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Brad Ideas
Mar 21, 2018

It certainly looks bad for Uber
Topic: RobocarsThe Tempe police released the poor quality video from the Uber. What looks like a dash-cam video along with a video of the safety driver. Both videos show things that suggest serious problems from Uber, absent further explanation.

You can watch the videos here if you have not seen it. It's disturbing, though the actual impact is removed. It will make you angry. It made me angry.

Above I have included a brightened frame from 3 seconds into the video. It is the first frame in which the white running shoes of the victim are visible in the dashcam video. They only appear then because she is previously in darkness, crossing at a poorly lit spot, and the headlamps finally illuminate her. Impact occurs at about 4.4 seconds (if the time on the video is right.)

She is crossing, we now see, at exactly this spot where two storm drains are found in the curb. It is opposite the paved path in the median which is marked by the signs telling pedestrians not to cross at this location. She is walking at a moderate pace.

The road is empty of other cars. Here are the big issues:

On this empty road, the LIDAR is very capable of detecting her. If it was operating, there is no way that it did not detect her 3 to 4 seconds before the impact, if not before. She would have come into range just over 5 seconds before impact. On the dash-cam style video, we

Brad Ideas
Mar 20, 2018

New facts and questions on Uber robocar fatality
Topic: RobocarsAs expected, yesterday's fatal accident with an Uber robocar has created a great deal of buzz and controversy. There have been many updates since I wrote yesterday's post, and I have updated the article with most of them. My biggest question, however, revolves around the police statement that the victim was crossing from the west (left side) but the debris is in the right lane, at about the place where the right turn lane is expanding away from it.

As we also saw, the right grille of the Uber vehicle is dented. The Uber was going 40mph on a 35mph road, but I don't think that's a big factor in the accident.

The big question is, it seems that the victim had to cross three and a half lanes to the point where she was hit. Two left turn lanes, the left lane of Mill St. and finally half of the right lane to where she was hit by the right side of the Volvo. As a reminder, here is the location on StreetView.

This is quite puzzling. Uber's Velodyne LIDAR should have seen her very clearly, and observed her for over six seconds if she was walking, about 2.5 seconds if she was running. A bit less if she was riding the bike but the police have seen the forward cameras of the Uber and indicate she was walking. In addition, the safety driver should also have noticed her, but that's less interesting, being just an ordinary human mistake.

While there are tr

Brad Ideas
Mar 19, 2018

Uber robocar hits and kills pedestrian in Arizona
Topic: RobocarsIt's just been reported that one of Uber's test self-driving cars struck a woman in Tempe, Arizona during the night. She died in the hospital. There are not a lot of facts at present, so any of these things might be contradicted later.

What should happen very soon is that Uber will know just what happened. The vehicle was in autonomous mode. They'll have a full 3-D recreation of the incident and are almost surely working to understand why their vehicle did not stop in time. There was a safety driver in the vehicle who is supposed to use human senses and judgment to intervene and hit the brakes if they see the car not properly reacting to a cyclist, pedestrian or any other risk on the road.

I believe from the video that this is the location of the crash.

Most reports have claimed it is a pedestrian, but the video shows a bent bicycle by the Uber. There is a bike lane here but this is that tricky area where a right turn lane is branching off and the bike lane has to cross it. It is a bit of an odd area for a pedestrian to be jaywalking at night. If it was a jaywalker, Uber might escape legal re

Brad Ideas
Mar 16, 2018

What happens if/when Bitcoin stabilizes in price
Topic: TechnologyTags: bitcoinI've been doing some analysis of the "HODL" movement (which attempts to use social pressure to convince people to hold on to Bitcoin and other holdings, rather than taking the normal profit-taking steps after such a large appreciation.) I believe that HODL goes against what a cryptocurrency is supposed to be about, since to be valuable it has to be useful, and to be useful, people need to be using it, not holding it. I will explore this in another article next week.

HODL is based on a faith that the price of a bitcoin will continue to rise and perhaps never fall. But to be useful it needs to stabilize, or at the least get to a period of fairly modest and predictable appreciation. You can't do smart contracts for more than a few days when the currency is highly volatile.

So what if Bitcoin did stabilize in price? What would it mean? I'm not sure it works.

If the price were stable, the mining capability would also have to stabilize at a level where mining is close to a break even proposition. If it's seriously profitable, then more people will bring up more mining gear until it's just modestly profitable. In addition, as people bring up newer generations of mining gear that are more profitable, the older gear becomes money-losing, and rational miners would shut it off. (This has not been ha

Brad Ideas
Mar 15, 2018

Waymo goes totally unmanned, arbitration and other news
Topic: RobocarsOne of the biggest milestones of the robocar world has gotten just a little coverage. Waymo, which last year removed the safety driver from behind the wheel of their cars in Phoenix, still had a supervisor sitting in the back with a kill switch. That supervisor is now gone and the car comes to pick up passengers entirely unmanned.

Phoenix is, of course, one of the easiest places in the world to drive, which is a natural choice for a first step, but nobody can doubt that robocars are here now, even if not in their own town. Waymo's and Alphabet's lawyers and board had to sign off on taking this risk, and they did, which means the team presented them with excellent evidence of safety.

It should be noted the cars are still subject to remote monitoring, and a remote operations center is there able to give the cars assistance when they encounter a situation they don't understand. That's a non-real-time situation though, since there will be too much latency to a data center to allow remote operators to reliably control the wheel and pedals directly, unless Waymo has built a special communications infrastructure, which I doubt.

Can your ride service demand arbitration CNN Reports that the current proposed robocar legislation would allow a car or fleet operator to require that passengers

Brad Ideas
Mar 14, 2018

Kitty Hawk "Cora" comes out of stealth
Topic: RobocarsTransportationTags: flying carsIn the world of flying cars, another big step was taken with the partial unveiling of the Kitty Hawk Cora. Kitty Hawk is a project involving some friends of mine who made the Google car project happen, and while it's very nascent it could have some big effects.

The important element of the Cora design is that it's a hybrid of multirotor helicopter ("drone") and traditional fixed wing flight. The multirotor approach allows highly controlled vertical takeoff and landing, but it uses a lot of energy. The fixed-wing approach can be much more efficient, and quiet. When it comes to electric aircraft, efficiency is not just a green ideal, it is essential to give them usable range and duty cycles.

They are going to start in New Zealand, having found a nice low density country with an amenable government. They have released few specs on the vehicle, other than saying it has a 110mph top speed and a range of about 62 miles on its batteries. That's almost 4 times more than the 27km claimed for the Volocopter, an all-multirotor from Germany which has done test flights there and in Dubai. It do

Brad Ideas
Mar 13, 2018

Never ask a lawyer how much lawyering you need, and other advice on the use of lawyers.
Topic: Random IdeasLawyers are highly disliked in our society, at least until you need one. This is because we primarily use lawyers like weapons, offensive and defensive, and who likes the weapon? I think lawyers can serve the world better if we take different attitudes about what clients wish from lawyers. Here are some lessons about using lawyers I have learned over the years.

You stop being a startup when you get in-house counsel Lawyers are trained extensively to look out for client interests and be thorough in how they do it. It's very hard for a lawyer to not be diligent and considering every angle to cover their client's vulnerabilities.

When a company starts, using the outside law firm is expensive. So you moderate how much you do it. You make decisions of what has to be run past the lawyers and what doesn't. You even make decisions to take certain risks without clearing them with the lawyers, because you know roughly what they will say and feel no desire to pay for it.

Lawyers are trained not to give you simple answers sometimes because simple answers are incorrect, and they are not doing their duty if they give you incorrect answers, or leave something out that might come back to bite you.

Once you get in-house counsel, they are with you every day. You are much more tempted to run things past the lawyer, because you are paying them no matter what. When you do, they will do the duty they are compelled by their ethics and the law to do, but it might not be the best thing for the business.


Brad Ideas
Mar 10, 2018

A modern paternoster elevator (for cars and maybe people)
Topic: RobocarsEarlier this week, I wrote about making a subway for robotic vans which just has tunnels and ramps to the surface, rather than the vastly more expensive system of giant stations we use for today's underground transit. It offers the chance to save immense amounts of money because stations are expensive to build and maintain.

The Boring Company (Elon Musk's tunnel effort) just released a video with their very similar version. Instead of stations, elevators take buses from street level down to the exit lanes of the tunnels. They are stating that they want to think more about group vehicles than having private cars in the tunnels, but the right answer is to have both, and maximize use of the tunnels, with mostly vans in rush hour and mostly cars outside of that.

By RokerHRO CC-ByThe simplest design, if starting from scratch, is probably just a ramp to the surface. It's fast and very simple, and uses the energy of travel of the vans to get to the surface, and gravity to speed up when going down. This follows the "stupid network" principle that made the internet great -- make the network stupid and put the smarts in the cars.

In dense existing cities, however, it may not be possible to create ramps, because they need real estate to me

Brad Ideas
Mar 09, 2018

The paradox on robocar accidents
Topic: RobocarsI have written a few times about the unusual nature of robocar accidents. Recently I was discussing this with a former student who is doing some research on the area. As a first step, she began looking at lists of all the reasons that humans cause accidents. (The majority of them, on police reports, are simply that one car was not in its proper right-of-way, which doesn't reveal a lot.)

This led me, though to the following declaration that goes against most early intuitions.

Every human accident teaches us something about the way people have accidents. Every robocar accident teaches us about a way robocars will never have an accident again.

While this statement is not 100% true, it reveals the stark difference between the way people and robots drive. The whole field of actuarial science is devoted to understanding unusual events (with car accidents being the primary subject) and their patterns. When you notice a pattern, you can calculate probabilities that other people will do it, and they use that to price insurance and even set policy.

When a robocar team discovers their car has made any mistake, and certainly caused any incident, their immediate move is to find and fix the cause of the mistake, and update the software. That particular mistake will generally never happen again. We have learned very little about the pattern of robocar accidents, though the teams have definitely learned something to fix i

Brad Ideas
Mar 07, 2018

How robots might alter hiking
Topic: RobocarsTransportationA hiker online asked me about when we might see a robotic "pack mule" to make long hikes easier. The big problem is energy (and noise) since right now the walking robots that exist use a lot of energy to travel, and most hikes involve some terrain you can't do on wheels.

He hoped for solar charging, but most hikers like to hike under cover away from the burning sun. The robot probably wants to be electric since nobody wants a loud engine on a pack robot on the trail. That's a problem.

For some, the idea of the pack robot goes against the self-sufficiency they seek hiking or camping. These ideas are not for you. If you like the idea of the hikes that have a series of stocked cabins spaced one day apart, you might be interested in what robots could do.

Flying drones The first thing that came to mind was flying drones with a 25lb or so capacity. Near the end of your day's hike, you would find a suitable clearing on your map nearby, and summon the drone to it with as much of your overnight gear as it can carry. Sleeping pad, bag, light tent, fresh batteries, food etc. You would only have to carry your essentials, such as water, lunch, first aid, phone, emergency kit and whatever the drone can't handle.

In one mode the drone would stay there overnight, and fly the gear back to a charging station in the morning. The charging station could be on the grid, or it could just be a set of solar panel

Brad Ideas
Mar 05, 2018

Making tunnels for robocars would be vastly cheaper than subways for trains like SF's new Central Subway
San Francisco is building its new Central Subway -- an underground light rail line. Ground was broken in 2010 but due to delays it will not open until 2021. This line will finally make the Caltrain commuter rail (which otherwise dumps passengers into an industrial zone far from where most of them wish to go) more useful, and offer travel not slowed by SF's terrible central district congestion.

But in the robocar era, is it really a good idea? Is the $1.58 billion to run 1.7 miles of light-capacity rail a wise choice? Do other subway projects underway make any more sense? New York's 2nd avenue subway cost over $2.5B per mile.

The central subway consists of 2 20-foot wide round tunnels. They cost a lot ($234M) but most of the cost is actually the complex and deep stations and other associated costs. There are much cheaper ways to make dedicated right-of-way. Dig and cover (which disrupts streets) can be much less, and elevated guideway can be in the range of $100M per mile.

I personally feel we won't need to dig many tunnels in the future because computer metered road-use should be able to eliminate a lot of congestion and, combined with other factors, cause a serious capacity increase. But in cases where the only answer is to build extra dedicated capacity, trains may very much be the wrong answer.

What would you do with the 20' tunnels It's tight, but I think a 20' tunnel could carry 4 lanes of robotic cars and vans that fit in a 6' by 6' square, and certainly 3 lanes -- 2 below and one above. 3 lanes of 12 seat vans on a one second headway would carry about 130,000 peop

Brad Ideas
Mar 02, 2018

Using video and telepresence for below-average academic conference talks
Topic: Air TravelTechnologyA sad reality today at most academic conferences is that it's fairly common for at least one speaker to not make it due to visa problems. This is not just true because of the USA's reduced welcome to foreigners, it happens in other places as well.

This made me wonder if it isn't time to apply some technology to this. Let's face it, a lot of the people giving papers at academic conferences are not exactly dynamic speakers. Some just read their papers without emotion. Because all conferences are now in English, for those whose command of the language is weaker or whose accent is very strong, it can be difficult to understand.

Naturally, many people who go to a conference don't go to see the papers, or even just to give one. The real value is in the conversations after the papers, the random hallway conversations and meetings, and the social events. But not for everybody, especially if it's very expensive to travel or difficult due to visas.

For these situations, technology has reached a level which might help a bit. For those who can't easily come, playing a recorded video makes more sense, combined with the use of a telepresence robot or "remote speaker station" to allow people to come up and converse with the speaker after the presentation.

The robots work pretty well, actually, I have done this several times. They are expensive, but for not too much money one could also m

Brad Ideas
Mar 01, 2018

A flood of deliverbots arise as California makes unmanned testing legal
California announced that come April, it will be legal to operate robocars with no safety driver inside. There will need to be a remote operator, monitoring the vehicle at all times during testing.

That's a far cry from a short while ago when California proposed banning such cars, which is part of what encouraged Google to move to Arizona for testing. And while most people are thinking about what this means for Waymo and the other more advanced companies, it has another big consequence in delivery robots.

As I have written before, I'm involved with Starship Technologies delivery robots which run on the sidewalks rather than the roads. Our robots are very small, slow and light, which means they can't hurt you even if everything went wrong and they hit you. Road robots are big enough to hurt you, but will go faster as long as traffic is not heavy.

Since Starship announced, there have been a huge number of companies appearing to attempt delivery. Most have also been sidewalk based, but two recent entries have shown plans to go on the road:

Nuro, founded by my friends Jiajun Zhu and Dave Ferguson who I worked with at Google, has shown an impressive half-width robot that goes at slow-street speeds and has several delivery components. Udelv has a tiny delivery van which currently can hold a safety driver. They plan to sell this vans. Some other stealth companies are also working in this space. On the sidewalk, many companies are trying a

Brad Ideas
Feb 28, 2018

Moving gun regulation to the states from the federal level
Topic: Politics(Warning: An explosive topic. Those who only want to talk robocars, you can subscribe to only that feed if you wish to!)

Every mass shooting triggers more gun regulation debate. Coming from Canada, I know that gun control, particularly of handguns, in place for several decades, can result in a less violent society, and much less gun violent one, with much less suicide. But Canada does not have the 2nd amendment, and frankly that amendment makes most proposals for gun regulation a non-starter. Sure, there's lots of argument about what the well-regulated militia clause means, but on the whole the existence of the 2nd amendment makes most proposals wishful thinking.

Politically, repeal or reduction of the 2nd amendment seems very unlikely. So I came up with a proposal that, while also pretty unlikely, has just the ghost of a chance.

The proposal is to distribute the control of gun rights to the states, rather than mandating it at the federal level. This would mean that states who wished to, could write their own version of the 2nd amendment, making it more protective, as might be the case in gun-rights states, or weaker, as might be the case in the "blue" states.

This has the slight potential of success because it is a trade. States and members of congress who would never approve a reduction of the 2nd amendment might take a deal of the form, "You gun-hating liberals keep your hands off our guns in our states and you can do what you want in your states." Maybe.

Brad Ideas
Feb 23, 2018

Waymo a ride service, highway deaths and other news
Waymo has applied for, and been granted, a licence to operate as a "Transportation Network Company" (fancy name for app-summoned taxi like Uber) in Arizona. This has been expected for some time, and shows they are continuing their plan to open up their pilot service in Phoenix to the public.

It's also (deliberately or not) as salvo against Uber (which they own even more equity in now) and even their new partner Lyft. Waymo/Alphabet have almost deliberately avoided getting into competition with those companies, even though of all the companies in the world, they are one of the best positioned. To provide a service that lets people say, "I will give up my car," you need to have a human-driven complement for the trips not on the robot network, and a seamless one way car rental service (like Car2Go/DriveNow) for longer trips. For now, this licence is probably there just to operate the Waymo robocars. But perhaps there is more?

No, they didn't run a red light A video surfaced recently of a Waymo van making a mistake turning left at a red light. The short and boring answer is that that Waymo reports the car was being manually driven. When you want to turn left at a green, as you know you advance into the intersection but if you never get an opportunity to turn, you do it when the light turns yellow, and sometimes a bit into the red. This driver did a not very good job of this.

It's not impossible automated software might also make a mistake here, but the thing that makes it worth talking about is this. If the software had made a mistake like that, the safety driver would have logged it, and immediately the team would have met to develop a fix for it. Within days, all the cars would no longer make that mista

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