The Fuse

This Week In AVs: Starsky Robotics Closes Down; Waymo Halts All Driverless Operations; And More

by Alex Adams | @alexjhadams | March 30, 2020

Starsky Robotics Shuts Down
Autonomous trucking startup Starsky Robotics announced last Thursday that it will be ceasing its operations, with CEO Stefan Seltz-Axmacher citing a lack of investor interest and a recession in trucking as major factors. The company was a leader in the self-driving truck industry, with Seltz-Axmacher noting in a Medium blog post that Starsky became the first company to create a street-legal vehicle to be paid to do real work without a person behind the wheel in 2016, and producing the first truck in 2019 to run fully unmanned on a public, operational highway.

Yet despite these firsts, the ultimate failure of Starsky offers some lessons for the rest of the autonomous trucking industry. Seltz-Axmacher stated that he struggled to gain the interest of venture capitalists compared to Starsky’s competitors – and ultimately failed to sell the importance of safety to investors. In his detailed Medium post, he notes that “The problem is that people are excited by things that happen rarely, like Starsky’s unmanned public road test… By definition building safety is building the unexceptional; you’re specifically trying to make a system which works without exception.”

Waymo Closes All Driverless Services
After Waymo announced earlier this month that it was shutting down all services with safety drivers but keeping its fully-driverless services up and running, the company has now closed these services as well. Waymo confirmed on Friday that it was shutting down the full self-driving service it has been running in Chandler, Arizona, which has acted as a pilot program for its passenger and delivery services without a backup driver in the vehicle.

According to internal documents seen by CNBC, all operations will be closed from now until April 8 at 5.30am. “In the face of the dynamic and challenging COVID-10 pandemic and out of an abundance of caution around the ability to operate with the safety and health of all team members, Waymo has decided to pause all driving operations in both Phoenix and Detroit,” read an email to drivers.

Waymo, Ford Release AV Datasets
On Thursday, Waymo and Ford both released self-driving, open-source AV datasets to help improve the abilities of driverless vehicles in urban settings. In its paper accompanying the release, Ford stated that its multi-agent seasonal dataset can help design “robust algorithms” for AVs and multi-agent systems, with journeys across a variety of routes in Detroit forming the basis of its data. Similarly, Waymo announced the expansion of its open dataset by an additional 800 segments, and has asked researchers to participate in its Open Dataset Challenges—comprising a variety of tasks, including 2D and 3D detection and tracking, with prizes of up to $15,000.