Persuading Residents to Invest in Mobility

The future autonomous world is discussed often at the 2017 Telematics Update conference here, but for it to come to fruition numerous infrastructure projects must take place.

And that may be a tough sell to residents who only want their city to keep streets illuminated and garbage picked up.

“Saying you’re investing x-millions of dollars in (dedicated short-range communication) is not a message residents in most cities (are waiting to hear),” Mark de la Vergne, chief of mobility innovation-City of Detroit says on an urban mobility panel at the conference June 7. “How this gets communicated outside of rooms like these is challenging.

“It is a foreign (concept) in a lot of cities where catching the bus and making sure you’re home for your kids is the No.1 priority,” he continues. “Wondering about autonomous vehicles and DSRC is literally nothing that is close to being on your radar.”

De la Vergne advises cities to start thinking about how to communicate the merits of smart mobility, which includes a future where vehicles communicate with each other and the infrastructure.

John Barney, vice president-transportation sector for Ericsson, points out Audi’s Traffic Light Information is a good way of showing skeptical taxpayers a real-world technology that could benefit their lives. The vehicle-to-infrastructure technology is on some ’17 Audi A4, allroad and Q7 models sold in Las Vegas. The vehicles, via onboard 4G LTE, receive information from the city’s traffic-management systems and through an in-vehicle display tell drivers how much time remains until a red light changes to green.

“It’s out there (and) it’s easy to point to and helps explain why we’re doing some of these things in a way a non-telematics person will understand,” Barney says.

Audi has said it hopes to go beyond the time-to-green feature and use traffic-management system data in the U.S. to predict the best travel speed to “maximize the number of green lights one can make in a sequence.”

Barney says any infrastructure improvements municipalities are making should be with a future smart world in mind. For instance, he says Ericsson and Philips created a streetlight with hidden small cells for high-speed broadband.

“When you start planning and putting in that infrastructure like streetlights, think about, ‘How can I leverage this piece of infrastructure more so than just as a light?’” Barney says. “It may be a small cell (or) a pollution detector going into that. So you start to build (infrastructure) without it being a big bang (to taxpayers) when you get there.”

All panelists emphasize the need for the public and private sectors to become partners, rather than for the latter to engage in the hard sell.

Any tech company looking to interface with a city’s mobility leadership should be able to show how its technology will improve residents’ lives, says Grayson Brulte, co-chair of Beverly Hills, CA’s Autonomous Vehicle Task Force and a member of the city’s Smart City/Technology committee. “Don’t just say we have the best widget or the best (artificial intelligence),” he says. What can you do to improve (residents’ lives) and how can the mayor and the elected officials go out and sell it to the city of how it’s going to improve (residents’ lives)?”

Says Zipcar’s Justin Holmes, “I spent more of my career in the public sector than the private sector. I used to say stop sending sales people to me.”

From the point of view of Zipcar, the oldest car-sharing service in the U.S. originating in 2000, Holmes, director-corporate communications and public policy, says cities now and in the future best can help the cause of smart mobility by giving car-sharing services access to curb space and right-of-way.

“We partner with cities all around the country to have about 1,000 dedicated parking locations…in a highly visible curb-side location,” Holmes says. “And that’s important for cities because Zipcar’s role and cities are incredibly aligned. Every car we put on the road takes away the need for up to 13 personally owned vehicles. And so that level of investment in curb space is completely aligned with the cities’ vision to help reduce reliance on exclusively personally owned vehicles.”

Similarly, Brulte notes Beverly Hills is evaluating converting valet zones into autonomous-vehicle pick-up and drop-off zones.

But Holmes says investment in existing infrastructure is more of a short-term goal.

“Fast forward to the long term, and cities are going to play a larger role as these arbiters of public spaces, particularly with regards to right-of-way, in ways we have not yet imagined,” he says.

As featured in WardsAuto on June 8, 2017

Uber fires Anthony Levandowski, engineer at center of legal battle with Waymo

Uber has fired Anthony Levandowski, the star engineer at the center of the company’s fight with self-driving rival Waymo.

Levandowski — a former Waymo employee who until recently was leading Uber’s effort to replace human drivers with robot cars — has refused to hand over documents requested by Waymo and a federal court judge in a high-profile legal battle between two Silicon Valley giants. Waymo is part of Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google.

Uber is being accused of stealing Waymo’s self-driving technology. The San Francisco company has denied the allegations.

An Uber spokeswoman said Tuesday that the company’s driverless car program will continue to be run by Eric Meyhofer, who took over from Levandowski in April. Levandowski’s direct reports have been moved to Meyhofer.

“We have been pressing Anthony to comply and assist with our internal investigation for months,” the spokeswoman said. “We set a deadline that he did not meet, and we will not wait for this issue to make its way through the courts.”

The firing represents a milestone of sorts for Uber, which has a reputation for protecting executives who reflect badly on the company.

“This is a clear indication that [Uber Chief Executive] Travis Kalanick has grown up,” driverless industry consultant Grayson Brulte said. “He is evolving into a leader who is owning his mistakes.”

Waymo sued Uber in February, alleging Uber made illegal use of 14,000 documents it says Levandowski stole from Waymo while he was a Waymo employee.

The stakes in the emerging market for semi-autonomous and completely driverless cars are huge. Market forecasters say it’ll become an annual market worth tens to hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade.

Technology companies, traditional automakers and others are fighting for a foothold. Companies that gain proprietary technological advantage will benefit the most.

Waymo, under the Google name, was first out of the gate with a major driverless car project in 2009. Other companies are hoping to catch up with Waymo and then bypass it.

After Levandowski left Waymo, he started his own company: driverless-truck start-up Otto. Uber soon bought Otto, reportedly for $680 million, and put Levandowski in charge of Uber’s driverless project.

Uber has insisted that it developed its driverless technology independently and that it does not possess and has not made use of any stolen material.

Levandowski has refused to turn over the documents or his computer to anyone, citing a 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination. That led the federal judge in the case, William Alsup, to pressure Uber to take action against Levandowski.

“Uber has no excuse under the 5th Amendment to pull any punches as to Levandowski,” the judge said in a written order this month.

Uber then threatened to fire Levandowski if he didn’t comply. Tuesday, Uber announced his termination.

Meanwhile, Uber continues to resist Waymo’s court request to release the term sheets Uber and Levandowski signed when Uber bought Otto last summer.

The Waymo-Uber battle is over a technology called lidar. Considered by most experts as an essential element for driverless cars, lidar uses light beams to identify objects including traffic signs, motor vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians.

Lidar is not a new technology, but engineers are racing to adapt it for automotive use, trying to shrink its size and lower its cost while improving its performance.

Levandowski is widely considered a top figure in driverless vehicle research. Whatever his personal attributes, his knowledge and experience will be hard to replace. Perhaps to compensate, Uber announced this month that it will expand its driverless car research program to Toronto, under Raquel Urtasun, also a highly regarded researcher. Some of the most important breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and machine learning in recent years have emerged from the University of Toronto.

As featured in the May 30, 2017 edition of The Los Angeles Times

Uber Pittsburgh Driverless Deal Sours

Things aren’t looking good for Uber after its driverless experiment in Pittsburgh soured relations with local authorities.

Surprised? Me neither.

The New York Times reports that the ride-sharing company didn’t fulfill their end of the bargain in terms of job creation in low-income neighborhoods. They also charged for driverless rides initially pitched to the city as a free “services for the public.”

Moreover, Uber failed to support Mayor Bill Peduto in his application for federal funding to improve transportation last year. Relations between CEO Travis Kalanick and the mayor soon went south:

When it came to what Uber and what Travis Kalanick wanted, Pittsburgh delivered. But when it came to our vision of how this industry could enhance people, planet and place, that message fell on deaf ears.

Kalanick courted Peduto with the benefits of driverless trials back in 2015. The NYT notes that this wooing period came about after Uber hired a number of talented experts away from the Carnegie Mellon University, much to the annoyance of faculty there.

Kalanick & co. say that their testing was beneficial to the area, creating 675 jobs and helping local facilities. Not that the rumblings of a few dissatisfied officials would stop Uber from achieving its goals. A company statement read:

Uber is proud to have put Pittsburgh on the self-driving map, an effort that included creating hundreds of tech jobs and investing hundreds of millions of dollars. We hope to continue to have a positive presence in Pittsburgh by supporting the local economy and community.

There are currently 60 vacancies being advertised for their Advanced Technology Group in Pittsburgh as of May 22. That is five more openings since Driverless previously reported on their recruitment drive there last month. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Uber are sourcing this talent from Pittsburgh, despite Kalanick’s initial promise.

Driverless have reached out to both Mayor Peduto and Uber for comment. Meanwhile, Grayson Brulte, the co-founder of Brulte & Company, said that both Pittsburgh and Uber were to blame for this fiasco in forgoing a written contract with each other. But he added that trust was the crux of the issue:

When it comes to autonomous vehicles, the biggest issue today is trust. In order to put an individual or a three-year-old in a driverless vehicle, you have to have trust. The way that the Uber/Pittsburgh relation is evolving, it’s eliminating trust.

If Uber said they were going to commit $25 million and it gave their word, honor your word. Don’t come up with an excuse like “we didn’t have enough time.” That’s nonsense. You give your word, you keep your word. And if it costs you $25 million to get good-will to operate in a city, then you do it. — Grayson Brulte

However, Brulte also highlighted that this was just “a bump in the road” in comparison to Uber’s ongoing lawsuit with Waymo.

As featured in Driverless on May 22, 2017

Driverless cars are the future, and the ugly battle to dominate the field is on

It’s big. It’s nasty. It’s the fight for dominance in the burgeoning market for driverless cars — and the service they’ll provide.

Alliances are forming. Competitors are bulking up. The gloves are coming off.

There are accusations of subterfuge. On Monday, U.S. District Judge William Alsup slapped restrictions on ride-hailing giant Uber’s driverless car research in a trade secrets civil lawsuit filed by archfoe Waymo, Google’s autonomous car project.

There are hints of criminality. Last week, the same judge referred Waymo’s allegations that Uber stole its proprietary technology to the U.S. Department of Justice for investigation.

There are questions of commitment. Even as nearly every automaker positions itself for a future of self-driving cars, the board of Ford is putting pressure on Chief Executive Mark Fields to justify his big bet on the driverless future, implying some think it might not be worth the financial risk.

The driverless economy is one few economic sectors with huge growth potential, now that the bloom is fading on consumer electronics.

Tens of billions of dollars are at stake, maybe hundreds of billions, according to market analysts.

“It’s a huge market, but there are a lot of people who feel they have a right to compete — the tech companies, the automakers, the suppliers,” said Mark Wakefield, head of the auto practice at consulting firm AlixPartners.

Add in driverless ride-hailing services, and the total could reach a trillion dollars or more, Tasha Keeney of ARK Invest said.

The most powerful weapon, along with the cash to make use of it, is intellectual property.

“When you own the I.P. for autonomous technology, that’s a huge asset,” Keeney said. “That’s who’s going to own the economics of this market.”

And who stands to gain the most? Whoever is first to market, Keeney said. That’s because data collection is crucial to perfecting robot car technology, and the sooner technology hits the road, the more data stream back to improve the systems.

Which explains the bare-knuckles nature of the Waymo-Uber battle.

Waymo’s suit, filed in February, accuses Uber of knowingly using stolen trade secrets to “cheat” its way into the market.

The judge on Monday ordered Uber to keep Anthony Levandowski, the alleged thief, away from any work on lidar, a light-beam technology considered key to the development of autonomous vehicles.

Levandowski was considered a star in the self-driving industry and key to Uber’s effort to replace human drivers with robot cars. Levandowski left Waymo last year and started Otto, a driverless truck company, where he soon grabbed headlines for testing driverless big rigs in Nevada. In August, Uber bought his company for $680 million and made him head of driverless cars.

Before he left Waymo, Levandowski downloaded 14,000 documents — an action that doesn’t appear to be in dispute. While Waymo claimed 121 trade secrets were stolen, Alsup said in his order Monday that only some of them might have been used by Uber. He cited two examples but most of the detail was blacked out in the public document.

“Uber likely knew or should have known that Levandowski had taken and retained possession of Waymo’s confidential files,” the judge wrote.

The judge rejected Waymo’s request to block Uber’s work on lidar technology — but said it must continue without Levandowski, or any purloined data.

A court-appointed special master will inspect Uber work sites to ensure compliance.

Uber was also ordered to conduct a thorough investigation of the case, including interviews with anyone who might have been involved, and report back to the court June 23.

Alsup dismissed the patent claims and said only “some” of the trade secret claims hold merit.

Uber positioned the order as a victory. “We are pleased with the court’s ruling that Uber can continue building and utilizing all of its self-driving technology, including our innovation around lidar,” a spokeswoman said.

Anything short of shutting down its research could be considered a win for Uber, which has been hammered this year on controversies including a lawsuit claiming workplace harassment and the revelation that it used a program called Grayball to deceive local authorities about how its service was being used.

Replacing its drivers with robots is “existential” to Uber’s future, founder and Chief Executive Travis Kalanick said last year.

“The entity that’s in first, then rolls out a ride-sharing network that is far cheaper or far higher-quality than Uber’s, then Uber is no longer a thing,” he said last year.

Kalanick, meanwhile, will have to prove that he can guide Uber into that driverless future.

Uber will survive, said Evan Rawley, a professor at Columbia Business School. “People want a clean, safe, cheap ride that comes quickly and gets them where they’re going.”

But Kalanick? “The capital markets are not going to be quite as forgiving,” Rawley said. Investors, he said, may “demand a change in strategy and perhaps a change in the executive ranks.”

The private company, valued at $68 billion, is burning cash as it keeps fares low to put pressure on Lyft and other competitors.

Some investors are already growing impatient with Kalanick, who is under pressure to bring in a strong No. 2. After a viral video that showed Kalanick insulting an Uber driver from the back seat of the car, the executive publicly admitted he needs to “fundamentally change as a leader and grow up.”

A criminal investigation in the Waymo case will only darken the clouds hanging over Kalanick. The judge’s Justice Department referral “is not a good sign for Uber,” said Robert Milligan, an attorney at Seyfarth Shaw in Los Angeles. “You don’t normally see a judge make a criminal referral in a trade secrets case.”

“Travis and the Uber board have to come out and own this problem,” said Grayson Brulte, a autonomous vehicle consultant in Beverly Hills.

Kalanick couldn’t have been happy to learn Sunday that archfoes Waymo and Lyft had signed a deal to collaborate on autonomous technology through pilot projects and product development. Already, Lyft and General Motors are using the new Bolt EV as a test vehicle for driverless cars.

Waymo is a leader in driverless technology. Lyft is the No. 2 ride-hailing company in the U.S. GM, which owns a major stake in Lyft, is an automobile manufacturing behemoth.

The partnership underlines the need for Uber to survive the trade-secrets case unscathed. Without an automobile fleet of its own and without competitive driverless technology, all Uber has in the long run is its name recognition — for better or worse — and the passenger data behind its app.

As featured in the May 16, 2017 edition of The Los Angeles Times

Credit Card Companies Boost Interest in Mobility Finance

Mastercard is expanding its relationship with General Motors Co., to allow for online payments for multiple services — including Maven carsharing — evidencing that credit card companies are beginning to understand that mobility finance is the next frontier for revenue.

And those companies that do not collaborate with mobility services will be behind the times, Grayson Brulte, president of Brulte & Co., told Mobility Finance.

Credit card companies are recognizing the financial opportunities within mobility. Mastercard, for example, is involved in many mobile services and even works with Uber and Lyft to help drivers get paid faster, a Mastercard spokesperson told Mobility Finance.

Mastercard and General Motors initially began their partnership in 1992 with the GM Rewards Card program where customers could use their cards for everyday purchases and earn points that could be used toward purchasing a GM vehicle. Now, that partnership has expanded to allow any credit card holder to order and pay for service parts and accessories, Maven carsharing services, OnStar guidance, security and data plans, and OnStar Go, using Mastercard’s payment gateway, the companies announced on Tuesday. The gateway enables fast and secure electronic credit and debit card processing for any major credit card.

For OnStar Go, the idea is that drivers can pay for everyday items from inside their vehicles, through the OnStar Go enabled dashboard.

“The overarching thing you are seeing in the marketplace is when paying for carshare services, ACH [Automated Clearing House] and checks are going away,” Brulte said. “We are moving to a cashless society.”

Transactions involving credit cards or ACH are both electronic funds transfers (EFTs). However, ACH draws on funds in checking or another similar bank account. In theory, there may not be enough money in a person’s account to cover an ACH, while a credit card guarantees funds to the merchant (within a person’s credit limit). With a credit card partnership, mobility companies are setting themselves up for future ongoing payments.

GM will likely roll out an autonomous subscription service based on its Cadillac by Book monthly subscription program, Brulte said. And when it does, it will be based on credit cards — no more ACH bank payments or lease payments.

This is currently seen with partnerships that American Express has with both Uber and Daimler.

“American Express has a longstanding partnership with Uber,” Leah Gerstner, vice president of public affairs and communications for Amex, told Mobility Finance. “Members can earn 2-times Membership Rewards points on U.S. rides when using an eligible American Express Card.”

American Express also has an exclusive in-app experience for its Platinum Card Members, she said, where members receive Uber VIP status automatically and can unlock exclusive perks, discounts, and giveaways where available.

For Daimler, there are two separate American Express programs in the U.S. available through Mercedes-Benz and Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, which both launched in 2011.

And in Germany, Daimler offers a MercedesCard through Visa, which has bonus offers for car2go customers. In this case, car2go is integrated into the MercedesCard where registration and the first ride are free, Mary Beth Halprin, director of corporate communications for Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, told Mobility Finance. Additionally, customers can redeem bonus points for car2go credits in the MercedesCard bonus portal.

“If you go to, and book a car or flight, you get 5-times points,” Brulte said. “Will you see that if you sign up for mobility subscription service? Will you get those bonus points every month? When you start talking 5-times extra points, that’s a healthy way to drive consumer adoption of mobility services.”

As featured in Mobility Finance on May 4, 2017