Saturday, September 4, 2021

34th edition of the 9th year of SmartDrivingCars eLetter


  In a patch of Arizona, everyone knows Waymo. But few use it.

R. Duffy, Aug 23, “Chandler, Arizona, is a city of just over 250,000 that’s located southeast of Phoenix. Like most of Arizona, it’s hot, dry, and lined with cacti and palm trees.

But unlike most of Arizona—or virtually anywhere else in the world—Chandler residents share the road with fully driverless robotaxis, courtesy of Waymo. As Stacy, a Chandler resident, told us, “Waymos are like rabbits in my neighborhood.”

Since October 2020, the Alphabet subsidiary has been running its driverless ride-hail service, Waymo One, in a 50-square-mile service area that encompasses parts of Chandler, Tempe, Mesa, and Gilbert. Anyone with a smartphone, credit card, and GPS coordinates in the service area can hail a completely driverless ride of their own.

In December 2018, Waymo opened Waymo One (with safety drivers) to the general public, expanding beyond an early rider program available to pre-approved, NDA-bound Phoenix residents. The company’s current testing zone, for driverless and safety operator-supervised vehicles, stretches across roughly 100 square miles.

And although residents living in or near the service area may be used to seeing Waymo’s glossy-white, sensor-laden Chrysler Pacificas roving around, the chances they’ve ridden in one are much, much lower. ..”  Read more As I’ve been writing, Chandler is a great place to test Driverless mobility to make sure it at least begins to work; however, the value in the technology is not as amusement or thrill ride or as circus sideshow.  The value is its ability to affordably deliver high quality on-demand mobility.  It will be a long time before it can provide a higher quality of service that a chauffeured “Black car” or limousine, so it can’t compete for those traveling on an expense account or the well to do.  It also can’t really compete to serve the Drive-it-Yourself (DiY) folks that can afford to buy their own cars and park them for free when not in use.  Conventional mobility serves all of these folks very well.

Where this form of mobility has a real advantage is to serve folks who are required to conform to mobility whose very limited service is provided on a “take-it-or-leave-it” operational philosophy.  Services that operate between few fixed locations at strictly stipulated times specified by the service provider.  The disparity in service is incredible between mobility options that respond directly to customer needs in terms of from/to/when (walking, DiY personal car, Uber/Lyft/taxi/limousine/WaymoOne) and public transit’s “take-it-or-leave-it” customer service approach. 

Consequently, Waymo’s market opportunity is in places where customer demand is by folks who can’t DiY and aren’t on an expense account and can’t afford Uber/Lyft/taxi/limousine.  Places like Trenton, New Jersey where 70% of the households have at most one car as opposed to Chandler where 70% of households have two or more cars.  In Chandler, Waymo has to go far and wide (“50 sq. mi.) to find customers for which the Waymo One service is indeed better than what they already enjoy.  In cities like Trenton, those folks exist in a compact 8 sq. mi. area.  Seems like a no-brainer that Waymo Two should be in Trentons.  Alain

SmartDrivingCars Pod-Cast Episode 232, Zoom-Cast Episode 232 w Steven Shladover

F. Fishkin, Sept. 4 “Cameras alone aren’t enough to get Tesla or anyone else to driverless mobility.   So says UC Berkeley’s Steven Shladover, a leading autonomous vehicle research engineer.   He joins Princeton’s Alain Kornhauser and co-host Fred Fishkin for that plus the need for more regulation from Washington, Waymo, Cruise, Toyota, Motional and more.  Watch or listen to Smart Driving Cars Episode 232 and subscribe!”

   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 initiative


Surging crash-death rates that took hold with pandemic continued this year, according to new estimate

I. Duncan, Sep 2, “The first quarter of 2021 was the deadliest start of a year on the nation’s roads in over a decade, with car crashes killing an estimated 8,730 people from January to March, according to a new estimate from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The numbers indicate that a surge in road deaths that began with the coronavirus pandemic has continued into this year, although they offer some early glimmer of hope that unusually high fatality rates might be beginning to come down.

NHTSA said the ongoing high death rate appears to have been caused by drivers continuing to take risks by speeding, getting behind the wheel after drinking or using drugs, and not wearing seat belts. To coincide with the new estimates, NHTSA on Thursday released an updated version of a guide to improving highway safety, largely focusing on encouraging more-conscientious behavior on the roads and deterring risk-taking…” Read more  See NHTSA Early Estimate of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities for the First Quarter of 2021 announcement.  Roughly a 25% increase in death rate for Q1s (from ~1.0/100MxVMT to 1.26/100MxVMT.  Seems as if NHTSA is going to have to do more than “… release(d) an updated version of a guide …”.  There are now so many speeders and texters out there and there aren’t enough traffic cops to do anything about it.  If driving is really a privilege, then NHTSA will need to insist that technology be used to enforce the common good associated with that privilege.  Alain 

  This letter is to inform you that the Office of Defects Investigation…

G. Mango, Aug. 31, “This letter is to inform you that the Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened a Preliminary Evaluation (PE21-020) to investigate crashes involving first responder scenes and vehicles manufactured by Tesla, Inc. (Tesla) that were operating in either Autopilot or Traffic Aware Cruise Control leading up to the incident, and to request certain information.

This office is aware of twelve incidents where a Tesla vehicle operating in either Autopilot orTraffic Aware Cruise Control struck first responder vehicles / scenes, leading to injuries and vehicle damage. In each case, NHTSA has reviewed the incidents with Tesla. A list of the twelve incidents has been included for reference.

Please repeat the applicable request verbatim above each response. After Tesla’s response to each request, identify the source of the information and indicate the last date the information was gathered….

Tesla’s response to this letter, in duplicate, together with a copy of any confidentiality request, must be submitted to this office by Friday, October 22, 2021.”   Read more  Whew! Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to ask anything about the Automated Emergency Braking System and doesn’t explicitly ask how Tesla treats stationary objects that are detected ahead. Can’t wait to see their response.  I sure hope NHTSA makes it available to all ASAP without us needing to file Freedom of Information requests. Alain

  ‘A very big deal’: Federal safety regulator takes aim at Tesla Autopilot

R. Mitchell, Aug 31, “Recent moves by the top U.S. automotive safety watchdog could change the way Tesla markets its cars’ advanced driver-assist capabilities — or force the company to recall the software altogether.”  Read more  Elon’s “ace in the hole” here is his “over-the-air-updating” capability whereby he can readily and inexpensively satisfy NHTSA demands.  He can also afford to give owners a choice of a refund or a software upgrade/fix.  The “80/20 rule” would suggest that 80% will happily take the upgrade/fix, even if it includes a rename to “StupidSummon/PayAttention/EmptySelfDriving/…” 😉 Alain

Toyota pauses self-driving ‘e-Palette’ service after one crashed into an Olympic athlete

A. Hawkins, Aug 27, “Toyota has halted its autonomous shuttle service in Tokyo’s Olympic village after one of its vehicles collided with a visually impaired athlete, Reuters reported. Technically, the vehicle was not driving autonomously but was under manual control at the time of the incident.

Toyota had been operating dozens of its “e-Palette” shuttles during the Olympics as a demonstration of a far-out concept the company first showed off in 2018. Back then, the automaker said its e-Palettes, which are modular battery-electric vehicles without traditional controls like steering wheels or pedals, could operate either as ride-hailing shuttles or mobile retail spaces.

Toyota saw the Olympics as an opportunity to demonstrate its new technology. The boxy vehicles were being used by athletes and Olympics staff for months prior to the start of the summer games.

But that came to an end this week, after one of the vehicles slammed into an athlete that was set to compete in the Paralympic Games. According to Reuters, the shuttle was at a T-intersection when it turned into the athlete at a speed of 1-2 kilometers-per-hour. The vehicle was under manual control at the time, with a human operator using the joystick control. The athlete was taken to a nearby medical center for treatment and was able to walk back to their residence.

Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda acknowledged the crash in a video posted to YouTube. “It shows that autonomous vehicles are not yet realistic for normal roads,” he said, according to Reuters..” Read more Maybe it is time for these vehicles to stop being Circus Sideshows with human overseers using joysticks.  Alain

  Is a self-driving car smarter than a seven-month-old?

Sep. 4, “BY THE AGE of seven months, most children have learned that objects still exist even when they are out of sight. Put a toy under a blanket and a child that old will know it is still there, and that he can reach underneath the blanket to get it back. This understanding, of “object permanence”, is a normal developmental milestone, as well as a basic tenet of reality.

It is also something that self-driving cars do not have. And that is a problem. Autonomous vehicles are getting better, but they still don’t understand the world in the way that a human being does. For a selfdriving car, a bicycle that is momentarily hidden by a passing van is a bicycle that has ceased to exist.

This failing is basic to the now-widespread computing discipline that has arrogated to itself the slightly misleading moniker of artificial intelligence (AI). Current AI works by building up complex statistical models of the world, but it lacks a deeper understanding of reality. How to give AI at least some semblance of that understanding—the reasoning ability of a seven month-old child, perhaps—is now a matter of active research…”  Read more  Hmmmm…  Interesting and well worth reading article; however, it is not quite the case that the automated driving perception systems don’t have an understanding of “object permanence”. 

I must admit that back in the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge, we took “object permanence” to an extreme that actually killed us.  We went through great care to place a position vector as well as a velocity vector on every object we encountered.  Unfortunately, we failed to include the one line of code to forget the objects after a sufficiently long period of time.  So, you guessed it… after 9.8 miles and the accumulation of the description, position and velocity labels on about 250,000 objects, we blew out memory and were disqualified.  We went back to our vehicle, Prospect Eleven (that we had abandoned under a large solar panel, UNLV), during Fall Break three weeks later.  We discovered our memory leak, fixed one line of code, and basically ran the entire 2005 course, the 2004 course and Beer Bottle pass 3 more times, once at night in the dark (We basically had only GPS and vision sensors, no LiDAR (couldn’t afford it)). 

What we learned was that “forgetting/moving-on” is also important.  Talk with any hockey goal tender.  😉  Alain

  Global Plug-In Car Sales July 2021: Almost Doubled To 480,000

M. Kane,  Sep. 2, “3 million new plug-ins were sold so far this year.  Global passenger plug-in electric car sales increased in July by 94% year-over-year to about 480,000, which is one of the best monthly results ever.  The market share amounted to 7.1%, and two-third of the plug-ins happen to be all-electric.

Plug-in market share improved to 7.1%, including:
BEVs: about 318,000 and 4.7% share
PHEVs: about 162,500 and 2.4% share
Total: 480,506 (up 94% year-over-year) and 7.1% share “

The top-selling models for the month were: Wuling Hong Guang MINI EV (30,706), Tesla Model 3 (18,811) and Tesla Model Y (14,660), Volkswagen ID.4 (14,660) and BYD Qin Plus (PHEV) (9,127).  Read more  Hmmmm…  Not bad!  Alain

  Los Angeles is about to get its first robotaxi test fleet

R. Mitchell, Aug 31, “If you’ve driven around the Bay Area lately, there’s a good chance you’ve spotted a driverless test car sharing the highway, a whirling lidar array atop its roof. Not so much in the Southland. Little robot car testing has been conducted in Southern California to date.

That will change soon. Driverless car technology company Motional announced Tuesday that it will deploy “in the near term” a test fleet of new Hyundai Ioniq 5 electric cars in and around Los Angeles, fitted with its robotaxi technology…

Asked what special challenges Los Angeles will present to robot car development, Iagnemma’s answer was unsurprising: “congestion.”

He added that because Los Angeles boasts such a colorful car culture, “it’s gotta be a place where you can watch a robotaxi cruise by.””  Read more Amazing… I guess that these companies do believe that they are Circus Sideshow Attractions.  Not about their mobility opportunities, but their freakishness.  The reason for congestion in LA is because essentially everyone is a DiY.  Good luck at being an early disrupter in that market.  Alain

  Why Are Uber And Lyft So Expensive Right Now?

N. Spector, Aug 23, “In mid-June, I embarked on my first air travel since before the pandemic. I planned to just take an Uber to the airport, figuring it was worth it to spare my husband the stress of taking time off work to drive me. Then I saw the estimated cost for the ride: $89 — to drive 10 miles. I’m used to rolling my eyes at inflated fares during rush hour and late nights, but this was more than double the pre-tip amount I’d paid before the pandemic….” Read more  At some point the investors are going to stop subsidizing your ride-hail and economic realities will prevail.  Alain

Here’s the robotaxi that will be available on the Lyft app in 2023

A. Hawkins, Aug 31, “Motional, the autonomous vehicle company that is a joint venture between Hyundai and Aptiv, revealed more details about its forthcoming robotaxi as well as some of the first images of the vehicle. The company is also working with Lyft and says that by 2023, customers in certain cities will be able to hail rides in this vehicle using the Lyft app…” Read more OK.  But will it be available in sufficient quantity in time to save Lyft?  Again,  for Lyft/Uber to justify their market cap, their platform has to serve more than 10x the number of person trips they currently serve or get 10x the revenue to Lyft, post an adequate take by the gig worker, from each person trips they currently serve. Alain

  Andreessen Horowitz-backed autonomous-driving software firm Cyngn files for IPO

J. Kronenberg, Sep. 3, “Cyngn (NYSE:CYN), an autonomous-driving software firm backed by Andreessen Horowitz and other A-list venture-capital firms, filed paperwork Friday for an IPO at an unspecified valuation.
The company wrote in an S-1 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it aims to raise some $36M from the initial public offering, although that’s likely just a placeholder number.
Cyngn (CYN) has reportedly raised at least $185M over its lifespan, last staging a Series C round in 2015 at an undisclosed valuation…. ” Read more  Be sure to look at in the S-1, and its pivot. Alain

Tesla’s AI Day helps in the battle to recruit AI talent

F. Fishkin, Sep 3, “Techstination, your destination for gadgets and gear.   I’m Fred Fishkin.        Tesla’s AI Day this year was designed to help recruit more of the best people working in the field to come work for the company.    In the view of Princeton’s University’s faculty chair of autonomous vehicle engineering, Alain Kornhauser, Musk succeeded in delivering the message.  On Episode 230 of the Smart Driving Cars podcast, he was joined by Tim Higgins of the Wall Street Journal, author of  POWER PLAY…Tesla, Elon Musk and the Bet of the Century..

“The fight for AI talent in Silicon Valley is brutal.  There’s just not enough of these really smart people who can do these kinds of things.”

And Tesla’s AI Day gave Musk and his team a chance to show why the company is the place to be to help create the future of mobility.  And while at it…he promised to deliver a humanoid robot prototype…in 2022.  You can find us at   I’m Fred Fishkin.” Read more Hmmmm… . Listen…  Alain

  Victim of Tesla crash in Texas had alcohol level exceeding legal limit

Reuters, Sep. 3, “One of the two victims of a fatal crash involving a Tesla car in Texas had a blood-alcohol level that exceeded the legal driving limit, according to an autopsy report.

No one was found in the driver’s seat in the April accident where a Model S caught fire after hitting a tree, killing the two people in the car, according to the police at the time.

William Varner, who was found in the back left passenger seat, had 0.151 g/100mL of ethanol – grain alcohol – detected in his blood after his death, according to the report by Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences….”  Read more Hmmmm… Certainly not an excuse for jumping in the back seat; however, given all of the driving assist technology, Teslas should not be running into trees with or without someone in the driver’s seat!  Before Elon is allowed to release anything called “Full Self Driving” until he has to over-the-air-update a “Won’t Cash Into Stationary Objects Ahead” (like trees, boulders. emergency vehicles with flashing lights, …) Alain

  Audi’s Grandsphere concept EV is a self-driving living room on wheels

J. Fingas, Sep. 2,”If Audi’s Skysphere concept is a driver’s car with an autonomous option, the company’s follow-up is the polar opposite. The automaker has introduced a Grandsphere concept electric sedan that uses Level 4 self-driving (full autonomy in limited conditions) to help you avoid driving “whenever possible” — this is a luxurious living room that just happens to let you take the wheel….” Read more Hmmmm… Don’t hold your breath.  It’s a concept car (aka Circus ‘Level 4’ Freak show).  Alain

  Culdesac Tempe: A Car-Free Neighborhood

 Tempe Arizona, “The post-car real estate development company known as Culdesac approached Opticos Design to apply their expertise in walkable communities and Missing Middle Housing to the first car-free neighborhood designed for shared mobility and built from scratch in the United States… ”  …” Read more Hmmmm… . OK Tell me more… In Arizona none the less. However, the image does show a bunch of cars.  😎 Alain

  NASA RAM Report – The Foundation for a Rural Air Revival

K. Pyle, June 17, “As with so many of the developments in telecom and broadband, rural areas may provide the proving ground for the next generation of air travel. This is one of the important implications of NASA’s recently issued report, Regional Air Mobility (RAM).

Investors, community leaders, policymakers, industry, and the general public are the target audience for this aptly named report.  Although published by NASA, the authors hail from academia, the aviation industry, capital markets, and, of course, NASA. In short, the report shows how the nation’s existing 5,000 airfields provide a launching point for low-cost electric aviation…”  Read more Hmmmm… . We can’t be left behind here.  Why not??? Alain

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

Sunday Supplement



More On….

Re-see:    Pop Up Metro USA Intro 09 2020

H. Poser’77, Sept 13, 2020.  “Creating Value for Light Density Urban Rail Lines”  . See slides,  See video Hmmmm… Simply Brilliant.  Alain

   4th Annual Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit  It is over!!!  Now time to actually do something in the Trentons of this world.   

  Making Driverless Happen: The Road Forward (Updated)

K. Pyle, April 18, “It’s time to hit the start button,” is Fred Fishkin’s succinct way of summarizing the next steps in the Smart Driving Car journey. Fiskin, along with the LA Times’ Russ Mitchell co-produced the final session of the 2021 Smart Driving Car Summit, Making It Happen: Part 2. This 16th and final session in this multi-month online conference not only provided a summary of the thought-provoking speakers, but also provided food for thought on a way forward to bring mobility to “the Trentons of the World.”

Setting the stage for this final session, Michael Sena provided highlights of the Smart Driving Car journey that started in late December 2020.  Safety, high-quality, and affordable mobility, particularly for those who do not have many options, was a common theme to the 2021 Smart Driving Car Summit. As Princeton Professor Kornhauser, the conference organizer put it,…..” Read more  Hmmmm…. We had another excellent Session.  Thank you for the summary, Ken!  Alain


Ken Pyle‘s Session Summaries of 4th Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit:
15th Session    Making it Happen – Part One: Elected Officials’ Role in Creating a Welcoming Environment in the Trentons of this World

14th Session    What Will Power Safely-driven Cars

13th Session    Improving the Moving of Goods

12th Session    3/18/21 Human-centered Design of Safe and Affordable Driverless Mobility

11th Session    3/11/21  Incentivizing Through Regulation

10th Session    3/04/21  Incentivizing Through Insurance

9th Session    2/25/21  Can Level 3 be Delivered?

8th Session    2/18/21  Who Will Build, Sell and Maintain Driverless Cars?

    Michael Sena’s SlidesGlenn Mercer Slides

7th Session    2/11/21  Finally Doing It
6th Session    2/ 4/21   Safe Enough in the Operational Design Domain
5th Session    1/28/21   At the Tipping Point
4th Session    1/21/21  Why Customers are Buying Them

3rd Session    1/14/21  The SmartDrivingCars We Can Buy Today
2nd Session   1/ 7/21  A Look into the Future
1st Session: 12/17/20  Setting the Stage

Kornhauser & He, April 2021 “Making it Happen:  A Proposal for Providing Affordable, High-quality, On-demand Mobility for All in the “Trentons” of this World” 

Orf467F20_FinalReport “Analyzing Ride-Share Potential and Empty Repositioning Requirements of a Nationwide aTaxi System

Kornhauser & He, March 2021 AV 101 + Trenton Affordable HQ Mobility Initiative

Calendar of Upcoming Events

5th Annual Princeton  SmartDrivingCar Summit 

Fall 2021

Live in Person

November 2 (evening) -> 4, 2021

On the More Technical Side

K. Lockean’s AV Research Group at U of Texas


 R. Shields, 22 – 25 March, “Recordings from the conference:

Session 1 plus opening: (Regulatory):
Session 2: (Cybersecurity):
Session 3: (Automated Driving Systems):
Session 4: (Communications for ADS) :

Read more  Hmmmm…  Russ, thank you for sharing!  Alain