The future of computer-driven cars and deliverbots
A couple of years ago I released my list of factors by which robotaxi companies might compete. Many people wonder if there will be a natural monopoly, limiting us to one or two companies per city, or if we might get more.
The short summary: Amir was able to find a fair number of Waymo's neighbours in Chandler, Arizona who are getting frustrated by the over-cautious drive patterns of the Waymo vans. Several used the words, "I hate them."
A few weeks ago, I published an analysis of the Zoox strategy to produce a custom car. Last week, Zoox decided to fire its founder and CEO, Tim Kentley-Klay, with no warning. Very little has been said, other than:
There have been recently a few news announcements and in depth coverage of Waymo.
Uber might sell self-drive division
The newsletter The Information reports Uber's investors are pushing Uber to sell its self-drive division to some other large player. The division has, of course, been nothing but trouble for Uber, and as I have noted several times, Uber is one of the few large players in this space that doesn't have to build their own tech. They have the #1 brand in selling rides, and selling rides is what the robotaxi business is all about.
There are a lot of parking apps out there. There are apps that:
I and many others feel the best way to set urban and transportation policy is to properly price in the "externalities" into our travel, and to remove all other penalties and subsidies. If you can do this, then everybody is incentivized to improve the public good. In particular, entrepreneurs and companies are motivated this way, and it's their job to think of the new things nobody else thought of.
I've written a lot about parking, most notably my
Waymo recently announced two new partnerships for their fleet of robotaxis.
The first was with Walmart. Walmart has installed special parking spots in their lots, and will offer people free rides to Walmart to pick up online orders. Only some of the 400 Waymo "Early Riders" will participate, at first.
When I get off planes in San Francisco and summon a Lyft or Uber, I usually have to wait 8 to 10 minutes. That's because the airport has forced these companies to force drivers to wait in the "cell phone waiting lot" which is quite far from the terminal. When I don't have checked bags, it's OK because I know this and I summon the car while walking out of the gate, but with bags I have to wait for my bag before I can summon.
Tesla announced it has built its own custom neural network processor to use in Autopilot 3.0 in 2019.
Tesla started mainly using MobilEye's vision chip, but that relationship ended after the first fatality. They have since been using NVIDA GPUs in Autopilot 2.0 and now plan to use their own ASIC.
The idea that sharing rides is good has become almost axiomatic in transportation discussions. At conferences I have seen people declare that robocars are pointless if they are not shared -- ie. people who are not travelling together ride together in them. The positive of sharing is so axiomatic that public transit is seen almost as a good in and of itself, rather than a means towards real goals like energy efficiency, low cost, and higher road utilization.
Uber made a strange announcement this week, that they are back on the road in Pittsburgh, when they actually aren't.
For a lot of people, being a passenger in a car can easily lead to motion sickness, particularly if they try to do something like looking down to read a book or stare at a phone. Not everybody gets this, but it's enough to be a big issue for the robocar world. Drivers usually don't feel this much, but in the robocar world, everybody's a passenger.
In discussion of the eventual cost of a robotaxi ride, I and others have forecast costs similar to the all-in cost of car ownership. Today that's 40 to 60 cents/mile (plus parking) and for a one person electric "city car" it can be under 20 cents. Note that in building these costs I am looking at the full retail cost today including:
I was asked by the New York Times to comment on what future city transportation plans should look like. In a short piece, they could not repeat all I said, so I will expand a bit here.
My main advice to cities is that nobody, including myself, has the exact answer on how transportation will look in 2030 or beyond. (They are making plans for 2030 and even 2040 now.) Because we can't know, my advice is to design to be flexible. Design to be able to change your mind.