Friday, April 24, 2020
18th edition of the 8th year of SmartDrivingCars


    What Negative Oil Prices Mean and How the Impact Could Last

V. Bajaj, April 22,”A main benchmark for the price of oil fell negative for the first time ever this week. The decline —  more than 300 percent in daily trading — raised fresh questions about the damage the coronavirus is having on the global economy.

What does it mean for oil prices to be negative?
A benchmark price for a barrel of oil to be delivered next month fell to -$37.63 on Monday, which means that sellers would have to pay someone that much to take it off their hands.

But that historic plunge was exacerbated by a quirk in how the oil markets work.
The negative price concerned only contracts for delivery of barrels in May that are traded on so-called futures markets. At the same time trading happens for May deliveries, people trade on contracts ending in June, in July and so on.” Read more Hmmmm… What???  I realize that I’m often “out of it”, but…  In all my life I have NEVER… thought of, let alone mentioned, nor have heard anyone else mention the concept of negative oil!  Often, talked about $150/B oil, $250/B, S20/B even $7/B oil.  NEVER $0/B oil, negative Oil…  NEVER,NEVER, NEVER!!!!  and look where we are.  UNBELIEVABLE!!!       Implications:…  no one’s models extrapolate to that regime. (it requires extrapolation because no data exists in this unimaginable region.  Listen to Pod-Cast; Watch Zoom-Cast  Alain

  SmartDrivingCars Pod-Cast Episode 153 – Dick Mudge2

F. Fishkin, April 17, “The plummeting price of oil and what it may mean for mobility, ride sharing and the economy.. Dick Mudge, founder and president of Compass Transportation & Technology joins Princeton’s Alain Kornhauser and co-host Fred Fishkin for that plus GM, Uber and more on the Coronavirus impact.”   “Alexa, play the Smart Driving Cars podcast!“.  Ditto with Siri, and GooglePlay …  Alain

SmartDrivingCars Zoom-Cast Episode 153- Dick Mudge2

Video version… Watch Zoom-Cast 153  .  Alain

Note to readers…

The SDC eLetter is in its 8th year, the audio Pod-Casts are in their 3rd year and above is the link to the 5th video Zoom-Cast.  Dick Mudge, Fred Fishkin, Jeremiah Liu and I have begun experimenting with extending the Zoom-Cast to include a live component, a Zoom-inar, to bring in some of your thoughts and comments in real time.  These will need to be scheduled in advance and will require a pre-registration on your part.  They will also require agreements on some acceptable behaviors by all involved as well as some funding sources to support the production costs.  I’d love to have feedback from you as to the scope, viability and value to you of such an initiative.  Please email me at with subject:  Thoughts on SDC Zoom-inar.  Thank you in advance for your contribution.  Stay safe and healthy.  We can make it through all of this and help others who are in need. Alain

We’re going to try it!!!  

·         Monday, April 27, Live starting at 2 pm New York Time

·         Live SmartDrivingCar Zoom-inar in advance of TRB’s Automated Vehicle Symposium (AVS 20) in July 27-30 still scheduled to be live in San Diego. 

·         Featuring the AV Shark-Tank‘s… Dick Mudge, Alain Kornhauser,  Jane Lappin, Brad Templeton, Michael Sena, Sven Beiker and  Jim Scheinman 

·         “Is it the Best or times… or Is it the Worst of times ????  CovidCar

·         Produced and Directed  by Fred Fishkin, Jeremiah Liu and Ken Pyle

·         Access to live Zoom-inar requires pre-registration @

·           It is free but contributions/sponsorships will be appreciated to help us offset non-zero production costs. Image

  Explainer: What is a negative crude future and does it mean anything for consumers?

L. Kearney, April 20, “The price of a barrel of benchmark U.S. oil plunged below $0 a barrel on Monday for the first time in history, a troubling sign of an unprecedented global energy glut as the coronavirus pandemic halts travel and curbs economic activity.  The contract for West Texas intermediate crude, or WTI, is the benchmark for U.S. crude oil prices. On Monday, it looked like this:…   Such a steep drop in the oil benchmark prompted strong reactions beyond trading floors.

Here is an explanation of what negative crude prices mean in the real world:..”  Read more Hmmmm…  Laila lays it out very well..  Alain

  The Autonomous Car Industry Is About to Get Hammered

P. George, April 22, “…As I’ve said many times on Speed Lines this year, the pandemic is unique in that it has left virtually no facet of daily life or sector of the economy untouched. It’s already drying up the capital markets, and that’s extremely bad news in the world of autonomous vehicles. Development of that technology is costly for both legacy automakers and new startups, yet there’s still no clear path to widespread deployment or profitability.

Adding semi-autonomous features to your next Cadillac or Volvo is one thing; creating fully robotic cars, and making money while doing so, is another thing. And it may be a pipe dream in this economy.    “.  Read more Hmmmm… Maybe?!?!    But if you really want to speculate with us about the future, Pre-register for our Live Zoom-inar The Driverless New Normal, Monday April 27, 2pm New York time.  You must pre-register to obtain a Zoom invite + password.   Alain

  Putting Autonomous Driving Back on the Road

I. Boudway,  April 21, “… While some companies are taking the opportunity to demonstrate the promise of autonomous vehicles for contact-free delivery, these efforts serve mostly to show how far the industry remains from large-scale, truly driverless deployments.  Hyperdrive spoke with a handful of industry consultants and executives about what’s ahead.  There is general consensus that autonomous vehicle developers are in for a bumpy ride, and that consolidation is inevitable. But there is also widespread confidence that the project of building self-driving cars is more urgent than ever.

“Covid-19 is driving home for so many the promise of fully autonomous vehicles not only to make our roads safer, but also to help riders stay healthy during uncertain times,” said Dmitri Dolgov, chief technology officer of Waymo, formerly known as Google’s self-driving car project, via email…    Below are the key takeaways from those conversations. Interviews have been edited for length and clarity…”  Read more Hmmmm… Maybe?!?!  Alain

  Get Ready for Mega Cash for Clunkers, Morgan Stanley’s Adam Jonas Says

J. Hough, April 19, “Adam Jonas covers the auto industry for Morgan Stanley. Barron’s spoke with Jonas recently about how the car industry can survive the shutdown, and how it might be left changed. His edited comments follow.

  • On differences between this downturn and the 2008 global financial crisis:…
  • On a mega cash for clunkers program:…
  • On how the program might work:…
  • On electric vehicles, including Tesla:…
  • On changes to the car business after the pandemic:…
  • On turning a crisis into an opportunity:…

Read more Hmmmm… Always good to pay close attention to Adam’s insight. Alain

  Investors bet on Tesla (TSLA) instead of GM and Toyota to lead auto technology

F. Lambert, April 22, “nvestors would bet on Tesla instead of GM and Toyota to lead the auto industry’s technology transition to electric and autonomous vehicles.  As of earlier today, Tesla’s stock price was up almost 80% year-to-date, while Ford and GM are down over 45% and 40%, respectively.  Toyota, the world’s most valuable automaker, is down 15% year-to-date.

Investors and analysts are trying to understand what is happening, and many of them think Tesla will come out of the current crisis stronger than any other automaker.

Morgan Stanley auto analyst Adam Jonas and his team wrote in a new note today:

“In what is shaping up to be an extraordinarily challenging year for the global auto industry, many investors are comparing the resiliency and attractiveness of traditional auto OEMs vs. Tesla in a new light.

Based on our conversations with investors, many expect Tesla to burn up to $1bn or more of free cash flow this year but still expect near FY unit volume growth on the order of 5 to 10% or more. If realized, that’s a free cash flow yield of less than negative 1%.

Ostensibly, this compares extremely well to the average auto name under our coverage where we are forecasting 20 to 25% declines in volume and free cash burn anywhere between 10 to 30% of their market cap.”

Morgan Stanley’s auto team polled some of its auto investors about the prospects for the industry and the results might be surprising:… ” Read more Hmmmm…  More from Adam.   Alain

  Tesla drops a bunch of new Autopilot data, 3 billion miles and more

F. Lambert, April 22, “Tesla’s head of AI, Andrej Karpathy, released a bunch of new data about Autopilot and its features in a new presentation.   Unlike most automakers and tech companies working on autonomous driving, Tesla doesn’t only rely on an internal test fleet or simulations to collect data.

The automaker is leveraging its large customer fleet of electric vehicles equipped with an extensive array of sensors to collect data and improve its driver-assist features….. ” Read more Hmmmm… Read this post and the next one.  Be sure to watch the whole video of Andrej Karpathy’ presentation.  Excellent!!!.   Alain

  Tesla is patenting a clever way to train Autopilot with augmented camera images

S. Alvarez, April 16, “…Tesla’s camera-centric approach may be quite controversial due to Elon Musk’s strong stance against LiDAR, but it is gaining ground, with other autonomous vehicle companies such as MobilEye developing FSD systems that rely primarily on visual data and a trained neural network. This approach does come with its challenges, as training neural networks requires tons of data. Tesla emphasized this point as much during its Autonomy Day presentation.

With this in mind, it is pertinent for the electric car maker to train its neural networks in a way that is as efficient as possible with zero compromises. To help accomplish this, Tesla seems to be looking into the utilization of augmented data, as described in a recently published patent titled “Systems and Methods for Training Machine Models with Augmented Data.”… ”  Read more Hmmmm…  Very interesting; however, Chenyi Chen’s PhD dissertation led the way by training with Virtual Reality.  See patent application WO2020077117   Alain

   Tesla releases impressive videos of cars avoiding running over pedestrians

F. Lambert, April 21, “Tesla has released a few impressive videos of its Autopilot-powered emergency braking feature helping to avoid running over inattentive pedestrians.

What might be even more impressive is that the automaker says that it sees those events happen every day….

Karpathy says:  “This car might not even have been on the Autopilot, but we continuously monitor the environment around us. We saw that there was a person in front and we slammed on the brake.

We see a lot of these — tens to hundreds of these per day where we are actually avoiding a collision and not all of them are true positive, but a good fraction of them are.” 

It was held at the end of February, but a video of the presentation was just released (starting when he shows the videos):” Read more Hmmmm…  See video.  It is impressive. (From Feb 26, but I just found it… sorry.)  Look especially starting at… Vision-based approach.  (I agree with this approach))   Tesla with autoPilot is becoming THE Safe-driving Car.   Alain


M. Daus, April 23, “

…”  Read more Hmmmm… Lots of good information for those of you that need help.  Alain

Delivery robots move medical supplies to help with COVID-19 response

T. Lee, April 22, “Nuro, one of the nation’s best-funded self-driving vehicle startups, has begun using its robots to ferry food and medical supplies around a California stadium that has been converted into a coronavirus treatment facility, president Dave Ferguson announced on Wednesday.

“We realized that we could potentially use our R2 unmanned vehicles to provide truly contactless delivery of goods, where we remove any possible interaction between a driver dropping off goods and a person picking them up,” Ferguson wrote. Contactless delivery could reduce the spread of COVID-19.

In a Tuesday phone interview, Nuro policy chief David Estrada told Ars that the robots are ferrying food, supplies, and medical equipment from the parking lot of Sleep Train Arena, former home of the Sacramento Kings, into the stadium itself. Human workers at designated locations load the vehicles at one end of a trip and unload them at the other. The vehicles open and close their cargo doors automatically based on hand signals from the workers so they don’t have to touch the vehicle.

Nuro’s robots are capable of traveling up to 25 miles per hour. But Estrada says that inside the stadium, Nuro will exercise an “extreme level of caution” and set a top speed of 5 miles per hour…” Read more Hmmmm…  A great niche application and very helpful, but the “5 mph (in a “pristine” road environment)” aspect makes it tough to have this be anything but “a one-off”. Alain

  This little electric crossover starts at just $9,778, but guess where it’s available

F. Lambert, April 23, “This little electric crossover starts at just $9,778, but guess where it’s available”This little electric crossover starts at just $9,778, but guess where it’s available… ” Read more Hmmmm…  How long will it take for US cities to be deluged by these.   Will these be’s answer to Post Covid-19 personal mobility.   Alain

  Autonomy for All Ages

K. Pyle, April 21, “Ensuring accessibility to mobility, regardless of ability or age, was a major theme of the 2019 SmartDrivingCars Summit. Reinforcing this idea, Aditya Belwadi, an attendee at the conference, spoke about the importance of designing autonomous vehicles for children. As a Chair for the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine (AAAM, Belwaldi brings credibility to the discussion.

At the time of the above interview, Belwadi was also a Research Scientist II and Traffic Safety Lead at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) Research Institute in their Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP).* CHOP, founded in 1855, is the first U.S. hospital devoted exclusively to the care of children. CIRP’s testing aims to ensure the safety of the smallest and youngest vehicle passengers. Their testing and research cover a wide range of use-cases, including child restraint systems, teen driving safety, and autonomous vehicles.”  Read more Hmmmm…Yup!!.  See video.  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


  Uber claims its AI enables driverless cars to predict traffic movement with high accuracy

K. Wiggers, April 15, “In a paper published on the preprint server this week, researchers at Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group (ATG) propose an AI technique to improve autonomous vehicles’ traffic movement predictions. It’s directly applicable to the driverless technologies that Uber itself is developing, which must be able to detect, track, and anticipate surrounding cars’ trajectories in order to safely navigate public roads….”    Read more Hmmmm…  Please don’t read the title nor the previous two sentences too critically.  It is not really what the paper does and what the paper does  likely will never be incorporated in a driverless (or self-driving, or autonomous or Safe-drinvins) car.  It is simply not a parsimonious way to approach the autonomous driving problem today. Extrapolations of trajectories is much more trivial in the well behaved situations and can’t extend very far in time in erratic situation… however fancy one attempts to make one’s algorithm.   Uber should be very weary about relying on any trajectory projections that reported in this paper.   Safe driving takes place in “continuously” evolving real time with highly constrained expectations extending only into the very near future.  I’ll be nice and not write anymore.   Read the paper, then send me hate mail.  Alain


Calendar of Upcoming Events:s

SmartDrivingCar Zoom-inar 1

AV Shark-Tank:

“Is it the Best or times… or Is it the Worst of times ????  CovidCar
Live April 27, 2pm New York Time

Register Here



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

4th Annual Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit

Princeton University

Princeton, NJ

On the More Technical Side

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