Friday, February 12, 2021
6th edition of the 9th year of SmartDrivingCars eLetter

   Biden inherits big traffic safety mess

R. Mitchell, Feb. 4, “Maybe you’ve seen the viral TikTok video of a young man lying in the back seat of his Tesla, covered in blankets, as the car cruises down the highway. The driver’s seat is empty.

If you haven’t, perhaps you’ve seen another like it. Videos of Tesla owners gleefully abusing the Autopilot system, a set of driver-assist technologies including adaptive cruise control, have become something of a genre across social media over the last few years, even as drivers have been killed while trusting it to operate their vehicles for them.

Officially, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration discourages such behavior, running a public awareness campaign last fall with the hashtag #YourCarNeedsYou. But its messaging competes with marketing of Tesla itself, which recently said it will begin selling a software package for Full Self Driving — a term it has used since 2016 despite objections from critics and the caveats in the company’s own fine print — on a subscription basis starting this quarter… ”  Read more  Hmmmm… If the driver/owner is expected to be prepared to intervene to maintain safety, then it is NOT full anything, period.  Moreover, if the owner/driver is NOT prepared, nor permitted to intervene to maintain safety, then the fleet operator is required to accept the responsibility and “make whole” any and all liabilities arising from any  and all “at fault” crashes.  Until Elon is willing to step up and take on that responsibility/liability or sell his cars exclusively to operating entities that assume that responsibility his Teslas are NOT full anything, period! Alain

   SmartDrivingCars Pod-Cast Episode 198, Zoom-Cast Episode 198 w/Dick Mudge, CEO, Compass Transportation & Technology

F. Fishkin, Feb. 13, “”Which autonomous vehicle companies will be the last standing?   And does private ownership of self driving cars make sense?    Compass Transportation and Technology President Dick Mudge joins Princeton’s Alain Kornhauser and co-host Fred Fishkin for that…plus the latest on Tesla, GM, Toyota and more.  Alexa, play the Smart Driving Cars podcast!“.  Ditto with Siri, and GooglePlay …  Alain


4th Annual Princeton  SmartDrivingCar Summit

8th Live Episode: Live on Zoom

Who Will Build, Sell and Maintain Driverless Cars?

noon ET, Thursday, Feb. 18

Video Summary of 1st Session:  Setting the Stage

   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.

  Memories of the Past Reflect the Future of Driverless

K. Pyle, Feb. 13, “Although the title. Finally Doing It, sounds like a 1970s B-movie, the latest session of the Smart Driving Car Summit featured superstars of the autonomous vehicle world and blockbuster content on that topic. And hearkening back to the decade of stagflation, when another nascent technology was on the verge of hitting the mainstream, the fight to bring autonomous vehicles to market will most likely occur on a city-by-city basis, similar to how cable television rolled out on a market-by-market basis.

The focus of the session was on the rollout of driverless, shared vehicles (for this article, simply driverless). Featuring a mix of different size manufacturers/integrators (Ford, Local Motors) and service providers (May Mobility, Waymo). With Princeton’s Dr. Alain Kornhauser driving the panel as moderator, it was a fast-paced overview of the challenges and opportunities of bringing autonomous mobility as a service to market.

As Kornhauser often points out, the goal should go beyond merely providing another way to get from A to B, but it should be to improve the quality of life while providing safe and affordable mobility….” Read more  Hmmmm…Ken, extremely nice summary. Thank you. Alain

Waymo and Cruise dominated autonomous testing in California in the first year of the pandemic

A. Hawkins, Feb. 11, “Unsurprisingly, there was much less autonomous vehicle testing in California in 2020 compared to years prior. The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns forced many AVs off the road in the early part of the year. But companies licensed to operate AVs on public roads in California still logged nearly 2 million miles of testing, with two of the top operators, Waymo and Cruise, comprising the bulk of those miles thanks to what some safety drivers allege was a lax attitude toward safety.

Autonomous vehicles registered in California traveled approximately 1.99 million miles in autonomous mode on public roads in 2020, a decrease of about 800,000 miles from the previous year, according to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. These mileage figures were reported as part of the state’s annual “disengagement reports,” which all licensed operators are required to submit. In addition to the miles driven, the reports list the frequency at which human safety drivers were forced to take control of their autonomous vehicles (also known as a “disengagement”).

The disengagement reports are widely disparaged as being, at best, meaningless and, at worse, misleading. …”  Read more  Hmmmm… My position.. these disengagement reports should NOT be disparaged!  They reflect the seriousness of the testing effort by each company.  The objective of testing is to “learn the unknowns”, find the limits of the technology, learn and improve.  No disengagements implies that one has stopped learning.  Anyone that’s in the business will always have many disengagements because they are working to get better.  Those with few or no disengagements, are likely to be “putting lipstick on a pig” and looking to flip; so be aware!!  Alain


CA DMV, Feb 2021, “The following permit holders, who were required to report on January 1, 2021, reported autonomous testing in California (listed in alphabetical order): …” Read more  Hmmmm…   Look for yourself… who is learning and improving and who is preparing to flip.  What is also interesting is the list of the CA DMV AV testing permit owners that reported no autonomous testing on California’s public roads during the reporting period.   Alain

  To own or not to own – That is the question: The value of owning a (fully automated) vehicle

Z. Wadud, Feb. 2020, “One of the largest uncertainties in modelling the impacts of autonomous vehicles in future is whether they will be owned or used as automated ride (hailing) services. This paper addresses this issue by modelling the inherent attractiveness or convenience value of ownership of an automated vehicle, beyond the regular convenience parameters such as journey time, waiting or access time and reliability. Using mixed logit model on a choice experimentation data, we find that ownership is inherently valued more compared to the ride services by women….”  Read more  Hmmmm…  See also video summary.   No doubt there is a value in owning an AV, the deeper question:  Is there net positive value in owning when you consider owning requires responsibility in the maintenance  and use of the AV which in turn requires the owner to accept the liability of any damages done to society by the AV?

When I ponder that deeper question, my conclusion has invariably been that there is no viable business case /market.  I can’t imagine any public need or benefit that would provide sufficient financial backstop to make this concept anything but DoA. Alain

  JRC, ENISA report examines cybersecurity challenges in uptake of AI in autonomous driving

Staff, Feb. 12, “A new report by the EC’s Joint Research Center (JRC) and the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) examines cybersecurity risks connected to artificial intelligence (AI) in autonomous vehicles and provides recommendations for mitigating them.

By removing the most common cause of traffic accidents—the human driver—autonomous vehicles are expected to reduce traffic accidents and fatalities. However, they may pose a completely different type of risk to drivers, passengers and pedestrians.

The uptake of AI in autonomous driving brings about important cybersecurity concerns. The increased digitalization of vehicles and the inclusion of AI functionalities result in a larger attack surface and might significantly increase the incentives for attackers to target AVs. Cyberattacks against AVs do not only concern the particularities related to AI, but also include the security of the underlying digital infrastructure and related digital systems. It is thus crucial to evolve existing security processes and practices to consider this increased uptake of AI technologies and digitalization in vehicles, particularly in the context of autonomous driving….” Read more  Hmmmm…Especially read the original report (cybersecurity challenges in uptake of AI in autonomous driving).  Moreover… to me the cyber threat is overblown (Note: “Level 3”, which is depicted on the cover of the report to be the target of Cyber Security, won’t, for a host of other reasons, even emerge as a viable market.  There won’t even be anything for Cyber Security to kill.)

Sure, there are bad actors out there trying to do bad in every market. (I lock my front door because someone may came in and take my stuff.  So I have to not only buy a door, but also a lock.  The first line of defense against those who may want to do bad is education… make it known that if you do, it will cost you.  That is why we have fencing lining walkways above roadways so that “kids” don’t drop bowling balls on the cars traveling below.  Hopefully we also have teachers in grade school also  telling them “that’s not a good thing to do”.  

Problem with Cyber may well be that not enough “teachers and parents” are tell kids not to hack from their parent’s basement.

Now if some member of the “Proud Boys” is really intent on invading the … .  Hopefully, there aren’t any “Proud Boys” focused on AVs; else, we have a very serious problem and we won’t have AVs.  We certainly won’t have “Connected Vehicles”.  At least AVs try as much as possible to rely on themselves to do the right thing, rather than await information/instructions from some external entity that the “Proud Boys” are prepared to disrupt. Alain

  Planning 500,000 charging points for EVs by 2025, Shell becomes the latest company swept up in EV charging boom

J. Shieber, Feb 11, “Shell’s plan to roll out 500,000 electric charging stations in just four years is the latest sign of an EV charging infrastructure boom that has prompted investors to pour cash into the industry and inspired a few companies to become public companies in search of the capital needed to meet demand.

Since the beginning of the year, three companies have been acquired by special purpose acquisition vehicles and are on a path to go public, while a third has raised tens of millions from some of the biggest names in private equity investing for its own path to commercial viability.

The SPAC attack began in September when an electric vehicle charging network ChargePoint struck a deal to merge with special purpose acquisition company Switchback Energy Acquisition Corporation, with a market valuation of $2.4 billion. The company’s public listing will debut February 16 on the New York Stock Exchange…”  Read more  Hmmmm… Look also at EV charging stations, biofuels, the hydrogen transition and chemicals are pillars of Shell’s climate plan.  Are the oil giants morphing into the Climate giants?  Why not?  Alain

Uber and Lyft are getting less unprofitable, but COVID-19 is still a drag on their business

A. Hawkins, Feb. 11, “Uber and Lyft reported their quarterly earnings this week, and while both companies are showing signs of improvement, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cast a long shadow over the overall ride-hailing business.

It raises the question of how both companies, neither of which have ever turned a profit, can hope to claw their way out of the deeper financial pit in which they’ve been cast by COVID….” Read more  Hmmmm… It begs the question… It is easy for them to get even less “unprofitable” by going out of business entirely.  Getting “less unprofitable” is not the objective.  Getting sufficiently profitable to support their current valuation, let alone a higher valuation is the proper question for which they may have little “hope or prayer” and only the “GameStop” phenomenon remains.  Alain

  GM Pushes Ahead With Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology For Long Haul Trucks

S. Harley, Jan. 31, “Hydrogen. In theory, it’s the perfect fuel. Run it through a fuel cell and you get electricity, water vapor, and heat. Doesn’t get any more Earth friendly than that, does it? There is theory and then there is reality, starting with where one gets the hydrogen in the first place….

General Motors, in partnership with Navistar, says it will focus on fuel cell powertrains for such long haul trucks, while in Europe, Scania, which is part of the Volkswagen group, has announced it is abandoning its fuel cell truck program to concentrate on battery power. One of these companies has correctly assessed the future of zero emission truck transportation but which one?… ”  Read more  Hmmmm…Yup!   Which one will win?  Alain

  Daimler will create stand-alone truck business

A. Adler, Feb 3, “Daimler AG (OTC: DDAIF) plans to create a separate company for its Daimler Truck business that would focus on zero-emissions vehicles and software that could lead to autonomous trucking.

The decision by Daimler’s supervisory board to move forward follows several years of discussion. The German newspaper Handelsblatt reported in December that Daimler was considering acting before the end of 2021. Shareholders will vote on the spinoff at a special meeting in the third quarter.

The Daimler Group paved the way for Wednesday’s action when it separated the car and van and the truck and bus businesses into two subsidiaries in November 2019….”  Read more  Hmmmm… Trucking is different, but AV companies such as Waymo and Aurora seem to think that there is a lot of synergy when it comes to automation of driving as is likely the case with “zero emission” objectives.  They are focused on both markets.  So I’m confused.  What is really going on here? Why is Daimler walking away from synergies???  Alain

Toyota teams up with Aurora and Denso on robotaxi development

A. Hawkins, Feb. 9, “It’s 2021 and we’re still finding unique ways to pair up to develop self-driving cars. The latest is between Toyota, AV startup Aurora, and auto part supplier Denso. The three companies will join forces to develop a fleet of robotaxis, with the first hitting the road by the end of this year.

It’s a big get for Aurora, the scrappy AV startup founded by Chris Urmson, the former head engineer of Google’s self-driving car project, among others. Toyota, which outsold Volkswagen in 2020 to reclaim its status as the biggest automaker in the world, is one of the few car companies that has yet to pair up with an autonomous vehicle startup. Denso, which spun out of Toyota in the mid-20th century, is one of the largest auto suppliers on the planet. So Aurora is now officially rolling with the big dogs.

The companies plan to develop and test driverless vehicles equipped with Aurora’s self-driving hardware and software stack, starting with the Toyota Sienna minivan. “By the end of 2021, we expect to have designed, built, and begun testing an initial fleet of these Siennas near our areas of development,” the companies said….”  Read more  Hmmmm… This is non-trivial.  Before the Elaine Herzberg crash, Toyota was a substantial player in the AV field.  That crash caused them to “temporarily” suspend testing.  Toyota has sheepishly returned to testing.  In 2020, Toyota Research Institute logged in California only  2,875 miles of testing using 7 vehicles that logged 214 disengagements.  Looks like a lot was learned, but Toyota must have realized that they have a long way to go and could really use Chris’ help to be viable.  Alain

  Recent AV Related papers by Prof. Kara Kockelman’s Research Group at U. of Texas

K. Kockelman, Feb. 2021, ”

Read more  Hmmmm… Above is a listing of 11 recent papers on Self-driving, Automated & Connected Vehicles by Prof. Kara Kockelman and her students at the University of Texas.  Alain

   Elon Musk’s Bitcoin embrace is a bit of a head-scratcher

R. Mitchell, Feb. 8, “The Tesla CEO says climate change is a threat to humanity, but his endorsement is driving demand for a cryptocurrency with a massive carbon footprint….”  Read more  Hmmmm… Very weird.  Alain


Press release, Feb 3, ” Locomation, the world’s first trucking technology platform to offer human-guided autonomous convoying, announced today the hiring of Finch Fulton, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Policy at the US Department of Transportation as the Vice President of Policy and Strategy….”  Read more  Hmmmm…Congratulations Finch.  Alain

  Tesla to get access to $7,000 tax credit on 400,000 more electric cars in the US with new incentive reform

F. Lambert, Feb. 11, “The Democrats have now officially introduced the bill, the Growing Renewable Energy and Efficiency Now (GREEN) Act, to reform the federal EV tax incentives, among other tax programs to help renewable energy.

Here’s the relevant part of the bill for electric cars:

The provision expands the qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicle credit under Section 30D to apply a new transition period for vehicle sales of a manufacturer between 200,000 and 600,000 electric vehicles (EVs), under which the credit is reduced by $500. The provision replaces the current phaseout period (which begins at 200,000 vehicles) with a phaseout period that instead begins during the second calendar quarter after the 600,000-vehicle threshold is reached. At the start of the new phaseout period, the credit is reduced by 50% for one quarter and terminates thereafter. For manufacturers that pass the 200,000-vehicle threshold before the enactment of this bill, the number of vehicles sold in between 200,000 and those sold on the date of enactment are excluded to determine when the 600,000-vehicle threshold is reached.

In short, automakers that have met the threshold already would have access to a new $7,000 tax credit for 400,000 additional electric vehicles until a new phase-out period starts again.

While the bill needs to go through the legislative process, it is likely to be adopted since the Democrats now hold the House, the Senate, and the White House…..” Read more  Hmmmm…  Maybe I will wait and finally use that $1,000. that I put down for a Model 3. ???  Alain

  Tesla looks to hire data labelers to feed Autopilot neural nets with images at Gigafactory New York

F. Lambert, Feb. 8. “Tesla is often said to have a massive lead in self-driving data thanks to having equipped all its cars with sensors early on and collecting real-world data from a fleet that now includes over a million vehicles.

The automaker is able to use the extensive data set to improve its neural nets powering its suite of Autopilot features, and it ultimately believes it will lead to full self-driving capability.

However, that data is a lot more valuable when it is “labeled” – meaning that the information in the images collected by the fleet is being tagged with information, such as vehicles, lanes, street signs, etc… ” Read more   Hmmmm…  What should be said here is that image data are essentially worthless unless they are “correctly  labeled” and correctly labeling is a non-trivial endeavor.  Also while more may well be better, it may only be better if the labeling is really good.  Finally, it requires good people to make the labeling good.  Alain

   4th Annual Princeton SmartDrivingCar Summit  8th Episode at noon on Feb. 18, 2021 TO BE followed by 8 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

  Bridging The Gap Between Smart Cities And Autonomous Vehicles

A.  Mutschhler, Feb 4.  “…” Read more Hmmmm… Don’t bother.  Totally Sunday Supplement.  Alain



  Here’s the Tech That Could Be on Your Next Car

K.  Barry, Feb 3, “The beginning of the year is traditionally when automotive journalists can predict the future—not with tarot cards or crystal balls, but with notes and recordings taken during a flurry of events where automakers, suppliers, and industry insiders show off their latest wares, take the wraps off new technology, and make announcements about upcoming model years….

Augmented Reality:  … Augmented reality at work, showing navigation and hazards  PHOTO: PANASONIC….  ” Read more Hmmmm… Take a look at the heads-up display.  Who would ever want that in their face all the time as they drive????  The information, if known, should be keeping the car from speeding, hitting the bicyclist, stopping you from advancing if you can’t clear 12’6″, etc.! instead of putting all of that distraction in your face.  So bad!!!!!  Alain

Calendar of Upcoming Events:s


4th Annual Princeton  SmartDrivingCar Summit

8th Live Episode: Live on Zoom

Who Will Build, Sell and Maintain Driverless Cars?

noon ET, Thursday, Feb. 18

Video Summary of 1st Session:  Setting the Stage

On the More Technical Side

K. Kockelman’s AV Research Group at U of Texas