Thursday, April 30, 2020
19th edition of the 8th year of SmartDrivingCars


  Luminaries Battle In Lincoln-Douglas Style Debate About The Future Of Self-Driving Cars

Lance Eliot, April 28, “Several self-driving car luminaries assembled online via a Zoom-casted battleground this week to undertake a Lincoln-Douglas style debate about the future of the Autonomous Vehicle (AV) self-driving car industry and the advent of AI-driven mobility.

Originally scheduled for one hour, the dialogue and fielding of audience questions prompted the superstars to keep going, tackling many of the most vexing and unsolved matters that underlie the potential success of self-driving vehicles, encompassing both autonomous cars and autonomous trucks.

The lively discussion was civil and polite, fortunately so in these times of seemingly stark polarization and guttural attacks during our contemporary public discourse. Yet, even in the realm of eloquent argumentation, at times the gloves came off and there were some fierce zingers and moments of rather piercing cut-the-air-with-a-knife verbal sparring…”  Read more Hmmmm…  Lance, Thank you for the kind and thorough synopsis of our 1st Zoom-inar.  We were all pleased by the turnout, interaction and substance.    Alain

  SmartDrivingCars Pod-Cast Episode 154 – Dan Sperling

F. Fishkin, April 29, “Can ride sharing rebound after the pandemic? Daniel Sperling, founding director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis joins Princeton’s Alain Kornhauser and co-host Fred Fishkin for that plus Tesla, Waymo, Ford and more.”   “Alexa, play the Smart Driving Cars podcast!“.  Ditto with Siri, and GooglePlay …  Alain

SmartDrivingCars Zoom-Cast Episode 154- Dan Sperling

Video version… Watch Zoom-Cast 154  .  Alain

SmartDrivingCar Zoom-inar 001 The Driverless New Normal Debate

D. Sperling, April 27, “This webinar will focus on what transportation solutions are available to combat these trying times. Panelists will discuss what strategies states, cities, transit agencies, TNCs and others are taking to address COVID-19. The session will begin by introducing some insights into suspected changes in travel behavior, and continue with a discussion about how we can plan for a future that will enable climate resilient and equitable communities. There will be a Q&A following the presentation. … ”  Read more Hmmmm…  Excellent Webninar.  Watch and See Slides .  Focused on conventional transit.  Watch and Listen to possible future implications of Driverless technology on post-Covid-19 transit in SmartDrivingCar PodCast 154 with Dan Sperling / Zoom-Cast 154 with Dan Sperling.

  Tesla surprises Wall Street with first-quarter profit, stock rallies 9%

C. Assis, April, 30, “Tesla Inc. late Wednesday surprised Wall Street by posting a first-quarter profit amid the broad economic destruction wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.

Tesla TSLA, +6.66% Chief Executive Elon Musk kept the surprises going on a post-results call with analysts, veering off script to condemn the ongoing restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the virus.

Echoing his similar criticism on Twitter, Musk called the orders an “infringement of people’s rights” and likened them to fascism….

First-quarter 2020 “was the first time in our history that we achieved a positive GAAP net income in the seasonally weak first quarter. Despite global operational challenges, we were able to achieve our best first quarter for both production and deliveries,” Tesla said in its letter to investors.”  Read more Hmmmm… You can’t make up this stuff!  Drinking the Kool-Aid.  Note very important comment that Dan Sperling made in Zoom-Cast 154.  Alain

  Off road, but not offline: How simulation helps advance our Waymo Driver

Tech, April 28, “COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the world, affecting people’s lives and forcing many businesses to suspend their operations. At Waymo, we’re actively monitoring the situation, taking steps to support our local communities, and contributing to COVID-19 response efforts. While Waymo has temporarily suspended its on-the-road operations as we put the health and safety of our riders, partners, and employees first, we are still driving our technology forward with our work in simulation.

Gaining 100+ years of experience in one day

Simulation is vital in the advancement of self-driving technology. At Waymo, one day in simulation is like driving more than 100 years in the real world. In simulation, we drive around 20 million miles a day,…” Read more Hmmmm… I commented about simulation in the Zoom-inar.  Major problem with simulation is that it doesn’t know what it doesn’t know. (Variational analyses doesn’t really get to what it doesn’t know.) You really need to trip over it in the real world.  That is why what Tesla has been collecting from its customers is so valuable.  Via crowd sourcing, they ‘re getting close to “seeing all that Mother Nature can throw at the driving task”.  Alain

  Ford postpones autonomous vehicle service until 2022

K. Korosec, April 28, “Ford said Tuesday it will delay until 2022 plans to launch an autonomous vehicle service, as the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the company to rethink its go-to-market strategy.

The news was shared as part of Ford’s quarterly earnings, which was released after the market closed Tuesday. Ford reported a $2 billion loss in the first quarter compared to a profit of $1.1 billion in the same period last year. The company warned that losses during the second quarter will widen as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt its business.

Ford is a bit different from other companies that have launched autonomous vehicle pilots in the United States. The automaker has been pursuing two parallel tracks that were supposed to eventually combine ahead of a planned commercial launch in 2021. The automaker is testing and homing in on what its AV business model might look like, while separately developing autonomous vehicle technology….”  Read more Hmmmm… Not surprising and actually an opportunity to do it right.  Waiting another year to more properly do something that is expected to scale and provide substantial quality-of-life enhancements to many for many years is not a bad idea! It is a good idea.

Ford/Argo has, in my view, been focused appropriately on delivering mobility-as-a-service affordably by using driverless technology to not only extract much of the labor cost required to deliver mobility but enable them to offer high-quality, demand-responsive mobility at scale and do it profitably. This is something that conventional transit hasn’t been able to do, ever.  Taxis and chauffeured services are too expensive, therefore have always been and will remain a niche service.  TNCs (Lyft/Uber) remain somewhat affordable because they depend on drivers that, at best, make barely minimum wage, something that is societally not very desirable and can’t scale beyond the 1% or so oCCf trips that they currently serve.  Conventional public transit, which struggles to be relevant by offering service along fixed routes serving few locations sporadically on a fixed infrequent schedule.  These service offerings are designed to try to force customers to adhere to the Transit company’s timetable in order to be able to distribute their high labor costs over as many users as possible (in so doing attract very few customers).  It is the labor cost that forces conventional transit to offer infrequent service along fixed routes serving few locations.  In places where people live in only a few dense places and “everything” they want to go to exists at a few other places, then conventional transit works just fine, thank you.   Unfortunately, that’s not the way most people live nor are the places that those people wish to go concentrated in but a few locations. 

Once human labor has been extracted from the delivery of individual trips, then the service can be focused at the individual needs/desires, 24/7.  This lull allows Ford/Argo to come to Trenton and position itself to offer affordable mobility to all throughout Trenton and position itself to begin to scale profitably by expanding to provide mobility to all in Mercer County, the rest of New Jersey, the Philadelphia and New York Metropolitan area and the entire Northeast corridor.  Not a bad opportunity for Ford.  In fact it’s a good idea, and as my daughter Michelle likes to say… “Try to only do things that are a good idea!”Alain 

  Ford Protecting People, Preserving Cash, Preparing for Recovery As Pandemic Stops Most Operations, Drives Down Q1 Results

Press release, April 28, “Reports net loss of $2.0 billion; adjusted earnings before interest and taxes was negative $632 million, including estimated negative effect of at least $2 billion from coronavirus…”  Read more Hmmmm… Not surprising;  Ouch!  Alain

  Audi hangs up hopes for Level 3 partial automation system

S. Szymkowski, April 28,”There’s a reason some automakers are skipping Level 3 partially automated driving systems and aiming straight for Level 4, and Audi’s the latest marque to discover the potential trouble the tech’s rollout may cause.

Automotive News Europe reported Tuesday Audi will no longer add a Level 3 system, called Traffic Jam Pilot, to the A8 sedan in Europe. The hyped technology was also initially confirmed for the US, though it was scrapped earlier for the country over similar fears that played out in Europe in the years to come, namely legal framework. Hans-Joachim Rothenpieler, Audi’s head of technical development, told the publication it’s simply too late to add the technology as the current A8’s already through a good portion of its lifecycle. Audi of Europe did not immediately return Roadshow’s request for comment.

The deeper problem reportedly comes down to liability and the unknowns surrounding the Level 3 partial automation. … ”  Read more Hmmmm… 1st question: Is traffic Jam Pilot “Level 3”???  Probably not, unless Audi was going to suggest that the driver doesn’t need to be paying attention (can play video games, sleep, jump in the back seat, …) when the driver initiates Traffic Jam Pilot.   If that is what Audi had in mind, then of course, they’d need regulatory cover (The regulator let/made us do it).  Blame the regulator if something bad happens!  No regulator is ever going to grant that kind of cover. (I hope.) Given that Audi can’t pass the buck to someone else, then there is no way that Audi (or any other OEM) is going to trust any individual, even their own customer, to not miss-use the feature or misbehave in its use.   That’s why SAE’s Level 3 will “never” come to market (~likelihood is extremely small).  Audi’s decision here adds substance to a speculation that I and many others have had since day one. 

OEMs are stuck with “you must remain alert and attentive to the driving task at all times, even when you are not directly manipulating the steering, throttle and/or brake”.  Their only other option is to take the driver completely out of the loop, (except to specify where to go and “how loud to play the music”).  The OEM needs to be the adult in the room making sure that the vehicle is well maintained and remains in its certified Operational Design Domain.  (Sure, an OEM can “sell” such vehicles to an  operator/serviceProvider, but the real profit opportunity comes in the provision of the service, not supplying the commodity to the service provider.  (The real profit is in panning for the gold, not in the producing and selling of the pans & shovels.  Too much IP in those pans and shovels.) Alain

Is there a Las Vegas-Silicon Valley coronavirus connection from January tech trade show?

 J. Woolfolk, April 29, “With Santa Clara County in the spotlight as one of the country’s first hot zones for the deadly coronavirus, county officials are exploring an emerging theory that the biggest tech trade show on the planet — CES in Las Vegas — could have helped seed the outbreak in Silicon Valley.

The annual January event is a pilgrimage for thousands of employees from Silicon Valley and beyond who crowd together to geek out over the latest gadgets and tech toys. Several attendees complained after this year’s show of suffering from an influenza-like illness, and after one — a Texas professor — tested positive this month for antibodies showing he’s recovered from COVID-19, speculation is swirling that the disease was circulating at CES.

Michael E. Webber even tweeted back on Jan. 18 that he had come down with a “weird respiratory cold that has made us sick for a week.” He noted he’d had his annual flu shot, and as news reports built up about the coronavirus spreading from China, Webber wrote “my paranoid self is convinced I have this new killer virus.”

Since the U.S. was conducting only limited tests at the time on people who had traveled recently from China, Webber and others sharing their experiences about the Vegas or CES flu weren’t tested for COVID-19. But on April 20, results of a blood test detected Webber’s past infection….  ”    Read more Hmmmm…  For a while, I’ve wondered what role CES played in the spread of Covid-19.  My wife is tired of me saying to her, the numbers don’t make sense.  Plus I’m only competent at doing “back of the envelope’ analyses. 


Facts are about 170,000 people attended CES 2020.  Let’s assume that 25% were there for one day, 50% for 2 days, 15% for 3, and 10% for 4 or more.  That gives us an average of better than 2 days per person.  In the first day, each person interacts closely with say 50 people and infects them at 10% rate (which may be very high, but needs to be because that’s the justification for the Social separation.). 5 new people become infected (but of course don’t become capable of infecting others until they go back home.)   On the second and subsequent days, each person interacts closely again with 50 people but half of them are the same as on the previous day(s).  2.25 more infections from the repeat group and 2.5 from the new group become infected. After 2 days we have 9.75 newly infected people.  An infected person staying 3 days would infect a little more than 14.25 people.  On average, call it 10 newly infected CES attendee for each pre CES infected person.


Each of those newly infected folks traveled home by going through airports and initiated breakouts in their home towns.  Maybe they didn’t interact with as many as they did @ CES nor as many new people each day but progressively over 5 or so days, they infected way more than one person. 5 would not be outrageous.  They didn’t know they had it and were oblivious of any potential consequences.   After just 2 “cycles” each pre-CES infected person  has infected 50 others. By the end of February almost half of the US is infected by each pre-CES infected person. 


Out of the 170,000 CES attendees say 5% came from China.  That’s 8,500 individuals.  Even if only 0.125% were infected, those 10 pre-CES infected individuals would have infected half of the planet by the first week of March when “herd immunity would have begun to kick in.  Exponential growth is nasty!   This implies that either many fewer than 0.125% of those attending CES had Covid-19, or it is hard for one person to infect another under “pre-Covid-19” human interactions or only a very small fraction of those infected by Covid-19 get really sick or even know that they’ve gotten it. (~less than 0.1%), or I’m completely screwy.  You choose.  (I know, I’m completely screwy!)


Then there is the Annual TRB Conference in Washington in mid January.  Order of magnitude fewer participants and percentage-wise maybe as many from China, but that’s an additional source producing 5 agents that went home after the conference and grow exponentially for a month and a half at non-trivial “R naughts”… Alain

  VW Admits Tesla’s Software And Autonomy Lead In Internal Communications

B. Anderson, April 28, “nternal communications viewed by German publication Automobilwoche addressed both the software lead Tesla has over its competitors as well as how its Autopilot semi-autonomous driving system is ahead of all rivals.

Diess reportedly told fellow executives that Tesla’s software is ahead of its own and “any other automobile manufacturer,” while admitting that it is giving him “headaches.” Diess added that Tesla’s customers appear won over by the ability to control the car through their smartphones….

“What worries me the most is the capabilities in the assistance systems,” he said. “500,000 Teslas function as a neural network that continuously collects data and provides the customer a new driving experience every 14 days with improved properties. No other automobile manufacturer can do that today.”…”  Read more Hmmmm… What??? “ability to control the car through their smartphones”??? Something is being lost in translation here.  Except for “StupidSummon” Teslas aren’t being controlled through their smartPhones.  What the smartPhones control isn’t what VW should be worried about.  AutoPilot and how Tesla sells cars and supports its customers is what VW should worry about.  Michael Sena, what do you think?? Alain

  Ford and Lincoln cancel Rivian-powered electric vehicle due to the pandemic

S. O’Kane, April 28, “Ford and its luxury brand Lincoln have canceled an all-electric SUV that was going to be powered by technology provided by EV startup Rivian, the companies told Automotive News on Tuesday.

Lincoln says it is still working closely with Rivian, including an “alternative vehicle” that will also be based on Rivian’s electric vehicle skateboard platform….”  Read more Hmmmm…  Ouch!  Alain

Tesla is working on pay-as-you-go subscription to its self-driving package

F. Lambert, April 28, “Tesla is working on a pay-as-you-go subscription to its “Full Self-Driving Capability” package in order to make its features more accessible.:… ” Read more Hmmmm…  $7k up front is non-trivial in a Post Covid-19 world.  They need to find a way to take the sting out of it.  They could use insurance premiums to provide some incentive.  They really must be safer than traditional actuaries give them credit for. Alain

   The Supercharged Race Car Driver 

K. Pyle, April 28, “Scott Falci is testing the bounds of the human-machine interface through the nonprofit he founded, Falci Adaptive Motorsports. The name describes what they do, as they are adapting race cars so they can be driven without using traditional controls. In one sense, what Falci and his team have done is like the hands-free control of a wheelchair; a wheelchair that races to 130 miles per hour.”  Read more Hmmmm… Very nice.  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



Calendar of Upcoming Events:s

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

4th Annual Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit

Princeton University

Princeton, NJ

On the More Technical Side