Waymo self-driving's CEO, John Krafcik, has stepped down. More interesting is the two new co-CEOs appointed from inside (one from the original founding team that I worked with) have no automotive industry background. Having worked at Waymo and followed it more closely than almost anybody, I have some thoughts on the shift in this Forbes site column:
The future of computer-driven cars and deliverbots
Over a decade ago I started advocating for having a large public library of simulation scenarios to test self-driving cars. Today, Deepen.AI, a company I am an investor/advisor to announces it has built such a library, in cooperation with the World Economic Forum and WMG University of Warwick and with involvement from many companies and government agencies. In the Safety Pool, people can build and contribute test scenarios, and in return get back manyfold from the contributions of other members.
Right now Waymo One only serves suburban Phoenix. How hard is it going to be for self-driving companies to expand to new cities, new countries, new conditions and new rules of the road? Some think very hard -- and it's not trivial. But it's likely they can afford it just fine. I explore why is this new article on Forbes.com:
A modest change at Waymo -- allowing you to do multi-stop trips where the vehicle waits around for you (physically or virtually) at no charge gives us a taste of the different economics of robotaxis compared to Uber, since no driver has to be paid. I discuss these changes in a new Forbes site article at:
A proposed California bill would require all robocars to be zero emission in under 4 years. As good as going electric is, the government should not be picking the power train so soon, especially when there is no sign that the existing players are bad actors. I detail more in my Forbes site article at
Everybody is working on making robocars drive more safely and cause fewer accidents. Waymo recently released a paper outlining how they ran a large number of accidents in simulation, and tested what happens if the Waymo system is driving the primary car (which caused the accident) or the secondary car (which didn't) in 2-car collisions. No surprise that they prevented the accidents when being the primary car. More interesting is they prevented almost all the accidents when being the second car.
A new company offering battery swap for EVs launches today. They convert the car's battery pack to use standardize 2.5kwh modules, and cheap robotic stations swap them out. Battery swap has a number of useful advantages, but it's failed before because it's not actually that great a solution for private car owners, and it standardizes the most important area of EV innovation.
In 2008, I wondered what we could do to help you avoid getting motion sick as a passenger in a self-driving car. I wondered if you could make audio cues to warn the mind of upcoming turns, or just alert you to look up. Researchers with Volvo recently experimented with similar ideas, and the answer was yes, it helps. Here's my article about this and other comfort issues on future robocars, which may produce a ride that's almost like sitting still.
Rumours swirl constantly about an Apple Car. Here is my Forbes site piece on what sort of car Apple would make: Expensive but superior, non-standard, well-designed, electric but charges itself when you're not using it, self-driving and surprising. For details see:
The California Robocar disengagement reports. They don't tell us a great deal but here is some analysis with tidbits learned from them, and a discussion of why Tesla is missing.
In the study of how much profit Robotaxis can make it's interesting to note that even in the Pandemic year, Didi will make a billion dollar profit from ride hail, while Uber continues to lose money and make people wonder if it can ever be profitable.
Didi's profit suggests the path to robotaxi profitability is attainable. Some more data is at this Forbes site article:
Earlier, AutoX started doing limited tests with staff of a robotaxi service with no safety driver on board in Pingshan, a suburb of Shenzen. Now, this service is available to the general public. No numbers yet, but it shows they have the confidence.
More details at AutoX opens robotaxi service to the public
People don't talk as much about MobilEye (Intel) in the self-driving race, but their strategy is different and interesting, and they are the most established in working with automakers. I have an article discussing some elements of their strategy include a very different approach to sensor fusion and mapping, among other things.
Read my new Forbes site column at MobilEye's strategy to win self driving
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:
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.
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
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.