Friday, Nov. 3, 2023

43rd edition of the 11th year of SmartDrivingCars eLetter  


M. Sena, Oct 28, “, Oct. 25, “Two-and-a-half months after I came home to Sweden from my May “Searching for America” trip, which took me through New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania, I returned for a second tour of duty. This one was during the last two weeks in July, and it took me from Sweden to Boston, up to Canada, and back. I was carried in cars (mostly SUVs and pick-up trucks, all ICEs), buses, planes (including the kind that land on water), boats, all terrain vehicles, and my own two feet (mostly clad in wading boots) to my many destinations. The trains got me to and from Copenhagen, my point of departure from Europe. The main purpose of this trip was to go fishing with my good friend and fishing partner for the past forty-nine years, whom I had not seen in five years. We went to a river in Labrador where we had fished together between 1986 and 1996. We decided to give it one last try. I found that everyone I met on this trip is still making their choice of transport based on their own particular needs and desires, and not being influenced by either climate change activists or climate change deniers. They are asking themselves what is the best transport option that satisfies the combination of lowest cost, most convenience, greatest comfort, and fastest speed of arrival, and which fits with current conditions of time of year, weather, and time of day? I am fully aware that I didn’t need to travel to the U.S. and Canada to spend a few days fishing in the wilderness of Labrador. People do a lot of things they do not NEED to do. Do I feel better for having done it? Yes, for more reasons than I can list or explain, even to myself. I am happy to have spent the money for this trip in a way that gives people work, and to have had the experience of seeing in person my dearest friends. What else is life for? …” Read  more  Hmmmm…. Another wonderful issue, especially the lead article “The Business if Transport Systems.  Enjoy reading and tune into my discussion with Michael in ZoomCast 342  Alain


A book cover with a map of a city  Description automatically generated SmartDrivingCars  ZoomCast 342 / PodCast 342  w/Michael Sena, Editor of The Dispatcher

F. Fishkin,  Nov. 3, “With “The Dispatcher” publisher Michael Sena looking at The Business of Transport Systems and whether Tesla or Toyota will be first to twenty million, episode 342 of Smart Driving Cars offers in depth insights. Michael joins Alain and Fred for that plus Geely, Waymo, Uber and more.

0:00 open

0:35 The Dispatcher publisher Michael Sena on transport options on his way to go fishing in Labrador

2:44 The Business of Transport Systems… Tesla and everyone else

22:40 Getting to twenty million first… Tesla or Toyota?

32:00 Thoughts on the China Export Boom

32:38 Zeeker wants to be provider of Waymo autonomous vehicles…Alain says no.

44:00 Uber and Lyft agree to pay combined 328 million dollars in NY State case for withholding money from drivers.

1:01:45 Tesla won first U.S. autopilot trial involving fatal crash

1:07:50 CivicPlus report on U.S. drivers killing 20 pedestrians per day

1:11:25 AVs and “The Real Case for Driverless Mobility”(book from Michael and Alain coming soon)



  US drivers kill 20 pedestrians a day. Here’s what cities are doing about it.

R. Mauer, Nov. 3, ” On April 5, 2022, a speeding pickup truck struck a 35-year-old man while he was walking his dog in Houston, making him one of 117 pedestrians killed in that city last year. Eleven days later in Brooklyn, a driver ran a red light and killed a 31-year-old woman in a marked crosswalk near her home. On a spring day in Los Angeles this year, a hit-and-run driver left a 72-year-old man dead in the street. All told, motor vehicles killed more than 7,500 people while they were walking to church, a grocery store, a bus stop or elsewhere in the U.S. last year, according to a June analysis by the Governors Highway Safety Association. 

   Pedestrian safety — or the lack thereof — is tied to larger economic and social forces. “There’s a perfect correlation between poverty and danger,” said Beth Osborne, director of Transportation for America, a Smart Growth America project. A report SGA issued last year found that those living in the lowest-income census tracts are 3.3 times more likely to die in a roadway collision than those living in the highest-income areas. Low-income neighborhoods experience more than 30% of all pedestrian deaths, according to the 2022 SGA report. Black or African American pedestrians are twice as likely to be killed as White pedestrians….”   Read  more  Hmmmm…. Stark, sobering statistics here. When are we going to deem it simply unacceptable? Human drivers simply misbehave badly way too often.  It is time to reign them in. Alain




Staff, Nov. 3, ” The second flight test of a fully integrated Starship could launch as soon as mid-November, pending regulatory approval.

   A live webcast of the flight test will begin about 30 minutes before liftoff, which you can watch here and on X @SpaceX. As is the case with all developmental testing, the schedule is dynamic and likely to change, so be sure to stay tuned to our X account for updates.

   Starship’s first flight test provided numerous lessons learned that directly contributed to several upgrades to both the vehicle and ground infrastructure to improve the probability of success on future flights. The second flight test will debut a hot-stage separation system and a new electronic Thrust Vector Control (TVC) system for Super Heavy Raptor engines, in addition to reinforcements to the pad foundation and a water-cooled steel flame deflector, among many other enhancements.….”  Read  more  Hmmmm…. I had the good fortune to witness live Starship’s 1st flight test on 4/20/23 and plan to witness this 2nd flight test. This will be my 3rd opportunity to witness a launch live – each  inspiring and life changing!  I’m looking forward to inspiring my students, as I’ve been inspired by Apollo 11 and Starship 1. Alain


G.M.’s Cruise Moved Fast in the Driverless Race. It Got Ugly

T. Mickle, C. Metz and Y. Lu, , Nov. 3, “… On Oct. 2, a [HUMAN DRIVEN] car …. Who was driving this car? Oh, the driver fled the scene [and remains at large?? Where is the reporting on the status of this search???? Will the perpetrator be brought to justice?]  hit a woman in a San Francisco intersection and flung her into the path of one of Cruise’s driverless taxis.  …. Any severe injuries caused here?…      The Cruise car ran over her, briefly stopped and then dragged her some 20 feet before pulling to the curb, causing severe injuries.…. We continue to hope for the pedestrian’s full and speedy recovery, though we have no information on her progress…

Company insiders are putting the blame for what went wrong on a tech industry culture — led by the 38-year-old Mr. Vogt — that put a priority on the speed of the program over safety. In the competition between Cruise and its top driverless car rival, Waymo, Mr. Vogt wanted to dominate in the same way Uber dominated its smaller ride-hailing competitor, Lyft”……. Wow!  That’s a low blow from the NYT! Really? A human runs over a pedestrian, leaves her to die, and anonymous “company insiders” blame “tech industry culture”?  Read  more  Hmmmm…. what happened is tragic and totally unexpected…  I doubt that even Waymo ever simulated such a scenario; else, Waymo would post that they’d installed a camera (or lidar or radar or ??) to check  to make sure nothing was pinned under the car or just ahead of any of the tires before their driverless car started to move.  If such sensors do exist on any of the competitor’s cars, I apologize; however, why didn’t Waymo or a competitor who foresaw such a scenario warn everyone else  in the business that such a scenario was possible? … there’s been a crash, the car is stopped blocking traffic, I should move it safely out of the way so as to not cause more havoc. Oh, I’d better check under the car to make sure someone, heaven forbid, is pinned underneath … is likely to happen.

  Unfortunately, we don’t know what we don’t know, and unfortunately don’t learn it until one of us tragically trips over it. 

  What is imperative is that when one of us becomes aware of such scenarios that new knowledge be shared honestly and completely with all involved.  We must all cooperate, not compete, on safety!  Safety is NOT investor IP.  Safety has to be a cooperative and not a competitive activity. Congress must update its antitrust laws to enable cooperation in safety to not be  deemed as collusion and anti-competitive!  What just happened to Cruise could have just as easily happened to Waymo.  I suspect that Waymo (and every other company developing an algorithm to drive a car or truck) has already run a safety simulation of their code and sensor stack to determine what their system would have done had they found themselves in Cruise’s shoes after coming to a complete stop.

   If asked, would any of them divulge what their system would have done?  I’m certain, that any of them has done a code update that keeps them from moving their car to the side of the road after being involved in a crash, however minor or major and planning to install a camera or some other more elegant approach to being able to do “image processing” so that this scenario never happens again.  This is a real value of this algorithm-based approach to safe driving… in many instances, if not most/all, its behavior can be fixed such that the likelihood of a bad scenario repeating itself is really infinitesimal, if all are made aware of the scenario and all share in finding the best way to address it.  That’s what can and should readily happen in this business. 

  So, let us all learn all that we can from this tragic situation and continue to develop a safe system to provide affordable high-quality mobility to improve people’s lives.  Alain



  Thoughts on the China export boom

G. Mercer, Nov. 1, ” China is in the midst of a light-vehicle export boom that shows no sign of quitting. In fact, the country will likely soon conclusively surpass Japan as the world’s biggest exporter of light-duty vehicles. The implications for markets and makers around the world will be profound, as they were during the first two waves of export expansion from other Asian countries: Japan from the 1970-80s onward, and Korea from the 1980-90s….”  Read  more  Hmmmm…. Very insightful.  A must-read along with The Dispatcher above.  Also read “Clearing out the Chart Attic – Part 2”.  Glenn Mercer’s Car Carts Archive.   Alain


  Zeekr CM1e Seeks to Be Waymo’s Next Robo-Taxi

J. Lorio, Nov. 1, ” Zeekr is a yet another EV brand under China’s Geely, whose portfolio also includes VolvoPolestarLotus, and Lynk & Co. Although Zeekr has recently expanded to Europe with its 001 mid-size hatchback, 009 minivan, and X entry-level EV, Americans are most likely to encounter a Zeekr by hailing a ride in this, the CM1e. Prototypes of this concept proposal are being submitted to Waymo as its next autonomous taxi… “ Read  more  Hmmmm…. I’m sure that Zeekr would do almost anything to get into the US and essentially their only path is to do it on Waymo’s back, so there is truth in the statement … “Americans are most likely to encounter a Zeekr…”  However, Waymo would need to be completely clueless to make a deal to put Waymo One on a Chinese vehicle brand.  Current relations between the US and China would disallow such an agreement. Moreover, since the Waymo One driver can be the ultimate spy, China is never going to allow Waymo One to drive even a Chinese car in China.  

   So, lots of car manufacturers likely aspire to be driven by Waymo One, chances of any of them succeeding is slim2none.  Alain


  Uber, Lyft agree to pay combined $328 million for withholding money from drivers

R. Mauer, Nov. 3, ” Uber and Lyft agreed Thursday to pay a combined $328 million for withholding money from drivers.

Uber agreed to pay $290 million and Lyft $38 million in what New York Attorney General Letitia James called the largest wage-theft settlement her office has ever secured.

   The money will be distributed to cheated drivers who will get back pay along with mandatory paid sick leave and other benefits. Eligible drivers can file a claim to receive the money owed….

In addition to paying a total of $328 million in back pay to former drivers, Uber and Lyft agreed to an “earnings floor,” guaranteeing drivers across the state are paid a minimum rate. Drivers outside of New York City will receive a minimum of $26 per hour. Drivers operating in New York City already receive minimum driver pay under regulations established by the Taxi & Limousine Commission in 2019.

   Uber and Lyft drivers will now also receive guaranteed paid sick leave. Drivers will earn one hour of sick pay for every 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of 56 hours per year.”  Read  more  Hmmmm…. Well deserved.  I hope they also get reimbursed for using their own cars and for their car operation and maintenance expenses.  Alain


  Giga Berlin Updates, Cybertruck Tested by Top Gear, Cruise Detail 

R. Mauer, Nov. 3, ” Elon Musk talks with employees at Giga Berlin Top Gear spotted testing Cybertruck in California EPA holds EV promo contest Cruise reportedly considering layoffs xAI initial product rollout Calendar Read  more  Hmmmm…. Very informative , as usual. Alain


  Waymo driverless vehicles are now available through Uber, starting first in Phoenix

M.  Burns, Oct 26, “Phoenix-area Uber users can now hail a Waymo driverless vehicle. The two companies today announced the launch of the joint service, which we first reported in May 2023.

To use the service, Uber users will need to hail a UberX, Uber Green, Uber Comfort or Uber Comfort Electric, and, if available, confirm the Waymo vehicle matched to the ride. Or users can call a Waymo Driver directly using the Waymo One app, available to the public in Metro Phoenix, San Francisco, Los Angeles and soon, Austin, Texas.….”   Read  more   Hmmmm…. Amazing.  What a way for Waymo to continue to earn fares fairly compensating humans while incurring robo costs.  Now that’s the way to earn Luxury-goods margins.  Alain


Also:   Uber, Waymo partner to provide driverless rides in the Phoenix area

Video reports on the Waymo-Uber partnership.  Amazing! What are the “terms” of this partnership?  In this clip, Uber seems to be selling Waymo’s safety, and basically throwing Uber drivers (Uber’s source of revenue) under the proverbial Uber in return for the investor buzz that may well be the only Uber-positive of this “partnership”.  (Having Waymo on its app does not increase Uber demand…. They already had the customer, only now the shared revenue goes to Waymo, instead of one of Uber’s gig workers… which means that Uber is indifferent as to who delivers the mobility service that they are offering.) 

   Depending on the terms of the agreement, Uber might be able to charge a premium for Waymo rides without changing the share of revenue that Uber  would have sent to one of their gig workers.  In that case, Uber keeps more revenue by  having Waymo do the work of giving the ride, and Waymo gets a nice chunk of revenue without having to find the customer themselves.  That is a nice cushy relationship at this price for the service. However, changes in price may change demand.  Those changes are encapsulated in “price elasticity of demand”  (% change in demand divided by % change in price (with a minus sign out in front)).  The nice thing about ride-hailers is that their demand is largely inelastic to price because often, someone else, other than the rider is paying for the ride.  What it costs is not all that important.  Unfortunately, these folks tend to be few and far between .  The much larger market are those whereby the money to pay for the ride comes out of their own pocket.  Those who have plenty of money are as inelastic to price as those who have someone else paying.  These folks tend to own their own car and can drive themselves, thus you’ll need to be substantially better than “driving oneself” to capture these customers.  On the other hand, folks without much money tend to be less capable, financially, to drive themselves, but tend to be, out of necessity, very price elastic.  The way to capture them as loyal repeat customers is by pricing affordably.  One key to increasing profitability by reducing price is to have demand grow faster than price is decreased… having a price elasticity of demand be lesser than -1.0 (greater than -(-1.0)).

   If economies of scale allow costs to decrease as demand increases,  total profitability increases as price decreases even if elasticities are less than -1.0.  Moreover,  profitability increases (somewhat less) even if elasticities are somewhat greater than -1.0.  This is where affordability can become so disruptive for goods that have price elasticities from minus infinity up to slightly above -1.0. 

   I fundamentally believe that equity is reflected in demand-for-rides price elasticities that are in the range of {-infinity  to something like -0.8}.  Thus, giving driverless rides at affordable prices not only delivers social value for those that really need rides, but is also a profit maximizing pricing strategy for those delivering those affordable rides. What a fantastic win-win!

     Final thoughts…  The Waymo One driver has the opportunity to provide affordable rides while finding its own customers without needing the Uber app to find them;  whereas, Uber with gig workers faces costs that increases  with scale thus requiring an elasticity that is less than -1.0 to grow and has a cost structure today that is already greater than Waymo’s.   

   Today, Uber’s “break-even fare” may be as much as 5x Waymo’s if Alphabet considers its investment to-date as a sunk cost, which it can do since those investments are not recurring to the same extent as what Uber faces in its need to share revenues with human drivers.  Consequently, Waymo could readily capture with affordable pricing all new trips emerging from the price elasticity.  That elasticity might also convert some, if not many of the loyal Uber customers because price does matter to even the most price inelastic folks. 

   So, it is difficult to understand what the long term opportunities Ubers expects out of this partnership.  Seems to me that those prospects are so bleak that this deal is all about short term survival and the possibility that some regulatory action will appear that keeps Uber afloat, although the road Uber took to get here today isn’t one that seems to have engendered much political/policy favor.  Alain


  Tesla Wins First US Autopilot Trial Involving Fatal Cras

D. Levine,  Nov. 3, ” Tesla on Oct. 31 won the first U.S. trial over allegations that its Autopilot driver assistant feature led to a death, a major victory for the automaker as it faces several other lawsuits and federal investigations related to the same technology.

   The verdict represents Tesla’s second big win this year, in which juries have declined to find that its software was defective. Tesla has been testing and rolling out its Autopilot and more advanced Full Self-Driving (FSD) system, which Chief Executive Elon Musk has touted as crucial to his company’s future but which has drawn regulatory and          legal scrutiny.

   The outcome in civil court shows Tesla’s arguments are gaining traction: when something goes wrong on the road, the ultimate responsibility rests with drivers.

   The civil lawsuit filed in Riverside County Superior Court alleged the Autopilot system caused owner Micah Lee’s Model 3 to suddenly veer off a highway east of Los Angeles at 65 miles per hour (105 km per hour), strike a palm tree and burst into flames, all in the span of seconds.

   The 2019 crash killed Lee and seriously injured his two passengers, including a then-8-year-old boy. Read  more  Hmmmm…. Very informative.. Alain


SAFE Case Study Finds Electric, Shared Autonomous Vehicles (SAVs) Could Significantly Reduce Air and Noise Pollution in Cities 

Staff, Nov. 2, ” … In this report, SAFE assesses the air quality and noise improvement available from widescale AV deployment in a case study city of San Francisco. Through this study we also assess the impact of air and noise pollution reduction through an equity lens….”  Read  more  Hmmmm…. It is nice that AVs reduce air and noise pollution, but it continues to amaze me that the affordability opportunity of driverless mobility doesn’t seem to ever be mentioned let alone assessd through an equity lens.   I guess that giving affordable rides to those that really need affordable rides is not in the minds of anyone capable of delivering those rides safely, of which there are only two today in the USA.  What is worse is that one of those two is willfully painting itself into a corner so that it can’t offer affordable rides so that it might as well earn luxury-scale margins without scaling.  Never mind getting entangled in economic equity objectives.  

   Hopefully, the other, once it regains its composure will find its purpose-built driverless vehicle to efficiently scale the giving of affordable driverless rides that brings real equity in transportation in a manner that the sum over so many more rides of the smaller margin earned over each ride is substantially greater than luxury individual margins earned over many fewer trips. Alain


  LINGO-1: Exploring Natural Language for Autonomous Driving

Staff, Nov. 1, ” ➤ New video of Cybertruck bed storage ➤ Musk comments on valuation ➤ Tesla China sales ➤ Tesla expands Puerto Rico VPP ➤ Megafactory flyover shows Megapack stockpile ➤ Toyota lowers EV targets ➤ Ford US sales decline ➤ Musk joins AI summit”. The use of natural language in training robots is still in its infancy, particularly in autonomous driving. Incorporating language along with vision and action may have an enormous impact as a new modality to enhance how we interpret, explain and train our foundation driving models. By foundation driving models, we mean models that can perform several driving tasks, including perception (perceiving the world around them), causal and counterfactual reasoning (making sense of what they see), and planning (determining the appropriate sequence of actions). We can use language to explain the causal factors in the driving scene, which may enable faster training and generalisation to new environments.

   We can also use language to probe models with questions about the driving scene to more intuitively understand what it comprehends. This capability can provide insights that could help us improve our driving models’ reasoning and decision-making capabilities. Equally exciting, VLAMs open up the possibility of interacting with driving models through dialogue, where users can ask autonomous vehicles what they are doing and why. This could significantly impact the public’s perception of this technology, building confidence and trust in its capabilities…. “  Read  more  Hmmmm…. Very interesting.  Why not!. Alain


Japan’s first fully autonomous vehicle suspended

Staff, Oct. 30, ” Japan’s first pilot project of a fully autonomous self-driving vehicle has been suspended after a minor accident with a parked bicycle, officials said on Monday.

The mishap is the latest blow to efforts worldwide to promote driverless vehicles, a technology with particular potential benefits in aging Japan.

The driverless bus-like vehicle, similar to an electric golf cart, started operations in Eiheiji, central Fukui prefecture, in May….

The vehicle, designed to avoid obstacles with sensors and radars, has been driving at a maximum speed of 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) per hour.

…. “  Read  more  Hmmmm…. No big setback because this was largely an amusement ride. Alain


Aurora Opens First Commercial-Ready Route for its Planned Driverless Truck Launch in Late 2024

Press Release, Nov. 1, ” Aurora Innovation, Inc. (NASDAQ: AUR) announced today it has opened the industry’s first lane for driverless trucks supported by commercial-ready terminals in Dallas and Houston. Nearly half of all truck freight in Texas moves along the I-45 between Dallas and Houston, making this corridor an ideal route for Aurora’s commercial launch. Similar to its first terminal in South Dallas, Aurora’s new terminal in Houston is designed to support and service driverless trucks at a commercial scale.

“Opening a driverless trucking lane flanked by commercially-ready terminals is an industry-first that unlocks our ability to launch our driverless trucking product,” said Sterling Anderson, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer at Aurora. “With this corridor’s launch, we’ve defined, refined, and validated the framework for the expansion of our network with the largest partner ecosystem in the autonomous trucking industry.”…. “  Read  more  Hmmmm…. Still another year away.  I hope they make it. See   . 3Q23 Business Review Presentation  Alain


San Jose, CA
Nov. 30 -> Dec. 1, 2023



6th  SmartDrivingCar


May 29 (evening) -> May 31, 2024

Princeton, NJ