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Brad Ideas
Dec 11, 2017

San Francisco bans delivery robots
Topic: RobocarsSan Francisco just passed legislation largely banning delivery robots on the city's sidewalks. The rule allows each company testing such robots to get a permit which would allow only a trivial number of robots, and limit them to industrial streets.

I should note that I am an advisor to Starship Technologies, which is by a decent margin the leading company in this space. Starship has not conducted operations in San Francisco (other than a couple of manual-drive demos) but of course is not in favour of such a ban. I am not speaking on behalf of Starship in this article, however. Starship does have operations in Redwood City, south of San Francisco. Other companies, such as Marble, have been conducting operations in SF and are more affected by this ban. Because other cities are welcoming to the robots, it seems unlikely that any company not based in SF would conduct anything but limited early testing there.

This isn't the first time San Francisco has done a preemptive ban on a nascent technology. Famously, it also banned the Segway on sidewalks after most other cities voted to permit it. Nonetheless, it is at odds with SF's status as the 'big city' part of Silicon Valley and the great beneficiary of its economic boom.

The reasoning behind the ban is quite flawed. Supervisor Yee, who is the primary author of the ban, expresses worry about safety and sidewalk congestion, stating that sidewalks should be reserved for people. The first is an error, the second has merit but not as much as would be suggested.

According to the DoT's household transportation survey, a whopping 45% of all trips are for shopping and errands, and 87% of trips are in cars. In other words, the use of delivery services has immense potential for reducing car miles, and with them, car accidents and injuries. Most crashes, injuries and fatalities are on city streets, not highways, in spite of the lower speeds. If a delivery robot takes a car (or delivery van) off the road, it's a win for safety. It's also a win for congestion, both from the real travel and from the 'hunting for parking' which makes up a lot of urban shopping drives. Various studies calculate an average of about 30% of cars in shopping districts are hunting for parking.

Safety, congestion and energy For rush delivery, delivery robots offer several huge wins. Compared to street vehicles, they use no road or parking capacity, and being small and light, they use far less energy per mile. All known delivery robots are electric, meaning emissions are also vastly less even for the same energy. They can thus do rush delivery at a much lower cost.

(I say rush delivery because a large delivery van full of non-rush packages can be efficient in terms of energy per package, though it still takes road capacity.)

Delivery robots are small and light and not very fast. The Starship robots are designed to be so light and slow that even if their safety systems were to fail and a robot were to hit a person, the chances of injury are very small. I've been hit by one deliberately and while you would not want it happening every day, it is no big deal. Some companies are making much heavier robots so this may not be true for all.

For cities, delivery robots also offer something desired by local retailers -- an opportunity to compete with the giants of on

Brad Ideas
Dec 06, 2017

How can robocar transit affect the personal safety of transportation, especially regarding sexual assault?
Topic: RobocarsOne 'story of the year' for Time was the #metoo campaign, where (mostly) women shared stories of how they had been sexually harassed or molested, to make it clear just how widespread the problem is. Almost all women have a story, or many stories, sad to say.

I have frequently heard reports from women of being groped on crowded public transit. People are packed in, and villains use the plausible deniability and anonymity of the packed crowd to grope.

This was spelled out in a Washington Post story on metoo and transit (paywall, but I suspect everybody knows its truth.)

This adds a new positive element to the end of conventional public transit as it switches from large, human driven vehicles on fixed routes and schedules to ad-hoc use of vans and cars with robotic driving -- the question of public safety, and not just against groping.

The first reaction is often the other way. Transit vehicles have a driver on them, and even have transit police. This keeps the public in line. Even an UberPool or Lyftline, where you get into a car with a random stranger, still has the driver there who can assist if there's a problem between passengers. In a robotic shared vehicle, it might be just a few people, or even just two, and nobody else. On an empty road at night.

I've spoken to women who do not feel safe in such a situation, and would not ride in such a vehicle, at least with an unknown man. They might wish for the ability to request this in their ride profile. (I have discomfort, though, with institutionalizing the enablement of discimination based on sex, race or other inherent traits.)

One answer for that is that services like UberPool are not anonymous. Because Uber knows who everybody in the carpool is, that's a major deterrent to bad behaviour. A bad actor would not just be kicked out of Uber, but possibly reported to police. Uber knows even more about who its drivers are, but that hasn't stopped there from being fear (mostly promoted by taxi drivers who don't like Uber) of attack by an Uber driver.

Identification sounds good, but it's also a privacy nightmare. Uber requires a credit card and so is unavailable to a large swath of society who can't get such cards. Public transit and taxis have offered us a privacy-positive world of anonymous transportation. Many of us feel that it is a fundamental right to travel anonymously, without being tracked. (Though so many of us have given that up to our cell phone provider.)

How do we reconcile the needs for private travel, safety, the feeling of safety and access for the poor?

Compartments One approach, possible only in small to medium vehicles, is a shared car or van with private compartments. A shared taxi might be designed to have 4 doors and 4 compartments with a wall down the middle so that each person is secure and private. You can't design a regular car that way, but a purpose-specific taxi could be built with that design. You could go all the way up to a van. My 16-person van design (see link above) could have 8 compartments if it had extra doors.

For crash-safety, however, it must be possible if the vehicle rolls on its side to get out the other side. This requires there be a means to get through the divider in an emergency, and without much difficulty. This adds a complication to the

Brad Ideas
Dec 05, 2017

Could hybrid-electric aircraft rule the skies?
Topic: Air TravelCompanies are proposing a hybrid airliner with electric motors, a smaller battery, and a liquid fuel powered generator.

One advantage of this design is you can get the redundancy that safe flight needs a different way. Today all commercial airlines have 2 or more liquid fuel engines. They can still fly if they lose one.

A hybrid would have two or more electric motors, and the battery pack would be split as well, but it might need only one generator. If the generator fails, the small battery would still have enough range to get you to an abort airport.

This would not be suitable for flying over the ocean more than a few miles, so it would be limited to short-haul craft. The one in the article is for only 700 mile range. As long as it stays within 100 miles of an airfield, it would be able to survive loss of its generator.

Electric batteries today just weigh too much. Liquid fuel has many times the energy density of batteries, so they don't work very well for aircraft. An additional downside is that batteries weigh the same full or empty. Today's jets weigh a great deal less when they land than they did when they take off. On the other hand, electric power is cleaner, more versatile and more reliable. As the energy density of electric storage increases, the trade-off line will be crossed.

The hybrid design, however, offers the energy density of liquid fuel with many of the advantages of electric power. The need for only one generator can save a lot of weight, but for now the reserve batteries could cancel that saving. But consider some of the advantages:

The high torque and efficiency of electric motors is in general great for take-off, which is the only time that aircraft engines use their full power. The scariest situation in any aircraft is a loss of power on takeoff. Electric motors are very reliable, and loss of the generator would cause no loss of thrust on takeoff. The aircraft would be able to climb and return to the runway. It can make sense to have many smaller electric motors and props without much efficiency cost. This offers superb redundancy and reliability. Failure of lots of motors can be close to zero probability. Electric torque can be so high that VTOL can be possible in tilt-wing designs. More radical options become open. While the generator will still make noise, overall there should be much less. Landing could be done on batteries with the generator at idle, and be very quiet. This could also be possible in certain take-off zones. In fact, since electric motors can start instantly with high reliability, it could be possible to land much of the time as a glider, in close to silence. Some things a hybrid design won't do, though:

A pure electric aircraft can go to extremely high altitudes (above 70,000') where drag is vastly less and travel is efficient. They don't need to breathe air to burn the fuel. As noted, you can't get too far from an emergency landing airport in case your single generator fails. That can alter flight plans and means no travel over the ocean. A two generator design would escape this but would add a lot of weight. Another potential breakthrough could come in hydrogen storage for a fuel-cell based generator. Hydrogen has a great energy density by

Brad Ideas
Dec 04, 2017

Warner Brothers and Intel experiment with in-robocar entertainment. Is that a good idea?
Topic: RobocarsIntel and Warner made a splash at the LA Auto Show announcing how Warner will develop entertainment for viewing while riding in robotaxis. It's not just movies to watch, their hope is to produce something more like an amusement park ride to keep you engaged on your journey.

Like most partnership announcements around robocars, this one is mainly there for PR since they haven't built anything yet. The idea is both interesting and hype.

I'll start with the negative. I think people will carry their entertainment with them in their pockets, and not want it from their cars. Why would I want a different music system with a different interface when my own music and videos are already curated by me and stored in my phone? All I really want is a speaker and screen to display them on.

This is becoming very clear on planes, where I prefer to watch movies I have pre-downloaded on my phone than what is on the bigger screen of the in-flight entertainment system. There are several reasons for that:

The UIs on most in-flight systems suck really, really badly. I mean it's amazing how bad most of them are. (Turns out there is a reason for that.) Cars will probably do it better but the history is not promising. Your personal device is usually newer with more advanced technology because you replace it every 2 years. You have curated the content in it and know the interface. On airplanes in particular, they believe rules force them to pause your experience so that they can announce that duty free sales are now open in 3 languages. And 20 or more other interruptions, only a couple of which are actually important to hear for an experienced flyer. So Warner is wise in putting a focus on doing something you can't do with your personal gear, such as a VR experience, or immersive screens around the car. There is a unique opportunity to tune the VR experience to the actual motions of the car. In traffic, you can only tune to the needed motions. On the open road, you might actually be able to program a trip that deliberately slows or speeds up or turns when nobody else is around to make a cool VR experience.

While that might be nice, it would be mostly a gimmick, more like a ride you try once. I don't think people will want to go everywhere in the batmobile. As such it will be more of a niche, or marketing trick.

More interesting is the ability to reduce carsickness with audio-visual techniques. Some people get pretty queasy if they look down for a long time at a book or laptop. Others are less bothered. A phone held in the hand seems to be easier to use for most than something heavier, perhaps because it moves with the motion of the car. For many years I have proposed that cars communicate their upcoming plans with subtle audio or visual cues so that people know when they are about to turn or slow down. Some experiments are now being reported on this and it will be interesting to see the results.

If you ride on a subway, bus or commuter train today, the scene is now always the same. A row of people, all staring at their phones.

Liability reduction fails Last week I reported on a proposed bill to limit liability for robocar vendors. The bill failed.

Brad Ideas
Dec 01, 2017

Has Uber already beaten private ownership on cost?
Topic: RobocarsToday, various experts, like CR and the AAA rate the cost of private car ownership anywhere from 40 to 60 cents per mile, plus parking. That depends on your usage patterns, what car you buy and its age, plus a few other factors. Many people, though, pretend that using their car only costs the 8-12 cents/mile for gasoline.

Riding in an Uber costs from $1.50 to $2/mile, and nobody has any illusions about it, because you pay the full cost right there. At 3x to 4x the price (or 15x the price for those who only count the gasoline) it's a luxury.

I have often reported here on how robotaxis will cut the price to 25 to 40 cents/mile blowing up the economics of car travel. That will happen, but what's surprising is it's already happening.

Already, many people are switching to services like Uber over use of their private car. That's because they are factoring in the value of their own time, as well as the cost of parking. I have been doing this myself, and there's an analysis of the costs and the switching at TheConversation.

Even though I own a car, it's been a couple of years since I drove it to the airport. The combination of the cost of airport parking, the cost of my own time, and the convenience and time-saving of going right to the curb rather than taking a shuttle from a parking lot have made it a win. The 35 mile trip tends to cost about $55 (x2) in Lyft/Uber and that's a lot more than the $35 to use my own car at 50 cents/mile. Add just a few days parking, though, and it starts to get close enough that it's easy to make up the rest of the difference from the value of my own time.

I charge my clients good money for my time, and while most people aren't quite willing to value their own time at the rate they sell it for, every middle-class and above person should value the 1.5 hours involved in driving and shuttles at at least $30.

Today, I just fiddle with my phone on the trip. In the future I'll be able to do a lot more. The fake 'robocar' is already winning even at 3x the price.

Other analysis has shown that in the dense cities which have very expensive parking (and personal garages) that using ride services is a win even without putting more than a minimum wage value on your time.

The first robotaxis won't be 50 cents/mile, but I think that $1/mile is a likely early target. Even that should blow the doors off private car use, at least financially, for many people. At 50 cents/mile (or my predicted 30 cents) the private car is going to have a very hard slog.

Not all private car ownership will go away. Outside cities, robotaxi service will not be conveniently available on short notice. Some people will just resist the idea. Some people love to keep stuff in their cars and have it available everywhere they go -- particularly families with small children. But for the rest, the economic pressures will be very strong.

Cars designed for the rear seat One thing I expect we'll see soon is a car from the major automakers designed primarily to be used with Uber and Lyft.

Of course, there have always been high-end luxury cars -- limousines -- aimed at the chauffeured driving market. And there are cars like the Nissan NV200 and the London Taxi Company TX4 designed for that market. The London vehicle, with its rear facing seats, is the most different from a typical vehicle.

A car sold to be an Uber/Lyft would still be

Brad Ideas
Nov 30, 2017

Bitcoin can't handle big price drops, and the missing Satoshi Foundation
Topic: InternetTags: bitcoinHaving written yesterday about a decision to sell Bitcoin, I want to re-examine two posts I made in the past which are now even more apropos.

My sell decision was (at least temporarily) wise as it dropped to $9300 quickly. I don't think it will necessarily never see $11K again. It is a speculative value with no fundamentals behind it to help judge the right price range.

But what I want to consider is how well Bitcoin can handle a major fall in price. In theory, it should not be able to, though in practice it is a bit more robust. Not long ago I wrote about Bitcoin was in real trouble if it dropped below $150 which it almost did.

Bitcoin was designed so that as mining equipment got cheaper with Moore's Law, it would automatically adjust the difficulty of the mining problem to keep blocks coming roughly every 10 minutes. As a side effect, this also compensates for people being willing to spend a ton more on mining because the value of Bitcoin has risen. In a truly efficient market, mining should only be modestly profitable, because if it becomes too profitable, it encourages more people to buy mining gear to reap those profits. As they do, the difficulty goes up and the profit becomes more modest. The fact that ASICs take time to bring to market allows windows of higher profitability when the price soars.

That's all great as the price goes up, but what happens when it drops a lot? If the mining is only modestly profitable, a serious price drop makes it unprofitable for most miners, and in theory, for all. Unprofitable miners turn off their mining gear (they can no longer pay the electricity with their block rewards) and suddenly the whole network slows down until the difficulty adjusts again. Normally that's in 2 weeks but if the network slows in half it could be 4 weeks, or more.

In the worst case, almost all miners might stop mining and the network would never readjust. Bitcoin would die.

What prevents this? In practice, it's not quite that precarious.

Right now, there's been such a bull run-up of the price that the best miners are quite profitable, and can tolerate some drop. The Antminer S9 has lots of room. People pay very different prices for electricity. Those paying US rates, from 5 cents to 9 cents/kwh would need to drop out soonest, but some are mining with flat rate or super low rate electricity There appear to be people who will deliberately mine at a loss, specifically to avoid the collapse of the Bitcoin network, because they have a lot bet on it. There are many who are mining in China, both with very cheap electricity and other motives. In particular, one motive is that Bitcoin mining lets you turn Yuan that buy Chinese electricity into dollars from selling bitcoins. You get to do this without the normal currency controls. These factors might preserve the Bitcoin network through a price collapse, but it is not pleasant to imagine that it is subsidized electricity or Chinese currency controls that are keeping the network alive, rather than something more inherent.

The longer Bitcoin stays high, the more people who will get into mining. Should mining return to reasonable but modest profitabil

Brad Ideas
Nov 29, 2017

The Bitcoin Bubble and the real value
I think Bitcoin is an amazing and valuable technology, but I just sold what I had at $11,000 because that price is crazy. Others think it will go much higher, and it might, but I believe this will be viewed as one of the great bubbles of history, and here's why...

Bitcoin can be viewed both as a currency and as a store of value. Most people want it to be a currency, and indeed without the currency function, it really makes no sense as a store of value. But the speculative bubble is all about having it as a store of value, and is only loosely based on its value as a currency.

People bid it up because it was designed that there would never be more than 21 million bitcoins mined. Right now they are mined at a rate of 1800 coins per day (almost $20M) but that rate gets halved about every 4 years, creating the limit. With this limited supply, the more valuable people think bitcoins are, the more they go up. Unlike dollars, which actually drop in value because the US government just prints more all the time, particularly if they get more valuable.

The problem is that while there is a fixed number of 'bitcoins' (the coin) there can be an arbitrary number of 'Bitcoins' -- cryptocurrency systems similar to or identical to the primary Bitcoin. In fact, there are already hundreds of them. Some of them, like Ether and Bitcoin Cash (a fork of the original Bitcoin) already have quite a lot of value.

So if bitcoins get ridiculously valuable, there becomes a strong incentive just to create another system. Either a a fork, an identical but distinct clone, or an altcoin which still provides the same core functions and possibly more. Those looking for Bitcoin's value as a currency will be able to easily get it in an arbitrary number of other places. The only thing special about Bitcoin prime will be that it was the first. That will keep it more valuable, but it is an arbitrary value -- it's valuable because it's the most famous.

One reason a clone can happen is there's a ton of obsolete mining equipment out there. People mining bitcoin today (and getting that $20M/day) have to do it with the very latest mining equipment. Year old equipment is close to useless. But it would be quite useful for a clone of Bitcoin using the same proof-of-work system. As soon as some clone coin gets a critical mass, it will be simple for tons of mining power to move over to it and create trust in it. (As that trust and value grows, the new mining equipment will also move there.)

People will also create automated exchanges between the coins. This means, from a user standpoint, for somebody using them as currency, it will be possible to use them interchangeably. If a merchant wants Bitcoin 1 and you have Bitcoin 2 or Bitcoin 3, it will be easy for your app to quickly convert them at the going rate. It will also be easy for merchants to take them all, as long as they have reached some level of stability. Almost all merchants that take bitcoin today convert them immediately to local currency, though that's been a mistake at today's bubble prices.

What price is real? This is a very hard question to answer. Some people throw out that they think Bitcoin will get to $1M. Consider that this means all coins are worth $22T, which is not far off from the $37B of the M1 Money Supply -- all the liquid cash in the world, and 1/4 of the total supply of all money in the world in all currencies. Bitcoin would need to replace all the currencies of the world, with no competition from other cryptocurrencies, to get to this value as a currency. But, as I said, people are treating it as a store of value.

Note as well that there's under $8T of gold in the world, and only $77T of stocks in t

Brad Ideas
Nov 28, 2017

DARPA challenge mystery solved and how to handle Robocar failures
Topic: RobocarsA small mystery from Robocar history was resolved recently, and revealed at the DARPA grand challenge reunion at CMU.

The story is detailed here at IEEE spectrum and I won't repeat it all, but a brief summary goes like this.

In the 2nd grand challenge, CMU's Highlander was a favourite and doing very well. Mid-race it started losing engine power and it stalled for long enough that Stanford's Stanley beat it by 11 minutes.

It was discovered recently a small computerized fuel injector controller in the Hummer (one of only two) may have been damaged in a roll-over that Highlander had, and if you pressed on it, the engine would reduce power or fail.

People have wondered how the robocar world might be different if they had not had that flaw. Stanford's victory was a great boost for their team, and Sebastian Thrun was hired to start Google's car team -- but Chris Urmson, lead on Highlander, was also hired to lead engineering, and Chris would end up staying on the project for much longer than Sebastian who got seduced by the idea of doing Udacity. Google was much more likely to have closer ties to Stanford people anyway, being where it is.

CMU's fortunes might have ended up better, but they managed to be the main source of Uber's first team.

There are many stories of small things making a big difference. Also well known is how Anthony Levandowski, who entered a motorcycle in the race, forgot to turn on a stabilizer. The motorcycle fell over 2 seconds after he released it, dashing all of his team's work. Anthony of course did OK (as another leader on the Google team, and then to Uber) but of course had recently had some 'troubles.'

Another famous incident came when Volvo was doing a demo for press of their collision avoidance system. You could not pick a worse time and of course there is video of it.

They had of course tested the demo extensively the night before. In fact they tested it too much, and left a battery connected during the night, so that it was drained by the morning when they showed off to the press.

These stories remind people of all the ways things go wrong. More to the point, they remind us that we must design expecting things to go wrong, and have systems that are able to handle that. These early demos and prototypes didn't have that, but cars that go on the road do and will.

Making systems resilient is the only answer when they get as complex as they are. Early car computers were pretty simple, but a self-driving system is so complex that it is never going to be formally verified or perfect. Instead, it must be expected that every part will fail, and the failure of every part -- or even every combination of parts -- should be tested in both sim, and where possible in reality. What is tested is how the rest of the system handles the failure, and if it doesn't handle it, that has to be fixed.

It does not need to handle it perfectly, though. For example, in many cases the answer to failure will be, 'We're at a reduced safety level. Let's get off the road, and summon another car car continue the passengers on their way.'

It might even be a severely reduced safety level. Possibly even, as hard as this number may be to accept, 100 times less safe! That's because the car will never drive very far in that degraded condition. Consider a car tha

Brad Ideas
Nov 27, 2017

Uber buys 24,000 Volvos, Trolley Problems get scarier, and liability
Topic: RobocarsUber and Volvo announced an agreement where Uber will buy, in time, up to 24,000 specially built Volvo XC90s which will run Uber's self-driving software and, presumably, offer rides to Uber customers. While the rides are some time away, people have made note of this for several reasons.

This is a pretty big order for Volvo -- it's $1B of cars at the retail price, and 1/3 of the total sales of XC90s in 2017. This is a big fleet -- there are only 12,000 yellow cabs in New York City, for example, though thanks to Uber there are now far more hail-able vehicles. In spite of Volvo's fairly major software efforts, they will be entirely on the hardware side for this deal, and it is not exclusive for either party. I'm not clear who originally said it -- I first heard it from Marc Andreesen -- but 'the truest form of a partnership is called a purchase order.' In spite of the scores of announced partnerships and joint ventures announced to get PR in the robocar space, this is a big deal, but it's a sign of the soft of deal car makers have been afraid of. Volvo will be primarily a contract manufacturer here, and Uber will own the special sauce that makes the vehicle work, and it will own the customer. You want to be Uber in this deal, But what company can refuse a $1B order?

It also represents a big shift for Uber. Uber is often the poster child for the company that replaced assets with software. It owns no cars and yet provides the most rides. Now, Uber is going to move to the capital intensive model of owning the cars, and not having to pay drivers. There will be much debate over whether it should make such a shift. As noted, it goes against everything Uber represents in the past, but there is not really much choice.

First of all, to do things the 'Uber' way would require that a large number of independent parties bought and operated robocars and then contracted out to Uber to bring them riders when not being used by their owners. Like UberX without having to drive the car. The problem is, that world is still a long way away. Car companies have put their focus on cars that can't drive unmanned -- much or at all -- because that's OK for the private car buyer. They are also far behind companies like Waymo and Uber in producing taxi capable vehicles.

If Uber waited for the pool of available private cars to get large enough, it would miss the boat. Other companies would have moved into its territory and undercut it with cheaper and cooler robotaxi service.

Secondly, you really want to be very sure about the vehicles you deploy in your first round. You want to have tested them, and you need to certify their safety because you are going to be liable in accidents no matter what you do. You can get the private owners to sign a contract taking liability but you will get sued anyway as the deep pocket if you do. This means you want to control the whole experience.

The truth is, capital is pretty cheap for companies like Uber. Even cheaper for companies like Apple and Google that have the world's largest pools of spare capital sitting around. The main risk is that these custom robocars may not have any resale value if you bet wrong on how to build them. Fortunately, taxis wear out in about 5 years of heavy use.

Uber continues to have no fear of telling the millions of drivers who work 'for' them that they will be rid of them some day. Uber driver is an unusual job,

Brad Ideas
Nov 10, 2017

Interviews with me on and SmartDrivingCars podcast
Topic: RobocarsA couple of non-text interviews this week.

Reason TV did a segment on regulation for robocars where I'm interviewed on the question of regulation. Naturally Reason likes my spin that we don't need heavy regulation at this time, though by putting me up against John Simpson from the shadowy 'Consumer Watchdog' group (who does not seem to have met a regulation he doesn't like) it makes me seem like I'm calling for complete laissez-faire. Instead, my position is that there's already a lot of regulation (it's already illegal to drive unsafely and certainly to hit anything) so we don't need to rush to regulate until we know what companies can't be trusted to not cheat on. Let's learn about how the tech works, first.

What is key is that we actually have a chance to greatly simplify driving regulation (the 'rules of the road') because most rules of the road were written for untrustworthy human drivers with unreliable judgment. If a robocar makes a mistake that would result in a ticket or incident, the teams will all fix that mistake and it won't happen again to any car. That's very different from people. We put up 'no left turn' signs in places where 99% of the time a left turn is perfectly safe for people, and it's 99.9999% safe in a robot with perfect judgment of physics. Another key point, not noted in the interview, is that with robocars, you can get reps from every team putting a car on the road in a room together and work out problems. You don't need to pass specific laws, you just work interactively with developers to find good solutions.

SmartDrivingCars Allain Kornhauser of Princeton is one of the few to have been working on and writing on robocars (or Smart Driving Cars) since the start. He does a regular e-mail blast of commentary on news stories, and now has started a podcast. I'm a guest on the episode this morning. One new issue discussed is the ironic crash of a Navya shuttle in Las Vegas 2 hours after it went into operation, which I made note of yesterday. We also talk about the meaning of the Waymo supervisor, now in the back seat of their Phoenix pilot. (My earlier post did not make that clear.) This supervisor does not have a wheel, just buttons to get the vehicle to stop or pull over.

The Navya has since generated lots of debate about its failure to back up. People seem to be forgetting this is still an early revision product. It does not have a lot of experience with extreme and accident situations. Teams don't want their cars driving in ways that they have not had the time to extensively test.

I liken this to humans and deer. If you see a deer on the highway, the advice given by all is 'don't swerve, hit the deer.' That's because most deaths in encounters with animals come from swerving, not from hitting the animal. Swerving is not something we're good at or do very often, so while it seems the ideal choice, it is much riskier. The same applies to early cars. They won't do complex evasive action because they're not rated for it. Not that they could not do it, but because it contains too many unknowns for a device programmed to be paranoid about safety.

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