The future of computer-driven cars and deliverbots
Last year Tesla released "smart summon" which let you (very slowly) call your car to you from across a parking lot. It was cute but a bit of a dud, as it's not just very useful. Now Elon Musk promises "reverse summon" that will valet park your car for you. But if you have to watch it, it's not going to be very useful either.
Eventually, though, we'll get a robotic valet park that works without supervision. That will be very useful, allowing cheaper parking and better charging. Even today, the basic summon could allow slightly denser parking for cars that have it.
Tesla doesn't want to use LIDAR. So they are hoping for success in a technique known as pseudo-LIDAR, where you train neural networks to look at images and calculate the distance to everything in the scene, as though you had a LIDAR. It's not here yet, but an interesting question is, should this succeed, is it better for Tesla or for their LIDAR using competitors who already have tons of experience using 3D point clouds?
Uber, Lyft, Scooters and Transit have all cratered in ridership. Will people be more likely to ride in self-driving taxis if they had them during a pandemic crisis? I discuss some of the Covid-19 issues around robotaxis in this new article.
It's found at Can robotaxis survive a pandemic?
Recently, Stefan Seltz-Axmacher, the founder of Starsky Robotics -- a startup doing self-driving and remove-driven transport trucks that I advised before they started going -- wrote a detailed and complex blog post about why he feels his company had to shut down. He goes into several issues, including failures of Deep Learning to meet hype, VC desires, strangeness of the trucking industry and lack of love for safety.
In my new article for the Forbes site, I dig into those reasons and whether he's right that nobody else will succeed soon, either.
I've been involved with delivery robots for a long time, and on my walk through empty streets yesterday, I noticed a certain irony. We have a desperate need for more delivery capacity, especially without humans handling packages, and teams have been working hard to make deliverbots safe enough to drive on our streets.
An EasyMile made a sudden stop from 7mph and a seated passenger fell off her seat to minor injuries. Now NHTSA has ordered EasyMile to stop testing with passengers.
Transit shuttles don't usually have seatbelts, but maybe EasyMile needs them during the testing phase. But can it ever take them out?
The California robocar disengagement reports are out. And everybody is now pointing out that they're not very useful because everybody uses different methods. So I have an article about what we do learn from the data, little as it is.
Read California Disengagement Reports aren't too engaging at Forbes.com
Many of the media were keen to pick up on a report from McAfee researchers about how they were able to simply modify a speed limit sign to cause the MobilEye in old Teslas to misread it and speed up. We get spooked when AI software acts like an idiot. But in reality, this isn't the sort of attack that is likely to be done in the wild, and it's also unlikely to cause any danger.
Recent coverage summed up robocar spending as about $16 billion to-date. Many have wondered how this can be worth it, since nobody is shipping. When you look at other analysis of how much the winners stand to gain, it's a drop in the bucket. I analyse the numbers in a new article on the Forbes site:
The NTSB has released their docket on the fatal crash of a Tesla on Autopilot in Silicon Valley in 2018. In this article, I examine what they learned about the cause of the accident and the few new details and wrinkles found in the latest report. The full hearing will be Feb 25.
I wrote earlier about Cruise's "Origin" which they say is a vehicle devoted to shared rides. Many other companies also are hoping to make vehicles for shared rides -- it's treated as almost a received wisdom. But the reality is that sharing rides isn't all that it's cracked up to be, and to work what you really need is frictionless instant mode transfers so nobody goes out of their way. And for that you need automated single person pods, not big shared vehicles.
With the story of the Uber fatality now behind us, I thought I would do a review of the various leaks and early releases that we saw about the incident, and how well they scored once the final NTSB report came out. The score is not at all good.
Read my report on Forbes.com at Early leaks and reports on Uber weren't too long on the truth
Recently, Cruise, the unit of GM (and partner of Honda) did a splash release of a new vehicle design which they say is "not a concept." It's a custom-designed robotaxi, and it reminds me a lot of the plan of Zoox, the $billion funded startup that I advised when it was just getting going.
I've written an article about the risks and benefits of making your own custom vehicle, and whether it's smart or crazy. You can find that at:
I'm back from CES and my first report concerns the trends in the LIDAR industry I saw from the 43 LIDAR companies exhibiting there. I talked to most of them. Those trends include lowered cost, more robust instruments and scores of paths to victory. There is also much more attention on LIDAR for the ADAS market. Bosch even said it would make a LIDAR, but said nothing about it.
Read LIDARS for robocars are everywhere at CES on Forbes.com
Here is a summary of the Robocar stories from 2019 that were the most significant. It was actually not a year of very big change. Waymo is still the distant leader, in spite of having slipped a bit on their goals. I talk about the trough of the hype cycle and the challenges going ahead for the 2020s. If you skipped most of my coverage in the year, these are the selected ones to read.
Read the year in review at Robocars 2019 in review
One of the most contentious issues in robocars are the moral issues involved in testing and deploying them. We hope they will prevent many crashes and save many lives, but know that due to imperfection, they also create a risk of causing other crashes, both in deployment, and during deployment. People regularly wonder if they should be out there tested on city streets, or ever deployed. Even with numbers that are perhaps the most overwhelmingly positive from a utilitarian standpoint, we remain uncertain.