Test In The City Or In The Suburbs?

In Forbes.com today, I wrote about the trade-offs between testing autonomous vehicles in urban versus suburban environments.

Chinese startup WeRide recently shared that, by its measurements, testing in Guangzhou, China, is thirty times more efficient than testing in Silicon Valley.

“The comparison between Guangzhou and Silicon Valley is pertinent to other self-driving operations, which have to consider where to test. Many self-driving car companies, including Waymo, have focused their operations on relatively favorable geofenced locations, such as Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Silicon Valley. In these areas, a combination of sunny weather, wide streets, and good infrastructure helps the programs progress.”

Lots more in the full post.


John Krafcik, the CEO of Google’s self-driving car subsidiary, just announced that Google is opening a large facility in Novi, Michigan.

This makes sense for the same reasons that almost all car manufacturers now have Silicon Valley offices. A wide array of people and companies that Google would like to work with are Michigan-based.

Amid all the speculation of whether Detroit or Silicon Valley will win the car war, it’s worth considering that maybe they’re both around for the long haul. Detroit could remain the manufacturing center of America, with Silicon Valley becoming a center of automotive software development. A lot of companies would maintain facilities in both areas.

The major exception to this trend is Tesla. As far as I know, Tesla does not have a large Michigan presence. That raises the question of how well Tesla can collaborate with all of the partners that Google is hoping to reach by being in Michigan themselves.

NHTSA Hearing in Silicon Valley

Yesterday the National Highway Transportation Safety Board held a hearing on autonomous vehicles on the campus of Stanford University.

This appears to be mostly an information-gathering hearing, and I haven’t seen a lot of headline-grabbing news originating from the event.

What encourages me, though, is that the hearing was held in Silicon Valley.

I grew up near Washington, DC, and my wife has worked various stints for the federal government, so I have some familiarity with its strengths and weaknesses.

One of the strengths of the federal government is the quality of the people who aspire to work there. That is particularly true at senior levels, where appointees and staffers have substantial power, but it’s really true up and down the federal bureaucracy.

One of the weaknesses, however, is how Washington-centric the government can be. All three branches of government are located in DC. The senior bureaucracy, and much of the lower-level bureaucracy, is located in the DC-area as well.

Particularly outside of the most senior positions, the federal government is staffed largely by people who come from the DC area or who have lived in the DC area for years. It’s inevitable — those are the people who happen to be around when a vacancy opens.

And those are good people, but sometimes the rest of the country can contribute a little bit of diversity in viewpoint and experience.

So it’s nice to see the NHTSA escaping the DC bubble and visiting the rest of the country.

Innovator’s Dilemma


is surging ahead in the autonomous vehicle race.

The traditional, Innovator’s Dilemma model of the market suggests that Mercedes would be outflanked by technology upstarts. The upstarts, unencumbered by existing product lines and revenue streams, will be able to focus completely on the autonomous vehicle market.

The prescription for managing this is for Mercedes to open up an “internal startup”, in a separate geographic location.

Lo and behold, Re/code reports:

The company began with a brief history of its German founders. They were cast as disrupters before their time, birthing the automobile industry nearly a century ago “Silicon Valley-style.” That enterprising streak, the company continued, made it the first big carmaker to set up a research headquarters here in 1995.

Originally published at www.davidincalifornia.com on November 26, 2015.


Ford is testing its autonomous vehicles in a simulated city in Michigan, named “Mcity”.

“Every mile driven there can represent 10, 100 or 1,000 miles of on-road driving in terms of our ability to pack in the occurrences of difficult events.”

Of course, note that this is similar to the difference between testing in a test harness, and testing in the real world, where users and the environment crazy things that the test designers never imagined.

Nonetheless, it’s an advantage that Michigan has over Silicon Valley when it comes to developing products for the non-digital world. Mcity is 32 acres dedicated to autonomous vehicle testing, and that kind of acreage is hard to come by in Silicon Valley.

Originally published at www.davidincalifornia.com on November 17, 2015.