Fully autonomous cars will cost hundreds of thousands - Axios
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Fully autonomous cars will cost hundreds of thousands

Luminar

The first generation of truly autonomous cars — in which you can safely doze off through city and highway driving, and never have to touch the wheel — may cost $300,000 to $400,000, says the CEO of a Silicon Valley company that makes autonomous sensing systems.

  • In other words, you and I are highly unlikely to be able anytime soon to own a car that takes us anywhere we want to go while we read the newspaper, according to Austin Russell, CEO of Luminar, a Silicon Valley startup that's developing a Lidar visual system for self-driving.
  • The reason: The expense of Lidar and other sophisticated sensing devices required to make autonomous cars safe around unpredictable humans. Russell said such technology doesn't currently exist, but that when it does, it will at least initially be almost the exclusive preserve of ride-hailing fleet owners such as GM, Lyft and Uber.
  • "People think that they'll go and buy and autonomous cars. That's not going to reflect reality," Russell tells Axios.

We reported yesterday that, against announcements that full autonomy is coming in 2019, 2021 or 2022, depending who you talk to, truly self-driving cars able to work in any normal conditions probably won't be on the market until the 2030s. Until then, we will see only limited autonomy — the ability to drive handless on highways, or elsewhere along specific courses, in certain lanes. And for ordinary motorists, full autonomy is even further off, because costs must come down first.

What are analysts getting wrong? In the case of both timing and cost, it's how far developers are from a sensing system that can deal with almost anything humans might do, Russell says.

No one is anywhere close, he says: Current sensing technology typically has a "critical failure rate" — how often it fails to "see" an object, or to see it correctly — of 1 in 1,000 miles. To be acceptable for introduction onto public roads, that needs to drop significantly — to 1 in 5 million, Russell says.

Lidar, the leading sensing technology, "has had no performance advance in decades. We are seeing the same type of technology," he said.

There is too much focus on cost: Most of the attention is on bringing down the price of Lidar to $1,000, or even $100, so that self-driving can be embraced by the mass market. Current top-of-the-line Lidar — those boxes you see on top of test cars tooling around big cities — cost $75,000 to $85,000. When the technology is optimized, the price will initially be $300,000 to $400,000 — the price that fleet owners will be willing to pay because of how profitable ride-hailing will be as a business, Russell said.

Commercially speaking, that doesn't matter: "The biggest question is not cost, but who is going to get there first," Russell said.

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Trump trade adviser circulated docs linking manufacturing declines to abortion, spousal abuse

Peter Navarro. Photo: Andrew Harnik / AP

Peter Navarro, President Trump's top adviser on trade policy, circulated two diagrams internally claiming without evidence that decreased manufacturing is causing divorce, spousal abuse, increased abortion rates, increased drug use and more, according to the Washington Post, which obtained the documents.

Why it matters: President Trump and Navarro are aligned on trade, both contending that broad agreements like NAFTA are killing U.S. manufacturing. Two White House officials told the Post of concerns that "such unverified information could end up steering White House policy."

Go deeper: The art of the deal-breaker.

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White House weighs in on Niger deaths, travel ban ruling

Trump at a Rose Garden press conference Tuesday afternoon. Photo: Carolyn Kaster / AP

President Trump called the families of the four U.S. service members killed in action in Niger to offer condolences, Press Secretary Sanders said Tuesday evening. Trump was questioned about his public silence on the deaths yesterday, and falsely claimed his predecessors had declined to call families of those killed.

The White House also released a statement calling a Hawaii federal judge's block on Trump's revised travel ban a "dangerously flawed" decision. The Justice Department will "vigorously defend" the ban, the White House said.

Meanwhile, Trump sent out two afternoon Twitter attacks — one aimed at the media and the other aimed at Democrats in Congress.

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McCain says he'll support bipartisan health care plan

McCain speaks after he received the Liberty Medal from the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Photo: Matt Rourke / AP

Sen. John McCain, whose opposition sunk an earlier Republican health care proposal, said Tuesday night that he looks "forward to supporting" the bipartisan plan put forward by Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray. McCain added that he hopes the plan is "a sign of increased bipartisanship moving forward."

President Trump has called it a "good short term solution" and Chuck Schumer has said most Democrats are supportive. House conservatives, meanwhile, are more skeptical.

Go deeper: The details of the plan.

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Mueller's team interviewed Sean Spicer Monday

Spicer resigned as Press Secretary over the summer. Photo: Alex Brandon / AP

Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was interviewed Monday by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team, Politico reports. Spicer fielded questions on the firing of James Comey and Trump's meetings with Russians, including his Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, per Politico, in a meeting that lasted "much of the day."

The big picture: Mueller's investigation has reached people who were in the room when Trump made key decisions and statements that are now under scrutiny.

Go deeper: Spicer kept notebooks detailing goings-on at the White House; Mueller wants to speak with six Trump aides

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Close Putin ally linked to Russia's fake news factory

Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev / AP

The Russian "troll factory" that spread misinformation during the 2016 U.S. election, the Internet Research Agency (IRA), was funded by a close ally of Vladimir Putin's, according to a CNN report. The oligarch, Yevgeny Prigozhin, is nicknamed "Putin's Chef." His business, Concord Management and Consulting, had a contact drawn up with IRA in 2013 for 20 million rubles ($650,000).

Why it matters: This is further evidence that election meddling efforts reached into Putin's inner circle.

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EPA loosens radiation safety standards

Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

The Environmental Protection Agency has labeled levels of radiation 10x greater than those considered acceptable under the Obama administration as not harmful to people's health, according to a Bloomberg report. The EPA sets such regulations in case of nuclear meltdowns or other events that expose the public to radiation.

  • EPA spokesman Michael Abboud said: "EPA has not changed its standards regarding radiation exposure, and no protective guidelines were changed during this administration...The guidance was released on January 11, 2017 -- before the President was inaugurated." Bloomberg said an FAQ on the decision was released last month.
  • Jeff Ruch, executive director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, told Bloomberg: "This appears to be another case of the Pruitt EPA proclaiming conclusions exactly opposite...of scientific research."
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Facebook's head of experimental hardware is leaving

Regina Dugan is leaving Facebook. Photo: Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images

The head of Facebook's skunkworks division Building 8 will leave the company. Regina Dugan said in a statement given to Recode that there's "is a tidal shift going on in Silicon Valley, and those of us in this industry have greater responsibilities than ever before" and that the "time feels right" to be "thoughtful about new ways to contribute in times of disruption." She said in a different post that she will be in charge of a "new endeavour."

Why it matters: Dugan arrived at Facebook last year to lead a division tasked with projects like building a way to type with your mind. Her departure comes as the company faces enormous pressure over its role in an increasingly unequal and divided society.

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Magic Leap confirms $502 million fundraise

Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz
Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images for Wired

Magic Leap, the secretive "mixed reality" startup, announced on Tuesday that it has raised $502 million in new venture capital funding led by Singapore sovereign wealth fund Temasek. This is the same round that Axios discussed last week, based on a Delaware regulatory filing (which authorized up to $1 billion in new shares at an increased valuation). The post-money valuation appears to be around $5 billion.

Bottom line: Investors clearly keep seeing something they like in Magic Leap, but consumers are still waiting for the Florida-based company's first product to debut.

Cap table: In addition to Temasek, other new Magic Leap investors include EDBI (Singapore), Grupo Globo (Brazil) and Janus Henderson Investors. Return backers include Alibaba Group, Fidelity Management and Research Company, Google, J.P. Morgan Investment Management, and T. Rowe Price.

Related: A pair of former Magic Leap engineers today announced that their new startup, which helps streamline the design process of 3D concepts for VR/AR apps, has raised $3.5 million in seed funding.

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Federal judge blocks Trump's latest travel ban

An Iraqi family landed in the United States as a federal court blocked a travel ban in March. Photo: Felipe Dana / AP

A federal judge in Hawaii has blocked President Trump's third attempt at implementing a travel ban, which was set to go into effect Wednesday.

What's next: The administration is almost certain to appeal, meaning the revised ban could again reach the U.S. Supreme Court. But for now, the block means the administration cannot deny travelers from six of the eight countries officials said were either unable or unwilling to provide the information the U.S. requested for entry.

  • His quote: Judge Derrick K. Watson in Hawaii, who issued a temporary restraining order against the administration, said the latest version of the ban, "suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor."
  • What's in question: As with the previous versions, the underlying decision relies on whether the ban is based on animosity toward Muslims.
  • What makes this ban different from the previous versions: The latest order was only passed after the U.S. underwent extensive negotiations with other countries for more information that would vet their citizens. The list of countries affected by the ban also now includes North Korea and Venezuela, two countries that are not Muslim-majority. The other countries include Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Chad, and Somalia.
  • What critics are saying: Challengers argue the additions are largely "symbolic," per the Washington Post's Matt Zapotosky, who writes that the new order would only impact" certain government officials from Venezuela, and very few people actually travel to the U.S. from North Korea each year."
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Trump's short list for Fed chair

Yellen at a hearing in Washington. Photo: Andrew Harnik / AP

President Trump is expected to name his pick to be chairman of the Federal Reserve before leaving on an Asia trip Nov. 3, Bloomberg reports. Here are the candidates:

  1. Current chair Janet Yellen
  2. Fed board member Jerome Powell
  3. National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn
  4. Former Fed member Kevin Warsh
  5. Stanford University economist John Taylor
Why it matters: "At issue for the next Fed chair, if Yellen isn't renominated, is ensuring the long expansion doesn't give way to a recession," Bloomberg writes.