It’s hard to keep track of which companies are working on self-driving cars, especially when glamorous giants like Uber and Google’s spinoff Waymo dominate the conversation. Ashley’s article did a fantastic job summarizing the concept of self-driving cars, so give that a read first! She inspired me to dive deeper into which companies are on the path to bringing us self-driving cars.
Navigant puts out a leaderboard every year that measures how well companies are faring in the development of automated driving systems. 19 companies were measured based on “vision; go-to market strategy; partners; production strategy; technology; sales, marketing, and distribution; product capability; product quality and reliability; product portfolio; and staying power.” Here are the 19 top contenders:
You may be shocked to see Tesla at the bottom of this list. Navigant argues: “In a May 2017 TED talk, Musk claimed the systems being built today would be Level 5 capable by 2019. However, this is unlikely to ever be achievable since Level 5 is defined as the car being able to operate without human intervention in all conditions. Current Tesla hardware lacks the ability to keep sensors clean and unobscured in poor weather as well as most of the redundant systems needed for fully automated driving, not to mention the lidar that most people in the field believe is necessary for highly automated vehicles. Even Nvidia has expressed doubt that the computing hardware it sells to Tesla is capable of supporting full automation reliably.” Tesla has struggled with scaling production for the Model 3 and its finances are a mess. Things aren’t looking too hot as Tesla is also splitting from Mobileye, which was responsible for the development of its first autopilot system.
As expected, Apple has been rather secretive about its autonomous vehicle efforts. It has a permit to test self-driving cars and has discussed that it is developing the technology. People have spotted Apple’s “Project Titan” and called it “The Thing.” While Apple has “never developed a product as complex as an automobile,” it does have “existing capabilities that make it uniquely positioned to participate in the automated driving space.”
Uber was the first to launch self-driving cars in the US in Pittsburg. The ride hailing giant hired nearly a third of Carnegie Mellon’s National Robotics Engineering Center staff, while partnering with the university to research maps, vehicle safety, and autonomous driving. Innovation there is like wildflowers: abundant yet uncontrolled. No one knows who is responsible for the intellectual property. This means that while the technology is doing well, Uber is reeling from internal turbulence in addition to a bombshell lawsuit from Waymo, which claims trade secret infringement. This is because Uber acquired a robo-truck startup created by Anthony Levandowski, who was formerly a key member at Google. The lawsuit claims that Levandowski brought over 14,000 confidential Google documents to Uber.
Honda has conservatively been incorporating Honda Sensing features into its cars for years. A Honda spokesperson explained that “Honda isn’t always the first to the party, but we’re usually the best dressed!” Honda plan on achieving Level 3 freeway driving by 2020, and potentially partnering with Waymo for Level 4 autonomous driving by 2025. CEO Takahiro Hachigo plans that electric vehicles will account for two thirds of company sales by 2030.
15. Hyundai Motor Group
Hyundai recently unveiled a fuel-cell SUV named NEXO, which it developed with a startup called Aurora. Because autonomous driving processes so much data, fuel cells can can provide that power. Hyundai is hoping to go to market by 2021. “We know the future of transportation is autonomous, and autonomous driving technology needs to be proven in the real world to accelerate deployment in a safe and scalable manner,” said Dr Woong Chul Yang, Vice Chairman of Hyundai.
Baidu, a Chinese company similar to Google, has been testing self-driving cars in California. It recently devoted over $1.5 billion to developing self-driving cars, and the intent is to create a small-scale shared shuttle service in 2018, and then expand to consumer vehicles. Since Baidu doesn’t have existing manufacturing capability, it had originally partnered with BMW. This ended in 2016 when Baidu announced it is searching for a new research partner.
Navya is a French company that recently unveiled an electric, autonomous vehicle called Autonum. Navya claims this is the “world’s first taxi robot,” although the other companies on this list may dispute that. Autonum has no steering wheel or breaks, but it has 10 LIDAR sensors, 6 cameras, 4 radar systems, and a computer system.
Toyota made a $1 billion investment into the Toyota Research Institute with the goal of making a car incapable of causing a crash. At the Consumer Electronics Show, Toyota showed off a Lexus LS 600h with Luminar LIDAR 360-degree sensors sleekly incorporated onto the roof of the car.
11. Jaguar Land Rover
Jaguar Land Rover has successfully tested self-driving cars on public roads. The company outfitted a Range Rover Sport with integrated sensors. Critically, the cars can communicate with other cars and infrastructure.
French automaker PSA is working with Almotive to test Level 4 AI in a Citroen C4 Picasso on highways in France. PSA had previously teamed up with nuTonomy (now Aptiv) in 2017. PSA’s timeline is to offer all models with an electric option by 2025 and roll out partial self-driving technology in most cars by 2030.
This partnership will bring several companies together to develop an end-to-end platform for Connected Safety, Advanced Driver Assistance Support, and Autonomous Driving software. A seamless solution like this will allow automated driving to scale more quickly. It will be integrated into the car along with an IoT system to enable automated driving.
8. Renault-Nissan Alliance
plan to introduce a “highly autonomous drive vehicle for use on highways”, that will move into urban environments by 2020. While this first vehicle will require human monitoring, the partnership plans to release a fully autonomous vehicle within 5 years. The three companies operate separately, yet they have a layer of common management.
nuTonomy was a Boston-based startup that was the first to offer self-driving taxis with its fleet in Singapore. Renault Zoes and Mitsubishi i-MiEVs were modified using nuTonomy’s technology, and an engineer was present in the driver’s seat to ensure everything went well. nuTonomy teamed up with Lyft in Boston to offer a pilot rides around the Seaport this year. A human safety driver stayed behind the wheel as backup. These cars have a screen to display real-time information to make passengers feel more comfortable. nuTonomy had $20 million in venture capital, and was recently acquired by automotive supplier Aptiv, formerly known as Delphi.
Canadian autosupplier Magna International and Fiat Chrysler have recently teamed up with BMW, Intel, and Mobileye (formerly a Tesla partner) to create a self-driving vehicle platform to be used by any automaker. “Many of the autonomy challenges the industry is facing can’t be handled in isolation,” said Magna’s chief of technology. The group plans to launch the flexible vehicle platform by 2021, aiming for both Level 4 and Level 5 autonomy.
5. Volkswagen VW Group
Volkswagen partnered with Aurora on autonomous tech to offer mobility as a service for everyone—even the children, elderly, and visually impaired. Aurora’s sensor system will be integrated with VW’s AI technology. The concept vehicle is called Sedric, and it can be summoned with the push of a button. This hints that VW imagines both private ownership of cars as well as shared cars in cities.
Ford’s grand plan has four core tenets: developing autonomous tech to serve commercial-grade clients, using hybrid fuel systems, fostering positive relationships with the public, and focusing on safety and dependability. Ford has invested about a billion dollars into autonomous technology, and it plans on testing a new self-driving vehicle next year. It is partnering with companies such as Qualcomm for vehicle-to-everything software and Postmates for a fleet of self-driving delivery vehicles.
The partnership of the world’s top premium car manufacturer and the top automotive supplier plans on testing self-driving robo-taxis on the streets in the next few months. Daimler and Bosch are currently working on Level 3 vehicles and developing Level 4 and 5 vehicles as well. These cars will be designed for autonomous driving, which will be more comfortable than a retrofitted conventional car.
Google has been working on self-driving cars since the beginning of the decade. While Waymo doesn’t have existing manufacturing infrastructure, it has partnered with Fiat-Chrysler, Lyft, and Avis. Waymo cars have logged 2.5 billion virtual miles in simulation software and 3 million miles in real life on public roads—way more than most competitors. In Phoenix, Waymo is launching a ride-hailing service for the public to test its driverless cars.
GM has complemented its existing manufacturing powerhouse by acquiring several startups such as Cruise Automation and LIDAR firm Strobe, promoting its car sharing service called Maven, and announcing cars without steering wheels or pedals. This modified Chevy Bolt is waiting for government approval before it begins to test 2,500 of these steering wheel-less cars on public roads.
Do you agree with Navigant’s rankings? Which companies do you think will rise to the top? And do you picture a driverless sharing economy, or individual ownership of self-driving cars?