (which could be achieved through other means like cameras and GPS)….” Read more Hmmmm….  Very good presentation of the yeas and nays.  Localization (SLAM) was the original motivator for LiDAR; however, I argue that 3D maps and precise localization are neither necessary nor justifiable.  Maps (paper, digital or HD) have no information about objects moving near the car being controlled.  Collision avoidance is all about locations and motions of nearby object relative  to the car being controlled.  That’s why I can drive pretty well, actually really well if I’m paying attention to driving the car, with only a vague notion of “where am I”.  All I need to know is “just ahead turn right, left or keep going straight.  By recognizing where I am relative to the lane markings and signs along the road, I end up usually making good decisions and, so far, not making any catastrophic decision.  I don’t need LiDAR nor HD maps    Alain

  Volvo bucks the industry, will sell LIDAR-equipped self-driving cars to customers by 2022

A. Hawkins, May 6, “In 2018, Volvo made a “strategic investment” in a little-known Florida-based LIDAR company called Luminar to use the startup’s high-resolution long-range sensor to build self-driving cars. Today, Volvo is announcing that new LIDAR-equipped cars, which the Swedish automaker says will be able to drive themselves on highways with no human intervention, will start rolling off the production line in 2022.

It’s an ambitious plan that carries its own risks and sets Volvo apart from its competitors, many of which are planning to launch self-driving technology as part of fleets of robotaxis rather than production cars for personal ownership. They argue this will help amortize the costs of not just the LIDAR, but also the high-powered computing power needed to enable self-driving cars. But Volvo believes that by limiting the operational domain — or conditions under which the car can drive autonomously — to just highways, it is creating vehicle technology that is not only safer, but less costly as well.

“We are saying that for a particular stretch of highway, we are aiming for an unsupervised experience,” Henrik Green, Volvo’s chief technology officer, told The Verge. “Our view is that by isolating the domain to particular sets of highways, which we can control and verify, we believe that’s the safe entry into autonomous technology and autonomous experience for users.” …”. Read more Hmmmm….  Big step here.  If this enables Volvo’s Emergency Braking System to reliably determine if a stationary object ahead can be safely passed under and, thus, not be assumed to be a “false positive” then this is great news.  (One silver lining in our Covid-19 new normal is that “false positives” and “false negatives” are concepts whose implications are much better appreciated.)  See also Timothy Lee’s reporting…  Volvo plans cars with lidar and “eyes off” highway driving by 2022.  Alain

 Tesla achieves record safety with Autopilot — more than 50% improvement

F. Lambert, May 2, “Tesla achieved a record level of safety with Autopilot with more than 50% improvement during the last quarter, according to its safety report.

Since 2018, Tesla has been trying to create a benchmark for its improvement in Autopilot safety by releasing a quarterly report that compares the number of miles per accident on Autopilot versus off of Autopilot….

In October 2018, we reported on Tesla’s first safety report, which was for the third quarter 2018.  At the time, Tesla said that it registered “one accident per 3.34 million miles driven in which drivers had Autopilot engaged.”

For miles driven without Autopilot, Tesla said that registered “one accident or crash-like event for every 1.92 million miles driven.”

Over 2019, Tesla’s results were up and down, but the new data for the first quarter 2020 shows a significant improvement:

In the first quarter, we registered one accident for every 4.68 million miles driven in which drivers had Autopilot engaged. For those driving without Autopilot but with our active safety features, we registered one accident for every 1.99 million miles driven. For those driving without Autopilot and without our active safety features, we registered one accident for every 1.42 million miles driven. By comparison, NHTSA’s most recent data shows that in the United States there is an automobile crash every 479,000 miles.

That’s a 50% improvement over the previous quarter and the most significant improvement yet.:… ” Read more Hmmmm… There are, of course caveats, some reported by Fred.  The fundamental problem here is that there is no “peer review” of these claims.  Once again, I offer to do the peer review if Tesla releases the underlying data.  Until an independent entity, such as myself, has access to those data and performs a similar analysis these safety claims are going to be heavily discounted by even the most loyal to Tesla.    Alain

    Let’s Get Technical: Ford Offers Self-Driving Dataset to Spark Research and Development

T. Lockwood,  May 5, “Every second a self-driving vehicle is operating, it’s gathering information about the world around it. Cameras and LiDAR help it identify vehicles, pedestrians, signs and anything else that might be out in or near the streets. Radar helps the vehicle keep track of how fast things are moving around it.
Without all this data, self-driving cars wouldn’t even be able to leave a parking lot. These vehicles need to process a constant stream of information to safely navigate their surroundings, but even before they can do that, high-quality data is needed to help engineers and researchers create software that can properly teach self-driving vehicles how to analyze their environments.
To further spur innovation in this exciting field, Ford is releasing a comprehensive self-driving vehicle dataset to the academic and research community. There’s no better way of promoting research and development than ensuring the academic community has the data it needs to create effective self-driving vehicle algorithms….”   Read more Hmmmm….   Very nice; however… 1. Personally, I would prefer if Tesla released its data, see above article…  2.  Others have released similar data sets including those that are part of the Waymo Challenge… and 3.  What bothers me most is that so much of the data that is being released/processed is useless.  LiDAR point clouds of the trees and buildings outside the roadway cross-section … why aren’t they immediately discarded as irrelevant???? One of the things that our brain does really well, mine especially, is to forget and disregard irrelevant data.  LiDAR point clouds make for nice pictures, but an extremely large percentage of those data points are totally irrelevant.  I need to be educated as to why they would be included in the distribution of any released data set except to tune some algorithm to purge then ASAP. 


There is also a misleading comment about information sharing between neighboring vehicles. …” Most datasets only offer data from a single vehicle, but sensor information from two vehicles can help researchers explore entirely new scenarios, especially when the two encounter each other at different points along their respective routes….”  Such information is at a completely higher level of abstraction than the sensor data that is being released.  To me, even thinking about merging raw sensor data from two or more vehicles in real-time to perform scene cognition is a luxury not even Ford can justify.  My daughter Michelle always reminds me that she only tries to get involved with things that are good idea!  Are they trying to send everyone else down the wrong track with this suggestion??? Alain

Lyft lays off almost 1,000 staffers as Uber weighs big layoffs

T. Lee, April 29, “Lyft is laying of 982 people, the company said in a regulatory filing on Wednesday. That represents 17 percent of the company’s official workforce (the company considers its thousands of drivers to be independent contractors).

An additional 288 employees will be furloughed, Lyft said. Most of the remaining salaried employees will take 10 percent pay cuts, while executives will face pay cuts of 20 to 30 percent.

The cuts reflect the dire state of Lyft’s business during the coronavirus lockdown. Demand for on-demand passenger rides has plummeted. Lyft didn’t disclose booking figures in its filing, but The Information’s Amir Efrati reported last week that Uber’s global bookings for ride hailing were down 80 percent. Lyft has presumably suffered similarly large losses….”  Read more Hmmmm….   Not a pretty sight. In a sense, since it can’t scale without Driverless, it might as well scale back the overhead that is commensurate with a dollar stock. Note… The market absolutely disagrees with me!  If you lose less, price goes up, irrespective of the probability of achieving a price/earnings ratio that might justify such a price.  Lyft stock, Uber stock prices.  Alain

  Lyft says its ride-hailing business is down 70 percent because of COVID-19

A. Hawkins, May 6, “Lyft’s ride-hailing business is down 70 percent, year over year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company’s chief executives said in an earnings call with investors Wednesday. The company’s ride volume hit a bottom in the second week of April, plummeting 75 percent year-over-year, and has since gradually risen in the final weeks of the month. …

But Lyft’s earnings report for the first quarter of 2020 was slightly less grim than it’s ride-hailing business.”. Read more Hmmmm….  Is it really less grim… Way towards better earnings is serving many fewer customers.  Isn’t that really bad for a business that promised big rewards for big scale?  Alain

  Uber lays off 14 percent of its workforce in COVID-19-related cost-cutting

A. Hawkins, May 6, “Uber will lay off 3,700 full-time employees, or around 14 percent of its global workforce, the company said in filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. In addition, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi will forgo his salary for the rest of the year as the company continues to struggle in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Uber’s ride-hailing business has dried up as a result of widespread shutdown orders due to the pandemic. In a call with investors in March, Khosrowshahi said its gross bookings in most major cities were down by as much as 70 percent. The Information recently reported that the company’s overall business was down 80 percent year over year. Recent gains in its food delivery Uber Eats division have failed to make up for big losses in its core ride-hailing product. The company will report its first quarter earnings on Thursday.”. Read more Hmmmm….  Whew!  Didn’t Uber claim not long ago, that Uber Eats was going to save it and isn’t it “the best of times” for food delivery???  Alain

  Can a Pandemic Stop the Apocalypse?

R. Lanctot, April 2, “The negative impacts of the coronavirus, COVID-19, on the automotive industry continue to radiate out from the closure of factories and dealerships (for vehicle sales, while service operations continue) to employee furloughs and plunging stock prices. At the same time, the global pandemic has begun to undermine the investment rationale behind four core industry-wide initiatives collectively described as “CASE” or “ACES:” i.e. Connected, Autonomous, Shared, and Electrified driving. ..

The last horseman standing is connectivity. It may well be that connectivity is the sole surviving core automotive technology iniitiative that survives the COVID-19 scourge. The industry may abandon autonomous vehicles, shared vehicles, and electrification – but connectivity seems bound to endure….

Not even COVID-19 can stand in the way of the movement to connect cars. For the foreseeable future, the pandemic will continue to wreak havoc with autonomous, electrification, and sharing. Car connections will survive even this apocalypse.”. Read more Hmmmm…. Unfortunately, Connectivity died before Covid-19 simply because it needs to achieve significant market adoption before it can begin to deliver any meaningful value to anyone beyond those peddling gizmos.  And even then it is a stretch.  The only way Covid-19 brings back the C is if the central politburo needs it to control the masses.   Alain

 Elon Musk talks Tesla cars playing augmented reality games while driving

F. Lambert, May 4, “In a new Twitter comment, Elon Musk talks about possibly developing a game for Tesla cars using augmented reality game while driving… or Minecraft.
For the last two years, Tesla has been devoting some resources to integrate video games into its user experience. It plans to do more of that in the future, as Musk says that Tesla’s goal is to increase owners’ happiness and make the ownership experience more fun:… ” Read more Hmmmm… This is so totally irresponsible.  Drivers should be paying attention to driving and not ever playing video games at the same time.  People will die!!    Alain

  Intel to buy smart urban transit startup Moovit for $1B to boost its autonomous car division

I. Lunden, May 3, “Some big M&A is afoot in Israel in the world of smart transportation. According to multiple reports and sources that have contacted TechCrunch, chip giant Intel is in the final stages of a deal to acquire Moovit, a startup that applies AI and big data analytics to track traffic and provide transit recommendations to some 800 million people globally. The deal is expected to close in the coming days at a price believed to be in the region of $1 billion.

We have contacted Nir Erez, the founder and CEO of Moovit, as well as Intel spokespeople for a comment on the reports and will update this story as we learn more. For now, Moovit’s spokesperson has not denied the reports and what we have been told directly…..”  Read more Hmmmm… Given that Intel Capital is already a strategic investor, they must know what they are doing.  But… are there “800M people” who even use transit around the world, let alone ask Moovit for recommendations???? Are the many Intel stock holders providing a nice payday for the few Intel Capital insiders???  Alain 

Tesla researchers publish work on hybrid battery enabling all-electric car range extender

F. Lambert, May 4, “Tesla, through its research arm in Canada, has published the results of research on Hybrid Lithium-Ion/Lithium Metal Cells, which can be used to create what can be best described as all-electric cars with a range extender.

Typically, when we talk about electric vehicles with a range extender, we are talking about a battery-powered electric car with a small gasoline combustion engine that acts as a generator to recharge the battery when the user wants to have more range.

The BMW i3 Rex is a good example. It was equipped with a battery pack enabling 126 miles (203 km) of all-electric range, which could be extended to 200 miles (320 km) with its combustion engine.

Now in a new paper, Tesla’s battery research group comes up with a similar concept – but it remains all-electric. How?.:… ” Read more Hmmmm… ???? Not at all like the BMW i3 Rex or the  Chevy Volt or a modern railroad locomotive.  Each have ICE charging “batteries” that power electric traction motors.  This is just a “better” battery, maybe… if by “better” we mean higher power density.   If better also includes cost of materials, external environmental cost and geo=political costs, then …???? Alain

  Google Cars Drive Themselves, in Traffic

J. Markoff, Oct 9, 2010 (essentially 10 years ago…) “Anyone driving the twists of Highway 1 between San Francisco and Los Angeles recently may have glimpsed a Toyota Prius with a curious funnel-like cylinder on the roof. Harder to notice was that the person at the wheel was not actually driving.

The car is a project of Google, which has been working in secret but in plain view on vehicles that can drive themselves, using artificial-intelligence software that can sense anything near the car and mimic the decisions made by a human driver.

With someone behind the wheel to take control if something goes awry and a technician in the passenger seat to monitor the navigation system, seven test cars have driven 1,000 miles without human intervention and more than 140,000 miles with only occasional human control. One even drove itself down Lombard Street in San Francisco, one of the steepest and curviest streets in the nation. The only accident, engineers said, was when one Google car was rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light.

Autonomous cars are years from mass production, but technologists who have long dreamed of them believe that they can transform society as profoundly as the Internet has….” Read more Hmmmm…We knew the first 80% was going to be easy.  The next 19% are really hard, the next 0.9% is really really hard, ….   But I remain confident that we’ll soon become substantially better than good enough.   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

  Will the pandemic map a new course for autonomous cars?

> Fulton, May 4, “From where we sit, it looks much less like an economy that could benefit from autonomous, self-driving cars that wheel their snoozing occupants safely from place to place, than just three months ago. For that matter, we can probably scratch our heads now about whether that moon shot by 2024 is a great idea. Our priorities have been shifted for us….”  Read more Hmmmm…Mostly 1950s Sunday Supplement with a dash of current click-Bait.   This vision died shortly after Daimler’s introduction of their F 015 Luxury in Motion at the CES in January 2015 (5 years ago!!).  Way too difficult/expensive to bring to reality as just another toy for the super entitled, super rich.  Much more attractive as mobility machines for the masses. A concept that has zero traction in Sunday Supplements.  But that’s OK… that’s a real market that can also deliver substantial value to society.  Alain



Calendar of Upcoming Events:s

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

4th Annual Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit

Princeton University

Princeton, NJ

On the More Technical Side