By: Mansi Aneja

How much autonomy is autonomous driving? Level 3 to level 5, where are we? When do we get to see a fully autonomous car? What’s stopping us from reaching there? These and many more such intriguing questions ‘sparked true joy’ at the Talk Autonomous Cars While Drinking (TAC’D). What else do you expect when autonomous-cars enthusiasts and experts get together. The 11th edition of TAC’D was an exciting experience with informed speakers and an engaged audience. Our reporter, who managed to stay sober through the event shared the following highlights:

Kudos to our attendees
I met data analysts, students, software programmers, business development folks, bankers, and lawyers. Oh wait, did I say lawyers?

Why would an attorney attend a geeky autonomous-cars event? Well, turns out the attorneys are getting ready to help the players in the market and iron out Intellectual Property issues before they arise. Vlad Gusev, who is an attorney and is a partner at Kwan & Olynick LLP, says, “our law firm helps develop patents when the projects are in the R&D stage. It’s important for both startups and investors to know about this right from the start. We intend to help early players operate from the IP perspective and guard their interests.”

“This event is about autonomous driving and that’s what we do at P3. Solve problems for OEMs and work together with them to build services that they can offer to consumers. It’s hard to say when the autonomous cars will be a reality, as there are so many things that are not defined yet. Perfect scenario would be if there are only autonomous vehicles as they would know how the other vehicle will react,” Dominik Benz told CarVi.

Another autonomous-cars enthusiast, who happens to have written a code for an autonomous vehicle, Michael, said, “Autonomous vehicles represent a fundamental shift for me, and I am interested to know the general framework of this market.”

D Raj who is an investment banker says that it’s his team’s mandate to look for emerging businesses. “If we can predict the next Cruise to a GM, that’s the kind of expertise we are building.”

Jake from OmniSci had a different focus. “We are all about data. The amount of data we can get from an autonomous vehicle is unbelievable. I have interest in how that data gets captured and what we can make of it,” he said.

Speakers were all geared up

CarVi’s Chief Creative Officer, Dinesh C was spotted talking about the potholes. Well, your pothole nightmares could finally come to an end. CarVi’s new pothole detection technology is capable of identifying potholes while the driver is driving. This is in addition to its ADAS suite of services and the enormous data that’s collected at the backend. City of San Francisco, are you listening?

Becky Soltanian, our very first woman speaker (woohoo), who is the Tech Lead, Autonomous driving at BYTON spoke about how this autonomous-cars landscape is set to evolve. In her opinion, a car should be able to think and act like humans. Like, when a human hits the road she/he scans for the objects around, detect the sounds and relative speed of other vehicles and all this done in fraction of seconds. LIDAR and RADAR in an autonomous car can help perform this role.

So, is the road clear for autonomous vehicles?

Nopes! The road is bumpy, even for autonomous cars. Becky said that the first obstacle is hardware. There are lots of computational centres, but they are not fast enough. “We need something that’s as fast as the brain to think and act in a fraction. The second challenge is the sensor. Those that are being used right now have a problem with uncertainty and noise. For example, LIDAR doesn’t work in snow, fog, and rain, while RADAR also has some weather limitations despite being more resilient,” she added.

BTW, if you are looking for all the pictures from this event, here’s the link to the album.

The audience was captured smiling (no, not because of the beer), as Kris Harikrishnan, Director, Autonomous Vehicle Strategy, AAA Northern California, Utah, Nevada spoke about the present and future of this industry. Fun fact – Kris shared that Uber serves more rides a day than McDonalds serves burgers. This amounts to approximately 170 million rides every day. I am wondering why are the prices of rides going up, if the number of rides is also going up? What happened to the law of demand and supply?

Kris added that with AAA’s safety focus, they are working closely with legislators in Washington to help make the terminology around ADAS, AD etc. more consistent, so consumers have less confusion when they use these products. The company has also acquired rights to manage and upgrade GoMentum station, which is a proving ground for autonomous car companies.

“Right now we spend a dollar per mile including gas and maintenance. This cost per mile could be as low as 10 cents with autonomous cars. In addition, the person reaches home fresh and that’s a big productivity gain,” Kris said.

Both the speakers agreed that while it was unfortunate that we had a death because of a driver-less car, it will be very sad if we were to stop innovating further in this space. It’s critical to continue on the path of autonomous driving and save millions of lives in the future. Amen to that!

The next edition of TAC’D is coming up soon. If you wish to be a speaker or want to nominate someone apply by writing to and we will get back to you shortly.