Revving Up Autonomous Vehicles: Q1 2019 Update

There is no stopping the development of autonomous vehicles. The industry keeps revving up its engines, delivering momentum in the form of new technological advancements, new players, a better understanding of how to proceed, and growing societal acceptance.

As a thought leader and researcher in the IoT economy, the ReadWrite Labs team regularly undertakes an analysis of the autonomous vehicles’ environment to provide key insights and updates on the progress being made to revolutionize the transportation and mobility industry. Recently, March Amblard, Mobility Expert for Orsay Consulting, and Kailash Suresh, Research Analyst for ReadWrite Labs, presented a quarterly update Webinar on autonomous vehicles.

The Hardware Behind Autonomous Vehicles

There are numerous segments that comprise the autonomous vehicle landscape. The first is hardware, including many sub-categories.

The first layer of hardware enables the vehicles to sense its environment. The main segment is Lidars, which include 33 companies, at present. These companies develop the sensors that provide an accurate perception of the environment around them. Lidars return a three-dimensional image of the environment around the autonomous vehicle in the form of a spinning or solid state point cloud and are a key component to get to the next level of autonomous vehicles (Level 3). Other companies in this first hardware category make sensors that are necessary for Level 1 autonomous vehicles. These sensors include cameras and thermal cameras as well as radars and ultrasound sensors.

The next type of hardware is what is generally called Edge Computing and includes both processing data and communication with the outside world. First, there are currently 20 Compute HW companies, which either produce chipsets or the complete computer for the autonomous vehicle. This category of hardware is at the core of the autonomous vehicle system. These hardware solutions are critical for things like processing power and energy consumption.

This category also features 26 Vehicle-to-everything (V2X) companies that make hardware solutions that connect vehicles with other vehicles, the infrastructure, or the cloud. V2X hardware uses WiFi or cellular-based communication protocols. There are also 10 on-board communication hardware companies in the current landscape that provide assistance with the heavy data flow as well as provide high capacity and low latency on-board data transmission solutions.

Software For Autonomous Vehicles

Along with hardware, software for autonomous vehicles is a critical component to build momentum for this industry. The first software category includes 59 automotive stack companies and 14 truck stack firms.

These companies develop the software stack that uses input primarily from the on-board sensors and maps found on an autonomous vehicle. Software stacks play an important role because these address things like perception, prediction, path planning, and actuation.

In looking at how this category is developing, most companies are at the startup stage with a few incumbents gaining traction. There are many partnerships among the incumbents as well as between the incumbents and startups as a way to share the cost and risk associated with the autonomous vehicles industry. Overall, the technology for passenger versions of autonomous vehicles is viewed as emerging faster than for autonomous trucks.

Other software categories involve 28 companies producing localization and mapping solutions as well as 19 simulation companies and 11 development tool firms. Each offers another important component that helps develop and operate an autonomous vehicle.

For example, three-dimensional HD maps and localizations solutions help provide a precise location for the autonomous vehicle and help understand its environment. Simulation platforms complement the work being done with real-life testing and enables an accelerated evaluation of new software versions across numerous scenarios.

Applications and Analytics

There are many companies involved in the autonomous vehicle landscape that deploy or support mobility services. For example, autonomous vehicle fleet management platforms enable the mobility service through user apps, vehicle dispatching and maintenance, and data management.

Also, there are a growing number of goods delivery as well as shuttles and robo-taxis that are emerging to illustrate the opportunities within the mobility industry. Currently, there are companies that are conducting real-world testing of autonomous services for people and goods in various urban environments.

Another important category for autonomous vehicles is analytics, which focuses on areas like driving aid and monitoring as well as occupant understanding with the goal of enhancing safety for occupants. There are currently 13 companies providing driving aid solutions aimed at reducing the number of autonomous vehicle accidents as well as scoring and improving driver behavior.

To achieve safety goals, more attention is also being placed on understanding occupants, including their moods, positions, and movements, as well as determining how the condition of a vehicle’s interior impacts occupants. There are also 13 companies centered on this area of analytics.

Autonomous Vehicle Development Partnerships Multiply

Since our last update during the fourth quarter of 2018, more development partnerships have emerged. First, Daimler and Bosch announced their autonomous ride-hailing pilot in Silicon Valley for this year while VW and Mobileye are undertaking a similar pilot project in Israel during the first part of 2019.

Second, VW also signed a deal with Baidu and got a seat on Baidu Apollo’s Board of Directors. They’ve planned joint testing in China this year. There are also other partnerships in the works like VW and Ford working together on projects that include autonomous vehicle development.

Third, Alliance and Waymo are in talks to develop a partnership dedicated to MaaS  (Mobility as a Service), a shift from vehicle ownership to the use of on-demand transportation. Nikkei reports possibilities which include developing a fleet of driverless taxis using Nissan vehicles and a system that handles reservation and payments.

Slower and Progressive Autonomous Vehicle Deployment

Since the end of 2018, some changes have also occurred with efforts to deploy autonomous vehicles with less hype and more focus and results. Waymo launched Waymo One, which is a commercial service for autonomous ride-hailing. So far, it operates in Phoenix, Arizona and still uses a back-up driver to ensure a higher level of safety.

However, Audi A8 with Level 3 functionality has yet to be offered in the European market, signalling that reality has set in in terms of readiness. In the meantime, states like Ontario in Canada are starting to allow Level 3 cars to operate on their roads.

Instead, more restraint was shown at the recent Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas, Nevada this past January. There was a more realistic launch date set for Level 4 vehicles from Ford and BMW, which was projected to be in 2021. Now, the focus is on shorter term development around things like Level 2 concepts, including Nvidia “L2+.” Also, more Lidar products are continue to mature and deliver a broader offering. This shows progression but just at a much slower rate.  

A Deeper Look at Mobility Opportunities

In looking more closely at automated shuttles, robo-taxis, and last mile delivery services, there are numerous opportunities on the horizon. Automated shuttles offer a viable solution for reducing congestion and providing more mobility choices for those in lesser served areas where public transportation is poor.

New players include EasyMile, Navya, Baidu’s Apollo, and May Mobility while incumbents like Toyota, Bosch, Panasonic, and ZF offer their own take on autonomous shuttles.

Eventually, it is predicted that robo-taxis will replace driver-operated ride-hailing. Examples like the aforementioned Waymo One and the soon-to-be launched GM Cruise illustrate why this transformation to autonomous mobility offerings is possible.

Additionally, there are many autonomous last mile delivery services making their debut, such as Nuro, Udelv, Starship (which operates on sidewalks), Continental, and AEV Robotics.

What’s Ahead

The first quarter of 2019 shows that there is promise and growth in autonomous vehicles, with many companies making significant progress thanks to the appearance of more hardware, software, application, and analytics startups and partnerships. A more realistic timeframe has also appeared to guide the industry through the rest of 2019. Be sure to check back with us next quarter for further updates and insights into the autonomous vehicle landscape.