Robocar "Shark Tank" issues: Cheap rides, vandalism, jobs, dystopia and more

For the second year at the Automated Vehicles Summit, we held a "Shark Tank" where there were 4 pitches on controversial ideas in robocars, and the 4 sharks (including myself) and the audience debated them. While these breakout sessions are on Chatham House Rules, I can certainly outline my own views.

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Day 2 of AVS -- Future Boston, Ethics, Jobs and new NHTSA director

Day two of AUVSI/TRB Automated Vehicle Summit

WEF studies Boston

Simulation and other studies were done by Boston Consulting Group for the World Economic Forum. Their study contains some interesting conclusions about shifts in urban traffic in several cities.

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Can you survey customer opinion of a product that doesn't exist?

The AUVSI/TRB "Automated Vehicles Summit" kicked off this morning with a report from JD Power on consumer attitudes. I am very skeptical of all such surveys. They seem as useful as a survey from 2005 about what people would do with the iPhone after it comes out in 2 years. Such a survey would surely have reported almost nobody planned to get one or would use it in the ways people actually do.

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Don't watch TV while safety driving

The Tempe police released a detailed report on their investigation of Uber's fatality. I am on the road and have not had time to read it, but the big point, reported in many press was that the safety driver was, according to logs from her phone accounts, watching the show "The Voice" via Hulu on her phone just shortly before the incident.

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Voting Rights Amendment

Congress shall make no law, abridging the right of franchise of adult citizens of the United States, nor make any law affecting the exercise of franchise in a significant disproportionate way by supporters or opponents of any candidate, ballot question or aligned group of candidates, or members of any protected class of citizens (including but not limited to the ethnic groups, religions, sexes, income levels and sexual orientations.)

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Is there a limit on how much advertising can make?

In my article about how advertising won't pay for robotaxi rides I hinted at one surprise source of the problem. Maybe advertising can never be very valuable.

Right now, the most popular type of advertising, makes about 60 cents for one hour of TV watching. This is with what's known as a $20 CPM (cost per thousand.) Thats 2 cents per ad shown to a person, and an hour of TV has around 15 minutes of ads, or 30 spots.

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Did Uber really botch the switch to one driver and a timeline of the failure

Yesterday I examined some of the details released by the NTSB about the Uber fatality. Now I want to dig deeper with speculation as to the why. Of course, speculation is risky, though I can claim a pretty good track record. When I outlined various possible causes of the incident just after it, I put 4 at the top. I figured that only one might be true, but it turned out that two were (Misclassification as a bicycle, and the car wanting to stop but being unable to actuate the brakes) though I did not suspect Uber deliberately blocked the car from doing hard stops. So I'll try my luck at speculating again.

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NTSB Report implies serious fault for Uber in fatality

The NTSB has released its preliminary report on the fatality involving the Uber prototype self driving car. The NTSB does not attempt to assign blame, but there are some damning facts in the report.

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Google can spin the "Duplex" calling agent in a much more positive way

Most of the world was wowed by the Google Duplex demo, where their system was able to cold-call a hairdresser and make an appointment with her, with the hairdresser unaware she was talking to an AI. The system included human speech mannerisms and the ability to respond to the random phrases the hairdresser through back.

No, ads won't pay for your robotaxi ride -- but your employer might, and that has big consequences

Most of the press reported a research report from UBS securities claiming Waymo is now worth $75B to Google because it is poised to dominate the robotaxi business. In addition to this, it claimed that business would be $1.2 trillion by 2030, with an additional $472 billion for "in car monetization." (Total Google revenue was $110 billion in 2017.)

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The improbable secret Kim conspiracy to reunify Korea

Everybody loves a good secret conspiracy theory. Here's mine for North Korea. Of course, it is probably not true. But is it impossible?

Seoul Subway stations are equipped with gas masks, ready for attack by the North

Kim Jong-Un is a tyrant, perhaps the last of his kind, and living in the new modern era. With this Swiss education, unfettered access to the internet and a love of foreign media, what sort of mindset might he hold? We don't know a lot.

Solve the Proposition 13 problem by paying off the difference when you sell

Even if you are not in California, you may have heard of Proposition 13 the ballot measure which changed property tax rules.

It was part of a tax revolt, and it changed how the value of your real estate is calculated for property taxes. As California property started zooming up in price, there were people who owned homes but had minimal incomes. They were facing growing tax bills even though they had not realized the gains on their house. Some were being forced out of houses they had lived in for decades, the story went.

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Safety Drivers for Robocars -- the issues and rationale

The wake of Tesla's incident has caused a lot more questions about the concept of testing prototype robocars on public roads supervised by "safety drivers." Is it putting the public at risk for corporate benefit? Are you a guinea pig in somebody's experiment against your will? Is it safe enough? Is there another way?

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How to fly to Europe Biz Class for $2800 this summer, and in the future

I'm off in June to do some speaking in Europe. I'm flying to Milan in business class from San Francisco for $2,800 on UA and Air Canada, which is about the lowest price I've ever seen for biz class to Europe in summer on the major airlines. The coach fare can be as low as $600 for those not able to splurge. Let me tell you how to use these fares, even if it's not Italy you wish to visit.

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Second driver's revenge: Why does car rental pricing suck so much?

As a customer, the pricing plans of the car rental companies baffle me. I mean I understand about the goals for differential pricing -- finding ways to charge richer customers more money -- but still, I find it very frustrating, and I am curious why one of the majors doesn't have the courage to break out of the current pricing models and win over customers.

Flyover: Is the left's vocabulary meaner than the right's?

Like many, I have been highly interested in understanding the rift in US and global politics that has resulted in the rise of Trump, LePen, Ford and Brexit.

While I run mostly in left/urban/secular/keen circles, I try as often as possible to talk to people in other circles to understand their view. My own politics match neither side, which gives me some extra perspective. However, living in left circles, I have encountered more of their terms.

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Uber reported to have made an error tuning perception system

The newsletter "The Information" has reported a leak from Uber about their fatal accident. You can read the article but it is behind a very expensive paywall. The relevant quote:

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Waymo has a crash in Chandler, but is not at fault.

A crash today with a Waymo van is getting attention coming in the same area just a short time after the Uber fatality, but Waymo will not be assigned fault -- the driver of the car that hit the Waymo van veered out of his lane into oncoming traffic because of somebody else who was incurring on the intersection. Only minor injuries, but higher energy than prior crashes for Waymo.

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What if teams were forced to contribute robocar incident data?

At teams around the world attempt to build safe robocar systems, one key asset has stood out as a big differentiator -- experience. For a company to be willing to certify their vehicle as safe, it needs experience with all the strange circumstances that it might encounter driving the roads.

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