Last week the NYT ran an piece on imagining Manhattan as a "city without cars." Definitely it would be more pleasant, but people also very much want personal transportation, and so closing or narrowing all the streets may not present a great solution and not beyond New York in any event. The problem is that planners still think about 20th century cars, with all their problems and downsides and without the new abilities the 21st century offers for traffic management using smartphones, self-driving and more.
The future of computer-driven cars and deliverbots
Rumoured for a few weeks, Amazon has now announced it will buy Zoox. The rumoured price is just $1.2B -- a major down-round for Zoox, but still a large investment for Amazon. Amaon says they plan to continue Zoox's robotaxi vision, but I have to suspect they will also do robotic delivery.
The implications are huge. The robotaxi business is bigger than Amazon's retail business. And making their logistics business more robotic -- both long haul and local delivery -- should scare the others involved in traditional retail and delivery.
Many people may not have been aware that Mercedes and BMW planned to pool their self-driving efforts, which made sense as they were pulling back from trying to win that race. Now that deal is off and other deals are on. Read about that, along with news in LIDAR, testing and acquisitions in this Forbes site article:
Fans of Teslas were surprised to see the brand score dead last in JD Power's new survey of the number of problems people had with their cars.
The biggest reason, perhaps, is that a Tesla is more a computer than a car. And how many computers have you bought that didn't have many software and configuration problems?
Read it in JD Power Report Scores Tesla a Dismal Last
The IIHS (Insurance Institute) released a study claiming that in spite of claims that self-driving cars could prevent 90% of accidents (the ones where the driver is at fault) the number was only 1/3rd, namely the perception errors and impairment cases. I am not sure they could have got it more wrong, and outline this in a new Forbes.com article:
So, yesterday in Taiwan a Tesla, claimed to be on Autopilot, smashed in broad daylight on a mostly empty road into a truck lying on its side, almost hitting the driver standing in front of it. While Tesla Autopilot is just driver assist, and not meant to catch everything, it's not great to miss a giant truck and a human. I explore why in my new Forbes site article found in at Tesla in Taiwan crashes
I reported last week about Zoox shopping for a buyer. Now reports have surfaced that Amazon is in negotiations. It's a strange matchup but would still have big consequences. A big push into self-driving by Amazon could upend logistics and retail, but Zoox's efforts at a vehicle custom designed for taxi service might be wasted.
Read about it on Forbes.com at Match and Mismatch of Amazon buying Zoox
In a year when several other companies have slowed development and plans for full robocars, MobilEye's CEO this week indicated they were on track to deploy Robotaxi service in Israel in early 2022, and will follow on with France, Korea and China.
Analysis is at MobilEye reaffirms prediction of robotaxi service by 2022
I didn't pick the topic, in spite of having written a bunch on in yesterday, but tomorrow we will do another debate in our "Zoom Tank" on the topic of the good and bad news for roadway public transit.
The main debaters are Jarrett Walker from Human Transit, and Randal O'Toole, the "antiplanner" from Cato Institute who is always full of amazing data.
After the short debate, the four sharks, including yours truly, tear into the debaters and their arguments, and then the audience has a go.
Earlier I wrote about how EasyMile had to stop operations after a sudden stop in one of their vehicles gave minor injuries to a passenger.
Today they announced their plan to resume operations. It includes seatbelts and education. It's a start, but I wonder if the whole idea of "stops" is the problem. Stops are inherent in the 20th century thinking that surrounds public transit. Big vehicles need to make lots of stops picking up and dropping off passengers. But that's a problem if you expect the vehicle not to start until everybody has their seatbelt on!
Everybody shut down testing during the Covid crisis. It's not over but now Waymo and others are getting back on the road, testing vehicles with nobody inside, with one safety driver, and sometimes with two. Yes, delivery and rides are essential services, but what are the issues around this?
Read some thoughts at Forbes's site in Waymo and others resume testing
I've known Zoox since before it began and their vision has always been bold. In a possible hiccup, the downturn has led them to shop around for a potential buyer if they can't get more investment.
I analyse what this means in my story Zoox searches for a buyer on the Forbes site.
Zoox is the $1B funded startup trying to build a radical design self-driving car. Last week they released a video of an hour long drive through Las Vegas, going through pick-up zones in hotels and the airport. The car does a number of impressive things, but at the same time, showing these things and an hour of driving are only the tip of the iceberg of what you need to do, making the video unimpressive at the same time.
In this new article, I go into what goes on in the video, and what it means.
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.