Ep 43: RoboMart, Levandowski starts a new thing, an AI roadblock


Happy 4th of July! Today, Episode 43! RoboMart.ai is the autonomous grocery store on wheels you didn’t know you needed; Anthony Levandowski of Google/Waymo/Uber fame, and creator of lidar, has just launched a new thing; and, are autonomous cars about to plough into a brick wall in the form of an AI roadblock?

RoboMart autonomous grocery delivery

When Amazon surprised the world that it was acquiring Whole Foods, it took just a few seconds to realize what they were up to: grocery delivery, and eventually, autonomous grocery delivery, because of course they are.

Suffice to say then, this is a really hot (just emerging) market, and RoboMart — how cool/cute is that name?! — wants in on it. In fact, they’re about to start testing in San Francisco, beating Amazon to the autonomous punch.  Initially, of course, their “autonomous” pods will be remotely operated — basically road-going drones, as it were — but make no mistake, these are otherwise the real deal.

So the vehicles themselves look like something plucked out of the (rebooted) Star Trek films: plucky, four-wheeled little pods, with bodywork almost entirely made of glass (or transparent plastic?), inside of which are neatly aligned grocery items: fruits, veggies, perhaps even some baked goods; it’s not clear just what sorts of things it can be outfit to carry.

The idea is that people will be able to order what they want on their phones, the pods will then (autonomously) shuttle over to their location, and they’ll be able to easily grab what they desire, with sensors keeping track of what’s being taken to make sure nobody’s cheating.

Anthony Levandowski launches a new thing

The guy basically developed lidar with his bare hands. Then he took the tech to Google. He built Waymo. Then he was accused of stealing (the stuff he created) from Waymo when he effectively defected to Uber. Then he left Uber. Or something like that, anyway. Suffice to say, he’s had as circuitous and adventurous a journey as a successful one, and now he’s onto some thing more with his new startup, kache.ai. (Just discovered after I published this episode, I learned that “kache” means “truck” in Chinese.)

The landing page is barren (but sports a rather pretty full-bleed photo) but details, scarce as they are, suggest this is an autonomous trucking company to take on the likes of Otto, Starsky Robotics, and, well, basically everybody else trying to get in on this hotly contested space, never mind the very real social problem with the human truckers to stand to lose their jobs.

Autonomous cars heading straight for an AI roadblock?

There’s a fascinating article over at The Verge by Russel Brandom  discussing an alleged “AI roadblock” of sorts. The idea is that, well, in simplest terms, while improving AI for, say, speech with personal assistants (think Siri, Alex, Google Home), improving AI for autonomous cars is an altogether different challenge, posing difficulties that are orders of magnitude greater than any other type of AI.

Interestingly, the unexpected analogy is made to “chat bots,” those things that never really caught on, but were all the rage just a year or two ago.

In this segment, I discuss Russell’s interesting article in quite a bit of depth; nevertheless, I highly recommend you give the entire piece a read for yourself; it’s well worth the time.

NB. Please let me know if you’d like me to create a YouTube channel for this podcast, essentially, just a video version of the audio track, with closed captioning of course so you can enjoy without audio.

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