Friday, December 04, 2020
50th edition of the 8th year of SmartDrivingCars eLetter

  Nikola Teaches GM a Lesson

S. Wilmot, Nov 30, “Nikola Corp. NKLA 0.76% isn’t turning out to be the next Tesla that investors—and General Motors GM -0.67% —were hoping for.

The electric-vehicle startup put its eye-catching “Badger” pickup-truck project on ice Monday as part of a radically shrunken version of its deal with GM. All that is left of the original agreement signed in September is a plan for GM to supply Nikola with fuel-cell technology for U.S. big rigs.

Detroit’s biggest auto maker had planned to take an equity stake in Nikola in exchange for building the Badger under contract. But the deal has been in doubt almost from the start after a hedge-fund report detailed the limitations of Nikola’s technology, leading to the resignation of founder Trevor Milton.

GM won’t sell Nikola fuel cells soon. For all its fanfare about hydrogen, the startup is currently focused on battery-powered versions of its first electric truck, the “Tre.” It hopes to start full-scale production in the fourth quarter of next year in Germany and in early 2022 in Coolidge, Ariz. Hydrogen trucks won’t come before 2023, and in Europe Nikola is using Bosch as its fuel-cell supplier.    …”  Read more Hmmmm… Lessons for many in this endeavor.  See also Andrew Hawkin’s take as well as David Morris’.  Alain

  Nikola stock plunge continues as insider lockup period ends

T. Lee, Dec 1, “In June, aspiring hydrogen truckmaker Nikola became a publicly traded company thanks to a merger with a special-purpose acquisition company. That transaction included a 180-day lockup for company insiders, designed to prevent them from dumping their shares on unsuspecting investors in the first few days of trading.

Today is the first day those insiders can sell their shares, and Nikola’s stock price is down 15 percent. That’s on top of yesterday’s 26 percent decline after Nikola announced it was canceling its Badger pickup truck….” Read more Hmmmm…  More lessons.  Alain

  SmartDrivingCars Pod-Cast Episode 188 

F. Fishkin, Dec. 6, “The Nikola saga continues, AutoX goes fully driverless with robotaxis in China…plus Luminar, Tesla, TuSimple and more. Join Princeton University’s Alain Kornhauser and co-host Fred Fishkin for Episode 188 of Smart Driving Cars.”  Alexa, play the Smart Driving Cars podcast!“.  Ditto with Siri, and GooglePlay …  Alain

 SmartDrivingCars  Zoom-Cast Episode 188 

Video version of SmartDrivingCars PodCast 188  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.

  Self-driving robotaxis are taking off in China

M. Toh, “Dec 3, “The world has been inching toward fully autonomous cars for years. In China, one company just got even closer to making it a reality.

On Thursday, AutoX, an Alibaba (BABA)-backed startup, announced it had rolled out fully driverless robotaxis on public roads in Shenzhen. The company said it had become the first player in China to do so, notching an important industry milestone.
Previously, companies operating autonomous shuttles on public roads in the country were constrained by strict caveats, which required them to have a safety driver inside.
This program is different. In Shenzhen, AutoX has completely removed the backup driver or any remote operators for its local fleet of 25 cars, it said. The government isn’t restricting where in the city AutoX operates, though the company said they are focusing on the downtown area….”  Read more Hmmmm… Congratulations Jianxiong!   This is an enormously great accomplishment; however, the video doesn’t seem to be taken in “downtown” anywhere.  Almost looks like “Chandler”???)   Alain

  Lidar startup goes public, makes founder a billionaire

T. Lee, Dec 4, “Luminar founder Austin Russell has become one of the youngest self-made billionaires after his lidar company debuted on public markets on Thursday. Russell, 25, was just 17 when he founded Luminar in 2012. Shares of Luminar rose above $30 a share on Friday, a massive 43 percent gain for the day on top of big gains on Thursday.

Luminar has emerged as one of the leading companies in the fast-growing lidar industry.  Carmakers are expected to begin offering lidar as an advanced option for their vehicles in the next few years to enable better driver-assistance technology. Right now, lidar companies are vying to win contracts to supply these sensors….


In contrast, Luminar operates at 1,550nm. The fluid in the human eye is opaque to light at this wavelength, greatly reducing eye safety concerns. As a result, Luminar can pump a lot more power into its lasers and hence achieve longer range. …


This year has seen a boom in SPAC-based deals. ….


Luminar had a major win in May when it signed a deal with Volvo to supply lidar sensors for vehicles starting in 2022. It was one of the first such deals in the industry.  More recently, Luminar struck a deal to supply lidar sensors to Mobileye,…”  Read more Hmmmm… Assuming these deals don’t go the way of the GM/Nikola deal, then … In any even, congratulations Austin!!!! Alain

  Self-driving trucks startup TuSimple raises $350M from US rail, retail and freight giants

K. Korosec, Dec. 2, “Self-driving trucks startup TuSimple has closed a $350 million funding round from a diverse consortium of strategic investors that include major U.S. corporations in rail, retail and freight, according to sources familiar with the deal. 

The round, which was oversubscribed, was led by VectoIQ LLC, confirming a report by TechCrunch in September. VectoIQ is the consulting and investment company founded by Steve Girsky, the former GM vice chairman, consultant and investor whose special purpose acquisition company merged with hydrogen electric startup Nikola Corp. this summer.  …” Read more Hmmmm…  While the comment is that TuSimple is a “Self-driving” truck startup, to me, it looks more like a logistics company looking to move freight in any way which may include “Self-driving” trucks rather than a “Self-driving” truck company looking to move any freight. The question to me is, which is the tail and which is the dog.  Same question one may have with Nikola wrt hydrogen.   Alain

Los                                                           Angeles Times  Porsche launches effort to make carbon-neutral ‘e-gas’

R. Mitchell, Dec 2, “Porsche has no plan to make an electric version of its iconic 911 sports cars. So, how to ensure continued sales of its flagship model far into the future, when governments around the world, including California’s, are planning to eventually ban sales of new internal combustion cars?

Porsche’s answer: carbon-neutral “synthetic” gasoline that could fuel gas engines in any cars, not just Porsches.  …” Read more Hmmmm…  So EVs v ICEs to save the planet may not be “game over”?  See also last weeks’ reference to Michael Sena’s The Dispatcher.  Alain

  Emissions Test: Car vs. Truck vs. Leaf Blower

J. Kavanagh, Dec 5, 2011, “… Comparing Apples to Kumquats: Creating the Leaf Blower Test Cycle…

Therefore we needed to come up with a test for the leaf blowers that provided a basis of comparison to the vehicles, yet still reflects the way lawn equipment is actually used in practice. Observe leaf blowers in the wild and you’ll find they are very often operated at either full whack or idle. Our test would have to mimic this usage pattern….

The Results… In other words, this is a best-case scenario for the leaf blowers and a worst-case scenario for the vehicles. The data below are expressed in grams per minute:…

You’d have to drive a Raptor 235 miles — stopping every 505 seconds and doing cold restarts — to emit the same level of hydrocarbons as simply idling the two-stroke leaf blower for less than 10 minutes….  Read more  Hmmmm… I realize the above is 9 years old, and this is not, to my knowledge, peer reviewed, but: 1.  don’t use a 2-cycle anything, and details matter, as they do with EVs.  Thank you, Ken. Alain

  Elon Musk’s Boring Company teases first passenger station of the Las Vegas Loop

F. lambert, Dec 4, “Elon Musk’s Boring Company has released the first images teasing the first passenger station of the Las Vegas Loop ahead of its launch.  A Boring Company Loop system consists of tunnels in which Tesla autonomous electric vehicles travel at high speeds between stations to transport people within a city.

The first system is being deployed at the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCVA), which is paying $50 million for the system, but we recently learned that the Boring Company plans to connect the convention center’s Loop to casinos on the strip in order to eventually create a city-wide Loop in Las Vegas….” Read more  Hmmmm… And the beat goes on.  Underground PRT!  Note… the Operational design Domain here is: tunnel, no children playing ball, no pedestrians, no bicyclists, no rain/fog/snow, no mis-behaving drivers of conventional cars, no ….  Makes it pretty easy.   In about 1975, Jerome Lutin, … and I proposed, for Las Vegas, a similar, but above ground, PRT (Personal Rapid Transit) system.  It consisted of small, <6 passenger, pods running automated at close-headway providing highest quality, non-stop, on-demand service between stations located inside the airport, inside casinos and inside major attraction areas. Its Operational Design Domain was overhead exclusive guideway, no children playing ball, no ….   We even suggested that it could be free if only we could place slot machines inside each pod.  Unfortunately, what we failed to realize is that 1. personal mobility for visitors in Las Vegas is closely held/protected by the taxi industry, and 2. none of the casinos were the least bit interested in efficient, high-quality mobility for anyone to easily go from their casino to a competitor until that person’s cash&credit was dissipated.  We couldn’t have been more naive and stupid.  (I’m not suggesting that Elon is either naive or stupid.  Today, some/many of the casinos are owned/controlled by the same entity, so high-quality mobility among those under common control is not undesirable.  Moreover,  the conventional taxi industry may have its hands full with the competition from Uber/Lyft.)  Alain

  Automakers propose policy changes to speed self-driving vehicle roll-out

R. Beggin, Dec. 2, “The Alliance for Automotive Innovation — which represents most major automakers including General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV — among other things asked federal policymakers to create a new vehicle class for AVs, and asked state policymakers to harmonize their policies to make it easier for automakers to test and deploy AVs across different states.

“We are releasing this policy roadmap now because we are at a critical time in the development of this technology. Companies have invested billions of dollars into the research and development of this technology and those investments are paying off,” said John Bozzella, president of the Alliance. 

Existing safety standards vary by type of vehicle, but they all assume the presence of a human driver, which automakers say stymies a mass roll out of AVs. The group proposes creating a new class for AVs that would include applicable safety standards or updating existing standards to include AVs “as expeditiously as possible.”…” Read more Hmmmm… For some time now I’ve also been calling for the creation of a new modal administration (I imagine what the Alliance is calling a “new class”) for Driverless vehicles (which I’m imagining is what the Alliance is calling AVs). We should begin with the terminology and not include the SAE’s “Levels” which embrace zero semantic information. Alain

   Cruise CEO: Self-driving car market is ‘literally trillions of dollars’

R. Hackett, Dec 1, “Dan Ammann, CEO of Cruise, the self-driving technology subsidiary of GM, is planning to hit the streets of San Francisco this month after receiving permission from California’s Department of Motor Vehicles in October to run fully unmanned vehicle tests there.

At Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech virtual conference on Tuesday, Ammann showed a video of a couple of Cruise’s autonomous cars—still featuring human backup drivers—zipping through the busy city. The demo displayed a representation of the cars’ fields of vision, including Cruise’s computer-modeling of routes, traffic, pedestrians, and other urban obstacles….” Read more Hmmmm…  Very nice interview.  Alain

  Emissions Test: Car vs. Truck vs. Leaf Blower

J. Kavanagh, Dec 5, 2011, “… Comparing Apples to Kumquats: Creating the Leaf Blower Test Cycle…

Therefore we needed to come up with a test for the leaf blowers that provided a basis of comparison to the vehicles, yet still reflects the way lawn equipment is actually used in practice. Observe leaf blowers in the wild and you’ll find they are very often operated at either full whack or idle. Our test would have to mimic this usage pattern….

The Results… In other words, this is a best-case scenario for the leaf blowers and a worst-case scenario for the vehicles. The data below are expressed in grams per minute:…

You’d have to drive a Raptor 235 miles — stopping every 505 seconds and doing cold restarts — to emit the same level of hydrocarbons as simply idling the two-stroke leaf blower for less than 10 minutes….  Read more  Hmmmm… I realize the above is 9 years old, and it is not, to my knowledge, peer reviewed, but 1.  don’t use a 2 cycle anything, and 2. wrt ICEs, details matter, as they do with EVs.  Thank you, Ken. Alain

  Uber reportedly will sell its flying taxi business to secretive startup Joby Aviation

A. Hawkins, Dec 2, “Uber’s ambitious and quixotic effort to launch a flying taxi service is coming in for a landing. According to Axios, the ride-hailing company has agreed to sell its Uber Elevate division to secretive startup Joby Aviation.

The news comes as Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi attempts to push his company closer to profitability, which includes the sale of the money-losing parts of the business. The company is also said to be exploring the sale of its autonomous vehicle division….” Read more  Hmmm…  Building any kind of substantial airTaxi business any time soon is very unlikely; however, I continue to contend that Driverless cars are Uber’s only/most likely means of earning its pre-IPO valuation.  Realizing that everything is Make or Buy, driverless operation is so fundamental to Uber’s business proposition that the price of buying it will flow the profits of operating it to the maker of the Driverless software/hardware leaving Uber with the responsibility of the operation without the ability to capture the profits. Alain                    

  Revel pulls electric mopeds after failing to make a dent in Austin’s car culture

K. Korosec, Dec. 4, “Shared electric moped startup Revel  said Friday that it will shut down its service in Austin later this month.

The startup’s CEO and co-founder Frank Reig didn’t place the entire blame on the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused ridership to fall across shared micromobility services as well as public transit, for the company’s decision. Instead, Reig cited the combination of Austin’s “deep-rooted” car culture, which has only become further engrained during COVID. The service will shut down in Austin on December 18.

“When Revel came to Austin we knew there would be challenges,” Reig wrote in the statement that was posted on Twitter. “In addition to having a less dense urban core than our other markets, the city’s deep-rooted car culture was proven difficult to penetrate, especially during COVID.”…  ”  Read more  It isn’t easy to get started with any new mobility system.  Alain

  Moovit launches its first on-demand ridesharing service in the US near Detroit, with Smart Bus

T. Stone, Nov 25, “Moovit launches its first on-demand ridesharing service in the US near Detroit, with Smart Bus…”  Read more  Hmmmm…  Isn’t this back to the Dial-a-Ride visions of 50 years ago???   Alain

  Volvo thinks gaming tech can help make self-driving cars safer

M. Beedham, Nov, 2020, “…”  Read more  Hmmmm… Maybe not as old as Dial-a-Ride, but not a new concept.  What do you think Chenyi and Artur and … did ~5 years ago?  Alain


    Draft Program   4th Annual Princeton SmartDrivingCarSummit   Postponed until  1st Episode at noon on Dec. 17, 2020  and, Starting in January, followed by 14 more weekly episodes  through to March 18, 2021.  Each episode starting Live on Zoom @ noon Eastern (Princeton Time) and lasting for 1.5 hours or until Discussion with audience ends. 

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



  CEO of Yandex Self Driving Group predicts that autonomous vehicles will roam freely around major cities within five years

S. Ghosh,  Dec 3, “…”  Read more Hmmmm…  I guess that pumping it up like this is important to a “Business Insider”, which in itself, the term “insider” has connotations on cheater. Ask Martha.  Alain

  Subaru Announces The World’s First Self-Driving Maneuver With A New Forester SUV

D. Fliert, Nov 24, “… The Japanese automaker, along with SoftBank Corp., teamed up using an autonomous driving control utilizing the 5th generation mobile communication system 5G and cellular V2X.

Subaru says the Forester SUV successfully merged using the new technology for the first time in the world….”  Read more Hmmmm…  How many “millions of times” have other “Self-driving” systems successfully merged in much more challenging situations without using even 1G and (I know it is redundant) cellular V2X.  What is being touted for what reason here?? Alain 

E&T                                                           logo Automated vehicle drivers fail to keep their eyes on the road, study finds

Staff, Dec 2, “Drivers can become overly reliant on the technology …”  Read more  Hmmmm… One need not look beyoud the title to “Say what”??!!??  (“Automated Vehicle Driver”:  If Automated; why the Driver; if the Driver is expected to play a role, then it is at best “partially automated”.  Language is being substantially misued to a point where it is impossible to understand what anyone is doing or tying to do.   There is no “overreliance” by “drivers”.  They’ve been told (over sold) that the car’s driving has been automated.  It in not unreasonable that the driver would them not need to keep their eyes on the road.  The fault is with the way that the capabilities of the car have been described to the p[articipants, not the behavior of the participants.   If I’m told that my toll is going to be taken automatically from my EZ Pass account, I’m not trying to pay attention to how the toll is beng collected as I go through the high speed automateed lanes and they certainly don’t want me to stop and look for some basket that will capture my coins as I throw them.  However, if it is semi-automated and there is some task on my end that I need to do to pay the toll, then I, and most people, will pay close attention to the location of that basket in which I need to throw my coins.  Alain 

  Gone in 90 seconds: Belgian security researchers demonstrate how to break into Tesla Model X in minutes

S. Sharma, Nov 24, “… The security researchers used two weaknesses in Tesla Model X’s modern system to gain full access to the car and drive away. They used a self-made kit that costs around €168. Do note that the researchers notified Tesla of the weakness and the company is pushing a patch as part of the 2020.48 over-the-air (OTA) software update that fixes the exploits. …”  Read more   Hmmmm… We have come a long way.  It used to take only about 9 seconds to use a €1.68 shim to gain full access to a ’55 Chevy, jump it and drive it away.  Not saying that I that in my yute.  Alain


Calendar of Upcoming Events:s

4th Annual PrincetonSmartDrivingCar Summit

Postponed, to be a Virtual Series 

1st Live Episode noon ET Thursday, Dec.10

Princeton University

Princeton, NJ

On the More Technical Side