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Zoox and Its $800M Robo Taxi Dream [video] (bloomberg.com)
124 points by ed 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 120 comments



For reference, until Nov 2017, Zoox drove a cumulative 2200 autonomous miles driven in public CA roads, with a ridiculously high disengagement rate of 1/430 miles.

https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/wcm/connect/495c1aa7-2a3b-4dd8...

For comparison, in the 12 months ending in Nov 2017, Waymo drove 352000 autonomous miles in CA public roads, with a disengagement rate of 1/5600 miles.

This article is a joke...


They incorporated in 2014... probably didn't start serious development until they were properly capitalized in mid 2015 (with $40 million in July 2015 and $250 million in Oct 2016 [1]). Waymo started 9yrs ago.

It's not bad being in 3rd place against Google and Cruise/GM in a few years.

This type of thing can improve rapidly as they start doing real-world testing... which you cite yourself has merely begun (on real roads mind you, not testing in closed environments). 2200 miles is hardly anything to measure against. Which sounds like months of testing vs Waymo's years.

Not to mention they are developing full new vehicles as well, not just the driving AI software. Which might be highly valuable to a major car company who could acquire them at a significant multiple.

This type of pessimism based on a single metric is toxic and naive regarding how tech companies are built.

...Not to mention there was no claim in this article that they were at Waymo's level or anything but at a very early stage of development.

[1] https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/zoox#section-locked-...


Only having a month of testing (or otherwise only having barely tested things) is a glaring negative, not a positive like you're framing it as.

The self-reported California metrics themselves cannot be relied upon since the companies (Cruise and Waymo included), could be making it up (and indeed have an incentive to inflate their numbers).


In order to accrue miles you need cars and drivers, which is capital intensive. One car can only drive so far. To get Waymo and Cruise numbers you need Waymo and Cruise money, which Zoox is starting to have. You can expect to see those numbers improve.

At the end of the day though, not all miles are equal. If one were so inclined you could just drive up an down a big highway with autonomy engaged only once merged. Obviously 100 miles of SF traffic is not the same as 100 miles of staying in your lane on cruise control.


mercedes has about 1 disengagement per mile. zoox is a respectable third, actually, behind cruise/gm.

https://thelastdriverlicenseholder.com/2018/02/01/disengagem...


Are these reports all self reported? Does CA audit?


Disengagement rates are self-reported, and the guidelines are loose. There isn't a whole lot to infer from them.


What about environment? Is waymo doing this kind of mixed urban / highway driving?

They seemed pretty confident when they had a reporter ferried back and forth.


Seems like they're putting the cart before the horse no? Don't you need functioning level 5 self-driving technology before you start optimizing for something like rider experience? This seems to violate the classic startup maxim to 'focus on just one thing and get it right'


That beautiful crate is pretty clearly optimized for investor story time.


Investors don't hand out money after looking at your github repo (though they do indeed do due diligence after becoming sufficiently impressed).


Indeed. They're able to raise lots of cash with presentation skills, but in reality their business plan is completely bottlenecked on super reliable perception/intent prediction AI, on which they aren't showing evidence of an advantage.


the reporter claims that the car drove without human assistance through San Francisco. If true, and it's a big if, it's fucking impressive if you ask me. Go ahead, ask me.


Did I miss a thing? I didn't see the reporter say it drove without human assistance.

It's frankly sloppy that the reporter doesn't mention it. He also incorrectly reports that Waymo only tests in places like Arizona.


Doesn't he clearly say that they made the example trip and back each time autonomously? There was a "driver" with his hands near the wheel, which I assume is a requirement for them.


yes, he does

"Overall, the vehicle performs so well that you forget no one is driving."


That's a no. He literally does not say it did not disengage. Given the sloppiness of the story, there's no way to infer whether or not he saw zero disengagements or twenty. All I know is there reporter was impressed, but I don't know how knowledgable the reporter is.


Ashlee Vance has been covering autonomous vehicles for years. Zoox did years of closed course testing before rolling out on public roads last summer, and last fall they held a press event and took a dozen or two journalists out for 10 minute rides around SF, all the journalists had good things to say about it.

Jesse Levinson, the guy leading autonomy at Zoox is a big scoop, he gets huge respect in the robotics community. When you got a top talent like that, it tends to attract more top talent. I'm really impressed by how much Zoox has accomplished with so little. Last I heard they had about a dozen test vehicles noodling around parts of San Francisco, but with this new cash injection you'll probably be seeing a lot more sensor riddled flat black Toyota Highlanders in the Bay Area in the coming months.

It should be emphasized that fully validating an autonomous vehicle well enough to remove the driver is no small feat and they have a long way to go, I'm betting against their 2020 target for a commercial rollout.


Ashlee Vance is a general technology reporter, not some autonomous car expert. The article was pretty obviously arranged for by Zoox and meant for PR. I'm not affirmatively saying they faked the demo, but it is still a demo for a journalist. They have every incentive to make it look good. So given that the journalist didn't go out and say outright that there were no interventions or human inputs, you really cannot just take the demo at its word.


Yes, it's true. It's just a demo, Ashlee Vance isn't going to ride around in Zooxmobiles for months to see everything they can and can't do. Yes, it's PR. Ashlee Vance isn't going to get a ride in a Zooxmobile unless they give him permission to. And yes, it's true, Zoox has every incentive to make a working robotaxi, and it's a work in progress.

I'm somewhat baffled by how much spite a tech news site like HN has for technology companies that are actually innovating and solving hard problems. Zoox didn't drop out the sky yesterday, they've been at this for years, you just haven't been paying attention.


What are you talking about?

He said "no one is driving" Now, maybe he is full of shit, but those words are pretty definitive.


In the video they say that the drives were 100% autonomous, which means no disengagement’s.


Meh. It's a demo. Doesn't prove reliability. With an HD map, slow speed and plenty of Lidar sensors, it's like a car on rails. Doesn't tell you what happens at the very long tail end, for instance when that HD map is not correct, making eye contact with a pedestrian is required to infer intent, or distinguishing a tumbleweed from a rock is required to make a driving decision at high speed. Fully autonomous driving may be AI-complete for all we know, and these one off demos are child's play in comparison.


Did you read the article? Zoox reportedly drive from Menlo Park to SF including high speed driving on 101 and crowded city driving in SF.


Yeah. I'm saying there are plenty of companies capable of this particular technical feat given the offline HD mapping + Lidar, so it doesn't justify the amount invested in and valuation of Zoox. This technology was available years ago. If say, they did this with vision only and no HD maps, maybe then I'd be impressed.


I call bullshit on this assertion. Plenty of companies? You mean like 3 ?

also, why does it have to be vision only and no maps? the goal is not some pissing contest of who has the cleverest algo, the goal is a working product. Of course, it's going to include maps.


Way more than 3 companies.

The reason I'd want to see a vision-only mappless demo is because Lidar and HD maps are a crutch, which make it easy to create a 90% functional demo, yet are insufficient to cover the long tail end, which is inherently a computer vision problem. There is not enough information density or semantics in Lidar data to make high level judgements, which makes it useless for many relevant corner cases. Meanwhile, vision has all the information but it's a hard yet necessary AI problem to extract it.

The goal is a working product indeed, but if it involves teleoperation, human annotation for maps, and over-relies on Lidar, it will be a slow and unreliable AI granny driver, which will penetrate at most 1% of the market. There is a whole lot of unscalable human effort being swept under the rug in most autonomous demos, so don't believe everything you read in the media.


Also it had visible issues merging onto the highway and stopping in the middle of the street while turning.


The merge 'issue' was because the adjacent car paced them and then pulled ahead at the last second. They merged successfully even as they ran out of lane - just as almost every human would've done.

What was wrong with the turn? They had to wait until they could confirm that the second oncoming car would actually slow and complete their turn before it was safe to continue. That's how many humans would handle that situation too IMO.


Do that 100,000 times in different weather and road conditions and it's impressive, doing it once is just dangerous.


I'm not sure that most skilled drivers to could reliably drive through SF 100,000 times in all weather without some sort of incident. Autonomous would be more impressive.


hmmm. Presumably, they did it more than once before putting a reporter in the car and risking having him or her killed.

how many companies that you know of that are working on self-driving cars have done this? had a reporter do a similar route in a car driving itself? I know nothing of this company but they are either completely insane or have a high degree of confidence in their product, or the reporter is lying. I have no reason to suspect the reporter of lying in this case.


I've seen autonomous cars in SF before, even saw an Uber one run a red light... for what it's worth. They definitely test in SF.


I don't think you need level 5, only level 4. The video demo seemed to imply that they actually had level 4.


  > This seems to violate
  > the classic startup maxim
  > to 'focus on just one
  > thing and get it right'
And who said this maxim works? Lots of startups do a lot of things in common. Doesn't mean those are all good ideas


You're right that this isn't a proven method of success, but the smell test seems to tell me that it's harder to do two very hard things than it is to do just one. They are simultaneously trying to redesign the auto experience AND invent a technology that doesn't exist. If doing one made the other easier, I would understand, but that doesn't seem to be the case. They are solving a problem that doesn't exist yet.


Spent way too long trying to figure out if that was a limerick.


'..in the next breath, though, he predicts the future for all of his competitors—Alphabet, General Motors, Tesla, Apple, Daimler, et al.—if the bet pays off: “They’re f---ed.”

This reminds me so much of dot com boom bravado and then hubris. If these guys had built lots of different types of cars from the ground up - race cars, customs, hot rods etc powered by different engine types - I would have more time for their reinvention confidence. I like what they are doing but this seems like pride before the fall


Standard founder bravado. This is basically part of their pitch.

"If we are right, then we're going to dominate the market that all the big boys are investing billions to control."

(Not being disparaging at all - their value proposition actually looks interesting.)


Zoox is differentiated. They're the only autonomous vehicle outfit thinking about a self driving car as a robot from the ground up, rather than just a car with some sensors slapped on to it and a giant computer in the trunk.


For those of us who don't have a background in robotics, do you mind giving a short explanation on the difference between a robot and a car with sensors/computers attached?


Take a look at their prototypes, the wheels are all independently articulated. A human would have a lot of difficulty handling a car like that, but for a robot it's no big deal. This might be genius or it might be crazy, it really depends on whether they can execute.

Zoox is the only company we know of that is building a robotaxi from the ground up rather than just retrofitting a vehicle designed for something else. Although Einride has a concept built for a highway freight hauler with no driver cabin, and Nuro has several delivery vehicles built with no room for a human on board.

The term 'self driving car' is kind of like the term 'Horseless Carriage'. It's transitional.


You win the prize. First person to articulate clearly the differentiating factor.

Give that, I'll say this. Mobile robot from the ground up = next level hard. Level 5 autonomy = next level hard. Both simultaneously? Good luck.

Question though, what if there's a regulatory requirement for future vehicles to have a mandatory human driver mode (manual override) that's a touch of a button away?


if that is such a great driver of value, they could have set themselves up purely as a car builder that could partner with companies doing self driving cars..


It's robotics, at the design/development stage the software and hardware are entwined. Conceivably, when Zoox has a finished, validated prototype and are ready to mass produce, they could go to a contract manufacturer like Magna-Steyer.


Yeah, not disputing that. Like I wrote, they have an interesting value proposition.

The line about disrupting a huge market is still par the course, what's expected of them.


I wasn't disagreeing with you, just adding to your point. I too find their value proposition very interesting


Or alternatively, Pride comes before hundreds of millions of investment leading up to an eventual buy out from one of the many cash rich tech giants who are all afraid of being outmaneuvered by a nimble start up. Zoox doesn't need to change the world, it either needs to stockpile engineering talent that a tech giant thinks is important (See also: Nervana) or stockpile some basic foundational technologies (See also: Otto, Levandowski).

Cruise Automation was going to do exactly the same things as Zoox. Cruise sold for around $1Bn to GM. Cruise had 40 employees and had basically sold nothing.


Cruise definitely had a strong whiff of dot com about it - all talk, little substance, ridiculous exit price...clueless bigco exec buyers...


That's the thing, if they succeed, we will call them visionaries and if they fail we'll call them bravado and hubris. I think some amount of hubris is essential at succeeding in high risk businesses.


The claim that outfitting an existing car is the wrong way to approach the remaining problems doesn't seem like a reasonable case to me, at least given my understanding of what those problems are. Is the state of the technology not currently limited by the type and quality of sensor data when it comes to unfamiliar/unsatisfactory road conditions, as well as the shortcomings of neural nets/alternative existing algorithms?


Exactly. But hey cool concept cars make for pretty pitchdecks. Technology will solve itself if you just throw money at it, right? Next up, we'll have startups whose main differentiation is designing the interiors of time machines.


This resonates with me. The kind of company that makes a good human-driven car is so far away from the kind of company that can develop a level 5 autonomous system that to try to start up both at the same time would be simply multiplying an already low chance of success by another low chance of success.

How about developing the world's leading level 5 system and then licensing it to the all auto companies?


L5 is science fiction, nobody has even an hypothesis about how to do that. Zoox and the other major players are developing L4.

There is another interesting, but still young company called Aurora innovation that has a very good team together that plans to develop and licence L4 to 3rd parties. Aurora has partnerships with 2 of the top 3 biggest car manufacturers in the world, VW and Hyundai, as well as with Byton, a Chinese EV startup backed by big Asian capital. Zoox has a different plan.


For those curious what 0-5 is: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autonomous_car#Definitions

(edit: changed link to point to wikipedia instead of random site)


Nothing but rage I feel looking at videos like this. Unbearably confident man in a flat cap speaks about the technology of the century like it’s nothing, and his handheld scientist (who actually google blah google stanford) will make sure that shit get to work. Reporter never feels wrong or sceptic as he’s born yesterday morning. “Hey, Jesse, double-check your AI doesn’t hit trucks like these fools, okay?” — smiling man in flat cap unpacks last pack of hundreds into counting machine, reloading misdetected papers back as it counts to 500. “We’re to ship next year, two years max. Jesse and I work hard here to deliver. We already drove the entire SF via keyboard, now just wait. Man, that’s gonna be a thing!”

A whole essence of investments fraud, dragged to the edge of the sense. And they politely call it ‘pitch’ in this thread. So cute.


What's the relevance of his hat?!


They got self-driving Mad Max-ish tubewelded over-actuated crabsteering robotcars? Who cares about business speak, I'm sold.


For those of us that lived through the tech bubble of 1998-2001 the tone of this profile feels very familiar.


> In a distressing early sign for Zoox’s investors, Kentley-Klay also spent $16,000 on a Sub-Zero office refrigerator because he thought it looked cool.

Let's say I'm an investor and a founder of a company in my portfolio does this. What would be an appropriate response? This seems like a cartoonishly gratuitous waste of capital.


What would you do if literally any other employee with a company card did this?

You'd either fire them on the spot. Or, if that's not an option [1], quietly figure out a longer-term strategy for eventually firing them.

Or, if you're a Nice Guy, you'd offer to let them stay on if they return the gratuitous waste of capital and/or pay the company back.

I'll never quite understand why founders are treated as an exceptional case by capital. Especially in hard tech fields like self-driving where the idea is literally obvious to a five-year-old but the execution requires courting `the best humans available.

--

[1] e.g., an engineer with mostly undocumented knowledge of key parts of your software or sales rep with close relationships to a client during a critical time period.


It might have been budgeted in or part of some other discretionary spending limit (employee perks, parties etc) and this is so small that it doesn't matter.

I have seen termsheets where the founders need board/investor approval for spend over $XXXK, so that it stops/limits misuse of capital.

This could have been board approved, if it needed to be or else investors/boards can always ask for it to be returned and mandate approval for future spends above $X in categories outside of regular business spending.


It's like when a municipality spends some piddling sum on public art, you always get this chorus of idiots asking "what are they doing blowing taxpayer money on art when there's potholes to fill?"


Self-driving is a software problem, not a hardware problem.

Investing in someone with zero useful ideas and zero ethics is not a symptom of good investment skills. (Yes, tricking experts into talking to you is unethical)


That wasn't the only ethical lapse being gleefully mythologized in the story.

I half-suspected that they didn't bother taking out a permit for autonomous vehicle, but I was pleasantly surprised to find them on the list: https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/vr/autonomous/permi...


It's not hard to get a California DMV permit for testing autonomous vehicles. It's like a learner's permit. You have to have a licensed driver on board able to take over. You have to have insurance. You have to report all accidents. No driving for hire. No heavy vehicles.

That's what Uber considered over-regulation.


That's a decent level of performance. Local driving, freeway, local driving, without (apparently) manual intervention.

Building a little vehicle for local transport is reasonable. At least five other companies have built minibuses for parking lot shuttles and such.[1] Nobody seems to have more than pilot installations. This is embarrassing. Under 25MPH self driving ought to be within current technology. At low speeds, you can stop fast enough that predicting the behavior of others isn't necessary. Navya has a few installed systems, but they're either on dedicated roads or under 10mph.

[1] https://craft.co/local-motors/competitors


> This is embarrassing. Under 25MPH self driving ought to be within current technology

The fact hat it's not tells you all you need to know about self driving vehicles. I'd expect full autonomous vehicles about a decade after we can hit these easier targets.


Google built a little car without manual controls that was capable of under 25MPH travel in areas such as senior communities. They used to run it around Mountain View. But they decided not to proceed with that as a product. Google didn't want to run a car factory.

The "fake it til you make it" startups aren't succeeding at this.


I think custom hardware would make sense on custom infrastructure: small 2m wide tracks dedicated to rapid electric transit pods, tucked under and along side the main roads. It would simplify the design a lot to the point where you could build it using 80s technology, simple automation, since there are no pedestrians or non-pod vehicles.

If you could build the pods on the cheap, cities would love it as an affordable alternative to subway and tunnels - it's much cheaper to dig a 4x2m concrete box under the main road then massive tunnels and stations.

In time, as the network expands, full self driving can be added and the vehicles can exit the network and drive the last miles on regular roads to the traveler's front door in the suburbs.


My school is working on it - ecoprt.com

But it’s NC State and not Top4, so don’t expect anything to come out of it.


> it's much cheaper to dig

It still costs money. And where should the exits be? If they are far apart this doesn't work. And the prospect of being underground for a long trip is not that thrilling.

You're basically proposing a boiling the ocean kind of solution.


It's quite easy to envision some ramps where the vehicle steers out of the main underground lane and ascends on a 20% incline for 10m, stops into a station not dissimilar to any other public transit station, with multiple platforms so multiple passengers can embark at the same time in different pods.

When passengers are secure, another ramp takes them back down - or even the same one, with proper synchronization on less busy stops. It would then drive the passengers to any station in the network with almost the same flexibility as a self driving car.

I would say the cost differentials to subway are massive, one order of magnitude for similar passenger throughputs. And it's not some unproven, highly speculative technology like self driving cars, it's something that could be built today with low tech (but I concede, high capital investment).


Like most people you vastly underestimate just how many passengers a subway moves. You need to move ~10 people per second through to match a subway's capacity. (2 directions * almost 200 per car * 10 cars per ~5 minutes.)

Self driving pods could work but you would basically need to dig tunnels as big as current subway tunnels to deal with the traffic + breakdowns etc.


At the limit, with proper design a stream of pods can act almost like an endless, continuous train - no subway network can beat that. But even if we accept a 2s spacing between pods, human level reaction times, that's still around 1 passenger per second per lane (with minimal 2 person/pod packing), or 15% of your peak subway estimate per direction. You should also factor the much higher efficiency of a system with no train changes, where the pod occupancy is optimized to avoid those empty returns to the busy area, where you don't have to dig a whole tunnel worth of capacity (6 tracks) at the terminus stations since one is enough for the traffic there, that can dynamically switch track direction depending on demand during the day etc.

Bear in mind, a subway tunnel for a single train has a diameter of about 7m, or about ten times the area (and dirt volume to be moved, and concrete to be poured) of a 2x2m lane.


You're ignoring the near-fixed costs to building tunnels: right-of-way, ventilation, maintenance. Even then, your 2 second gap is a pipe dream, not technically but logistically. You need scheduling flexibility to maintain such small gaps. Whether it's long wait times at stations, long detours to avoid congested routes, or keeping the system significantly below capacity, you can't assume that both a) pods can get on and off at will and b) there's a continuous flow of pods.

>You should also factor the much higher efficiency of a system with no train changes, where the pod occupancy is optimized to avoid those empty returns to the busy area

How do you avoid empty returns to the busy area? You still need to supply the pods, and if your solution is underfilling pods on the way back, that's exactly the same as sending a light train.

>where you don't have to dig a whole tunnel worth of capacity (6 tracks) at the terminus stations since one is enough for the traffic there

This is only an advantage at small scales. At higher scales, one train tunnel is just enough at the terminus stations, and the busier routes have more.


> your 2 second gap is a pipe dream, not technically but logistically. You need scheduling flexibility to maintain such small gaps.

A 2 second gap means that a pod needs to sync and squeeze between two vehicles 4 seconds apart, or 45m at 40Km/h. That's three seconds of 0.3g on a 40m acceleration track, after which it can merge with no assistance from the other pods (in a practical system, they would clearly cooperate). Assuming you achieve 90% of full 2s capacity, a pod will wait an average of 20 seconds for it's slot - queues should not form outside of very busy stations, that would be connected to very thick pipes anyway.

> How do you avoid empty returns to the busy area?

You might need to return empty, you might not. There might be a triangular route available that can maintain fullness throughout. You could build a buffer in anticipation of the rush hour. The train absolutely needs to follow the same route back at the same time interval and there is no way to reallocate part of the return capacity to the forward, overloaded route by a simple lane direction reversal. (to clarify, I am talking about maximizing peak capacity at rush hour on a given overloaded segment, there would be significant empty runs during the rest of day like in any other system).

> At higher scales, one train tunnel is just enough at the terminus stations

That's because you only have underground trains to places where a full tunnel makes economic sense, so the city is substantially under-served.


2 second gaps needs ~20 passengers per pod and a lot of pods which get pricy. That's looking a lot more like a subway train than the kind of routable cars people like to talk about. Further, subway trains move at 60MPH making 2 second gaps a safty issue.


>2 second gaps needs ~20 passengers per pod

Sorry, I don't follow. Why can't a 2 person pod reach 40 Km/h and maintain 22m spacing between pods?

As for the number/price of the pods, the relevant metric is price per passenger. A Subway train costs about $10.000 per standing seat, with the bulk of costs going to infrastructure, not rolling stock. So with cheaper infrastructure and a $20.000 2 person pod, we are cost competitive with standing seats in a packed subway, at much higher passenger comfort.


> Why can't a 2 person pod reach 40 Km/h and maintain 22m spacing between pods?

2 seconds at 40 Km/h is safer but that has other problems.

Remember, Pods don't have zero length they take up space which decreases the pods per hour. A 2 person 3 meter pod with 22 meter spacing at 40 Km/h = 2 * 40,000m / (3m + 22m) = 3,200 people per hour if they are all 100% full.

That's a long way from a subway's capacity unless you want to build 20 lanes per subway you are replacing. Going faster means more pods, but you also need to increase following distance. Slower is safer, but means trips take longer.


Running small pods underneath roads doesn't seem like it would really increase throughput much at all, while being significantly harder to build and maintain than the area directly above it.


Actually a lot of this spending could be avoided if you could convince the government to let you embed a single wire in the asphalt along with some RFID tags.

Everything that is expensive and unreliable is because they assume an embedded wire is not going to be allowed/done by the people managing the roads.


Why would the wire help you? If you needed precise location information, couldn't the company just add some markers throughout the city? Either stamp large QR codes on corners and traffic lights, or put thousands of Wi-Fi routers around the town, that would help the vehicle triangulate... The latter doesn't even require permission, just money!


That would help surely. But I would say the main problem in this space is not the infrastructure - Tesla meltdown aside - it's the other drivers.


What would that cost on every road?


Apart from not being buried what you're describing sounds an awful lot like Personal Rapid Transit (PRT). WVU has been operating their PRT system since 1975.

https://transportation.wvu.edu/prt


Sure. Developments in self driving and electric vehicles, ride hailing and general automation make PRT a much more convincing proposal today and a genuine public transport alternative to the personal car, which collective vehicles with rigid routes will never be.

All while avoiding the seemingly insurmountable difficulties of fully autonomous driving on congested and chaotic city roads.


This really is an ambitious project. I spent quite a few years building custom cars and I have to agree that for the purpose they're aiming at what they're doing makes more sense than trying to outfit an existing vehicle with their tech.

For example, I worked with a company named "Mobility Engineering and Development" outfitting Ford vans that C-4, C-5 quadriplegics could drive while sitting in their wheelchairs.

Ford didn't redesign those very often so it was a very good choice for that purpose, but it would be a nightmare to have to redesign what we were making every 3 years to accommodate a new vehicle design produced by a 3rd party that had no interest in what we were doing with them.


Levinson, whose father, Arthur, ran Genentech Inc., chairs Apple Inc., and mentored Steve Jobs, comes from Silicon Valley royalty.

If the reports that Apple is building a similar product are true, there's a hell of a conflict of interest here.


(Because he chairs Apple, Arthur Levinson hasn’t seen any of this. “It’s not that I don’t want to,” he says. “It’s just better to keep a little distance and read about Jesse in the newspaper.”)


Ah, so even robot taxis block traffic when they stop. I guess pulling over to the curb is too difficult a problem to solve…


> The pair have mastered the hyperbolic vernacular of the Silicon Valley startup scene. Text running around the wheel wells of the Zoox vehicles reads, “Infinity is enough,” a phrase the company has trademarked. Kentley-Klay’s own name is another invention. He was born Tim Kentley and adopted the Klay. “I have added Klay to my surname, as I find I just love making things and [sic] is a big part of me,” he wrote to the Zoox employees in 2013. “So, clay, or mud, is the primal aspect of this spirit, and ‘K’lay is a word play on that to keep the K in the mix of the evolving family name.”

This... hubris hurts when it's not in the show Silicon Valley. At least the show hurts good.


If I worked there I would feel the urge to urgently find a like minded employee to talk to just so I'd feel better knowing that someone else thought it was absurd.


you can add "hype speak" to that hyperbolic vernacular: https://blog.codesolvent.com/2016/10/hype-on-hacknews-and-si...


So an idea guy that just needed some programmer to code together his revolutionary idea actually found a programmer, a PhD from Stanford no less, to agree to it?


With all these self driving companies, I ask. What is the lowest price point they can get to for that product?

Cause if I can pay a highly reliable driver for less, what's the point?


Obviously no robotaxi outfit has a viable business model if they can't undercut a human driven Uber.

Zoox's initial fleet will be hand built, and will likely cost several hundred thousand dollars a piece to manufacture, but hypothetically one could still turn a profit on a robotaxi worth $300k.

Bullish analysts have speculated that economy class robotaxis will someday be cost competitive with public transit, though I suspect it will take a while to get there.

Of all the robotaxi companies out there showing real progress, Zoox is the most differentiated, and is positioned well to avoid the race to the bottom by capturing the premium end of the market, much like Apple has done with smartphones.

Of course this is all contingent on Zoox's ability to execute. But even if they fail miserably at developing their bidirectional robotaxi with independently articulated steering and drivetrain for each wheel, their autonomous OS is still very good. If we compare Zoox to what other companies such as Apple, Intel, Baidu and Uber have spent to accomplish less, Zoox's autonomous OS alone is arguably worth the $3.2 billion that the company is being valued at. So it's not like they don't have a plan B.


> What is the lowest price point they can get to for that product? Cause if I can pay a highly reliable driver for less, what's the point?

Let's assume that the technology and mapping becomes a Solved Problem.

Then the competition with humans boils down to the cost of sensors and compute (plus recouping R&D). I expect prices for both of those to plummet whenever self-driving capabilities are clearly demonstrated because the massive anticipated demand will justify huge capex in improving efficient manufacturing of these often bespoke sensors.

The market for computing machines 1950 - 1990 is instructive.


They can have pretty high up front price points and still hit a decent price per mile. An automatic system reliable enough to let on the roads should be able to drive more hours per day than a human and the up front cost will be amortized over a few years.

So you easily get to 5x a good driver's annual cost probably being cheaper.


Two things:

Right now they’re fighting to own the platform that works when, ten years from now, the technology is affordable. That means developing on higher priced technology now to get the software sorted out.

Human drivers that are cheap probably leave a lot to be desired in the “reliable” category (I conjecture), so robots really can (in theory) offer more there.


You might need more than 1 human driver in certain cases, unless you have one that is 24/7 in it and ready to drive. Funny point of view nonetheless


Welcome to Johnny cab!


An uncanny Batman begins reincarnation of the Johnny Cab


Great web presentation by Bloomberg IMO, video and typography complement each other well.


Check out those prototypes, man. Bidirectional robots with independent steering + drivetrain for each wheel. I've been excited to see them in action since Zoox's inception in 2013. Zoox is the coolest startup, I'm amazed how far they've come, though they still have a long way to go.


Cool, sure, but when $800M of capital is on the line, why is it important?

Yeah, everyone who has putzed with robots gets a tingle of excitement when they build their first crab drive. It's neat, but also introduces a huge amount of complexity and probably maintenance wear on the tires from non-subdegree alignment at road speeds.

Tesla is struggling to mass produce electric-from-the-ground-up traditional front-wheel-steering-only powertrains. What's the use case for this degree of added complexity beyond some cute parallel parking?


You don't have to look beyond Elon Musk to see that the half-crazy ideas are the ones that get people excited. I've been following Zoox since it was literally just a guy with some concept art talking people up in hotel bars at tech conferences. It's in the article, why did Jesse Levinson, cream of the crop in robotics talent decide to go with Zoox and not Google? Because it's an opportunity to really innovate. Zoox has managed to get tons of great people on board for that reason alone.

Otherwise you're right, it's very much an open question as to whether they can make these radically different vehicles to automotive grade reliability.


Another unicorn willing to be a sellout to big companies.


+1 for using three sensors. Visual only neural nets can be cracked with a sticker.


I’m getting Theranos level vibes


so, the reporter in your opinion is lying when he says

"...It’s in the city, though, where Zoox really shines. The screens inside the vehicle show an overwhelming amount of information, as the computer vision software keeps tracks of cars, people, stoplights, and road markers all at the same time. Unlike many self-driving cars, it glides to stops. At an intersection with a left turn, it allows oncoming traffic to pass and then waits for some slow pedestrians. Overall, the vehicle performs so well that you forget no one is driving. ....."

?


If you’ve followed the Theranos saga you know they had set up a lab specifically for reporters and their blood samples were manually tested by a team of scientists instead of their actual device.

How would the reporter know if the car was or was not being remote control operated by an employee?

Is “overwhelming amount of technical info” any more impressive than those memes of computer hackers typing really fast with the green terminal text scrolling down like you see in the movies?

The left turn doesn’t sound like anything an autonomous car shouldn’t be doing? He’s wowed that the car stopped for a pedestrian? Really?


actually, no. They did not let people into the lab and never sent back the tests they did on those reporters. The story of Theranos, as I said in another comment, is not the story of lack of evidence - it's the story of lots of people ignoring evidence. Do you have any evidence this company cannot do what it claims to do ?


To be fair, demos can be faked (and were, in Theranos' case). But I think the commenter is actually referring to the palpable cult of personality being spun into this article. The article is more of a profile of the founders than it is of the company. In fact the details of the company and its mission appear to be a backdrop for talking about the founders' pedigrees and just-eccentric-enough antics.


so, you're saying it would be impossible to fake the demo with, for example, a remote driver?


It's technically possibly but unbelievably dangerous, given the necessity of relying for millisecond response times over unreliable wireless connections. That $800M would disappear in a puff of litigation if anything went wrong.

But of course we know Zoox is actually driving on SF roads according to public documents, and the fact you can watch them drive if you are in SF and know where to look. Demos are demos, but this one happened with Zoox software at 100% autonomy.


It is impossible considering the network lag and unreliability when transmitting all the 3D data to a remote location. It doesn't make any sense at all. The remote operation can only help vehicles make decisions, while the vehicle still needs to drive by itself.


The remote driving driver could in theory ghost the journalist car for low latency. Just saying.

Coincidently Ericson and KTH (which Zoox has cooperated with) has done remote driving over cellphone links over multiple miles. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=cvSM7pbqZEM

I'm not saying it's what happend. I mean Darpa challange was not fake so Stanford has delivered in the area. But it's possible to solve the lag issue.


no, I am not saying it's impossible. So, are we actually claiming that this company lied to the reporter and manually drove the car through the streets of SF, while remote controlling it? it is POSSIBLE. But do we have any EVIDENCE this happened? Because the story of Theranos is not the story of lack of evidence that it was a fraud. It was virtually apparent from the early days that it was a fraud with plenty of evidence that was ignored. Is there a shred of evidence that this is a fraud?


[flagged]


...what does any of that mean?




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