Friday, September 4, 2020
37th edition of the 8th year of SmartDrivingCars

  Autonomous vehicles could improve policing, public safety, and much more

Cliff Winston, Aug. 25, “In a world of autonomous vehicles, much of the nation’s policing that is devoted to enforcing traffic safety laws, and the sometimes fatal altercations that result, would not exist. Policymakers should be motivated by this benefit, among many others, to expedite adoption of these vehicles. 


The United States has more than 800,000 state and local law enforcement officers. A large fraction of their work during a given year is spent pulling over some 20 million motorists who appear to be breaking a traffic law, controlling the flow of traffic following many of the 6 million accidents, and filling out endless forms. In addition, more than one officer per week is killed in a highway accident, accounting for nearly one-third of all police officer deaths in the line of duty.


Autonomous vehicles could virtually eliminate the need to use police resources to enforce traffic safety laws and more officers could concentrate on reducing the most serious criminal activity. The reason is that autonomous vehicles obey the speed limit, do not drive erratically, reach a valid final destination, and prevent their occupants from jeopardizing highway safety even if they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs….”  Read more Hmmmm….  Certainly “Autonomous” (aka Driverless) will obey all traffic regulations, but also Safe-driving (aka “Level 2”) vehicles can obey most, if not “all”, traffic regulations.  Many cars today can “read” speed limit signs (Tesla, Mercedes, Volvo, …).  The problem is that these manufacturers don’t help their customers obey this information.  They prefer to remain neutral,and often implicitly promote the violation of Speed Limits.  ( Google is no better with its Waze app that explicitly encourages its users to share information about the location of traffic enforcement individuals.) Maybe NHTSA should mandate their use, offer “cash for clunker (aka… the cars that don’t have technology)” and impose high registration fees on the the non-conforming clunkers that remain in use.   Alain

  SmartDrivingCars  Pod-Cast Episode 173  w/Nathanial Beuse

Sept. 4, “Moving forward with autonomous vehicle testing, the head of safety at Uber’s Advanced Technology Group is pledging safety data transparency. Nat Beuse joins Princeton’s Alain Kornhauser and co host Fred Fishkin for that and more on the latest mobility headlines.” Alexa, play the Smart Driving Cars podcast!“.  Ditto with Siri, and GooglePlay …  Alain

SmartDrivingCars  Zoom-Cast Episode 173  w/Nathanial Beuse

Video version of SmartDrivingCars PodCast 173  Alain

  SmartDrivingCars  Pod-Cast Episode 172  Special Edition w/Danny Shapiro

Sept. 2, “Mercedes unveils the latest S Class with more computing power than 60 average cars…with NVIDIA playing a big role.   NVIDIA’s Director of Automotive Danny Shapiro joins Princeton’s Alain Kornhauser and co-host Fred Fishkin for that and more.” Alexa, play the Smart Driving Cars podcast!“.  Ditto with Siri, and GooglePlay …  Alain

SmartDrivingCars  Zoom-Cast Episode 172  Special Edition w/Danny Shapiro

Video version of SmartDrivingCars PodCast 172  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.

  In a Class of Its Own: New Mercedes-Benz S-Class Sports Next-Gen AI Cockpit, Powered by NVIDIA

Danny Shapiro, Sept. 2, “The Mercedes-Benz S-Class has always combined the best in engineering with a legendary heritage of craftsmanship. Now, the flagship sedan is adding intelligence to the mix, fusing AI with the embodiment of automotive luxury.

At a world premiere event, the legendary premium automaker debuted the redesigned flagship S-Class sedan. It features the all-new MBUX AI cockpit system, with an augmented reality head-up display, AI voice assistant and rich interactive graphics to enable every passenger in the vehicle, not just the driver, to enjoy personalized, intelligent features.

“This S-Class is going to be the most intelligent Mercedes ever,” said Mercedes-Benz CEO Ola Källenius during the virtual launch.  Like its predecessor, the next-gen MBUX system runs on the high-performance, energy-efficient compute of NVIDIA GPUs for instantaneous AI processing and sharp graphics….”  Read more Hmmmm….  Congratulations Danny.  I sure hope that MB quickly  moves its safety features, primarily its adaptive cruise control and its automated lane keeping onto your platform so that over-the-air updating  comes to these most important customer safety and convenience features.  Alain

  Yandex spins out self-driving car unit from its Uber JV, invests $150M into new company

I. Lunden, Sept 4. “Self-driving cars are still many years away from becoming a ubiquitous reality, but today, one of the bigger efforts to build and develop them is taking a significant step out as part of its strategy to be at the forefront for when they do. Yandex — the publicly traded Russian tech giant that started as a search engine but has expanded into a number of other, related areas (similar to U.S. counterpart Google) — today announced that it is spinning out its self-driving car unit from MLU BV — a ride-hailing and food delivery joint venture it operates in partnership with Uber.

The move comes amid reports that Yandex  and Uber were eyeing up an IPO for MLU last year. At the time, the JV was estimated to be valued at around $7.7 billion. It’s not clear how those plans will have been impacted in recent months, with COVID-19 putting huge pressure on ride-hailing and food-delivery businesses globally, and IPOs generally down compared to a year ago…..”  Read more Hmmmm….  This seems to be “small potatoes” and a Russian thing.  It is my understanding that Uber had a couple of Driverless car efforts, one of which is the Advanced Technologies Group (Uber ATG) in Pittsburgh which is not part of this transaction.  I hope I’m not screwed up here.  Alain

   AV TEST Initiative:  New Test Tracking Tool

Staff, Sept 4, “As automated driving systems developers continue to improve their systems, they validate their laboratory and track-testing with controlled testing on public roads. Now, states and companies can voluntarily submit information about automated vehicles and testing to NHTSA, as part of the AV TEST Initiative web pilot. Below is the interactive tool the agency developed so the public can view the information. Please note that this is intended to be a tool that will be updated frequently as participants add or modify their information, as new participants are added, and as data fields are added or modified….   ” Read more Hmmmm…. A start at trying to compile some information about “AV” testing.  Data are limited to those participating in “AV TEST Initiative Web Pilot” (which doesn’t include Tesla AutoPilot or I imagine GM SuperCruise, Volvo PilotAssist, Subaru EyeSight, Ford Co-Pilot360,  … or any automated driving that is going on with consumers as attendants behind the wheel.   I realize that the objective of the consumer versions is to support rather than replace the human driver, but the AV TEST site does make the difference clear. 


If the site is meant to be transparent as to where vehicles may be operating without a human/attendant behind the wheel, then it should have only one dot at Chandler AZ.  That dot should be small, as it is.  And be flickering on and off because its not clear if Waymo is continuing to test wthout an attendant in the car.  Also, it should be clear that this is only about “testing’.  Driverless AVs providing mobility to people are not in commercial service anywhere.  Self-driving cars whose automation functions require continuous oversight by a licensed driver are essentially standard equipment on Tesla, Subaru, Volovo and others


This “New Test Tracking Tool” is an important start.  Hopefully, it will continue to improve. 


What would really be nice is if one could see the number of successful automated driving occurrences and the number of disengagements in the last n days along each lane of the US highway system.  I suspect that Elon has that information from all his Teslas; as do each of the companies participating in NHTSA’s AV TEST initiative.  Having those data be transparent would be enormously helpful to the public as to where they need to be wary, DoTs as to where to possibly fix the infrastructure and to the developers as to where to look to make improvements in their code. 


Thanks to Urs Muller’s nVIDIA team being located in Holmdel, NJ the NorthEast has one little dot; else, “AV testing” would be completely foreign to where 50+ million or 15% of the US population lives.  Hopefully one or a few of these participants will discover Trenton, NJ as an ideal market for their technology. 😁 See also:  NHTSA Autonomous Vehicle Test Web Pilot Tool Is Active  Alain

   OST-R  Vacancy Announcement  –  Director, Highly Automated Safety Systems Center or Excellence, GS-15


Dear Colleagues:

The Department of Transportation (DOT) is establishing a Highly Automated Safety Systems Center of Excellence (HASS COE) within The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology (OST-R), and OST-R is seeking a Director to lead the Center. The Center will be charged with reviewing, assessing, and validating the safety of highly automated technologies in transportation. The new position will be instrumental in organizing the Center and developing methods for assessing and testing transformative technologies to help ensure they are safe and work as intended….”  Read more Hmmmm…. Very important position.  Alain

  Lean Sensing – A Critical Enabler For Autonomous Vehicles

S. Rangwala, Sept. 4, “… Multiple directions can be pursued to thin down the sensor stack and focus on what matters in a driving environment (lean sensing). The rest of the article covers four approaches to realizing this: learning based sensor design, event-based sensing, Region of Interest (ROI) scanning, and semantic sensing…. ” Read more Hmmmm…. I like what Sabbir has focused on here… “lean sensing“… One only needs to look at almost any image representation of LiDAR data and realize that maybe the most challenging aspect of LiDAR is to determine what data to throw away and keep only the data that have a chance of being useful.  I like to tell my students that one of the best things that Darwin has done is to have our brains disregard a lot of the sensor data that our body creates and to forget many things.  To have a system drive a car safely requires it to do only a few things extremely well:  don’t hit anything and don’t get hit by anything while adhering to the rules of the road as best it can.  Much/(a majority) of the data that is captured tday is obisously irrelevant.  Those data need to be purged ASAP.  Consequently, I really like Sabbir’s the “lean sensing” approach.  Alain

  2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Revealed, Aims to Redefine Modern Luxury

J. Meiners, Sept 2, “When a new car is launched, carmakers love to trot out a number of tidbits of the past and present, and the new Mercedes-Benz S-class is no exception. Here’s one of them: 80 percent of all S-class buyers stick with the Mercedes brand for their next car purchase. More surprisingly, that trend is also true in the U.S. market, where buyers tend to be much less brand loyal. Here, the number stands at a remarkable 70 percent….”  Read more Hmmmm….  I’ve been steadfast that I was going to stop being brand loyal.  I’ve become enamored by Tesla’s over-the-air updating that seemingly curtails “built-in obsolescence” that is fundamentally emblematic of Mercedes as well as all other OEMs.  In 2014 I ran out and bought a new S-class because they finally made one with intelligent cruise control and automated lane keeping. While both work “well”, the cruise control turns off completely if I tap the brakes (rather than understanding that the reason that I tapped the brakes was because I wanted to slow down (so please turn off the acceleration function).  It wasn’t an indication that I no longer needed help slowing down (So why did it turn off the ” slowing down assist functionality (which is one of its primary jobs????))  I’ve complained about this fault in its code since 2014.  Of course, I probably haven’t been heard and if I have been heard and its been fixed, my software hasn’t been upgraded over-the-air or in any other way. 

While the automated lane centering “works”, it only “sort of works”.  I’m certain that Daimler has improved its algorithm, yet I’ve never been offered an upgrade. (Notice I haven’t indicated that I’d expect these improvement to just appear on my car.  I am happy to pay (at least some amount 😁 ). 

So you can imagine how thrilled I was yesterday when I read that with nVIDIA’s help, over-the-air updating was going to become available on the 2021 S-class.  I almost couldn’t run down to my dealer fast enough to become the first on my block to have one of these.  Then I read the fine print (or failed to find mention in any of the print) that the safety systems (Intelligent cruise control and automated lane keeping, etc. ) were not to be included in the over-the-air updating systems.  Those systems will need to wait until 2024 or ???  before they are included.  What is included is all of the “Soft Corinthian Leather” stuff.  It seems that the way Daimler is pitching this car is not much different than the way the 1975 Chrysler Cordoba was pitched.  So disappointing!  Even in this article there is no mention of the driver assist capabilities beyond pulling the car into a tight parking space where I’d never want to park the vehicle; else, its really going to get dinged by the other guys trying to get into their car.  So disappointing. 

But, of course, not surprising… I recently wanted to purchase a 3 year old (just off of lease, low mileage) MB station wagon.  Many are available through Carfax and eBay, etc., yet not one is equipped with adaptive cruise control and automated steering, even though those features were available starting in 2015.  It seems as if, while available, Mercedes salesPersons didn’t sell the features and, of course, Mercedes didn’t make them available as standard equipment.  Cadillac seems to have treated SuperCruise the same way… sold essentially none of them.  Elon and Tesla, on the other habnd, have use autoPilot to sell its cars to become many times more valuable!

So I’m not running to my Mercedes dealer and just going to stay with my 2014 S-clunker.  Alain

  AutonomouStuff August News

R. Hambrick, Aug. 31, “AutonomouStuff leads the industry in enabling, accelerating and deploying the future of autonomy. Our team works hard to remain at the forefront of technology in this fast-paced, ever-changing industry. Despite constant change and innovation, one goal remains steadfast: help our customers succeed. Communication is a vital component of that goal, so each month we share what’s new, what’s exciting and the success of our partnerships….”  Read more Hmmmm…. Robert, keep up the good work!  Alain

Amazon Gets U.S. Approval for Drone Fleet, a Package-Delivery Milestone

S. Herrera, Aug. 31, “ Inc. said Monday it received federal approval to establish a fleet of drones and will begin limited tests of package deliveries to customers in the U.S., although a number of key steps remain before widespread use of the technology will be allowed.

The approval from the Federal Aviation Administration is a milestone in Amazon’s push to use unmanned aircraft to deliver packages to global consumers. Amazon didn’t say when exactly it would begin customer tests in the U.S. The company also has testing sites in Canada,…”  Read more Hmmmm….  I guess this is good for maybe the last 50 feet or some niche applications, but I don’t believe it scales.  Single delivery of small packages from the “Robbinsville facility” to “Cleveland Lane” works only for very special packages and/or very entitled people.  Not much scale here.  I still believe the near term opportunity is for diverless delivery during the wee hours of the night.  No traffic, no pedestrians, no bicyclists, no kids chasing balls, no …   Alain

  The airline industry is ditching change fees because it’s desperate for people to fly

A. Hawkins, Aug. 31, “American Airlines and Delta Air Lines both said they would permanently eliminate fees associated with changing or canceling a flight. The news comes less than a day after United Airlines first announced a permanent end to its change fee policy.

All three carriers have been waiving change fees since March 2020, when the novel coronavirus pandemic first disrupted global air travel. With demand dried up, the airlines are seeking to make flying look safe, stress-free, and, most of all, cheap. And that means eliminating many of the fees and surcharges associated with air travel.

“We’ve said before that we need to approach flexibility differently than this industry has in the past, and today’s announcement builds on that promise to ensure we’re offering industry-leading flexibility, space and care to our customers,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian in a statement.  “When we hear from customers about where we can improve, getting rid of this fee is often the top request,” said United CEO Scott Kirby.  …”  Read more Hmmmm…. Yup!!!  Much more arrogant of a fee than the luggage fee.  At least there, one could imagine real work being done. I change a flight on line and get charged $200.  Total rip-off!  The next one is changing the name of the passenger.  Why do they need to know “who” prior to, say one day, of the flight?    Alain

  Tesla releases impressive video of production at Gigafactory Shanghai — a glimpse of ‘Alien dreadnought’

F. Lambert, Sept. 2, “Tesla has released an impressive new time-lapse video of its production at Gigafactory Shanghai, giving us a glimpse of what Elon Musk has been referring to as Tesla’s “Alien dreadnought.”

A few years ago, Elon Musk decided to have Tesla focus on manufacturing first.  He wants Tesla to have exciting products, but he also wants the company to view the factory as a product. The machine that builds the machine, he calls it.  The CEO said that his goal is for the factory to look more “alien” than a factory. A machine that outputs new electric vehicles with high automation and at a speed unprecedented in the auto industry.

He first introduced this idea with the production of Model 3 vehicles at Fremont factor….. ”  Read more Hmmmm…..  Interesting.  Watch video.   Alain

  Watch Tesla Autopilot help avoid a truck out-of-control

F. Lambert, Sept. 2, “A Tesla owner shared a video of what appears to be Tesla Autopilot helping avoid a truck out-of-control in the right lane.  During the early days of Autopilot, Tesla was limiting the system from making drastic evasion maneuvers in order to avoid causing accidents.

Instead, it would only apply brakes or steer away if it wasn’t 100% certain a collision was inevitable. It could still reduce the impact by slowing the car.  However, we have recently noticed an increase in the number of reports from Tesla owners showing Autopilot, or more specifically active safety features powered by Autopilot, avoiding crashes by doing some impressively aggressive evasive maneuvers….. ”  Read more Hmmmm…..  Interesting.  Watch video.   Alain


    Draft Program   4th Annual Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit   Postponed until Evening Oct. 20 through Oct. 22, 2020 (But will likely need to be completely Virtual, possibly in “Second life)

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

  What Coronavirus Means For The Future Of Self-Driving Cars

S. Lekach, Sept 4, “… The pandemic made us more comfortable with the idea of autonomous vehicles, but most industry experts still predict a slow transition to their widespread adoption in the U.S. When you’re avoiding exposure to a deadly disease, perhaps a driverless robotaxi, like the Waymo One service in suburban Phoenix, looks more attractive. But autonomous tech and testing regulations won’t accelerate just because of sudden mainstream acceptance and new social distancing norms….”  Read more Hmmmm…  Alain



  Autonomous Cars/Driverless Cars Market Size, Share, Industry Trends, Growth Insight, Share, Competitive Analysis, Statistics, Regional, And Industry Forecast | Apple Inc., Baidu Inc., Alphabet Inc.

Report Hive Research, Sept 3, “…..”  Read more Hmmmm…  Be careful.  Alain

Calendar of Upcoming Events:s

 DrivingTheDebate Episode 006

AV Shark-Tank:

Topic to be announced

Tuesday, Sept. 8 @ 2pm New York Time

Register Here

Postponed, to be Virtual, Evening Oct. 20 -> Oct 22.

4th Annual Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit

Princeton University

Princeton, NJ

On the More Technical Side