Friday, March 27, 2020
13th edition of the 8th year of SmartDrivingCars

  Starsky Robotics Failed. Does That Mean Automated Trucking Is Dead?

R. Bishop, Mar 24, "I met Stefan Seltz-Axmacher for the first time in November 2015 at the Florida Automated Vehicles Summit. Not long after, we met at the Blue Danube coffee shop in Alameda, CA so he could tell me about his vision for Starsky Robotics. When he energetically described his remote-driving-for-trucks approach, I was skeptical. “Remote driving is hard,” I said. “The military has struggled with this for years. Its harder than it looks.” On the technical side, latency for secure communications is challenging. On the operational side, re-creating enough on-road reality (situational awareness) for a remote driver is difficult when going for the high levels of safety needed. Seltz-Axmacher remained bullish on the approach and at that time went on to found Starsky Robotics as one of the earliest truck AV startups, later closing a $16.5M Series A funding round in March 2018, and then hauling freight while developing both remote and automated driving ability.  Initially, Starsky’s concept was all about remote driving for first/last mile. They later expanded their offering to include fully automated highway driving on limited freight corridors.

Now, Starsky has become the first casualty within a crowded truck automation space, and Seltz-Axmacher has provided us with an intriguing post-mortem in a recent Medium post.  Most of the media coverage I’ve seen has acted as echo chambers for Seltz-Axmacher’s perspective. Here I offer a counterpoint based on my longtime involvement in truck automation plus discussions with many others in the truck Automated Driving Systems (ADS) startup space, many of them irate at what they see as unfounded assertions made in the original post. My sources tell me that because Seltz-Axmacher hasn’t experienced their technology nor been briefed on their technical/safety approach, he has no basis to make sweeping claims about the entire industry…."  Read more Hmmmm… Listen to PodCast 148. or/and Watch us on YouTube.  Alain

  Smart Driving Cars Podcast Episode 148 – Richard Bishop

F. Fishkin, Mar. 26, "The Smart Driving Cars podcast with automated driving strategy consultant Richard Bishop joining Princeton’s Alain Kornhauser and co-host Fred Fishkin. Is automated trucking dead? Also…Covid-19 puts Waymo in park, the latest on Tesla and more. listen and subscribe!"   "Alexa, play the Smart Driving Cars podcast!".  Ditto with Siri, and GooglePlay …  Alain

Smart Driving Cars Podcast Episode 148 – Richard Bishop

Video version… Watch our first attempt.  Alain

  Delivery Robots Could Have Saved The Day If The Virus Had Come A Bit Later

B. Templeton, Mar 19, "A large number of companies have been working on robotic delivery “deliverbots” in the last few years, in parallel with work on robocars for passengers. I’ve been an investor/advisor with one, Starship Technologies, which operates on the sidewalks, and already has an active delivery business which has completed over 100,000 deliveries. This story, though, is about the several other ventures planning to do delivery with much larger vehicles which travel on the road. These include Robocar leader Waymo, and Softbank funded startup Nuro, which has built custom delivery vehicles which don’t have room for a human and travel at low speeds. Many other teams are taking their robocar technology and applying it to delivery using modified production cars.

It’s a reasonable plan. The passenger robocar problem is hard, and delivery is easier. You don’t need to go fast. You can limit yourself to slow backroads because cargo doesn’t get impatient. You must not hit any other users of the road, but you can’t kill a pizza that’s inside the vehicle so the safety constraints are less. This has attracted many teams to the space. Sidewalk robots go more slowly but have already reached the desired safety levels and are operating on their own. They can sometimes be faster than road vehicles in congested areas. Other companies hope to deliver by drone.

Suddenly the world has been thrust into a crisis with three interesting aspects:

  1. There is a huge upswing in demand for delivery, and delivery companies are falling way behind.
  2. People have a sudden desire to not have a delivery driver touch their packages, and drivers don’t want to interact with scores of people.
  3. The roads in some areas have become almost deserted due to lockdowns

What a glorious opportunity this could have been for the road based delivery vehicles…. "  Read more Hmmmm… Yup!. Alain

  Tesla makes thousands of electric cars available in inventory – here’s why this is important

F. Lambert, Mar. 20, "Tesla has thousands of electric cars available in its inventory at the end of the quarter and that might change how the company operates.  There are many differences between Tesla and the most established automakers, but one of the most interesting differences is Tesla’s direct-sale model.

The electric automaker doesn’t use third-party franchise dealerships.  Unlike most other automakers, Tesla owns its vehicles all the way to the point customers take delivery.

When you combine this difference with the fact that until recently, all of Tesla’s cars were coming out of a single factory in California, it makes for a vastly different business model….
As we reported this morning, despite the fact that Tesla had to stop production, they are using the shutdown to increase production capacity. They could be able to go back to producing vehicles in just a few weeks.  With new vehicles coming to inventory next month, it might be a while before Tesla goes back to its usual low inventory business model.

It might be a hit on its balance sheet for now, but I think that ultimately, it should turn out to be a good thing and more consistent delivery operations for Tesla. One could even say that it should flatten the curve of Tesla’s quarterly deliveries."  Read more Hmmmm…  Very interesting inventory distribution challenge.  Alain

  TeslaCam Video Shows Limitations Of Humanpilot: SUV Drives Into Ditch

S. Loveday, Mar. 24, "Tesla Autopilot isn’t perfect, but human error is the leading cause of car accidents.
To be clear here, this video makes no claim of a Tesla Autopilot save. That’s not the point. Instead, it’s just footage from a Tesla vehicle’s built-in dashcam (TeslaCam) showing an SUV driver that appears to be distracted, asleep, having a health issue, or just simply not paying attention…."  Read more Hmmmm…  See video.  Alain

  Message from Matthew W. Daus. Esq….

M. Daus, Mar. 23, "The facts, legislative and regulatory actions and developments involving public health, safety and the already devastating economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic change by the moment.  I have heard firsthand reports of massive layoffs, business stoppage and truly unheard of repercussions getting worse by the hour.  Things may never be the same moving forward – this is an entirely new and unexplored world. …" Read more Hmmmm… Matt, an active contributor to the Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summits is putting forth an interesting service. Alain


Press release, Mar. 26, "Ford is aiming to restart production at select plants in North America as early as April 6, bringing key plants back online while the company introduces additional safety measures to protect returning workers.

Ford is planning to resume production at Hermosillo Assembly Plant on April 6 on one shift. On April 14, Ford is planning to start building vehicles at Dearborn Truck Plant, Kentucky Truck Plant, Kansas City Assembly Plant’s Transit line and Ohio Assembly Plant.

To support these assembly plants, Ford also is aiming to resume production April 14 at:…"  Read more Hmmmm… Thank you Ford for getting back to work.  You should be able to enforce sufficient spatial distancing throughout these plants.  Spring break was long enough.  We need to get the economy going again.  These worker have families that need to be fed.   Alain


    Draft Program   4th Annual Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit   Postponed until Evening Oct. 20 through Oct. 22, 2020

A. Kornhauser, Feb 6, "The focus of the Summit this year will be moving beyond the AI and the Sensors to addressing the challenges of Commercialization and  the delivery of tangible value to communities.  We’ve made enormous progress with the technology. We’re doing the investment; however, this investment delivers value only if is commercialized: made available and is used by consumers in large numbers.  Demos and one-offs are "great", but to deliver value that is anywhere near commensurate with the magnitude of the investment made to date, initial deployments need to scale.  We can’t just have "Morgantown PRT Systems" whose initial deployment has been nothing but enormously successful for 45 years (an essentially perfect safety record, an excellent availability record and customer valued mobility).  Unfortunately, the system was never expanded or duplicated anywhere.  It didn’t scale.  It is a one-off. 


Tests, demos and one-offs are nice niche deployments; however, what one really needs are initial deployments that have the opportunity to grow, be replicated and scale.  In 1888, Frank Sprague, successfully deployed a small electric street railway system in Richmond, Va.  which became the reference for many other cites.  "… By 1889 110 electric railways incorporating Sprague’s equipment had been begun or planned on several continents…" Substantial scaled societal benefits emerged virally from this technology.  It was eventually supplanted by the conventional automobile but for more than 30 years it delivered substantial improvements to the quality-of-life for many. 


In part, the 4th Summit will focus on defining the "Richmond" of Affordable Shared-ride On-demand Mobility-as-a-Service.  The initial Operational Design Domain (ODD) that safely accommodates Driverless Mobility Machines that people actually choose to use and becomes the envy of communities throughout the country. " Read more Hmmmm… Draft Program is in flux.  Consider all named individuals as "Invited yet to be confirmed". Alain

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

Sunday Supplement


  How to move more people in fewer vehicles – today

R. Gindrat, Mar. 24, "…Many, including me, have argued that the future of urban transport is electric, autonomous and shared. I still believe this to be true. But the real key to reducing traffic and pollution comes from sharing—and we don’t have to wait for the widespread adoption of electric and/or autonomous vehicles to achieve significant efficiency gains that remove cars and their emissions from city streets….  I agree!

Swap autonomous vehicles that receive instructions into a computer with human-driven vehicles that receive instructions through a driver’s mobile app, and you can achieve the same results – albeit today with fossil fuel-powered cars. … I agree!  True; however, none of these can be done affordably or economically.  Each requires substantial subsidies, that no one is willing to fund, to pay for the drivers. Some of these make for good demos, but are unsustainable economically.  "  Read more Hmmmm… Until we can make these systems driverless (without attendant) the are DoA (Dead on Arrival).  Half-baked!! Alain


Sleeping in Self-Driving Cars? It’s No Pipe Dream.

D. Neil, Mar.25, "HAVE YOU SEEN the video of the guy sound asleep at the wheel of his auto-piloted Tesla Model S? Mile after mile, with his head back, mouth open like he’s having his teeth cleaned. I envy him…."  Read moreHmmmm… So called Level 3 will never happen… No creator/seller of a consumer item is going to accept the responsibility/liability of the automated operation of that consumer item when that item’s automation system  has been controlled and maintained by a consumer.  Never happen!! Total Click-Bait.  Alain

  Employees at nine Amazon warehouses have contracted the coronavirus

T. Lee, Mar. 25, "….Amazon has more than 750,000 employees, many of whom work at distribution facilities around the country. So recent cases represent a tiny fraction of Amazon’s warehouse workforce… "  Read more Hmmmm…  So why are you writing about this?  Seems like ClickBait to me. Welcome to CNN and Fox News.  Alain

Calendar of Upcoming Events:

Postponed, until Evening Oct. 20 -> Oct 22.

4th Annual Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit

Princeton University

Princeton, NJ

On the More Technical Side