Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023

50th edition of the 11th year of SmartDrivingCars eLetter 

Even though we’ve had a very challenging year, we much to be very thankful for.  The glass is half-full.  Merry Xmas!  Enjoy!J


  A logo with blue and green lines  Description automatically generated  Waymo significantly outperforms comparable human benchmarks over 7+ million miles of rider-only driving

Waymo Team, Dec. 20, “ Safety leads everything we do at Waymo. This year alone, Waymo has served over 700,000 ride-hailing trips with public riders and no human driver. We couldn’t have hit that milestone without putting safety front and center, and we are working hard to improve the measurement, transparency, and performance of our fleet.

Our comprehensive research — across more than twenty safety papers that we’ve published over the years to enhance transparency — shows that the Waymo Driver performs safely across a range of evaluations. Building on that work, we’ve published two new papers today: one that compares the Waymo Driver’s crash rates to human drivers’ over our 7+ million rider-only miles from Phoenix, San Francisco, and Los Angeles; and another that develops clear human crash benchmarks to enable such comparisons.

Our new research found that Waymo Driver performance led to a significant reduction in the rates of police-reported and injury-causing crashes compared to human drivers in the cities where we operate.

These reports represent a good-faith effort by Waymo to evaluate how the safety of its autonomous driving system compares with the safety of human driving. The results are encouraging and represent one step in our evolving understanding of autonomous driving safety,” said David Zuby, chief research officer of The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) after reviewing the papers….” Read More  Hmmmm…. The quote from David Zuby is indeed substantive and reflects my interpretation of the two papers cited above, as well as previous papers and posts that Waymo has made on this topic.

Waymo deserves enormous kudos for their approach to Safety. I firmly agree with the first highlighted phrase (Since no one else has gotten to where they are, the statement is true by default.  That’s a recognition, not a dig.) as well as the highlighted transparency .  We have at least one data point that suggests that even the slightest lack of  “transparency”  can easily negate the virtues of a focused safety mind set. 

Safety is tough!  It is a qualitative perception of perfection whose quantitative measures can only be achieved asymptotically, if at all.  Consequently, any quantitative assessment is doomed to be a comparative to benchmarks rather than absolute, wherein the challenge.  All benchmarks come with their own set of caveats and adjustments so the comparison ends up being “apples v apples” as opposed to “apples v oranges,” which is never easy, and may not even end up as being as good as having the comparison not even being “the same fruit”. 

Having the comparison be on the same basis is particularly challenging in this safety situation, where the comparison is made between two different sone is comparing two very different mobility situations. The safety of being “given a ride” by Waymo is compared to safety of “giving oneself a ride” by the conventional automobiles. 

At least one of the big challenges of having enough data to satisfy “data scientists” of “statistical significance” exists on the “given a ride” side.  Also, these data are essentially pristine because Waymo archives its continuous oversight of the operation of its driverless cars and its commitment to transparency.

Unfortunately such data quality does not exist on the “giving oneself a ride” side requiring significant adjustment and modification so as to enable a substantive side-by-side comparison of safety measures.  I know from the mishaps that I’ve been personally involved in my lifetime, only a small percentage were ever recorded by any means other than human memory of those involved. Only one or at most two rose to the level of documentation in a police report and only a few more were reported to my insurance company. Certainly the time(s) that I ran over a fire hose or didn’t pull over instantly for an on-coming emergency vehicle never went viral.

Anyway, it is very nice that Waymo has unveiled what has been obvious for some time: they have passed the-proof-of-concept aspect of its “rider-only” process of giving rides by actually “giving rides safely” throughout the Operational Design Domains that it has carefully delineated.  

One recommendation as to how Waymo could further enhance its safety credibility would be to compare its performance data with a “giving oneself a ride” data set that is much more comparable in quality to its “giving a ride” data set so as to forego all of the adjustments it need to make to the existing public data set on the safety of today’s systems by which we give ourselves rides.

It turns out that Tesla seems to have compiled data from its vehicles that I suspect rivals, in quality and depth, the data that Waymo has archived.  If those two entities could collaborate and subsequently reveal their safety reality, it would do both of them and the public at large an enormously clearer understanding of not only how well each of their technology works, but also in the net contribution, plus or minus, that today’s human driver plays in delivering safety to the mobility of rides whether they are given by a human with technology assistance, or given by technology with minimal monitoring and incidental assistance by a human.  Such comparison could readily be conducted, because both Tesla and Waymo have archived vast amounts of substantive, machine-readable data on enabling a more straight forward assessment of the safety of “giving of oneself a ride” (Tesla) and the “giving of a ride” (Waymo).

Even without comparison with Tesla, Waymo has successfully proven that its “giving a ride” is achieved more safely than what we do collectively in “giving ourselves a ride.” With this achievement in-hand, Waymo should now focus on building upon that foundation, while realizing that even for AlphaBet, financial constraints exist and sufficiently large contributions from the public sector can’t be expected to be greater than rounding errors. Consequently, Waymo is going to need to earn its societal value in order to justify its continued existence. 

Becoming even safer can earn additional societal value; however, the magnitude of that gain is unlikely to be sufficient as viewed from AlphaBet or by any potential acquirer.  Improved safety is simply insufficiently valuable to those needing a ride to achieve financial viability and demonstrate a “proof-of-market.   What Waymo needs to do is to quickly focus its more fundamental attributes of flexibility in time and space of giving safe rides, thus delivering an extremely high level of service, safely and affordably.

Once one can give a high level-of-service (LoS) one needs to realize that other modes (drive oneself, be driven by Limo/taxi/Uber/Lyft) also give high quality LoS that is safe and not cheap.  For those for whom affordability is not important, Waymo is an “also ran” in the competition to welcome them as a loyal customer any time soon. Efforts to survive on just an LoS comparison is unlikely to be successful.

However, focusing the high-quality LOS on customers that will find the affordability aspects as substantive are likely to be disruptive.  At prices they are willing to pay, high quality service is unavailable.  Consequently high-quality LoS will be disruptive to those where affordability matters most.  Plus affordability builds on itself.  Affordability builds scale which leads to even higher affordability where Moore’s Law technology is doing the safe driving.     

For a more straight-forward reporting on Waymo’s papers, see Andrew Hawkings: “Waymo has 7.1 million driverless miles — how does its driving compare to humans?“.  Alain


A book cover of a book  Description automatically generatedSmartDrivingCars  ZoomCast 350 / PodCast 350 Waymo outperforms human drivers

F. Fishkin,  Dec. 24, “The latest report from Waymo again shows it is significantly outperforming human drivers in mobility safety. Plus Space X, Tesla, May Mobility, the Hyperloop and more on episode 350 of Smart Driving Cars with Princeton’s Alain Kornhauser and co-host Fred Fishkin.

0:00 Open

0:56 Waymo reports on safety it significantly outperforms human drivers

13:45 CNBC reports Space X value has reached 180 billion dollars 15:05 May Mobility went fully driverless while avoiding pitfalls

24:35 Hyperloop One shutting down

30:04 Bird files for bankruptcy…others in micro mobility continue

32:04 SF Standard reports little improvement after hundreds of millions spent in effort to curb traffic fatalities in San Francisco

32:57 NY Times Best Metropolitan Diary of 2023 according to readers

34:11 Don’t forget the upcoming book…The Real Case for Driverless Mobility


A letter p with black and orange stripes  Description automatically generated   Governor Murphy and Princeton announce plans to establish an artificial intelligence hub in New Jersey

L. Fuller-Wright, Dec. 20, “New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy joined University President Christopher L. Eisgruber on Monday to announce plans to create an artificial intelligence innovation hub for the state, in collaboration with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

“With today’s announcement, New Jersey — alongside Princeton University — is poised to shape the future of this revolutionary field and unleash a new century of game-changing discovery,” Murphy said, describing the planned AI hub as “a new home for the world’s boldest and brightest to pioneer breakthroughs for the betterment of humankind.”

Said Eisgruber: “Together we will leverage Princeton’s leadership in AI and the strengths of the central New Jersey region to establish an integrated hub of AI activity.”

State and University officials gathered for the announcement in Princeton’s historic Chancellor Green rotunda, joined by representatives from the AI industry, New Jersey’s higher education and business communities, and local government.” Read More  Hmmmm…. Impressive.  Alain


SpaceX valuation climbs to $180 billion

M. Sheetz, Dec. 13, “ The valuation of Elon Musk’s SpaceX hit $180 billion based on an ongoing secondary share sale, CNBC confirmed Wednesday.

The company is discussing an agreement with investors to sell stock from insiders in a purchase offer at $97 a share, according to a person familiar with the discussions. The offer does not include raising new capital, as the purchase offer represents a secondary sale of existing shares and is expected to close in January.

SpaceX typically performs these secondary rounds about twice a year, to give employees and other company shareholders a chance to sell stock. The latest valuation represents a 20% increase from SpaceX’s previous high of $150 billion, which the company hit through a July secondary sale at $81 a share.

.” Read More  Hmmmm…. Impressive.  Alain


A black numbers on a blue and white background  Description automatically generatedHow May Mobility went fully driverless while avoiding the pitfalls of robotaxis

A. Hawkins, Dec. 18, “ …In its six years in operation, there haven’t been any injuries, crashes, blocked intersections, or mass layoffs. While there have been some struggles, the company has proven to be an outlier among AV operators by continuing to raise money while others have seen their funding dry up.

And now, May Mobility is ready to go fully driverless, a milestone that has the company taking stock of its successes — and looking ahead to the future….” Read More  Hmmmm…. Nice article.   We desperately need someone else who can do “rider-only” and is focused on a business model centered on understanding who really needs a safe high-quality affordable ride in a community and is determined to capture them as loyal customer.  Alain

A black numbers on a blue and white background  Description automatically generatedThe hyperloop is dead for real this time

A. Hawkins, Dec. 24, “ Hyperloop One, the futuristic transportation startup that promised to whisk us through nearly airless tubes at airline speeds, is shutting down, according to Bloomberg.

The company is selling off its assets, closing down its offices, and laying off employees. It will formally close at the end of the year, at which point all of its intellectual property will shift to its majority stakeholder, major Dubai port operator DP World. Whoever buys the test track in the Nevada desert will have one hell of a Slip ‘N Slide if they want it.

Since its founding in 2014, the company raised around $450 million in venture capital funds and other investments. While there is still a small smattering of startups trying to build hyperloops, the demise of one of the biggest hyperloop companies signals the end of the dream that originated with Elon Musk’s so-called “alpha paper” in 2013.” Read More  Hmmmm…. Since Alferd Beach, if not before, folks have understood the fundamental opportunity of pneumatic mobility in tubes.  Low friction and a small differential pressure between front and back and Boom!!!  A guy came running into my office unannounced back in something like 1973 and proclaimed…” Alain… The transcontinental mobility opportunity of the Century!  Build a parabolic pneumatic tube from NYC to SF!  Gravity assists both in the beginning and the end …  Great… but how do we build this tube through the ground…  Answer…  sequentially explode tactical nukes!!  I couldn’t throw him out of my office fast enough.  I also called this one. 

Not only does propulsion (and suspension) have to be efficient & inexpensive, the “guideway” has to be really inexpensive because one needs a substantial amount of “guideway” to achieve any kind of scale. Consequently “all” successful modes of transport have inexpensive/dumb ways and expensive/intelligent vehicles… air/planes, water/boats, hard surface/car, (couple rails + ties + crushed rock)/locomotive.    Alain


A black numbers on a blue and white background  Description automatically generatedBird may be bankrupt, but shared micromobility is doing just fine

A. Hawkins, Dec. 22, “ On the surface, electric scooter pioneer Bird filing for bankruptcy would seem to be a nail in the coffin for shared micromobility — that nebulous term often used to describe rentable electric bikes and scooters in cities. After a number of mergers and some bad financial management, the OG scooter company is going belly up. That can’t bode well for the future of scooters in general, right?

But actually, shared electric mobility is doing just fine. Sure, the margins are tight and profitability is still rare, but shared scooter and bike companies are becoming more integral to city life in ways we never thought possible.

The only thing that’s dead is the zero-interest rate-influenced era of unhinged investments and wildly skewed valuations that we saw at the end of the last decade. Hopefully now, with Bird filing for Chapter 11, we will see a new era of more responsible management and better pricing in order to ensure these systems remain viable for years to come….

Despite Bird’s murky future, cities are really taking to their shared scooters and bikes. But don’t take my word for it — this is according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ (NACTO) annual report on the state of play in 2022:

The number of micromobility trips in the U.S. and Canada increased by five million from 2021 and are up by 40% since 2018. … .” Read More  Hmmmm…. Let’s see… There are about 500Billion personTrips per year in US + Canada.  If an increase by 5M is worth mentioning, then the base can’t be more than a rounding error in the market share of 500B opportunities.   C’mon NACTO! Alain

A black background with a black square  Description automatically generated with medium confidence  San Francisco Spent Hundreds of Millions to End Traffic Deaths. People Are Still Dying

N. Baustin, Dec. 20, “ Despte a decade of work and a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars, San Francisco’s 2014 Vision Zero initiative, aimed at eliminating traffic deaths in the city by 2024, never achieved its ambitious goal. In fact, the number of traffic fatalities on the city’s streets remains basically the same as a decade ago..” Read More  Hmmmm…. And they run out of town a system that is aimed at not only providing enhance mobility but also improving safety.   Alain


  London taxi drivers: A review of neurocognitive studies and an exploration of how they build their cognitive map of London

Staff, Dec.16, “Licensed London taxi drivers have been found to show changes in the gray matter density of their hippocampus over the course of training and decades of navigation in London (UK). This has been linked to their learning and using of the “Knowledge of London,” the names and layout of over 26,000 streets and thousands of points of interest in London. Here we review past behavioral and neuroimaging studies of London taxi drivers, covering the structural differences in hippocampal gray matter density and brain dynamics associated with navigating London. ….

Results revealed that compared to London bus drivers, London taxi drivers have increased posterior hippocampus gray matter density, decreased anterior hippocampal gray matter density (Maguire, Woollett, & Spiers, 2006), replicating previous results (Maguire et al., 2000). While bus drivers show no relationship between hippocampal volume and years of experience, London taxi drivers were again found to show a positive correlation between posterior hippocampal gray matter volume and years of experience (Maguire, Woollett, & Spiers, 2006)….” Read More  Hmmmm…. Very interesting; however, in places, sounds like a self-selection dig against bus drivers      Alain


A black and white text  Description automatically generated The Best Metropolitan Diary of 2023: The Readers Speak

Staff, Dec. 24, “An anecdote about wisdom dispensed at a deli claims the top spot in this year’s voting, outpolling four other favorites. All five are presented here….” Read More  Hmmmm…. Enjoy, especially the top one. 😊 Alain




6th  SmartDrivingCar


May 29 (evening) -> May 31, 2024

Princeton, NJ