Home Connected Car Self-Driving The Road To Autonomous Driving: There’s Way More Going On Than Waymo

The Road To Autonomous Driving: There’s Way More Going On Than Waymo

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Discussion about autonomous driving tends to focus on the leading company in the field, Google, which back in October 2010 set the ball rolling. Following the restructure that led to the creation of Alphabet, a subsidiary was set up called Waymo, which already has fleets of self-driving cars without safety driver on the roads of Phoenix, Mountain View, San Francisco, Austin, Detroit, Atlanta and Kirkland, selected mainly for their geographic and meteorological conditions.

Which is not to say other companies aren’t actively pursuing their own autonomous vehicles. In Arizona and several other cities, Cruise, owned by GM, has a large fleet. In Las Vegas and other cities such as Boston, Lyft is also providing autonomous taxi services, as does Voyage in FloridaNuTonomy in SingaporeDrive.ai in Texas and Boston, while Yandex is testing in Moscow and Intel in Jerusalem, among others.

Autonomous driving initiatives are divided into the following categories:

    1. Technology companies that will most likely end up selling their platform to third parties, such as Waymo, but also nuTonomy, Intel, Nvidia, Bosch, Drive.ai, Yandex, Apple or Baidu.
    2. Next are the non-automotive companies such as Uber or Lyft aware that autonomous driving is going to redefine their business, and are doing all they can to maintain the lead.
    3. Automotive companies such as Daimler or GM that understand that the future is no longer about selling vehicles to individual customers, but in operating fleets. They have typically entered the field by means of driving aids to their cars, later deciding to combine this with another more disruptive approach.

Following the fatal accident involving a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, Uber has recognized that it had pushed ahead too quickly and cutting corners at the cost of safety and has sacked more than a hundred security drivers in cities such as San Francisco and Pittsburgh, drivers who were probably not sufficiently qualified or trained for that responsibility (basically anyone with a drivers license and passing a very brief course). CEO Dara Khosrowshahi wants to take a more responsible approach that could see the company enter into alliances with technology companies instead of trying to develop systems on its own, similar to Lyft’s strategy.

GM is a different case: after buying Cruise in March 2016 for more than $1 billion, the company has focused on strengthening the resulting division, and seems to have reached a level reasonably similar to that of the leader, Waymo, in terms of necessary interventions compared to distance traveled and everything suggests it will focus in the future on developing autonomous taxi fleets as part of a smooth transition that will include selling vehicles to private owners.

Germany’s Daimler seems to be taking a similar route: the progress being made by the inventor of the internal combustion engine is thanks to collaboration with a range of technology companies from component manufacturers such as Bosch, Nvidia and China’s Baidu, which seems to have adopted its Apollo platform, now in its version 3.0. Daimler has recently obtained a license to road test its vehicles in a number of Chinese cities and plans to set up a fleet of autonomous taxis in California in 2019, initially with conventional vehicles adapted as Class S or Class B, and maybe later even using experimental vehicles such as the one shown in the photo.

In parallel, there are other equally important initiatives underway: Baidu, using its Apollo platform, has just signed a deal to supply autonomous passenger transport buses in Japan. In China’s business ecosystem, autonomous driving is now considered strategic, with more and more investing taking place. In the freight transport sector, amid the severest driver shortage in the history of the United States that anticipates the transition to autonomous vehicles, more and more initiatives are emerging, such as this one focused on transporting timber.

The development of autonomous driving technology shows all the signs that it is here to stay: interesting markets, a sense of hurry, competition, rapid changes to the law, participants with varied strategies and approaches, benefits… if anybody ever doubted that by 2020 autonomous vehicles would be normal in our larger cities and for hauling freight, surely now they can abandon the skeptical past and embrace the reality of today and the future.

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