Thursday, August 13, 2020
34th edition of the 8th year of SmartDrivingCars

  The 100-Year History of Self-Driving Cars  

A. Townsend, Aug. 3, “he first self-driving vehicles were ships. After centuries of wrestling with wind and waves, ancient sailors devised contraptions that harnessed these forces of nature to fill in for man. They were simple but ingenious solutions, like the sheet-to-tiller system, which is still used today.

To rig it, you simply take the jib sheet (the rope that controls the smaller sail up front) and run it around a pulley and back across the deck. Finish by tying the bitter end to the tiller (the stick that steers the boat). Now, when a gust hits and the boat starts to round up into the wind, the jib will pull the rope around the pulley and yank the tiller, steering the vessel back the opposite way.
Tricks like this helped clever mariners relieve the fatigue of long shifts at the helm during the Age of Sail. You can use it to crack open a cold one and enjoy the spray as your yacht plows through the whitecaps like a train on rails. And while tillers were repurposed to steer the first automobiles, this old technique didn’t make the leap from sea to land — though we can imagine some frightful, fruitless attempts to make it do so. By 1891, the introduction of the steering wheel, by Benz, put the matter to rest.
On land, self-steering actually got harder when machines replaced animals. Motorization was a vast improvement over draft animals’ muscle power, but the gain came at the expense of brain power. It had long been common for riders on horseback, and even cart drivers, to fall asleep at the reins. Their dutiful animals would simply keep following the road or stop dead in their tracks.
Cars and trucks, however, needed drivers to guide them second by second. Their soaring popularity, combined with the growing risks posed by their weight and speed, birthed a variety of experimental self-steering schemes. One 1925 demonstration of a remotely controlled vehicle in New York City offered a glimpse of driverless autos to come, simultaneously tantalizing and terrifying the public. Cruising down Broadway before thousands of onlookers, the optimistically named American Wonder drove “as if a phantom hand were at the wheel,” reported the New York Times.

In the 1920s, motor vehicles claimed tens of thousands of lives annually — a death rate 18 times higher than today. This new technology promised to render city streets safe once again. But those hopes were soon dashed when the futuristic vehicle’s operators lost control — first at Sixty-Second Street and again moments later at Columbus Circle — before finally crashing the would-be wonder into another vehicle.
Despite this early misstep, the auto industry continued to daydream about remote-controlled cars. At the 1939 World’s Fair, the Futurama exhibit by General Motors featured an enormous motorized diorama of an American city. Free-flowing highways plied by self-driving cars, trucks, and buses crisscrossed bustling districts of slender skyscrapers. There was even a “traffic control tower” where, the future city’s designers imagined, dispatchers would direct the movements of tens of thousands of vehicles by radio. By the 1950s, guide wires embedded in the road surface had replaced radio as the preferred technology for remote-controlled vehicles. Ironically, it was RCA, the Radio Corporation of America, that staged the first successful demonstration of this approach in the 1950s….”  Read more Hmmmm….  CliffsNotes to his new book Ghost Road.  Alain

  SmartDrivingCars PodCast 169 w/Anthony Townsend

F. Fishkin Aug 13, “Ghost Road.. Beyond the Driverless Car author Anthony Townsend brings a unique viewpoint to the debate on the future of mobility…and the impact of the pandemic on ride sharing. Townsend joins Princeton’s Alain Kornhauser and co-host Fred Fishkin for that and the latest developments from Uber, Lyft, Tesla and more.Alexa, play the Smart Driving Cars podcast!“.  Ditto with Siri, and GooglePlay …  Alain

SmartDrivingCars ZoomCast Episode169 w/Anthony Townsend

Video version of SmartDrivingCars PodCast 169  Alain

   The SmartDrivingCars eLetter, Pod-Casts, Zoom-Casts and Zoom-inars are made possible in part by support from the Smart Transportation and Technology ETF, symbol MOTO.   For more information:  Most funding is supplied by Princeton University’s Department of Operations Research & Financial Engineering and Princeton Autonomous Vehicle Engineering (PAVE) research laboratory as part of its research dissemination initiatives.

  Hyundai’s autonomous vehicle project with Aptiv will now be called Motional

A. Hawkins, Aug. 11, “Hyundai’s autonomous vehicle joint venture with Aptiv has a new name: Motional. The company, which plans to test fully driverless vehicles for ride-hailing services later this year, said the new name is meant to evoke the “motion” of transportation as well as the “emotion” of the decision to get somewhere safely.

The joint venture was first announced in March 2020, when Hyundai said it would spend $1.6 billion to catch up to its rivals in the autonomous vehicle space. Aptiv, a self-driving technology company that is an offshoot of global auto parts supplier Delphi, owns 50 percent of the venture.

Karl Iagnemma, the former CEO of self-driving startup NuTonomy that was acquired by Delphi in 2017, is now president and CEO of Motional. In an interview, he said the company’s fleet of vehicles that are operating in Las Vegas, Singapore, and Seoul will soon be rebranded with the “Motional” brand.

“Whether we like it or not these days transportation decisions are emotional decisions,” Iagnemma said. “Choosing how to get from A to B safely, that’s an emotional decision. So Motional will keep that insight central to every product we develop.”…”  Read more Hmmmm….  Notional should start testing in Trenton’s Operational Design Domain where there exists real need for affordable high-quality mobility between many As and Bs at any time serving anyone.   Alain

Uber CEO says its service will probably shut down temporarily in California if it’s forced to classify drivers as employees

L. Feiner, Aug 12, “Uber would likely shut down temporarily for several months if a court does not overturn a recent ruling requiring it to classify its drivers as full-time employees, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in an interview with Stephanie Ruhle on Wednesday on MSNBC.

“If the court doesn’t reconsider, then in California, it’s hard to believe we’ll be able to switch our model to full-time employment quickly,” Khosrowshahi said.

Uber and rival Lyft both have about a week left to appeal a preliminary injunction granted by a California judge on Monday that will prohibit the companies from continuing to classify their drivers as independent workers. Following the order will require Uber and Lyft to provide benefits and unemployment insurance for workers….”  Read more Hmmmm…. Will California classify automated driving systems as employees?  Because of the peaking of demand during the day, driving is NOT a full-time job for but a few. If the job pays a living wage with benefits, it is affordable only to the very rich or those using someone else’s money. Time for Uber and Lyft to really bring on Driverless. Alain

  Expert: Policy for autonomous vehicle industry is “like the Wild West”

O. Rummier, Aug 11. “A lack of federal policy has hampered the autonomous car industry’s transparency with communities where the vehicles are tested, American University professor Selika Josiah Talbott said during a virtual Axios event on Tuesday.

What she’s saying: “We need guidelines. Right now, it’s like the Wild West. We need bumpers in place so we don’t have rogue actions testing vehicles on the roadway and possibly causing harm to the general public,” Talbott said.

The big picture: A patchwork of state laws on autonomous vehicles exists because “state by state, they have different implications for the use of their drivers license, for the revenue that these cities and governments get from our driving actions each and every day,” Talbott said.

Although the federal government has said it doesn’t want to impede innovation, Talbott said that “from one state to the next, we don’t know who’s driving these vehicles or having these vehicles on our roadway, we don’t know the crash rate of these vehicles.”
When driverless cars are tested in communities, people are often unaware. “We don’t have PSAs out there, we’re not informing the general public of what is happening in their neighborhoods and in their community,” she said.
The bottom line: “When it comes to who should be acting and how they should be acting, we have a tug of war between localities and the federal government,” Talbott said….”    Read more Hmmmm…. Amazing how so very few are really focused on the opportunity to provide high-quality affordable mobility to those that are mobility marginalized (those that for whatever reason can’t drive themselves from where they are to where they want to go when they want to go.  Those folks are largely women, minorities, the poor, the young and the old.  And not white supremacist who tend to have their Jeeps, F-150s, Hummers nor rich closet … who have their Beemers and Benzes.  See also, A conversation on the future of autonomous vehicles

  Uber and Lyft ordered by California judge to classify drivers as employees

J. Peters, Aug. 10, “A California judge ruled that Uber and Lyft must classify their drivers as employees in a stunning preliminary injunction issued Monday afternoon. The injunction is stayed for 10 days, however, giving Uber and Lyft an opportunity to appeal the decision. Uber said it planned to file an immediate emergency appeal to block the ruling from going into effect.

Uber and Lyft are under increasing pressure to fundamentally alter their business models in California, the state where both companies were founded and ultimately prospered. At issue is the classification of ride-hailing drivers as independent contractors. Uber and Lyft say drivers prefer the flexibility of working as freelancers, while labor unions and elected officials contend this deprives them of traditional benefits like health insurance and workers’ compensation.”…”  Read more Hmmmm….  This makes them no better and possibly worse than conventional taxi companies.  Only opportunity to scale is via driverless.   Alain

  SpaceX is manufacturing 120 Starlink internet satellites per month

M. Sheetz, Aug, 10, “SpaceX is manufacturing its Starlink satellites at an unprecedented rate for the space industry, analysts say, as the company dives headlong into building a space-based global internet service.

Elon Musk’s company told the Federal Communications Commission in a presentation last month that its  Starlink unit is “now building 120 satellites per month” and has “invested over $70 million developing and producing thousands of consumer user terminals per month.”…”  Read more Hmmmm….  Who would have thought…. build a reusable launch system to launch thousands of your own satellites. (and then win a DoD contract to launch 40% of theirs.  Brilliant!)   Alain

  IBM Enhances The Weather Company Max Traffic Solution with Vizzion Camera Network

Press release, Aug. 13, “Vizzion, provider of the largest traffic camera network in the world, is pleased to announce a new partnership with The Weather Company, an IBM Business, to integrate traffic camera imagery, streams, and data into its Max Traffic broadcast solution. Through the partnership, Max Traffic customers are able to use imagery and video feeds from Vizzion’s US and Canada camera network in broadcast traffic and weather reports, boosting viewer engagement and giving audiences a live, hyper-local look at road conditions.

Research has shown that 83% of television news viewers watch the morning news for traffic, providing broadcasters an opportunity to showcase their content and start their audience’s day off right. In addition, 59% of traffic viewers want their traffic content delivered in the context of an integrated weather and traffic report.[1]…” Read more Hmmmm….  Many years ago, soon after the launch of the Weather Channel one of my students in a sophomore intro course did a term project  creating a Traffic Channel  (“trafficTainment”) complete with highlights of the crash-of-the-day and much more.   (Un) Fortunately he went on to bigger and better things.  I’m so glad I don’t watch the TV, the News Channels, the Weather Channel or the Traffic Channel.  Watch video.  Personally, I much prefer CoPilot’s elegant “Thermometer” display of the delay on my best route ahead when I’m traveling.  It simply let’s me know what’s important ahead.  I don’t need to be burdened by everyone else’s problems ahead of them.  Alain  

  Chinese Tesla rival Xpeng Motors files for New York IPO

A. Kharpal, Aug. 10, “Chinese electric car start-up Xpeng Motors has filed for an initial public offering (IPO) on the New York Stock Exchange, according to an official filing.

While the company did not disclose how many Class A ordinary shares it would sell, Xpeng Motors said it would sell 429,846,136 class B ordinary shares, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing published Friday. It also said it plans to raise a placeholder amount of $100 million, a figure that will likely change….”  Read more Hmmmm… Is this the Tesla Fashion knock-off that will be sold on Canal Street in NYC?   Do you want the real Tesla or the fake Tesla????  Has any Fashion knock-off ever made it big???  Alain

Corner case Video

Staff, Aug. 2020, See video Hmmmm…. Complements to Jon Niles for sharing, just in case one needed some corner cases to test in one’s simulation environment.  There also exists the proliferation of dash cam crash videos, Plus Elon must have many/all of the Tesla crash and near misses.  Placing many of these in a virtual simulation environment could provide a benchmark for driverless systems.  Alain

  Tesla’s stock run leads to 5-1 share split

C. Assis, Aug. 12, “The move was geared to “make stock ownership more accessible to employees and investors,” the company said. Tesla (TSLA) shares have more than tripled so far this year.

Each shareholder of record as of Aug. 21 will receive a dividend of four additional shares of common stock for each then-held share, to be distributed after the close on Aug. 28, Tesla said.  Trading on a stock split-adjusted basis will begin on Aug. 31, it said.

The split is a recognition that the market “is increasingly influenced by individual investors, including those looking to gain exposure to next-generation transportation trends,” Baird analyst Ben Kallo wrote in a note Wednesday….”  Read more Hmmmm…. Whew!!!  What a Fashion Statement!  Alain

  Automated transport could propel development forward. Can we turn the vision into reality?

A. Lokshin, Aug. 11, “The transport sector has always unleashed the creativity of engineers, inventors, and problem solvers of all kinds. But even the greatest innovations don’t always come to life. After the early excitement of the public and investors, the vast majority (70% to 97%) of new ideas do not survive the “trough of disillusionment,” and only a lucky few end up being widely adopted.

This certainly applies to the field of transport automation. Despite impressive technological strides, attempts to automate transport operations are usually met with reactions that can range from mild skepticism to downright hostility.

Yet automated transport solutions could bring significant benefits to both developing and developed countries, including lower operating costs, greater flexibility, and higher safety standards. If we get it right, automation could ultimately make transport “smarter” and address many adverse consequences of our current mobility system: road fatalities, pollution, congestion, time and productivity losses, etc… ”  Read more Hmmmm….  While they do refer to the elevator analogy, they completely miss the implications of the automation of elevators… that it allowed elevators to serve demand 24/7 even when the magnitude of that demand is small.  When large,  one can easily afford human labor. (the hat hat can be passed around the many riders and collect enough to pay the human operator.)  But when demand is small, the hat comes back empty.  Then you need a driver whose variable cost is essentially zero… computers, sensors, software.  Automation really doesn’t do much for high speed trains, Bus rapid Transit and large city buses.  It is game changing for small on-demand shuttles and vans.  Alain

  COVID-19 Key Statistics Update, July 24, 2020

D. Hall, July 24, “The COVID-19 pandemic that began in December 2019 continues. Some parts of the world that experienced significant numbers of cases in the winter and spring have brought SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, under control. Other parts of the world have begun to experience the pandemic only more recently. The coronavirus continues to spread in the U.S., where cases appeared in February, and significant numbers of cases were first recorded in March. This report shows updates through July 22, 2020 to selected graphs from the Key Statistics section of the comprehensive report….”  Read more Hmmmm….  Continues to be the best presentation of the data, in my opinion.  NY Times tried looking at death certificate data (apparently from the CDC’s WONDER database) in The True Coronavirus Toll in the U.S. Has Already Surpassed 200,000,  however, their graphs are “eye candy” and unreadable.  Lately the NY Times  has been doing a really good job at visually presenting data for information purposes until this initiative.  If the objective is to gain comparative insight, one must have all graphs be at the same scale!  (There may even be a deeper issue here as to the accuracy of the statistical analysis of this internal NY Times analysis.  Who peer-reviewed this report?)  Alain

  Assessing the Experience of Providers and Users of Transportation Network Company Ride sharing Services

E. Morris, May 2019, ” This report studies driver and traveler attitudes towards Liverpool and Lyft Shared, Uber and Lyft’s services that take advantage of data connectivity and analytics to match travelers on the fly so they can share rides. We conducted a survey of over 300 drivers and over 1100 Uber/Lyft travelers in the cities where shared service is offered. We included travelers who use the services regularly, those who have tried the services but have given them up, and those who use Uber/Lyft but do not use the shared services. We also mined Twitter and examined over 2000 tweets about the services. We find that drivers tend to be dissatisfied with providing these services, citing what they perceive to be unfair compensation, the difficulty of the work (such as picking up and dropping off numerous passengers), and problems dealing with passengers (for example when passengers do not get along with each other or become frustrated with the travel time). Passenger attitudes are more mixed, with passengers appreciating the cost savings but citing problems such as long travel times and unreliability. Some users and non-users, particularly women, also express concerns about safety. The social experience and helping the environment do not appear to be major attractions for riding, although we find that sharing humorous anecdotes about other passengers has become something of a meme on Twitter. We find that a substantial number of respondents will not try the services or have given up use of them, and thus we offer numerous suggestions for improving shared service, including increasing driver compensation; changing the pricing system by increasing the cost of non-shared rides and reducing and restructuring the cost of shared rides; and improving the social experience, for example by allowing passengers to rate each other, more aggressively banning bad passengers, allowing women the option of sharing with only women, and using Facebook to inform passengers when they have things in common. …”  Read more  Hmmm…  This has some really good information focused on ride-sharing in ride-hailing.  I consider the findings to be fundamental and should not be radically changed by Covid.  Alain

  Tesla Train Fire in North Platte, NE

Post, Aug 1, “… “Recently, there was an unfortunate occurrence resulting in the loss of an entire auto rack full of Tesla electric automobiles in North Platte.  A UP manager relayed that when Tesla officials arrived several days later to examine the rail car, they gave instructions upon entering the car, that if they collapsed, to not come in after them.  The UP managers were told to call the first res ponders and tell them “I may have been electrocuted with up to 480 volts”.  He explained that some of the battery cells may still be conducting current and the entire rail car could have potentially been energized by any number of the batteries.  

I examined the [train] car and took these photographs….

photo link:

As you can see, the cause of the fire is not known, as of now. Personally, I think it is plausible to say that there might have been a battery failure in one of the 3/Y on board. Nebraska is also wicked hot right now so that might also have something to do with it. Again come to your own conclusion, but there is no explicit reason stated as of now….”  Read more  Hmmm…  See also… Fire crews battle blaze at Bailey Yard  and  Union Pacific rail yard in North Platte site of large fire   Alain

    Draft Program   4th Annual Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit   Postponed until Evening Oct. 20 through Oct. 22, 2020 (But will likely need to be completely Virtual, possibly in “Second life)

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


Transportation official: Los Angeles is using driverless technology to improve pedestrian safety

O. Gummier, Aug. 11, “…  Reynolds sees layering automation into buses as an opportunity to improve safety while freeing bus drivers to be “trained for more community functions,” like assisting riders with disabilities, de-escalating conflicts and addressing medical emergencies… Read more Hmmmm…Nice, but… if this is one of your lead reasons for automation, then you are no where near capturing the real value of automation… providing affordable high-quality mobility for the mobility disadvantaged which has opportunities to deliver societal values that are many orders of magnitude more than pedestrian safety can deliver.  Alain


Calendar of Upcoming Events:s

 DrivingTheDebate Episode 006

AV Shark-Tank:

Topic to be announced

August 24 @ 2pm New York Time

Register Here

Postponed, to be Virtual, Evening Oct. 20 -> Oct 22.

4th Annual Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit

Princeton University

Princeton, NJ

On the More Technical Side