Mixed progress on self-driving cars

Read an article the other day on the progress in self-driving cars in NewsAtlas (DMV reports self-driving cars are learning — fast). More details are available from their source (CA [California] DMV [Dept. of Motor Vehicles] report).

The article reported on what’s called disengagement events that occurred on CA roads. This is where a driver has to take over from the self-driving automation to deal with a potential mis-queue, mistake, or accident.

Waymo (Google) way out ahead

It appears as if Waymo, Google’s self-driving car spin out, is way ahead of the pack. It reported only 124 disengages for 636K mi (~1M km) or ~1 disengage every ~5.1K mi (~8K km). This is ~4.3X better rate than last year, 1 disengage for every ~1.2K mi (1.9K km).

Competition far behind

Below I list some comparative statistics (from the DMV/CA report, noted above), sorted from best to worst:

  • BMW: 1 disengage 638 mi (1027 km)
  • Ford: 3 disengages for 590 mi (~950 km) or 1 disengage every ~197 mi (~317 km);
  • Nissan: 23 disengages for 3.3K mi (3.5K km) or 1 disengage every ~151 mi (~243 km)
  • Cruise (GM) automation: had 181 disengagements for ~9.8K mi (~15.8K km) or 1 disengage every ~54 mi (~87 km)
  • Delphi: 149 disengages for ~3.1K mi (~5.0K km) or 1 disengage every ~21 mi (~34 km);

There was no information on previous years activities so no data on how competitors had improved over the last year.

Please note: the report only applies to travel on California (CA) roads. Other competitors are operating in other countries and other states (AZ, PA, & TX to name just a few). However, these rankings may hold up fairly well when combined with other state/country data. Thousand(s) of kilometers should be adequate to assess self-driving cars disengagement rates.

Waymo moving up the (supply chain) stack

In addition, according to a Recode, (The Google car was supposed to disrupt the car industry) article, Waymo is moving from a (self-driving automation) software supplier to a hardware and software supplier to the car industry.

Apparently, Google has figured out how to reduce their sensor (hardware) costs by a factor of 10X, bringing the sensor package down from $75K to $7.5K, (most probably due to a cheaper way to produce Lidar sensors – my guess).

So now Waymo is doing about ~65 to ~1000 X more (CA road) miles than any competitor, has a much (~8 to ~243 X) better disengage rate and is  moving to become a major auto supplier in both hardware and software.

It’s going to be an interesting century.

If the 20th century was defined by the emergence of the automobile, the 21st will probably be defined by dominance of autonomous operations.


Photo credits: Substance E′TS; and Waymo on the road


Just in time for Xmas, Amazon uses >30K robots for fulfillment

Picker4And you thought Santa needed helpers. A recent ArsTechnica article (Sprawling? Pssht–no one streamlines … like Amazon) I read indicated that Amazon’s 13 USA fulfillment centers deploy over 30,000 robots of one type or another.

A video on an 8th generation fulfillment center in another story (Amazon unveils its 8th Gen fulfillment center) is pretty amazing. There are these Kiva bots which pull up underneath a rack stand which is full of products, pushes up and then moves the whole stand to where a person is ready to pick out products for various orders. The products are put into a bin, the bins are shipped down a conveyer belt to some one who packs them into cardboard and sends them off on another conveyer belt for shipping.

Come on everybody, do the conga…

The Kiva robots looked like a conga line, going every which way with a rack of product shelves on top of them. The only other robots was a pallet handling robot in the video that lifted a pallet of packages up to a 2nd-3rd story floor for shipment.

business-21755_1920All this has certainly come a long way since I was a manufacturing company shipping clerk. Where I worked there was a conveyer belt that delivered materials that had to be picked and placed into handmade cardboard boxes and then placed on pallets which were then moved by people driving electronic fork trucks to inventory or shipping docks. But we really only had to package one product at a time and the conveyer belts (or manufacturing line) would be reconfigured for every new product that needed to be shipped.

Fulfillment centers evolving

In the book The Everything Store, about the rise of Amazon, there was a description what must have been Gen 1 of their fulfillment centers. These centers contained old door panels on saw horses as tables, with shelves upon shelves, packed with books. People were running around, rummaging through the shelves to fulfill orders in their hands.

Somewhere in the middle of this evolution, Gen 4 perhaps, people were getting burded out. There was talk of people being so stressed out fulfilling orders at one center (Allentown, PA, see the Amazon Effect) that they were falling sick and that ambulances were stationed at the fulfillment center parking lots waiting for people to get sick–must have been Christmas rush.

The Gen 8 center in the video was nothing like this. If anything the people were relaxed and stayed at one place all the time, while the Kiva conga line fed them shelves of products to pick from. In the video I hardly saw any movement whatsoever other than Kiva robots and their rack loads, bins&packages on conveyer belts, or pallets of material being lifted/moved by a robot.

Fulfillment as an AWS service?

The ArsTechnica article talked more about how all AWS services are typically deployed and debugged for in house uses long before they get out to AWS customers at large. I don’t see Amazon offering fulfillment center logistics services yet but maybe I am missing something.

Then again, with Gen 9 fulfillment center, coming next year to Seattle, possibly they aren’t through tweaking it yet. No doubt a lot of AWS services are being burned to keep the fulfillment centers, literally “rolling” along.


Photo Credits: Businesswire.com and Pixabay.com