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Brad Ideas
Feb 20, 2019

Waymo shows off how it obeys a cop redirecting traffic.
Topic: RobocarsTags: forbesFor years, the most common slide in a skeptical talk on robocars would show a cop directing traffic, and ask how the cars will ever handle that.

Here's a video from Waymo showing off that ability.

I have a New article on my Forbes.com page outlining how they did this and what it means.



Brad Ideas
Feb 19, 2019

What's the true incremental cost of driving a car?
Topic: RobocarsTransportation Taxis wear out by the mile, not by the year

What is the incremental cost of operating a car? It's not very well understood and here I hope to, together with readers, come to some better understanding of it.

Many sites calculate the "total cost of ownership" for cars. You can go to sites like Edmunds True Cost to Own or Kelly Blue Book Total Cost and they will calculate the total cost of owning a car for its first five years, not including parking. The cost drops as the car gets older, and these sites use average figures, so if you are a good driver, your insurance will probably be less. They tend to base it on driving the car 15,000 miles per year, though the average is only 12,000. (Newer cars, however, tend to get driven more in the early part of their life and less later on.)

You may also like the AAA cost analysis for different classes of cars, which calculated a cost of 59.2 cents for the average sedan, and much more for an SUV.

But it's tricky. While you'll spend that much per mile on owning a car,

Brad Ideas
Feb 15, 2019

The end of the A380 and California HSR teach us smaller is better
Topic: Going GreenRobocarsTransportationTags: forbes It was just too big to succeed

ZZI have written often about the new economies in transportation that future technology like robocars provide. In my research I've learned something that seems to not be well known in the transportation world -- that often, smaller is better and more energy efficient.

This gelled strongly this week with the end of both the Airbus A380 and the California High Speed Rail -- two giant transportation systems that violated this rule, and tried to be too big.

The normal wisdom is that the more mass your mass transit is, the more efficient it will be. Instead, while transportation does get more efficient as the vehicle size grows at first, as you make the vehicles bigger you create more burdens for the passengers, and they stop riding, and the efficiency and economic viability start going down, even though the physics says they should go up.

It leads to the surprising conclusion that the train and bus may be becoming obsolete, in part tha

Brad Ideas
Feb 14, 2019

Does your robocar come home after it takes you to work?
Topic: Robocars Does your car come back here after it takes you to work? This week we've looked at two issues regarding robocars in the city:

How to handle the "pick up rush" when thousands want to leave a place (like work, movies, schools, stadia or airports) at the same time How we should manage the street parking and free parking in a city Now let's consider another common question. Will owners of private robocars send their car home after the commute to park, or serve other members of the family, particularly as an alternative to having 2 cars?

I see a lot of debate over whether people will own private robocars at all. Many people imagine the robotaxi proposition -- Uber style service at a price that matches or beats the overall cost of private car ownership -- is so compelling that they can't fathom why anybody would own a car still.

The proposition is compelling. Eventually use of robotaxis will be superior in almost every way, from a purely rational business. At the same time, some forces will push people into ownership

Living or working in an area (such as rural areas) where fast robotaxi service is not available Ability to keep a variety of things in the car, not just between stops, but always. (I admi

Brad Ideas
Feb 13, 2019

What do California disengagement reports tell us?
Topic: RobocarsCalifornia has released the disengagement reports the law requires companies to file and it's a lot of data. Also worth noting is Waymo's own blog post on their report where they report their miles per disengagement has improved from 5,600 to 11,000.

Fortunately some hard-working redditors and others have done some summation of the data. including this one from Last Driver's Licence Holder. Most notable are an absolutely ridiculous number from Apple, and that only Waymo and Cruise have number suggesting real capability, with Zoox coming in from behind.

The problem, of course, is that "disengagements" is a messy statistic. Different teams report different things. Different disengagements have different importance. And it matters how complex the road you are driving is. (Cruise likes to make a big point of that.)

Safety drivers are trained to disengage if they feel at all uncomfortable. This means that they will often disengage when it is not actually needed. So it's important to do what Waymo does, namely to play back the situation in simulator to see what would have happened if the driver had not taken over. That playback can reveal if it was

Paranoia (as expected) from th

Brad Ideas
Feb 12, 2019

Replacing street parking with smartphone managed parking
Topic: Transportation Looking for parking in Herzegovina Research suggests that a significant number of cars in busy parts of the city are searching for parking -- a base of 8% and as much as 30%. Everybody craves free parking, but people even drive around a fair bit to find metered parking. Street parking is convenient, and many parking lots charge a lot for their early hours, or a flat fee, making them expensive choices for certain parking stays. Hunting for parking has an immense cost in congestion, wasted fuel, and wasted time.

I think we can do it better, and not just with robocars. We're approaching the era where almost every car on the streets is equipped with a smartphone. That opens a lot of opportunities. It's not at 100%, so solutions can't be 100% phone based, but new options are available.

The first thing we need to do is get rid of free parking. As Donald Shoup argues in The high cost of free parking there is no such thing as free parking, and we all pay for it in other ways. I don't support all of Shoup's conclusions but one way we pay is it creates parking shortages, a tragedy of the commons, as people don't value what they don't pay for.

Let's imagine a system for managing city owned parking (streets and l

Brad Ideas
Feb 11, 2019

Will Robocars fight break-ins by moving or fighting back?
Topic: Robocars

Earlier, I had a break-in in my new car. There's been a rash of them with Teslas. The burglars break the small quarter window at the back so they can reach in and lower the rear seats to check out the trunk. Thieves are bad, but Tesla also could do a better job, particularly in keeping parts on hand, since they told me it would be 4-6 weeks to get a replacement. I found another.

This inspired two articles. The main one, on the Forbes website today, discusses how robocars and other cars of the future might fight car break-ins, in some cases literally. As robots, they can do more than sound alarms, they can move. They can try to escape, or even more, though most of what they might do probably isn't legal.

Read Can Cars Of The Future Fight Back Against Burglary By Moving? on Forbes.com

In addition, I wrote a sidebar on what Tesla could have done a lot better to resolve this problem for their customers



Brad Ideas
Feb 08, 2019

Handling the pick-up "rush" when everybody leaves at once
Topic: Robocars Taxi line at a (sucky) airport

The discussion on cars circling to avoid parking fees (short-answer, they won't) leads to a few other interesting issues I want to cover.

How to handle the "pick up rush" when thousands want to leave a place (like work, movies, stadia or airports) at the same time Whether people will have their private cars go back home to park or serve other family members after doing the commute How we should manage the street parking and free parking in a city Today, I want to talk about the pick up rush. Earlier, I covered what should happen with Lyft and Uber at airports to parallel what happens with taxi lines. Let's look at the evening rush hour and related situations.

As the work day ends, everybody wants to get home at roughly the same time. Some will do it in regular cars or on transit like today. Some will want robotaxi service. Some will want to take their private robocar home. And others will be open to self-driving transit forms which could come at a much reduced cost.

If we look at those in private robocars, robotaxis and regular taxis, we face the problem that there may not be enough

Brad Ideas
Feb 07, 2019

No, cars won't circle around in traffic to avoid paying for parking
Topic: RobocarsTags: forbesFor many years, people have wondered if people might tell their robocars to just drive continuously around the block rather than pay for parking. I've written before about how that doesn't make sense, but a recent paper from Adam Millard-Ball of UC Santa Cruz tries to make a real case that it could make economic sense, even if it's antisocial.

Stanford showed off robocar valet parking in 2009

I think the paper makes 4 errors, any of which are enough to eliminate the problem.

He believes a car could drive super slowly (less than 2mph net speed.) That's illegal and challenging He believes a car going that slowly would incur costs less than 50 cents per hour of operation. It's probably quite a bit more. He does not account for how the cost of parking a robocar will be much less than parking a regular car -- possibly even less than the 50 cents/hour he estimates He does not account for how it's much easier to make things illegal in a robocar, because you enforce on a dozen companies, not on a million drivers. I've written up

Brad Ideas
Feb 06, 2019

New Forbes.com post: The in car experience of the robocar will be quite minimalist
Topic: RobocarsI have started doing some of my posts on forbes.com. They invited me to contribute and I felt it is worth finding out if it extends my reach. For now, I will link to posts here, and eventually I will perhaps build a special RSS feed to combine the posts I do there with the ones here to make it easy for readers.

This is what everybody does today when they travel.

For my first one, I talk about the "in car experience" of the robocar. A lot of people think it's going to be very fancy, and expensive, and they're going to make it. I think the reality is it's going to be minimalist and mostly people will stare at the phones (or have their phones control a screen or speakers.) This is what I see everywhere you see people travel who aren't driving.

Click through for The minimalist in car experience of the robocar



Brad Ideas
Feb 04, 2019

When snow or bugs shut down an entire robotaxi fleet
Topic: Robocars Even bicycles can suffer a shutdown The goal of a successful robotaxi fleet is to offer a service that works as a "car replacement." You need to get people to give up car ownership to attain the brass ring. If they still own a car, they are motivated to use the expensive vehicle they already paid for rather than use your service. Most commonly in the early years, this will mean convincing people to switch from 2 cars in a family to 1, and use the service for all times 2 or more people need to travel.

If you have a great robotaxi service, with low costs, short wait times, and a wide service area, it should be easy to win such customers. You may even win them with special subscription plans which mirror the cost patterns of car ownership, but at a lower cost and the pleasure of not having to drive.

One thing that might scare them away would be the service becoming unavailable. Once people decide to depend on a service to commute or do other vital trips, they won't tolerate it being down with any frequency.

In particular, I want to consider these problem areas:

The vehicles are not rated for certain weather conditions, like a certain amount of snow, and they all stop service when this happens Some major fault in the fleet management system makes it impossible to summon cars. (Airlines have shut down fairly often due to this.) A safety pro

Brad Ideas
Jan 29, 2019

TSA "Security Theatre" might have some merits, but how to do it better?
Topic: Air TravelPrivacy Security, innovation, privacy -- pick one? I'm often critical of the way that we get subjected to pointless and ineffective security measures, particularly at places like TSA checkpoints. My friend Bruce Schneier is the high priest of this criticism, and calls it "Security Theatre." Sometimes, TSA folks will sort of admit this, as this former one does in the Atlantic.

The TSA knows what it does is often fruitless, so why do they do it? Is it political pressure? Is it the need we all have to keep up the appearance of doing something? Are they just morons who don't realize their techniques are of limited use and cause great disruption to air travel? Or do they have a more reasonable purpose?

Security theatre, like at the TSA, is not a counter-terrorist tool. It's a counter-terror tool While there is much to debate about the goal of terrorists, one thing that is clear is that their goal is not to blow up planes or kill random people. For them, those are means to a larger goal, striking terror in their enemies, and thus disrupting them or bending their politics.

Terrorists don't so much want to make flying dangerous. They want to make it sc

Brad Ideas
Jan 28, 2019

German mega-partnership, Apple layoffs and Waymo factory
Topic: Robocars

Various announcements and rumors suggest the major German automakers, including VW/Audi, Daimler and BMW might be planning a real alliance on robocars.

When I say a real alliance, it's cause almost all the announcements of "alliances" in this (and most) businesses are just PR noise -- there to get attention and to give the appearance of progress when there is not much. This suggests something else, in particular because it is getting advanced leaks.

Is this a good or bad move for the German auto industry. In the early days, the Germans took the lead, among automakers, in robocar development, but have gotten bogged down with teams that are too large and too ADAS oriented. Several companies announced teams of thousands of engineers working on the problem. Put that in contrast with Google, which had around 17 engineers on the project when they reached 100,000 miles of real world driving in 2010. Sure, the Google team was top people, but Silicon Valley people aren't that much smarter than Germans. It's the approach that matters.

BMW, Audi and Daimler are rivals to be sure, but in the new global market, the threats are Waymo, Tesla (on powertrain and car design more than on automation) and the Chinese.

At the same ti

Brad Ideas
Jan 25, 2019

Longwave LIDAR burns out camera sensor -- a big problem in the making?
Topic: PhotographyRobocars Jit Ray Chowdhury's camera image detail after shooting AEye LIDAR A bit of a stir was caused at CES when a robocar developer and photographer (Jit Ray Chowdhury) shooting the demo car of AEye LIDAR found their camera sensor was damaged. People wondered many things, including if this said anything about eye safety, and also what it means or cameras in streets crowded with robocars. I worked briefly with Jit when advising Auro Robotics, now a part of Ridecell.

I asked the folks at AEye about it, and they said they suspected the photographer might have put his camera right up close to the LIDAR, but the images taken by Jit are from a reasonable distance. I do know that I and thousands of other photographers have made photos of operating 1.5 micron LIDARs without this damage, so it appears to be a rare event, at least for now.

1.5 micron and 900nm bands LIDARs work in 2 main infrared bands. The 900nm band -- commonly 905nm -- is similar to visible light, but not visible to the eye. It can be picked up by silicon chip sensors, which is why people use it, since silicon sensors are a very well understood and cheap technology. Even at 905nm (and worse at 990) w

Brad Ideas
Jan 22, 2019

Fast car charger economics
Topic: Going Green It always looks this idyllic As you might guess, my recent switch to an electric car is revealing a variety of things to me, so you will be seeing more on that in the coming period.

Electric cars have always been criticised for their range, the slow speed of charging, and the difficulty in finding places to charge. An early joke about the original Leaf was "it has a 2 gallon gas tank that takes 4 hours to fill and there are hardly any stations." Pretty hard to make electric powertrain sound good when described that way.

Update to today, where Teslas, the Chevy Bolt, the upcoming Leaf and several other cars have ranges over 200 miles. Tesla pioneered this and there is indeed a magic number. These cars can handle all your day to day driving in a city with no anxiety. The range is only an issue when you want to do a road trip or have a rare day of particularly long driving.

With a suitable charging station at home, you can simply recharge the car every night. It doesn't matter if it takes 8 hours. There is a solid case that just plugging and unplugging each night is less work and inconvenience than finding and filling up at a gas station once a week. It's also cheaper and more pleasant. In fact, with 200 or more miles of range, you actually have range for almost a week on a single charge, considering the average car in the USA averages only 40 miles/d

Brad Ideas
Jan 21, 2019

I got an electric car. My electric bill went down
Topic: Going GreenHere's a moderately surprising result of switching to an electric car. Here in California, my electric bill went down. Just by a little, but in essence the (green) energy for my car is coming for free.

On my recent bill I used 900kwh and paid $168. 2 months ago I used 700kwh and paid $178. I drove around 900 miles. A small amount of my car electricity came from Tesla superchargers or other charging stations. Most was from my house. Yes, I use an above average amount of electricity already.

Why this this happen?

California has very expensive electricity delivery. The electricity is tolerably priced, but the delivery by PG&E, the former monopoly provider in much of the state, costs as much as 3 times as much as the electricity. (And PG&E just filed for bankruptcy.)

Ordinary customers get 300kwh at a total rate of 21 cents/kwh, and pay 28.4 cents for the next 900kwh. They pay 44 cents over that. The national average is about 11 cents.

If, and only if, you buy an electric car, you are allowed to switch to a "time of use" plan that charges you more for on-peak electricity (2pm to 9pm) and much less for off-peak electricity (11pm to 7am weeknights, 7pm to 3pm weekend-nights.) It's large -- in the summer peak power is 3.5 times the price of off-peak. Again, much of this is in the distribution charges.

If you switch to time-of-use and have constant loads (like my always on computers) the TOU price is very slightly cheaper. But if you can move loads to the night, you save a lot. I charge my car alm

Brad Ideas
Jan 18, 2019

Photo Gallery from CES 2019
Topic: RobocarsTechnologyHere is my gallery of photos and notes of interesting or silly products from CES 2019.

Mercedes concept shuttle

As I wrote earlier CES had much less new stuff than we usually like to see. It was CES 2018 plus a year, rather than the herald of a new age. I don't regret going, but wonder about the lull.

Each year I make a gallery of photos I took. There is a caption on each with my comments on it, so be sure to type "i" or the info button to see those. On mobile, slide the photo up to see captions.


I also have more coverage coming on LIDAR. In spite of the lack of news, I spent 3 days mostly talking to companies, and never even made it to the largest halls.



Brad Ideas
Jan 17, 2019

Rules for choosing a Presidential nominee
Topic: Politics Former senators almost never get to live here

As we enter election season, people wonder who the right candidate for the Democrats (or never-Trumpers) to stand against Trump is.

There are many factors, but let me start with some generic factors for the Democrats at any time.

The candidate should not have been a member of congress, like a Senator or House rep. Ideally they would be a sitting or former governor, if possible from a large red state or Rustbelt swing state, and able to deliver that state. If not a governor, other possible backgrounds include a successful business or top-brass military career, or a cabinet post running a major department. They must be simultaneously liberal enough to energize high turnout among the left, and centrist enough to attract voters on the center, and not overly frighten voters on the right. Voters must feel the candidate can understand and respect them. Charisma is also key to both energizing the base and attracting the center. In the special case of 2020, against Trump, if the candidate comes from business, their record there must be inarguably superior to Trump's.

Racism and sexism will play a role in the election if it is close. Normally, principles should be defended, and it is long past time when race, sex, religion or other factors should play a role in sele

Brad Ideas
Jan 16, 2019

EVSEs (car chargers) should be designed to do pass-through on dryer plugs
Topic: Going Green You probably have this (or the 4-pin version) in your laundry area As an update to my proposal for a special circuit breaker to assist in managing home power I thought I would propose a much simpler alternative for those who have a dryer plug in their garage.

The proposal is a small modification of existing portable EVSE designs (the proper name for what is often called an electric car "charger") many of which come with the ability to plug into a dryer plug -- by unplugging the existing dryer.

The idea is simply to have a special dryer plug which has a pass-through dryer socket on it, so the dryer can be plugged into it. The EVSE would include current monitoring lines on the dryer socket, to know how much current is going to the dryer.

Any time the current to the dyer is more than tiny, the EVSE would alter its "pilot wave" -- the signal that tells the car how much power is available -- to reduce the amps it reports. Normally on a dryer plug it will report 24 amps, which is 80% of the 30 amp rating of the plug. If the dryer starts to draw 2 amps, it would reduce the available power to 22 amps.

If the dryer starts to draw more, it could either continue this, or simply shut down the power to the car entirely to be on the safe side. Truth is, few dry their clothes in the middle of the night, and even if they do, missing out on an hour at 24

Brad Ideas
Jan 15, 2019

Big OEMs wouldn't mind a robocar slowdown one bit
Topic: Robocars

We continue to see lots of reports of a "pull back" on robocars, a "winter" of sorts. It is often presented as "the problem was harder than people expected" I discussed some of this in the prelude to my 2018 year in review.

As I indicated, reading these reports it seems like this issues is about 60% due to unrealistic public expectations now facing a reality the industry has already known and mostly been honest about, and the rest a mix of the very common delays in any common software technology, and only a small portion of the "it's harder than we expected" that people are reporting.

The public's expectations were and are due to a number of factors. Elon Musk, with his predictions of "soon, you will summon your car from New York" and general feeling that Tesla is close to having a full self driving car play a big role. Until recently, Tesla even took money from people for "full self drive" to be delivered later as a software update. They no longer offer that on the web site and warn you if you insist on ordering it. As I and many others predicted, it will need hardware upgrades. I think serious hardware upgrades.

There is one factor not being talked about in the idea of a pull-back. Namely that the big car companies would not mind a slowdown at all, and so will happily confirm this narrative, whether it is true or

Brad Ideas
Jan 14, 2019

Let passengers reserve space in the overhead bins
Topic: Air Travel Usually there's more space on the widebody planes Airlines should let passengers reserve overhead bin space. Today, the overhead bin is hotly competed for. People want to board first to make sure they get it. If you don't, they gate-check your bag, adding delays, lack of access to your stuff, and risk of damage -- I had some very important equipment damaged that way once and never let them gate check that sort of thing any more.

In addition, most people put their "personal item" up there too -- I will admit to doing this myself -- rather than under the seat. This uses up more space and pushes some people into gate check. Often you find space, but nowhere near your seat, and there's a crazy squeeze to get things at the end. As airlines started charging more for checked luggage, people started bringing more carry-ons, slowing down security. Airlines have started charging for carry-ons now, including creating special fares that don't allow a carry-on bag.

How would reservation work? To reserve space, you would have to provide true dimensions for any carry-on you wish to put up there. You would get allocated a space as close to your seat as possible.

The airline would put a coloured addressable LED strip along the luggage bins, as well as small panels able to display numbers or seat numbers. You would put your bag in the marked slot. If it

Brad Ideas
Jan 11, 2019

The news from CES is there wasn't much news from CES
Topic: RobocarsTechnology The Bell Helicopter tiltrotor, ducted fan hybrid aircraft had a giant crowd when the hall was open.

My feet are aching, as usual, after 3 days on the CES show floor, and the question people always ask others there is "what have you seen that was interesting?"

I won't say I didn't see anything interesting, and I had a large number of rewarding conversations with all sorts of companies, making the trip very worthwhile, but I will say I saw less that was new and exciting than ever before. This may be a result of the show's constant growth that meant in 3 days I still did not manage to get to 3 1/2 major rooms of the show, putting my focus on cars as I usually do.

A larger fraction of CES is not even remotely consumer electronics. In fact, the reason I go is largely the robocar related companies, none of whom are selling to consumers at this time, and most of which never plan to. And yes, the amazing new TVs from Samsung, LG and others are always a draw -- LG always creates an astonishing video wall, and all companies were now displaying 8K TVs as a real product (even if a very expensive one for which no video sources are available, but which will be fantastic for still photos.)

My favourite part of the show, Eureka Park, even disappointed even though I gave it most of a day

Brad Ideas
Jan 07, 2019

Tesla in autopilot whacks a robot at CES
Topic: RobocarsI'm on my way to CES tonight, and am surprised to have not seen much robocar news yet from there. I'll publish some reports of what I see.

But I just got a release from a company called Promobot, complaining that a driver in a Tesla using Autopilot hit one of the their robots. The robot was not supposed to be in the road, it was part of a group being moved and it "missed its way" and was standing on the side of the road. The Tesla driver, George Caldera wanted to try out Autopilot on the seemingly empty road. The car hits the robot with its left side. The robot is fragile and takes enough damage to make it non-operable for the trade show.

Tesla Autopilot is not a robocar system, it is a driver assist system. This driver was negligent and not paying attention to the road. It was his job to notice the humanoid figure (even if you don't expect a robot) and take control.

It is interesting, though, why the Autopilot did not stop. A neural network classifier trained on human pedestrians might well not identify a humanoid robot. But there should be some general object detection systems which notice that there is an obstacle in front of the car, even if it doesn't know what it is. This is one of the challenges of the non-LIDAR approach advanced by Tesla. Vision systems only identify what they know. However, motion parallax or stereo should still ha

Brad Ideas
Jan 07, 2019

Tesla in autopilot whacks a robot at CES (or does it?)
Topic: RobocarsI'm on my way to CES tonight, and am surprised to have not seen much robocar news yet from there. I'll publish some reports of what I see. The first modest announcement is the creation of a public education collective called PAVE which is the first consortium to have almost all the major players.

But I just got a release from a company called Promobot, claiming that a driver in a Tesla using "Full self drive" hit one of the their robots. The robot was not supposed to be in the road, the release says it was part of a group being moved and it "missed its way" and was standing on the side of the road. The Tesla driver, George Caldera, wanted to try out Autopilot on the seemingly empty road. The car hits the robot with its left side, but it's not clear that it really hits, and the robot does not fall in a way that matches being hit. The robot is supposedly fragile and takes enough damage to make it non-operable for the trade show. Or so they say.

More study strongly suggests this is a PR stunt. The "Police" visit is not a police car but a security car. The reported source and the company have not responded to inquiries. Promobot has been accused in the past of doing PR stunts with their robot. The release claims the Tesla was in full self drive, not autopilot, something that does not exist.

It was inte

Brad Ideas
Jan 04, 2019

If you're a computer nerd, buy the Tesla model 3
Topic: Going GreenRobocars The new blue Tesla Model 3 on delivery As I posted earlier I purchased a Tesla Model 3, the mid-range version with one motor and autopilot.

There are many reviews of this car out there, so I will go quickly over the common issues to get to areas I can give a special perspective on.

The Tesla (all of them) is unlike other cars. It's a car designed by silicon valley computer nerds, to some extent for silicon valley computer nerds. Since that's me, it was an obvious car choice for me. If that's you, I suspect this is the obvious choice for you as well. But it's also good for many other people.

As many have said, this car is half computer and half car, and in the 3 weeks I've owned it there have already been two software updates, and many more are to come. This was another key factor in buying it -- if the car is doing something wrong, the odds are excellent that it will get fixed later if it can be fixed in software. As such I am more forgiving of some of the issues I will outline here.

The driving, acceleration and handling are delicious. The low center of gravity and the powerful electric motor provide a driving experience unmatched in this cost range. This and other advantages of electric cars are quite larg

Brad Ideas
Jan 03, 2019

If Tesla wants to show off advanced summon, it could start at their superchargers
Topic: Going GreenRobocars Even when slots are empty, you still must move.

Elon Musk has bragged that soon the "Summon" mode in Tesla's will let you summon the car from across the country. They are a very long way from that, but there is a summoning application which they could implement which would actually be useful and solve a problem electric cars have, namely the sharing of charging stations -- particularly the supercharger.

Valet parking was one of the earliest robocar demonstrations. I first proposed it 10 years ago and Stanford and Audi did demos. It was actually the very first Cruise business plan. Except for the issue of pedestrians in the lot, it's one of the easiest problems to solve, and it can be done with just cameras because it's all low speed.

With low speed chargers, the problem is cars park there for hours, sometimes all day, and stay there after they are full. Some charging stations toss on a low charge like $2/hour to hog the station, but if you parked some distance from your destination, that's not much of a solution.

With the superchargers, there are two problems. Sometimes the superchargers are all full, and people sit in their car waiting. Once the supercharging is done, Tesla charg

Brad Ideas
Dec 30, 2018

Robocar Year in Review for 2018
Topic: Robocars

In spite of what most are writing, it was a year of much progress. A number of other summaries of 2018 in robocars have called it a bad year, the year it all went south, even the year the public realized that robocars will never come.

In fact, 2018 was the year the field reached a new level of maturity, as its warts began to show, and we saw the first missteps (minor and major) and the long anticipated popping of some of the hype.

As predicted by Gartner's famous "hype cycle" any highly-hyped technology goes through a "trough of disillusionment" after the initial surge. I see several reasons why the trough is happening now:

The public is starting to understand some realities which have not been very well conveyed to them, though they were known by the major teams: This is a very hard task It is geographic in nature, due to the need of mapping and local driving rules, and so it begins in limited areas and grows from there. The amount of QA needed to get to unmanned operation is immense, and if you have money, there is no reason to remove safety drivers until you're quite sure. The so called "level 5" isn't on any serious roadmap, and may never happen Cars showed up at the peak of Gartner's very own chart a couple of years ago, so it's just about time in their rulebook It's very typica

Brad Ideas
Dec 20, 2018

The utilitarian math overwhelming says we should be aggressive in robocar development. How do we do that?
Topic: RobocarsA frequent theme of mine has been my identification of "proving you have done it" as the greatest challenge in producing a safe robocar.

This accident was caused by a human driver. Like 12M others/year in the USA

Others have gone further, such as the Rand study which incorrectly claims you need to drive billions of miles to prove it.

Today I want to discuss a theoretical evaluation that most would not advocate, but which helps illustrate some of the issues, and discussions the social and philosophical angles of this new thing that the robocar is -- a major life-saving technology which involves risk in its deployment and testing, but which improves faster the more risk you take.

People often begin with purely "utilitarian" terms -- what provides the greatest good for the greatest number. The utilitarian value of robocars to safety can be simply measured in how they affect the total count of accidents, in particular fatalities. The insurance industry gives us a very utilitarian metric by turning the cost of accidents into a concrete dollar figure -- about 6 cents/mile. NHTSA calculated economic costs of $277B, with social costs

Brad Ideas
Dec 19, 2018

Can we have self-regulation of customer satisfaction surveys?
Topic: Brad's RantInternetSolve thisSpamI've ranted a few times about the flood of customer satisfaction surveys we get. It seems you can't buy a tube of toothpaste without being pushed to fill out a survey on it.

This is driven both by how easy it is in the e-world to implement such a survey, and by the need of marketing people to feel they are doing something. They are told they must measure, so they do, without thinking. Without realizing that doing too much surveying makes the survey useless. I, and probably most people, now delete surveys on sight unless I am angry. All the validity is gone. When people send me reminders to leave feedback on eBay or other sites, that's the surest way to get negative feedback.

It's a tragedy of the commons, too. Even a company that follows better procedure, only surveying randomly to a small subset of the population, and pushing to increase participation within only that small subset -- they will find themselves lost in a sea of surveys from bad companies that mail everybody.

So the marketing industry needs to set up some sort of industry body. That body needs to lay out some rules on how to do surveying. The rules would enforce proper statistical procedure, and they wou

Brad Ideas
Dec 18, 2018

Anthony Levandowski, Jiajun Zhu and Dave Furguson, all formerly of Google Car, make big announcements
Topic: RobocarsBy coincidence we see two significant announcements today from people who were former leaders on the Google car project, now in their own companies.

A Nuro drives on a public street

The more significant is Nuro's automated delivery service which uses their unmanned road robots. The post claims it is the first unmanned delivery service, which is quite false, since robots from Starship (in which I am involved) as well as competitors like Kiwi, Robby, Marble and others have been running delivery service on sidewalks for some time now.

However, it is the first unmanned road based service of any kind, pending some details, which is much more significant. However, while they say the robots are monitored by remote operators (which they should be, and will be to some extent even when they are much more advanced) it is unclear if they are monitored by people in chase cars. If there are chase cars, this makes this announcement a little less significant, since that's only modestly different from having safety drivers, and simply a necessity caused by having a vehicle which can't carry a person.

Deliverbots present an easier problem than passenger robocars. They can limit themselves to easier and slower roads. Their cargo is no anxious or in the type of hurry humans

Brad Ideas
Dec 14, 2018

Will AI bias be that hard to correct for?
Topic: New DemocracyPrivacy Lots of crime on Pennsylvania Avenue these days I recently went to a showing of the film Bias and met the filmmaker Robin Hauser. Most of the film discusses our unconscious biases as revealed by the Implicit Association Test which extracts bias information by having you quickly make associations between words and concepts and testing your error rate.

The producer of the film took the test, and was bothered by the biases it revealed in her, but also bothered by the fact that no amount of conscious effort to correct the bias worked. You could take the test again and again, trying not to have the bias, but it doesn't work. It did make her more aware of the biases in more low speed decision making and she hopes she's improved.

A smaller section at the end of the film dealt with the way that human biases in training data have produced "AI" tools which incorporate those biases. For example, if you take data about criminal activity, the much higher arrest and incarceration rates for black people will cause the resulting network to be trained to evaluate black individuals as more likely to be criminal. This has resulted in them being denied parole just for the colour of their

Brad Ideas
Dec 12, 2018

Scooters are so efficient we should fix them, not ban them
Topic: Going GreenTransportationScooters from Lime and Bird have been causing a stir as they move quickly into cities. There's been blowback, because riders travel recklessly, often on sidewalks, and they also leave scooters just lying on the sidewalk, blocking things, because as dockless scooters you can drop them anywhere. Riders are also getting hurt, these are not the safest things to ride.

So cities are striking back, trying to stop, regulate or collect money from these scooter operators.

We can understand why, but cities should be very cautious in how they do this. Because these scooters are absolutely amazing when it comes to three of the big transportation problems -- emissions, congestion and parking.

Scooters are amazingly efficient Let's start with emissions. These electric scooters use from 16 to 20 watt-hours per mile. That's astoundingly good. That's mind-bogglingly good. To give you some numbers in comparison for other electric vehicles:

Chart of watt-hours used per passenger mile for various transport modes

Where do these disturbingly poor numbers for the transit systems come? In most cases from American Public Transportation Association Fact Book --

Brad Ideas
Dec 07, 2018

Re-examining Bitcoin price collapses
Topic: InternetTags: bitcoinChart of the Bitcoin mining capacity for the last 2 years

Some years ago, when Bitcoin had a price collapse to $150, I advanced a theory about the danger of such a sudden drop and examined it a bit more last year. My predictions were wrong, but it's not yet entirely clear why they were wrong, and more people have started advancing similar theories.

In short, as Bitcoin (or other coins) mature, mining them should be a modestly profitable industry. If it gets too profitable, more people start mining, which bumps the difficulty and it becomes modestly profitable again. This works as it grows.

If it drops suddenly, though, all the marginally profitable miners (with older equipment) are suddenly unprofitable. By rational reasons they should turn off. If a whole lot of miners turn off quickly, the mining power (hashrate) drops suddenly, and the whole network slows down. It can take up to 2,000

Brad Ideas
Dec 06, 2018

Uber dares to return, Senate pushes law, and query about recharging scooters
Topic: Going GreenRobocarsSome news items, and then some analysis of the energy needed to reposition and charge all the dockless scooters from Lime and Bird.

Uber coming back? The New York Times reports that Uber will begin autonomous testing again but just on a one mile fixed route between their facilities and at 25mph or less. They know that if they have even the slightest incident they are toast, so they need to keep it to this fairly low utility level of testing. But they do seem to want to come back. Even so, the Times story includes internal sources saying they have problems and shouldn't do even this. As their earlier safety documents show, they plan to do it with the obvious things fixed.

But can anybody operate in an environment where no mistake can be forgiven? Uber used up all the slack the public might have offered them.

Senate tries self-driving bill Earlier, the house passed a self-driving bill unanimously, but the Senate version got stalled. It offers an clause forcing disputes to arbitration which has bothered several groups, not without reason. I sort of agree with the concept, but think it's a little early to implement it.

Perhaps the greatest remaining legal risk for robocars in the USA is the chance that they might have fewer accidents than humans, but each accident will cost many t

Brad Ideas
Dec 05, 2018

Waymo soft launches in Phoenix, but...
Topic: Robocars Waymo car drives in Tempe

Waymo announced today they will begin commercial operations in the Phoenix area under the name "Waymo One." Waymo has promised that it would happen this year, and it is a huge milestone, but I can't avoid a small bit of disappointment.

Regular readers will know I am a huge booster of Waymo, not simply because I worked on that team in its early years, but because it is clearly the best by every metric we know. However, this pilot rollout is also quite a step down from what was anticipated, though for sensible reasons.

At first, it is only available to the early rider program members. In fact, it's not clear that this is any different from what they had before, other than it is more polished and there is a commercial charging structure (not yet published.) Vehicles will continue to operate with safety drivers. Other companies -- including Waymo, Uber, Lyft and several others -- have offered limited taxi services with safety drivers. This service is mainly different in its polish and level of development -- or at least that's all we have been told. They only say they "hope" to expand it to people outside the early rider program soon.

They have loosened it a bit -- the riders no longer need to sign an NDA, and they can even bring

Brad Ideas
Dec 04, 2018

A circuit breaker designed for electric cars to lower costs
Topic: Going GreenInventionsTransportation A shiny new Tesla, with 15 miles on it

While I was watching a rocket lifting some of my friend's satellites into space from my driveway yesterday, my new electric Tesla car was delivered to that driveway.

Now that's a sentence that says you're truly in the 21st century. The SpaceX Falcon9 was launching 64 different micro satellites, some of which were from my friends at Planet Labs. What used to be the province of countries is now done by the guy down the street. And it was just an extreme coincidence that the Elon Musk Tesla arrived at the exact same minute as the Elon Musk SpaceX launch. You do have to hand it to Elon, even with the differences of opinions we have on LIDAR and other issues.

So you'll see more posts from me about electric cars in the near future, I'm sure, so let's start about the question of home charging. In the robocar world, cars will be able to drive off to find charging when they are low, so you won't need to install home charging, but today you want it.

This means having some sort of "charger" with the big car charging plug. We call it a charger, but in fact the charger is in the car, the home unit is just an interface be

Brad Ideas
Nov 27, 2018

To discuss transportation, we must agree on what the goals of a transport system are
Topic: Transportation Busy Argentine bus stop People love mass transit. By this, I mean there are a lot of people who, either for historical or emotional reasons, love transit as a good in itself, rather than a means to various ends.

As The Onion put it so brilliantly, 98 Percent of U.S. Commuters Favor Public Transportation for Others. The satire is funny, but also true.

To really discuss the future of public transit (and in particular mass transit) in the face of a technological revolution in mobility, it is vital to look not at Transit, but the goals we have for it, as well as the general goals we have for all our transportation.

This is a foundational article, to be the basis for future articles on where transportation is going. It does not try to make too many points, but rather lays the ground rules. I welcome input on improvements to these goal lists.

Some of those goals are the goals of the traveller. Others are goals of the city or society. Sometimes those come into conflict.

The Traveller's Goals Short and predictable travel times, with minimal waiting Safety Flexible departure times Reliability Low cost Pleasant travel: Comfortable, smooth, seated, peaceful, priv

Brad Ideas
Nov 26, 2018

Flying cars, robocars and more will rewrite the rural landscape, for good and ill
Topic: RobocarsTransportationTags: flying carsHow and where we live is governed most by transportation, and all the new mobility technologies are poised to cause big changes. Today, I want to look at the following technologies and how they will affect life outside the city. In many case, they will come last to the country, but in other cases, they may come first.

Flying Cars -- access to everywhere with a clearing Walking pack robots -- to carry cargo and even people through rough terrain Robocars -- widely varied vehicles on demand, plus off-road and simple road ability Automated high speed aviation -- offering quick travel to other locations Cheap solar -- power almost anywhere. Cheap batteries -- the other half of power everywhere Water purification -- water in many more places Universal Online Shipping -- buy anything with short delivery times at low cost Robot Delivery (drone and road) -- get anything (small) to any location. Satellite, balloon and low cost wireless data links -- be on the net, connected to society, anywhere Telepresence -- engage more fully in activities at remote locations Hyperloop -- much more speculative, but with interesting potential to make c

Brad Ideas
Nov 23, 2018

Brad Ideas
Brad Templeton is Chairman Emeritus of the EFF, Singularity U founding computing faculty, software architect and internet entrepreneur, robotic car strategist, futurist lecturer, photographer and Burning Man artist. This is an "ideas" blog rather than a "cool thing I saw today" blog. Many of the items are not topical. If you like what you read, I recommend you also browse back in the archives, starting with the best of blog section. It also has various "topic" and "tag" sections (see menu on right) and some are sub blogs like Robocars, photography and Going Green. Try my home page for more info and contact data.

Brad Ideas
Nov 21, 2018

Uber's quest for a "smoother ride" brought them down
Topic: Robocars One of Uber's Volvos, if they ever get back on the road

A detailed new report on Uber by Business Insider contains a variety of leaked quotes from insiders confirming much of what we had heard or feared about Uber's technical failure, with a few important new details.

I will reiterate that the Uber insiders who sought to blame their terrible safety driver, who was watching a TV show instead of the road, for the incident are partly right. Since all prototypes will make mistakes which could lead to dangerous accidents on a regular basis, it the primary fault lies in not having a good safety driver protocol and a good safety driver. That said, the worse your car's software is, the more chances there are that a safety driver failure will lead to doom, and so the secondary causes, the technical ones, are of interest. But even with much blame on the safety driver herself, the decisions which put her in that chair, alone, are the fault of Uber's protocols and management. The attempt to put blame on the victim described in the article is not valid, and simply the result of panic and inability to accept blame one's self.

Smooth Ride The most interesting new detail is that the team h

Brad Ideas
Nov 19, 2018

Where's a fireproof rescue vehicle?
Topic: RobocarsTags: flying cars Everybody here is in shock over the destruction and death from the recent California fires, and I, like many, have even fled the coast for the mountains as the air in the San Francisco Bay area remains unsafe. Videos of people escaping down burning streets send chills into those who watch them.

It should be possible to build a rescue vehicle which can withstand a great amount of fire for a short time. As a vehicle, it would not stay in fire, but would drive through burning and dangerous areas quickly. It would have air tanks, filters and everything else you would need. Some might have tracks to go down debris filled streets, but in these cases we've seen streets that could be driven if not for the burning all around. Some military vehicles, such as APCs, might already be suitable with modest modification.

There are 3 options for such vehicles. They could be crewed, remote piloted, or autonomous.

Crewed vehicles of course are flexible and the crew can help rescue people from buildings and search for them. Many of the deaths are elderly people who could not get out of homes on their own. The crew take up seats, however, and also put their lives at risk to enter the fire zone.

Remote control or autonomous could make sense when a specific trapped v

Brad Ideas
Nov 15, 2018

Nice summary of LIDAR technologies -- is it a "crutch?"
Topic: Robocars Lidar report details all the players

Earlier this year this nice summary of LIDAR companies was published. While it misses a few projects, I recommend it as a nice visual overview of the many LIDAR technologies in production and under development.

This should make a stronger case on the question of the role of LIDAR. Almost all teams are using and planning to use LIDAR, expecting some of the companies in this report to deliver production quality, reasonably priced LIDAR around 2020-2021. A number of teams, namely several startups and Tesla, are trying to work without LIDAR. As I have written before, this is an error, because it is usually done with the goal of saving money -- cameras are much cheaper, especially when you want to look in all directions. Now is not the time to be cheap.

Elon Musk makes one of the few counter-arguments, claiming that "LIDAR is a crutch." That it is just letting teams get away with not making their vision systems sufficiently good. He feels it is making teams chase a "local maximum" though he may have mostly been critical of approaches that rely almost entirely on LIDAR with minimal use of vision. That is not the approach of any major team today I am aware of.

Tesla's lack of LIDAR has a more mundane explanation -

Brad Ideas
Nov 14, 2018

A plan to end the disproportionate power of small U.S. states by buying them out
Topic: New DemocracyPolitics Time to rebuild this body After elections, American's lament about the current structure of the Senate (and electoral college) because they are based on legacy, and do not follow the principle of one person one vote.

Here, I propose a way to fix that by using the much larger economic and political power of the large states to "buy out" the small states in a deal that corrects the legacy imbalance.

This inequity was deliberate, of course. When the Union was formed, a deal was struck to recruit all the colonies to join. The small colonies were justifiably afraid that the large colonies would dominate them in any one-person-one-vote system. (Or rather, one white male landowner plus 3/5ths of his slaves, one vote.) So they were offered the Senate, where all the new states would have equal power, regardless of population. They took the deal and it was extended to all the new states that joined.

Today, the complaint goes, it is way out of proportion. And it is. The 18 smallest states have about the same population as California, and those people elect 36 Senators, and get 38 more electoral votes, while California gets 2. The deal has definitely come out to favour those small (in population) states beyond the way the founders intended.

But even if

Brad Ideas
Nov 12, 2018

Sex in your robotaxi
Topic: RobocarsI decided not to use a photo with this articleA Washington Post article suggests robotaxis may become popular for sex on wheels. In my talks I have often made the joke that while the auto industry quests for "Vision Zero" -- no automotive fatalities -- the robocar is the only technology that could result in people actually being created while driving.

People have had sex in cars probably as long as there have been cars. I am sure while the cars are a novelty that this will have an upswing, though in time the novelty will die down. The WP suggests that robocars, especially sleeper cars with beds, might even become brothels on wheels, or a popular, low cost private space that delivers itself to you.

I have written before about how to maintain privacy in the robotaxi and other privacy issues. Among my proposals is the idea that while robotaxi operators will want a camera that lets them inspect the interior (to spot when riders have damaged or soiled the vehicle, to bill them and send the car to a service depot for cleaning) that we will still want our privacy, and as such that camera should come with a physical shutter which you close to start the ride and open to end the ride.

If use for sex is a big issue, the camera can even shoot in the ult

Brad Ideas
Nov 06, 2018

Notes on Uber's "Please take us back" safety plan
Topic: Robocars Uber tech at work on car fleet reported earlier, Uber released a series of documents detailing safety strategy. It's their effort to restore their image in the world and get back on the road.

Most of this document is effectively a "How to build a robocar 101" without special relevance to Uber. It's what other teams are doing to, and most of it is fairly obvious. In the important section on safety drivers, they do concede they made an error going to just one, and describe how they are fixing that and how they are now screening applicants. They don't want to say "mea culpa" too much, so in only a few cases do they identify a change in policy, including:

Sticking with two safety drivers Upgrading the type of person hired to be a safety driver (mission specialist) and having a stricter hiring process Putting in attention monitoring on the "pilot" driver behind the wheel, and warning them -- and alerting HQ -- if they don't pay attention. Lower latency in the processing pipeline, and higher priority for more important obstacles detected Internal and External safety audit, and new safety advisory board Stronger internal safety culture and regular safety standups, briefings and training for all staff Always on automatic emergency braking through an external system. This mi

Brad Ideas
Nov 05, 2018

Uber declares itself devoted to safety
Topic: RobocarsThis weekend, Uber released a long and detailed "safety report" with some of their learnings and new plans after their fatal error. I have not had time to read it all yet due to travel, and will offer more detailed comments later. You can read the comments of the Washington post and many others online.

Even without reading it, I am sure the document will be contrite and declare a dedication to safety. And I am even confident that Uber will become much more dedicated to safety than before, since they have had more of a wake-up call that any other team.

They go into more details on the technical flaws they want to improve, including the latency in their perception system and of course the need for better emergency braking ability.

But even without reading it, I want to reiterate a point from before. Uber's failure came from two very different components, and both were bad but only one was the true failure. That was the failure to have good safety driving -- both in terms of Uber's protocol of managing and training safety drivers, and the performance of the particular safety driver they hired.

While Uber's technical systems performed particularly badly, because not seeing a pedestrian alone on an empty road is an unacceptable level of

Brad Ideas
Nov 01, 2018

Study claims robocars increase polution; they could not be more wrong
Topic: Going GreenRobocars Less of this in the robotaxi world

A recently published article on robocar pollution with associated paper from Boston University warns of robocars increasing pollution by increasing vehicle miles combined with the emissions of some sections of the U.S. energy grid.

The study has several serious flaws, since I believe robocars offer great potential to actually reduce emissions.

The premise that VMT increases is a reasonable one, especially outside the US, where car travel becomes more popular as you make it more convenient and cheaper. But the paper presumes vehicles and fleets like we have today, and a grid like we have today.

There is strong evidence the grid will improve and go solar, especially in sunny places. In sunny places, solar is now the cheapest method of building a new power plant. (Running existing NG and coal plants is still slightly cheaper but this may not be that way for long.) Of course, electric cars don't charge too much from solar because they are on the roads during the day, so storage is still needed.

The main issue though is the fleet. 80% of tri

Brad Ideas
Oct 31, 2018

Nutonomy President says "let's not compete on safety" since any crash hurts the whole industry
Topic: Robocars If you have fatalities, will people ride with you?

In a talk earlier this year Karl Iagnemma, from Nutonomy/Aptiv discusses public perception of robocars. In particular, he puts a focus on the difference between perception and reality, and the risks that presents. He then suggests that because the failure of any one company at safety (like Uber's fatality) affects all other companies, and thus companies should work together to improve each other's safety.

There are many different errors of perception, in both directions.

Many polls released say that a large fraction of people are afraid of self-driving cars, though they are answering questions about a technology they have not experienced or which even exists. People who get in the cars trust them very quickly, even more quickly than they should. People attribute errors of one project (like Uber) to the others, or confuse a driver assist car (like the Tesla) with a robocar. No matter what the misperception, though, Iagnemma is right when he suggests the problems of one player reflect on all the players. This is particularly true with the Uber fatality, which caused increases in the fraction of people who (prejudging) declare they would be afraid of riding in or even having rob

Brad Ideas
Oct 29, 2018

Waymo is first, but is Cruise second, and how can you tell?
Topic: Robocars Cruise's spartan interior -- if they deploy on time

A recent Reuters story suggests Cruise is well behind schedule with one insider saying "nothing is on schedule" and various reports of problems not yet handled. This puts doubt into GM's announced plan to have a commercial pilot without safety drivers in operation in San Francisco in 2019.

The problem for me, and everybody else, is that it's very hard to judge the progress of a project from outside. This is because it's "easy" to get a basic car together and do demo runs on various streets. Teams usually have something like that up and running within a year. Just 2 years in, Google had logged 100,000 miles on 1,000 different miles of road. Today, it's even easier.

As such, you can see lots of miles logged, and you can take a test ride where nothing eventful happens, and be impressed, but learn very little.

You learn more if you can get detailed statistics, but even there it's difficult. Only the people on the team in charge of measuring quality have a really good sense of it, and sometimes not even them. Even high quality vehicles will be having minor problems from time to time, temporarily not perceiving things, or being too conservative in their driving. Aft

Brad Ideas
Oct 18, 2018

Make robotaxis so cheap they can't even close their doors
Topic: Robocars Brose self-closing door for future robotaxis

A recent article on automatic closing doors for robocars argues that the car must be able to close the door, because the passenger might leave it open, and the car can't drive with an open door.

There is some truth to that, in that when using an automated vehicle, people sort of expect it to open and close the doors for you. We find it frustrating riding those old or cheap elevators that make you manually open the door, which is strange, considering that we don't find any frustration in the other many manual doors we will use during the day.

This is one reason Waymo chose the Pacifica minivan which has motorized doors. There is something particularly futuristic about a vehicle that pulls up and opens its door for you.

The Brose door just closes and doesn't open, for the reason listed above. But I have been writing about how robocars offer the potential to make cars a great deal cheaper as the cost of the sensor package and computing drops. For example, since doors cost money, a solo robocar might have only one door rather than two, having just a kick-out emergency exit panel on the other side. The car will just always park at the curb

Brad Ideas
Oct 17, 2018

Cryptocurrency is the wrong name, and "crypto" is worse
Topic: TechnologyTags: bitcoinLike many people who have worked in cryptography for decades, and is used to the abbreviation "crypto" to refer to it, I wince when I see that term now being frequently used as a short for "cryptocurrency," ie. Bitcoin and its friends.

It is a strange takeover -- crypto has been around for decades as a term, and cryptography is, by many orders of magnitude, a more widely used and deployed technology. You're using it to read this and you and everybody else online uses it thousands of times a day for a growing fraction of all your online communication and many other things. Cryptoocurrencies, however, are the "hot new thing" and near the peak of the hype cycle. As such, and certainly in some circles, "crypto" now is most likely to mean blockchain tech.

The irony is that cryptocurrencies don't even use encryption. They use digital signature and hashes, which come from the field of cryptography, and thus the name.

However, what's important about them is not that they use crypto. That's just the tool used to attain the real goal -- decentralization.

As such, I think a better name for these coins and technologies would emphasize that. I might suggest the following:

Decents or DeCents -- money and decentralization Decentrals (so tha

Brad Ideas
Oct 16, 2018

Replacing a car with ride-hail, and Lyft's $299/month subscription
Topic: RobocarsTransportation Cities adapt to Uber and Lyft

Today, Lyft announced a $299/month subscription plan which isn't really very good, but it opens up the discussion of how people will switch to robotaxi service from car ownership, a subject I was already debating in my own household.

The Lyft plan gives you 30 "free" rides of up to $15 for the $299. Plus you get a discount on other rides. If you take a bunch of rides that are less than $15 it could actually lose you money, but for a heavy user it will be a saving of $150 plus the discount on the other rides. $15 is good for rides around a small city, but well under the cost of rides in a metro area like San Francisco's Bay Area.

People buy cars very differently from rides. Most people have a monthly loan payment or lease payment, and then pay for insurance on a monthly or annual basis, maintenance and repairs as needed (but typically only a couple times a year) and tanks of fuel around once a week. Only parking is paid for per trip. That's different for Lyft or Zipcar or even transit tickets where you see the cost with every trip, which is psychologically harder. In addition, once you have paid for a car (or Lyft subscription) you feel motivated to use

Brad Ideas
Oct 15, 2018

Could the lost cryptocoins go to charity?
Topic: TechnologyTags: bitcoin What gold is buried in dead computers?

With cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, you must guard the private keys which give you control of your own bitcoins well. You must guard them from being stolen (which calls for secure wallet programs, strong passwords and even offline paper wallets) but you must also guard them from being lost, which means backups, and possibly escrow in the event of your death.

These two desires can sometimes be at odds. For better or worse, there are reports of people who have lost many thousands of bitcoins, today worth many millions, due to hard drive failures, poor backups and other reasons. They are gone forever.

A coin could be created with this rule. Every coin must be "spent" in a transaction every so often, such as every 2 years. You can "spend" your coins by sending them in a transaction back to yourself, usually to a new unknown address. Any coins not spent for 2 years would be declared lost, and would be transferred to the address of a charitable foundation created by the coin's creators. The foundation would have a charter promoting suitable causes -- which could range

Brad Ideas
Oct 12, 2018

New NHTSA regulations, Waymo miles and big deals
Topic: RobocarsWe have a bunch of new robocar news recently -- it seems that is a common event. Here's the relevant stories, plus some notes on robocar doors.

80 pages of new regulations

New draft regulations from NHTSA NHTSA has released "Automated Vehicles 3.0" which offers yet another run at writing regulations for the technology which is yet to be deployed. I have not yet had a chance to examine it, and will release more analysis next week.

Other reports reveal that these regulations start talking about real robocars (which they persist in calling "level 4") with no steering wheels or other controls. Old regulations are full of mention of things that just don't apply to such vehicles, and they plan to clear that up.

They have dropped the idea of government test tracks. Test tracks are useful to get going (and several private ones exist) but real testing needs to be on the real roads.

At the same time, the Senate is still working on their own robocar regulation bill. While somewhat bipartisan there are various blocks on the bill, including how it pre-empts local laws. Trial lawyers also don't like it as it see

Brad Ideas
Oct 08, 2018

What happens to human driven cars in the robocar world?
Topic: Robocars The Prisoner loved a good sportscar I love to talk about the coming robocar world. Over the next few decades, more and more trips will be made in robocars, and more and more people will reduce or give up car ownership to live the robotaxi life. This won't be instantaneous, and it will happen in some places decades before it happens in others, but I think it's coming. f But what of the driver of the regular car? What lies ahead for those who love driving and want to own a traditional car? I often see people declare that nobody will own cars in the future, and that human driving will even be banned. Is that realistic?

Nobody restricts human driving for quite some time The transition to robocars must be gradual, one car at a time, at least in most of the world. That means lots of human driven cars on all the roads for decades to come.

Some people predict that human driving will quickly be banned. This won't happen in most places simply because there will still be lots of places robocars don't go because it's not commercially viable to certify them there. In addition, there will be strong political opposition. At a rough guess, around 1/3rd of people never have a car accident in their lives. What is the justification in taking away their licences?

When I give talks on robocars, I usually get some people telling me they can't imagine why anybody would d

Brad Ideas
Oct 07, 2018

Could we enforce an unbiased court?
Topic: New DemocracyPolitics Equal justice under law is a great idea While everybody has the supreme court on their minds, I will avoid talking about this week's issues while they are so raw. Instead, I want to look at the issue of politically biased courts and what we might do about it. (I have had the distinction, unusual for a foreigner, to be involved in 2 cases before the U.S. supreme court, once as an appellant, and once as chair of the legal group representing an appellant.)

In short, can we design voting rules for a court that would reduce its ability to be biased? There are several popular proposals, including term limits, or viewing 5-4 rulings as a tie, which might help things.

Courts are going to be appointed by politicians, and as long as the judges can make rulings for political reasons, that leaves us with biased courts. But ideally, judges on a court are not biased, and their rulings are independent of any preconceptions, both political and legal.

Forbid correlation In statistics, we have ways to test if things are independent events. We can measure their correlation. We could, if we wished, make rules forbidding too much correlation between judges. If a group of judges are regularly voting together, they are not being independent jurists, and this can be curtailed.

Brad Ideas
Oct 05, 2018

Before the next museum fire, make 4K video of all your documents
Topic: MediaPhotographyTags: digitizing There are special machines for this but it's easy to make your own setup. Many of you will have read of the tragic fire which destroyed the National Museum of Brazil. Many of the artifacts and documents in the museum were not photographed or backed up, and so are destroyed forever.

This includes things like language research notes -- the only remaining documents on now extinct human languages. Gone.

I hope this means that museums and collections around the world are now scrambling to make sure they have digital backups. This leads me to post a reminder of my article on Digitizing your papers for the future with 4K video. The idea there is simple. Get your papers and quickly go through them while being recorded by a 4K video camera. There is no software today to turn that video into a document. But there will be. And you can manually pull out any page by going through the video.

If you know people who work at a museum that doesn't have digital images of its a

Brad Ideas
Oct 04, 2018

How would Americans vote if there were a popular vote?
Topic: Politics Logo of the NPV Interstate Compact There's been a recent surge in talk about how to switch US presidential elections to be based on a popular vote rather than the electoral college. As I have pointed out before, there is no such thing as the US popular vote even though the press likes to add the real popular votes in the swing states to the nobody-cares surveys of the safe states and call it "the popular vote."

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact got excited by adding Connecticut's 7 votes this year, but I think that's actually a bad sign for the compact, not a positive one. The compact hopes to get 270 electoral votes so it can be activated, but the 12 states which have joined it are all "blue states" which reliably support the Democratic Party. Adding another bright blue state just makes it look more and more partisan, and that makes it more and more difficult to get a "red" state to consider joining it, and it can never get to 270 with just blue states. (On the other hand, the compact has passed in one house in some red states, notably Arkansas and Oklahoma, so it is not entirely without hope, but one house is just a beginning.)

Brad Ideas
Oct 03, 2018

Tons of new ideas in aviation. Will regulation stop them?
Topic: Air TravelRobocarsTags: flying cars XTI hybrid-electric VTOL design This week I attended the "Revolution.Aero" conference on advanced new ideas in aviation, including electric VTOL aircraft (often called "flying cars.") I learned that there's a lot of interesting new stuff going on in aviation, but the strong regulatory environment keeps much of it repressed.

This wasn't strictly an eVTOL conference, though it had a few sessions on that. In fact, most of the attendees were from the business jet and charter world, as could be seen from the fact that 90% of people wore suits, something very rare in a San Francisco Bay Area conference about new technology. Usually, it's the reverse, and the 10% in the suits are either very important old-industry folks or the clueless ones.

Here are some of the interesting learnings:

eVTOL is real I've said this before, but now there are around 100 active projects to build eVTOL aircraft -- electric vehicles which can do vertical takeoff and landing. I have written about several of these

Brad Ideas
Oct 01, 2018

What processors will be important in robocars?
Topic: Robocars ARM graphic to make you feel their chips will control cars

Recently chip-maker ARM announced a new processor series aimed at robocars. We've also seen Nvidia get a lot of stock market boost thanks to the presence of their GPUs in most neural network systems. (I own some NVDA.) A long line of chip companies have touted that their chips will be big winners in the robocar race.

Will they? Obviously as cars turn into computers, we are going to need lots of processors. But today there are only 80 million cars sold every year. That number is going to grow a bit with robotaxis -- perhaps in a few years it will double to 160M.

But that's pretty small numbers in consumer electronics. 260 million PCs are sold per year, and another 160 million tables. And 408 million smartphones. Plus gaming devices and industrial computers -- it's a lot. If you could corner the market of all cars, and perhaps sell multiple processors per car, it could be serious revenue.

It's good for the chip companies to want to win this, but they following the right strategy?

Processors Some companies are hoping to make specialized processors, with a plan that car makers will choose them over the commodity processors made by Intel, AMD, ARM and others. The ARM chip c

Brad Ideas
Sep 21, 2018

Will people with robocars hire them out as taxis when they are not using them?
Topic: Robocars Getaround lets people search for privately owned cars today

Will your private car hire itself out as a robotaxi when you're not using it? Back in my 2008 fictional story A week of robocars I was one of the first to talk about this idea. Indeed, I have written for some time that there will be 5 main types of car users in the robocar world

Those who continue with their manually driven cars Those who own a robocar strictly for their private use. Those who own a private robocar, but have it hire itself out when not being used by its owner. Those who reduce private ownership (ie. go from 2 cars to 1) due to robotaxi use. Those who give up private ownership of cars and exclusively use robotaxis and transit. Many people like #3, and Tesla has even declared it will operate such a network for Tesla owners will full self drive to hire out their cars. In 2009, a group of our students created car-sharing company "Getaround," partly due to inspiration from my 2006 proposal. Getaround lets people do short term rentals of private cars and recently got a $300 million investment round from Softbank.

In spite of that early excitement, I have grown to think that group 3 will be fairly small. It derives too much from old-s

Brad Ideas
Sep 20, 2018

Transit driver union leader calls for strike if drivers are removed from buses
Topic: Robocars In the future, this long bendy bus and its driver may not be around as much The president of the Transportation Workers Union of America has threatened a strike if automated buses with no driver are deployed in Columbus Ohio. This sort of reaction is not entirely unexpected. Of course the story of people being replaced by machines goes back to the 19th century, and so far it has always turned out that the world has more employment as time goes on, though that may be cold comfort to those forced to adapt.

The whole question of technology driven unemployment is a huge one that deserves lots of other examination, but today I want to focus on the bus driver, and their claims.

The strike threat is an idle one. For now, all prototype projects include a safety driver who is ready to take the wheel if there is a problem, and the ones that have dared to move beyond prototypes have still kept a person on board to make sure all is going well and to help customers. So nobody is about to do a completely unmanned pilot for some time to come.

There are a lot of professional drivers in the USA -- some estimates suggest about 4 million, 3 million driving trucks, and the rest driving other vehicles including taxis. These numbers predate the rise of Uber/Lyf

Brad Ideas
Sep 19, 2018

Using cars for backup grid energy probably doesn't work
Topic: Going GreenRobocars Pumping water into a reservoir is great for storage In the world of electric cars, some people talk about an idea called "vehicle to grid" or V2G. Renewable energy's biggest challenge is storage -- wind and solar only come at certain times of the day, but we need electricity all day. The V2G hope is to use all the batteries in electric cars as a means of grid storage.

Initial V2G plans just involve electric cars that are sitting plugged into charging stations. They would fill up, as they always do, but mostly during the night when power demand is lowest. They would also charge up, if plugged in, after working the morning commute.

Then, if the grid had a shortage of power, it could send the message out, and ask cars to send power back out of their batteries back into the grid to make up the shortfall. This could help handle the top peak loads, for which there is simply not enough generation capacity available, or it could also reduce the need to fire up "peaker" plants that burn fossil fuels.

Storage for the grid is challenging, and many are working on using grid-based batteries as they get cheaper. Other options include pumping water back into reservoirs (one of the top choices) or fancier approaches like compressing gas in underground chambers. V2G suggests using the big fleet of roving batte

Brad Ideas
Sep 18, 2018

The future timeline of robocars -- 2020s land rush, 2030s maturity
Topic: Robocars There will be a "land rush" on a scale to rival the last one One of the most frequent questions people ask about robocars is when they will arrive for the public. The answer is difficult and not simple for many reasons, but one of the most important points is that it won't happen at the same time in every places. Some pilot towns will have them very soon; other places may not see them for decades. Predicting dates for future technologies is always extremely risky, so take much of this with several grains of salt, but here is my best guess for the timeline.

My short summary answer to the question is as follows:

The next 2-3 years will see pilot projects in various cities around the world, starting with Waymo in Phoenix, and others in San Francisco, Tokyo, Singapore and a few others. In the early 2020s one or more pilots will demonstrate safety, regulatory consensus and as time passes, business models. Once these are established, particularly a working business model, the first player will strike out to dominate the most lucrative and "doable" cities. The second player will start somewhat later, going mostly after different cities As more players come online (2023 timeframe) a "land rush" begins as players grab virgin cities. The land rush will cost hundreds of billions of dollars, but the players have that much money On

Brad Ideas
Sep 17, 2018

The dance between pedestrians and robocars
Topic: Robocars Tokyo has tons of cars and pedestrians and isolates them, mostly. How will robocars and pedestrians interact?

This is a complex question, one that many of us have been thinking about since the very dawn of the field. It's one thing to get the car to deal well with other vehicles -- even motorcycles and bicycles -- but pedestrians are both the most complex and most vulnerable user of the urban street. And they are not just on the street, they are on the sidewalks and in parked cars and can enter the street at any time.

Robocars can sense pedestrians well enough, and thanks to neural networks they can even get good at understanding body language and facial expressions to improve what they learn from LIDAR. But there's more to it than that.

Robocars will work hard to identify and avoid hitting all pedestrians if the laws of physics allow it. At the same time, the easiest strategy for that -- be super cautious around pedestrians -- is not a very good answer.

A classic problem involves a pedestrian standing on a corner. The first thought will be that the pedestrian might be about to cross. The car should slow down and prepare for the potential of a pedestrian in the crosswalk. But not all people standing on corners are about to cross. Sometimes you spot a phone to their ear; they are on a call. Sometimes they are waiting for somebody. Sometimes a group of pe

Brad Ideas
Sep 13, 2018

Surges and fleets, and whether your robotaxi ride will be cheap in the off peak
Topic: RobocarsUber changes prices with demand To serve a city, a robotaxi fleet will need to be large enough to handle the peaks, which is to say rush hour. Today, we handle that with an immense fleet which sits idle most of the time. A robotaxi fleet can be much smaller. Some people suggest ridiculous numbers like 10x smaller but the best estimates I have seen are more in the range of 4x smaller -- that even at the peak, only 25% or so of cars are in motion.

Of course, there will be privately owned cars as well as robotaxis, so the total cars in existence will be larger than this. Outside of cities, privately owned cars will continue to be the norm, in fact.

It is also suspected that some privately owned cars will hire themselves out as taxis when their owners don't need them. Tesla has said they will support this for owners of future full-self-drive Tesla models. I used to be a big fan of this idea, but over time, I have come to believe it will be a minor factor. It's more hassle than people think. I've noticed that as I use AirBNB, the units available are no longer somebody's personal apartment rented part time and mostly units dedicated only to rental. Similar factors will apply here.

One place private hire-out could make sense is at the very top of the peak. The smaller the fleet, the higher utilization it gets. It could make sense to handle

Brad Ideas
Sep 11, 2018

Flying Cars and National Parks
Topic: Air TravelFuturism Opener's "Blackfly" VTOL aircraft is happy to land on grass or water.

I wrote earlier about the impact of Electric personal VTOL aircraft -- "flying cars" -- on national parks and other wilderness areas. As these vehicles get better, and more and more silent, they will create an interesting debate around the two forces in the management of the wilderness -- conservation and recreation.

Executive summary:

With VTOL vehicles, everybody will be able to access almost anywhere in parks and the wilderness with ease. Including the disabled and elderly. This will result in much more travel to these places, and some noise from the vehicles. There will no longer be need to build roads, hotels and other infrastructure in parks. All travel will emit no pollution in the park, and completely silent gliding is also possible. Flying cars (we need a better term) mean almost everywhere is reachable and certainly every vista is attainable. Today so many of the great scenic places can only be reached through extreme hiking, and most are in the air and can only be reached by flying. A few of the most special places, like the rim of the Grand Canyon, are

Brad Ideas
Sep 10, 2018

Sleeper cars and the unexpected efficiency of solo transport
Topic: RobocarsMy article last week on Sleeper cars generated lots of interest, and Volvo's concept car generated lots of press too. Some of it was quite negative, including a article provocatively calling them the dystopian future we must prevent. I thought I would revisit some of the things about such vehicles that run quite counter to the intuitions of those used to 20th century transportation and transit.

Dominic Wilcox built this prototype. The stained glass is silly but the shape is roughly right.

The first is the comparison with airplanes. The average airliner gets about 50 passenger-miles per gallon. Short trips are actually worse, because more of the fuel is spent in taxiing and climbing. You probably have noticed that the best hybrid cars also get about 50 miles per gallon, and with the average of 1.5 people on board have already beaten the plane.

I suggest the solo sleeper car might be the most efficient vehicle on the highway, as well as the cheapest -- once sensors start getting made by the millions. Compare the solo sleeper car with any feature list for any modern car and you will be shocked at all the things it won't have, which save money and weight. I

Brad Ideas
Sep 07, 2018

New Canon mirrorless camera looks like it doesn't go far enough
Topic: Photography Canon has finally released a higher-end, full frame mirrorless camera. Nikon also released theirs a few weeks ago. Canon had seriously botched their entry into APS-C (smaller sensor) mirrorless with the M series. Nikon did a better job. Sony took ownership of the full-frame mirrorless space causing many, including myself to switch, even though their cameras were far from perfect.

Here is a semi-review of the Canon Eos R system. I haven't seen it in person yet, so my impressions come only from articles like this. Reportedly Nikon's camera has done a better job of competing with Sony's top camera, the A7RIII.

For years, the big camera companies, Canon and Nikon, who handled the switch from film to digital very well, have not done very well with mirrorless. In a classic case of the innovator's dilemma, they have not been willing to put out new-technology cameras that are the best they can possibly be, because they would eat into the cash cow of the mainstream cameras.

It's a hard instinct to break. Of late, they have also had to face the death of the market for cheap pocket cameras as cell phones got good enough to meet those needs with so many customers. There is still competition in the "high end pocket" camera market.

The more serious you are about photography, the more you want from your camera. But the new generations of small, li

Brad Ideas
Sep 06, 2018

Sleeper cars
Topic: Air TravelRobocarsVolvo concept in bed mode Yesterday, Volvo got some good buzz for a concept article (not even concept car) which included a bed for sleeping and asking the question "why fly when you can be driven?". I've written about sleeper cars before, as well as the full robo-RV, but let's put all the issues together.

Obviously, if you can sleep while you travel, it's magic, because you can make the travel take no time at all. Those who sleep easily on planes (not me) actually view red-eyes as their preferred flights.

Compared to a plane (and even a train) space can be at less of a premium. If you have a car which is only a sleeping car, you can actually make it super low to the ground, which can give it much less drag, for more efficiency. If the passenger wants a full night's sleep, the car can prefer to go at a slower speed (as long as that doesn't impede traffic) for even more efficiency. Like all robocars, with no need to have the driver "feel the road" one can use a dynamic, super-soft suspension to make the ride more comfortable, though perhaps not as smooth as a plane with no turbulence or a high quality rail line. The problem of seatbelts and airbags for a slee

Brad Ideas
Sep 05, 2018

FMCW LIDAR is coming, what does it mean?
Topic: RobocarsDemo point cloud from Blackmore LIDAR with speed shown as "redshift" colour.

There are lots of LIDARs out there. The vast majority use near-infrared light pulses, or sometimes a flash. They steer the beam either with rotating parts, mirrors, MEMs or in some cases solid state approaches. All those differences are important, but they come down to the same thing in the end -- scanning to get a distance from time-of-flight, along with a reflection intensity.

There are also longer wave LIDARs in the 1500nm band. These can have more power and range due to eye safety, but cost more because you can't do it on silicon. But again, they all work by measuring the time for a light pulse to make the return trip with a timer.

A new breed of LIDAR is coming which uses a different technique, a method that is the standard method for automotive radar today, known as frequency modulated continuous wave (FMCW.) If you send out a wave but constantly vary the frequency, you can look at the frequency of the return. Based on what you get back, you can say, "Oh, that's the frequency I put out 300 nanoseconds ago, so this signal did a 100m round trip."

It's not quite that simple, because the Doppler effect changes the frequency of waves

Brad Ideas
Sep 04, 2018

Aurora's manifesto is worth a read
Topic: RobocarsAurora test vehicles I rarely just link to another story, but today I will point all to Aurora's post on its development philosophy. I think it contains some important lessons for all in the field.

It won't surprise readers to know I agree with pretty much this whole document, having said many of these things myself and also having learned some of them from or along with Aurora CEO Chris Urmson while at Chauffeur (Google/Waymo).

Aurora has already had stellar success. They have been funded to a high level, have done partnerships with several major OEMs, and even turned down "unicorn" level acquisition offers, something ridiculous for such a young company.

The path to this is now clear. Waymo has a serious lead over everybody, including Aurora. And the other players are learning that, but they know that Waymo isn't particularly keen to partner with them in any way they would like, preferring to take a shot at the brass ring -- as they should.

This leaves the larger players very interested in partnering with the man who ran Waymo's engineering efforts (and several other credits.) It's the clearest path to catching up. And Aurora is happy to be a partner and deal with any good partner, to be the neutral Switzerland and not threaten to compete head to head. (At least for now.)

Brad Ideas
Aug 30, 2018

What does airline competition tell us about robotaxi competition?
Topic: Air TravelRobocars 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.

I don't think there will be much competition for the first several years. Companies will take over the world one city at a time. Nobody has the management bandwidth to deploy in every city in the USA, Europe or Asia all at once, or even in just a few years -- and few have the money to do that. So if a company wants to deploy in a new city, and they can choose to compete in a city that's already got another player, or go to a virgin city and completely own the business -- which will they choose most of the time?

Still, in some places they will compete, and eventually they will compete everywhere.

Air travel is of course very different from robotaxi travel. Trips are very long, and there are usually no alternatives but air travel. There's 2 hours of wasted time on the ground, if not more. Space is at a super premium and the cost is high. It's almost always public transportation, private jets are for the elite. But it's still transportation, and a reasonably competitive market on many routes.

Clearly with air travel the biggest differentiating factors are schedule and price. Prices are incredibly var

Brad Ideas
Aug 29, 2018

Waymo's left turns frustrate other drivers
Topic: Robocars

This week's hot story was again from Amir at The Information and there is even more detail in the author's Twitter thread.

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 lot of the problems involve over-hesitation at an unprotected left turn near the Waymo HQ. The car is just not certain when it can turn. There is also additional confirmation of what I reported earlier, that operation with no safety driver is still very rare, and on limited streets.

Unprotected turns, especially left ones, have always been one of the more challenging elements of day-to-day driving. You must contend with oncoming traffic and pedestrians who may be crossing as well. You may have to do this against traffic that is moving at high speed.

While I am generally not surprised that these intersections can be a problem, I am a little surprised they are one for Waymo. Waymo is the only operating car which features a steerable, high resolution long range LIDAR on board. This means it can see out 200m or more (in a narrower field of view.) This lets it get a good look at traffic coming at it in such situations. (Radar also sees such vehicles but with much less

Brad Ideas
Aug 28, 2018

Is the use of tongs for finger food all wrong?
Topic: Brad's RantSolve this

You come to a buffet with "finger foods" and you will find tongs, and even a sign requesting you use the tongs. But it always seems to me this is a backwards approach to hygiene. Imagine that a person at the buffet has a cold or flu, and as such their hands are covered with live virus. In Asia such people almost always wear a face mask to protect others, but that's not done in most other cultures. And nor do such people make special requests at the food.

If they use the tongs, they put the virus on the tongs, and now everybody else who touches the tongs pings up some virus on their fingers, where they will then touch the finger food, or their eyes, nose or mouth with them. Everybody.

If they are careful in picking up the finger food, only touching it, then they will not contaminate anything. If they are careless, they might brush their fingers on another item. Then only the one person who picks up that food item might put it in their mouth. (I don't know whether there is more risk from touching your nose or eating food with some virus in it.)

Of course, it matters what type of food. Discrete items, or items with things like skewers are low risk. Obviously things like bowls of chips or loose items are more likely to cause accidental touch, but again, still for fewer people than when everybody uses the tongs.



Brad Ideas
Aug 27, 2018

Tim Kentley-Klay suddenly ousted from Zoox
Topic: RobocarsSome of Zoox's prototypes

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:

The board (other than TKK) was unanimous, including co-founder Jesse Levinson Carl Bass (formerly CEO of Autodesk) will be temporary CE Tim posted an angry tweet on his firing:


Some speculation suggest this change was forced by Zoox's newest investors, who recently bumped the valuation over $3B. However,

Brad Ideas
Aug 27, 2018

Tim Kently-Klay suddenly ousted from Zoox
Topic: RobocarsSome of Zoox's prototypes

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:

The board (other than TKK) was unanimous, including co-founder Jesse Levinson Carl Bass (formerly CEO of Autodesk) will be temporary CE Tim posted an angry tweet on his firing:


Some speculation suggest this change was forced by Zoox's newest investors, who recently bumped the valuation over $3B. However,

Brad Ideas
Aug 23, 2018

Cars will go to the chargers, you don't need to bring the chargers to the cars
Topic: Going GreenRobocars

Many of us believe that there's a natural fit between electric drive trains and robocars. It's not required -- you can certainly make robocars driven by gasoline, natural gas, hydrogen or anything else.

Electric has several advantages:

No emissions at the vehicle, and, as we green the grid, lower total emissions Quiet and smooth operation Low energy cost (though currently high battery cost.) Lots of optimistic news in the pipeline about cheaper batteries, faster charging and better duty cycles Small size of power train. Most weight in the base for improved stability High reliability of electric motors and vast reduction in moving parts for lower maintenance Oddly, one of electric's big advantages -- high torque -- is great fun for drivers but much less value in a taxi.

Electricity's big disadvantages are limited range, long recharge times and a lack of places to recharge. Robocars don't care about most of those. For long trips where you do care, liquid fuel robocars will take the burden.

For personally driven electric cars, you need charging where you park. And that needs to be very close to where you are going. Once you park, you occupy the charging space, even after you are recharged, even if you needed to park for 8 hours and needed only 2 hours of charg

Brad Ideas
Aug 22, 2018

Google gets a bunch of news -- and that is news. Also, contract manufacturing
Topic: Robocars

There have been recently a few news announcements and in depth coverage of Waymo.

A Verge piece about a day in the life of a self-driving taxi A piece with local detail form Arizona revealing not all rides are free Interviews with Early Rider Participants A prediction that they will do a million rides a day by 2020, made just after the Uber fatality. Waymo's own blog post These pieces are interesting if you follow Waymo, but they, along with a number of other recent stories, signal a major change at Waymo -- they are actively engaging the press.

Waymo has never totally hidden from the press, but as part of Google/Alphabet, they have never had the need for press that other ventures do. Google is the world's #1 brand. Anything it does gets tons of press automatically. They don't talk to the press unless they want to.

So this means they now want to. Which means they have made a real decision to take it to the next leve

Brad Ideas
Aug 21, 2018

Can travel books enter the 21st century?
Topic: Air Travel

When you travel, a whole ton of online resources are available, but there is still great value in the classic guidebook that you pay money for. Free tourist information (particularly from tourist boards) is not acting in your interest. Some of the ad or booking supported travel sites do give independent information (or aggregated user information) but they have their biases as well, and are also full of review-spam.

Travel books were never perfect of course. You have to like the voice and recommendation tastes of the authors. Most books seem to resist being properly negative in their reviews, trying to always find something to praise in every area. (One exception is Rick Steves, who is happy to tell you what not to see as well as what to see, but at the same time he tells you nothing about places not in his recommended areas.)

I've been wanting a very fancy travel app/device for a long time, first proposing the value in 2008 and we aren't anywhere near that yet. But I expected more, and am pretty disappointed at how even tour books are still way behind. technologically.

In fact, about all tour books have done is put out very basic e-books. That is a big boon -- you don't want to have to carry around lots of heavy physical books when you travel, but they could do so much more, either with dedicated apps, or some very slight modifications of exi

Brad Ideas
Aug 16, 2018

Uber might sell its robocar division, Nuro opens first delivery pilot in Scottsdale
Topic: RobocarsUber 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.

At the same time, Uber recruited a great team (though it has lost many of them.) First they recruited many of the best around CMU for their Pittsburgh ATC headquarters. CMU and Stanford are where most of the stars of the robocar world have come from. Then they "paid" $680M in stock for Otto, which was really an acqui-hire in many ways, at least if you believe court documents. Because that stock payout required certain milestones that weren't met, the Otto stockholders did not get their money, but Uber had to make a large stock payout to Waymo as a result of the lawsuit over Anthony Levanowski's actions.

So they have this team, but the team and the Uber name are tarnished by the fatality. But the right pickings from the team are still valuable to somebody who is falling behind, if you eliminate the factors that led to the fatality and take the Uber name off it.

At the same time, Uber gets a pledge that the car the team makes will be usable in the Uber network. They get guaranteed access to tech (if

Brad Ideas
Aug 15, 2018

"Grand Science Fiction" -- a proposed description of the best in SF
Topic: Review

There have been many efforts (none much of a success) to define Science Fiction and the related genres of fantasy, alternate history and speculative fiction. It might be more useful to examine why the genre exists, and why people come to it, and thus what may (to some) define greatness within it.

It is often written that the goal of literature (and fiction) in general is to explore "the human condition." I propose that the highest goal of speculative fiction (and SF) is to explore the condition of humanity.

I suggest this by delving a little into definition, and stating that the broad enclosing genre of "speculative fiction" involves a story set in a world that is other than ours in some meaningful way. Something fundamental is different about the universe, or humanity, not just the lives of the characters. All fiction is speculative to some degree, but real speculative fiction asks "what if?" about the world. For science fiction, the alternate world is often in the future, or is subject to something unknown from science or technology. In fantasy the world is different in a way known to be unreal. In alternate history, the world is usually just like ours, but where some historical event went differently. All of these can explore what life is like for all humanity when the world is different.

I propose a class of SF which I consider to be the highest class and will call "Grand Science Fiction" or GSF. GSF is SF

Brad Ideas
Aug 14, 2018

The Spot Market in Parking
Topic: Robocars

There are a lot of parking apps out there. There are apps that:

Tell you what lots are out there and list their prices for your parking period Tell you that and let you reserve a spot, and pay with the app Let you do that and even access the parking lot with the app (lot gate is opened over internet or wifi.) Let you pay for metered parking with the app or a phone call Let people rent out private parking spaces they aren't using, sometimes with a sensor that can tell if the space is free Let people report free street spaces, or automatically report them when they leave them At CES, I met a company working on street parking, creating sensors that could be put on street lamps and other poles with power to detect if street parking spaces are in use. From this, they plan to direct drivers to streets that have available spaces. The problem is that street spaces often vanish quickly, so they best you can do is direct people to blocks that have a few spaces -- which are often further from where you want to be. You can at least guide drivers away from streets that are fully in use.

We're moving to a world where a lot of the available parking will be managed in some way in a computer database, which will know when spots are taken or free, and may be able to sell them or reservations on them. Today, lots will pre-sell parking or allow it to be reserved, but they usual

Brad Ideas
Aug 13, 2018

Calculating all the externalities of driving
Topic: Going GreenRobocars 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.

It is far from simple to accurately capture these externalities, but the result is valuable enough to give it a go. Even if you can't capture all of them, you can use traditional regulation for some things, and pricing of externalities for others.

So let's look at some of these and how to price them.

Emissions This is the most common area of discussion. Unfortunately there is debate, both scientific and political, on: * What harm pollutants cause and what it costs * Whether greenhouse gasses cause harm at all (ie. the global warming political debate) * How to properly account for "well to wheels" energy use in both fossil fuels and electricity * Contested externalities, like environmental effects of fracturing for natural gas extraction

Once you can calculate these, though, it's easy to price them into the fuel or electricity. One can argue some variation based on where you release the emissions. For example, small particul

Brad Ideas
Aug 10, 2018

Generic drugs are cheaper than your insurance copay in many cases
Topic: HealthIn the health care debate, a major complaint is the cost of drugs in the USA compared to other countries. This is normally blamed on the pharma companies or patents, but I've learned that the pharmacies can be a giant part.

My insurance copay is $15 for a one month supply, and filling that way, all the major pharmacies are the same. But for drugs that I am taking for a longer period, I started checking at the Costco pharmacy for the price not using my insurance. I was shocked to learn that for many generic drugs, the walk-up cost for a 3 month supply was cheaper than that one-month copay. In fact, a drug I recently bought was $11 for a 6 month supply.

While Costco is not as convenient as your local drugstore, getting 3 or 6 months at a time is very convenient. You can also get automatic delivery by mail. Walmart is similar.

You don't have to be a Costco member to use their pharmacy, though members get a slightly better price. However, I recently was pointed to a site called GoodRx which creates coupons which make the price even cheaper -- even at Costco -- but which also apply to many of the major pharmacy chains (Walgreens, CVS, grocery chains etc.) That site has simply created a fake "insurance company" which gets a pre-negotiated price sheet. Look at this table for the generic statin of Lipitor which is one of the most commonly prescribed long term

Brad Ideas
Aug 09, 2018

Private health care that doesn't hurt the public system
Topic: GovernanceHealth I lived the first 31 years of my life in Canada, which has public health care. Now I am in the USA, which has private. USA health care is very good if you have good insurance, but the inefficiencies of the system result in inferior care for many people, and an extremely high price for everybody. As such, single payer systems (ie. public health plans) are getting more discussion in the USA. I won't resolve that debate in this short post, but I believe the key points for both sides -- both of which are true -- are as follows:

The public system will provide better care at a vastly lower cost for most of the population, with vastly less insurance bureaucracy, vs. The expensive private system is the origin of much of the world's very best care, and the innovation in drugs, equipment and procedures that makes the world's system possible. Competition tends to produce the best results. In many countries with public care, there is debate about whether to allow private clinics. In theory (though not always in practice) private clinics are not allowed to provide the services of the public system, and "extra billing," where a doctor charges you the difference between the government rate and the rate they want is forbidden.

In other countries there are parallel private clinics. Last year in France I visited a public french ER, an

Brad Ideas
Aug 08, 2018

The death of parking services has already begun
Topic: Robocars

I've written a lot about parking, most notably my

Analysis of its predicted low cost More detailed analysis of the technical challenges My original analysis from 10 years ago This story about Uber from LA shows the first signs of his in hard reality -- bars that offer Valet parking are finding that far fewer people are making use of it. So much so that while in the past a bar did not have to pay a Valet company (they just let the valet company keep the revenue,) now they must do so.

We also saw this report on a 50% decline and this report on airport non-airline revenues -- much of which (42%) comes from parking/shuttles and 18% from rental car facilities.

What Uber has done is just a taste of what's coming. Bars are an obvious first "canary" in that not only is it easy to do the math on the high cost of valet parking, but people also know they don't want to have to drive after going to the

Brad Ideas
Aug 07, 2018

Recent Waymo announcements are slightly underwhelming
Topic: Robocars 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.

The other project involves last mile rides to some stations of the Valley Metro transit agency. This begins only with the transit employees, but will expand to passengers of "Ride Choice" a special heavily discounted taxi service for seniors and the disabled.

The far more interesting recent piece is this Bloomberg interview with a teen-aged Early Rider about her experiences. Indeed, learning just how people interact with the cars is one of the key goals of a project like this.

While I'm obviously a Waymo fan (and worked on the project in its early years) I must say these announcements are a bit underwhelming, compared to the big milestone which Waymo has teased for 2018 -- rides for the general public, with no safety driver. It is disappointing, though unders

Brad Ideas
Aug 06, 2018

The wonderful no-security airport terminal
Topic: Air TravelRobocars Recently the TSA indicated it is once again considering having no security on planes under 60 seats at small airports. This is controversial, of course, but many security experts think it is the right course for a number of reasons:

Small aircraft can't destroy buildings or cause other damage on the ground at the level that large ones can Many other countries allow small aircraft to fly without security with no problems, even allowing weapons to be carried on board in some cases. While a terrorist could strike a small aircraft, the damage they could do is similar to what they can do on a train, subway, boat or bus, and so a similar level of security makes sense. The money saved by not doing security on these flights allows more resources to improve security where it matters more, on larger planes. Security is a huge burden on aviation, making short flights take longer on the ground than they do in the air, and costing large amounts of time and money. However, whether you agree with that or not, it's worth considering what might happen if flights on small "puddle jumper" planes had less, random or even minimal sec

Brad Ideas
Aug 03, 2018

I wish Uber pickup at the airport were instant, like the taxi line
Topic: Air TravelRobocars 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.

It's the same at many airports, for valid and nefarious reasons. At most airports you have to go upstairs. At some you have to walk a fair distance to the "rideshare" (I hate that term) pickup area, while taxis have a line right at the arrivals exit. At strange airports, I don't know what the wait time is so I can't summon until I find the pickup zone.

The valid reasons for this are:

Airports need to control traffic and can't have cars cruising looking to be summoned, or clogging up approaches Cell phone lots were built, as the name suggests, for people calling friends and family to pick them up. Because F&F are more tolerant of it, and they can wait at the curb for a minute or two, you can time your meeting for tolerable delays. Taxis can have a queue, with each passenger just being assigned the next cab in the queue. That doesn't work with Uber, where you need the next Uber, not the next car of any type. The invalid reasons are nastier:

Brad Ideas
Aug 02, 2018

Tesla makes a custom neural network chip, is that wise?
Topic: RobocarsTesla announced it has built its own custom neural network processorh 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.

This is an interesting but risky choice. When you look for your hardware you can use either an ASIC (custom IC) built specially for your problem. This does much better at the problem you design it for -- it's faster, it uses less power, and in very large quantities it can be cheaper.

You can also use a general purpose chip. The most common chips for neural networks are GPUs. GPUs are really general purpose CPUs (lots and lots of very simple ones) but they also spend a lot of their silicon on graphics functions you can't make as much use of. As general purpose computers, they have to do it in software but more slowly and using more power. Because they are mass produced, they are often cheap, especially for something low volume like a car. (Cars are very low volume compared to consumer electronics -- millions of cars but billions of phones and laptops.)

The problem is, building an ASIC is expensive and time consuming. You have to guess right on what you need because it will be years from starting a brand new chip to putting it in production. If you don'

Brad Ideas
Jul 30, 2018

Sharing the ride: Less sharing is better for transit, more sharing better for cars
Topic: RobocarsThe 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.



It has has attained this status as revealed truth because it is indeed roughly true -- more people together in a vehicle done right will indeed use less energy per person and less road space. But the "done right" is very important as it is commonly done quite wrong.

As I have studied robocars, this has led me to the discovery that some of our old assumptions are wrong. In particular, more sharing is not always good, and the styles of sharing (including the vehicle sizes) of current public transportation are almost certainly not the optimum sizes, and that smaller vehicles are likely more optimal once we eliminate the need for drivers and move to a highly communicating world.

I believe there are strong arguments that while shared travel is beneficial, we actually have too much of it in most transit systems, and not enough in private cars. That the "shared" future is one of van-sized group vehicles with a mixed fleet of more personal cars with 1-4 seats.

When is sharing bad? Sharing creates negative factors

Brad Ideas
Jul 26, 2018

Uber meaninglessly announces they are back on the road, when they aren't
Topic: Robocars

Uber made a strange announcement this week, that they are back on the road in Pittsburgh, when they actually aren't.

The announcement is a strange PR stunt. It's full of the list of things they have changed since their fatality. They are the things everybody expected: Two safety drivers, driver attention monitoring, better safety driver training and quality. Except their's one catch -- none of this matters because they are just driving the cars manually, for mapping and scenario gathering. Uber has made a big announcement that they have people driving cars manually around town -- which of course Uber has a million of around the world, without special procedures. You don't need safety drivers or training to do that.

The list also mentions that the automatic emergency braking (the built in one that comes with Volvos) is enabled. They have always had that enabled when doing manual driving, and I will presume that when they some day resume autonomous testing, it will be disabled again.

What this announcement really represents is a way to pretend to taking an intermediate step towards the thing everybody is scared of -- Uber resuming full autonomous testing with their bad track record. They are testing the waters with a non-announcement.

When they do get ready to do the real deal, these details will make more sense. We will also want to know about what they hav

Brad Ideas
Jul 26, 2018

Will you need geeky glasses to avoid motion sickness in your robocar?
Topic: Robocars 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.

Motion sickness generally results when your eyes and inner ear (balance) tell you different things. Looking down at your book, your eyes see it and the interior of the car not moving, but your motion sensors remind you that you really are. Looking out at the horizon puts your eyes and balance in agreement, and makes it better, but on a winding road, even that can be not enough.

Of course it happens on ships due to the waves and rarely on trains which make few turns and don't bounce much.

I've been pondering this for a while, and recently came upon an interesting invention from a team at French automaker Citroën. They gave people some very geeky looking glasses with circular liquid "levels" both in front, and to the sides. These make an artificial horizon in two dimensions, no matter where you are looking. They claim it reduces motion sickness.

While they have to make them look better, the idea is an interesting one, and those who really suffer from this may not mind looking uncool, especially in a solo car.

Here a

Brad Ideas
Jul 25, 2018

Is the Zoox plan for a custom car the path to robotaxi domination?
Topic: RobocarsRecently, robocar start-up Zoox came a little out of stealth with this Bloomberg piece and you can also watch a video demonstrating their perception system at work.



I've known Zoox since before its start, when in 2013, founder Tim Kentley-Klay and I (along with Alex and Michael, his two earliest team members) had many discussions about his desire to start a new-from-the-ground-up self-driving car company. We agreed about a lot, but had strong differences on how radical a car should be from day 1. Since then, Tim, who has a design rather than robotics background, recruited Jesse Levinson (from Stanford's project) and got money from Steve Jurvetson of DFJ. Since then, they have raised over $800M and built a large and capable team.

There are a few key differences in the Zoox strategy compared to most others.

They want to build a completely new vehicle designed from day one to be a robotaxi, symmetrical in design and more able to maneuver than traditional car designs. Their only interest is the robotaxi business -- selling rides in their new vehicles. They have little interest in selling cars Design will be central, even more than technology, in the success of the project. While disagreeing on how quickly to do it, Tim and I both like to call the robocar, "Not a car, but the thing that

Brad Ideas
Jul 23, 2018

How do we get robotaxi rides down to 30 cents/mile while Uber/Lyft charge 50 cents/mile for just connecting you?
Topic: RobocarsIn 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:

All profit margins All marketing budgets of existing car, banking and energy companies As such, it makes sense as a retail price for somebody who is selling you the whole enchilada -- a ride from A to B with everything included. You need to add a bit for empty vehicle moves (about 10-15% of miles,) and the cost of parking the car when not in motion -- but that parking is going to be cheap because cars don't need to park exactly where you want to be dropped off.

One big number contradicts all this, however. Today, services like Uber and Lyft sell rides for about $2/mile. (I see a range from $1.50/mile on long rides to $2.50 or more on shorter rides. Super short rides have a $5-$7 minimum.) While they started at 20%, today they take 25% of this money for their own fees. In other words 50 cents/mile. And for that, the value they provide is the largely the app that connects riders with drivers.

Where does that more than 50 cents/mile go?

Some of it goes to insurance for the trip, which really does cost by the mile A modest amount goes into marketing. These companies don't m

Brad Ideas
Jul 20, 2018

Is BRT the best answer for bewildered city planners?
Topic: RobocarsI 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.

To do this, I call upon the internet's "stupid network" principle that changed the world. Simple infrastructure, and intelligence at the edges. This means stupid roads and smart cars. The roads should not dictate the solution as much as it can be avoided. Bare pavement carries pedestrians, bikes, motorcycles, scooters, vans, cars, robots, trucks, buses and vehicles yet to be invented, while rails carry only trains, trains or trains. If building rail, consider having rail embedded in pavement -- or someday even paving over the rail because of how expensive embedded rail is.

My personal feeling is we don't need new infrastructure. Incredible capacity gains in the roads are possible. Look at any road and count the empty seats going by, and then the empty slots, even at rush hour. Replace each car with a 16 seat robotic van and consider the capacity. It's immense -- in theory.

Not everybody believes that, and they see new infrastructure as the only choice. I understand why the

Brad Ideas
Jul 19, 2018

Tips for having a car-cooler on a road trip
Topic: Air TravelWhen doing a road trip, I like to have a cooler in the back of the car. This lets you have cold drinks and snacks, and also means you can shop for things that need refrigeration, particularly things like cheese in Europe. You can buy groceries at any convenient time, even if you won't get to your hotel until later in the day.

Another big plus, when you stay in hotels that have no fridge, is that you get an in-room cool box.

It's not easy to do this, and you have to decide it's worth it. In my recent road trip, I learned some lessons you may find of use.

I recommend a hard-side cooler and rectangular blue ice-packs, about 5-6 liters worth It may make sense to buy your cooler at your destination, or have Amazon or similar ship it to a depot where you arrive You need two sets of ice packs, and you swap them once a day to freeze overnight in hotel or apartment freezer. Avoid mini-fridges of hotel rooms. Here's more than you wanted to know!

Just cold drinks or perishable food? It's a lot easier if all you want is cold drinks. If you want perishable food you need a "cold chain" -- a cooler that will stay down under 40 degrees (5 centigrade) at all times. In theory, a cooler that still has solid ice meets that test, but in reality if you open it a lot or it sits in the sun, it may be hotter in some places than others.

If all you are doing is drinks, you don't care if the cooler gets too warm at certain times, or melts entirely ove

Brad Ideas
Jul 18, 2018

The road trip robocar and tourist robocar
Topic: FuturismRobocarsYesterday I wrote about the future of group tourism and made reference to the tourist robocar.

Now I'm just back from a long road trip, and I always ponder how robocars will change every type of transportation. In many cases on a road trip, you want things you don't need in a commuter or city car. It makes sense for people taking long road trips to rent temporary or exclusive use of a car designed for such road trips.

One extreme of this would be the robo-RV, a full home on wheels with self-drive ability. RV travel isn't much cheaper than car motel travel, but it offers the ability to camp in places that have no hotels (like national parks or the wilderness) and saves the hassle of everything involved in a hotel -- finding one, checking in, unpacking, charging devices, getting food, repapcking, checking out etc. That can take a surprising amount of time, though it may get you a nicer bed, bath and room. This is particularly true on the "roaming" road trip, where at high season you can find yourself hunting a room near the end of your day and finding no rooms are available for miles. That's less often true for campsites.

The RV has big downsides, though. You're living in a tiny cramped space with quite limited bathroom and cooking facilities. And it's a pain to drive, and impossible on things like narrow European village streets and roads. It's more doable in the pl

Brad Ideas
Jul 17, 2018

Banishing tour groups with Uber and AI
Topic: Air TravelRobocarsTransportationI hate tour groups. I hate the very rare times I am part of one, and I hate encountering them at tourist locations. And with few exceptions, I suspect most people also hate them, other than perhaps when it's a group of family or friends. Like so much of the tourist world, I think there is immense room for improvement thanks to new communications and transportation technology.

Tour groups, on the other hand, are efficient and thus cheap. They also offer, at a price people can afford, the chance for somebody else to do all the planning and logistics, and to get a guide at all the locations.

Everybody hates touring a site and encountering a large group which crowds the site, dominates the major features and ruins your chances for a photo. Recently many tourist sites forced tour groups to use earphones and radio transmitters so the guide can speak quietly and not disrupt the space -- this was a nice positive change.

I want to consider the options for personalized AI based guide information, and the use of fleets of smaller vehicles (Uber or robocars) instead of tour buses.

The AI guide With a tour group, usually the guide just gives a canned spiel. Specialized questions from the group are surprisingly rare. And the tour is never customized to the individual as it is when you hire a private

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