Thursday, May 28, 2020
23rd edition of the 8th year of SmartDrivingCars

Amazon in Advanced Talks to Buy Self-Driving-Car Tech Company Zoox

C. Lombardo & T. Higgins, , May 26, “ Inc. is in advanced talks to buy Zoox Inc. in a move that would expand the e-commerce giant’s reach in autonomous-vehicle technology.   The companies are discussing a deal that would value Zoox at less than the $3.2B it achieved in a funding round in 2018…”  Read more  Hmmmm…  This would be a real bargain for Amazon and bring on some real talent to focus on the algorithmic side of driverless delivery while leveraging Rivian on the vehicle side.   See also Financial Times  Alain

  SmartDrivingCars Pod-Cast Episode 158 – Chunka Mui

F. Fishkin, May 28, “In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, what are the smartest ways to re-build and plan for the future? Futurist and author Chunka Mui joins Princeton’s Alain Kornhauser and co-host Fred Fishkin for that plus Amazon, Zoox, Intel Mobileye, Tesla, Uber and more.”   “Alexa, play the Smart Driving Cars podcast!“.  Ditto with Siri, and GooglePlay …  Alain

SmartDrivingCars Zoom-Cast Episode 158 – Chunka Mui

Video version of SmartDrivingCars PodCast 158 – Chunka Mui  .  Alain

   The SmartDrivingCars eLetter, Pod-Casts, Zoom-Casts and Zoom-inars are made possible in part by support from the Smart Transportation and Technology ETF, symbol MOTO.   For more information:  Most funding is supplied by Princeton University’s Department of Operations Research & Financial Engineering and Princeton Autonomous Vehicle Engineering (PAVE) research laboratory

as part of its research dissemination initiatives.

  SmartDrivingCar Zoom-inar 003 Everyone’s for Connectivity, but …

Live:  Tuesday, June 2, 2:00pm New York Time

Free Pre-registration is required

  5 Ways Our Coronavirus Recovery Strategies Might Make Or Break The Future: Part 1

Chumka Mui, May 7, “When you’re fighting a fire, it’s easy to forget that the water can cause more damage than the fire itself. When you rebuild after a fire, the desire to rebuild quickly can trump the inclination to rebuild smartly. During a disaster, focusing on anything other than getting back to normal as fast as possible can sound impractical or even tone deaf.

Well, we’re in the midst of one of the biggest global disasters in centuries, and, at the risk of appearing impractical or even tone deaf, I’ll ask you to bear with me as I argue that we need to be laser-focused not only on how we fight the pandemic but, even now, on how we rebuild from it. …

I’ve been working with Paul Carroll for some time on a plan for 2050 that we call the Future Perfect and that, while it is as hopeful as the name suggests, is technologically feasible based on six Laws of Zero. The basic idea is that, in six areas, key resources are headed toward zero cost, which means that infinite amounts can be imagined as available for the future…

Most of the costs of transportation will also disappear once driverless cars hit scale….

Zero cost, however, does not necessarily lead to good outcomes. Technology is a double-edged sword….

Too cheap transportation, for example, can worsen sprawl, congestion and pollution. Worse yet, technology can amplify evil and stoke our tendencies toward narcissism, parochialism and tribalism….

Below is a preview of five ways that smart recovery strategies can create more hopeful futures for our children and their children. We want to leave them a Future Perfect, not a Future Pathetic. I will elaborate on each of the five in later parts of this series….”  Read more  Hmmmm… . Very interesting!!  From my perspective, everything physical begins with transportation/mobility; however, there are a couple of really key phrases here…

  • What unjust pain might be caused by inaccurate or biased data and algorithms? ” One might argue that we’ve been here before… Hillary’s chances of winning are greater than 99% and where we were in January, February, … and maybe even today with Covid-19?
  • Or, we can rebuild smartly“… Of course, but what agreement is there on the definition of “smartly”?

As seems to always happen, the old and the poor have been devastated, while the rich have once again barely missed a beat; they’ve learned and worked from home, propped up the stock market and managed to not kill each other while awaiting free deliveries at home.   All is so unfair.  Alain

  Who Will Own the Cars That Drive Themselves?

J. Motavalli, May 29, “…The question about the long-term future for the world’s cars is far from settled, and the experts (some of whom see disaster for the planet if people own autonomous cars as we own our cars now) differ sharply in their perception of where we’re heading…”  Read more  Hmmmm… Many good sharply different points here; however, there are a couple that are missed.  The first “Level 5 is not only more difficult encompasses the concept of everywhere which is unachievable by anything.  The conventional car ecosystem isn’t at its “level 5” today after more than 130 years of development.  Commenting that achievable is not going to be achieved is not achieving anything. 

Next, hopefully, it has been realized for a while now, that driverless cars are a bad idea as a consumer product.  While many/most consumers would be responsible enough to use and take proper care of driverless vehicles, it would take just a very few to ruin it for everyone.  In fact “Level 3” will likely never make it to the market because of the product liability implications of poor consumer maintenance and irresponsible use of that product description.  Every OEM would be dragged into essentially every litigation of every failure of a product over which they have very insufficient oversight about how it is maintained and how it is used.

With respect to the use of driverless cars to provide high-quality affordable mobility to a segment of the population that would appreciate such a service, to me, that’s the future for this technology.  Offer this as an alternative to those whose next best option is what’s offered by its conventional transit operator, is a no-brainer.  To those those that have the where with all to enclose themselves in their own cocoon, while they scorn global warming, well, we’ll see.  One thing may be obvious… the cocoon buyers should not be subsidized by the those that choose/can’t buy their own cocoons.  Alain


Staff, May 2020, In an effort to hear from affected parties and the public, the Agency of Transportation is seeking comments on the Draft of the Automated Vehicle Testing Permit Guidance and Application. The Guide implements the AV Testing Act and describes the process and requirements to obtain a permit to test automated vehicles on state and town highways in Vermont. The Guide is intended for use by applicants who are seeking a permit to test automated vehicles on public roads in Vermont and municipalities that are considering allowing testing on town highways under their jurisdiction. It also serves as a guide to the Vermont Traffic Committee, whose approval is required for all automated vehicle test permits in the state, in its deliberations over specific permit applications.  Click Here to for the Automated Vehicle Testing Permit Guidance and Application….”  Read more  Hmmmm… Nice to have Vermont in the game.  However, presumably the automated vehicles being tested will always have an attendant behind the wheel. This is “testing” not “operations”.  Are these vehicles really any different than a car with an automatic transmission?  Going beyond testing  by operating without a competent and alert licensed driver behind the wheel is an entirely different issue.   Alain

Autonomous car company Aurora increases hiring amid industry struggles

K. Wiggers, May, 27, “Autonomous vehicle (AV) startup Aurora today announced it has roughly doubled its workforce to 500 people (up from 250 as of May 2019) and committed to hiring workers across the company as it welcomes 22 remote interns and a trio of executives.

Aurora’s hiring spree — which has a specific focus on mid- to senior-level engineers in software and infrastructure, robotics, hardware, cloud, and firmware — comes at a particularly fraught time for AV companies. The economic fallout from the pandemic has begun to take its toll, with even well-funded ventures like Cruise, Kodiak Robotics, and Ike shedding hundreds of employees collectively. …Against this backdrop, Aurora CEO Chris Urmson says the company remains in a “solid position” with enough runway to employ its existing team members (including its full-time vehicle operators) and to continue hiring as it advances the development of its full-stack autonomous platform…

Toyota Research Institute alumnus Sagar Behere will direct systems and safety engineering at Aurora, while former Google and eBay executive Tara Green will head up people operations, recruiting, and IT. As for Autonomous GmbH cofounder Raul Rojas, he’ll lead the recently launched Aurora Academy, where he’ll design and facilitate expert-level classes for Aurora employees on visualization, sensor development, mathematical foundations, machine learning, and more.”  Read more Hmmmm….  Congratulations Chris!  Take advantage of this opportunity.  Alain

  The Challenge of Supporting AV at Scale

A. Shashua, , May 26, “At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, we presented an unedited 25 minute-long video of a Mobileye self-driving car navigating the busy streets of Jerusalem. The video was published, first and foremost, for the sake of promoting transparency. We wanted to demonstrate the exceptional capabilities of our technology, but more importantly, to show the world how autonomous vehicles (AVs) operate so that society will come to trust them.
Continuing this effort, we are introducing today a new 40-minute unedited video of a drive comprising a small section from 160 miles of Jerusalem streets we use for our AV development. We chose to follow the drive with a drone to properly provide context for the decision-making logic of the robotic agent, and the only intervention during the drive was to replace the drone’s battery after 20 minutes or so. We have also added narration to explain where and how our technology is handling the wide variety of situations encountered during the drive. The full-length clip is inserted below and a number of short sections from the drive are highlighted at the end of this editorial. …

To appreciate what we are dealing with let’s do a simple “back of the envelope” calculation.”  Read more  Hmmmm… I like the Back of the envelope calculation.    A crash a day in a fleet of 100,000 delivering 5M person trips logging 10M vehicle miles is actually pretty darn good!  (What crash rate did Hertz experience before chapter 11 with its fleet that was moving much less than 5 hours per day?)  AV at scale is not only the goal, it is the necessity.  Else, this is all at best a nice academic exercise.  See video   Impressive but it is only 160 vehicle miles  (One assumes that there were no disengagements.)  Alain 

  Tesla Crashes Into Tree On Human Pilot: Owner Wishes Autopilot Was On

S. Loveday, May 26, “Tesla owner Martin Grefte admits he wasn’t paying enough attention when he recently drove his Tesla Model 3 into a tree. He had just received bad news about a sick family member, his thoughts wandered, and that was all it took to lead to the crash. Fortunately, Grefte is okay, but his Model 3 is not.

Looking back, he says he wishes he had engaged Autopilot. If he had, there’s a really good chance the crash would have never happened. Cameras and radars are always paying attention, they’re not impacted by emotion, and computers work much faster than humans. While there’s no way to know for sure, it can be assumed that Autopilot, and more specifically, Tesla’s standard active safety systems, wouldn’t have let the Model 3 run into a tree so easily….”  Read more Hmmmm….  Yup!  Alain

  Uber is scrapping tens of thousands of Jump bikes during a nationwide bike shortage

A. Hawkins, May 27, “”Uber is sending tens of thousands of its electric Jump bikes to the scrap yard, weeks after offloading the money-losing bike-share division on Lime. The news of the scrapped bikes has incensed bike enthusiasts on social media, one of whom decried the act as “unconscionable.”

Uber confirmed in a statement that it was “recycling” many of Jump’s older bikes and scooters after transferring “tens of thousands” of the newer models to Lime. But the scrap job comes at a time when many people are avoiding public transportation because of the coronavirus pandemic and looking for alternate forms of transportation. Bike sales (and especially electric bike sales) are booming. And the destruction of tens of thousands of viable bikes and scooters during a crisis is striking many on social media as incredibly wasteful…. “. Read more Hmmmm…. Nothing is easy for Uber.  Whew! Alain

BOEING  Boeing Resumes 737 MAX Production

Press release, May 27, “Boeing [NYSE: BA] has resumed production of the 737 MAX at the company’s Renton, Washington factory. The 737 program began building airplanes at a low rate as it implements more than a dozen initiatives focused on enhancing workplace safety and product quality.

“We’ve been on a continuous journey to evolve our production system and make it even stronger,” said Walt Odisho, vice president and general manager of the 737 program. “These initiatives are the next step in creating the optimal build environment for the 737 MAX.””. Read more Hmmmm…. This lapse may have substantially improved the manufacturing process such that the lapse is not a complete loss.   The bigger question is… When will the customers come back and want to take delivery of the planes that are now being produced?  Alain

   All eyes on Tesla’s recovery in China — rumors of massive backlog

F. Lambert, May 26, “Tesla, like many other automakers, is struggling to get operations to something resembling normal within the next month in order to save its second quarter financially.  For the California-based automaker, China is going to be very important this quarter, and there are rumors that Tesla is enjoying a massive backlog of orders in that market.

According to local registration numbers, Tesla only delivered more than 3,000 cars in China in April.

That’s despite its Shanghai Gigafactory reportedly producing 3,000 vehicles per week and the Chinese car market recovering nicely after the pandemic.

However, Tesla’s sales in China were negatively affected in April due to the country modifying its EV incentives, which made the Model 3 ineligible due to its starting price.  In May, the automaker managed to reduce the price of Model 3 in order to be again eligible for the country’s EV incentives.

Furthermore, it’s likely that many customers decided to wait for the longer-range version of the Model 3, which Tesla announced in early April.  Tesla just started deliveries of the new version of the made-in-China Model 3 last week.

There are reports coming out of China stating that Tesla has accumulated a massive backlog of 15,000 orders for the Model 3 Long Range RWD….. ” Read more Hmmmm…  Very interesting. Tesla may well become the new Apple… Boeing.  Alain

  The story of cheaper batteries, from smartphones to Teslas

T. Lee, May 22, “In 2010, a lithium-ion battery pack with 1 kWh of capacity—enough to power an electric car for three or four miles—cost more than $1,000. By 2019, the figure had fallen to $156, according to data compiled by BloombergNEF. That’s a massive drop, and experts expect continued—though perhaps not as rapid—progress in the coming decade. Several forecasters project the average cost of a kilowatt-hour of lithium-ion battery capacity to fall below $100 by the mid-2020s.

That’s the result of a virtuous circle where better, cheaper batteries expand the market, which in turn drives investments that produce further improvements in cost and performance. The trend is hugely significant because cheap batteries will be essential to shifting the world economy away from carbon-intensive energy sources like coal and gasoline…”  Read more Hmmmm…  This is indeed impressive progress in a sector that has defied substantial improvement since Thomas Davenport in 1837.  Cheap, light weight, effective energy storage is a fundamental enabler of mobility.  Alain

   Watch Tesla Cybertruck drive into The Boring Company’s tunnel

F. Lambert, May 28, “The Tesla Cybertruck may not be getting any smaller, but at least it fits inside The Boring Company’s test tunnel under Los Angeles.   CNBC and Jay Leno’s Garage have been teasing an episode of the latter’s show featuring Elon Musk and the Tesla Cybertruck prototype for a month now.  We have seen several teasers, but now the full segment has launched…. ” Read more Hmmmm… See video.  What can I say?!? Enjoy!  Alain

  China’s Baidu finishes building ‘world’s largest’ test ground for autonomous vehicle, smart driving systems

C. Pan, May 28, “Chinese search engine giant and artificial intelligence (AI) champion Baidu said on Tuesday that it has completed construction of what it claims to be the world’s largest testing ground for autonomous driving and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication.
The 13,500 square meter (145,300 sq ft) Apollo Park in Beijing’s Yizhuang Economic Development Zone houses more than 200 self-driving vehicles and is equipped with facilities to support the full autonomous vehicle development process from research to testing, Baidu said in a statement on Tuesday….

Last month, competing Chinese self-driving start-up AutoX launched an 80,000 sq ft “gigafactory” in Shanghai, which it said was the largest data hub for self-driving car data in China … Whatever that means???…and the biggest robotaxi operations centre in Asia. … Whatever that means???…  Read more Hmmmm…  Test grounds are only the beginning and may not even complement simulation.  Real testing needs to be out on in the real world with human supervision until human supervision is a waste of time or more harmful than helpful.  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



Calendar of Upcoming Events:s

SmartDrivingCar Zoom-inar 003

AV Shark-Tank:

Everyone’s for Connectivity; but:

  • What’s it for (Comfort/Safety/Control), 
  • Who owns/controls the data/information (The individual/The OEM/The Government),
  • How far does Privacy extend (individual controls/judicial oversight (court order)/rescindable through “Patriot Acts“)

Live Tuesday, June 2 @ 2pm New York Time

Register Here

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

4th Annual Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit

Princeton University

Princeton, NJ

On the More Technical Side