Autonomous vehicles: the rides finally begin

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When Kyle Vogt, the founder of Cruise, the self-driving car subsidiary of General Motor, recently walked into the passenger side of one of San Francisco’s first driverless taxis, he was so nervous he tried to put the wrong one on. seatbelt.

However, his nerves were misplaced and the vehicle reacted as it should when Vogt hit “drive” on his app and took him on his way. Vogt joked that he was more nervous than the car.

So far, everything has been going well with San Francisco’s foray into the world of driverless transportation.

It took a while, with a few speed bumps along the way. Still, the California transportation regulator recently approved GM’s Cruise and Google’s sister company, Waymo, to market “robotic taxi services” in the city with limits.

Cruise, for example, can only operate from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and in certain areas. At the same time, Waymo vehicles must have a safe driver behind the wheel who can override driverless controls if needed.

Discreet

These are promising developments, but it looks like after years of hype and estimated spending of US $ 80 billion by automakers and tech companies, the new era of driverless cars is quietly beginning.

Part of the reason is that the technology has yet to be proven and the unexpected always happens.

Waymo, for example, had driven millions of driverless miles so far, but recently ran into problems with its service in Arizona when its vehicles failed to respond to temporary traffic cones.

In San Francisco, his vehicles continued to roll through the same cul-de-sac after failing to correctly read a road sign prohibiting traffic.

The driverless trucking company TuSimple employs a security driver who had to slam the brakes because he feared the truck’s array of cameras and sensors had not detected an approaching Jeep in collision danger.

TuSimple’s amalgamation of cameras, lidars, and radars makes it possible to see 1,000 meters ahead and use AI and machine learning, but it looks like their solutions may still have a lot to learn before they can replicate. best practices of drivers.

Despite these setbacks or doubts, the push for autonomous vehicles continues, but it seems there may be limits – in the medium term at least – to what is achievable. Anyone who believes that autonomous vehicles will be driven anywhere, anytime, on any surface or in any weather condition will find that the reality, at least initially, will fall short of their expectations.

Nonetheless, investments in the driverless industry continue to gain momentum, with the United States and China appearing to be the major development centers.

They may be two of the oldest names in the automobile, but GM and longtime rival Ford are considered leaders in the United States. GM, for example, has hired about 1,200 people in autonomous vehicle jobs in the past year.

Ford has announced its partnership with retail giant Walmart on self-driving cars, and tests are already underway for self-driving delivery services in three U.S. cities. Ford is leveraging its $ 1 billion investment in AI company Argo to expand its offering.

Traditional automakers are competing with new tech companies like Google and Apple, which have announced plans for a self-driving car by 2025.

Apple’s efforts were hit when the key executive in charge of its project defected from Ford, but the project is said to be back on track. The Apple vehicle would not have a steering wheel or pedal, and the interior will be designed for hands-off driving with passengers potentially configured in a U-shaped seating configuration.

The Chinese “Robotaxis”

Meanwhile, in China, the leading startup is WeRide, and the company recently announced a strategic cooperation agreement with automaker GAC Group and its mobility services platform OnTime.

The collaboration revolves around the marketing of a “Robotaxi”, the most recent model of which integrates the OnTime carpooling platform. This was on display at the Guangzhou Auto Show in November.

Baidu is another player in the market and has launched its Apollo Go robotaxi services in five cities, with plans to expand to 30 cities in three years.

In August, the company launched its first level 5 autonomous robocar without steering wheel and an improved autonomous platform called Luobo Kuaipao. Baidu’s robotaxi had made more than 400,000 trips and 16 million kilometers by the end of September 2021.

The potential rewards of early leadership are significant. Global consultancy firm HIS Markit has forecast that the size of China’s self-driving taxi market will exceed $ 200 billion by 2030.

Elsewhere, a glimpse of the future was offered at the Tomorrow Mobility World Congress in Barcelona in November 2021, where more than a hundred companies showcased their products.

These included the Deliverbot, a small autonomous vehicle developed by the British company Delivers.ai designed for deliveries within a radius of up to one mile. More than a device than a vehicle, it moves along the roadway and uses cameras, radars and sensors to avoid pedestrians.

The congress also presented the Auve Tech micro-shuffle, a small vehicle designed for personalized routes.

Developed in Estonia, it also has a hydrogen fuel cell engine, combining two new generation technologies and paving the way for the vehicle of the future.

Lachlan Colquhoun is the Australian and New Zealand correspondent for CDOTrends and DigitalWorkforceTrends, and the editor-in-chief of NextGen Connectivity. He is fascinated by how companies reinvent themselves with digital technology and collaborate with others to become whole new organizations. You can reach him at [email protected].

Image credit: iStockphoto / metamorworks


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