A new kind of vehicle that doesn’t require drivers seems to be just around the corner. Tech giants, startups, car makers, and ride-hailing firms are now racing to get the autonomous vehicles (AVs) on public roads.
What is an autonomous vehicle?
Autonomous vehicles, also known as self-driving, driverless car, or robot cars, is a car that can guide itself without human conduction. A ranking from 1-5 tells you the level of driving automation of a certain vehicle. For a Level 5 AV, no human intervention is required at all.
Pros and Cons of Self-driving:
Just like the invention of cars did back in the day, AVs are about to shake up the world. On one side are the positive changes that self-driving cars can bring, cutting down the pollution and carbon emissions, diminishing traffic jams, enabling old or disabled people to gain mobility, etc.
But there are also concerns about safety, cyber-security and liability. Being essentially computers on wheels, AVs could be remotely hijacked or sabotaged. Also, those who make a living by driving trucks, taxis or buses may lose their jobs.
Waymo, formerly the Google self-driving car project, now is a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc. is devoted to self-driving technology development.
Waymo had already started its commercial ride-hailing service in Phoenix, Arizona since December 2018, and is now partnering with Lyft to bring self-driving vehicles, the Waymo One, onto the ride-hailing network in Phoenix as well.
Apollo is a software platform provided by Baidu for partners in the automotive and autonomous driving industry. Since Baidu first announced the “Apollo” program in 2017, after two years of developing and testing, the Apollo platform has grown into one of the largest autonomous driving ecosystems in the world, bringing together over 130 global partners and Apollo is used by over 12,000 developers and partners worldwide.
Tesla’s vehicles are very different from other companies’ self-driving cars. They are already equipped with all the hardware that’s required for autonomous cars. The Tesla Autopilot is an advanced driver-assistance system, with features like Autosteer, Autopark, and Traffic-Aware Cruise Control (TACC), enabling a self-driving experience under very specific circumstances, but currently it still requires supervision by a human driver.
The CEO Elon Musk said that Tesla will launch its first robotaxi network in 2020.
Cruise Automation, the self-driving division of General Motors purchased in 2016 for $1 billion, plans to put the Cruise AV without steering wheel or pedals or manual controls on road for commercial ride-hailing use as early as in 2019. GM offers a self-driving system called Super Cruise, but it can only work on highways within GM’s mapping area.
Volvo, a Swedish carmaker, has been under the ownership of Geely since 2010. Volvo Cars signed a cooperation agreement with Uber, a leading ride-hailing company in 2016. The companies presented a jointly developed car, Volvo XC90 SUV, which is capable of fully driving by itself in combination with Uber’s self-driving system. Uber will start testing the new car on public roads in 2020.
Ford Motor Company, an American multinational automaker, announced in February that it is going to be investing $1 billion in Argo AI, a robotics company created by former Google and Uber leaders. Ford is expected to combine the expertise of Argo AI with Ford’s existing self-driving car efforts to have a “fully autonomous vehicle” coming in 2021, which may be used in ride hailing applications at first.
All BMW vehicles offer L1, and many even offer L2 automation. The current BMW Personal CoPilot driver assistance systems support drivers on the road and help ensure additional safety and comfort. BMW vehicles have been testing highly automated driving on public roads for several years now, and it aims to realize fully autonomous driving in 2021.
Huawei, a Chinese tech giant, is working with European and Chinese car companies to launch self-driving vehicles as early as 2021. In early 2018, Huawei and Audi signed a memorandum of understanding in Berlin to jointly develop intelligent connected vehicles. Huawei’s Mobile Data Center is fitted into the Audi Q7 to support urban automatic driving environments.
Featured photo credit to AARP