Friday, October 09, 2020
42nd edition of the 8th year of SmartDrivingCars

Waymo starts to open driverless ride-hailing service to the public

K. Korosec, Oct. 8, “Waymo,  the Google  self-driving-project-turned-Alphabet unit, is beginning to open up its driverless ride-hailing service to the public.

The company said that starting today, members of its Waymo One service will be able to take family and friends along on their fully driverless rides in the Phoenix area. Existing Waymo One members will have the first access to the driverless rides — terminology that means no human behind the wheel. However, the company said that in the next several weeks more people will be welcomed directly into the service through its app, which is available on Google Play and the App Store.

Waymo said that 100% of its rides will be fully driverless — which it has deemed its “rider only” mode. That 100% claim requires a bit of unpacking. The public shouldn’t expect hundreds of Waymo-branded Chrysler Pacifica minivans — no human behind the wheel — to suddenly inundate the entire 600-plus square miles of the greater Phoenix area.. …”  Read more  Hmmmm…  “…fully Driverless…”.   That means that Krafcik, the Waymo “Board”, Alphabet’s Board and all the lawyers have signed off and said… We are safe enough to basically bet the ranch that the expected value of the mobility that we’ll be putting out on the streets of our Operational Design Domain, which is under our control, is worth whatever expected risk still exists that some bad things may happen.  That is an enormous hurdle that has been achieved by an entity that has an enormous ranch.  CONGRATULATIONS!!! It hasn’t come easy, nor has it come without intese diligence and effort. CONGRATULATIONS!!! Alain

  Waymo will allow more people to ride in its fully driverless vehicles in Phoenix

A. Hawkins, Oct 8, “…These driverless vehicles aren’t totally alone in the wilderness. Waymo has a team of remote employees who watch the real-time feeds of each vehicle’s eight cameras and can help, with the push of a button, if the software runs into a difficult spot and needs a human eye to figure out what’s going on. But Waymo insists these remote operators won’t be “joy-sticking” the cars, which are outfitted with a bevy of cameras and sensors that help it “see” its surroundings. The car will be making most of the driving decisions itself thanks to its large computer system and artificial intelligence software…”  Read more  Hmmmm… Andrew’s take on this. Of course they’ll be watching very closely.  This is not a stunt.  Its a very responsible roll out.  Alain

Waymo finally launches an actual public, driverless taxi service

T. Lee, Oct. 8, “After covering Waymo for several years, I’ve learned to take the company’s announcements with a grain of salt.

In 2018, for example, Waymo said it would launch a fully driverless commercial service by the end of the year. Waymo did release a service called Waymo One in December 2018, but it came with a couple of huge asterisks: every vehicle had a safety driver, and the service was only open to a small group of people.

But today Waymo finally seems to be launching the taxi service it promised two years ago: one that’s fully driverless and open to the public. Waymo told Ars that the service will initially operate in a 50-square-mile area in the Phoenix suburbs of Chandler, Tempe, and Mesa. …” Read more Hmmmm….   As Timothy put it… The challenge is now economics.   Alain

  SmartDrivingCars  Pod-Cast Episode 178  w/Andrew Hawkins, Verge

F. Fishkin, Oct. 9, “Here we go! Waymo going fully driverless in Phoenix suburb service. The Verge senior transportation reporter Andrew Hawkins joins Princeton’s Alain Kornhauser and co-host Fred Fishkin for that plus Tesla… Amazon… Rivian and more.  Subscribe!  .” Alexa, play the Smart Driving Cars podcast!“.  Ditto with Siri, and GooglePlay …  Alain

SmartDrivingCars  Zoom-Cast Episode 178  w/Andrew Hawkins, Verge

Video version of SmartDrivingCars PodCast 178...  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.

  Elon Musk takes shots at rival Waymo as it opens robotaxis to public in ValleyElon Musk takes shots at rival Waymo as it opens robotaxis to public in Valley

C. Schubarth, Oct. 9, “Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo self-driving unit got Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk’s attention on Thursday after it announced plans to open its driverless robotaxis to the public for the first time in the Valley….

But Musk thinks Waymo’s driverless tech is over-reliant on operating in “geo-fenced” areas that it has fully mapped.

He responded to a Twitter follower who called Waymo’s system “fragile” because of that reliance on maps, saying:

“We barked up that tree for way too long (sigh). Gives a false sense of victory being close — a tantalizing local maximum — but reality is just too messy & weird. Our new system is capable of driving in locations we never seen even once.”…”  Read more  Hmmmm…Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you should.  I suspect that the Waymo system is also capable of driving in locations it has never seen before, meaning it doesn’t have the HD maps.  It just doesn’t need to .  Recall that one of the original motivations for Google’s/Waymo’s efforts in driverless cars was Street View.  So, in a sense, Waymo is essentially forced to be over-reliant on HD maps.   It is unfortunate because the hard part is  “seeing’ and “avoiding” the objects that aren’t in HD maps… the transient/moving objects in and around your lane ahead.  The stationary objects represented in the HD maps are relatively “easy” to “see’ in time to avoid them.Their velocity is zero making it “trivial” to anticipate where they’ll be in the future.  Not so for the moving objects. 

Even though, Elon is correct, in my view, about Waymo’s over-reliance on HD maps, what he hasn’t done is publicly proclaim and accept the responsibility if anything goes wrong in the use of his system.  He hasn’t said that he’ll replace the fine print in his manuals that make the driver responsible for any mishap to state that he’ll accept the full responsibility for any mishap involving his system.  The meat of the Waymo announcement is “our automated system will take you safely and comfortably from A to B in our Operational Design Domain (ODD).  If anything happens we’ll you, the rider, can hold us responsible for any damages that you may have incurred”. 

    Tesla to release self-driving Beta capable of ‘zero intervention’ in a few weeks

J. Klender, Oct. 8. “Tesla CEO Elon Musk stated earlier today that the latest build of FSD software would be released “in a few weeks.”

Musk’s idea of a completely self-driving vehicle has been evident for several years. Obtaining full autonomy is anything but an easy task, and Musk recognizes that other companies have done an efficient job creating driver assistance features to increase safety.

While ARK Invest’s Tasha Keeney described the process and development of self-driving vehicles in a series of tweets on Thursday, Musk stated that Waymo, another company with its sights set on fully-autonomous navigation, is doing an “impressive” job with developing zero-intervention driving capabilities….”  Read more Hmmmm…  Again, not such a big deal.  What would really be news is: “Tesla accepts all liability associated with the use, or mis-use, of FSD”.  Alain

  Amazon unveils its new electric delivery vans built by Rivian

A. Hawkins, Oct 8, “Amazon unveiled its first all-electric delivery van on Thursday. The vehicle, built by EV startup Rivian, will come with state-of-the-art technology, like sensing equipment and an advanced driver-assist system. The e-commerce giant says it expects to have 10,000 vans on the road making deliveries “as early as 2022,” with a total fleet of 100,000 vehicles expected by 2030….”” Read more  Hmmmm… How long before “ZooX” automates these?  Alain

  Boom Supersonic unveils its prototype for a commercial supersonic jet

A. Hawkins, Oct 7, “Boom Supersonic, an aviation startup, unveiled today a full-scale demonstrator of a supersonic passenger jet that aims to be the next-generation Concorde. The XB-1 demonstrator won’t take flight until 2021, but Boom unveiled the prototype to a group of aviation and aerospace executives at Centennial Airport in Denver.

At 71 feet long, the XB-1 is a scaled-down version of the full production model that Boom hopes to have ready for passengers by 2029. The prototype only has room for the pilot, while the commercial-ready version will eventually hold up to 44 passengers….” Read more  Hmmmm… A start on a long road back.  Alain

    Draft Program   4th Annual Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit   Postponed until Evening Dec. 8 through Dec. 10, 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



Calendar of Upcoming Events:s

Postponed, to be Virtual, Evening Dec. 8 -> Dec.10.

4th Annual Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit

Princeton University

Princeton, NJ

On the More Technical Side