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WE’VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT SELF-DRIVING CAR SAFETY ALL WRONG

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Until a self-driving Uber killed 49-year-old pedestrian Elaine Herzberg in March, autonomous vehicle tech felt like a pure success story. A hot, new space where engineers could shake the world with software, saving lives and banking piles of cash. But after the deadly crash, nagging doubts became questions asked out loud. How exactly do these self-driving things work? How safe are they? And who’s to guarantee that companies building them are being truthful?

Of course, the technology is hard to explain, much less pull off. That’s why employees with the necessary robotics experience are raking in huge paychecks, and also why there are no firm federal rules governing the self-driving car testing on public roads. This fall, the Department of Transportation restated its approach to AVs in updated federal guidelines, which amounts to: We won’t pick technology winners and losers, but we would like companies to submit lengthy brochures on their approaches to safety. Just five developers (Waymo, GM, Ford, Nvidia, and Nuro) have taken the feds up on the offer.

Into this vacuum has stepped another public-facing metric, one that’s easy to understand: how many miles the robots have driven. For the past few years, Waymo has regularly trumpeted significant odometer roll-overs, most recently hitting its 10 millionth mile on public roads. It’s done another 7 billion in simulation, where virtual car systems are run over and over again through situations captured on real streets, and slightly varied iterations of those situations (that’s called fuzzing). Internal Uber documents uncovered by the New York Times suggest the ride-hailing company tracked its own self-driving efforts via miles traveled. It’s not just companies, either: Media outlets (like this one!) have used miles tested as a stand-in for AV dominance.

If practice makes perfect, the more practice your robot has, the closer it must be to perfect, right? Nope.
“Miles traveled standing alone is not a particularly insightful measure if you don’t understand what the context of those miles were,” says Noah Zych, the head of system safety at the Uber

Advanced Technologies Group. “You need to know, ‘What situations was the vehicle encountering? What were the situations that the vehicle was expected to be able to handle? What was the objective of the testing in those areas? Was it to collect data? Was it to prove that the system was able to handle those scenarios? Or was it to just run a number up?”

Think about a driver’s license exam: You don’t just drive around for a few miles and get a certificate if you don’t crash. The examiner puts you through your paces: left turns across traffic, parallel parking, perfectly executed stop sign halts. And to live up to their promises, AVs have to be much, much better than the humans who pass those tests—and kill more than a million people every year.

Waymo, which has driven more miles than anyone and plans to launch a commercial autonomous ride-hailing service this year, says it agrees. “It’s not just about racking up number of miles, but the quality and challenges presented within those miles that make them valuable,” says spokesperson Liz Markman. She says Waymo also keeps a firm eye on how many miles it’s driving in simulation.

Another safety benchmark used in media coverage and policy discussions of AVs are “disengagements”—that is, when a car comes out of autonomous mode. In California, companies must note and eventually report every instance of disengagement. (They are also required to file an accident report for every crash incident, be it a fender-bender, rear-end, or being slapped by a pedestrian.) Developers say disengagements are an even crappier way to measure safety than checking the odometer.

“If you’re learning, you expect to be disengaging the system,” says Chris Urmson, the CEO of self-driving outfit Aurora, who led Google’s effort for years (before it took on the name Waymo).

“Disengagement rates are inversely correlated with how much you’re learning. During development, they are inversely correlated with progress.”1 Urmson and others argue California’s reporting requirements actually disincentivize pushing your system to evolve by taking on harder problems. You look better—to the public and public officials parsing those numbers—if you test your cars in situations where it’s less likely to disengage. The easy stuff.

So the way we’re talking about safety for self-driving cars right now is not great. Is there a better way?

Earlier this month, the RAND Corporation, a policy think-tank, released a 91-page report on the concept of safety in AVs. (Uber funded the study. The ride-hailing company and RAND say the report was written and peer-reviewed by company- and tech-neutral researchers.) It details a new sort of framework for the testing, demonstration, and then deployment of AVs, a more rigorous way to prove out safety to regulators and the skeptical public.

The report advocates for more formal separations between those stages, disclosures about how exactly the technology works in specific environments and situations, and a moment of transparency during the demonstration period, as the companies prepare to make money off their labors. And for a new term, called “roadmanship”, a metric that seeks to more fully capture how AVs are playing with other actors on public roads.

And in doing so, the report seeks to be a launch pad for understandable, less opaque language about self-driving cars—language that companies, and regulators, and the public can use to talk, seriously, about the technology’s safety as it develops.

The problem, of course, is that autonomous vehicle developers are worried about sharing anything. RAND, which interviewed companies, regulators, and researchers for the report, “had to convince people that we were not going after anything proprietary or highly sensitive,” says Marjory Blumenthal, a RAND policy analyst who led the project. And that’s just to collect information about methods of collecting information! Now imagine getting all those mistrusting players to agree on safety framework that requires them to be much more transparent with each other than they are right now.

But safety advocates argue such a framework is badly needed. “Most people, when they talk about safety, it’s ‘Try not to hit something,’” says Phil Koopman, who studies self-driving car safety as an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University. “In the software safety world, that’s just basic functionality. Real safety is, ‘Does it really work?’ Safety is about the one kid the software might have missed, not about the 99 it didn’t.” For autonomous vehicles, simply being a robot that drives won’t be enough. They have to prove that they’re better than humans, almost all of the time.

Koopman believes that international standards are needed, the same kind with which aviation software builders have to comply. And he wishes federal regulators would demand more information from self-driving vehicle developers, the way some states do now. Aurora, for example, had to tell Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation about its safety driver training process before receiving the state’s first official authorization to test its cars on its public roads.

The companies should want to come together on firmer rules, too. Blumenthal says firm and easy to understand safety standards could help the companies in inevitable legal cases, and when they stand in the court of public opinion.

“When you have different paths taken by different developers, it makes it hard,” Blumenthal says. “There’s a demand for a common reference point so the public can understand what’s going on.” Safety, it turns out, is good for everyone.

Source: https://www.wired.com/story/self-driving-cars-safety-metrics-miles-disengagements/

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Uber, lyft and other taxis

Lyft Is Another Step Closer to Driverless Ridesharing

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Ridesharing company Lyft (NASDAQ: LYFT) inched a little bit closer toward self-driving ridesharing last week when it said in a blog post that it’s adding Chrysler Pacifica hybrids to its autonomous vehicle (AV) testing fleet and opening a new self-driving vehicle test facility.

The new facility, located in East Palo Alto, California, will allow the company to increase the number of AV tests it can run. It will also let the company test how the systems do with different road configurations, including intersections, merging lanes, traffic lights, and similar challenges. The company said in the post that the new facility will let Lyft “further accelerate the speed of innovation.”

Lyft says that it’s driving four times more autonomous miles per quarter than it was just six months ago and has about 400 employees worldwide working on self-driving tech. That figure is likely to expand, considering that Lyft has more than 40 autonomous vehicle job openings listed on its website.

In addition to the new facility, Lyft said that it’s adding Pacifica minivans to its AV fleet, which is the same vehicle that Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving car company, uses for its public self-driving ridesharing project and AV tests. Lyft said that, “The minivan’s size and functionality provide our team with significant flexibility to experiment with the self-driving rideshare experience.”

Why does all this matter for Lyft’s autonomous-vehicle future? Because to have a successful, public self-driving ridesharing fleet in the coming years, Lyft needs to lay the groundwork right now.

Isn’t Lyft already doing AV testing?

Lyft is, of course, already working on AV testing. The company’s original self-driving test facility has been up and running since early 2018. The company also started a partnership with Waymo earlier this year to test autonomous ridesharing. Additionally, Lyft also works with Aptiv, an AV tech company, and together they’ve created “the largest publicly available commercial self-driving program in the country” and have completed more than 75,000 rides through the partnership.

But the recent announcements by Lyft show that the company is taking its AV focus a bit further. The Pacifica minivans have been used by Waymo’s AV ridesharing program in Phoenix for more than a year now, making them a proven choice for shuttling around ride-hailing passengers. Lyft may not be ready to launch a wide-scale autonomous ridesharing service just yet, but testing out these vehicles likely means that it’s moving past earlier stages of AV testing and is now looking at how its next-generation self-driving tech can handle new vehicles.

Why this matters for Lyft

Lyft and other ride-hailing companies, including Uber, are keeping a close eye on self-driving developments and testing out the technologies themselves because it could eventually become an integral part of their business model. Research from Intel predicts that the AV ridesharing market could be worth $3.7 trillion by 2050.

Additionally, as regulations surrounding ridesharing drivers continue to increase, Lyft is likely looking to AVs to eventually replace some human drivers. Just a few months ago, the state of California introduced a bill that could pave the way for independent contractors, including Lyft’s drivers, to be reclassified as employees. If a version of the bill becomes law and other states follow California’s lead, it could significantly increase operating costs for Lyft. That could be bad news for the company, which is unprofitable right now and hoping to be in the black just two years from now.

While Lyft’s announcements may not seem all that significant right now, investors should know that these baby steps moving the company closer to AV ridesharing could have huge results in the coming years. For now, investors should be pleased that Lyft is beefing up its own AV testing. Each move the company makes now means that it’ll be much more ready for a self-driving ridesharing future.

Source www.nasdaq.com

By Chris Neiger

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Uber, lyft and other taxis

Uber fined $650 million by New Jersey over driver classification

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New Jersey is the latest state to say Uber’s drivers should be classified as employees rather than independent contractors. The state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development said that because of this misclassification, the ride-hailing company owes it roughly $650 million in unemployment taxes and disability insurance, according to Bloomberg Law.

The Department of Labor reportedly has been trying to get unpaid employment taxes from Uber going back as far as 2015, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg Law. It said the company owed the state $523 million in overdue taxes along with another $119 million in interest and penalties for the last four years. Uber disputes these findings.

“We are challenging this preliminary but incorrect determination,” an Uber spokesman said in an email. “Because drivers are independent contractors in New Jersey and elsewhere.”

Driver classification is an issue that government regulators have been taking a closer look at over the past year. California passed a law in September that could require Uber and other on-demand companies to reclassify their drivers as employees instead of independent contractors. The law is set to go into effect Jan. 1. New York, Oregon and Washington state have considered similar legislation.

Uber, Lyft and several other tech companies have vowed to fight the California law, collectively putting more than $90 million behind a ballot initiative that’ll take the issue to voters next November. Many drivers have said this move is a slap in the face as they struggle to earn a living wage.

Uber’s and Lyft’s business models depend on bringing aboard hundreds of thousands of independent contractors, whose labor is typically cheaper than that of employees. That’s because Uber and Lyft drivers supply and maintain their own cars and also pay for their own health care and benefits, such as sick days or overtime pay.New Jersey is the latest state to say Uber’s drivers should be classified as employees rather than independent contractors. The state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development said that because of this misclassification, the ride-hailing company owes it roughly $650 million in unemployment taxes and disability insurance, according to Bloomberg Law.

The Department of Labor reportedly has been trying to get unpaid employment taxes from Uber going back as far as 2015, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg Law. It said the company owed the state $523 million in overdue taxes along with another $119 million in interest and penalties for the last four years. Uber disputes these findings.

“We are challenging this preliminary but incorrect determination,” an Uber spokesman said in an email. “Because drivers are independent contractors in New Jersey and elsewhere.”

Driver classification is an issue that government regulators have been taking a closer look at over the past year. California passed a law in September that could require Uber and other on-demand companies to reclassify their drivers as employees instead of independent contractors. The law is set to go into effect Jan. 1. New York, Oregon and Washington state have considered similar legislation.

Uber, Lyft and several other tech companies have vowed to fight the California law, collectively putting more than $90 million behind a ballot initiative that’ll take the issue to voters next November. Many drivers have said this move is a slap in the face as they struggle to earn a living wage.

Uber’s and Lyft’s business models depend on bringing aboard hundreds of thousands of independent contractors, whose labor is typically cheaper than that of employees. That’s because Uber and Lyft drivers supply and maintain their own cars and also pay for their own health care and benefits, such as sick days or overtime pay.

 

“New Jersey is sending a message that the state’s labor laws aren’t dictated by corporations,” Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, said in a statement. “It’s a stinging rebuke of the architects of the gig economy, and we hope it permeates across other sectors.”

Even if Uber’s drivers were determined to be employees rather than independent contractors, Uber said the $650 million New Jersey tax fine would be too high — particularly if it’s based on what the company has earned in the state. Uber didn’t disclose the revenue it generated in New Jersey over the past four years, but its combined revenue for all the markets where it operated in 2018 was $11.3 billion.

 

 

 

Source www.cnet.com

By Dara Kerr

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Adams Clinical removes hurdle to clinical trial participation

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How Adams Clinical increased retention and streamlined operations by switching to Uber.

One of the hardest parts of conducting a clinical trial is identifying willing participants. Once a participant is identified, strict qualifications and an often-lengthy time commitment limits who can participate, and a lack of access to transportation can make it difficult for participants to commit to and complete the study. To help improve recruitment and retention rates, Adams Clinical offered taxi rides to their participants. However, this solution became a burden on operational efficiency since taxis were only accessible to participants who lived close by and required the staff to pay at the end of each ride.

Finding the perfect transportation solution with Uber Health

To expand their transportation offering, Adams Clinical became an early beta partner with Uber in 2016. The team started using Uber’s web dashboard to arrange and pay for rides for participants with just a few clicks. Over the three years of this partnership, the switch to Uber Health simplified operational management, while reducing time spent on recruitment with increased retention rates. The easy-to-use Uber Health dashboard tracked all the rides and processed payments from one centralized interface, allowing the staff to arrange rides without the hassle of paying at the end of each trip. This flexibility, plus the extensive reach of Uber driver-partners in the Boston area, provided Adams Clinical with the transportation solution needed to successfully manage their participants in need of rides—which removed the headache from recruiting and retaining their study participants.

The result: Improved retention rates, simplified financial records, and an overall lift in team morale

By teaming with Uber Health, Adams Clinical enjoys a number of key benefits including:

• Expanded Recruitment—Using Uber Health cut down the length of enrollment by providing a larger pool to recruit from, resulting in a 5 to 10 percent reduction in recruitment time over the last two years. 

• Centralized Billing—All rides are charged to one company credit card, which is then processed at the end of each month to streamline the amount of administrative effort required.

• Reliable Service—Each ride is tracked in the dashboard so the team knows when the participant will be arriving to help keep the rest of the study on schedule.

• Improved Retention—In the first two years of the partnership with Uber, Adams Clinical estimated up to 20 percent fewer people dropped out of a trial when transportation was arranged to and from the clinic.

• Financial Accountability—Details for each ride are available in the dashboard, and can be downloaded to a spreadsheet, offering convenient management with trial-specific reporting per participant.

• Easy to Use—Using Uber Health has been easy for both staff and participants, even among populations without smartphones or passengers new to Uber.

 

by Kendall Brown

Source uber.com

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