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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

Brad Ideas
Jul 16, 2018

Robocar "Shark Tank" issues: Cheap rides, vandalism, jobs, dystopia and more
Topic: Robocars

For the second year at the Automated Vehicles Summit, we held a "Shark Tank" where there were 4 pitches on controversial ideas in robocars, and the 4 sharks (including myself) and the audience debated them. While these breakout sessions are on Chatham House Rules, I can certainly outline my own views.

How cheap will robocars get The presentation did not forecast costs as low as I have speculated of as low as 29 cents/mile but suggested there were big effects at even 50 cents/mile. Private car ownership is estimated at between 40 and 60 cents/mile, plus parking, but Uber is a bit under $2/mile. It is true that having Uber style service for 50 cents/mile will have a big effect, since you can buy it by the mile, unlike a private car where miles are effectively bought "in bulk."

The 50 cent price becomes important in cities with significant cost or difficulty of parking, and when compared to the cost of a transit ticket. Transit tickets are ranging up as high a $3 in many cities (more in Europe) and a large fraction of transit trips are well under 6 miles. In addition, the robocar price is unsubsidized, while most transit trips are highly subsidized, costing from $5 to $8 per trip in reality.

We're already seeing changes to parking. Many people do not use airport parking any more on anything but very short trips. Stay more than 2 days and an Uber ride to the airport is cheaper, especially when you add the value of your own time and the ability t

Brad Ideas
Jul 12, 2018

Day 2 of AVS -- Future Boston, Ethics, Jobs and new NHTSA director
Topic: RobocarsDay two of AUVSI/TRB Automated Vehicle Summit

WEF studies Boston Simulation and other studies were done by Boston Consulting Group for the World Economic Forum. Their study contains some interesting conclusions about shifts in urban traffic in several cities.

Their first research was based on cities remaining pretty much as they are, but gaining use of robotaxis, robocars, shuttles and other new tech. The conclusions included parking being reduced by 50% but only a 4% reduction in travel time.

In particular, the reduction in travel time came from a fairly large reduction in travel time in the 'burbs, but a slight increase in travel time in the downtown core due to people switching from public transit to robocars and increasing congestion.

They also did calculations if some factors such as ride pooling and congestion charging were used to stop that extra congestion, and got overall positive results in that case.

This study still suffers from fairly conventional thinking -- the real future is not going to look too much like today -- but still has some value.

Job displacement Displacement of driving jobs came up twice on the agenda -- first in a talk by Erica Groshen of Cornell who previously was commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and then during a session in our "Shark Tank" breakout in the afternoon.

The outlook was surprisi

Brad Ideas
Jul 11, 2018

Can you survey customer opinion of a product that doesn't exist?
Topic: RobocarsThe AUVSI/TRB "Automated Vehicles Summit" kicked off this morning with a report from JD Power on consumer attitudes. I am very skeptical of all such surveys. They seem as useful as a survey from 2005 about what people would do with the iPhone after it comes out in 2 years. Such a survey would surely have reported almost nobody planned to get one or would use it in the ways people actually do.

They found about a 50-50 split between people who were highly or somewhat likely to ride in a robocar and those who felt they would not. They found that if they added the caveat "The car had been certified to comply with all government standards" then about 18% of the naysayers -- or 9% of all respondants -- switched to a positive view. This led to the surprising claim that such certifications were necessary to get consumer adoption. First of all, only 9% were swayed by this, which means the certifications are actually quite unimportant. Secondly, as I argue with the iPhone article, the public simply doesn't know what it thinks about this. In my experience people actually over-trust robocar technologies when given a chance to use them.

Lyft says we need drivers Lyft indicated that their large crew of human drivers are the solution to the hard problem of making a robocar that can go anywhere. Lyft plans to start with a conservative taxi that avoid difficult roads, such as roads with bike lanes, or which go through complex intersections. They still think they can serve a lot of roads. More

Brad Ideas
Jun 23, 2018

Don't watch TV while safety driving
Topic: RobocarsThe Tempe police released a detailed report on their investigation of Uber's fatality. I am on the road and have not had time to read it, but the big point, reported in many press was that the safety driver was, according to logs from her phone accounts, watching the show "The Voice" via Hulu on her phone just shortly before the incident. This is at odds with earlier statements in the NTSB report, that she had been looking at the status console of the Uber self-drive system, and had not been using her phones. The report further said that Uber asked its safety drivers to observe the console and make notes on things seen on it. It appears the safety driver lied, and may have tried to implicate Uber in doing so.

Obviously attempting to watch a TV show while you are monitoring a car is unacceptable, presumably negligent behaviour. More interesting is what this means for Uber and other companies.

The first question -- did Uber still instruct safety drivers to look at the monitors and make note of problems? That is a normal instruction for a software operator when there are two crew in the car, as most companies have. At first, we presumed that perhaps Uber had forgotten to alter this instruction when it went form 2 crew to 1. Perhaps the safety driver just used that as an excuse for her looking down since she felt she could not admit to doing -- watching TV. (She probably didn't realize police would get logs from Hulu.)

If Uber still did that, it's a

Brad Ideas
May 31, 2018

Voting Rights Amendment
Topic: Politics

This is a starting-point draft for what could be a reasonable amendment to the US constitution (and belong in all constitutions.) It addresses the seminal problem of democracies -- the people who are the subject of elections have control over the rules of elections, and can't be trusted not to bend the rules to their advantage. When the legislators can't be trusted is exactly when you need constitutional rules.

This amendment would be designed to ban, among other things * Gerrymandering * Requiring voter registration rather than automatic registration * Depriving felons of votes * Poll taxes and all such related tricks * Much of what the Voting Rights Act stopped

The test proposed says that if you make a rule, and then a court finds either in advance or after the fact, that the rule will disproportionately affect the exercise of franchise by a party or a major group, the rule is invalid.

The rule needs some refinement. It is easy to see how it might actually be used against its goal. It must be clear that to be unlawful, the rule has to affect the elements of franchise -- v

Brad Ideas
May 29, 2018

Is there a limit on how much advertising can make?
Topic: MediaIn my article about how advertising won't pay for robotaxi rides I hinted at one surprise source of the problem. Maybe advertising can never be very valuable.

Right now, the most popular type of advertising, makes about 60 cents for one hour of TV watching. This is with what's known as a $20 CPM (cost per thousand.) Thats 2 cents per ad shown to a person, and an hour of TV has around 15 minutes of ads, or 30 spots.

Remarkably, most of the other media get similar results in terms of time spent in the medium, and ad revenues. The one main exception is print media, that gets about 3 times the revenue per hour of use. Radio, Mobile and internet are similar to TV. Here's a chart mapping time spent and ad revenues of the different media.

The first thing I noticed was it's not a very good deal. I watch a 45 minute TV show with 15 minutes of ads, and they sell my attention to the advertiser for just 60 cents? $2.40/hour for the time I spend staring at ads? That's a fraction of minimum wage. It's why I and many others prefer commercial-free pay TV, or use DVRs to fast forward.

It isn't a fixed number. The Superbowl can pull a $50 CPM because people are paying more attention to the commercials than to the football. Media aimed at rich people or business audiences can pull much higher

Brad Ideas
May 25, 2018

Did Uber really botch the switch to one driver and a timeline of the failure
Topic: RobocarsYesterday I examined some of the details released by the NTSB about the Uber fatality. Now I want to dig deeper with speculation as to the why. Of course, speculation is risky, though I can claim a pretty good track record. When I outlined various possible causes of the incident just after it, I put 4 at the top. I figured that only one might be true, but it turned out that two were (Misclassification as a bicycle, and the car wanting to stop but being unable to actuate the brakes) though I did not suspect Uber deliberately blocked the car from doing hard stops. So I'll try my luck at speculating again.

A timeline of error Coming in: Uber is in right lane, planning to enter right turn lane when it opens up 6 seconds out: Victim perceived with LIDAR and radar. Victim is walking across the two left turn lanes. (Unknown: Were LIDAR and radar targets properly recognized as the same thing, ie. fused?) Victim is classified as an unknown obstacle with no forward velocity, in the left turn lanes. No action needed, things are often stopped in the left turn lanes. Unknown time: Victim is classified as a vehicle (ie. car.) Cars are not expected to move sideways. Car is either in left turn lane or may be now in left lane. Mistake made in measuring its vector of moment. You don't slow because a vehicle is stopped in the left la

Brad Ideas
May 24, 2018

NTSB Report implies serious fault for Uber in fatality
Topic: RobocarsThe NTSB has released its preliminary report on the fatality involving the Uber prototype self driving car. The NTSB does not attempt to assign blame, but there are some damning facts in the report.

Perception and planning failure The high level problem is the Uber perception system failed. She was, as predicted detected over 100m away by radar and LIDAR. It does not directly say when the camera systems detected her. She was first classified as an unknown obstacle (as is common for the first, distant detections of something) and then as a vehicle, but then as a bicycle. (She was walking a bicycle.) In my analysis of possible causes written immediately after the accident I suggested that mis-classification as a bicycle was perhaps my most likely guess. In particular, I suggested that perhaps it thus classified her as a bike going along the road.

The Uber, we learn, as some readers suspected, was planning a right turn. As such, it would not brake for a bicycle that is in the lane to the left continuing on. Though everybody knows that passing a bicycle on the right is a risky move which should be done with high caution.

The investigators say the victim is visible in the camera videos but don't talk much about when that happened and what the visual parts of the perception system did.


Brad Ideas
May 22, 2018

Google can spin the "Duplex" calling agent in a much more positive way
Topic: FuturismInternetPrivacySpamMost of the world was wowed by the Google Duplex demo, where their system was able to cold-call a hairdresser and make an appointment with her, with the hairdresser unaware she was talking to an AI. The system included human speech mannerisms and the ability to respond to the random phrases the hairdresser through back.

Since the dawn of AI with Alan Turing, being able to fool people into thinking an AI was a human has been one of the holy grail tests people want a system to pass. It was not explained very well, but the recent Turing movie was given the title "The Imitation Game" because that sort of test -- imitating a human to the point you can't tell -- was the one that Turing favoured. We don't call it the Imitation Game, we call it the Turing Test.

So naturally Google was proud and the computer science crowd was impressed. Some however, immediately picked up on the creepy aspect of this being used as a real product. Passing a Turing Test is a great demo, but using that tool to actively fool humans is another story. Some even felt it was unethical to even do it as an experiment, and also illegal in California due to conversation recording rules.

Brad Ideas
May 21, 2018

No, ads won't pay for your robotaxi ride -- but your employer might, and that has big consequences
Topic: RobocarsMost of the press reported a research report from UBS securities [claiming Waymo is now worth $75B] to Google because it is poised to dominate the robotaxi business. In addition to this, it claimed that business would be $1.2 trillion by 2030, with an additional $472 billion for "in car monetization." (Total Google revenue was $110 billion in 2017.)

In general, I agree with the first part, and have been saying so since the beginning. For investors, the main problem has been that this mega-huge business that anybody would like to invest in has been buried inside the $750B market cap of Alphabet/Google itself.

But I want talk about this idea that in-car monetization will be 40% of the revenue (or 28% of total revenue) of a robotaxi business. This reminds me of the very frequent claim that "Rides will be free, paid for by ads." In fact, when Google first came out of stealth with the project, this was a very frequent suggestion. After all, Google is pretty much 100% an advertising company, so if they're making a car, it must really be about advertising. The UBS forecast pretty much puts that down -- transportation is a much bigger business than advertising. Your robotaxi will be more like an extension of your living room or office. Apartments don't get 40% of revenue from "in-room monetization."

But will ad revenue, or other "monetization of the data" from transportation become an important factor, even a dominant one? Could it be the most profitable aspect of running a robotaxi service a

Brad Ideas
May 18, 2018

The improbable secret Kim conspiracy to reunify Korea
Topic: ObservationsPoliticsEverybody loves a good secret conspiracy theory. Here's mine for North Korea. Of course, it is probably not true. But is it impossible?

Seoul Subway stations are equipped with gas masks, ready for attack by the NorthKim Jong-Un is a tyrant, perhaps the last of his kind, and living in the new modern era. With this Swiss education, unfettered access to the internet and a love of foreign media, what sort of mindset might he hold? We don't know a lot.

If you, or I, or most people, found themselves as complete dictator of North Korea, I would hope we would want to do the moral thing -- abdicate the dictatorship, reunify under the democratic government of the Republic of (South) Korea and cut a sweet deal for a dictator's exile.

KJU has worked to build up that cult of personality for himself, sometimes in brutal ways. But even so, the military could still take him out and install one of his brothers or his uncle Kim Pyong-il as figurehead leader in a coup d'etat.

The greatest threat in a coup was his brother Kim Jong-nam, who had originally been tapped as future great leader until he fell out of favour. In 2017, KJN was assassinated with

Brad Ideas
May 17, 2018

Solve the Proposition 13 problem by paying off the difference when you sell
Topic: PoliticsEven if you are not in California, you may have heard of Proposition 13 the ballot measure which changed property tax rules.

It was part of a tax revolt, and it changed how the value of your real estate is calculated for property taxes. As California property started zooming up in price, there were people who owned homes but had minimal incomes. They were facing growing tax bills even though they had not realized the gains on their house. Some were being forced out of houses they had lived in for decades, the story went.

The solution was that while you lived in your home, the tax value would go up at 2% a year, nothing like the real market value. Taxes were limitd to 1% of value.

There have been many criticisms of Prop 13, in particular over how it has seriously reduced local tax income for counties and cities, which is the prime source for funding schools. The bigger problem, I find is the massive inequality it causes. If you buy a home today, you pay tax on its full price. You can afford it, they figure. This means that two people living next to one another in two identical houses pay massively different taxes. My neighbour, who inherited her home from her parents, pays next to nothing. I, who have lived in my home for many years, pay half of what new neighbours pay.

Taxation should not be so different among the same people. In addition, this creates a "moving disincentive." If I decide to sell my house and buy one of equal value, my tax rate will jump a lot. (There

Brad Ideas
May 16, 2018

Safety Drivers for Robocars -- the issues and rationale
Topic: RobocarsThe wake of Tesla's incident has caused a lot more questions about the concept of testing prototype robocars on public roads supervised by "safety drivers." Is it putting the public at risk for corporate benefit? Are you a guinea pig in somebody's experiment against your will? Is it safe enough? Is there another way?

One safety driver may not be enough. But I'm just posing in a parking lot

The simple first answer is that yes, it is putting the public at risk. Nobody expects the cars to be perfect, and nobody expects the safety driver system to be perfect.

The higher level question is, "how much risk?" and is it the sort of risk we can or should tolerate.

Teens For contrast, consider the question of teen-age novice drivers, who are also allowed out on the road, first with an adult supervisor (who is often a driving instructor but not required to be,) and then after a ridiculously simple test on their own. More recently, they have been restricted in what they can do on their own until they become adults.

We usually start the teen out in a parking lot or private road to get the basics, but very quickly that becomes not very useful, and they must go on the real road.

The driving instructor is very much like the safety driver. Many student driver cars have a 2nd brake pedal for the driving instructor to use. I remember the first time a car passed me (with what seemed just like inches) and I swerved away, and the driving inst

Brad Ideas
May 14, 2018

How to fly to Europe Biz Class for $2800 this summer, and in the future
Topic: Air TravelI'm off in June to do some speaking in Europe. I'm flying to Milan in business class from San Francisco for $2,800 on UA and Air Canada, which is about the lowest price I've ever seen for biz class to Europe in summer on the major airlines. The coach fare can be as low as $600 for those not able to splurge. Let me tell you how to use these fares, even if it's not Italy you wish to visit.

I don't know why these fares are so low. Usual business class on major airlines in runs $5K at least and can often be as much as $10K, particularly for nonstop flights. It may be special competition. Perhaps the Italian tourist board is subsidizing. Perhaps nobody wants to fly there this summer (I doubt it.) But that doesn't matter, because often there are one or two magic cities that can get you across the pond in style.

When crossing the Atlantic, you mainly want to have a business class bed seat for the section over the ocean. If you are not too poor, it can be worth it to get a real sleep, to get a chance to work, and to not be stressed before, during and after the trip. But you don't need one within Europe, and in fact most airlines in Europe don't really even off a business class -- they just charge 3x the price to give you a coach seat with nobody in the middle next to you.

So if you seek business class, it can be worth it to find the "bargain city" and fly in and out of it, then use quite cheap economy fares within Europe. Milan is a nice break as the bargain city, because it has non-stop flights to most other European locations.

Brad Ideas
May 11, 2018

Second driver's revenge: Why does car rental pricing suck so much?
Topic: Air TravelBrad's RantAs a customer, the pricing plans of the car rental companies baffle me. I mean I understand about the goals for differential pricing -- finding ways to charge richer customers more money -- but still, I find it very frustrating, and I am curious why one of the majors doesn't have the courage to break out of the current pricing models and win over customers.

Crazy insurance Everybody knows the insurance prices on car rentals are nuts. They are high mostly because they can be high due to customer paranoia, and also because in theory you have to pay based on the average driver they encounter, your good driving record counts for nothing. It's crazy. While most higher end credit cards will insure your car rental for you, I also discovered that my home auto insurance would cover me on rental cars for $4/year -- not $17 a day like the car rental companies charge.

I was particularly shocked when working with a company which had "take the insurance" as part of their corporate rental policy. For any large company, self-insuring would be the obvious choice, but even if not, I am surprised that corporate liability insurance companies don't sell companies a policy to cover incidents during employee car rental.

I guess one reason to "take the insurance" is the removal of hassle. Obviously dealing with a car accident in a foreign place is difficult, and scary, and people seem willing to

Brad Ideas
May 10, 2018

Flyover: Is the left's vocabulary meaner than the right's?
Topic: PoliticsLike many, I have been highly interested in understanding the rift in US and global politics that has resulted in the rise of Trump, LePen, Ford and Brexit.

While I run mostly in left/urban/secular/keen circles, I try as often as possible to talk to people in other circles to understand their view. My own politics match neither side, which gives me some extra perspective. However, living in left circles, I have encountered more of their terms.

The amount of hate between the sides has grown, and become very polarizing. To the surprise of most of my left friends, I believe that by some measures, the hate of the leftie side towards the right is greater than the hate the other way. Naturally, each side has the intuition that the other is more to blame.

I come to this conclusion by examining the vocabulary and iconography each side uses for the other. Not for the leaders of the other side (where the vocabulary is extremely nasty as well) but rather for the voters in the middle of each side. Here are the terms I have collected that I have seen commonly used, not between politicians, but between ordinary people. Some of these terms are used more by the fringes.

(Keen and Steward are my names for the two sides, I will discuss these terms more in later posts.)

Left/Urban/Democrat/Secular/Keen Right/Rural/Republican/Religious/Stewards Idiots Libtards Racists

Brad Ideas
May 08, 2018

Driving without a map is another example of being cheap rather than being safe
Topic: RobocarsThere was a lot of buzz yesterday about publication by a team at CSAIL and MIT about their research on driving without a map.

Rather than describing a big breakthrough, what is described is fairly similar to the work done in the first two DARPA Grand Challenges, which by 2005 had the winning cars driving a 150 mile course through desert roads with just GPS waypoints. (The CMU teams did try to do some rough mapping in the 4 hour window after getting the waypoints.) Because humans can drive without a map, why can't our robots?

I have discussed the merits of driving without a map before. Any car that can drive without a map is a great resource for building a map -- why would you want to throw away the useful information from another car that drove the road before you, with the addition of the ability to process it with as much CPU as you want, and to see it from different vantage points? It's a huge win.

But I want to discuss the real flaw in this logic, which I see manifest in several other areas of development.

This is the wrong time to make robocar driving cheaper The mistake is the natural instinct everybody has to do things at lower cost. If something is expensive, like mapping, bandwidth or LIDARs, we all automatically want to think of how we might eliminate it, or

Brad Ideas
May 07, 2018

Uber reported to have made an error tuning perception system
Topic: Robocars

The newsletter "The Information" has reported a leak from Uber about their fatal accident. You can read the article but it is behind a very expensive paywall. The relevant quote:

This is true as far as it goes. As I explain in my article on robocar sensors you have the problem of false positives (ghosts) and false negatives (blindness.) Generally, the rule is you must never get a serious false negative, because if you do, you might hit somebody. So you have to build your system so that it will not miss another vehicle or pedestrian. You can sometimes miss them, ie. not spot them in every frame, or not identify them when you first start perceiving them, but you mus

Brad Ideas
May 04, 2018

Waymo has a crash in Chandler, but is not at fault.
Topic: RobocarsA crash today with a Waymo van is getting attention coming in the same area just a short time after the Uber fatality, but Waymo will find no fault -- the driver of the car that hit the Waymo van veered out of his lane into oncoming traffic because of somebody else who was incurring on the intersection. Only minor injuries, but higher energy that prior crashes for Waymo.

This does, however, cause people to ask, "Could the Waymo car have done more to avoid being hit?" This question was also asked recently when a stationary Navya shuttle was hit by a truck that was backing up. In that case the Navya could have backed away to prevent being hit, which a human probably would do.

It is my hope that at some time in the future, robocars will start to gain superhuman abilities not just to drive safely, but to avoid being hit by reckless drivers, but that day is not any time soon. The truth is that people forget how hard the problem of building a robocar is, but this particular task is not very high on priority lists. Once the higher items have been well resolved, this will start to happen.

One reason teams will be reluctant to solve this is the fear of making things worse. From a liability standpoint, just sitting there is the low-risk choice. It's hard to blame a car for just sitting there if i

Brad Ideas
May 04, 2018

What if teams were forced to contribute robocar incident data?
Topic: RobocarsAt teams around the world attempt to build safe robocar systems, one key asset has stood out as a big differentiator -- experience. For a company to be willing to certify their vehicle as safe, it needs experience with all the strange circumstances that it might encounter driving the roads.

Right now with over 5 million miles on the road, and 5 billion in simulator, Waymo has more than everybody else put together. Since they also have more money, it's likely to stay that way. The main threat is that companies who operate or control large fleets of cars -- like Uber, Lyft, Tesla and other carmakers -- can collect more sensor data on ordinary human driving or autopilot driving. That's not the same as experience, and the sensor suites in those cars are at present vastly simpler, but there is a chance to get a lot more of it.

There are different types of experience. Highways are simple. Urban streets are complex, and they are much more complex in some parts of the world (like India) than in others (like Arizona.) Everybody has lots more experience to gain.

The value of sharing Experience covers all sorts of road situations, but of particular interest are dangerous situations, especially ones that caused an "incident." An incident is anything risky from a brief lane departure all the way to an impact.

From the standpoint of the entire industry, and the public interest, we want all cars to be as safe as possible. This could be improved if every team had access to the data on dangerous

Brad Ideas
Apr 30, 2018

Can we verify plea deals and make them better?
Topic: Governanceious sources suggest that just 3-5% of inmates in prison are there because of trial. The vast bulk of them got there due to a guilty plea, part of a plea agreement.

This seems shocking, but in fact it is to be expected. Trials are long and expensive and risky. The vast majority of commercial disputes are settled out of court.

The problem is that some of those people are innocent, but they were pressured to accept a plea deal, or simply evaluated the odds of success in a trial and took what seemed to be a better offer. Plea bargains are much less common outside the USA. The plea negotiation is far from a fair deal with equal parties. They are also a relatively recent invention. There are articles about the flaws

It is not known what fraction of defendants are innocent of the charges, or at least of the full charges the prosecutor threatens them with in the opening round of negotiations, but any is too many.

I propose a method of checks and balance on the abuse of the plea deal as follows.

After a negotiated plea is entered, the defendant may be selected at random to get a trial anyway. We might select one defendant in 100, however many we can afford. The goal is not to give them better justice, but to provide accountability on the system.

The defendant could decline the extra trial. This election would be done after sentencing, so the prosecutors should have n

Brad Ideas
Apr 23, 2018

Robocars, Flying Cars and Hyperloops, oh my! The not so fictional future of the city
Topic: FuturismRobocarsThe primary purpose of the city is transportation. Sure, we share infrastructure like sewers and power lines, but the real reason we live in dense cities is so we can have a short travel time to the things in our lives, be they jobs, friends, shopping or anything else.

Sometimes that trip is a walking one, and indeed only the dense city allows walking trips to be short and also interesting. The rest of the trips involve some technology, from the bicycle to the car to the train. All that is about to change.

Transportation has been the driver of the way we live in cities for centuries. The car was the big re-architect of cities in the 20th century, and the tram/train was the factor in the 19th. We don't always like what happened but there is no denying what caused it.

Every aspect of urban transportation is in or big changes in the next couple of decades. Even walking and cycling, to some degree.

The following are the big factors which will affect urban living choices, densities and more. I have written more about most of these topics in other locations, but let's summarize some of the big effects.

E-Commerce and local automated delivery -- affecting retail and value of locations. Robocars -- changing the meaning of distance and location, and freeing up parking. Also rewriting the meaning of public transit. Walking -- new thinking on walking (and biking) and how to integrate them with the new transportation.

Brad Ideas
Apr 20, 2018

How to attack the social media incentive and privacy problems
Topic: InternetPrivacySolve thisTags: data deposit boxA huge opportunity awaits a young social media company that is poised to take advantage of the fall of Facebook (and Twitter). Is somebody out there ready to carry the ball and make it happen. It probably has to be somebody already with most of this done, or even operating.

The great problem with social networks is the natural monopoly. It doesn't matter how good a tool is if your friends aren't on it. So "there can be only one," at least within each culture. There are different winners in different countries, and LinkedIn seems to have segmented business networking from personal networking enough to get past this.

One answer to the monopoly question would be the creation of a protocol that would allow networks to link together in a meaningful way. Ie. if my "home" is on Facebook and yours is on Google Plus, that it is possible to create a friendship link between the two, without requiring either of us to create a profile on the other site.

This is not that hard to do at a basic level, but of course a basic level might not be very satisfying. Even an advanced level would only suppo

Brad Ideas
Apr 09, 2018

NHTSA/SAE's "levels" of robocars may be contributing to highway deaths
Topic: RobocarsThe NHTSA/SAE "levels" of robocars are not just incorrect. I now believe they are contributing to an attitude towards their "level 2" autopilots that plays a small, but real role in the recent Tesla fatalities.

Readers of this blog will know I have been critical of the NHTSA/SAE "levels" taxonomy for robocars since it was announced. My criticisms have ranged to simply viewing them as incorrect or misleading, and you might have enjoyed my satire of the levels which questions the wisdom of defining the robocar based on the role the human being plays in driving it.

Recent events lead me to go further. I believe a case can be made that this levels are holding the industry back, and have a possible minor role in the traffic fatalities we have seen with Tesla autopilot. As such I urge the levels be renounced by NHTSA and the SAE and replaced by something better.

Some history It's true that in the early days, when Google was effectively the only company doing work on a full self-driving car for the roads, people were looking for some sort of taxonomy to describe the different types of potential cars. NHTSA's first article laid one out as a series of levels numbered 0 to 4 which gave the appearance of an evolutionary progression.

Problem was, none of those stages existed. Even Google didn't know what it wanted to build, and my most important contribution there probably was being one of those pushing it from the highway car with occasional human drivi

Brad Ideas
Apr 06, 2018

HODL is bad for Bitcoin
Topic: TechnologyTags: bitcoinYou've probably heard the catchword in the bitcoin/crytpocurrency world of "HODL!" Based on somebody's typo, it is an encouragement to hold on to your bitcoins rather than sell them as the price ramps up to crazy levels. If you're a true believer, you will HODL. Don't cave in to the temptation and pressure to sell (SLEL?) but be sure to HODL. (Previously I wrote about the issues which occur should Bitcoin's price actually stabilize.

I believe that the HODL philosophy is selfish and goes against most of what bitcoin stands for. Let's consider the latter one first.

The goal of bitcoin was to made a digital currency. People want a currency with all of Bitcoin's attributes -- its decentralized trustable blockchain, ability to do smart contracts, privacy of identities in transactions, security, and hopefully quick settlement. Indeed, if you ask a HODLer why bitcoin will be able to justify the high value they are waiting for, they will say that the system has this great value.

Of course, to be a currency, it does have to have a sustainable value. The design of bitcoin requires that value to compensate the miners,

Brad Ideas
Apr 05, 2018

The decline of blogging, and what replaces it?
Topic: Free SpeechInternetMediaYou, by definition, read blog posts. But the era of lots of individual personal web sites seems to be on the wane. It used to be everybody had a "home page" and many had one that updated frequently (a blog) but I, and many other bloggers, have noticed a change of late. It can be seen in the "referer" summaries you get from your web server that show who is making popular links to your site.

The change is that they aren't doing that so much. Now, the vast majority of outside readers to this site come from places like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and Google searches. One might explain this as a fault of my own, but others are reporting the same thing. Dedicated readers through RSS or sites like bloglines are still there but RSS subscription is on the decline too.

RSS subscription (a rather kludgey replacement for the mailing list) is not hard to understand. To RSS subscribe to somebody is to look at everything they produce. In our world of information overload, there are really only so many feeds you have time to look at all of. This blog does 4-5 longish articles per week when I'm not on the road, others can be 20 short items a day, but no matter how much you might like it, there's a limit.

The replacement for "serial" publishing (like RSS, mailing list and newsgroups) has become "sampled" reading. Twitter and Facebook are examples of that. You dip your toe in a stream, e

Brad Ideas
Apr 03, 2018

Can we reduce "fake news" with anonymous group shaming?
Topic: Free SpeechGovernanceInternetNew DemocracyI have many things to discuss on the problem of "fake news" (which is to say, deliberately constructed false reports aimed to be spread to deceive) and the way it spreads through social media. This hot topic, seen as one of the largest threats to democracy to ever arise -- especially when combined with automated microtargeting of political propaganda -- is causing people to clamour for solutions.

Some of the solutions proposed are problematic on their own. Appointing social network sites to be arbiters of what is real and fake. Censorship executed by web sites or the government or both. Rules similar to the "false news" law in Canada that was ruled unconstitutional after it convicted a holocaust denier. (See: R v Zundel)

Anonymous shaming Here I propose an alternative in the form of semi-anonymous shaming. If we can create consequences for the spreading of fake news, social consequences, we may be able to reduce it. Of course, if your friend online posts some fake news, you may be inclined (as I often am) to call them out on it. This is not typical activity. Most people are afraid of damaging a friendship in this fashion.


Brad Ideas
Apr 02, 2018

Blog now using HTTPS/TLS secure web by default
Topic: AnnouncementsBoring administrative announcement: In a move long overdue for me, access to this blog and my other large sites will now be exclusively through "https" (ie. encrypted web.)

I set up this, of course, using the great tool Let's Encrypt which was created with support from the EFF. This project and the tools around it take a big step towards making the internet encrypted by default. Let me know if you experience any problems. But then I guess you aren't reading this if you are. Oh well!

For decades, it was painful and expensive to get the certificates needed to secure connections to a site. You typically had to pay a small set of companies, usually every year. Now a trusted certificate can be created automatically and for free. While you could in the past use self-signed certificates, a serious error was made in browser design, causing the browser to complain far more loudly about the use of a self-signed certificate than about connecting completely insecurely. Because of this, few people used it. It's also been a lot of work to configure web servers and e-mail tools to use TLS, and in fact today it's still too hard, but tools like certbot have automated a fair bit of that process. In the very earliest days, encryption was considered legally a munition that needed a licence to export. So most web tools were built without it, or using a useless insecure form of it. In the end, it made people decide it was just too much work. The EFF and others fought to ge

Brad Ideas
Apr 02, 2018

Comparing the Uber and Tesla fatalities with a table
Topic: RobocarsThe Uber car and Tesla's autopilot, both in the news for fatalities are really two very different things. This table outlines the difference. Also, see below for some new details on why the Tesla crashed and more.

Uber ATC Test Tesla Autopilot A prototype full robocar capable of unmanned operations on city streets. A driver assist system for highways and expressways Designed for taxi service Designed for privately owned and driven cars A full suite of high end roobcar sensors including LIDAR Productive automotive sensors, cameras and radar. 1 pedestran fatality, other accidents unknown Fatalities in Florida, China, California, other serious crashes without injury Approximately 3 million miles of testing Late 2016: 300M miles, 1.3B miles data gathering. A prototype in testing which needs a human safety driver monitoring it A production product overseen by the customer Designed to handle everything it might encounter on the road Designed to handle only certain situations. Users are expressly warned it doesn't handle major things like cross traffic, stop signs and traffic lights. Still in an early state, needing intervention every 13 miles on city streets In production and needing intervention rarely on highways but if you tried to drive it

Brad Ideas
Mar 30, 2018

Tesla model X fatality in Silicon Valley had Autopilot turned on
Topic: RobocarsLast week, buried in the news of the Uber fatality, a Tesla model X had a fatality, plowing into the ramp divider on the flyover carpool exit from Highway 101 to Highway 85 in the heart of Silicon Valley. Literally just a few hundred feet from Microsoft and Google buildings, close to many other SV companies, and just a few miles from Tesla HQ. I take this ramp frequently, as does almost everybody else in the valley. The driver was an Apple programmer, on his way to work.

With autopilot on, it was just revealed today.

This was only revealed now because the concrete divider was missing its "crumple barrier" and the Tesla was almost complete destroyed, and had a battery fire. They were lucky to get the data.

While they took place in the same week, this is pretty different from the Uber incident. First of all, Tesla's autopilot technology is a very different animal from the full robocar technology tested by Uber, Waymo and others. It's a driver assist technology that requires that the (consumer) driver stay alert all the time. It is, really, a glorified cruise control with lanekeeping ability. There are all sorts of things it doesn't handle, and that Tesla warns customers it doesn't handle. The Uber was a prototype full robocar, designed to handle the situation it failed on, though still a prototype and needing a safety driver.

Even the simplest accidents are never simple, so let's consider the circumstances of this one. First

Brad Ideas
Mar 30, 2018

How does a robocar see a pedestrian and how might Uber have gone wrong?
Topic: RobocarsHow does a robocar see and avoid hitting a pedestrian? There are a lot of different ways. Some are very common, some are used only by certain teams. To understand what the Uber car was supposed to do, it can help to look at them. I write this without specific knowledge of what techniques Uber uses.

In particular, I want to examine what could go wrong at any of these points, and what is not likely to go wrong.

The usual pipeline looks something like this:

Localization (no indication of failure) Sensing (With LIDAR, radar, cameras, etc.) Sensor fusion (also takes place later in the chain) Classification (preliminary) Link to objects previously known, determine velocity Model future paths of all obstacles. Improve classification Detect possible incursions Plan a path forward Execute plan Send commands to car controls Localization Ideally, the car wants to know where it is on its map. This is a continuous process, and involves the sensing system. However, in this case the vehicle drove properly in its lane so there is no sign of failure here.

Sensing I could write a lot about sensing here. All the sensors have different attributes. All of them should have detected the pedestrian fairly early, though radar has some limitations.

LIDAR is extremely reliable. The LIDAR would have sensed her, starting at least 90m out. Radar has challenges on object

Brad Ideas
Mar 29, 2018

Cruise getting a ticket is a very positive story
Topic: RobocarsLost in all my coverage of the Uber event is a much more positive story from San Francisco, where Police issued a ticket to the safety driver of a Cruise test vehicle for getting too close to a pedestrian.

We don't have all the details on this, but based on Cruise's statements -- that the ticket was issued in error and they were never closer than 10.8 feet to the pedestrian and they correctly yielded right-of-way -- it is speculated this incident involved a Cruise car going through a crosswalk which was also in use by a pedestrian.

The law requires cars to yield the right of way to pedestrians in crosswalks, and Cruise claims it does this and did this. It is not clearly defined what the right of way is of a pedestrian. In some places, the pedestrian effectively "owns" the whole crosswalk in front of them. In other places, their ROW only includes half the road or a smaller buffer zone. We have all been there -- you want to turn right on a green, and there are pedestrians in the crosswalk. Often, you will turn through the crosswalk when the pedestrians are coming from the other side and you'll be long gone by the time they get to the lane you are turning through. Or you wait for pedestrians to pass and you turn, with caution, as soon as they have walked through the lane you want.

This is a good thing, and in busy cities, is important for the flow of traffic. The extreme situation -- nobody can turn if a pedestrian is anywhere in or approaching the crossw

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