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Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024


7th edition of the 12th year of SmartDrivingCars eLetter 



GM looking at the best path to unlock value at Cruise, CEO Barra says

Staff, Feb. 15, “General Motors (GM.N), opens new tab Chief Executive Mary Barra said on Thursday that the automaker was looking at the best path to unlock value at its self-driving unit Cruise.

Shares of GM rose about 2%.

Cruise is an “incredibly valuable asset”, Barra said at an event hosted by Wolfe Research.

The Detroit automaker will focus on relaunching the unit this year, she added while reiterating her support for the unit. ….” Read More  Hmmmm… She should make The Book required reading inside Cruise & GM.  Just sayin’.  Alain


A book cover of a book  Description automatically generatedJust Published!!!  Go to Amazon.com… You can still be first on your block to have one J.


SmartDrivingCars ZoomCast 358 / PodCast 358  GM looks to unlock Cruise Value- One Week since Waymo burning in SF

F. Fishkin,  Feb. 16, “The CEO of GM looks to unlock the value of the Cruise self driving unit. No arrests yet a week after the burning of a Waymo vehicle in San Francisco. Plus Tesla, EV sales, The Real Case for Driverless Mobility and the upcoming Princeton Smart Driving Car Summit. Tune in to episode 358 of Smart Driving Cars with Alain Kornhauser and co-host Fred Fishkin.

0:00 open

0:28 GM CEO looks to unlock value of Cruise

6:05 A week since burning of Waymo vehicle in SF

9:25 Two Waymo vehicles hit same truck being towed in December

13:05 California DMV’s latest list of driverless vehicle permit holders

15:05 Forbes headline- American Innovation Can Counter Russia’s New Threat

17:45 L.A. Times reports California EV sales declined in second half of last year

19:50 Hertz to stop buying from Polestar

29:35 New reporting on Tesla crash that killed employee

32:00 6th Smart Driving Car Summit scheduled for May 29-3


  ‘Sheer urban violence’: San Francisco Waymo burning marks new level of tech hostility

K. Truong, Feb. 12, “The stakes are high for both the San Francisco police and Waymo after a crowd torched one of the company’s driverless robotaxis in Chinatown. 

Police are under pressure to quickly investigate and solve the crime, images of which spread widely online and played into a narrative of the city being lawless. Mayor London Breed has called the vandalism “dangerous and destructive” and vowed, “We will work to hold those who committed it accountable.”

Police Chief Bill Scott told the Police Commission Wednesday night the department has already collected “some very good videos” in its investigation and he expects the department will ask Waymo for video from the vehicle—but wasn’t sure if investigators had yet….

Police only need a picture of someone breaking the law at the scene to make an arrest on probable cause. Once in custody, a suspect would be questioned, and police would seek to gather corroborating evidence such as other videos and witnesses.  

A prosecution, however, is another matter. The second former high-ranking San Francisco police officer and a prominent defense attorney said Waymo may determine it’s in its best interest for the case to quietly disappear. The company may have concerns that a trial could put trade secrets out into the open, or simply fuel further debate about whether robotaxis are a danger to the public.  …

Waymo’s dilemma

An arson case against those who set upon the Waymo car in Chinatown has the potential to generate months of negative publicity for the company, several defense attorneys said, even though Waymo was the “victim” in the incident.

Longtime Bay Area defense attorney Paula Canny said if she were Waymo’s CEO, she “wouldn’t want to put any more attention on why it was done. And why it was done is that driverless cars are maybe not a good thing.” …” Read More  Hmmmm… Very good article.

This is a tough one.  Law & Order must prevail, but Waymo’s more likely to lose, big time, because they haven’t “read The Book”. They have so failed in their first real attempt at “proof-of-market” (appreciate and then sell what they’ve created).  Alain


  Robotaxi burning puts both police and Waymo in the hot seat

J. Lamb, Feb. 16, “Peter Yu was wrapping up the work day at his dim sum restaurant Dick Lee Pastry Shop in Chinatown on Saturday night when he saw a Waymo robotaxi burst into flames right outside his front door.

“There were so many people on the street at the time,” Yu said in Cantonese, showing a cellphone photo of the burning car taken at 9:03 p.m. “I called the police at 9:06 p.m.”

The incineration of the autonomous vehicle marked a new level of confrontation between humans and robots on the streets of San Francisco. Activists have put orange traffic cones on the vehicles’ hoods to immobilize them. City officials, including the fire chief, have complained that the driverless cars impede first responders and are “not ready for prime time.” But never before have vandals so thoroughly destroyed one of the futuristic vehicles. …

In a statement released Monday, Mayor London Breed characterized the incident as a “destructive act of vandalism” that risked surrounding lives, homes and businesses. 

As of Monday, no arrests had been announced in the incident, though Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who represents Chinatown, said the police department has told him it has good video footage of the incident and that the department’s arson and special investigations units are heading up the investigation. The department said it had no reports of injuries from the vandalism or fire….

Alain Kornhauser…  said he still believes in the ability of autonomous vehicles to provide affordable transportation access to those in need of it. But, he said, the footage of the destruction was sobering. 

“One has to look back and say, ‘How did we get to this?’” Kornhauser said. “If it was me, I would ask what is it that I’m doing that is perceived to be so unappreciated.”.” Read More  Hmmmm… A very good article. This may actually be the first article ever to appear in a San Francisco publication that used the word affordable as an attribute associated with this form of personal mobility.  That is a 49er triumph in and of itself J .    If Waymo reads The Book they may have a chance of surviving this.  I can’t imagine how bad this must look from the AlphaBet Boardroom. Alain


GM’s Cruise hardware chief resigns in latest exit after operations suspended

Staff, Feb. 15, “The head of hardware at General Motors’  Cruise self-driving unit, Carl Jenkins, said on Thursday he had resigned from the company, the latest in a series of departures since the company suspended U.S. operations in October.

Jenkins, the senior vice president for autonomous vehicle platforms, is leaving after six years with the company, he said in a post on LinkedIn. ….

Cruise Co-President Mo Elshenawy, in an internal company post viewed by Reuters, confirmed the departure of Jenkins and said the autonomous vehicles platforms team was critical to Cruise’s efforts to return its vehicles back to the road as soon as possible. Neither Jenkins nor Elshenawy gave a reason for the departure.” Read More  Hmmmm… What a shame. The autonomous vehicle platform is an absolute necessary condition but so is its value proposition, which is giving very affordable high-quality rides to people who really need very affordable high-quality rides.  They’ll appreciate what that platform has done for them even if they don’t know all the intricacies of how it did it.  Alain


Waymo AVs Recalled After Hitting Same Truck Two Separate Times Within Minutes

J. Gilboy, Feb. 13, “Google-backed driverless taxi firm Waymo has recalled software across its entire fleet following an unusual pair of crashes in December. Two of its vehicles managed to hit the same truck just minutes apart, in different locations. While the circumstances aren’t as damning as they sound, and Waymo handled the incident responsibly, the news couldn’t come at a worse time for the increasingly scrutinized autonomous vehicle industry. …

The company says one of its vehicles encountered a tow truck improperly pulling a pickup, which was facing rearward and askew across a center turn lane and regular traffic lane. The Waymo AV misinterpreted the conjoined vehicles’ direction of travel and hit the pickup, taking minor damage, though the tow truck reportedly fled the scene.” Read More  Hmmmm… What???  That can’t possibly be the cause. Shape is a strong determinant of direction of travel and not velocity vectors?  Is this an indication that DeepLearning has gone way too far @ Waymo?

Let’s see… Waymo’s hit very few things lately/ever,  but in December they hit twice something dangling from behind a truck and recently they hit another thing dangling (closely following) behind a truck.  The Book won’t help them much here, but they should read it anyway for more fundamental reasons. Alain


A blue and white logo  Description automatically generated  AUTONOMOUS VEHICLE TESTING PERMIT HOLDERS

Staff, Jan. 11, “Permit Holders (Deployment)  As of Jan 11, 2024, DMV has authorized the deployment if autonomous vehicles from the following entities: 

Mercedes-Benz USA …

Nuro Inc. …

Waymo LLC …”   Read More  Hmmmm… That’s it.  Actual deployment also requires approval from California Public Utilities Commission.  Alain


A white text on a black background  Description automatically generated  American Innovation Can Counter Russia’s New Threat

D. Furchtgott-Roth, Feb. 15, ““This week House Intelligence Chairman Michael Turner (R-OH) and Ranking Member Jim Himes (D-CT) said that the Committee had received “information concerning a serious national security threat.” The details are classified, but the threat reportedly involves a new Russian weapon that can take down satellites, including America’s Global Positioning System satellites. At a White House briefing, National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby said, “I can confirm that [the threat] it is related to an anti-satellite capability that Russia is developing.”

America’s GPS, a free invisible service paid for by the Federal government, depends on a constellation of 31 satellites. Americans use about 900 million GPS receivers in car navigation systems, cell phones, Garmin and Apple watches, and fleets of trucks, ambulances, buses. Ships, planes, and drones also use GPS for navigation. Industries from agriculture and construction to finance and energy production also utilize GPS.

Fortunately American innovation and initiative are coming to the rescue, so that if Russia destroys U.S. signals, ambulances and fire trucks could still find their way to your door. …” Read More  Hmmmm… It is an understatement to say that GPS is a critical public infrastructure.  I’ve stated that it may well be the most valuable public service ever created by the US military.  Next to preventing and winning wars, this military system has delivered more societal value than anything else that DoD has done.  Its functionality must be protected and made available.  Alain


  California EV sales are falling. Is it just temporary, or a threat to state climate goals? 

  R. Mitchell,  Feb. 15, “California electric vehicle sales dropped significantly in the last half of 2023, raising questions about the state’s ability to phase out gas-powered cars….” Read More  Hmmmm… Plug-in EVs still have challenges, with only one manufacturer out there with a well-priced/quality product that gets attacked by everyone.  It may not be easy to disrupt a market with only one viable disrupter.  Alain


A black numbers on a blue and white background  Description automatically generatedHertz will stop buying EVs from Polestar, too

A. Hawkins, Feb. 5, “Hertz continues to backtrack on its commitment to purchase more electric vehicles for its rental car fleet, as the Financial Times reports that the company has paused plans to acquire more EVs from Swedish automaker Polestar.

In 2022, Hertz said it planned on purchasing 65,000 battery-powered Polestars in a bid to become a global leader in EVs. This was on top of 100,000 Teslas that the company already said it would acquire. Tesla’s valuation topped $1 trillion for the first time after the news.

But a little more than a year later, Hertz had a change of heart, mostly because its acquired EVs had lost most of their value. Price cuts (mostly from Tesla), higher depreciation than expected, and spiraling repair costs have made EVs a bad business deal for Hertz. In total, the company said it expected to lose over $245 million on the agreements. ….” Read More  Hmmmm… Will either Polestar or Hertz survive?  Alain


  Tesla worker died in horrible crash on Full Self-Driving beta, but he was also drunk

F. Lambert, Feb. 13, “The horrible fatal crash of a Tesla employee using Full Self-Driving Beta has been reported in detail for the first time to highlight responsibility in those accidents.

The Crash

The Washington Post released a new report on the crash today, which happened back in 2022.

Hans von Ohain, a recruiter at Tesla, and his friend Erik Rossiter set out outside Denver, Colorado, in the former’s Tesla Model 3 to go golfing.

During the drive there, Rossiter says that von Ohain was driving on FSD beta, Tesla’s driver-assist system that takes over all the driving controls but the driver needs to keep their hands on the steering wheel and be ready to take control at all times.

Rossiter said that FSD Beta swerved several times during the drive there and von Ohain had to take control.

They played 21 holes and drank alcohol during the day before driving back. Rossiter said he seemed composed and “by no means intoxicated” when getting into the car for the drive back.

The Washington Post described the crash:…

But if we dig a little bit deeper, it is an interesting situation.

To be honest, the fact that he was a Tesla employee makes this whole situation a lot more complicated. It means that he should have known very well that you need to pay attention on FSD Beta and be ready to take control at all times.

Now, it might be because of his intoxication that he decided that it would be a good idea to use FSD Beta on winding mountain roads while intoxicated, or he might have been taking chances with FSD Beta even when not intoxicated, which is what his wife is pointing to about a “false sense of security.”

This is definitely something where Tesla can improve: managing expectations when it comes to FSD Beta, which is not easy to do when you literally call it “Full Self-Driving.” ” Read More  Hmmmm… Tesla needs to change this term. It is inaccurate as is. How about ADA : Aware Driver Assistance or something like this and get away from naming the consumer version of this product Full-anything.  Alain


Elon Musk claims fatal crash was not on ‘Full Self-Driving Beta’ after Tesla said the logs were lost

F. Lambert, Feb. 14, “… Again, don’t drink and drive. That’s obvious. But also, don’t believe that Tesla’s FSD package is going to help you drive while paying less attention to the road or being impaired. It won’t. I might be able to concede that driving with FSD Beta is safer than without as long as you are being as or more vigilant than you would be not using the feature.

If you are not as vigilant because you see this as some kind of crutch, it is more dangerous than driving without it.

I know that when I talk about FSD Beta to people who don’t know much about it, one of the first things that often comes up is, “Oh cool, now the car can drive you home when you are drunk”. That’s a thought that Tesla needs to squash and it doesn’t help when Elon goes out there saying that FSD Beta would have “probably” avoided that accident.” Read More  Hmmmm… Driver monitoring needs to be incorporated tightly with these “level 2+” products so that they are ONLY enabled when the driver is Aware and Alert and hasn’t gamed or circumvented the Aware & Alert-knowing system.  Tesla can do that.  NHTSA should make them do that.  Tesla & Elon can be much happier after having done that.  They can point the finger to NHTSA and say “they made me do it”.  And, NHTSA can lean back happily realizing they’ve really done a great job at improving safety and enabling better mobility.  Win-win-win -win -…  all around.  Alain


A logo of a company  Description automatically generated  Is MOVES-style Mobility for Rural Areas Disruptive?  The Tuscarora Reservation Opportunity…

A. Kornhauser, Slides used in his class Feb. 7, “…Total Addressable Market is 3,165 personTrips per day…,”. Read More  Hmmmm… (and be sure to watch the video on the last slide).  Not that much, but the area is really rural, and many of those rides are really needed.  What these slides and the end video reveal explicitly is that 1,000 of these rides could actually be given most days at a very good demand-responsive  level-of-service (less than 5 minute wait, direct to destination with minimal circuity in the few ride-share opportunities) achieving vehicle productivities of >40 personTrips/Vehicle-day (>12,500personTrips/Vehicle year, implying that capital costs for such a system could be financed by less than $2/personTrip and break-even fares of  >$3/ride.  Now that’s what I call affordable high-quality mobility.  All we need is a Vehicle that works and we or almost any franchise could offer Mobility within even some of the most rural settings in the nation.  Now that’s interesting!!  Alain [and thanks, Bryce, for getting the analysis system and simulation to work!!]



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6th  SmartDrivingCar


May 29 (evening) -> May 31, 2024

Princeton, NJ

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We promise civil and lively discussions as to how to improve the quality of life for many while disrupting that quality to as few as possible.


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