25th edition of the 6th year of SmartDrivingCars


E. Griffith, May 31, "GENERAL MOTORS, THE 10th-largest company by revenue in the US, is eager to lay the groundwork for future growth by developing self-driving technology. But its shareholders are dubious of too much spending as revenue declines—it fell 5.5 percent last year.

Japanese conglomerate SoftBank has the opposite problem: a giant pile of cash but not enough opportunities to spend it. The company’s Vision Fund does not make investments smaller than $100 million, and there are only so many startups worthy of such a large check. That’s why the firm has taken a loose interpretation of its artificial-intelligence-focused investment thesis, including aspects of human needs that won’t be replaced by technology.

It also helps explain SoftBank’s $2.25 billion investment in GM’s self-driving car unit, Cruise, announced Thursday. The move further complicates the tangled web of connections among startups, automakers, big tech companies, and venture investors angling for a piece of the market for autonomous vehicles—a market that doesn’t yet exist but is expected one day to generate trillions of dollars in revenue.

The overlapping investments and alliances have become so prevalent that they border on conflicts. And SoftBank sits at the center.

To wit: SoftBank invested in Uber after it had already backed Uber competitors in India (Ola), Singapore (Grab), Brazil (99), and China (Didi). Didi, which also invested in Ola, Grab, 99, and Lyft, eventually merged with Uber’s China business. Uber continues to compete with Ola in India and 99 (which Didi acquired) in Brazil. Meanwhile SoftBank’s Vision Fund has taken investment from Apple, which has its own autonomous vehicle program, and Uber has taken investment from the venture arm of Alphabet, owner of autonomous competitor Waymo, which recently settled a nasty lawsuit against Uber and received a small slice of equity in its rival. Oh, and SoftBank portfolio company Alibaba has invested in Uber rival Lyft, along with Ford, GM, and CapitalG, the late-stage investment arm of Alphabet…." Read more  Hmmmm…. Most interesting.  Must be a realization that Uber’s "Driverless Initiative" is so hopelessly 3rd rate, that SoftBank invested up to the 2nd pick in order to salvage the Uber IPO valuation.  SoftBank has a tangled web of investments but it is strategically biases in a desperate attempt to catch the breakout leader Waymo.  All the while Waymo seems to be putting the pedal to the metal. (next article).     Alain

imap:// Driving Cars Podcast Episode 42

F. Fishkin, June 3, "Softbank makes a multibillion dollar investment in GM’s self driving company and Google’s Waymo orders more than 60 thousand additional Chrysler minivans for a self driving fleet. Where does Uber fit in? Princeton University’s Alain Kornhauser dives in along with co-host Fred Fishkin in Episode 42 of the Smart Driving Cars podcast.  Listen and subscribe."

Hmmmm…. Now you can just say "Alexa, play the Smart Driving Cars podcast!" .  Ditto with Siri, and GooglePlay.  Alain
Real information every week.  Lively discussions with the people who are shaping the future of SmartDrivingCars.  Want to become a sustaining sponsor and help us grow the SmartDrivingCars newsletter and podcast? Contact Alain Kornhauser at!  Alain

cid:<a”>  Waymo’s fleet of self-driving minivans is about to get 100 times bigger

A. Hawkins, May 31, "The size of Waymo’s fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans just got radically bigger. The Alphabet unit announced today that it struck a deal with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), one of Detroit’s Big Three automakers, for an additional 62,000 minivans to be deployed as robot taxis." Hmmmm…. Wow!!  What is Waymo going to do with 60,000 more aTaxis on top of the 20,000 Jaguars they ordered a few months back???  I guess that they will send a couple thousand to NJ. 🙂.   Those 80,000 aTaxis will serve about 4 million person trips/day (~50 personTrips/aTaxi-day).  That’s about 0.5% of all personTrips greater than 0.5 miles in the USA on a typical day, roughly equal to the number of personTrips that Uber serves today in the US on a typical day today in the USA and is ~10% of the personTrips riding today’s conventional transit systems.  Wow!!!
Moreover, the two companies have also begun discussions about how to eventually sell self-driving cars to customers as personally owned vehicles…" Read more  Hmmmm…. What????  Waymo can’t be serious.  No way Waymo or anyone else is going to allow these vehicles to be in the hands of consumers.  The professional maintenance and adult supervision required by these vehicles today makes such a suggestion preposterous.  Moreover, this would be Uber’s biggest windfall, to be able to buy the best driverless car rather than having to make it themselves.  No way Waymo allows Uber this windfall.  The floor price for a goose that lays golden eggs is the investment required to purchase an annuity of golden eggs.  Not only is that a big number, Uber doesn’t have any secret sauce that can extract more value out of those eggs than Waymo can.  So, if Uber bids high enough to buy them, they’ll lose money.  This "rumor" deserves a super C’mon Man!!! Alain

cid:part18.FAC33EDC.7CF0C6A6@princeton.eduDid Uber really botch the switch to one driver and a timeline of the failure

B. Templeton, May 25, "Yesterday I examined some of the details released by the NTSB about the Uber fatality. Now I want to dig deeper with speculation as to the why. Of course, speculation is risky, though I can claim a pretty good track record. When I outlined various possible causes of the incident just after it, I put 4 at the top. I figured that only one might be true, but it turned out that two were (Misclassification as a bicycle, and the car wanting to stop but being unable to actuate the brakes) though I did not suspect Uber deliberately blocked the car from doing hard stops. So I’ll try my luck at speculating again…"  Read more  Hmmmm…. Very interesting.  Brad, we are mostly on the same page.  Alain

cid:<a”>Uber in ‘discussions’ to get Waymo self-driving cars on its network

D. Bohn, May 31,  " Speaking today at the Code Conference, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi says that his company is in “discussions” to have Waymo self-driving cars added to its network. It’s probably too early to think that these talks are definitely going anywhere yet, … “I’d welcome Waymo to put cars in our network,” he says.

When Recode’s Kara Swisher asked how Uber would make the case to Waymo to make its cars available via the Uber app, Khosrowshahi’s answer was simple: “Economics.” He characterized Uber’s ride-sharing network as the biggest on the planet, so it would make sense for Waymo to want to be on it. However, at the end of the day, “It’s up to them,” Khosrowshahi says…" 1.  It depends on what is being counted to get "biggest’.  I believe DiDi serves roughly 5x Uber of personTrips on a typical day, "on the planet". 

2.  Waymo may well want/need access to Uber’s customers to optimally utilize the Waymo fleet of driverless autonomusTaxis (aTaxi), but this is just cheery-picking.  Waymo may also want to off-load to Uber its customers who want/demand/need a human chauffeured ride; thus relieving Waymo’s need to deal with "gig workers" to serve these trips. Seems like a WIN -win.  But in no way will Waymo let Uber manage/operate its fleet.  It will be Waymo’s Driverless on-Demand Mobility with Uber contracted to divert some its customers as well as serve conventionally some of Waymo’s customers. 

"…Khosrowshahi thinks that self driving tech’s future is to become a “horizontal technology that should be available to everybody,” and so he would be open to licensing Uber’s tech to other companies. “Ultimately, I think that we’re not going to look to own the tech ourselves,” he says. “We’ll license to third parties.”…"  Read more  Hmmmm…. Wow!!! That just seems totally "off the wall".  1.  I don’t imagine any folks are lining up to buy his "Self-driving" technology and 2.  Max value for the technology is captured by putting it to work and earning profits every day… the recurring revenue model.  Alain

cid:<a”>As Uber and Tesla struggle with driverless cars, Waymo moves forward

T. Lee, Apr 10,"…These and other negative headlines have contributed to a darkening public mood on self-driving cars. A poll released in May found that the proportion of Americans who would be afraid to ride in a self-driving car had risen from 63 percent in late 2017 to 73 percent.

But if the self-driving industry is in crisis, nobody told Waymo. Over the last 18 months, the company has been methodically laying groundwork to launch a commercial driverless car service.

Uber, Nvidia, and Toyota all suspended self-driving car testing in the wake of the March Uber crash—but not Waymo. Waymo continued logging miles in Arizona and elsewhere. And days after the crash, the company announced a deal with Jaguar Land Rover to build 20,000 fully self-driving I-PACE cars.

Then on Thursday, Waymo announced a massive deal for 62,000 Chrysler Pacifica minivans—by far the biggest deal for self-driving vehicles so far. Waymo wouldn’t be making deals this big unless the company was very confident that its technology was on track for commercial use within the next year or two.

When people use stories about Tesla, Uber, or Ford to argue that self-driving cars are still many years away, they ignore the fact that Google—now Waymo—has been working on this problem way longer than anyone else. In October 2015, Google was already confident enough in its technology to let a blind man take an unaccompanied test drive on Austin streets. Almost three years later, it’s not clear if anyone else has managed to build technology as sophisticated as Waymo had three years ago.

So it might be true that the rest of the industry is failing to live up to early self-driving car hype. But Waymo is in a class by itself…."  Read more  QED  Alain

cid:part29.889779BF.5CA385A2@princeton.eduOn the road to automated mobility: An EU strategy for mobility of the future

COM(2018) 283  May 17, "…Provided the regulatory and enabling framework is in place to address all these issues the first vehicles driving themselves under specific driving conditions could be available on a commercial basis by 2020, and they could become commonplace by 2030.
In other words, driverless mobility promises great benefits but also poses serious questions. We are in a global race to reap the benefits and answer the questions raised, as this provides a major opportunity for growth and jobs….

With this Communication, the Commission proposes a comprehensive EU approach towards connected and automated mobility setting out a clear, forward looking and ambitious European agenda. This agenda provides a common vision and identifies supporting actions for developing and deploying key technologies, services and infrastructure. It will ensure that EU legal and policy frameworks are ready to support the deployment of safe connected and automated mobility, while simultaneously addressing societal and environmental concerns which will be decisive for public acceptance…."  Read more  Hmmmm…. Very nice,but… the report seems fundamentally grounded on the "personal mobility model" where trip-makers are using their own "purchased" or shared "rented" vehicle to transport themselves and their family members "autonomously" (without any management oversight by anyone other than themselves.  Connectivity won’t help because these folks don’t want to listen to anyone nor be constrained in any way.)   This is the Self-driving MODE.  The fundamental problem with the Self-driving MODE is that it is not sustainable from a public policy standpoint because VMT, Congestion, Energy and Pollution each go up substantially.

The Driverless MODE affords comparable on-demand 24/7 ubiquitous mobility but, because the provision of that level of service is due to the active real-time management of the vehicles so as to deliver that level of service, the system acquires knowledge in real time about ridesharing opportunities.   (Just as in elevators, the system learns that people want to go up or down based on which button they press, it delivers the service opportunity by dispatching a vehicle going their way (up or down, not just one way as at a buss stop).  If multiple folks are waiting to go that way, they all get in and share the elevator ride.  The same thing happens at an aTaxi location except there are many directions that an aTaxi could go.  All folks there at that time going in a particular direction get in the same vehicle and it goes.)   Performance of the system is dependent on knowing the demand.  The better it knows it, the better it will serve its customers.  More importantly, the better it can identify opportunities to share rides.  Since that opportunity improves with increasing spatial and temporal concentration of demand, it works best where congestion potential is highest and where the consumption of energy and the production of pollution is substantial.  Exactly where you would want it to work best.  Thus the system knows the ridesharing opportunities, now the challenge  for society is to decide that it is OK, maybe even better, to ride with someone else  when the opportunity exist instead of continuing to believe that riding alone is the ultimate experience.  (One can do it with price since cost/rider decrease.  Anxiety over ride-sharing can also be alleviated using "marketing" and "public service" initiatives.)

Unfortunately, I could not find, in a quick look at the report, any discussions about such "Driverless MODE" opportunities for the EU other than "Shuttles". Shared-ride aTaxis don’t seem to be on the EU’s radar screen.  Alain  AS RENTAL CARS FADE AWAY, AVIS WILL TRY ANYTHING TO SURVIVE

A. Davies, June 1, "…Avis does have one unmitigated advantage: its mastery of all the infrastructure you need to operate a fleet of cars that aren’t owned by the people using them. “There’s a whole laundry list of things we just assume a human driver-operator does,” Zeira says. If you want to take the human driver out of the picture, you need some new way to keep the car clean, well-maintained, fueled or charged, and so on…."  Read more  Hmmmm…. Yup, but all those things are overhead to their current business.  How easy is it for a company to lose its core yet embrace its overhead?  Alain

Half-baked stuff that probably doesn’t deserve your time

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

Calendar of Upcoming Events:

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3rd Annual Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit
evening May 14 through May 16, 2019
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Photos from 2nd Annual Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit

Program & Links to slides from 2nd Annual Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit

  On the More Technical Side

Capsule Networks (CapsNets) – Tutorial