Why the first autonomous vehicles winners won’t be in your driveway
As Baidu launched China’s first driverless taxi service, an Apollo Robotaxi takes to Shougang Park.
Visual China Group | Qianlong.com | Visual China Group | Getty Images
Over the years AlphabetWaymo’s and other leaders have said that autonomous vehicles will soon be possible. However, that is still far off. You might be asking why?
Pony.ai CEO James Peng said, “In one sentence, it’s complex.” Every technical breakthrough brings with it challenges. The AI, fast computers chips and sensors are all available to us. You can solve it by putting all of the pieces together. The technology is imperfect at 99.9%.
Michael Dunne CEO, ZoZoGo’s autotech company, stated that while there are many promises about autonomous driving and climate-change-fighting, “the autonomous car nirvana” is still 10 years away. Although it is possible, the best technologies have not been developed yet. They are only used in areas that are easily predictable. Universal acceptance is still far off.
And not only this, but the business model poses a greater challenge than the technology, he stated.
Many people consider self-driving cars without brake pedals or steering wheels a novelty. Tech glitches can be fixed by additional road tests. The regulations to allow driverless cars are in constant development by country, city and state. Most buyers are not happy with the high price tag of an AV-equipped vehicle, which hovers around $100,000. Still, commercialization is underway. There are still safety concerns, especially after the March 2018 fatal accident involving one. UberTempe, Arizona: s Vehicles multiple incidentsTeslas in self-driving mode.
However, the market leaders continue to bet big on smarter transportation technology. To test it, they log thousands of kilometers to train AI algorithms and self-driving sensors. These systems will drive in any weather conditions and under unpredictable conditions better than humans. There are tech giants, carmakers and start-ups. GM’s Cruise, Waymo, Baidu, and others have invested billions of dollars and years of R&D in this emerging market poised to reach 12% of new car registrations globally by 2030. Meanwhile, TeslaIt continues to work on semi-autonomous self-driving and autopilot systems.
Now, after more than a decade, there are robotaxis and robotic-driven deliveries as well as autonomous trucks emerging to be the top money-makers.
Ride-hailing has poor business models, unhappy drivers, and creates problems in urban mobility. Professor Erik Gordon at the University of Michigan, where he studies entrepreneurship and technology, said that robotaxis fleets are “the next great thing”. His vision of urban streets is one without traffic jams and accidents.
The technical challenges are increasing in this phase of passenger and road testing. There will be unpredictable traffic patterns, weather conditions like fog or rain and lingering social awareness issues.
Dong Wei (Vice President and Chief Safety Operation Officer of Baidu Intelligent Driving Business Group, Beijing) stated that autonomous driving will take some time to commercialize on a large scale.
The next step in the development of this market could be paid passenger fares for fully-driverless robotaxis.
Pony.ai was ranked No. 10The following are the 2022 CNBC Disruptor 50 listBaidu Beijing has been the leader in China in the launch of fare-charging robotaxis. These two companies began charging taxi fares in Beijing last November. They also have a driver who monitors the ride. Pony.ai will also launch a taxi service that charges a fee. It offers 100 traditional taxis in the Nansha area of Guangzhou. Pony.ai and Pony.ai have both been testing automated vehicles and robotaxis in the U.S. However, Pony.ai suspended its driverless trials in California when a Pony.ai car hit Fremont’s lane divider.
China has identified several areas of large cities as suitable for test and is pursuing smart transport as part of its national growth strategy. Dunne said that China has the ideal location to test autonomous driving.
Despite China’s and U.S. market development being closely linked, Dunne suggested that “two global ecosystems”, one China-led and one U.S., with respective governments and systems, are possible. China does not want U.S. firms stealing data, and China is testing the U.S. on the same topic. Chinese AV companies are likely to maintain R&D in the U.S. but deploy in China for China.”
After several months of pilot testing with employees, the U.S. industry leaders Waymo & Cruise plan to launch their paid driverless robotaxis in San Francisco. Waymo will also expand its driverless service to downtown Phoenix, after pilots have been trained in the late 2018. This is for customers who live in suburb Chandler.
Argo AI launches driverless operations in Miami, Austin and New York.
Courtesy: Argo AI
FordArgo-AI, backed by VW have begun operating autonomous test vehicles without a human safety driverMoving around workers in Miami and Austin is a common practice. Argo tested its self-driving technology in 8 cities in the U.S., Europe. Some of Argo’s vehicles were accompanied by a human safety driver. These cars are being used in Miami Beach, Florida by Lyft’s ride sharing network. LyftThe company holds a 2.5% share.
AmazonZoox, an acquired startup, custom tests its robotaxis cube-like in the Bay Area and Seattle without charging rides.
CB Insights estimates that the equity financing for AV-tech companies has surpassed $12 Billion in 2021. That’s more than half of what it was in 2020. Waymo dominates the U.S. funding, topping out at $5.5 Billion including Alphabet. Cruise also tops the list, with $10 Billion from GM and Honda. GM Financial provides a $5B line of credit. Pony.ai is co-founded in 2016 by Peng (former Baidu AV Lead Developer), and is currently financed using $1.1 billion. This includes a $400m investment of GM Financial. Toyota.
Startups operating in the AV industry have taken advantage of major automobile manufacturers and ride-hailing service providers, like Motional. This company was created in 2021 by a joint venture formed with Hyundai, pilots from Lyft, and other investors. UberThe Advanced Technologies Group, Uber’s self-driving division, was sold to Aurora Innovation. Travis Kalanick (the Uber co-founder) had stated that self-driving is a priority. Amazon, Hyundai and Greylock invested in Aurora. They are currently working to launch a commercial robotaxi system.
Companies developing robotaxis for commercial use are focusing on several other markets to differentiate themselves. Baidu’s Apollo Go “brains”, which are Apollo AVs, will be used to provide autonomous driving solutions to carmakers and robo-buses in China. This is Baidu’s latest move as it seeks diversification from its search and advertisement core. According to a Baidu spokesperson, Apollo Go monthly pricing is roughly the cost of hiring a taxi driver in China’s major cities. It also sells intelligent transportation solutions in 34 Chinese cities. These projects are for improving traffic conditions and road safety. Baidu has also partnered with Geely, the Chinese owners of Volvo to finance its smart electric vehicle business JIDU. The robocar will be mass-produced for launch in 2023.
Although robo-vehicles are expensive, they can be produced as a way to make the market more accessible. Cruise joined forces with GM, Honda, and Honda in mass-producing the Origin, an electric self-driving shared car that will be available within a few years at GM’s Factory Zero plant in Detroit. Amazon-owned Zoox built many custom-built electric, autonomous robotaxis at their Fremont facility. The machines are slowly being released. Waymo plans to expand its ride-hail fleet, which includes I-Pacers in Detroit and Chrysler Pacifica hybrids in Detroit. In the future, Waymo will collaborate with Chinese automaker Geely in order to outfit its all-electric, purpose-built vehicles for U.S. roads. Pony.ai has just unveiled their sixth generation autonomous driving system. It will equip a Toyota Sienna 7-seat model, and start road testing in China in 2018. Robotaxis is expected to follow in 2023.
The potential for robot-powered delivery is also a promising path to commercial success and profitability. Cruise, chief operating officer, Gil West said that Cruise has joined forces with Walmart to deliver groceries in Phoenix. The company plans to increase its service nationwide. Nuro, an autonomous delivery robot startup from Silicon Valley, has been testing a service it offers to Walmart and Kroger customers. They also recently added 7-Eleven Mountain View customers. Uber has begun piloting food delivery by self-driving cars and sidewalk robots in Los Angeles.
Zoox is considering supplying Amazon last-mile delivery services from its shuttles. Jesse Levinson is Zoox’s CTO and cofounder. We charge people for rides. This is our business model. A driver is the biggest expense in a ride-sharing car. These fares can be amortized over the five-year period to reduce the car’s cost.
Although this may appear counterintuitive, the long-haul AV trucking sector is the one that’s growing at the fastest pace in the market. Jim Scheinman is the founding managing partner of Maven Ventures, and an early investor at Cruise. He noted that Embark Truck, and other AV-trucking companies, will benefit the market’s trillion-dollar value in many ways. Scheinman explained that “not only will we keep our freight costs considerably lower (which is still so important in a world with continued supply chain issues, inflation, and) but also because it will aid the long haul trucking labor shortages. Also, being much more environmentally-friendly.” He added, “Massive wins” for all and the planet.
Locomation from Pittsburgh is a semi-autonomous hybrid technology that allows two-truck convoys to travel together. One driver is in the truck leading vehicle and the other is in follower trucks, taking a break. Cetin Mericli co-founded Locomation and has tested the technology with three trucking companies. He said that the system could double the efficiency and speeds up delivery times, as well as keep trucks running longer. In a futuristic fashion, the first autonomous delivery of our cargo was an empty trailer filled with TP.
SIGN UP Subscribe to our Weekly, Original Newsletter that is more than just a list. We offer a deeper look at CNBC Disruptor-50 companies and founders who are continuing to invent across all sectors of the economy.