Gas2 Week in Review, January 21: Autonomous Driving in the News

Autonomous driving featured prominently in two big exhibitions this January:  the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). At CES, panels discussed the way that all kinds of companies and people are “transforming the experience of how we hit the road,” with carmakers, technologists, and lobbyists coming together to offer input about and a vision for a self-driving future. At NAIAS, more than 40,000 automotive and mobility experts and innovators chatted about emerging mobility technologies and trends. Presentations and panel discussions set the framework for product benchmarking and technology immersion.

So it makes sense that this edition of the “Gas2 Week in Review” would look at the revelations about autonomous driving that are swirling around the recent headlines. After all, autonomous vehicles seem poised to change the way we travel and may even impact the design of our urban spaces.

So what’s new in the autonomous driving news?

autonomous driving

Mass Adoption of Autonomous Driving Begins with Driverless Mobility Services

If a new report is correct, more than 33 million autonomous vehicles will be sold globally in 2040. That’s a huge increase from the volume forecast for 2021, which is just 51,000 units. And the impetus for the change starts with the molding of autonomous driving and mobility services. Ride-hailing will be the average person’s initial experience with fully autonomous vehicles; individual ownership may follow or maybe won’t actually even happen at all.

“The first autonomous vehicle volumes — beyond retrofit test vehicles — will arrive in 2019 through driverless mobility services,” said Egil Juliussen, director of automotive technology research at IHS Markit. “Volumes will surpass 51,000 units in 2021 when personally owned autonomous cars reach individual buyers for the first time, and IHS Markit forecasts estimate nearly 1 million units will be sold in 2025 across shared fleets and individually owned cars.”

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Photo courtesy Mercedes

CES 2018 did have its major focus on electrification, and the futuristic visions that filled the space likely exceed anything in our everyday imaginations. But autonomous driving technology was a common theme as well, with more and more companies stepping up to show off their soon-to-be self-driving cars. The cute little Mercedes EQ fortwo could be seen along the Las Vegas strip in a glimpse of what ride-hailing services may look like soon. Combining mobility, autonomy, and connectivity, the car has level-five autonomy — that means there is no human intervention nor equipment to assume control–  and welcomes passengers by name.

Already, NAVYA’s AV shuttle is on its way for use in cities, airports, campuses, hospitals, theme parks, holiday shuttles, and taxis. The company calls it “an innovative, effective, clean, and intelligent mobility solution.” It guarantees autonomous transport performance as well as a comfortable trip for the first and last mile due to its gentle navigation. NAVYA also reminds us that by 2050, 70% of the world’s population will be concentrated in cities, with 1 billion cars around the world. The AV shuttle and other autonomous vehicles will alleviate traffic congestion and enhance urban aesthetics.

Autonomous Driving News Out Of the NAICS

The North American International Auto Show in Detroit demonstrated how automakers, such as Honda, Toyota, and Nissan are on the verge of bringing autonomous technology into affordable vehicles. “This year is a coming-out party for autonomous technology for production models,” explained Josh Clifton, a Nissan spokesman. The 2018 Nissan LEAF, which is selling fabulously in European pre-orders, has more than half of its 13,000 reservations incorporate ProPILOT technology, which allows vehicles to operate autonomously during single-lane driving on the highway. 

Cadillac, Honda, Toyota, Volvo, Mercedes, Audi, and BMW also were on hand for autonomous driving participation at NAICS as symbolism that they, too, are part of the in-group. “We’re highly engaged in creating a system that assist the driver and, in some cases, take over the driver altogether,” Donny Nordlicht, a Cadillac spokesman, said, referring to the company’s hands-free driving technology for the highway known as “Super Cruise.” Don’t many of us wish we had been able to offer such peace-of-mind to our elders as they drove their Caddies in years past?

New, revised US self-driving car guidelines will be unveiled in summer, 2018. US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao made the announcement at NAICS, saying that the guidelines would address not only self-driving automobiles but “barriers to the safe integration of autonomous technology for motor carriers, transit, trucks, infrastructure, and other modes.” With industry movers-and-shakers such as GM, Toyota, Alphabet/ Google, and others deeply into lobbying efforts to remove remaining roadblocks to the wide deployment of self-driving vehicles and taxis, the announcement seems to point to a faster rollout of the autonomous driving in the US than the Trump administration first indicated.

Chao described the new guidelines in a Reuters interview: “The technology is there, the question is how do we regulate it, how do we continue to promote innovation but also safeguard safety.”

The Leading Companies That Are Making Progress in Bringing Autonomous Driving Vehicles to Market

How are the companies involved in developing self-driving cars doing in rankings according to their performance and marketing strategy?  Each year, Navigant Research evaluates all the companies involved in developing self-driving cars.  What did 2018 look like for autonomous driving progress?

General Motors is leading the way, largely due to its acquisition of startups like Cruise Automation and Lyft. So, too, did the GM announcement that it would begin building modified versions of its Chevy Bolt electric car with no steering wheels or pedals in 2019 boost its standing in the autonomous driving competition. Waymo, in association with Chrysler, is also listed as one of the leaders in the field. And one of the big movers in the group is Baidu, the giant Chinese search engine company that has been heavily involved with Aptiv, which brought a self-driving BMW created in cooperation with Lyft to the CES 2018.

Where is the beloved Tesla brand name on the list? Remarkably, Tesla was ranked last among the 19 companies in this year’s survey. According to the report, the split between Tesla and Mobileye accounted for Tesla’s poor results. It seems Tesla’s aggressive promotion of its Autopilot hasn’t quite reached the same level of functionality it had with Mobileye.

Intel Autonomous Driving Technology Continues to Evolve

Could we see semi-autonomous vehicles powered by MobilEye’s Road Experiment Management (REM) system as soon as this year? Could be, as Intel has signed contracts with 11 carmakers to use Level 2+ autonomous driving tech that MobilEye developed. With semi-autonomous features, such as simple braking, steering, and acceleration, it’s a starting place, with the eventual goal of the REM to make fully autonomous cars.

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Graphic courtesy Mobileye

Part of the upcoming work that Intel and MobilEye is doing centers on data-gathering to create near real-time maps for autonomous driving systems. Through the MobilEye’s EyeQ4 system-on-a-chip that’s embedded in 2 million cars — BMWs, VWs, Nissans, and other brands — already on the road, the chip will use onboard sensors to build HD maps showing roads’ current conditions, incident reports, and construction information.

For more info about self-driving basics, check out Autonomous Driving Levels 0–5 + Implications.

Photo by Samsung Newsroom on / CC BY-NC-SA

Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn grew up in Stafford Springs, CT, home of the half-mile tar racetrack. She's an avid Formula One fan (this year's trip to the Monza race was memorable). With a Ph.D. from URI, she draws upon digital media literacy and learning to spread the word about sustainability issues. Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook and Google+