Autonomous vehicles or next generation self-driving vehicles has been a long-awaited pipe dream pf automotive market since ages.
They may not be ubiquitous yet, and the day-to-day advantages that they will start to provide may not be noticeable, but automated technologies across the automotive industry are starting to come of age.
According to the latest trends witnessed in the automobile industry, IDTechEx has covered some of the most significant milestones and developments happened since last year and what to expect in the coming one.
The ‘robotaxi’ industry is beginning to see more small commercial deployments.
Autonomous trucks are on the cusp of real-world use, and next-generation sensor technologies are being deployed on vehicles that are for sale.
Robotaxis Services Starting to Come Online
The biggest news from this year in the world of robotaxis is commercial services have come online in San Francisco. This is a major milestone that the industry has been working towards for some time, but it is unfortunately not as exciting as it initially sounds.
Waymo has been at the forefront of the autonomous vehicles race for some years, but in 2021 this changed. IDTechEx uses a metric called ‘miles per disengagement’ to assess the progress and maturity of the autonomous car players.
Waymo’s performance slip came as it ramped up its testing in San Francisco, whereas previously, it had favored less challenging, more suburban environments. IDTechEx suspects that this slip in performance might be related to the fact that Cruise had started a limited service in San Francisco. However, Waymo is now eyeing a deployment in Los Angeles, which generally has a slightly more robotaxi-friendly road network than San Francisco.
Outside of the US, China has also been ramping up its autonomous robotaxi deployments. Baidu, Pony.ai, and AutoX have been making some significant progress. Baidu and Pony.ai conduct significant testing in Beijing and, like Cruise and Waymo, have limited commercial robotaxi services. Baidu and Pony.ai were given permission to start a robotaxi service with no driver behind the wheel in April of this year, with one slight catch.
Their services must still have a supervisor present in the vehicle, presumably sitting in the front passenger seat. They will also be restricted to a set number of cars, operating hours, and geofencing. Baidu will be able to operate ten cars between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm, while Pony.ai will only have four cars operating between 9 am and 5 pm, both operating in an area of 23.1 square miles. AutoX has been growing its robotaxi service in Shenzhen for over a year and now has a service area nearly three times the size of Baidu and Pony.ai’s in Beijing at 65 square miles.
Roboshuttles Struggling to Get a Foot Hold
This new and exciting future mobility solution is fast becoming not so new, not so exciting, and possibly soon confined to history. The concept of a roboshuttle-powered future is that these small, shared vehicles will be able to operate more flexibly than a bus. Thus, offering more diverse routes and some working on an on-demand basis.
IDTechEx believes these vehicles have major hurdles and fundamental flaws that need to be overcome for them to prosper.
Roboshuttles will share the challenge of robotaxis in proving that the autonomous technology is mature enough to be trusted with the lives of its passengers. On top of this, they also battle more fundamental regulations governing what constitutes a road-worthy vehicle. This is the problem of homologation. The problem is that in most regions, a vehicle needs a long list of features and engineering criteria to be signed off as road worthy.
Even if the autonomous technology could be 100% signed-off today, the rules of the road would still likely prohibit these vehicles from being commercially used. This is an area where IDTechEx is seeing progress though. Nuro, specializing in driverless deliveries, has been pushing for changes to allow their driverless pods to operate on the road.
Despite the pragmatic pessimism of the previous paragraphs, there is still some hope for roboshuttles. Two key activities that IDTechEx would point to for reasons to be optimistic are Cruise’s intentions with the Origin and ZFs acquisition of ‘2getthere’. Cruise is one of the leaders in the robotaxi race and is part of General Motors. Its original concept is a mix between a robotaxi and roboshuttle. It looks like a roboshuttle but has a comfortable cabin for six people rather than a utilitarian cabin for mass transport. It is also designed to travel at full motorway speeds rather than the pedestrian shuffle of most roboshuttles. These differences are mostly irrelevant though. What is important is that GM has the mite and sway to influence NHTSA and get the changes it needs to commercialize the Origin with its non-conventional, non-homologated design.
Another Exciting Year for Automotive Radar
Away from the conventional supply chain, some start-ups are getting closer to deploying their next-generation 4D imaging radars, and these have some even more exciting tech! They can be thought of as the next generation beyond those being supplied by Continental and ZF today. The ones that IDTechEx are most excited about are Israel-based Arbe and Texas-based Uhnder. While the established tier-ones are now adopting Silicon CMOS technologies with 40-45nm transistor sizing, these start-ups are blazing ahead with a 22nm process for Arbe and a 28nm process for Uhnder. These smaller transistor sizes allow for more imaging potential to be crammed onto a smaller chip with some incredible results.
These gains in performance are fantastic, but the start-ups need to establish a route to production and deployment, and thankfully they have. In October 2022, Arbe announced that it has partnered with Veoneer, which is planning to develop radars using Arbe’s reference design. Veoneer says it aims to have pre-production versions of these new 2K 4D imaging radars ready by mid-2023. Uhnder, though, are going to be entering the market even sooner.
Trends in Automotive LiDAR
LiDAR is not a new technology. It is not quite as old as radar, but it might be surprising to learn it has been around since the 1960s. The first versions were simple and initially used for ranging applications in aerospace and defense.
As the development and applications increased, LiDAR grew the ability to measure angles, velocity and produce detailed 3D maps, but the equipment was costly. The benefits for automotive were clear in the 2000s. It could offer the abilities of radar at a much higher resolution. However, until recently, it was simply too expensive for widespread adoption across the automotive industry.
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