Amidst the robocar hype, it's easy to forget that for all their powers, computers are still lousy drivers compared to humans. This week, Eric Adams introduced us to the people working to interpret hominid behavior for driving robots. Turns out perception is a remarkable, variegated thing, and cars need to learn how to do all the cool stuff we the fleshy can before performing seamlessly on the road. The same goes for companies. Google parent company Alphabet announced this week it will construct a techified neighborhood in Toronto.
When Elon Musk talks about the future of factory automation at Tesla, he envisions new breeds of robots and smart machines compressed in dense factories with little room for human operators, guided by self-learning software. "At the point at which the factory looks like an "alien dreadnought" -- a nod to a video game spaceship -- "you know you've won," Musk has told investors. But so far, the manufacturing of Tesla's new all-electric compact sedan, the Model 3, at its Fremont, Calif., factory is moving at a more earthbound pace. When Musk launched the car at an elaborate stage show in July, Tesla was anticipating a production rate of 20,000 Model 3s a month by the end of December. Over three months through September, though, Tesla had produced only 260 Model 3s -- about three cars a day.
The US ride-hailing company Lyft has secured a $1bn (£760m) investment from a Google-led consortium, a considerable war chest that will help finance its challenge to Uber in the US – and possibly overseas. The funding round was led by CapitalG (formerly known as Google Capital), the strategic investment arm of Google's corporate parent Alphabet, and takes the valuation of Lyft up to $11bn. That's still a fraction of Uber's market cap, which is somewhere between $50bn and $70bn, but it pegs the company as a major domestic competitor to the trouble-stricken cab firm. Lyft is tight-lipped as to what, precisely, the new funding will be spent on. In a statement announcing the investment round, the company said: "While we've made progress towards our vision, we're most excited about what lies ahead.
In May, Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, discussed AI applications for digital pathology in his keynote speech to an audience of millions at Google's annual I/O event. Five weeks earlier, the FDA announced it had approved the first whole slide imaging system for primary diagnostic use in pathology. Both events point to the future of pathology and laboratory medicine: Software will soon dominate. Over the past 20 years, software has taken over the world. Retail was dominated by Amazon, Netflix put Blockbuster out of business, and Uber used software to take over the taxi industry.
Boeing's venture capital unit HorizonX is continuing its investment in autonomous technologies, recently backing Near Earth Autonomy, a Pittsburgh-based company that develops technologies to enable safe and reliable autonomous flights. The aerospace giant announced the investment on Thursday, but did not disclose the amount it has invested in the company. Near Earth Autonomy, which was spun out of Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, develops software and sensor technology for three-dimensional mapping and survey, motion planning, and landing zone assessment, among others. Its products are aimed at enabling aircraft to operate autonomously. According to a Washington Post report, the company has developed self-piloting surveillance drones that can navigate underground pathways, and is exploring ways for autonomous planes to navigate without reliance on GPS satellites.
But first, Baidu aims to complete a fully self-driving bus--running on a designated route--with a Chinese bus maker by next year. Baidu is hoping its open-source software is more appealing to car makers wary of joining with Waymo, the driverless-car unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc. GOOGL -1.08% Mr. Li said he pitches car makers that Apollo will give them more control of their data and user experience than a closed system like Waymo's. "You have much better control over your destiny," he said. Most industry experts agree, however, that Waymo has the most advanced self-driving technology, which it began developing in 2009.
"The approach that we are taking to that is to control a lot of that system ourselves because it allows us to move more quickly," Mr. Ammann said at The Wall Street Journal's WSJD.Live technology conference here. At first, GM seemed eager to team up. In early 2016, for example, GM announced a $500 million investment in Lyft Inc., where Mr. Ammann sits on the board of directors, and a partnership with the ride-sharing company to develop self-driving vehicles. But now the two companies appear more interested in going it alone. In July, Lyft said it was creating its own autonomous-car development division, and in August, GM said it had begun testing its own ride-hailing app for self-driving cars.
Over the past year, Lyft has picked up market share in some key cities while into pushing into dozens of new U.S. markets, driven in part by carefully-crafted marketing that casts it as the friendlier alternative to Uber. Uber, meanwhile, has been beset by a series of troubling events, including sexual-harassment allegations, the resignation of longtime chief executive Travis Kalanick, a lawsuit between board members and several federal probes into its business operations. It only recently hired a new chief, former Expedia Inc. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who is tasked with filing the company's depleted executive ranks and is already dealing with a regulatory spat in London, one of its biggest markets. Uber is working to nail down a proposed investment from SoftBank that could total as much as $10 billion, including a direct investment of as much as $1.25 billion. On Monday at The Wall Street Journal's WSJD.Live conference, Uber board member Arianna Huffington said she expects the company will resolve the weekslong talks within days.
Next time you're driving down the road or walking down the street, pause to consider how you read your surroundings. How you pay extra attention to the kid kicking a soccer ball around her front lawn and the slightly wobbly, nervous looking cyclist. How you deprioritize the woman striding toward the street, knowing she's heading for the group of friends waving to her from the sidewalk. You make these calls by drawing on a lifetime of social and cultural experience so ingrained you hardly need to think about it. But imagine you're an autonomous car trying to do the same thing, without that accumulated knowledge or the shared humanity that lets you read others' nuanced behavioral cues.
Google has been working on self-driving car technology since 2009, but it wasn't until 2016 that Alphabet spun off the project as its own entity. Around the same time, a member of Google's self-driving car team departed to form his own self-driving vehicle startup, Otto, which Uber then acquired to advance its own self-driving car efforts. Now, Uber and Waymo are embroiled in a heated intellectual property battle as Waymo alleges Otto's co-founder, Anthony Levandowski, stole proprietary information and used it while heading up Uber's self-driving car project. Uber fired Levandowski in May after he refused to cooperate with the lawsuit.