Friday, January 15, 2021’sLastStand-011521
2nd edition of the 9th year of SmartDrivingCars eLetter

  AUTOMATED VEHICLES:  Comprehensive Plan

E. Chao, Jan. 2021, “The Automated Vehicles Comprehensive Plan (Comprehensive Plan) describes how the United States Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) is supporting the safe integration of Automated Driving Systems (ADS)2 into the surface transportation system. It explains Departmental goals related to ADS, identifies actions being taken to meet those goals, and provides real-world examples of how these Departmental actions relate to emerging ADS applications…   ”  Read more  Hmmmm…  I guess this is a good plan.  Of course, Safety is #1, as it should be. DoT’s #1 public responsibility is Safety.  Whether Cyber Security and Privacy are # 2 and 3  and ahead of Enhanced Mobility and Accessibility is certainly debatable.  And if the Enhanced Mobility and Accessibility of the “mobility disadvantaged that have been left behind by our current favored transport system”  were to be a category, then that one should be right behind Safety at #2 if not ahead of Safety and a solid #1.  The rest. as they should, are appropriately details.  What is most disconcerting about the report are the images. To me, those images depict the current “haves”, not “have-nots” and thus don’t really address the mobility needs and desires of those whose quality-of-life could be most enhanced by automation technology.  These images seem to focus the Plan on giving those that already have pretty good ways to get around, yet another way to get around, where, when you finally get right down to it, may at best be only slightly better than what they already have.  This Comprehensive Plan should first be focused on providing high-quality affordable mobility to those whose quality-of-life could be most improved by such new technologies  and subsequently serve those that already enjoy and can afford other high-quality forms of mobility.

Also, Elaine, thank you for a really good 4 years.  You (and USDoT) were really the star of what was otherwise a most embarrassing Presidency. Also, thanks to Diana Furchtgott-Roth and many others in US DoT.  Alain

   SmartDrivingCars Pod-Cast Episode 194 Zoom-Cast Episode 194  w/Anuj Pradhan UMass

F. Fishkin, Jan. 15, “”When it comes to vehicle safety technology…should manufacturers be sharing instead of competing? Should there be standardization? Anuj Pradhan, co-director of the Human Performance Lab at UMASS Amherst joins Princeton’s Alain Kornhauser and co-host Fred Fishkin for that…plus the latest from GM, Tesla, Mobileye, Nio and more.”  Alexa, play the Smart Driving Cars podcast!“.  Ditto with Siri, and GooglePlay …  Alain

  4th Annual Princeton  SmartDrivingCars Summit

4th Live Episode on Zoom

Why Customers are Buying Them

The Unique Selling Proposition for Cars with Automated Driver Assistance Systems

noon ET, Thursday, Jan 21

Video Summary of 1st Session  Setting the Stage

Princeton University

Princeton, NJ

   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.


G. Allen, Jan 2021, “… The guidelines provide a flexible mechanism to encourage innovation while maintaining safety. They aim to accommodate a range of different automated vehicle technologies and applications, and the management of trials will allow for these differences. For example, the risks posed by the trial of a single, low-speed, driverless shuttle on a set route will be different from those for a trial of a fleet of heavy vehicles on a motorway….

… An automated vehicle trial is not to be considered a deployment of automated vehicles, the requirements for which are still under development….”  Read more Hmmmm… If one is going to be using public roads to test one’s technology, this seems like appropriate guidelines that the public should impose in return for the use of those public assets to test one’s technology.  Alain

Moynihan Train Hall: It’s Stunning. And, a First Step

M. Kimmelman, Jan 11, “The $1.6 billion Moynihan Train Hall opened at dawn on New Year’s morning — on budget, too, even a couple of months early. Instagram swooned. Tweeters channeled Stefon from “Saturday Night Live.”

In the midst of everything else, we needed this. New York needs this.

No, the huge, lofty train hall, with its soaring skylights, doesn’t magically resurrect the old Pennsylvania Station or extinguish the raging dumpster fire that is the current one. It leaves all sorts of herculean challenges and tasks around Penn Station unresolved. But it delivers on its promise, giving the city the uplifting gateway it deserves. When was the last time you could say something like that about a public works project?…

Skeptics had expressed fears that the new train hall would be just another publicly subsidized shopping mall masquerading as a railway station like the $4 billion Oculus at the World Trade Center. (I can’t think of a recent project that did more to squander public faith or sour New Yorkers on the value of architecture.)…”   Read more Hmmmm…Ouch!!!! I agree!!! Alain

  Holiday Surge in Travel Exceeds Last Year for Trips to Places between 50 and 500 Miles Away, but Is Still Less Than Last Year for Local Travel and Trips Over 500 miles

BTS, Jan 8, ” This holiday season, a typical day saw more people staying home.
As the charts below show, on average, a greater percentage of Americans stayed home each day this holiday season (12/18/2020 – 1/3/2021) than during the previous year. Similar to Thanksgiving travel, Washington, DC, and New York State led the nation in the percentage of people staying home. California joined them as the third area with the greatest percentage of people staying home each day on average during the holiday period….”  Read more Hmmmm…Very interesting! Alain

  Federal rule change would exempt self-driving cars from crash standards

Bloomberg, Jan 14, “President Donald Trump’s administration is starting to update federal motor vehicle safety standards to exempt self-driving cars from crashworthiness standards that are applied to cars operated by humans, a move questioned by safety advocates.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced Thursday it’s beginning to craft rules to “clarify ambiguities in current occupant protection standards for vehicles equipped with automated driving systems that are designed without traditional manual driver controls.”

The rule-making process would be conducted under the administration of President-elect Joe Biden, who is to be inaugurated Jan. 20. But consumer safety advocates say new rules are needed for driverless vehicles instead of exempting them from existing regulations….”  Read more Hmmmm…  I tend to agree, especially wrt driverless cars and trucks.  These are substantially new technologies and deserve their own “modal” administration, rather being an asterisk on a conventional mode.  Alain

Saving a Railroad – Changing His Trajectory – Part 3 of a Conversation with Dr. Kornhauser

K. Pyle, Dec. 21, “It started with a phone call at the end of the 1975 Spring semester. Representative James J. Florio’s office was looking for expert help to evaluate a reorganization plan for the bankrupt railroads in the Northeast Corridor. In many ways, the eyes of the entire country were on this potential legislation and it involved the largest bankruptcy (PDF), Penn Central, in U.S. history……” Read more  Hmmmm… We had a nice conversation.  Thank you Ken.  Alain

  Nio ET7 First Look: Jumping Headfirst Into Autonomous Driving

N. Yekikian, Jan 11, “If you aren’t familiar with Chinese automaker Nio, there’s a good chance you’re not alone. The Chinese brand sprung up seemingly overnight, hit a rough patch in 2020, but appears to be back and forging ahead with new models. Nio already makes three SUVs—the ES8, EC6, and ES6—and today it took the wraps off of the ET7, their first fully autonomous electric vehicle….

To make the ET7 fully autonomous, Nio’s own Autonomous Driving tech (or NAD for short) comes as an optional subscription service and is powered by 33 sensors in and around the car. The ET7 has 11 eight-megapixel cameras on board, one ultra long range LiDAR unit, five millimeter-wave radar cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and two positioning units (V2X and ADMS). In total, the system can generate up to eight gigabytes of data per second. … Read more  Hmmmm… Sounds like Nio ET7 is brute force rather than elegant.  I sure hope it has an “optimal forgetting algorithm” that throws away most of those data to determine the few pearls of wisdom that will keep it from crashing.  My advice to the driver is… Don’t stop paying close attention to the road ahead.  As with many things, more is not necessarily better.  Also, like many other things that sound too good to be true, they may well not be.  We meed some real fact checking here.  Sounds too Nikolaish to me Alain

An Early Nikola Investor Sells All Its Stock

A. Root, Jan. 15, “Steel manufacturer Worthington Industries, an early Nikola investor, finished selling all its Nikola stock this week. The small-cap company realized more than $600 million by providing seed capital to the hydrogen-powered trucking start-up years ago.

Worthington (ticker: WOR) sold about 7 million Nikola shares (NKLA) for roughly $147 million on Jan. 13. That works out to a price of about $21 a share.

The transaction was the third big Nikola sale for Worthington. The company sold stock last August, bringing in $250 million. And it had earlier sold stock in July, bringing in another $238 million. Overall, Worthington sold its Nikola stake for an average price of around $34 a share.  The $600-plus million total is impressive—especially for a company with a market capitalization of roughly $3 billion. But it doesn’t answer the question: Why did Worthington invest in a hydrogen-powered trucking start-up at all?   … ”  Read more  Hmmmm…Wow, someone is still willg to pay $21/share.  Alain

  Many couldn’t afford a car in 2020. The rich went on a buying spree

R. Mitchell, Jan 8, “New auto sales data shows a sharp divide between a surging market for luxury trucks and SUVs and soft sales for vehicles under $30,000…”  Read more  Hmmmm… What we may well find is that the pandemic really let the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  Totally unfair! Alain

  Tesla claims you are ‘7x less likely to be in a crash’ with Autopilot, but the data is not that clear

F. Lambert, Jan 14., “… Today, Tesla released its report for Q4 2020:  In the 4th quarter, we registered one accident for every 3.45 million miles driven in which drivers had Autopilot engaged. For those driving without Autopilot but with our active safety features, we registered one accident for every 2.05 million miles driven. For those driving without Autopilot and without our active safety features, we registered one accident for every 1.27 million miles driven. By comparison, NHTSA’s most recent data shows that in the United States there is an automobile crash every 484,000 miles.

The best comparison point is against the same metric over the same period last year to account for the weather and seasonal conditions:

  • Autopilot Engaged: It is at one accident for every 3.45 million miles driven in Q4 2020, which is an improvement from every 3.07 million miles driven in Q4 2019.
  • Autopilot disengaged but with active safety features: It is at one accident for every 2.05 million miles driven in Q4 2020, which is actually down from every 2.10 million miles driven in Q4 2019.
  • Autopilot disengaged and without active safety features: It is at one accident for every 1.27 million miles driven in Q4 2020, which is down from every 1.64 million miles driven in Q4 2019.

Therefore, it shows an overall improvement with Autopilot active, but the data also shows worse performance with the safety features only….” Read more  Hmmmm… As is my custom every time Tesla releases this information, I offer to do, pro bono,  an independent analysis of the underlying data in an effort to “fact check” Tesla’s claims. Alain

  GM teases new Chevy Bolt with Super Cruise, sets release date for February

A. Hawkins, Jan 12, “GM says that two new versions of the Chevy Bolt are set to be unveiled in February 2021. The company has released a new teaser that highlights a new feature coming to the electric vehicles: GM’s well-regarded advanced driver assist system, Super Cruise…. ”  Read more  Hmmmm…Let’s see if this really happens, if it is an option or standard and, if an option, how much extra?  Let’s hope that GM actually builds and Dealership actually sell Bolts with SuperCruise.  Alain

  Tesla (TSLA) could be a $2 trillion company in just ‘1 or 2 years,’ says top Wall Street analyst

F. Lambert, Jan 13., “… Now, one top Wall Street analyst, Daniel Ives of Wedbush, says that it could only be the beginning of Tesla’s stock rise.  In a recent interview with TD Americas, Ives said that he sees Tesla rising over $1.5 trillion over the next year or two:

“In a year or two from now, we’re not just looking at one trillion for Tesla, but in a couple of years this could be a company that could start to approach 1.5 trillion – 2 trillion market valuation.”

The analyst is amongst the most optimistic on Wall Street as he sees Tesla delivering 800,000 vehicles in 2021.  Ives is particularly bullish on Tesla’s prospect in China, where he believes Gigafactory Shanghai to be the “key to the company’s success.”  Furthermore, the analyst sees Joe Biden winning the election in the US with his green agenda as a positive for Tesla.  Here’s the new interview:…” Read more  Hmmmm… Crazy!. Alain

  Tesla’s main self-driving rival isn’t Google—it’s Intel’s Mobileye

T. Lee, Jan. 13, “One of the most underrated companies in the self-driving technology sector is Mobileye, an Israeli company that Intel purchased for $15 billion in 2017. Mobileye is the largest supplier of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) that ship with today’s cars. In a Monday interview at the virtual CES conference, Mobileye explained its strategy to stay on top as the industry shifts to fully self-driving vehicles.

Mobileye’s self-driving strategy has a number of things in common with that of Tesla, the world’s most valuable automaker. Like Tesla, Mobileye is aiming to gradually evolve its current driver-assistance technology into a fully self-driving system. So far, neither company has shipped products with the expensive lidar sensors used in many self-driving prototypes…”  Read more Hmmmm… Waymo is Driverless in one place, Phoenix.  Neither Tesla not MobilEye are driverless anywhere. They both REQUIRE on-board human driver supervision. That’s why they are only Self-driving. Alain

  US Railroads Finally Meet Positive Train Control Install Mandate

J. Parsons, Dec 30, “With just two days to spare before a year-end implementation deadline, 41 U.S. freight and passenger railroads have met a federal mandate for full deployment of positive train control to prevent potentially deadly crashes.

The Federal Railroad Administration said on Dec. 29, that in addition to being in full compliance with the safety technology’s technical requirements on more than 57,500 route miles, the railroads have achieved full interoperability between host and tenant railroads operating on PTC-governed main lines. The group includes New Jersey Transit, which the agency said last month appeared at risk for not meeting the completion target based on earlier data…”  Read more Hmmmm… Now that this has been done, when will railroads begin to move to “crewless” operation.  That can’t be difficult technologically.  Sociologically, a whole other question.  Train crews need to be bought out and deserve to be bought out.  Three (3) of the Five (5) man (they were essentially all men then) crews were bought out in the 1970s.  It is time that the railroads buy out the two remaining crew members.  This would allow them to run many more frequent short trains rather than a few long trains.  The improved service would lead to more business, more short trains and more employees that could be represented by the BLET.  It is not a surprise that State legislators are trending in the opposite direction by mandating 2-person crews. Alain

  Mobileye is bringing its autonomous vehicle test fleets to at least four more cities in 2021

K. Korosec, Jan. 11, ” Mobileye is bringing its autonomous vehicle test fleets to at least four more cities in 2021…” Read more Hmmmm… See also: Mobileye Take Autonomous Vehicle For a test Spin In Munich Traffic.  Unfortunately, I still see all of this as simply “eye candy” to sell something that actually has no intention of delivering what it is implying.  I still claim that the business case is  ZERO  (doesn’t exist) for personally-owned autonomous vehicles.  (1.  for it to be purchased by a consumer, it must be able to go on most, if not all roads.  We/MobilEye are/is nowhere close to being able to operate safely on most roads, let alone “all” roads.  Thus, the consumer market has zero opportunity to scale.  (Heck EVs can’t scale even though their range is at least twice what the average daily driving range).  If MobilEye’s objective is the fleet market operating within a certified Operational deign Domain, then starting in big cities, New York City being the worse of the worse,

As with Waymo, MobilEye should be testing in “Chandler” rather than “NYC”.  But if this is Click Bait and Clicks are the objective, then NYC is right-on.  Alain

  Bay Area living out of reach for some VTA transit workers who sleep in their cars

S. Herrera, Jan 12, “The longtime bus driver has slept in his SUV for the last two years to save costs and give himself some much-needed rest.

“There’s tons of people who are commuting because they can’t afford to live in the Bay Area,” said Glinton, who has worked for VTA for a dozen years. “On average, I make $100,000 a year easy … but who wants to give $30,000 a year to someone else for rent?”…”  Read more Hmmmm…  Not pretty! And it’s not just transit workers.  Apparently it is also Police, Fire and other civil servants.  Affordable housing also needs to have affordable mobility; else it in NOT affordable living! Alain

Monthly changes in key transportation indexes

M. Sivak, Jan. 14, “….The changes are in percent relative to the corresponding month in 2019. They are adjusted for population (all but price of gasoline) and for inflation (price of gasoline)…”  Read more  Hmmmm…  Quantified is the enormous YoY changes (mostly down) yet the “stock market” seems to be going nothing but up.  Really strange!    Alain

How much did we use different classes of vehicles just before the pandemic?

M. Sivak, Jan. 12, “This analysis examines distances driven per vehicle in different vehicle classes in 2019 (the last year before the pandemic) and compares them with the corresponding values in 2009. … Noteworthy trends are as follows:…”  Read more  Hmmmm…  Really strange “per vehicle stats”   Given the increase in population and the economy over the past 10 year period, the number of registered vehicles must have increased “enormously”; else, this is really strange    Alain

    Draft Program   4th Annual Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit  4th Episode at noon on Jan. 21, 2021 TO BE followed by 12 more weekly episodes  through to April15, 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


  Machine Learning & Artificial Intelligence as Simple as Drag and Drop #CES2021

CES2021, Jan 11, “It took decades for Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence to enter the mainstream. Still, it is new enough that it remains the domain of data scientists, machine learning, and software engineers. The challenge is that these experts are in short supply, causing projects to be relatively expensive with relatively long timelines.

Blaize’s AI Studio promises (my bold) to solve that by allowing subject matter experts, whether that expert is a city planner, doctor, or farmer, to directly create artificial intelligence applications that operate locally. This code-free, visual and open standards tool allows the subject matter expert, with minimal help, to prepare & train, deploy & manage, and use & monitor an edge-based, Artificial Intelligent app…. Read more Hmmmm…  Promises, promises…; however, when it claims “… Working with the doctor and processing approximately 12,000 images the AI models achieved 90% accuracy within two days. This greatly exceeds the 76 to 80% accuracy a human would achieve examining x-rays….”  … One must ask “how did it do dat???” Who was the “God” that knew all the correct answers, such that the AI was able to pat itself in the back with a score of 90% and the human that looked over the whole process only got “76 to 80%”.  … If there is a “God” that always gets the right answer, then I want the “God” not this.  If there isn’t a “God” with all the right answers, and the right answers come from the human, then these reported results are simply “the luck” of this test, rather than the long-run statistical performance of this approach.  This is really half-baked.  Alain


Calendar of Upcoming Events:s

4th Annual Princeton  SmartDrivingCars Summit

4th Live Episode on Zoom

Why Customers are Buying Them

The Unique Selling Proposition for Cars with Automated Driver Assistance Systems

noon ET, Thursday, Jan 21

Video Summary of 1st Session  Setting the Stage

Princeton University

Princeton, NJ

On the More Technical Side