The race for self-driving taxis in the USA is on

The race for self-driving taxis in the USA is on

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A slew of self-driving pilot programs has been announced recently, the latest being Delphi. The auto parts company previously owned by GM announced that it would roll out self-driving taxis in the USA this year. Delphi is already piloting a program in Singapore where it pilots an Audi SQ5, kitted with 26 sensors. The pilot would be extended to three vehicles in June and is done in conjunction with the Singapore government where the company hopes to have operating taxi service within three years. According to Automotive News it is anticipated that Delphi will host the US pilot in either Pittsburg or Boston and that services would commence in September 2017.

Delphi’s pilot program allows passengers to see what the cars “brain” sees on a tablet, which it calls its “comfort cam”, soothing first-time users of the service. Already speculation is rife that Intel, which just last month paid a staggering $15 billion for Isreali autonomous tech company, Mobileye, would acquire Delphi. The three companies are already integrating their technologies to provide autonomous systems for car manufacturers, as soon as 2019.

Delphi would extend the pilot to Europe in the 3rd quarter and will switch its test vehicles to an undefined electric vehicle by 2018. The regulatory environment for public testing eased last week as Germany passed a law allowing for the public testing of autonomous vehicles.

Competitors, Lyft and Waymo also signed a partnership agreement this week. Waymo, previously know as Google’s self-driving program is already piloting Chrysler Minivans and Lexuses in Phoenix. The company last month invited people living in South East Phoenix to apply for the program, allowing the participant to hail a ride via a mobile app for local trips. Already as much as 10,000 such rides have been completed by Google staff.  Waymo announced in April that it would increase its autonomous fleet from 100 to 600 Chrysler Pacifica minivans. It is no surprise that Waymo did not partner with Uber since Waymo claims that Uber stole some of its technology in an ongoing court case between the two companies. Reuters reported that according to Lyft the transaction is not exclusive, leaving the door open for other partnerships such as Lyft’s shareholder GM.

GM paid $500 million last year for a stake in the USAs number two ride-sharing company; the automaker also acquired Cruise Automation to spearhead its autonomous vehicle strategy. GM is very aggressive in the autonomous space, trying to carve out a lead to make up for ground lost to newcomers such as Tesla. GM is spending vast amounts of money to this end, for instance paying $1.1 billion to acquire its second Y Incubator company, the Italian based OSVehicle, to develop a self-driving “Vehicle-as-a -Service” (VaaS) platform. GM’s efforts are seeming to pay off as the respected research firm, Navigant, recently ranked it and Ford at the top of the self-driving leaderboard.

Companies like Delphi, Intel, and Nvidia, are hoping to sell their driverless systems to automakers in what is expected to be a market of around $100 billion within the next couple of years. BMW last week unveiled 40 BMW 7-series equipped with Intel’s driverless technology. The test, using the specially converted autonomous 7-Series is part of the German company’s project that will see 155 million test miles driven. Nvidia, an early front-runner in the self-driving tech space lat week, announced that Toyota would use its autonomous microchip built on Nvidia’s artificial intelligence platform called Drive PX. Both Daimler and Audi have already partnered with Nvidia on its Drive PX system.

Precursors to larger ride sharing and hailing services would be regulation, computing infrastructure, and connectivity. Governments would have to enact regulation to allow driverless cars while processing power and data centers need to be increased many fold to accommodate driverless technology. So also is 5G connection a requirement, daily use of an average self-driving car would be four terabytes of data.

In February we provided a summary of the disengagement reports by companies doing public testing on Californias’ roads. Only 10 of the permitted 20 companies filed reports, this number would definitely increase in 2017 judging from all the pilots announced recently. The pilot programs currently in action are mostly for level three and four autonomy and are expected to be commercially available from 2020 onwards. Even though it is expected that the Tesla 2018 models would have level five compliant hardware installed full autonomy is only expected in the latter half of the next decade.

The video by BMW below provides a short overview of the different autonomous driving levels.

 

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A summary of autonomous vehicle testing in 2016 on California’s public roads

A summary of autonomous vehicle testing in 2016 on California’s public roads

The race for self-driving cars began in all earnest in 2015 with Tesla aggressively leading the pack at the end of 2016. Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, is of the opinion that current hardware is already sufficient to allow Level 5 automation (full automation) as set by SAE International, an engineering association. KPMG in its 2017 Global Automotive Executive Outlook found that 37% of auto executives rated the self-driving trend as extremely important. The initial front-runner for the technology, Google Auto (now Waymo) has changed strategy from developing a car to developing systems and rather partnering with automakers than building its own car. Other than Tesla, who develop and test on the go with incremental software upgrades. Google and most other contenders are developing solutions in closed environments while being permitted to test on public roads in States such as California, Michigan, and Illinois. By late 2016 a total of 20 companies has received permits from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (CA DMV).

According to the regulations, each permit holder must annually file a disengagement report, reflecting the number of events where a driver essentially has to take over from the vehicle’s autonomous mode to either prevent a traffic incident or where the system fails. These submissions allow the public who is interested what is happening in the automaker’s self-driving test some insights, outside from what the marketing departments feed the media. Although a total of 20 permits have been granted by the end of 2016, only ten companies have conducted public tests or filed reports for the period. Here follows a summary of the reports filed by the various companies for their testing on Califonia’s public roads for the period December 2015 to November 2016. For comparison purposes, we converted the result to indicate the amount of disengagements per 1,000 miles, a measurement used by Waymo in a recent post by its Head of Self-Driving Technology, Dmitri Dolgov.

Comparing disengagement results per 1,000 miles above shows, bar Tesla’s customers who have clocked over 300 million miles on Autopilot (Level 2 Automation) as at November 2016, it is clear that Waymo is aggressively accelerating its learning and showing the results for it compared to the other brands with projects on Californian roads. One must, however, take into consideration that comparing the different disengagement reports is not truly comparing apples to apples. Ford’s testing, for instance, was only on the stretch of Interstate 10 between Los Angeles and Arizona. The companies also have different strategies. Tesla aims to have level 5 automation as soon as possible while companies such as Ford aims to have autonomous vehicles for ride-hailing and sharing services only from 2021 onwards, influencing the difficulty grade of testing. To further try and unravel each company’s testing program we delve deeper into their submitted reports below.

 READ THE BLOG FOR A COMPLETE BREAKDOWN OF DISENGAMENTS REPORTS

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