Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Starsky Post-Mortem

Stefan Seltz-Axmacher, CEO and founder of Starsky Robotics, publishes an analysis of the failure of his autonomous tracking company. Forbes reporter Brad Templeton publishes his view on the company demise too. The two articles point to the problems in AI technology for autonomous driving:

"In 2016, we became the first street-legal vehicle to be paid to do real work without a person behind the wheel. In 2018, we became the first street-legal truck to do a fully unmanned run, albeit on a closed road. In 2019, our truck became the first fully-unmanned truck to drive on a live highway. And in 2020, we’re shutting down.

There are too many problems with the AV industry to detail here: the professorial pace at which most teams work, the lack of tangible deployment milestones, the open secret that there isn’t a robotaxi business model, etc. The biggest, however, is that supervised machine learning doesn’t live up to the hype.

Rather than seeing exponential improvements in the quality of AI performance (a la Moore’s Law), we’re instead seeing exponential increases in the cost to improve AI systems — supervised ML seems to follow an S-Curve.

"The S-Curve here is why Comma.ai, with 5–15 engineers, sees performance not wholly different than Tesla’s 100+ person autonomy team. Or why at Starsky we were able to become one of three companies to do on-public road unmanned tests (with only 30 engineers)."

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