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.
The future of computer-driven cars and deliverbots
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.
California is now collecting the 2019 "disengagement reports" for robocars, which always get lots of attention. But in fact, they are measuring the wrong thing -- it is the safety of testing they should measure in the public interest, not the quality of the prototypes -- and they are measuring it wrong, and pushing companies to do things that may be unsafe in order to meet their wrong and useless metric.
The FCC has finally declared it intends to take 45mhz of the DSRC spectrum and make it unlicenced instead, though they are still leaving 20mhz for C-V2X (Qualcomm's LTE based replacement for DSRC that is mostly similar with 10mhz still to be figured out. Getting rid of DSRC and the silly idea of vehicle to vehicle communications is a good idea, but they should go even further -- and solve the V2V problem far better -- but making it all unlicenced and doing V2V in phones, not cars.
A recently released tiny study from UC Berkeley gave 13 people personal chauffeurs for a week to see how their travel habits changed. They found their car miles going up 85%, but in most cases it was for silly reasons that would not actually happen. Still, miles will go up with robotaxis -- but congestion doesn't have to increase at all.
Daimler's CEO has said they plan to "scale back" and "rightsize" their robotaxi efforts and focus on Trucking. Trucking is a good field for them, but this is a big bet.
Bet right and the company avoids wasting some money on being too early to the self driving game. Bet wrong and there may be no Daimler.
Read about it at Daimler Makes Risky Bet Pulling Back From Robotaxi Business
Two articles this week from 3 conferences I attended.
First look at How Cities are Stuck in the "last mile" and other observations from a conferences on cities and new mobility. I examine how scooter companies are working with cities, and how self-driving car tech is mapping cities by keeping the infrastructure dumb.
Lots of folks were forwarding a story about a battery lab at Penn State that has shown a battery that can be recharged in 10 minutes. This is good (and many other labs and companies have demonstrated other ways to do that. But my key reaction is that those who think it's a huge deal are still thinking of electric cars like gasoline cars that you fill up at filing stations. They aren't. With a recent EV, not on a road trip, you charge only at home while you sleep, which takes zero time. Fast charging is not of value there. An article about this can be found in
Elon has tweeted that the price to pay today to get future self-drive features will rise to $7,000 tomorrow. I write some more analysis of this offering and its price in light of this increase. If Tesla really pulls off a full self driving product ahead of everybody else, might it be better to just buy the stock and spend some of the profits on the higher price in the future?
Watching a 3rd party video of a Waymo minivan operating entirely vacant, I was a bit surprised (at 1:05 in the video) when the van did not pause after the video-shooting driver of the other car pulled up next to it by going into the oncoming lane, and then it cut left in front of that car. All very slow and not dangerous, but not what I expected. In the article in comment #1 I link in the video and muse on the issues of handling situations like this.
Tesla released their latest Autopilot safety numbers, and they show a good improvement over the previous quarter.
At the same time, they continue to use strange wording in the report and refuse to answer questions about what their wording means or give the clear statistics that would let us evaluate what the stats really mean.
I get into the numbers in my new article Tesla 3Q numbers are good but still have odd wording
I tried out smart summon on my Tesla yesterday. Both times it got confused and stuck for so long it blocked parking lot traffic and I had to run into it to move it. Videos have surfaced of the cars (gently) hitting things. Even if there it's working well for many people, these results erode confidence in the capability of Tesla's systems. Tesla has driven over its own foot releasing this product in this state, and for nothing, since it's not at all useful.