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The Costly Pursuit of Self-Driving Cars Continues On. And On. And On.

It was seven years ago when Waymo discovered that spring blossoms made its self-driving cars get twitchy on the brakes. So did soap bubbles. And road flares.

New tests, in years of tests, revealed more and more distractions for the driverless cars. Their road skills improved, but matching the competence of human drivers was elusive. The cluttered roads of America, it turned out, were a daunting place for a robot.

The wizards of Silicon Valley said people would be commuting to work in self-driving cars by now. Instead, there have been court fights, injuries and deaths, and tens of billions of dollars spent on a frustratingly fickle technology that some researchers say is still years from becoming the industry’s next big thing.

Now the pursuit of autonomous cars is undergoing a reset. Companies like Uber and Lyft, worried about blowing through their cash in pursuit of autonomous technology, have tapped out. Only the most deep pocketed outfits like Waymo, which is a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, auto industry giants, and a handful of start-ups are managing to stay in the game.

said that fully functional self-driving cars were just two years away. More than five years later, Tesla cars offered simpler autonomy designed solely for highway driving. Even that has been tinged with controversy after several fatal crashes (which the company blamed on misuse of the technology).

Perhaps no company experienced the turbulence of driverless car development more fitfully than Uber. After poaching 40 robotics experts from Carnegie Mellon University and acquiring a self-driving truck start-up for $680 million in stock, the ride-hailing company settled a lawsuit from Waymo, which was followed by a guilty plea from a former executive accused of stealing intellectual property. A pedestrian in Arizona was also killed in a crash with one of its driverless cars. In the end, Uber essentially paid Aurora to acquire its self-driving unit.

But for the most deep-pocketed companies, the science, they hope, continues to advance one improved ride at a time. In October, Waymo reached a notable milestone: It launched the world’s first “fully autonomous” taxi service. In the suburbs of Phoenix, Ariz., anyone can now ride in a minivan with no driver behind the wheel. But that does not mean the company will immediately deploy its technology in other parts of the country.

Dmitri Dolgov, who recently took over as Waymo’s co-chief executive after the departure of John Krafcik, an automobile industry veteran, said the company considers its Arizona service a test case. Based on what it has learned in Arizona, he said, Waymo is building a new version of its self-driving technology that it will eventually deploy in other geographies and other kinds of vehicles, including long-haul trucks.

The suburbs of Phoenix are particularly well suited to driverless cars. Streets are wide, pedestrians are few and there is almost no rain or snow. Waymo supports its autonomous vehicles with remote technicians and roadside assistance crews who can help get cars out of a tight spot, either via the internet or in person.

“Autonomous vehicles can be deployed today, in certain situations,” said Elliot Katz, a former lawyer who counseled many of the big autonomous vehicle companies before launching a start-up, Phantom Auto, that provides software for remotely assisting and operating self-driving vehicles when they get stuck in difficult positions. “But you still need a human in the loop.”

Self-driving tech is not yet nimble enough to reliably handle the variety of situations human drivers encounter each day. They can usually handle suburban Phoenix, but they can’t duplicate the human chutzpah needed for merging into the Lincoln Tunnel in New York or dashing for an offramp on Highway 101 in Los Angeles.

“You have to peel back every layer before you can see the next layer” of challenges for the technology, said Nathaniel Fairfield, a Waymo software engineer who has worked on the project since 2009, in describing some of the distractions faced by the cars. “Your car has to be pretty good at driving before you can really get it into the situations where it handles the next most challenging thing.”

Like Waymo, Aurora is now developing autonomous trucks as well as passenger vehicles. No company has deployed trucks without safety drivers behind the wheel, but Mr. Urmson and others argue that autonomous trucks will make it to market faster than anything designed to transport regular consumers.

Long-haul trucking does not involve passengers who might not be forgiving of twitchy brakes. The routes are also simpler. Once you master one stretch of highway, Mr. Urmson said, it is easier to master another. But even driving down a long, relatively straight highway is extraordinarily difficult. Delivering dinner orders across a small neighborhood is an even greater challenge.

“This is one of the biggest technical challenges of our generation,” said Dave Ferguson, another early engineer on the Google team who is now president of Nuro, a company focused on delivering groceries, pizzas and other goods.

Mr. Ferguson said that many thought self-driving technology would improve like an internet service or a smartphone app. But robotics is a lot more challenging. It was wrong to claim anything else.

“If you look at almost every industry that is trying to solve really really difficult technical challenges, the folks that tend to be involved are a little bit crazy and little bit optimistic,” he said. “You need to have that optimism to get up everyday and bang your head against the wall to try to solve a problem that has never been solved, and it’s not guaranteed that it ever will be solved.”

Uber and Lyft aren’t entirely giving up on driverless cars. Even though it may not help the bottom line for a long time, they still want to deploy autonomous vehicles by partnering with the companies that are still working on the technology. Lyft now says autonomous rides could arrive by 2023.

“These cars will be able to operate on a limited set of streets under a limited set of weather conditions at certain speeds,” said Jody Kelman, the executive of Lyft. “We will very safely be able to deploy these cars, but they won’t be able to go that many places.”

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Deliveroo Heads to I.P.O. as Challenges Pile Up

LONDON — The initial public offering for Deliveroo, the Amazon-backed food delivery service, is set to be Britain’s biggest this year, giving the company an initial market value of 7.6 billion pounds, or $10.4 billion. But the listing, whose announcement was quickly heralded as a post-Brexit victory for London’s financial sector, has since been rocked by accusations of poor pay for Deliveroo riders.

Major investors, meanwhile, said they would sit out the offering.

Trading is set to begin on Wednesday, with shares priced at £3.90 a share, the bottom of the target range that originally was as high as £4.60. Earlier this week the company said that it wanted to price the shares “responsibly” and that it had received “very significant demand” from investors.

Deliveroo, which is based in London and was founded in 2013, is now in 12 countries and has over 100,000 riders, recognizable on the streets by their teal jackets and food bags. Last year, Amazon became its biggest shareholder with a 16 percent stake, which will drop to 11.5 percent after the I.P.O. The Deliveroo listing is the latest test for gig economy companies, whose business model is increasingly under threat in Europe as legal challenges mount.

Two weeks ago, Uber reclassified more than 70,000 drivers in Britain as workers who will receive a minimum wage, vacation pay and access to a pension plan, after a Supreme Court ruling. Analysts said the move could set a precedent for other companies and increase costs. In mainland Europe, where Deliveroo also operates, the European Commission is reviewing the legal status of gig economy workers.

a joint investigation by the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism was published based on invoices of hundreds of Deliveroo riders. It found that a third of the riders made less than £8.72 an hour, the national minimum wage for people over 25.

Deliveroo dismissed the report, calling the union a “fringe organization” that didn’t represent a significant number of Deliveroo riders. The company said that riders were paid for each delivery and earn “£13 per hour on average at our busiest times.” In Britain, Deliveroo has 50,000 riders.

“Our way of working is designed around what riders tell us matters to them most — flexibility,” Deliveroo said in response to the investigation.

DoorDash, the American food delivery company, went public in December to much fanfare. Its share price jumped 86 percent on the first day of trading, closing at $189.51. On Monday, DoorDash stock closed at $129.98.

Some of Britain’s largest asset managers, including Legal & General Investment Management, which manages more than £1.2 trillion in assets, have said they will sit out the I.P.O. amid concerns about shareholder voting rights and worker rights. Like many start-up companies, Deliveroo will have two classes of shares, which for as long as three years will give William Shu, a co-founder and the chief executive, 57 percent of the voting rights.

The offering has prompted a debate over whether companies with dual-class shares should be allowed to join the “premium listings” section of the London Stock Exchange, which would permit them to be part of indexes like the FTSE 100, forcing many index funds to buy them.

While the New York Stock Exchange and other major exchanges allow this kind of privilege to dual-class companies (consider Google or Facebook), the London exchange does not — although some would like it to.

Legal & General said it was urging Britain’s financial regulator to preserve the rule keeping dual-class companies out of the premium listings.

This would protect smaller investors “against potential poor management behavior, that could lead to value destruction and avoidable investor loss,” the asset manager said. This year has also brought “increasing signs of countries and governments reviewing the gig economy status.”

But a recent review of Britain’s listings rules that has been embraced by the government recommended that companies with dual-class shares be allowed into the premium listings, with some restrictions. The review is part of a series of efforts by the Treasury to find ways to enhance London’s appeal as a global financial center, after Britain’s divorce from the European Union sent some trading activity to cities like New York and Amsterdam. One of the Treasury’s goals is to make the London stock market more appealing to tech companies after a dearth of major listings in recent years.

Rishi Sunak, said that it was a “fantastic” decision and that Deliveroo was a “true British tech success story.”

“The U.K. is one of the best places in the world to start, grow and list a business — and we’re determined to build on this reputation now we’ve left the E.U.,” Mr. Sunak said.

Michael J. de la Merced contributed reporting.

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In a First, Uber Agrees to Classify British Drivers as ‘Workers’

LONDON — For years, Uber has successfully deployed armies of lawyers and lobbyists around the world to fight attempts to reclassify drivers as company workers entitled to higher wages and benefits rather than lower-cost, self-employed freelancers.

Now the ride-hailing giant is retreating from that hard-line stance in Britain, one of its most important markets, after a major legal defeat.

On Tuesday, Uber said it would reclassify more than 70,000 drivers in Britain as workers who will receive a minimum wage, vacation pay and access to a pension plan. The decision, Uber said, is the first time the company has agreed to classify its drivers in this way, and it comes in response to a landmark British Supreme Court decision last month that said Uber drivers were entitled to more protections.

The decision represents a shift for Uber, though the move was made easier by British labor rules that offer a middle ground between freelancers and full employees that doesn’t exist in other countries. That middle ground makes it unclear whether Uber will change its stance elsewhere. More labor battles are coming in the European Union, where policymakers are considering tougher labor regulations of gig-economy companies, as well as in the United States.

employee,” which includes paternity and maternity leave and severance pay if dismissed, among other benefits.

Britain’s minimum wage for people over 25 years old will be 8.91 pounds, or about $12.40.

For vacation, drivers will receive 12 percent of their earnings, paid out every two weeks, a calculation set by the government.

Uber did not disclose how much the reclassification of British drivers would increase its costs, but it said in a regulatory filing that it did not alter the company’s target of becoming profitable this year. London is one of Uber’s five largest markets, and Britain accounts for about 6.4 percent of the company’s total gross bookings.

Jamie Heywood, Uber’s regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, put pressure on other ride-hailing companies to adopt similar policies in Britain.

“Uber is just one part of a larger private-hire industry, so we hope that all other operators will join us in improving the quality of work for these important workers who are an essential part of our everyday lives,” he said in the statement.

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In First, Uber Agrees to Classify British Drivers as ‘Workers’

LONDON — For years, Uber has successfully deployed armies of lawyers and lobbyists around the world to fight attempts to reclassify drivers as company workers entitled to higher wages and benefits rather than lower-cost, self-employed freelancers.

Now the ride-hailing giant is retreating from that hard-line stance in Britain, one of its most important markets, after a major legal defeat.

On Tuesday, Uber said it would reclassify more than 70,000 drivers in Britain as workers who will receive a minimum wage, vacation pay and access to a pension plan. The decision, Uber said, is the first time the company has agreed to classify its drivers in this way, and it comes in response to a landmark British Supreme Court decision last month that said Uber drivers were entitled to more protections.

The decision represents a shift for Uber, though the move was made easier by British labor rules that offer a middle ground between freelancers and full employees that doesn’t exist in other countries. That middle ground makes it unclear whether Uber will change its stance elsewhere. More labor battles are coming in the European Union, where policymakers are considering tougher labor regulations of gig-economy companies, as well as in the United States.

employee,” which includes paternity and maternity leave and severance pay if dismissed, among other benefits.

Britain’s minimum wage for people over 25 years old will be 8.91 pounds, or about $12.40.

For vacation, drivers will receive 12 percent of their earnings, paid out every two weeks, a calculation set by the government.

Uber did not disclose how much the reclassification of British drivers would increase its costs, but it said in a regulatory filing that it did not alter the company’s target of becoming profitable this year. London is one of Uber’s five largest markets, and Britain accounts for about 6.4 percent of the company’s total gross bookings.

Jamie Heywood, Uber’s regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, put pressure on other ride-hailing companies to adopt similar policies in Britain.

“Uber is just one part of a larger private-hire industry, so we hope that all other operators will join us in improving the quality of work for these important workers who are an essential part of our everyday lives,” he said in the statement.

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