New York City Council votes to cap licenses for ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft

New York City Council votes to cap licenses for ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft

The New York City Council has approved legislation that will halt the issuing of new licenses for ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft.

The stated goal of the policy is to give the city time to study the industry’s impact. During that time, ride-hailing companies would only be able to add new vehicles if they’re wheelchair accessible. The legislation also allows the city to set a minimum wage for drivers.

There were drivers demonstrating in favor of the bill package outside City Hall today, and the Independent Drivers Guild (which says it represents more than 60,000 drivers for ride-hailing apps in New York City) praised the decision.

“We hope this is the start of a more fair industry not only here in New York City, but all over the world,” said IDG founder Jim Conigliaro, Jr. in a statement. “We cannot allow the so-called ‘gig economy’ companies to exploit loopholes in the law in order to strip workers of their rights and protections.”

Uber and Lyft, meanwhile, had asked their riders to oppose the legislation, saying that it would result in fewer drivers and less reliable service. They also suggested there were other ways to address the underlying issues, and in fact proposed creating a $100 million “hardship fund” for drivers as an alternative.

NYC drivers

Drivers demonstrating outside City Hall

In response to today’s news, Danielle Filson from Uber’s communications team provided the following statement:

The City’s 12-month pause on new vehicle licenses will threaten one of the few reliable transportation options while doing nothing to fix the subways or ease congestion. We take the Speaker at his word that the pause is not intended to reduce service for New Yorkers and we trust that he will hold the TLC accountable, ensuring that no New Yorker is left stranded. In the meantime, Uber will do whatever it takes to keep up with growing demand and we will not stop working with city and state leaders, including Speaker [Corey] Johnson, to pass real solutions like comprehensive congestion pricing.

The company plans to explore other strategies to keep up with demand. Those include recruiting drivers with licensed vehicles who aren’t currently working with Uber, or finding additional drivers who could drive licensed vehicles at times when they would otherwise be idle.

Lyft, meanwhile, sent this statement from its vice president of public policy Joseph Okpaku:

These sweeping cuts to transportation will bring New Yorkers back to an era of struggling to get a ride, particularly for communities of color and in the outer boroughs. We will never stop working to ensure New Yorkers have access to reliable and affordable transportation in every borough.

The New York Times reports that the cap will take effect as soon as Mayor Bill de Blasio signs the bill.

“Our city is directly confronting a crisis that is driving working New Yorkers into poverty and our streets into gridlock,” de Blasio tweeted. “The unchecked growth of app-based for-hire vehicle companies has demanded action – and now we have it.”

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Wave Uber’s new Spotlight or send canned chats to find your driver

Wave Uber’s new Spotlight or send canned chats to find your driver

Uber is aiming to perfect the art of the pickup with three features it says minimize cancellations. Guaranteed pickup windows boost confidence that you’ll make your flight, and give you a credit of $10 if your scheduled ride is late. Pre-written messages let drivers and riders let each other know they’ll “Be right there” or “I’ve arrived” with a single tap.

And most flashily, three years after I suggested Uber let you hold up a colored screen so your driver could find you amidst a crowd of hailers, it’s introducing Spotlight. Each driver gets assigned a semi-unique color gradient to look for. Hit the Spotlight button, that color takes over your screen, and you can wave it to help your driver locate you. 

These optimizations show the depths Uber is willing to go to shave seconds off of pickups. That can reduce unpaid waiting time for drivers while boosting the number of rides they complete per hour for the startup. And the peace of mind that they’ll be able to hop in right when they’re ready could lure riders away from competitors as Uber dukes it out across the globe. The updates are rolling out on iOS and Android in the U.S. and Canada today.

“Human-to-human interaction is hard. Driver-initiated cancellations after the driver has arrived at the pickup point are particularly stressful,” Uber senior product manager for rider experience Ryan Yu tells me. But in tests of the new quick messages features, he said “We found cancellations on both sides reduced significantly, especially for drivers after they’ve arrived.”   

We can only hope this level of attention to detail will be applied to optimizing its internal company culture — a hope shaken by this month’s resignation of Uber’s head of HR Liane Hornsey after a probe into how she handled racial discrimination at the company, and the NYT’s report of insensitivity complaints about COO Barney Harford.

Uber has been steadily adding little improvements to the pickup process over the years. Here’s a quick, abridged list:

  • Incentivizing drivers to wait instead of cancelling by starting the meter after waiting at the pickup spot for more than 2 minutes
  • Live location sharing so riders can optionally let drivers see where they are as they seek the vehicle
  • Suggested pickup spots nearby where drivers can safely pull over, and avoid them looping around one way streets
  • Sequential pickups so you’re assigned the nearest driver, even if they’re still finishing their previous ride
  • Pickup location changing so you can choose a different spot nearby if you got the address wrong or are on the other side of the building

There are three upgrades in particular that serve as the foundation for today’s updates.

In-app chat between riders and drivers makes it so you don’t have to use SMS. Uber could only anonymize your number in some markets, creating privacy concerns, and SMS could be cost-prohibitive in some parts of the world. Uber messaging launched in mid-2017, and could be read aloud to the driver and replied to with a thumbs-up emoji to reduce the chance of distracted driving. Lyft still uses SMS for comparison.

Now both users and drivers will see the most common messages pre-written and sendable with the touch of a button so they don’t have to type. “Drivers noted that they were more reassured when their rider actually sent them a message,” said Yu, which can keep them from cancelling if the rider needs a little more time to get to the pickup spot. I asked if automatic translation would be available here, so if a driver in Brazil sent an American user “eu cheguei,” it’d show up as “I have arrived.” Yu told me “Translations are on the road map. We’re figuring out how to best pair them alongside voice.”

Uber added scheduled rides in mid-2016 shortly after Lyft did the same. You can plan a ride up to 30 days in advance, but you’re still subject to surge pricing in the moment. At least now you’ll get $10 credit if the driver is late. Unfortunately, the pickup window Uber showed me in the demo was 15 minutes, though Yu said it may very by region. I sometimes only make my flights by 10 minutes, and since my pickup ETA in San Francisco is typically only 3 to 5 minutes, I’m probably better off just booking the ride when I’m ready.

Uber’s Beacon and Lyft’s Amp are color-coded dashboard lights that help riders find their driver

Back in 2015, I suggested that “Uber could offer some signal on the driver or passenger’s phone to help them find each other.” A week later it announced it would start testing Spot, which let users pick a color that would light up on an LED bar installed on driver’s windshields. In November 2016, Lyft launched its Amp dashboard light that assigned a random color riders could look out for. A month later, Uber’s Spot had evolved into the dashboard Beacon light that lets users pick the color and is now available in 14 cities.

Today’s update gives riders a light too, which is great if you’re one of dozens of people waiting outside a concert or sports game trying to find their Uber. Hit the Spotlight button, and you’ll get instructions to wave your colored screen in the air. Drivers are permanently assigned a color that stays constant across trips so they can train themselves to look out for it.

“Spotlight is meant to supplement Beacon. Not all drivers will have a Beacon, and we want to pass that to two-way communication,” says Yu. But since the Beacon dashboard lights are always visible, Uber says that if a driver has one, users won’t see the Spotlight option and will instead just be able to choose the Beacon’s color.

Together, these features should eliminate most pickup problems. We’ll see if Uber’s competitors and international partners like Didi adopt them too. After retreating from markets like China in exchange for a percentage of ownership of the local leader, there’s more pressure on Uber to squash its homeland competitor Lyft, which has been gaining market share. Yet neither has offered an oft-requested feature some users would even be willing to pay an extra dollar for: a “quiet ride” where the driver doesn’t make small talk.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

With Lime teaming up with Uber, can rival Bird afford to go it alone?

With Lime teaming up with Uber, can rival Bird afford to go it alone?

Yesterday, we learned that 18-month-old, Bay Area-based electric scooter rental company Lime is joining forces with the ride-hailing giant Uber, which is both investing in the company as part of a $335 million round and planning to promote Lime in its mobile app. According to Bloomberg, Uber also plans to plaster its logo on Lime’s scooters.

Lime isn’t being acquired outright, in short, but it looks like it will be. At least, Uber struck a similar arrangement with the electric bike company JUMP bikes before spending $200 million to acquire the company in spring.

There are as many questions raised by this kind of tie-up as answered, but the biggest may be what the impact means for Lime’s fiercest rival in the e-scooter wars, 15-month-old L.A.-based Bird, which several sources tell us also discussed a potential partnership with Uber.

Despite recently raising $300 million in fresh capital at a somewhat stunning $2 billion valuation, could its goose be, ahem, cooked?

At first glance, it would appear so. Uber’s travel app is the most downloaded in the U.S. by a wide margin, despite gains made last year by its closest U.S. competitor, Lyft, as Uber battled one scandal after another. It’s easy to imagine that Lime’s integration with Uber will give it the kind of immediate brand reach that most founders can only dream about.

A related issue for Bird is its relationship with Lyft, which . . . isn’t great. Bird’s founder and CEO, Travis VanderZanden, burned that bridge when, not so long after Lyft acqui-hired VanderZanden from a small startup he’d launched and made him its COO, he left to join rival Uber.

Lyft, which sued VanderZanden for allegedly breaking a confidentiality agreement when he joined Uber,  later settled with him for undisclosed terms. But given their history, it’s hard to imagine Lyft — which also has a much smaller checkbook than Uber — paying top dollar to acquire his company.

Where that leaves Bird is an open question, but people familiar with both Bird and Lime suggest the e-scooter war is far from over.

For example, though Uber sees its partnership with Lime as “another step towards our vision of becoming a one-stop shop for all your transportation needs,” two sources familiar with Bird’s thinking are quick to underscore its plans to expand internationally quickly and not merely fight a turf war in the U.S. (It already has one office in China.) 

That Sequoia Capital led Bird’s most recent round of funding helps on this front, given Sequoia Capital China’s growing dominance in the country and the relationships that go with it. Then again, Sequoia is also an investor in Uber, having acquired a stake in the company earlier this year, and alliances are generally temperamental in this brave new world of transportation. In just the latest unexpected twist, Lime’s newest round included not only Uber but also GV, the venture arm of Alphabet, which only recently resolved a lawsuit with Uber.

Another wrinkle to consider is the exposure that Lime receives from Uber, which could prove double-edged, given the company’s ups and downs. Uber’s new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, appears determined to steer the company to a smooth and decidedly undramatic public offering in another year or so. But for a company of Uber’s scale and scope, that’s a challenge, to say the least. (Its newest hire, Scott Schools —  a former top attorney at the U.S. Justice Department and now Uber’s chief compliance officer — will undoubtedly be tasked with minimizing the odds of things going astray.)

Lime’s arrangement with Uber could potentially create other opportunities for Bird. First, by agreeing to allow Uber to apply its branding to its scooters, Lime will be diluting its own brand. Even if Uber never acquires the company, riders may well associate Lime with Uber and think, for better or worse, that it’s a subsidiary.

Further, Uber does not appear to have made any promises to Lime in terms of how prominently its app is featured within its own mobile app. which already crams in quite a lot, from offering free ride coupons to featuring local offers to promoting its Uber Eats business.

Consider that in January 2017, Google added the ability to book an Uber ride to both the Android and iOS versions of its Google Maps service. Uber might have thought that a coup, too, at the time. But last summer, Google quietly removed the feature from its iOS app, and it removed the service from Android just last month. If there wasn’t much outrage over the decision, likely it’s because so few users of Google Maps noticed the feature in the first place.

Lime’s arrangement could prove more advantageous. Only time will tell. But everything considered, whether or not Bird flies away with this competition will likely owe less to Lime’s new arrangement with Uber than with its own ability to execute, including making its mobile app the kind of go-to destination that Uber has.

Certainly, that’s what BIrd’s flock would argue will happen. Yesterday afternoon, Roelof Botha, a partner at Sequoia and a Bird board member, declined to discuss the Lime deal, instead emailing one short observation seemingly designed to say it all: “Travis [VanderZanden] is far more customer obsessed than competitor obsessed. That is a quality we look for in great founders.”

A Bird spokesperson offered an equally sanguine quote, saying that Bird is “happy to see our friends in the ride-sharing industry coalesce on the pressing need to offer a sustainable and affordable alternative to car trips.”

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Bird has officially raised a whopping $300M as the scooter wars heat up

Bird has officially raised a whopping 0M as the scooter wars heat up
And there we have it: Bird, one of the emerging massively hyped Scooter startups, has roped in its next pile of funding by picking up another $300 million in a round led by Sequoia Capital.
The company announced the long-anticipated round this morning, with Sequoia’s Roelof Botha joining the company’s board of directors. This is the second round of funding that Bird has raised over the span of a few months, sending it from a reported $1 billion valuation in May to a $2 billion valuation by the end of June. In March, the company had a $300 million valuation, but the Scooter hype train has officially hit a pretty impressive inflection point as investors pile on to get money into what many consider to be the next iteration of resolving transportation at an even more granular level than cars or bikes. New investors in the round include Accel, B Capital, CRV, Sound Ventures, Greycroft and e.ventures; previous investors Craft Ventures, Index Ventures, Valor, Goldcrest, Tusk Ventures and Upfront Ventures are also in the round. (So, basically everyone else who isn’t in competitor Lime.)
Scooter mania has captured the hearts of Silicon Valley and investors in general — including Paige Craig, who actually jumped from VC to join Bird as its VP of business — with a large amount of capital flowing into the area about as quickly as it possibly can. These sort of revolving-door fundraising processes are not entirely uncommon, especially for very hot areas of investment, though the scooter scene has exploded considerably faster than most. Bird’s round comes amid reports of a mega-round for Lime, one of its competitors, with the company reportedly raising another $250 million led by GV, and Skip also raising $25 million.
“We have met with over 20 companies focused on the last-mile problem over the years and feel this is a multi-billion dollar opportunity that can have a big impact in the world,” CRV’s Saar Gur, who did the deal for the firm, said. “We have a ton of conviction that this team has original product thought (they created the space) and the execution chops to build something extremely valuable here. And we have been long-term focused, not short-term focused, in making the investment. The ‘hype’ in our decision (the non-zero answer) is that Bird has built the best product in the market and while we kept meeting with more startups wanting to invest in the space — we kept coming back to Bird as the best company. So in that sense, the hype from consumers is real and was a part of the decision. On unit economics: We view the first product as an MVP (as the company is less than a year old) — and while the unit economics are encouraging, they played a part of the investment decision but we know it is not even the first inning in this market.”
There’s certainly an argument to be made for Bird, whose scooters you’ll see pretty much all over the place in cities like Los Angeles. For trips that are just a few miles down wide roads or sidewalks, where you aren’t likely to run into anyone, a quick scan of a code and a hop on a Bird may be worth the few bucks in order to save a few minutes crossing those considerably long blocks. Users can grab a bird that they see and start going right away if they are running late, and it does potentially alleviate the pressure of calling a car for short distances in traffic, where a scooter may actually make more sense physically to get from point A to point B than a car.
There are some considerable hurdles going forward, both theoretical and in effect. In San Francisco, though just a small slice of the United States metropolitan area population, the company is facing significant pushback from the local government, and scooters for the time being have been kicked off the sidewalks. There’s also the looming shadow of what may happen regarding changes in tariffs, though Gur said that it likely wouldn’t be an issue and “the unit economics appear to be viable even if tariffs were to be added to the cost of the scooters.” (Xiaomi is one of the suppliers for Bird, for example.)

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Citymapper lets you find Ofo, Mobike and scooters around you

Citymapper lets you find Ofo, Mobike and scooters around you

Urban transportation app Citymapper quietly rolled out an app update that lets you find many alternative mobility services in the app. You can now find the nearest dockless bike or electric scooter around you (not the Bird and Lime kind, the motorcycle kind).

The integrations are already live in many cities. The company didn’t add new buttons for each service because it was already getting quite crowded with buses, subways and ride-sharing services.

If you tap the bike button, you get a map view of the streets around you. In addition to traditional bike-sharing services, you’ll now find colored dots representing both Ofo and Mobike . Below the map, you get a list of the closest bikes. TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden previously reported that the Mobike integration was coming soon.

But Citymapper also added a new scooter button in multiple cities. As the name suggests, this button helps you locate the closest free-floating scooter that you can unlock with your phone.

In Paris, you’ll find Coup and Cityscoot scooters. In Berlin, you’ll find Coup scooters. In Madrid and Barcelona, you’ll find Muving, ioscoot, eCooltra and Yugo scooters… You get the idea. Chances are all your local options will be there.

Interestingly, electric scooters from Bird and Lime aren’t in there just yet. It might be what everybody is talking about, but you’ll only see Jump and Ford bikes in San Francisco.

For now, all you can do is locate the nearest bike or scooter. You still have to open each individual app to scan the QR code and unlock those vehicles.

But this is an interesting approach. Citymapper doesn’t operate any transportation service. It can be an agnostic player and provide a comprehensive view of what’s around you without any conflict of interest. It doesn’t have to recreate a transportation hub like Lyft or Uber as those two companies recently acquired Motivate and Jump to provide bike-sharing services.

And if you’re visiting a city for the first time, you can open the app to find out how you’ll be able to navigate that new city.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Uber bets on developing world growth with low-data Uber Lite

Uber bets on developing world growth with low-data Uber Lite

“The next hundreds of millions of riders for us are going to come from outside of the United States”, Uber’s head of rider experience Peter Deng tells me. The transportation giant already sees 75 million riders per month and 15 million rides per day. But to grow in the developing world, it had to rethink its app to work on the oldest phones and slowest networks. So Deng’s team traveled the globe asking people what they needed from Uber, but also what they didn’t.

The result is Uber Lite.

It’s launching today in India before rolling out to more countries, though there’s still a waitlist form instead of a download link. The Android app takes up just 5 megabytes. “You delete three selfies, you have room for Uber” Deng laughs. 300-millisecond response time means its quick to hail a ride, even for the 4 percent of users in India on sluggish 2G networks. And by streamlining the design and only showing maps by request, it won’t burn much data for users on a budget.

Uber needs to score growth in developing markets after retreating while cutting deals with local winner like Didi in China, Grab in Southeast Asia, and a forthcoming arrangement with Yandex in Russia. India’s Ola rideshare service already has a ‘Lite” app that’s just 1 megabyte and a 45% share of the taxi market, compared to Uber’s 35%. Uber has reported has talked with Ola about a possible merger in India, sources have told TechCrunch and others. With the country making up 10% of Uber’s rides, it’s a market it can’t forfeit.

To reach its full potential, Uber has to start out-competing homegrown competitors. Success with Uber Lite could give it leverage with Ola and path to gaining more of it around the world.

“We know we’re not just a U.S. company, we’re a global company. Not only have we built this for the world, it was built in India” Deng tells me. Deng came to Uber in March 2017 after 10 years at Facebook’s various companies. It was early to the “Lite” idea, with its shrunken app reaching over 200 million users. 

But Deng says Uber Lite didn’t come from stripping down the main app, but building it up from scratch. “The team has traveled to markets around the world to do in home interviews to understand the needs of the customers.”

Compared to the 181 megabyte standard version, Uber Lite is a lot easier for low-storage phones to handle. Uber Lite launches not to a map or a text entry box, but instead a suggested nearby business or landmark based on your GPS. “You have to do less typing and can do more tapping” Deng explains. It also tries to guess your destination based on pre-cached popular city spots. You can input addresses, but Uber Lite won’t load a data-heavy map unless you purposefully grab for it. ‘Tap for map’.

Same goes for your driver’s ETA. After you’ve selected your vehicle type and hailed, you’ll just get a countdown to their arrival unless you tap to see them on their way. Payment for now is cash only. But soon Uber plans to add India’s popular Paytm payment platform and credit card options. It’s also still lacking notifications, which seem worth the data. More languages will come too.

Uber wouldn’t explain how, but it also revealed that it plans to offer offline hailing, possibly through some peer-to-peer Bluetooth mesh network or other technology. One other interesting test its running in India lets users punch in a code found at a bus stop to instantly hail a ride there. Another lets older or less phone savvy users phone in to an accessibility team that can hail a ride for them. It’s already offered web bookings. “The whole charter is to allow everyone around the world to experience Uber” Deng says.

What Uber wouldn’t skip in v1 was the in-app support and a way to share your ETA with loved ones so they can watch out for you. “We knew how important safety was in these markets. I’m really proud we took additional steps to empathize” Deng says.

The company is clearly trying to put the darker moments of its past behind it. While cynics might take the compassion talk as just lip service like the company’s big apology ad campaign, it’s also the reason some tech talent has stayed at or joined Uber. If the company is going to be unavoidable, making it secure and accessible is a pretty good reason to wake up in the morning.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Here’s Mary Meeker’s essential 2018 Internet Trends report

Here’s Mary Meeker’s essential 2018 Internet Trends report

Want to understand all the most important tech stats and trends? Legendary venture capitalist Mary Meeker has just released the 2018 version of her famous Internet Trends report. It covers everything from mobile to commerce to the competition between tech giants. Check out the full report below, and we’ll add some highlights soon. Then come back for our slide-by-slide analysis of the most important parts of the 294 page report.

  • Internet adoption: As of 2018, half the world population, or about 3.6 billion people, will be on the internet. That’s thanks in large part to cheaper Android phones and Wifi becoming more available, though individual services will have a tougher time adding new users as the web hits saturation.
  • Mobile usage: While smartphone shipments are flat and internet user growth is slowing, U.S. adults are spending more time online thanks to mobile, clocking 5.9 hours per day in 2017 versus 5.6 hours in 2016.
  • Mobile ads: People are shifting their time to mobile faster than ad dollars are following, creating a $7 billion mobile ad opportunity, though platforms are increasingly responsible for providing safe content to host those ads.
  • Crypto: Interest in cryptocurrency is exploding as Coinbase’s user count has nearly quadrupled since January 2017
  • Voice: Voice technology is at an inflection point due to speech recognition hitting 95% accuracy and the sales explosion for Amazon Echo which went from over 10 million to over 30 million sold in total by the end of 2017.
  • Daily usage – Revenue gains for services like Facebook are tightly coupled with daily user growth, showing how profitable it is to become a regular habit.
  • Tech investment: We’re at an all-time high for public and private investment in technology, while the top six public R&D + capex spenders are all technology companies.

Mary Meeker, analyst with Morgan Stanley, speaks during the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2010. This year’s conference, which runs through Nov. 17, is titled “Points of Control: The Battle for the Network Economy.” Photographer: Tony Avelar/Bloomberg via Getty Images

  • Ecommerce vs Brick & Mortar: Ecommerce growth quickens as now 13% of all retail purchases happen online and parcel shipments are rising swiftly, signaling big opportunities for new shopping apps.
  • Amazon: More people start product searches on Amazon than search engines now, but Jeff Bezos still relies on other surfaces like Facebook and YouTube to inspire people to want things.
  • Subscription services: They’re seeing massive adoption, with Netflix up 25%, The New York Times up 43%, and Spotify up 48% year-over-year in 2017. A free tier accelerates conversion rates.
  • Education: Employees seek retraining and education from YouTube and online courses to keep up with new job requirements and pay off skyrocketing student loan debt.
  • Freelancing: Employees crave scheduling and work-from-home flexibility, and internet discovery of freelance work led it to grow 3X faster than total workforce growth. The on-demand workforce grew 23% in 2017 driven by Uber, Airbnb, Etsy, Upwork, and Doordash.
  • Transportation: People are buying fewer cars, keeping them longer, and shifting transportation spend to rideshare, which saw rides double in 2017.
  • Enterprise: Consumerization of the enterprise through better interfaces is spurring growth for companies like Dropbox and Slack.
  • China: Alibaba is expanding beyond China with strong gross merchandise volume, though Amazon still rules in revenue.
  • Privacy: China has a big opportunity as users there are much more willing to trade their personal data for product benefits than U.S. users, and China is claiming more spots on the top 20 internet company list while making big investments in AI.
  • Immigration: It is critical to a strong economy, as 56% of top U.S. companies were founded by a first- or second-generation immigrant.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Uber in fatal crash detected pedestrian but had emergency braking disabled

Uber in fatal crash detected pedestrian but had emergency braking disabled
The initial report by the National Transportation Safety Board on the fatal self-driving Uber crash in March confirms that the car detected the pedestrian as early as 6 seconds before the crash, but did not slow or stop because its emergency braking systems were deliberately disabled.
Uber told the NTSB that “emergency braking maneuvers are not enabled while the vehicle is under computer control, to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior,” in other words, to ensure a smooth ride. “The vehicle operator is relied on to intervene and take action. The system is not designed to alert the operator.” It’s not clear why the emergency braking capability even exists if it is disabled while the car is in operation. The Volvo model’s built-in safety systems — collision avoidance and emergency braking, among other things — are also disabled while in autonomous mode.
It appears that in an emergency situation like this this “self-driving car” is no better, or substantially worse, than many normal cars already on the road.
It’s hard to understand the logic of this decision. An emergency is exactly the situation when the self-driving car, and not the driver, should be taking action. Its long-range sensors can detect problems accurately from much farther away, while its 360-degree awareness and route planning allow it to make safe maneuvers that a human would not be able to do in time. Humans, even when their full attention is on the road, are not the best at catching these things; relying only on them in the most dire circumstances that require quick response times and precise maneuvering seems an incomprehensible and deeply irresponsible decision.

Here’s how Uber’s self-driving cars are supposed to detect pedestrians

According to the NTSB report, the vehicle first registered Elaine Herzberg on lidar six seconds before the crash — at the speed it was traveling, that puts first contact at about 378 feet away. She was first identified as an unknown object, then a vehicle, then a bicycle, over the next few seconds (it isn’t stated when these classifications took place exactly).
The car following the collision
During these six seconds, the driver could and should have been alerted of an anomalous object ahead on the left — whether it was a deer, a car or a bike, it was entering or could enter the road and should be attended to. But the system did not warn the driver and apparently had no way to.
Then, 1.3 seconds before impact, which is to say about 80 feet away, the Uber system decided that an emergency braking procedure would be necessary to avoid Herzberg. But it did not hit the brakes, as the emergency braking system had been disabled, nor did it warn the driver because, again, it couldn’t.
It was only when, less than a second before impact, the driver happened to look up from whatever it was she was doing and saw Herzberg, whom the car had known about in some way for five long seconds by then. It struck and killed her.
It reflects extremely poorly on Uber that it had disabled the car’s ability to respond in an emergency — though it was authorized to speed at night — and no method for the system to alert the driver should it detect something important. This isn’t just a safety issue, like going on the road with a sub-par lidar system or without checking the headlights — it’s a failure of judgement by Uber, and one that cost a person’s life.
Arizona, where the crash took place, barred Uber from further autonomous testing, and Uber yesterday ended its program in the state.
Uber offered the following statement on the report:
Over the course of the last two months, we’ve worked closely with the NTSB. As their investigation continues, we’ve initiated our own safety review of our self-driving vehicles program. We’ve also brought on former NTSB Chair Christopher Hart to advise us on our overall safety culture, and we look forward to sharing more on the changes we’ll make in the coming weeks.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Waymo reportedly applies to put autonomous cars on California roads with no safety drivers

Waymo reportedly applies to put autonomous cars on California roads with no safety drivers
Waymo has become the second company to apply for the newly-available permit to deploy autonomous vehicles without safety drivers on some California roads, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. It would be putting its cars — well, minivans — on streets around Mountain View, where it already has an abundance of data.
The company already has driverless driverless cars in play over in Phoenix, as it showed in a few promotional videos last month. So this isn’t the first public demonstration of its confidence.
California only just made it possible to grant permits allowing autonomous vehicles without safety drivers on April 2; one other company has applied for it in addition to Waymo, but it’s unclear which. The new permit type also allows for vehicles lacking any kind of traditional manual controls, but for now the company is sticking with its modified Chrysler Pacificas. Hey, they’re practical.
The recent fatal collision of an Uber self-driving car with a pedestrian, plus another fatality in a Tesla operating in semi-autonomous mode, make this something of an awkward time to introduce vehicles to the road minus safety drivers. Of course, it must be said that both of those cars had people behind the wheel at the time of their crashes.
Assuming the permit is granted, Waymo’s vehicles will be limited to the Mountain View area, which makes sense — the company has been operating there essentially since its genesis as a research project within Google. So there should be no shortage of detail in the data, and the local authorities will be familiar with the people necessary for handling any issues like accidents, permit problems, and so on.
No details yet on what exactly the cars will be doing, or whether you’ll be able to ride in one. Be patient.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch

Luminar puts its lidar tech into production through acquisitions and smart engineering

Luminar puts its lidar tech into production through acquisitions and smart engineering
When Luminar came out of stealth last year with its built-from-scratch lidar system, it seemed to beat established players like Velodyne at their own game — but at great expense and with no capability to build at scale. After the tech proved itself on the road, however, Luminar got to work making its device better, cheaper, and able to be assembled in minutes rather than hours.
“This year for us is all about scale. Last year it took a whole day to build each unit — they were being hand assembled by optics PhDs,” said Luminar’s wunderkind founder Austin Russell. “Now we’ve got a 136,000 square foot manufacturing center and we’re down to 8 minutes a unit.”
Lest you think the company has sacrificed quality for quantity, be it known that the production unit is about 30 percent lighter and more power efficient, can see a bit further (250 meters vs 200), and detect objects with lower reflectivity (think people wearing black clothes in the dark).
The secret — to just about the whole operation, really — is the sensor. Luminar’s lidar systems, like all others, fire out a beam of light and essentially time its return. That means you need a photosensitive surface that can discern just a handful of photons.
Most photosensors, like those found in digital cameras and in other lidar systems, use a silicon-based photodetector. Silicon is well-understood, cheap, and the fabrication processes are mature.
Luminar, however, decided to start from the ground up with its system, using an alloy called indium gallium arsenide, or InGaAs. An InGaAs-based photodetector works at a different frequency of light (1,550nm rather than ~900) and is far more efficient at capturing it. (Some physics here.)
The more light you’ve got, the better your sensor — that’s usually the rule. And so it is here; Luminar’s InGaAs sensor and a single laser emitter produced images tangibly superior to devices of a similar size and power draw, but with fewer moving parts.
The problem is that indium gallium arsenide is like the Dom Perignon of sensor substrates. It’s expensive as hell and designing for it is a highly specialized field. Luminar only got away with it by minimizing the amount of InGaAs used: only a tiny sliver of it is used where it’s needed, and they engineered around that rather than use the arrays of photodetectors found in many other lidar products. (This restriction goes hand in glove with the “fewer moving parts” and single laser method.)
Last year Luminar was working with a company called Black Forest Engineering to design these chips, and finding their paths inextricably linked (unless someone in the office wanted to volunteer to build InGaAs ASICs), Luminar bought them. The 30 employees at Black Forest, combined with the 200 hired since coming out of stealth, brings the company to 350 total.
By bringing the designers in house and building their own custom versions of not just the photodetector but also the various chips needed to parse and pass on the signals, they brought the cost of the receiver down from tens of thousands of dollars to… three dollars.
“We’ve been able to get rid of these expensive processing chips for timing and stuff,” said Russell. “We build our own ASIC. We only take like a speck of InGaAs and put it onto the chip. And we custom fab the chips.”
“This is something people have assumed there was no way you could ever scale it for production fleets,” he continued. “Well, it turns out it doesn’t actually have to be expensive!”
Sure — all it took was a bunch of geniuses, five years, and a seven-figure budget (and I’d be surprised if the $36M in seed funding was all they had to work with). But let’s not quibble.
Quality inspection time in the clean room.
It’s all being done with a view to the long road ahead, though. Last year the company demonstrated that its systems not only worked, but worked well, even if there were only a few dozen of them at first. And they could get away with it, since as Russell put it, “What everyone has been building out so far has been essentially an autonomous test fleet. But now everyone is looking into building an actual, solidified hardware platform that can scale to real world deployment.”
Some companies took a leap of faith, like Toyota and a couple other unnamed companies, even though it might have meant temporary setbacks.
“It’s a very high barrier to entry, but also a very high barrier to exit,” Russell pointed out. “Some of our partners, they’ve had to throw out tens of thousands of miles of data and redo a huge portion of their software stack to move over to our sensor. But they knew they had to do it eventually. It’s like ripping off the band-aid.”
We’ll soon see how the industry progresses — with steady improvement but also intense anxiety and scrutiny following the fatal crash of an Uber autonomous car, it’s difficult to speculate on the near future. But Luminar seems to be looking further down the road.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch