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Tencent Cloud offers conference solutions for the ‘new normal’
Oct 21. 2020
By The Nation
Tencent Cloud, the cloud business of Tencent – a leading provider of value-added services on the net – continues to penetrate Thailand’s cloud market with the introduction of Tencent Cloud Conference (TCC), serving the needs of different organisations.
The TCC system supports virtual and hybrid conferences via the Tencent Cloud platform, with incorporated interactive elements that can be used to engage customers in different types of businesses.
Chang Foo, chief operating officer of Tencent (Thailand), said: “We are glad to introduce Tencent Cloud Conference, a high-performance online conference solution to meet the growing market demand including hosting business conferences, trade shows, seminars, forums and various types of meetings. This comprehensive solution can help manage virtual and hybrid conferences effectively, offering highlighted features to support a wide range of conferences from corporate to international levels. We aim to create opportunities for organisations to drive their business plans uninterruptedly to the highest potentials.”
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IHG has big plans for Grand Sukhumvit Hotel in Bangkok
Oct 21. 2020
By The Nation
InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) has signed an agreement with Sukhumvit Centre Point to take on the management of Grand Sukhumvit Hotel Bangkok from next year.
After extensive refurbishment, the 386-room hotel will be rebranded as Crowne Plaza Bangkok Grand Sukhumvit by the end of next year. More rooms will be added to the hotel by 2023, making it the country’s largest Crowne Plaza hotel and the brand’s flagship.
Serena Lim, IHG’s vice president for development in Southeast Asia and South Korea, said: “The strength and breadth of IHG’s brand portfolio has led to some exciting growth and conversion opportunities here in Thailand and across Southeast Asia and Korea. We are seeing an appetite from owners, including our partner Sukhumvit Centre Point, to join the IHG family and benefit from the power of our enterprise.”
Some 30 kilometres from Suvarnabhumi Airport, the hotel is located near Nana BTS Station, offering guests easy access to embassies and corporate offices, as well as nearby shopping, dining and entertainment venues.
IHG has 31 hotels in Thailand operating under the brands Six Senses, InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, and Staybridge Suites, with another 29 in the pipeline.
By The Washington Post · Meryl Kornfield, Christopher Rowland, Lenny Bernstein, Devlin Barrett · NATIONAL, BUSINESS, HEALTH, COURTSLAW
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced a historic $8.3 billion settlement Wednesday with OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma, capping a long-running federal investigation into the company that, for critics, became a leading symbol of corporations profiting from America’s deadly addiction to opioid painkillers.
As part of the deal – the largest such settlement ever reached with a pharmaceutical company, officials said – Purdue Pharma agreed to plead guilty to three felonies. But state authorities and families who have lost loved ones to their products said the Justice Department’s terms, which include a $225 million civil settlement with the billionaire Sackler family that once ran the firm, are too lenient.
Wednesday’s announcement comes as the Justice Department has pushed to settle a number of outstanding investigations involving major corporations. Administrations often seek to resolve significant cases as they near the possible end of their time in office, and with Election Day drawing near, the Trump administration has pushed to finalize a number of such matters this month. A multibillion-dollar settlement with Goldman Sachs over alleged financial misdeeds is expected to be announced later this week.
While numerous other lawsuits and court fights over opioids will continue, the Purdue Pharma settlement highlights how, for more than two decades, the widespread problem of overprescribing, diverting, and abusing pain pills raged across America while drug manufacturers, distributors, pharmacists, and doctors profited from the problem and largely deflected responsibility.
Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said the settlement “will redress past wrongs, and will also provide extraordinary new resources for treatment and care of those affected by opioid addiction.”
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat, said the Justice Department “failed” because justice in this case “requires exposing the truth and holding the perpetrators accountable, not rushing a settlement to beat an election. I am not done with Purdue and the Sacklers, and I will never sell out the families who have been calling for justice for so long.”
As part of the settlement, officials said, Purdue Pharma will admit in federal court in New Jersey to defrauding the United States and violating the anti-kickback statute from 2009 to 2017. The settlement includes a criminal fine of more than $3.5 billion, criminal forfeiture of $2 billion and a civil settlement of $2.8 billion.
The proposal must be approved by the bankruptcy court judge if it is to be enacted.
Federal prosecutors alleged the company, which manufactured millions of opioid pills during the height of the epidemic, paid two doctors through Purdue’s doctor-speaker program and an electronic health records company to drive up prescriptions for its opioid products, including its top seller OxyContin.
“The kickback effectively put Purdue’s marketing department in the exam room with their thumb on the scale at precisely the moment doctors were making critical decisions about patient health,” District of Vermont U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan said at the Justice Department briefing.
Purdue acknowledged the wrongdoing the company was resolving, saying Wednesday that it is a “very different company” today.
“Purdue deeply regrets and accepts responsibility for the misconduct detailed by the Department of Justice in the agreed statement of facts,” said Steve Miller, who has headed the company’s board since July 2018.
The criminal plea, officials said, does not preclude the potential for criminal charges in the future against any executive or member of the Sackler family, who own Purdue Pharma.
In a statement, family members denied criminal and civil culpability. They sought to distinguish between their ownership and leadership of the company, and the individual criminal acts of lower level managers.
“No member of the Sackler family was involved in that conduct or served in a management role at Purdue during that time period,” they said in a statement. The family’s $225 million civil settlement with the government stems from its drive, as past directors of the company, to increase OxyContin sales.
The family members – including Richard Sackler, David Sackler, Mortimer D.A. Sackler, Kathe Sackler, and Jonathan Sackler (who is now deceased) – demanded in 2012 that company executives come up with a plan to generate greater revenue in response to slumping sales, according to the settlement. They approved a new marketing plan called “Evolve to Excellence” in which “Purdue sales representatives intensified their marketing of OxyContin to extreme, high-volume prescribers who were already writing ’25 times as many OxyContin scripts’ as their peers,” the Justice Department said.
Those efforts directly led to uses of the addictive tablets that were “unsafe, ineffective, and medically unnecessary, and that often led to abuse and diversion,” the government said.
The $8 billion figure is largely symbolic – the bankrupt drugmaker is already indebted to states, communities and other creditors. The company is among numerous drugmakers and distributors embroiled in litigation over the deaths and economic devastation inflicted by the opioid epidemic. In the past two decades, more than 400,000 Americans have died of opioid overdoses.
About 2,800 cities, counties, Native American tribes and other groups have sued drug retailers, distributors and manufacturers, including Purdue, in a mammoth case that has been consolidated before a federal court judge in Cleveland. Separately, most states have sued the company in their courts, believing those venues give them a legal advantage.
By declaring bankruptcy, Purdue shielded itself from that litigation. Purdue has a tentative deal with about half the states and the lawyers representing the municipalities, but the remainder of the states want the Sackler family to contribute more. The divide is largely along party lines, with Republican attorneys general agreeing to the deal and Democratic states opposed.
Purdue has said it wanted the federal investigations settles before it finalized any global settlement of the thousands of cases.
Critics of the Sacklers and Purdue blame OxyContin for fueling the epidemic and have argued for harsher penalties. Like Healey in Massachusetts, attorneys general in the middle of litigation reacted harshly to the settlement news Wednesday.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, said he doesn’t support the settlement because it “does not force the Sacklers to take meaningful responsibility for their actions. A real agreement to resolve these cases would force the Sacklers to pay more and would provide funding to help pay for the treatment and programs people need to get well.”
“Today’s deal doesn’t account for the hundreds of thousands of deaths or millions of addictions caused by Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family,” New York Attorney General Letitia James wrote in a statement. “Instead, it allows billionaires to keep their billions without any accounting for how much they really made.”
With the federal government now in line with other creditors, it is unclear what money will remain for states, cities and towns to fund addiction recovery programs and supply overdose reversal medication, said Carl Tobias, a professor at Richmond University School of Law.
“If the federal government actually does get any of these resources, is there anything left for the states?” Tobias asked.
Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy in September 2019, as it faced thousands of civil lawsuits brought by states, counties and cities across the country. As part of the bankruptcy proposal, the Sackler family has agreed to relinquish ownership of the company, which now has a shrinking base of revenue amounting to a few hundred million dollars a year. It would be reestablished as a for-profit public trust corporation with the goal of distributing anti-addiction and overdose rescue drugs.
The family is not part of the bankruptcy filing, but it has asked the court to be shielded from lawsuits as part of their agreement to a proposed bankruptcy settlement, which would include a family contribution of $3 billion.
States have hotly contested the request for the family’s shield from lawsuits, contending it should pay more. A company-hired consultant has said that Sackler family members paid themselves up to $13 billion from the company.
The modern version of the family-owned company, based in Stamford, Conn., got its start in 1952 when three brothers – Arthur, Raymond, and Mortimer – bought it. The Purdue Pharma affiliate was founded by two of the brothers, Raymond and Mortimer, in the early 1990s. It introduced OxyContin in 1996.
The company aggressively marketed the drug and its timed-release properties to doctors for use in patients with chronic pain. But it was soon blamed for contributing to a spike in addiction and was investigated by federal and state authorities who said it helped fuel a nationwide crisis.
In 2007, Purdue Frederick, an associated company, and three of its executives, none of them Sackler family members, pleaded guilty to deceptive marketing charges.
Gary Mendell, who lost his son Brian in 2011 to suicide after years of an opioid addiction, said he supports the settlement’s proposal to reestablish the company as a public trust corporation to ensure that funding is devoted to advanced treatment programs.
“The most important thing is that we prevent parents from having to bury a child,” Mendell said. “It’s very important now to use this funding to apply toward treatment that is based on science, to help those that are addicted get care that will help them live full and fulfilling lives, and also use it to change the way that society thinks about this disease.”
By The Washington Post · Ian Duncan · NATIONAL, BUSINESS, HEALTH, TRANSPORTATION, US-GLOBAL-MARKETS, HEALTH-NEWS
A Texas woman died of covid-19 while she was on board a Spirit Airlines flight heading home to Dallas from Las Vegas in late July, officials said this week.
The Spirit flight left Las Vegas on the evening of July 24, bound for Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and was diverted to Albuquerque because the woman was unresponsive, said Stephanie Kitts, a spokeswoman for Albuquerque International Sunport. The woman was dead by the time she arrived, Kitts said.
The woman, who was 38, fell unconscious on the flight and stopped breathing, according to a police report documenting the incident. A member of the flight’s crew tried to administer CPR and passed out from exhaustion, according to the report.
When the plane landed, emergency crews carried the woman from the jet on a gurney and tried to resuscitate her but gave up after several minutes.
The Dallas County Judge’s Office, which first disclosed the woman’s death, said she had an underlying medical condition. The investigation into her death by officials in New Mexico concluded that her cause of death was a covid-19 infection, contributed to by asthma and morbid obesity.
Airport managers in Albuquerque did not learn until later that the woman had covid-19, so the case was handled as a typical medical diversion, Kitts said. Officials in Dallas County added the woman to their virus death toll on Sunday.
“She expired on an interstate airline flight, and did have underlying high risk health conditions,” the county said in a new release updating its tally.
Erik Hofmeyer, a spokesman for Spirit, offered the airline’s condolences to the woman’s family and friends. He said that the airline remains confident in its protocols for handling coronavirus cases and that it works with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on any contact-tracing requests.
“Our Flight Attendants have in-depth training to respond to medical emergencies and utilize several resources, including communicating with our designated on-call medical professionals on the ground, using onboard medical kits and personal protective equipment, and receiving assistance from credentialed medical personnel traveling on the flight,” Hofmeyer said.
It’s unknown how many people where on the flight or whether they were notified that they might have been exposed to the virus. Spirit referred questions about any contact tracing to the CDC.
The CDC has said it has investigated about 1,600 cases of people who traveled while they posed a risk of spreading the coronavirus, identifying 11,000 people who were potentially exposed. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the agency investigated the case of the woman who died on the Spirit flight.
The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator, which handles unusual deaths in the state, responded to the airport and investigated the woman’s death, said Alex Sanchez, a spokeswoman for the office. The office’s report shows that the woman was tested for the coronavirus as part of the investigation.
“SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) has been shown to be more severe in people with comorbidities such as obesity and asthma,” a medical investigator wrote. “The manner of death is natural.”
A relative traveling with the woman who died told police she had been suffering from shortness of breath, but it’s not known whether she was aware that she was infected with the coronavirus. The relative declined to comment when reached by phone.
Officials in Dallas initially said the woman died in Arizona, a detail that was widely reported, before confirming that she actually died in New Mexico.
Although it appears to be an extreme case, the woman’s death was disclosed as airlines continue to try to convince potential passengers that flying is safe during the pandemic. Trade organizations have stressed that there have not been confirmed cases of people catching the virus on planes in the United States and that only a few cases have been documented globally.
Nevertheless, passenger numbers continue to be down considerably from normal times as businesses curtail travel and some states impose quarantine requirements on travelers.
The meat-free dishes served up at Thailand’s annual vegetarian festival may not always be as healthy – or vegetarian – as they seem, new findings suggest.
Dr Supakit Sirilak, acting chief of the Medical Sciences Department under the Public Health Ministry, said vegetarian foods are imported as well as being produced domestically, but not all products were labelled. Some also contained dairy products or were even contaminated with meat because producers failed to properly clean machines usually used to make meat products, he added.
The Public Health Ministry has been testing food offered during the annual festival since 2013.
This year, the ministry’s Medical Sciences Department and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) visited factories and distributors to test samples of four popular vegetarian foodstuffs – imitation meat, pickles, noodles, and vegetables and fruits.
The test results were as follows:
1. Imitation meat: 3.8% of samples were contaminated with meat.
2. Pickled vegetables (mustard, radish): Levels of benzoic acid exceeded safety standards but had dropped from last year.
3. Noodles (rice noodle, vermicelli, etc): 34.5% of samples contained sorbic acid and 20% contained synthetic organic colouring – additives banned by the Public Health Ministry because they can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.
4. Vegetables and fruit (bok choy, kale, long beans, celery, sweet peppers, radish, white cabbage, cabbage, oranges and rose apple): 20.8% of samples exceeded safe levels of chemical residue.
Dr Supakit urged people to buy labelled vegetarian products and examine vegetables and fruit carefully before consumption. The vegetarian festival runs until Sunday (October 25.)
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Challenge Accepted: Zamboanga vows to win atomweight Grand Prix and take title from Lee in 2021
Oct 22. 2020Denice “The Menace” Zamboanga of the Philippines Unbeaten No. 1 ranked atomweight contender Denice “The Menace” Zamboanga of the Philippines has accepted the challenge laid out by reigning ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion “Unstoppable” Angela Lee, and now promises fans that she is fully fixated on competing for the World Title next year.
Lee, who has held the inaugural atomweight belt since 2016, told media last week that she doesn’t believe Zamboanga had done enough to be qualified as the number one contender to her title.
Zamboanga, naturally, didn’t take Lee’s comments too well, and a fiery war of words ensued between the two martial artists in separate interviews with media. Zamboanga would call Lee out on possibly vacating her title, while the latter responded with a strong ‘no,’ imploring Zamboanga to prove herself in the impending tournament instead.
“I think that Denice should have to face the top 10 girls first to truly prove herself as the number one contender, and the ONE Atomweight World Grand Prix Championship is the perfect way to do that,” said Lee.
ONE Championship Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong revealed plans to hold the ONE Atomweight World Grand Prix Championship, shortly after Lee announced that she and husband Bruno Pucci were expecting their first child together, due early next year.
Although details of the tournament, including dates, venues, and a confirmed list of athletes competing have yet to be officially announced by ONE Championship, Zamboanga, who ranks just behind the champion as the top contender, is expected to be among the eight athletes to take part.
For now, Zamboanga has decided to put calls for Lee to vacate her title on hold, and instead accept Lee’s challenge to compete in the Grand Prix, but not without taking a final shot at the champion.
“I am so pumped for this tournament. I’m looking forward to competing for this ultra prestigious title. This will be the most challenging competition that NO FEMALE FIGHTER in ONE Championship history has ever faced,” said Zamboanga.
“To all the other female fighters who will be competing, it will be an honor to face you all in this tournament. A lot of people want to see me and Angela fight, so I will get the Grand Prix belt and then I’m on to the Atomweight World Title at the end of 2021.”
In a recent ONE Championship worldwide conference call, Sityodtong teased the first round of the Atomweight Grand Prix to commence early next year.
“I anticipate the Atomweight Grand Prix to start in January, and just in time the winner of the Grand Prix will then face Angela Lee when she returns,” Sityodtong told media.
Setting animosity aside, Zamboanga has one last message for Lee, as she begins preparations for the Atomweight Grand Prix in the coming months.
“Take care always and have a safe and happy pregnancy. See you in 2021,” Zamboanga ended.
ONE Championship returns on Friday, 30 October with ONE: INSIDE THE MATRIX, broadcast live from the Singapore Indoor Stadium in Singapore. The blockbuster features four World Title bouts for a total of six compelling martial arts contests.
In the main event, reigning ONE Middleweight and Light Heavyweight World Champion “The Burmese Python” Aung La N Sang of Myanmar defends his middleweight title against top contender Reinier “The Dutch Knight” de Ridder of The Netherlands.
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Defending champion Woods aims for historic No. 83 at Zozo Championship
Oct 22. 2020Tiger Woods (Credit to Getty Images) Tiger Woods felt it. At last year’s ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP, the energy was palpable. It was an electric blend of captivating golf down the stretch between Woods and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, combined with a country eager to momentarily escape the devastation left in the wake of Typhoon Hagibis.
The extremely violent weather phenomenon, which struck Japan on October 12, 2019, caused more than US$15 million in damage and killed 98, the deadliest typhoon to hit the island since 1979.
But for a moment, people cheered, celebrating golf and a temporary sense of normal.
“It was a tough situation for the entire area and all of Japan quite frankly,” Woods said Tuesday. “To have that excitement, that level of excitement for the game of golf, and to have all those people out there watching us, watching us play, to have Hideki right there in the mix as well. It was a great event for all of Japan, and I was lucky enough to have won.”
The 2020 installment of the PGA TOUR event will have a vastly different energy to go along with a new, but temporary, location and feel.
Relocated to Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California, because of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the defending champion has a chance to go back-to-back while making history in a place that is unquestionably familiar. The Hero World Challenge, the event that Woods hosts every December, spent 14 of its first 15 years here. Woods enters the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP @ SHERWOOD with 82 PGA Tour wins all-time, tying him with Sam Sneed for the most in Tour history.
The 44-year-old will have to get the record-breaking outcome without the support of a raucous crowd, as spectators remain off limits to limit the chance of viral transmission.
Ironically, the 2019 ZOZO Championship victory was Woods’ last on the Tour. He’s played a mere seven times since that final round in Japan, including just four tournaments since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March.
Familiarity with the course could provide a boost, but the tournament’s environment will be a far cry from the event Woods is accustomed to playing at Sherwood. The Hero World Challenge traditionally features a 16-man field, including the defending champion, the top 11 available players from the World Golf Rankings and four sponsor exemptions selected by the Woods’ foundation.
More faces, more competition and more at-stake – all things Woods is preparing to take on.
“Let’s just say that the field is a lot bigger than normally when I have played here. I only had to beat 11 other guys, so that’s very different,” Woods said. “This golf course – I need to get another look at it tomorrow on the front nine, because the greens are definitely different than last time we played here. Hopefully, everything comes together starting from Thursday and have a great week.”
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Matsuyama looks to exact revenge on Woods at Zozo Championship
Oct 21. 2020Hideki Matsuyama (Getty Imgages) Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama jokingly vowed to exact revenge on Tiger Woods after finishing runner-up to the American golf legend in the inaugural ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP on home soil 12 months ago.
“I must revenge here next year. He is coming back and I will be here,” said the five-time PGA TOUR winner then.
Amidst a different backdrop, Matsuyama gets his chance to turn the tables on Woods but instead of competing in Japan, the tournament is being played at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California this week due to the challenges caused by Covid-19. Hence, the event is known as the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP @ SHERWOOD for this year only.
Coincidentally, Sherwood, a Jack Nicklaus signature design, is one of Woods’ favourite hunting ground as he has won five times here previously which makes the prospect of taking him down in his own backyard even more enticing for Matsuyama.
“I’m very happy that we’re able to have this tournament. Love to win this week and be able to have the fans come out in Japan next year and be the defending champion there … that would be awesome,” said Matsuyama on Tuesday.
Chasing a sixth PGA TOUR victory, with his last being the 2017 WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, the 28-year-old has performed consistently over the past few years with 14 top-10s around the world since his last win. Matsuyama, ranked 20th in the world, feels his next victory could just be around the corner.
“It’s been three years and I definitely think about that quite a bit. I always try my best and every week feel like I’m getting there, but definitely it hasn’t happened. So I’m definitely thinking about that a lot and preparing myself and hoping that week will come sooner than later,” said Matsuyama, who plays the first two rounds with World No. 2 Jon Rahm and Justin Rose, the 2018 FedExCup champion.
Apart from Woods, Matsuyama will also need to contend against a star-studded field which includes 25 of the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking, including eight of the top-10 players, and 28 of the top 30 players from the final FedExCup points list last season. Other big names in the field include Phil Mickelson, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa and Xander Schauffele.
He is disappointed that Japan’s only PGA TOUR tournament cannot be held in his home country and hopes to deliver a strong showing to bring some cheers back to Japanese fans. “We are grateful that ZOZO Inc. has decided to bring the tournament to the U.S.,” said Matsuyama.
“Hopefully they will enjoy the live TV broadcast. Last year’s ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP was a great success and it was an honour to participate in Japan’s first official PGA TOUR tournament. I was especially thrilled with the large galleries that lined each fairway and how they cheered on all the players. Many of my fellow PGA TOUR members have expressed to me what a great time they had at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP and how impressed they were with the golf etiquette and knowledge of the game that the gallery displayed.
“I was fortunate to play well last year and contend for the title. However, Tiger just played better than all of us. It was a well-deserved win and hats off to Tiger for earning his record-tying 82nd PGA TOUR victory. I know he will be tough to beat at Sherwood where he has had great success in the past. Hopefully I can play well enough to contend for the trophy and give the golf fans back in Japan a good show.”
The attention will also be on newly-turned professional, Takumi Kanaya, who like Matsuyama is a former winner of the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship and touted as a rising star. The 22-year-old ranked No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking for 55 weeks and won the Mitsui Sumitomo Visa Taiheyo Open on the Japan Tour and finished tied third in the Australian Open late last year while still an amateur. In his professional debut, Kanaya came in seventh in the Japan Open last weekend.
He hopes to be as successful as Matsuyama and play full-time on the PGA TOUR soon. “Obviously his (Matsuyama) success on the PGA TOUR gave not just myself, but a lot of the Japanese players, big confidence that we can compete against the world like he did. Although the goal is high, he set a good goal for us and for that, I really admire him as a role model,” said Kanaya, who is amongst eighth Japanese golfers in the elite field this week.
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Tesla is putting ‘self-driving’ in the hands of drivers amid criticism the tech is not ready
Oct 22. 2020Inside the Tesla Model 3, the dashboard is mostly contained in a touchscreen in the center of the front console. There’s no information directly behind of the steering wheel. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jhaan Elker.
By The Washington Post · Faiz Siddiqui · NATIONAL, BUSINESS, TECHNOLOGY, TRANSPORTATION, US-GLOBAL-MARKETS
SAN FRANCISCO – In a year when Tesla might have been forgiven for extending its timeline on a key initiative, Elon Musk is forging ahead with a vision for what he calls “Full Self-Driving.”
This week, a group of drivers was selected to receive a software update that downloaded automatically into their cars, enabling the vehicles to better steer and accelerate without human hands and feet. According to Tesla, hundreds of thousands of its cars will be able to drive themselves as soon as this year, probably making them the first large fleet of vehicles billed as autonomous owned by ordinary consumers.
Tesla is forging ahead despite skepticism among some safety advocates about whether Tesla’s technology is ready – and whether the rest of the world is ready for cars that drive themselves. An industry coalition consisting of General Motors’ Cruise, Ford, Uber and Waymo, among others, this week criticized the move by Tesla, saying its vehicles are not truly autonomous because they still require an active driver.
Self-driving is lightly regulated in the United States, and Tesla does not need permission to launch the new feature.
A point of contention among Tesla’s critics is that the company is moving ahead without a key piece of hardware. Nearly all self-driving carmakers have embraced lidar sensors, which are placed on the outside of vehicles and can detect the precise size, shape and depth of objects in real time, even in bad weather.
Instead, Tesla is trying to achieve full self-driving with a suite of cameras and a type of radar that are constantly connected to an advanced neural network. Tesla’s technology can detect vehicles and pedestrians in the road and some objects such as trees, but it cannot always see the true shape or depth of the obstacles it encounters, according to some safety experts. That might not allow the car to distinguish between a box truck and a semi as it approached the rig from behind, for example.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has decried lidar as “expensive,” redundant and “a fool’s errand,” calling anyone who relied on it “doomed.”
In response to an analyst question during the company’s analyst call on Wednesday, Musk said he would not equip the company’s vehicles with lidar even if it were “totally free.”
In addition, unlike autonomous vehicle companies such as Waymo and Cruise, which have been testing their self-driving cars in controlled pilot programs, Tesla has decided to put its self-driving technology into the hands of consumers. That means the risks of a malfunction will be absorbed by ordinary drivers.
Tesla did not respond to requests for comment. The company has said it will not activate full self-driving until it receives regulatory approval, though it remains unknown exactly what certification would be needed. Musk said on Twitter the self-driving beta rollout would be “extremely slow & cautious, as it should.”
The company reported its quarterly earnings Wednesday afternoon, posting a $331 million profit. Tesla sold $397 million worth of regulatory credits to other automakers in the quarter, similar to the pattern that has generated its past few quarters’ gains. It also touted its full self-driving rollout to the select group of users this week, which it said “will allow the remaining driving features” of its system “to be released.”
Tesla added that “as we continue to collect data over time, the system will become more robust.”
“We’re starting very slow, and very cautiously, because the world is a complex and messy place,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes and probably release it to more people this weekend or early next week and then just gradually step it up until we have hopefully a wide release by the end of this year.”
The company’s stock rose nearly 3% in after hours trading to $435.50. Tesla built a network of connected cars. What happens when it goes down? Demonstrating the challenges of putting the features into users’ hands, in one such recent update, some Tesla cars could detect red lights and stop signs but would not proceed through the intersection until the driver confirmed via the accelerator or steering wheel stalk that the traffic light was green, according to Tesla.
“The fundamental challenge of neural nets is achieving sufficient reliability to use in a safety-critical system,” said Edward Niedermeyer, communications director for the Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE) campaign, a coalition of nonprofits seeking to help the public better understand driverless technology.
“I’m puzzled as to where the confidence came from almost four years ago that they’d be able to do this,” said Niedermeyer, who wrote the 2019 book “Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors.” “The reason you do these things is because it’s an extremely hard problem, and it’s not realistic to solve this problem with some cameras.”
Silicon Valley regards autonomous vehicles as the holy grail of transportation’s future, enabling customers to deploy their cars as driverless robotaxis, making the owners money even when they would be typically parked in the garage, in Tesla’s case. It could also shrink the cost of an Uber or Lyft trip to just cents on the mile by eliminating the need to pay a driver.
Several companies are making slow but steady progress on that goal, too. Waymo announced this month it would be launching driverless vehicles in the Phoenix metro area, becoming the first entity to bring the vision of fully autonomous cars to consumers as part of a dedicated ride-hailing service. Last week, Cruise said it would launch driverless cars in San Francisco, becoming the first company to debut unmanned vehicles in such a complex city environment and the country’s second-densest metropolis.
And on Wednesday, Cruise announced it was seeking the federal government’s permission to put its dedicated driverless vehicle, called the Origin, into use – ushering in the era of self-driving vehicles without steering wheels or pedals.Tesla floats fully self-driving cars as soon as this year. Many are worried about what that will unleash.
Tesla’s public timeline has been rapid. Musk promised in 2019 Tesla would have 1 million robotaxis on the road by 2020, a reference to the company’s full self-driving ambitions.
Musk said on the call with analysts that Tesla aims to make the feature widely available to owners by the end of the year.
The company’s self-driving technology will make use of the eight surrounding-view cameras attached to its cars. Those cameras collect critical data on how to navigate chaotic freeways, labyrinthine city streets and dense traffic.
Musk has said the new software being delivered this week will better capture the view outside the cars, more seamlessly integrate the footage Tesla collects, creating a kind of stitched-together, multidimensional view. It will collect data that the company’s engineers can label and help the computers better interpret. The cameras would replicate a core function of lidar, seeing what is happening around the cars.
In essence, Tesla is aiming to compensate for its hardware limitations by supercharging its software, almost to create a virtual lidar using Tesla’s existing suite of cameras, said Eshak Mir, a former Tesla Autopilot engineer who reviewed and worked with data aimed at training Tesla’s neural network.
“They’re trying to combine all the feeds from the cameras into one full video and label it in real time,” Mir said. “With that, you’ll be able to pick up a full sense of depth.”
There is no true industry hardware standard for a self-driving car. But before Tesla came along, there was little question that a sophisticated sensor in the vein of lidar was necessary for the redundancy and complex image processing required of self-driving vehicles. Some experts continue to hold that view.
Overcast skies, rain, snowstorms and especially bright sunlight can challenge mere cameras’ perception. “In normal daylight conditions, the cameras work perfectly fine,” Mir said.
“Just from my experience, cameras are very dependable, but at the same time there can be a challenge when there’s harsh conditions,” added Mir, who supports Tesla’s current approach.
But safety advocates objected to Tesla’s rollout of features that are still in testing, saying it is dangerous to blur the line between driver assistance and autonomy.
“Public road testing is a serious responsibility and using untrained consumers to validate beta-level software on public roads is dangerous and inconsistent with existing guidance and industry norms,” the PAVE campaign said in a statement issued through Niedermeyer. “Moreover, it is extremely important to clarify the line between driver assistance and autonomy. Systems requiring human driver oversight are not self-driving and should not be called self-driving.”
For the broader, lidar-equipped fleets, safety setbacks – including a fatal crash when a pedestrian was struck by a self-driving Uber in 2018 – have led to delays and slower timelines for autonomous vehicles as a whole. And some are questioning whether truly driverless vehicles are possible.
“They say that it’s just around the corner, but you don’t realize that the effort to get just around the corner gets more and more and more [complicated] as you get closer to the corner,” said Ted Pavlic, an Arizona State University assistant professor in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering, who works in robotics and autonomous systems.
Companies developing dedicated robocars for ride-hailing purposes, such as Waymo, Amazon-acquired Zoox, Uber and Cruise, all use lidar in their vehicles. They consider lidar a critical element of redundancy capable of making rapid-fire observations in all manner of conditions, filling in gaps where the cameras fall short.
On a recent autonomous vehicle trip in downtown San Francisco, for example, the lidar sensor spotted vehicle traffic over a steep hill before the camera suite or view out the windshield showed it, and the car began making adjustments earlier than a human driver might have. Most testing of autonomous vehicles has been with lidar.
Waymo conducted 1.45 million miles’ worth of autonomous vehicle testing in California last year, the company reported to the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Tesla vehicles drove a total of 12.2 autonomous miles, to record what it called a “demo run” around its Palo Alto headquarters. Tesla has argued that it “has a fleet of hundreds of thousands of customer-owned vehicles that test autonomous technology in ‘shadow-mode’ during their normal operation,” constantly improving through billions of miles of real-world driving. Shadow Mode allows it to test some of those automated features without actually activating them in the real world.
Still, Tesla has been dogged by safety concerns, including regulatory investigations and multiple crashes involving Autopilot that have resulted in fatalities and injuries. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said it is looking into more than a dozen incidents involving the Autopilot software. Tesla has also faced lawsuits from the families of victims in Autopilot-related crashes.
Tesla has repeatedly defended the Autopilot system, saying it is merely there to assist the driver, who is ultimately responsible for the safe operation of the car.
Autopilot, Tesla’s driver-assistance system that operates like an advanced cruise control function, has been criticized for giving users an exaggerated view of its cars’ capabilities. At this stage, the cars are capable of highway driving from on-ramp to off-ramp, self-parking and summoning – where they can navigate to the driver in a crowded parking lot, for example. In cities, Tesla’s vehicles can detect traffic lights and stop signs. It is not autonomous, however, and Tesla has faced criticism for giving users the impression the system is capable of driving the car itself – without supervision.
“Autopilot is not an autonomous system and does not make our vehicles autonomous,” the company noted in a disclosure to the state DMV. California’s vehicle codes, for example, state that autonomous test vehicles must be capable of “performing the dynamic driving task on a sustained basis without the constant control or active monitoring of a natural person.”
Pavlic, who works with autonomous systems, recently purchased a Tesla Model 3 but didn’t opt for the $8,000 “Full Self-Driving” package.
He said Tesla risks giving users an exaggerated impression of the cars’ capabilities with the over-the-air updates, various iterations of Autopilot and “Full Self-Driving” marketing.
“It requires you to be very educated to be able to parse these things,” he said. “I would say I can definitely see how someone might think that Autopilot did more than it did . . . as they’re rolling out these new features.”
Tesla owners are no stranger to the challenges, observing how new and previous unpredicted sights can leave their cars confused.
Zlatko Unger, a 36-year-old Model 3 owner who lives in Redwood City, Calif., recalled taking his car to a horse park he frequents on a weekend in late July, when his car detected a hazard it displayed on its info screen.
“I noticed it picked up the piles of poop as [traffic] cones, and I was like, ‘Hey, this is not right,’ ” he said.