A lot of Elon news this week, obviously. The revelation of a sexual harassment settlement paid on behalf of the Tesla CEO is the latest in a series of potential distractions spooking investors. And, the same week that the feds launch another investigation into a fatal crash involving Autopilot, a new documentary features former Tesla employees accusing Musk of overselling the automaker’s autonomous driving capabilities and pressuring regulators into overlooking its shortcomings. Fittingly, Musk once again promised he’d deliver fully driverless cars next year.
In other news, Bird decides scooter-sharing is more profitable than scooter-selling, Uber releases a bunch of new features, Optibus becomes the first public transit tech unicorn, Argo AI starts offering driverless rides to its employees in Austin and Miami, Paris moves ahead with a highway-reduction plan and Apple files a patent for a windowless car!
A new Tesla distraction: The news broke on Thursday that SpaceX paid $250,000 settle a sexual misconduct claim against Elon Musk. Tesla stock, which had already declined sharply over the past month, fell 10% Friday.
Another Autopilot investigation: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opens an investigation into a crash earlier this month where three people were killed after a 2022 Tesla Model S –– potentially operating in Autopilot –– crashed into construction equipment in Newport Beach, Calif. This is the 42nd crash to be included in NHTSA’s ongoing investigation of driver assistance programs since it kicked off in 2016. Thirty five of those involved Teslas.
…meanwhile, Elon says fully driverless is coming next year: While in Brazil for talks with President Jair Bolsonaro about ways SpaceX might help the country combat deforestation of the Amazon, Musk once again predicted that Tesla would have self-driving cars without the need for a human driver within a year.
Bird gets back to basics: The micromobility operator has seen revenue decline since it went public last November –– it blames bad weather and Omicron –– and it’s looking for a path to profitability by the end of the year. Bird plans to narrow its focus on the most profitable markets and may scale back efforts to sell bikes and scooters, which have not generated nearly as much revenue as its core scooter-sharing service.
Newsom vs NIMBYs: California Gov. Gavin Newsom says, “NIMBYism is destroying the state,” as he urges cities to reduce regulatory barriers to housing. Exclusionary zoning keeps denser and cheaper forms of housing from being built in large swaths of the Golden State’s most prosperous cities and suburbs. Not only has it driven up the cost of housing, but it has facilitated car-oriented sprawl by pushing people further and further out from the city center.
Uber’s new features: The ride-hailing giant reveals a number of new features, including Uber Travel, which will allow people to book rides to events in advance, and Uber Charter, to book private buses for large groups.
Public transit’s first unicorn: Optibus, an Israeli startup that uses AI to help transit operators optimize their routes, raises $100 million at a $1.3 billion valuation, making it the first unicorn focused on public transit technology. Optibus is working with transit agencies in 1,000 different cities and tracks 2.5 billion transit trips around the world. Godspeed Optibus –– public transit needs all the help it can get these days.
Farmer sues VW over climate change: With the support of Greenpeace, a German farmer is suing Volkswagen, arguing that its contribution to climate change is hurting his business and that the company should be forced to end sales of internal combustion engine vehicles by 2030. Legal experts are skeptical that the case will make it far in German courts.
Choosing between Apple and windows: If Apple ever gets around to building an autonomous vehicle, it may not have windows. The tech giant is seeking a patent for a VR system that would offer passengers “virtual views that match visual cues with the physical motions that a passenger experiences,” and that people could alter what they see in order to reduce motion sickness. Apple argues that windows generally aren’t safe and that virtual windows could actually make the car feel bigger and comfier. Huh? Do we really need to spend more time with our eyes glued to Apple screens?
Argo AI goes to Austin and Miami: The Pittsburgh AV startup backed by Ford and VW will begin giving its employees in Austin and Miami rides in driverless cars with an “internally developed ride-hailing test app.”
Is the Tesla honeymoon over? Tesla’s stock began a steep slide even before the turmoil of the past week. Is has dropped 40% since the start of April. Skepticism of Tesla’s valuation is nothing new, and the stock price slump may reflect recognition of the gains made by other automakers in the EV market. But some observers argue that the company’s lack of independent corporate governance, combined with the CEO’s unpredictable behavior, also presents a long-term vulnerability that may be giving investors pause.
The problem with Musk’s vision of Autopilot: A New York Times documentary examines Musk’s vision for an autonomous driving future. Among those speaking are former Tesla engineers who say that the CEO’s tremendous ability to motivate with science fiction-like promises often collides with reality.
How driving is like talking: Venturebeat takes a look at how Wayve, a U.K.-based deep-learning startup, believes that driving is too complex to be automated with the prevailing sense-plan-act paradigm. Instead it seeks to develop a “holistically learned driver.” It recently attracted a valuable new partner to help: Microsoft.
The problem for AVs may be humans: Mike Bebernes of Yahoo! News delves into the many different obstacles to making fully autonomous vehicles a reality. One of the challenges is that, until we reach Level 5 autonomy, automakers are going to continue relying on humans to stay alert and be ready to intervene in certain circumstances. Some say it is not realistic for people to remain focused on the road if they’re not actively engaged in handling the vehicle.
Paris tries to downsize pollution: After kicking cars out of much of the city center and transforming the historically bike-hostile French metropolis into a veritable two-wheel utopia, Mayor Anne Hidalgo has announced a plan to reduce the number of general access vehicle lanes on the infamous Périphérique ring-road to cut down pollution and open up more space for nature, walking and biking. The idea is popular among those who live inside the highway, which encircles the city – but has predictably drawn pushback from suburban commuters. The idea of narrowing a key highway, however, stands in strong contrast to what’s happening in most American cities, whose leaders are still having a very hard time kicking their addiction to highway expansion.
What remote work does to housing: A new economic analysis published by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco links remote working to higher housing costs. The national jump in housing prices over the past two years was particularly big in areas with higher proportions of remote workers.
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