Self Driving Car – Automation and the Future of Transportation


VO:”If the manufacturer could equip every car with an automatic driving mechanism…”
VO:”…the car would always do what it should do when it got on the road.”
We’ve been promised a future with self-driving
cars for a long time, but the technology available
today is finally starting to pay off on that
100-year-old promise. There’s an incredible
number of companies racing towards the autonomous
vehicle future, which I’ve talked about
before. Tesla’s approach to that future
is based on radar and computer vision, which
is what powers Autopilot, enhanced summon,
and at some point, more self-driving features.
But there are some other pioneers in the space
making interesting progress on autonomy from
a completely different angle. Waymo was kind
enough to invite me out for an event to meet
some of their team, learn about their self-driving
technology, what motivates them, and ride
in one of the Waymo One taxis operating in
the Phoenix, Arizona area. My takeaway from
the experience surprised me.
Before walking through what I saw, take a
moment and hit the subscribe button and notification
bell, so you don’t miss out on future videos
just like this one. I’m Matt Ferrell … welcome
to Undecided.
Taking a step back and looking at the history
of self-driving cars is kind of amazing. This
isn’t a new idea at all and has been floating
around in our collective imagination for nearly
100 years.
In the 1920’s, Houdini Radio Control showed
off a radio-controlled car called, “American
Wonder” in New York City.
In the 1930’s General Motors sponsored Norman
Bel Geddes’s Futurama exhibition with a
radio-controlled electric car using electromagnetic
fields.
Jumping to the 1950’s, RCA Labs demonstrated
a car guided by wires and embedded circuits
in the roadway.
In the 1960’s we saw the United Kingdom’s
Transport and Road Research Laboratory test
a Citroen DS with embedded magnetic cables
in a road.
By the 1980’s we started to see vision-guided
systems from Mercedes-Benz. And DARPA-funded
Autonomous Land driven Vehicle (ALV) in the
United States that used LiDAR, computer vision,
and robot controls.
In the 1990’s those technologies continued
with tests across the United States, like
the Carnegie Mellon University’s Navlab
project that drove cross-country 98.2% autonomously.
And in 2009 is when we see companies like
Google jump into the fray with their X lab
self driving project. But in 2016, that project
was spun off as its own company, Waymo, under
Alphabet.
When it comes to self driving, there are some
guidelines for the different levels of automation
from the NHTSA:
Level 0 – No Automation. This is the majority
of cars on the road.
Level 1 – Driver Assistance. This vehicle
can assist with steering or braking, but not
at the same time. Think adaptive cruise control.
Level 2 – Partial automation. This vehicle
can assist with steering and braking at the
same time, but still requires the driver’s
full attention. This is where most modern
cars that have some kind of “automation”
fall today. It’s basically lane assist and
adaptive cruise control.
Level 3 – Conditional automation. This is
where a driver is still required, but they
don’t have to keep their eyes on the road.
The car handles almost everything.
Level 4 – High automation. This is where companies
like Waymo currently operate. A driver is
only required in certain circumstances, so
if the conditions are right, then the car
can completely drive itself.
Level 5 – Full automation. Exactly what you’d
expect. This is when no human driver is required
at any point.
So I’ve been an avid user of Autopilot on
my Tesla, which is a next level driver assist
feature. It’s not self driving, but on the
5 levels of self driving, it’s somewhere
around a level 2 or 3.(fn) But Waymo has been
operating at level 4 autonomy for some time
now and has been operating a taxi service
called Waymo One in the Phoenix area. When
Waymo asked if I’d be interested in coming
out to meet some people from their team and
experience their technology first hand, it
was an instant yes. And to be clear, even
though Waymo provided the trip, that in no
way has colored my perception of what I saw.
My opinions are my own.
One thing that’s a common misperception
with Waymo is that it’s operated by Google.
I had thought that myself for a long time,
but Waymo isn’t part of Google at all anymore.
After they were spun off in 2016, they’re
a completely independent company under the
Alphabet umbrella. The name “Waymo” comes
from its mission statement of “a new way
forward in mobility.” And after my meetings
and conversations with employees, that mission
statement really seems to be ingrained in
their culture. There is a genuine passion
and excitement around changing transportation
to make it safer and more accessible. It was
apparent to me how much they believe in the
mission and how moved they are to see their
technology is impacting people’s lives,
such as the first blind person to ride on
their own in a self-driving car. ++Look up
the name of the blind man++ You can also see
it in how the Waymo One app has been designed
around accessibility. When the car comes to
pick you up, there’s a button in the app
to honk the horn to help someone who has difficulty
with sight to find the car.
Where Tesla is relying completely on radar
and computer vision for their self-driving
features on their fleet, Waymo has gone the
path of computer vision, radar, and LiDAR
in their technologies. Pair that with the
high resolution mapping that they do for the
areas in which they operate and you have a
car that can easily achieve level 4 autonomy
today. Tesla is relying heavily on perfecting
their machine learning models to achieve full
level 5 autonomy at some point in the future,
but that means their cars are around level
2 and 3 today. Waymo’s path has pushed them
to level 4 very quickly and reliably, but
just like Tesla, are now refining and developing
their models to hit level 5 at some point
in the future.
The big difference between the two is that
Waymo is operating a fully functional taxi
fleet today within the zones where they’ve
created high resolution maps. I’m not trying
to stir up a controversy, but Elon Musk has
been very vocal that LiDAR is a crutch for
true level 5 autonomy. So is it a negative
that Waymo is reliant on LiDAR and high resolution
mapping? I don’t think so. Far from it.
There’s multiple paths to the autonomous
vehicle solution and what Waymo is doing is
extremely impressive.
Before the trip, I knew that Waymo had been
operating for a while in the Phoenix area,
as well as branching out to test in other
cities in limited zones. But the scale of
the operation was much larger than I was expecting.
They have hundreds of cars in their fleet
that run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
But they’re also testing cars in other areas
of the country to stress test their technology
with extreme weather. Right now they’re
doing rain testing in areas of Florida. And
they’ve also been doing winter weather testing
in Michigan.
For the actual ride in the car, we went on
a 20 – 25 minute road trip around the Scottsdale
area. My brother, Sean, went with me on the
ride and was just as excited as I was to experience it.
“Robots are driving the car.”
The route took us through a pretty wide
variety of environments like office park areas,
residential streets, to multi-lane roads with
heavy traffic.
I have a little more experience with riding
in a car that’s driving itself than my brother,
but even I was a little anxious the first
couple of minutes of the ride. Pulling up
to a stop sign and then pulling out into traffic
had me a little on edge at first. But something
really strange happened to both of us after
the first couple of minutes. The car drove
exactly like a person would in every situation
we were seeing. It was like a switch flipped
and went from something novel and crazy, to
something pretty mundane. It was kind of crazy
how normal it felt. As my brother put it,
“Okay … it’s just a car that’s driving.”
As a UI/UX designer, I immediately focused
in on the passenger screens in the back seat.
I was completely blown away by how well they
were designed, and how much thought, testing,
and iteration must have gone into it. During
our conversations with the team, they talked
about how much time they put into trying to
understand how to make people comfortable
with a self-driving car. And this UI design
was proof of that effort and time. It communicated
exactly what the car was doing at every moment,
as well as what the car was seeing.
The screen would show a ping-like effect every
couple of seconds that showed you the LiDAR
dots of what the car was seeing in the surrounding
environment, which included everything from
parked cars, to people, to vegetation. When
the car was about to speed up, the route line
would get a pulse of brighter green. If there
was a stop light coming up, a small stop light
would show up in the upper left corner of
the screen and show you that the car recognized
it as red, yellow, or green. Every piece of
the UI was carefully constructed to show you
what the car was seeing and why it was doing
what it was doing. I was blown away by that.
And to Tesla, I really hope they take a look
at that UI because it’s incredible. I’d
love to see them take cues from that with
the Autopilot UI.
With the high resolution mapping that they’ve
done, the car also took speed bumps and dips
in the road like a champ. And near the end
of the route we took the car had to turn left
at a very busy multi-lane road. The car slowly
edged its way out into the center of the intersection,
waited for the light to turn yellow, and waited
for a break in oncoming traffic before making
the turn. It took that turn exactly like I
would have done. The only issue I had was
how aggressive it was with the pumping of
the brakes as it worked its way into the intersection.
Other than that, it was a flawless ride.
My one big takeaway from this weekend was
that autonomous vehicles in our lives isn’t
something in the distant future, but is limited
to where you can experience it. It’s not
something that’s a year or two away from
widespread use, but is something we’re going
to see more and more of over the coming decade.
Waymo’s current fleet of modified Chrysler
Pacifica’s are about to be joined by their
next generation car that’s built on a Jaguar
iPace. They’re also testing semi-trucks
decked out with their self driving technology,
and are doing test runs with empty trailers
to fine tune that system. It’s a good example
of how this technology can be modified to
run on a very wide assortment of vehicles.
These types of autonomous systems have more
awareness of their surroundings than we do.
They can process that information much faster
than we can. And have quicker reaction times
than we’re capable of. In the end, these
systems will be better and safer drivers that
the rest of us. There’s no doubt in my mind
that this type of thing will eventually be
ubiquitous and that this is the future of
transportation. It’s something we’ve been
promised for decades, but the technology had
too many compromises to make it viable. But
that promise has hit a point with technologies
like LiDAR, computer vision, radar, and machine
learning that are bringing it much closer
to reality. It’s Waymo’s thoughtful user
experience design that impressed me the most
though. For autonomous cars to be accepted,
it’s important to have a system that’s
designed from the ground up to be useful for
those with special needs; to address people’s
fears and anxiety around getting into a car
without a human driver; to not focus on the
technology alone, but how this technology
can and should be integrated into our lives.
This isn’t to say that I don’t have reservations
about self-driving technology, I do. As excited
as I am, I’m also concerned by the ramifications
of drivers losing their jobs. What this will
mean for our daily lives and the future of
transportation is going to be profound. It
has the potential to be a paradigm shift and
change a lot of things we’ve accepted as
immutable. I think there’s far more pros
than cons to this shift, but it’s something
that we need to think about and address as
self driving becomes more widespread.
What do you think? Are you excited for self
driving to because a part of everyday life?
Jump into the comments and let me know.
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75 thoughts on “Self Driving Car – Automation and the Future of Transportation”

  1. That demonstration was impressive. I hope at some time in the future, Waymo and Tesla enter into a partnership. I think that would be awesome.

  2. As I get older (currently 66), I can’t wait until level 5 autonomous driving is available in the coming years. I currently own a Tesla 2018 Model 3 RWD LR and use autopilot 80% of the time. My independence is very important (as I imagine most people are). So, level 5 allow me to get around on my own terms in my daily life. I know in the coming years I’ll probably will get to the point when I can’t drive by myself. So…bring on the future with self driving cars, and let us, senior citizens, enjoy life to its fullest extent.

  3. I don’t know how to feel about people losing jobs over self driving machine. I personally would love to see Tesla gets there before anyone else with their technology because I own a Tesla. That said, Waymo in your video is very impressive as well.

  4. Great video. It’s good to be reminded that there are companies other than Tesla making major advances.

    It will be interesting to see what approaches make it to level 5 as well as whether some of what we’re seeing today dead ends short of the goal.

  5. This is exactly what Elon predicted. LIDAR will help you reach the local maximum really quickly and then you will be stuck with the tech (heavily dependent on high definition maps and expensive hardware). You will not be able to scale this quickly to multiple geographic locations. Whereas using vision and machine learning will be slow in the beginning but will be very cheap and over time will become really good and highly scalable. Either ways I am glad all these developments are pushing us closer to autonomous future, lesser accidents and more safer travels.

  6. I’m undecided about the size and cost of all of those external send. They must have some secret plan that they can’t discuss? How else can this equipment be inconspicuous and not cost very much? Google have the best maps out there, but they still have to digitize every part of every road in every city? I believe that Waymo has incredible self driving technology and I’m so glad that you got to go there!

    I dream of a world where thousands of people don’t die from traffic accidents. Thank you so much for going to Phoenix for this channel!

  7. Once the technology in self driving electric cars and solar power hits the tipping point then transportation & delivery will become pretty much free. Online shopping for groceries & food delivery will be more & more prominent as people prefer the comfort of their own home.

  8. In no way do we need to worry about drivers losing their jobs by the change.
    The same as how we don't need to worry about the car insurance industry's collapse.
    Or were you concerned when we got rid of the phone switchboard operators?

  9. I saw my first Waymo in Ann Arbor just last week! I was disappointed I couldn't get a pic!

    The driving in your video was pretty impressive.

    I think the biggest "crutch" of this system is the maps… You can't rely on them for long, unless the fleet is mapping as it drives.

    Did they talk about the main issues holding them back from level 5? I assume it's the weather as you mentioned.

    Thanks for the video! I bet it was so fun to try it out!

  10. I believe in it, and I hope that cars will detect impaired drivers and take control if needed. This technology is all about making the roads safer. Congrats to all of the pioneers in this industry.

  11. So when can it drive in an unknown area, not a pre-mapped area. Why is there a person sitting in the driver’s seat? And why the need for the UI? Aren’t riders supposed to be oblivious of the Autonomous vehicle? Also, where was the highway rush hour traffic demo? These are obvious questions that should have been asked of the Waymo team.

  12. Great information to consider for future purchases (or acceptance of self driving vehicles). Pretty cool that you were able to share insight from that amazing invite! I agree that, while Tesla is pushing aggressively for FSD, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to look into some type of partnership with Waymo. That UI on the Waymo vehicle….shut it up! Pinging every few seconds to show a 3D representation of what it’s “seeing” in front and around it would put me at ease as well. Looks like that collaboration would be a win for everyone. But I understand Tesla wants their share of the shared riding fleet of autonomous vehicles. This video opened my eyes quite a bit.

    If Waymo falls under the Alphabet umbrella, doesn’t it still branch off as a subset of Google who is providing mapping information?

  13. Maybe in the next 10 years you'll see true self driving cars everywhere, but not before that. Personally I can't wait for automation to get these stupid distracted drivers out from behind the wheel. Maybe then I will get a motorcycle again.

  14. Would be good if you addressed the flaws others see in the Waymo approach, such as the cost of LIDAR and the challenges of digital mapping.

  15. Bet on full self driving fleet within the western countries by 2025. Transportation in any kind will be cheaper at least by a factor of 10.
    This will be the biggest market disruption the modern industrial civilization has ever seen! Imagine the "I-Phone effect" from 2008-10 in 10 times the scale.
    Exciting times we live in

  16. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Of course for those of us who have yet to experience a ride in a SDV there are hundreds of questions. But considering that EVs have taken 10 years to get a 1% presence on the road, I’m not expecting any sudden changes with respect to SDVs.

  17. @5:50 It is a crutch simply because of the high resolution mapping limitations. Tesla is moving towards a system that doesn't care where you are. You'll soon be able to use Tesla's autopilot in Zimbabwe, if you wish. So if Waymo is all in on LIDAR then they should be moving ahead on the HR mapping of the globe… See the limitation?

  18. Very cool experience!
    This are really great systems that I am excited for! I am very impressed with the fact that Waymo has tuned their cars to feel like a person is driving. That is a very smart business choice so that new customers don’t get too freaked out on their first ride 😆.

  19. One other interesting take away is that a study last November found 41% of Waymos fleet has been involved in an accident. Thats the highest of any automated car company. I find the most interesting aspect of this is the general lack of knowledge by the public. When a Tesla even "farts", it's showcased by every media outlet. When a Waymo crashes, its like crickets…

  20. Considering the terrible traffic and disregard for rules of the road, especially in America, WE NEED THIS! I commute as much off hours in and around Boston because of the horrible traffic. I can't wait not to have 7 cars all trying to jam themselves into the right lane of 128..when all it would take is a little courtesy for rules of the road!!

  21. I hope Waymo succeeds for the sake of competition, but Im doubtful about their lidar approach. I suspect Tesla has such a big lead in terms of real world training data (via cameras and human interventions) that Waymo will not reach Level 5 in time outside of their geofence. It wouldnt be the first time that Google/Alphabet would have to abandon a product (e.g. Google+, Buzz, Wave etc) OTOH, Alphabet has deep pockets, and lidar might get cheap quicly enough for Waymo to pull it off.

  22. Very cool Matt. I’m more excited about trucks being automated as they’re so big and have been in too many accidents. An exciting future is ahead. 👍

  23. You said that Waymo is not part of Google and thats true. However, Waymo is still related to Google. While on paper they are separate, they both have access to resources under Alphabhet legal umbrella.

  24. Waymo only works because of that high resolution mapping. I'd rather have a Tesla that will get better overtime instead of having to move outside of Phoenix Arizona, the only place where Waymo works. I'm all up for using mapping as an extra safety measure but not having a whole system that relies on it. Also, it seems like Waymo been doing testing in Phoenix for 5 plus years. At this rate I guess the rest of the country will get it by the year 4000.

  25. Blah blah blah alphabet… They are still Google. Alphabet was done for all kinds of strategic reasons and in no way gets rid of the fact that ALL of it is effectively just Google. And I am a huge Google/Android user so I am not punching from the Apple side of the fence.

    LIDAR is meh as soon as you leave areas where there is NEVER snow. RADAR and cameras are THE solution. I rip on Tesla and your fanboiism frequently but there are a few things that I am fully onboard with Tesla and Elon on and the sensor suite is definitely one of them. Furthermore, high resolution mapping is cute but pointless. Construction zones, detours and accidents, to say nothing of potholes developing over time will be far FAR more important to develop recognition and action algorithms for. The autonomous system MUST work in ALL environments and ALL conditions that can possibly happen.

    And again… All the sensors, all the raw horsepower is for nothing if there isn't an equally comprehensive ability to recognize and react to things appropriately. Is that a person on a bike or a person WALKING a bike really is and was the difference between someone living and dying. Human drivers are FAR more adaptable. THAT category is what will separate level 5 or 6 from still having to have a driver for a lot longer than people think.

  26. Your experience was so bias. Please say all the facts. You said that just because they paid your trip you weren't say anything but the truth but I guess you failed to do so🤤

  27. Thanks for the evenhanded view of Waymo. The self driving race is going to be interesting, seems like at some point all the major players will need to get together and figure out some standards and get some regulatory and infrastructure support from governments. Imagine how much better self driving could be if the infrastructure helped out.

  28. Matt, I like all of your videos except for this one because it is so misleading and you are impressed at the wrong thing. Waymo can only work in a zone area where everything is well defined. The Waymo programming language is the traditional programming language which lends to a deterministic type of responses, if you know what I mean. Tesla uses neural network which can adapt to any types of roads conditions.

    There is a guy in the U.K. who test drives autopilot on his Model 3 all over Europe. For instance, there is no way that Waymo can drive in the roads in the following video.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Pak8sQVvbE

    And last, if you don't already know. Google was split in a number of companies and Alphabet is one. There is nothing new that Waymo belongs to Alphabet.

  29. Very interesting subject from an ICT-perspective and I follow it quite closely. But on the other hand real Level 5 is far far off – at least two decades and probably much more.

  30. Waymo has 2 major problems:

    – Use of Lidar: Lidar is expensive, does not work well in fog and it has to be clean of dirt. And read the following article to see why Lidar has no future – and this is not from Elon Musk.

    https://medium.com/syncedreview/lidar-industry-hits-impasse-was-elon-musk-right-after-all-43b538d03677

    – Use traditional programming language which cannot adapt to situations that the software is programmed for, whereas neural netwok can adapt too new road conditions.

    Small autonomous driving startups, who used to partner with LiDAR companies at auto shows, are resetting their agendas. Some are using pre-equipped vehicles or testing other tech products, while many have left the industry altogether. A startup rep told us “car manufacturers are considering many promising sensors for mass production targeting the year 2021… unfortunately, LiDAR is not on the list.”

  31. "Waymo's path has push them to a level 4 very quickly and reliably"… their car has KILLED someone already even though it saw the person, but couldn't decide what to do. This is one reason why waiting for computer learning to be perfected is worth the wait SAFETY. Not putting your video down its still a good video but just thought this was worth pointing out.

  32. There is big difference between Tesla and Waymo’s approach. Waymo is mapping a particular area, but won’t be able to drive properly in unmapped area , but tesla is working on computer vision technology so that it can work in anywhere.

  33. Matt – the more i read/research the self driving, the more I feel like it is not worth the extra $6K Tesla is charging for FSD. While it may get more expensive later on, but sounds like it makes more sense to let this bake first and then pay a little more at that time once it is stable. especially as you say that Tesla is till in level 2 or maybe 3 right now. still a long way away from level 5. If there is a shift to not get this with Tesla, I think the car will still come with the FSD chip and hardware. It is really then just a software upgrade when ready. Is this what you've heard too?

    Waymo looks very interesting. Good to see the push and the actual smooth UI in the cars. Competition is awesome in this space.

  34. Can’t really compare something that’s geo-locked to a location that’s perfectly mapped thousands if not millions of times to something that adopts to the environment. Not to mention Waymo had something like 41% of their fleet involved in crashes. I literally see 5+ Waymo vehicles on my daily commute in the Bay Area right by Google. I’ve seen them do some stupid shit like braking abruptly, turning improperly, etc. Also don’t forget the price difference to the equipment on the vehicles. Really, one is aiming at quickly being able to provide limited area taxi services with high cost vehicles being purchased by the operator while the other is trying to make it possible for end consumers to drive places where no other such vehicles has driven before. The unfortunate fact that neither is as close to achieving their goal as they’d like to be but things will get better in the next 5-10 years.

  35. Thank you for this video, Matt. There is a dearth of information about Waymo, and I found your report very interesting. I love your channel. It's always so well done and informative.

    I view what Waymo is doing as similar to past approaches to self driving by, for example, burying cables in the roadway. Clearly the use of HD maps and LiDAR are a much more advanced and capable "crutch" than buried cable, but still far short of what I would characterize as a generalize autonomous transportation.

    Waymo, and other companies, (e.g., Uber) appear to be aiming at the commercial ride sharing industry by replacing the human at the wheel. I think there's a future for autonomous ride sharing, but Waymo's approach won't do much to eliminate private cars which clog urban streets and parking lots. The only way that will happen is if the use of fully autonomous cars becomes cheaper than private car ownership and capable of driving everywhere at any time, not just in certain well-maintained regions covered by high definition maps.

    Waymo's progress is impressive, as your reaction to the demonstration makes clear, but I think it's impressive progress down a blind alley. The generalized approach to autonomous driving which Tesla is taking will lead to a more cost effective solution to ride sharing, and the elimination of a significant percentage of private automobile ownership. The path to that end is as important, if not more, than the technology itself. When Tesla achieves SAE Level 4/5, there will be millions of cars capable of taking over the ride sharing needs of people at a cost/mile that will make private car ownership an unnecessary financial burden.

  36. 8:05 UI seems to communicate well, inspire confidence. 9:32 Semis in the works! Anyway, wondering if Waymo would have saved the life of the woman walking her bike across the road that über killed.

  37. Matt, the only issue I have with your video, and it’s a BIG one… is that, although I do agree Waymo has made great progress, I think you WAY(mo;) over simplified the FACT that Waymo can ONLY drive in their mapped out and well maintained areas. Although very impressive, let them try to drive outside of that walled garden and I would guess they would be extremely lost. This is where Tesla has the advantage, idar or not.

  38. It does not need to wait until level 5 to disrupt many driving jobs, even level 4 will. If someone watching this have friends or family that drive for a living, we need to encourage them to learn new skills or start a business.

  39. First Principle thinking tells me that if L5 autonomous driving can be achieved w/o LIDAR, i.e. way cheaper to make, using LIDAR is really–in Elon's word–a fool's errant. Admittedly I'm biased here, but really, achieving L5 is more than just a time race and technical race, it's also a cost race.

  40. 7:50 it didn't communicate what the car was seeing… it displayed what the sensors picked up. big difference. we don't know the degree to which those images are able to be interpreted since we know Waymo depend on detailed mapping.

  41. I think whole mapped/organic autonomy debate is pretty interesting. Obviously Elon's model, if successful, will be more powerful. But we have the technology to be able to map *everything*… so I could see either working.

  42. This is such an amazing video. Very informative and a great depth of research. I wasn't expecting a history lesson, and was pleasantly surprised with what i learned. I had no idea that autonomous driving started out so early. And to be honest, Level 5 reminds me of i, robot : the scene where they are driving all around the city without any effort.

    Thanks Matt!!!

  43. I’ve been a truck driver for over 20 years. I’m not a fan of adaptive cruise or lane assist, as they are just annoying in practice. I currently have a radar on my bumper that will beep loudly and relentlessly if there’s a vehicle in front of me, regardless of what the full situation is at the moment. It’s just an annoyance and I’ve been able to disconnect it.

    However, fully integrated self driving trucks get me excited. Otto’s beer run was amazing to see.

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