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Robocars 2020 year in review (Video and Story)

It was a much bigger year for Robocars than anybody expected. At the start of the year everybody felt we were in a "robocar winter" with things slowing down and pulling back. Instead, the year showed big milestones and huge valuations.

This year, in addition to my traditional text review, I have done it as a video for those who prefer that. The video can be seen below on Youtube:

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Waymo Vs. Uber Vs. Tesla Vs. Amazon Vs. Others: Who Will Sell You Your Robotaxi Ride?

So which app will you open to call a ride in the robotaxi world? Uber now will link with Aurora -- but is Uber's position in the ride-selling world unassailable? Will Waymo/Google, Cruise, Amazon/Zoox, Tesla or others win the day? I look at competitive factors in the race to replace selling cars with selling rides.

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Uber ATG And Aurora Merge To Staggering $10B Valuation

Uber's self-driving unit (ATG) has been merged/sold to Aurora, a high flying startup with a combined valuation of $10B, but a big drop for Uber and climb for Aurora. I outline the odd nature of the deal in this new article as the robocar news just keeps on coming. It's not winter any more.

See a new Forbes site article at Uber ATG And Aurora Merge To Staggering $10B Valuation

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Amazon/Zoox Custom Vehicle Design Revealed Early And Leaks Some Details

Reddit user Lakailb87 caught the new Zoox vehicle on the streets of San Francisco

Zoox (now a unit of Amazon) has been secretive about their custom vehicle design, with a reveal set for Dec 12. It was photographed out in the wild yesterday, though, so I have written a new Forbes site column about their design -- similar to a few others, but with diferent LIDAR design and other goodies.

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We should rethink the ethics of vaccine challenge tests to be more like those of a battle

As vaccine approval nears, you've no doubt heard proposals to speed up vaccine testing with what is known as a "challenge" trial, where you deliberately infect volunteers with the virus. This approach is controversial, but has been around for some time. There are already organizations collecting volunteers, and tens of thousands have signed up.

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AutoX begins no-safety-driver taxi pilot in Shenzen

It's only with special guests and staff, but AutoX has followed Waymo in starting a robotaxi service with no safety drivers on board, with all 25 of their vehicles in Shenzen. It means they are getting very confident in their system.

Read more details in a new Forbes site piece at AutoX begins no-safety-driver taxi pilot in Shenzen

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When robocars must be perfect, and when they need not be

A recent Waymo tester has been challenging Waymo cars to pick him up in unusual pickup spots. Some of the times, the problem is probably being solved by a remote human operator giving advice to the car. What many do not understand is that this is not a flaw, but probably the simplest and cheapest way to solve the problem.

Read more at When robocars must be perfect, and when they need not be

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Cheap, fast, surprisingly good Covid testing using scratch-n-sniff

It occurred to me, learning that 80% of Covid infected patients lose their sense of smell (Anosmia) that it should be possible to build the cheapest and most effective Covid screener (for use at entrances to schools/airports/buildings/restaurants) with a simple "scratch-n-sniff" card. These cards, which cost pennies, would come with a set of scratch squares, and under each would be boxes with the names of possible scents. A QR code would (encrypted) have the answer. You sniff, check the boxes and then a phone or other device scans your answer.

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Mercedes "Automated Valet Parking" disappoints

Promised for years, you can finally do automated valet parking if you have a 2021 Mercedes S class and park in one garage at Stuttgart airport. First demonstrated at Stanford in 2009, this feature is long overdue, and this implementation is quite disappointing, doing little more than save the driver a few minutes of walking.

I go into the details of what robotic parking could and should do, even today in a new article on Forbes.com at:

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The Electoral College: Why it is, Why it's hard to fix, and why it's not as big a deal as you think

As we do every 4 years, people are lamenting about the crazy system of the electoral college. It is archaic and should be replaced, but that's far more easily said than done.

Preventing the chaos of super-close elections

When elections are close, they get chaotic. If the flip of a single vote, at the tie-point, can cause a massive change, like who runs a country, things can go nuts. People will do everything, from legal battles all the way up to the supreme court, to voter suppression, to voter fraud, to fake claims of voter fraud, all to move the needle a tiny bit around that tipping point.

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Honda to ship "Traffic Jam Pilot" within 5 months -- limited full self-drive in a consumer car

Honda has announced they have approval for, and will ship a "Traffic Jam Pilot" in the Honda Legend by March 2021. This is a big deal because one of the key differences between driver assist (like Tesla "full" self driving) and a robocar is whether the car takes responsibility. While they will call it level 3, level 3 doesn't really exist. This is a self-driving car for a specific problem area - traffic jams.

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Gig-drive companies win fight to not make drivers employees -- what does that mean?

While we've all been obsessed with the big elections, some notable news in California, where a corporate sponsored bill to reverse California AB5 on gig-drivers passed. AB5 would have required drivers for companies like Uber to be employees and not contractors.

What would Uber have done if it had not passed, or what can they do if an employee rule passes somewhere else? I discuss these issues in a new story on Forbes.com:

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New Waymo data shows superhuman safety -- they're ready

Waymo collision detail.

In what is perhaps the robocar story of the year, Waymo has released a detailed safety report which shows 6.1 million miles of driving with no at-fault accidents and even a low number of not-at-fault ones. It is now past time for them to deploy a real service. In addition, this throws down the gauntlet at all other companies to be transparent with data.

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New Chart of Tesla Autopilot Safety record

Tesla released the latest safety numbers for the 3rd quarter. I decided to put all the numbers on a chart, but corrected for the fact that Autopilot is used almost exclusively on freeways, while non-Autopilot use is a 40-60 mix. The result is that Autopilot and non-Autopilot safety are fairly similar, with Autopilot maybe slightly worse.

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Self-driving cars can use game theory to generate a better vehicle code and cooperative road

Traffic jams with selfish drivers could become a thing of the past.

The rise of self-driving cars offers the potential for an entirely new way of regulating vehicles. First, because you can get all the "drivers" of self-driving cars in a room, rules of the road can be quickly negotiated and settled directly, and adhered to robotically, rather than writing complex sets of regulations.

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