An autonomous vehicle, or a self-driving vehicle, is one that doesn’t need a human driver, can operate itself and perform necessary functions on its own, with the aid of an array of sensors. In the year 2008, Google started on its autonomous vehicles journey. Today, technology disruptors and automotive OEMs alike use autonomy from levels 1 to 4 and are striving to achieve level 5 autonomy, which does not require any human intervention.
Timelines declared by CXO(s) of top automotive OEMs for these vehicles to hit the roads have been pushed for various reasons. Consequently, today, level 5 autonomous vehicle technology in passenger vehicles is a moon-shot and companies choose to focus on incremental autonomy instead.
However, the moon-shot also is less than a decade away from us. If for another 5 years, companies continue to struggle with the social acceptance aspect of AV, they cannot keep investing blindly in the technology. To understand the magnitude of this problem, it is noteworthy that between 2015 and 2025, the direct or indirect R&D investments to be made by Automotive OEMs toward the development of this technology will most likely cross 350 Billion USD.
During the last couple of years, in fact mostly in the past year, the industry witnessed the formation of groups of technology leaders, tier 1 and tier 2 companies, and automotive OEMs to pool in efforts and resources toward the development & improvement of technology building blocks. This is owing to the fact that level 5 autonomy in cars demands perfection, which means impeccable decision-making and zero errors. So, while the automotive industry leaders are building individually on level 3 and level 4 technology enablement pieces, for level 5, they are banking on the ‘succeed together’ formula.
Other than level 5 autonomy, the automotive industry is seeing more trends grow in tandem:
- Connected technology, V2X i.e. communication between the vehicle and every other entity. This covers V2V (vehicle to vehicle), V2P (vehicle to person), V2I (vehicle to infrastructure), V2N (vehicle to network).
- Electrification in vehicles
- HD mapping
Amidst all the technology groups, the Autonomous Vehicle Compute Consortium (AVCC) and Autonomous Vehicle Safety Consortium (AVSC) stand out. AVCC is owned by Arm whereas AVSC is the brainchild of SAE ITC. Arm, Bosch, Continental, GM, Toyota, NVidia, NXP semiconductors, Denso, Synopsys and Zenuity are all members of the AVCC, while, Ford, GM, Toyota, Uber ATG, Daimler, Honda, and Lyft have all come together under the AVSC. These consortiums, as previously stated, bring together players who have expertise in specific areas, like safety for AVSC and hence can be trusted with the most detailed research in those specific areas, and create IPs that the industry as a whole can benefit from.
Car 2 Car Communication Consortium (C2C CC,) is another industrial driven, non-commercial association which was founded in 2002 by vehicle manufacturers affiliated to the idea of cooperative road traffic with Vehicle-to-Vehicle communication (V2V) supported by Vehicle-to-Infrastructure communication (V2I). Most of the largest auto OEMs including Audi, BMW, Daimler, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, and Jaguar and Land Rover are members of this prestigious consortium.
Another prominent name is China EV100 – a consortium consisting of OEMs and allied partners predominantly from China and aims at boosting the development of the EV industry. By providing a platform without boundaries among industry, discipline, ownership and department, it promotes the convergence and collaborative innovation across multiple fields through research and communication.
There is a plethora of such examples in the industry today. This is owing to a general notion that Autonomous technology is bound to swell in the market, but the timelines are getting pushed. Hence co-developing solutions definitely seems like a smart choice for the intermediate future.
The OneMap Alliance, though technically not created by Automotive companies, is nevertheless one that is dedicated to a technology that forms the backbone of Autonomous technology development i.e. HD mapping. The members of this alliance are HERE Technologies and its regional mapping partners are NavInfo of China, Increment P (IPC)/Pioneer of Japan and SK Telecom of Korea. The best part about this alliance is that it brings standardization across geographies to the HD map offering space; specification developed for HERE HD Live Map is going to be adhered to.
Open sourcing of platforms and Autonomous technology hardware and offerings:
Automotive industry players aren’t just coming together to co-build technology. They are also open sourcing their own products and solutions. GM’s Cruise Automation and Uber are making their visualization tool open source. Openpilot is an open-source, semi-automated driving system developed by comma.ai. Aceinna released OpenIMU300RI, an open-source inertial measurement unit (IMU) for AV. Autoware foundation is a not-for-profit foundation enabling open source products development for Autonomous driving, while Baidu’s Apollo is a complete open source AV platform. Apollo 3.0 is their latest and most advanced release.
Other than these industry collaborations, NXP is working with a French chipmaker Kalray for a central computing platform that can be used in autonomous vehicles. Karma Automotive has gotten into a partnership with NVIDIA for the Drive AGX and Pegasus AI. Interestingly, the European Processor Initiative is defining a common approach called Common Platform (CP). The CP will include global architecture, common design, and global approach for power management & security.
This is another trend that is getting increasingly prevalent in the industry. Large players are creating offerings for which the adoption is getting accelerated by building open source communities.
Licensable solutions being built together
Amidst all the hustle, there are automotive players trying different models as well. For instance, BMW and Daimler AG are building the technology together, inviting others to join them in the development efforts. The intention is to make it a licensable solution in the future.
While consolidation and accelerated adoption through open sourcing is the approach being employed by Automotive players, technology disruptors like Waymo are trying to forge relationships with OEMs from across the world. Waymo has alliances with FCA in the US, JLR and Renault in the UK and Europe respectively, and Honda and Nissan in Japan. Global expanse is the need being addressed here. The members of any of the consortiums listed above are also geographically spread out, alluding to technology development that can address as many regulations and mobility needs as possible.
One of the end objectives is to create a technology platform whose adoption can become more or less a norm for the industry. Be this for autonomous technology, connected car technology, electrification in cars or HD mapping space, co-opetition is definitely the new buzzword.
Consortium formations also help with cost reduction for mass production. Autonomous shuttles in constrained environments like robo-taxis shuttling up and down the same route was where good traction was evident, in the pre COVID-19 era. Post the COVID-19 situation though, shared mobility is likely to take a backseat, at least for the time being.
Companies have to think about breakeven of their investments within 2-3 years. While level 4 and level 5 AVs are likely to generate interest in the commercial taxi space, the passenger vehicle space is more likely to be dominated by level 2 and level 3 AVs in the short to medium term. Social factors are going to be key in the adoption of level 4 and level 5 technology, and that is where safety standards for Autonomous Vehicles like the UL4600 are building confidence in the consumers. GM’s Cruise Automation, Waymo, Argo AI, and Baidu are the companies that are leading the way in this space currently, and the consortiums that these sure-shot winners are going to be part of are the ones where the most well-adopted autonomous technology is likely to take birth.