Topic: Autonomous driving
It might seem odd at first glance that I’m covering an auto industry leadership change, but it’s news that’s very much in keeping with the “Tech Disrupts Transportation” narrative here on the site, and the nature of both the troubles that prompted the move and the move itself are reflective of that trend too. Mark Fields, who has been CEO for the last three years, is being replaced by Jim Hackett, who has been running Ford Smart Mobility. Although this New York Times piece and others this morning are focusing on the fact that FSM and therefore Hackett has owned Ford’s autonomous driving initiatives, that’s only part of its remit, and that’s worth noting. It also owns in-car connectivity, mobility itself (which is the industry term for ride sharing and other new ownership and other business models for cars), and data and analytics, among other things. In other words, with the exception of electrification, it has owned essentially all of what’s next in the automotive industry. That Fields would have put all that in a separate division is perhaps the biggest sign that he underestimated how central these changes would be to the future of the company, and it also makes sense to put the guy who’s been running all that in charge of the company at this point. Hackett will need to bring these initiatives to the forefront of what Ford does, along with electrification, where it’s moved more slowly than other car companies, if he’s to help turn Ford around. But he’s taking over at a really tough time in both the company’s history and the US automotive industry.
Waymo-Uber Injunction Made Public (May 15, 2017)
★ Waymo and Lyft Partner Over Self-Driving Cars (May 15, 2017)
The New York Times reported last night that Alphabet autonomous driving unit Waymo and ride sharing company Lyft are partnering around self-driving cars. There aren’t many details, but it’s worth noting that Lyft already has GM as an investor and partner, and GM has its own autonomous driving technology through its Cruise Automation subsidiary. But the brief Lyft statement on the partnership described Waymo’s technology as the best out there, which certainly matches my own perception but likely wasn’t well received at Cruise. But the partnership is a concession by Lyft that it needs its partnerships in autonomy to move much faster to compete in autonomous driving with Uber, which of course is developing its own technology, and a concession by Waymo that it likely won’t be building a ride sharing network at scale on its own. Even though the situation is complicated somewhat by Alphabet’s investment in Uber through GV, Waymo and Lyft certainly have a common enemy in Uber at the moment, and joining forces makes a ton of sense. Waymo has the autonomous technology but not ride sharing expertise or scale, while Lyft has the ride sharing scale but no expertise in autonomy. As I’ve said before, though a number of tech companies are trying to play in one of the three major shifts in transportation – autonomy, electrification, and mobility as a service – few are serious players in more than one of those domains. Partnerships are therefore going to be key for most of them, although acquisitions (including a possible eventual Waymo-Lyft acquisition) would be another eventual outcome.
Uber’s Bid to Move Waymo Case to Arbitration Fails (May 11, 2017)
We’ve already seen some juicy stuff come out of the Uber-Waymo case, and we’ve only been in the preliminary stages of the lawsuit. Uber had therefore understandably moved to have the case decided in arbitration rather than open court, away from public eyes, but it has today failed in that attempt as a judge decided the case will be heard in court as Waymo wanted. That, in turn, means we’ll likely have lots more details about Uber and Anthony Levandowski’s actions aired in court, something Uber likely desperately wanted to avoid given all the bad press it’s already had since the beginning of the year over its support for the Trump administration, its toxic culture, its CEO’s treatment of drivers, and so on and so forth. And of course, there’s still the possibility the case ultimately goes against Uber, though based on the preliminary hearings it sounded like Waymo hadn’t yet found its smoking gun in proving that Uber and Levandowski stole and used confidential information. However, the judge has referred the case to the US Attorney for consideration as a criminal case as well, so things just keep getting worse for Uber here. see also this Axios piece, which not only does a better job of explaining the situation with regard to arbitration but includes a rebuke of Uber by the judge. And lastly notes that Waymo has been granted a partial injunction against Uber, though the details remain secret.
Weekly Narrative Video – Tech Disrupts Transportation (Apr 29, 2017)
Apple has filed a letter with the California DMV requesting some changes to its reporting requirements for the testing of self-driving cars as well as some of the definitions it uses, in response to a request for feedback from the DMV in March. Apple formally received permission to test its cars a couple of weeks back, and is now taking a more active role in helping to shape policy around the topic, partly because at the end of the year it’ll have to report its performance to the DMV and the public. Apple’s biggest request relates to the reporting requirements for disengagements, the name given to a situation in which a driver has to take over from the autonomous system. Apple wants the definition of a disengagement to be narrowed to include only those necessary to avoid either crashes or traffic violations, and to exclude cases which are pre-determined (such as driving through a construction zone) or for which the technology explicitly isn’t designed. That would have the effect of reducing significantly the number of disengagements reported, which would further Apple’s stated goal (as outlined in the letter) of increasing public confidence in autonomous systems. It would also have the side effect of making Apple’s first year of testing look better than the first years of other companies which began testing earlier under the current definitions. The other changes Apple proposes are relatively minor and mostly appear intended to provide greater clarity and remove unintended restrictions on reasonable testing.
via CA DMV
Anthony Levandowski, who has until now led Uber’s self-driving group, has been removed from his role during the lawsuit between the company and Waymo over the alleged stealing of LIDAR technology by Levandowski. He’s staying at Uber, and will continue in various other responsibilities there, but will no longer be involved in the area of technology which is at the heart of the case, which means that group will have a new lead from among the group of employees Uber poached from Carnegie Mellon some years ago. That’s interesting, because there’s been some conflict between Levandowski’s group and the CM group at Uber in the past. This week, Levandowski also failed in his bid to use the 5th amendment to protect himself and Uber during the lawsuit, which should make the case both more interesting and potentially more damaging for him. Uber has tried to distance itself from the issues at the core of the lawsuit, suggesting that the alleged actions would have been taken Levandowski operating as an individual employee rather than on behalf of the company, but that argument is getting harder to make. Removing Levandowski at least limits the perception that he’s still using what he learned at Waymo to help Uber with its own LIDAR technology, something Uber has denied all along. The lawsuit, meanwhile, is getting increasingly nasty, with Uber targeting senior Waymo executives for depositions apparently on the basis of mere spite, because they have nothing to do with the details of the litigation.
via Business Insider