Along for the Ride #173
Attempting to avoid CES for the first newsletter of the year 🤪
Heya friends, happy Friday!
Happy to back on the keyboard, twiddling away. January is always tricky as the new year starts out with CES, and this year I’m trying not to give it too much fanfare. Every year I find CES more and more concerned with gadgets that cost an eye-watering amount of money—yet solve very few (if any) societal problems. To me, CES is the epitome of investing in consumerism without attention paid towards investing in our communities. If you want to know what I mean, look no further than Vegas’ Hyperloop (listed as one of the top six tech flops of the 21st century).
P.S. There are about 50 more subscribers here in the last month (welcome!). If you’re new here, I try to write a short n sweet newsletter filled with opinions. I have a tendency towards funny typos and that’s just part of the ~vibe~. Grateful to have you here!
So without further adieu, here’s my early January newsletter with *minimal* CES content. If that’s your jam (zero judgement!) then TechCrunch has you covered 😉.
Read of the Week
We need to dismantle car infrastructure
This piece from Dezeen talks about how it’s not enough that we build and invest in sustainable transport infrastructure. We also need to rethink and redesign our existing transport networks that overwhelming centre vehicular traffic.
“Though shrinking road space may initially appear to drive up congestion, Paris Metropolitan Region senior urban planner Paul Lecroart reports that research spanning 60 cities shows removing lanes from inner city highways quickly reduces traffic by 14 per cent without "deterioration in traffic conditions". Congestion, though impossible to alleviate by building new roads, can, if controlled strategically, be a powerful tool for reducing car use.”
Government and Policy
National Transportation Safety Board rings alarm on EVs
And why you ask? Well the weight of a lithium ion battery is substantial which means when an EV collides with another road user (vehicle, cyclist, pedestrian or other) it could increase the rate of severe injuries from collisions. Jennifer Homendy, Head of the National Transportation Safety Board said: “We have to be careful that we aren't also creating unintended consequences: More death on our roads. Safety, especially when it comes to new transportation policies and new technologies, cannot be overlooked.”
Insurance for AVs in Washington State
I find this one … very comical. The article points out that AV companies need to have 200x the liability insurance than your average driver in the State. Starting this year, AV companies testing their vehicles will need a minimum of $5 million in liability insurance. The state minimum for liability insurance for regular drivers is just $25,000.
The reason I find this funny? Seattle’s scooting sharing program requires $3 million for each occurrence, and $6 million in aggregate for Commercial General Liability (CGL) insurance per their last permit. Seems absolutely ludicrous that a scooter requires more liability insurance than a car learning how to drive itself.
Britons are living in transport poverty due to “entrenched car culture”
Read this and was like welp…. if the British think they have entrenched car culture, I raise them one “America”.
New research out of the UK shows that drivers spend up to a fifth of pre-tax income on running a car, as lack of infrastructure deters people from other modes. Moreover, UK motorists with some form of car finance spend 19% of their total annual gross income on their car.
Why do we keep widening highways?
This New York Times articles includes a graphic of the Katy Freeway in Houston. The freeway, with 26 lanes (!!), is one of the widest highways in the world. And sadly, we continue to still fund highways expansions in the US and beyond. Through 2028, States will receive $350 billion in federal dollars for highways through the infrastructure law enacted last year. The Biden administration has suggested that States should be more thoughtful in their solutions to congestion, but it will up to States to reimagine the possibility of this funding.
The more you know:
Elon Musk is putting himself in hot water with (you guessed it) a tweet (The Verge)
Cruise recalls vehicle software
After their track record of mishaps, Cruise recalled and updated software in 80 of their AVs after a crash that happened in June 2022 that left two people injured. The recall was due to the software “incorrectly predicting” an oncoming vehicle’s travel path.
They might consider another recall as their latest fleet in Austin is already veering into (limited, precious and rare Texas) bike lanes (CNY).
Baidu kicks off AV testing in Beijing
Baidu is starting the new year with the first licence to test AVs without safety operators in Beijing. “Baidu and Pony.ai said they would begin testing 10 driverless vehicles each in a technology park developed by the Beijing government as a step towards commercial robotaxi services in China’s capital.”
There is rising demand for AVs as military use
This article talks about the AV industries predicted growth through 2030, noting that one of the industries high-growth areas includes military and defense sector contracts. Given the industries legacy with the DARPA challenge this is no surprise, but it does demonstrate how military-grade technology continues to seep its way into public consumption.
Zenseact is a Swedish-based company that develops software using AI to enable full automated driving. Volvo already owned 86.5 percent of the company, so they decided to seal the deal and take complete ownership. “Volvo said the firm will continue to remain and operate as a standalone company and lead development of safety, advanced driver assistance and autonomous driving technologies for introduction first in Volvo and Polestar cars.”
The more you know!
An interview with Zoox CTO, Jesse Levinson (Forbes)
Oxbotica raises $140 million for Series C (Reuters)
Mercedes has received Level 3 certification for the State of Nevada (Car Scoops)
Fozconn and Nvidia partner to include AV toolkit (TechCrunch)
Research and Academia
Commute distances retain consistent across city sizes
New research from MIT demonstrated that despite the significant increase in the size of cities over decades, commuting distances and times in larger cities have remained stable versus smaller cities. The research, “produced a series of maps visualizing commuting habits across Chinese cities. Titled Potato Project, the study used mobile phone location data from 50 million individuals across 234 cities to understand commuting patterns between a person’s home and work locations.”
McKinsey’s latest research on AVs
The main headline? By 2035, autonomous driving could create $300 billion to $400 billion in revenue. (I will believe it when I see it). The whole report is very siloed to uhhh “passenger car travel” and does not consider the wider implications AVs could have on transportation networks more broadly. I personally find it too narrow, but you probably guessed that already.
“This report, which focuses on the private-passenger-car segment of the autonomous driving (AD) market, examines the potential for autonomous technologies to disrupt the passenger car market. It also outlines critical success factors that every auto OEM, supplier, and tech provider should know in order to win in the AD passenger car market.”
Gender gaps in school commutes
New research from South Australia investigates the influences of built environmental factors, network design, and sociodemographic factors on active school travel. “The analysis of the data revealed that, on average, boys are more willing to walk than girls, but that the boys’ tendency to walk is less elastic with respect to distance. Moreover, it is shown that street connectivity for all distance thresholds has a positive relationship with walking level, but the street network choice parameter decreases the chance of walking within an 800 metre threshold.”
AVs are coming to the “rescue”
Seems like the AV industry is working double time to try and get some good press out after last year’s repeated failures. This piece is written by Dmitri Dolgov, co-CEO of Waymo, and essentially reads as Waymo’s manifesto for global domination.
“The progress the industry will make in 2023 will be the result of years of testing and deploying AVs across different geographies. As a result, the AV industry is now focusing on mastering generalizable driving technology as it moves toward scaling up commercial deployments. This is important, because AVs don’t make commercial sense if they can’t easily operate in different places.”
Transportation Predictions for 2023
The Verge asked 17 of the best and brightest in transportation what their predictions for 2023 were. There’s a ton of diversity in the respondents—from public sector legends and academics to private sector bike gurus and independent journalists—it’s worth a read to see their takes.
The only piece of CES hoopla I’m sharing
And that’s because this article is titled, “Guide dogs will be giving the side-eye to self-driving car tech coming for their jobs.” It talks about AI Guided, a company that provides a belted device that performs similarly to a seeing-eye dog.
Extra Bits + Bobs
Jobs you should apply for!
C40 is hiring for a number of positions. All around the world too! Give ‘em a glance. I have some contacts in the organization if anybody would like some intros to better understand the organization’s culture, etc.
That’s all from me. Have a beautiful weekend friends.
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I suspect that the community battle re: the implementation of Rapid Bus Transit/increased Light Rail on some of the busiest roads in northern Baltimore County has not reached you (for good reason, given it's a relatively small project in a city/county many miles from you. But there is significant community opposition to just about anything. A lot of love for cars here.
I admit that tossing a train on one of the busiest roads is tough to visualize but I'm upset that we can't get more support for a true RBT system here. Alas.
I enjoy the newsletter; thanks for writing it.