Autonomous vehicles have consumed the tech news cycle over the past few years as more than 40 leading auto companies, startups and original equipment manufacturers have worked to produce and design the world’s first fully self-driving vehicles, according to CB Insights.
As lifestyles across the globe continue to modernize, the demand for vehicles that give people the ability to multitask while traveling has rapidly increased. Anticipation for this new technology is at an all-time high, and the companies working on driverless vehicles are expected to fully deliver. A new report from Statista states that we can expect one in 10 cars to be fully automated by 2030, which will increase their total contribution to the U.S. economy to $13.7 billion.
But what does autonomous truly mean in the auto-world?
Experts use a five-level scale to determine how autonomous a vehicle is, zero meaning the vehicle has no self-driving capabilities and five indicating the vehicle is entirely autonomous and needs no human intervention or supervision (see chart below for the entire scale explanation). Although most autonomous vehicles in the works are currently at an L1 (driver assistance), L2 (partial self-driving) or L3 (conditional automation) status, Tesla has achieved an L4 (high driving automation) status with its current fleet of vehicles.
In all of Tesla’s newer vehicles, drivers have the choice to purchase its Autopilot and/or Self-Driving Capability software, according to Tesla’s website. The full self-driving capability includes features like navigating interchanges and on/off ramps, auto lane change suggestions and assistance, auto parking, traffic and stop sign control and moving cars out of tight spaces with a mobile app or key. A driver still must supervise the vehicle at this time, but Tesla recently announced it will likely have a fleet of L5 robotaxis in large cities like New York and San Francisco by the end of 2020, according to Automobile.
In addition to Tesla’s advancements, experts predict other early L5 self-driving vehicles on the market will likely be the culmination of efforts from multiple manufacturers. The Automated Driving Vehicles Leaderboard from Navigant Research indicates that a collaborative approach will be vital to building autonomous vehicles because of the lengthy commitment involved with getting them on the market.
Here are the most prominent autonomous vehicle partnerships and where they stand today.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Waymo
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Waymo are the most recent pair to declare an exclusive partnership to manufacture autonomous vehicle technology. The companies announced in a July 22 press release that Waymo will now work exclusively with FCA as its preferred partner for the testing of Light Commercial Vehicles. They will start by integrating the Waymo Driver into the Ram ProMaster van. In return, FCA also chose Waymo as its exclusive partner for its L4 driverless technology and has began to conceptualize how to use FCA products to move people and products with the Waymo Driver.
FCA and Waymo have worked together on autonomous vehicles for four years. FCA CEO Mike Manley said that by deepening their relationship with the best technology partner in the autonomous vehicle space, they’re turning to the needs of commercial customers and setting the pace for the safe, sustainable mobility solutions that will define the automotive world for years and decades to come.
Amazon and Zoox
Zoox joined the self-driving vehicle game in 2014, focusing solely on a “ground-up approach to safe, autonomous mobility,” Jesse Levinson, Zoox co-founder and CTO said in a June 26 Amazon blog. The company has worked toward building a zero-emissions vehicle for ride-hailing, as well as an end-to-end autonomy software stack, the blog stated.
Last year, Amazon launched autonomous robots called Scout to deliver packages in Southern California. Amazon Scout can safely and autonomously navigate obstructions in roadways. Amazon also said in a statement on its website that it has hardware and software labs that give staff the ability to quickly build and test delivery devices without waiting on outside help.
Zoox will continue to operate as a standalone business, and Amazon will provide support to help bring its vision of autonomous ride-hailing to reality, the June 26 blog said.
NVIDIA and Mercedes-Benz
NVIDIA and Mercedes-Benz are also among the latest to form partnerships to develop driverless vehicles. The companies announced their collaboration in late June, citing 2024 as the year they will roll a new computing architecture off the assembly lines, according to The Motley Fool. The companies said that they will advance Mercedes-Benz’s fleet of premium vehicles with NVIDIA’s autonomous vehicle compute platforms.
NVIDIA is an expert in autonomous vehicle software. The company has created an end-to-end platform for the transportation industry that allows them to constantly improve and deploy through over-the-air updates, its website states. NVIDIA DRIVE enables developers to construct and implement advance AV applications including perception, localization and mapping, planning and control, driver monitoring, and natural language processing.
Prior to the newly formed partnership, Mercedes-Benz had already developed cars that can park, correct drifting in lanes and prevent collisions autonomously, the company’s website states. It also created the S500 research vehicle that can drive without behind-the-wheel intervention.
Waymo and Volvo
On June 25, Waymo and Volvo announced an exclusive L4 partnership where Volvo will integrate Waymo’s autonomous driving technology into its vehicles, according to Forbes. The companies said they will “integrate the Waymo Driver into an all-new mobility-focused electric vehicle platform for ride-hailing services.”
Volvo has had autonomous features like collision warning with brake support and adaptive cruise control in its vehicles since 2006, its website states. Since then, the company has introduced automatic parking, lane-keeping aid, cyclist detection with full auto brake and more. In 2017, Volvo launched its Drive Me pilot, where real customers test autonomous driving technology on real roads.
Waymo is a self-driving technology company that began as the Google Self-Driving Car Project in 2009, its website states. The company’s autonomous vehicle technology has driven millions of miles of public roads and gone through billions of miles in simulation. In 2015, Waymo took the world’s first full self-driving vehicle on public roads in Texas with a man who is blind. In 2016, Waymo spun off under Alphabet, and by 2019, fully driverless rides started with Waymo One.
Uber ATG, Toyota and Volvo
Uber ATG uses an assortment of overlapping sensors to gather data and combine it with maps, according to its website. The company’s software uses the data to predict what will happen and plans a way to safely navigate roads. Uber ATG was initially focused on robotaxis but has worked with partners to complete autonomous vehicles. Last year, Volvo and Uber ATG announced the creation of the Volvo XC90 SUV, which is fully capable of driving itself. Uber ATG has several partners including Toyota and Volvo as development partners and Toyota, Denso and SoftBank as investors.
Cruise Automation, GM and Honda
Cruise formed to reimagine the car that we’ve known for the past 50 years. The company has removed the car engine, driver and driver equipment to make going from point A to point B an experience, it said in a recent blog. The vehicles Cruise is developing in partnership with General Motors and Honda are self-driving and all electric. The companies announced the Cruise Origin in January that is designed for ride-sharing service. The vehicle is roomy because of the lack of driver equipment and has seats that face each other instead of the road. Cruise hasn’t said when we can expect the new vehicle on the road, but it is being used in private, closed environments in Michigan at GM’s facilities and outside the U.S. at Honda’s campus.
Cruise has deep partnerships with General Motors and Honda, but other investors include SoftBank and T. Rowe Price.
Ford, Volkswagen and Argo AI
Last year, Ford and Volkswagen announced a partnership to expand their global alliance to include electric vehicles, according to a 2019 press release. Additionally, the companies said they will work with Argo AI to create autonomous vehicle technology that will be introduced in the U.S. and Europe. Argo AI is focused on delivering a SAE L4 SDS for ridesharing and goods delivery, while Ford and Volkswagen are centering on both electric and autonomous vehicle development.
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