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Self-Driving Cars 2020 and beyond

In 2020 we’ve seen self-driving cars taking a huge leap forward. It’s time to take a look at where the field is at the moment and what to expect. In October Waymo and Tesla were especially in the news but almost every other player has reminded us of their existence this year as well.

Photo by iStock

Introduction: Roads Ahead by MIT

New research from MIT “Autonomous Vehicles, Mobility, and Employment Policy: The Roads Ahead,” has indicated that visions of automation in mobility will not be fully realized in the next few years, rather it will take more than a decade. The transition will also not occur suddenly or in isolation. Initially, fully automated driving will be restricted to limited geographic regions and climates. Moreover, automation in cars will emerge within a web of relationships with electrification, connected vehicles, and evolving service models across vehicle types.

Here are some of the key findings from the report:

  • Widespread deployment of fully automated driving systems with no safety driver onboard will take at least a decade.
  • Winter climates and rural areas will experience longer transitions.
  • Expansion will likely be gradual and will happen region-by-region in specific categories of transportation, resulting in wide variations in availability across the country.
  • AV should be thought of as one element in a mobility mix, and as a potential feeder for public transit rather than a replacement for it.

In the race to launch fully autonomous vehicles on the road there are:

  1. Leaders;
  2. Contenders;
  3. Challengers; and
  4. Those companies I call “bubbling under”.

Here I’m going to curate the latest developments in 2020 from each category.

LEADERS

Waymo (Alphabet)

  • Waymo hosted a Q&A session on Nov 10th, 2020. One of the questions was from Carl Koinberg Henrikson: “Would you say that your technology is orders of magnitude more advanced than the more vocal competitor with a misleading branding?” and Waymo’s answer was: “Yes”.
  • At the beginning of October 2020 Waymo announced on Twitter that it had launched its fully driverless service to the general public in Metro Phoenix. It would initially focus on perfecting its service in that area by ramping up its driverless operations safely and responsibly before rolling it out to other
  • The launch came five years to the month since Waymo completed the world’s first fully driverless ride on public roads.
  • In the same month and for the first time ever, Waymo publicly disclosed mileage and crash data from its autonomous vehicle testing operation in Phoenix January 2019 through September 2020, as reported in The Verge.
  • The company reportedly has approximately 600 vehicles as part of its fleet. More than 300 vehicles operate in an approximately 100-square-mile service area that includes the towns of Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, and Tempe — though its fully driverless cars are restricted to an area that is only half that size.
  • Between January and December 2019, Waymo’s vehicles with trained safety drivers drove 6.1 million miles. In addition, from January 2019 through September 2020, its fully driverless vehicles drove 65,000 miles.
  • Its vehicles were involved in 47 “contact events” with other road users, including other vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists. Eighteen of these events occurred in real life, while 29 were in simulation.
  • Waymo and Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, announced in October 2020 that they are forming a “broad, global, strategic partnership” to deploy fully driverless trucks, as reported in The Verge.
  • Daimler will integrate Waymo’s autonomous driving technology, widely considered to be among the best in the world, into its fleet of heavy-duty Freightliner Cascadia semi-trailer trucks. The companies say the goal is to deploy “SAE L4 trucks”, that can operate without a human driver behind the wheel but only within a specific geographic location, on a certain type of roadway, or under specific conditions, like good weather.

Argo.ai (Ford, Volkswagen)

  • In October 2020 Ford and Argo AI released details about its fourth-generation self-driving test vehicle built on the 2020 Ford Escape Hybrid, as reported in Tech Crunch.
  • Ford is rolling out this new vehicle to its testing cities of Austin, Detroit, Miami, Palo Alto, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. However, the company’s self-driving service is still a few years out. In April 2020 according to Tech Crunch, Ford said it was postponing its autonomous vehicle service until 2022.
  • Ford has chosen Miami as the first city to host its self-driving vehicles. Ford plans to establish a command center that’s fully operational by 2021 according to the Miami Herald in October 2020.
  • In the UK, the first live trials of a fleet of six Ford Mondeo vehicles, enabled by Oxbotica and capable of Level 4 autonomous driving, have begun in the city of Oxford. The cars will complete a nine-mile round trip from Oxford Parkway station to Oxford’s main train station. Trials will be run at all times of day and night, and in all weather conditions.

Cruise (General Motors, Honda, SoftBank)

  • GM announced on Nov 19th that it will spend $27bn over the next five years on the development of electric vehicles and automated technology.
  • On 15 October Cruise announced on Twitter that it received a permit from the California DMV to remove the human backup drivers from its self-driving cars. Making it the first to put this permit to use on the streets of a major U.S. city.
  • According to the LATimes, General Motors’ Cruise autonomous vehicle unit says its autonomous vehicles in San Francisco will be driving on their own with no back-up driver by the end of the year.
  • Although there’s no confirmed start date, Cruise will reportedly go neighborhood-by-neighborhood in San Francisco and launch the driverless vehicles slowly before spreading to the entire city.
  • Walmart announced it is launching a pilot delivery service with General Motors-backed Cruise’s electric, self-driving vehicles that will deliver groceries and other goods to suburban Phoenix customers in 2021 according to Forbes.
  • General Motors’ Super Cruise system has topped Consumer Reports testing of assisted driving technology for the second time. The Cadillac CT6 sedan scored 69 out of 100 points, as reported by CNBC in October 2020.
  • GM’s Super Cruise allows hands-free driving on more than 200,000 miles of pre-mapped highways in the U.S. and Canada.
  • GM has said it will expand Super Cruise to 22 vehicles by 2023, including a next-generation system with greater capabilities on the Cadillac Escalade SUV and recently unveiled GMC Hummer EV pickup.

Baidu’s Apollo

  • Baidu announced the launch of Apollo 6.0 at Baidu World 2020 via Twitter in early October 2020. Apollo 6.0 has new updates in deep learning models, data pipeline services, teleoperation interface, upgraded dev environment, and V2X capabilities.
  • Baidu’s autonomous driving platform Apollo was open-sourced in April 2017. Since then, it has built a community with over 45,000 developers, 210 industry partners, and compiled more than 600,000 source code lines in 97 countries around the world, making it the world’s largest autonomous open driving platform.
  • The Apollo fleet includes around 500 autonomous driving vehicles that have driven over 6 million kms and safely carried more than 100,000 passengers. Apollo now holds over 150 autonomous driving road test licenses and more than 1,800 intelligent driving patents globally.

CONTENDERS

Mobileye (Intel)

  • In January and May 2020 Mobileye revealed unedited video footage of its self-driving cars on YouTube for public scrutiny. The noted tech journalist Junko Yoshida scrutinised two films of Mobileye navigating the busy streets of Jerusalem. She raised several concerns including how on one journey the visualization software appeared to be confused whether it saw a bus or a truck. In addition, on the same journey a motorcycle can be seen driving toward the car and view of the safety driver, yet the computer didn’t seem to be aware of it until much later.
  • In early October 2020 Mobileye announced on Twitter the following roadmap for the next two years in Dubai:

2020: Mobileye to equip 1,000 cars with mapping tech in Dubai.

2021: Testing of the autonomous vehicles.

2022: Robotaxi pilot program hits the streets of Dubai.

Aptiv (Hyundai, Lyft)

  • ADAS Features, such as automatic emergency braking, are available in in the Hyundai Kona — this feature alerts the driver when the car in front brakes hard. Experts have said that ADAS-equipped vehicles lower accident rates and save lives — with a 27% reduction in bodily injury claim frequency and a 19% reduction in property damage frequency, according to research by LexisNexis Risk Solutions.
  • Lyft has been in talks with the German automotive system manufacturer Bosch about joining forces on self-driving car development, according to The Information. Bosch reportedly has an automated driving development unit with facilities in Silicon Valley.

Volkswagen

  • Volkswagen has raised its planned investment on digital and electric vehicle technologies to 73 billion euros ($86 billion) over the next five years, according to a report in Reuters in November 2020. Volkswagen said it would allocate nearly half its investment budget of 150 billion euros on e-mobility, hybrid cars, a seamless, software-based vehicle operating system and self-driving technologies.
  • Volkswagen’s Traton division has signed a deal with TuSimple to jointly develop self-driving trucks solidifying the San Diego start-up’s status as market leader in one of the fastest-advancing areas of autonomous vehicle technology, according to a report in the FT in September 2020.
  • Germany is set to become “the first country in the world to permit driverless vehicles in regular operation as well as in the entire country”, according to a report in The Local de. Its target for cars with autonomous driving functions to be used in regular operation by 2022.
  • Volkswagen AG is in a position to overtake Tesla Inc., both in terms of e-car manufacturing numbers and software development, works council chairman Bernd Osterloh told Welt am Sonntag in an interview, reports Bloomberg.
  • “If Tesla sets up three factories where 300,000 to 500,000 cars can be produced, then we are talking about a number of units between 900,000 and 1.5 million. We want to achieve the same in 2023, probably even earlier,” he said. VW’s modular electric-drive matrix platform gives the carmaker a “huge” advantage,” as it can build any vehicle of any brand on it, Osterloh said.

Yandex

2020

  • Yandex Self Driving Group received $150 million in investment from Yandex NV announced in September 2020. Yandex will retain majority control of Yandex SDG, owning 73%, while Uber gets 19%, and the other 8% owned by Yandex SDG management and employees, according to Forbes.
  • Yandex self-driving car is a Robo-Taxi project of the Russian-based internet corporation Yandex. The first driverless prototype launched in May 2017. As of 2018, functional service was launched in Russia with prototypes also being tested in Israel and the US. As of September 2020 Yandex Self Driving Group became a standalone company after taking a new investment of $150 million.
  • Yandex’s self-driving fleet has grown to 130 cars which have driven more than 4 million autonomous miles on city streets in Russia, Israel, and the US. By the end of 2020, its fleet is set to expand to 200 cars with new Hyundai Sonatas — its fourth-generation self-driving cars, jointly developed with Hyundai Mobis. The next-generation vehicles are already roaming the streets of Moscow, Innopolis and Ann Arbor, MI, its newest location for long-term testing.
  • Yandex’s robotaxi service has been shuttling passengers without anyone behind the steering wheel since August 2018 and in May 2020 it deployed a commercial autonomous delivery robot called Yandex.Rover.
  • In September 2020 Yandex announced that it is spinning out its self-driving car unit from MLU BV — a ride-hailing and food delivery joint venture it operates in partnership with Uber.
  • In August 2020 Yandex announced it has expanded testing of its self-driving cars to Michigan. A fleet of Yandex’s driverless vehicles recently hit Ann Arbor city streets, including the company’s fourth-generation autonomous Hyundai Sonatas created in partnership with Hyundai Mobis.
  • Yandex’s self-driving car unit has accelerated through the coronavirus pandemic, becoming one of the world’s top 3 companies for the number of miles driven by automated vehicles. Its fleet of 130 vehicles had passed four million miles in autonomous driving, according to the Moscow Times in July 2020.
  • In June 2020 Yandex NV said it will test a driverless car it developed with Hyundai Motor Co. in Detroit as the Russian technology giant makes plans to approximately double its fleet of self-driving vehicles. Yandex and the South Korean company announced their partnership last year, seeking to create both a prototype of a driverless car and an autonomous control system that could be marketed to rival car manufacturers and car-sharing start-ups, according to Bloomberg.

2019

  • In 2019 Yandex launched its first prototype of a self-driving Hyundai Sonata 2020, in collaboration with Hyundai Mobis engineers.

2018

  • Yandex dubbed the “Russian Google” is so much more than that reported the BBC back in 2018, when the tech company began testing its driverless cars on the roads.

Zoox, Rivian & Aurora (Amazon)

Zoox

  • In November 2020 Zoox, the automated vehicle technology startup that was acquired by Amazon this year, has been issued a permit from California regulators that will allow it to test driverless vehicles on public roads, reports Tech Crunch.
  • In October 2020 Zoox launched two #CodetoRoad videos (1 & 2) on Twitter explaining how its vehicles drive autonomously using sensors, maps and advanced software that handles perception, prediction, planning and controls.
  • Tesla’s Elon Musk responded with this funny Tweet: “Jeff Bezos is a copy”
  • Amazon announced in June 2020 that it bought Zoox after raising nearly $1 billion in funding. It aims to develop autonomous driving technology, including vehicles, for the purposes of providing a full-stack solution for ride-hailing, according to Tech Crunch.
  • Amazon intends to work with Zoox to create a fleet of self-driving taxis. Amazon may use Zoox to build self-driving delivery vehicles. Amazon has also bought smaller stakes in electric truckmaker Rivian and the self-driving start-up Aurora. Zoox will operate as a standalone business, Amazon said, with its leadership unchanged, the FT reported in June 2020.

Rivian

  • Electric automaker Rivian, owned by Amazon, will makes its hands-free driver assistance system standard in every vehicle it builds, including its first two vehicles — the RT1 pickup truck and R1S SUV — that are coming to market in 2021, according to Tech Crunch in November 2020.
  • Amazon, which made The Climate Pledge committing to “net-zero carbon by 2040”, hopes to have 10,000 electric delivery trucks on the road by 2022 and 100,000 by 2030. It ordered 100,000 future electric delivery vans from Rivian and additional vehicles from other makers.
  • In October 2020, Amazon revealed the “Vivian” van to the world. The van features sensor detection and a suite of advanced driver-assist systems. In addition, it has a 360-degree camera system that’s linked to a display in the cabin so drivers can always be aware of their surroundings. The van uses Amazon Alexa voice controls for hands-free connectivity as well.

Aurora Innovation

  • Aurora Innovation, the startup founded by three veterans of the autonomous vehicle industry who led programs at Google, Tesla and Uber, is in negotiations to buy Uber ATG reported by Tech Crunch in November 2020. In December 2020, Aurora announced the $4bn acquisition resulting in $10bn valuation.
  • Aurora was already backed by Amazon, Hyundai, and venture capitalists Greylock and Sequoia. Now there’s also Uber onboard and possibly the previous Uber ATG owners Softbank, Denso, and Toyota followed onboard and took a stake, too.

Toyota (Pony.ai)

  • Pony.ai announced $267 million new funding in November 2020, according to Venture Beat. The start-up, with offices in Guangzhou, China and Fremont, California, has now raised over $1 billion at a valuation north of $5.3 billion (up from $3 billion as of February 2020).
  • A Toyota Motor Corp. JPN Taxi model equipped with software for autonomous driving developed by Tier IV, a start-up based in Nagoya, is being used in the experimental project in Tokyo in November 2020, according to The Japan Times.
  • The four-day test, using a fifth-generation, or 5G, ultrahigh-speed wireless network, has been designed to check the safety, comfort and punctuality of the self-driving taxi in two modes — one under complete remote monitoring and another under monitoring by a person sitting in the driver’s seat. The companies hope to put such taxis into practical use in 2022 or later.

Daimler-Bosch

  • Waymo and Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, announced that they are forming a “broad, global, strategic partnership” to deploy fully driverless trucks, The Verge reported in October 2020. Daimler will integrate Waymo’s autonomous driving technology, widely considered to be among the best in the world, into its fleet of heavy-duty Freightliner Cascadia semi-trailer trucks.
  • Mercedes-Benz has announced that it will no longer be developing self-driving vehicles. This is most likely related to Daimler trucks news (above) but probably there’s something behind the rumor in other Daimler divisions too.

May Mobility (Toyota)

  • A team at The University of Texas at Arlington has received $606,457 to help launch a new public transportation pilot program in downtown Arlington and on UTA’s campus that features autonomous vehicles. During the technology deployment phase, this new service will offer free rides for UT Arlington students and other passengers.
  • The project is part of a $1.7 million Federal Transportation Administration grant to the city of Arlington. Part of the funding will go toward 20,000 free rides for UT Arlington students on the Handitran, which provides rides to senior citizen and individuals with disabilities, and driverless vehicles.

Voyage (Fiat Chrysler)

  • Voyage announced in August 2020 that its next-generation robotaxi will be its first vehicle capable of driving by itself with no need for a human behind the wheel. A fleet of these robo-taxis will soon serve a 125,000 resident, 50 sq mi community in Florida, where Voyage has contractual exclusivity pertaining to robo-taxis, writes Oliver Cameron.
  • Oliver Cameron co-founded the self-driving car start-up Voyage in 2017 on the theory that retirement communities are the perfect place to launch a robo-taxi service. Their low-speed, low-traffic roads make the engineering challenge easier. And retirees, many of whom are unwilling or unable to drive themselves, are an obvious clientele.
  • Before the pandemic forced it to pause passenger trips, Voyage provided rides in a fleet of ten minivans, with safety drivers, to roughly 4,000 residents of The Villages retirement community in San Jose, California. It also has been testing a small fleet in a community in Florida, coincidentally called The Villages, that is home to 125,000 people. Voyage has multiyear agreements with both locations to be an exclusive robo-taxi provider.

BMW

  • After less than a year, BMW and Mercedes are ending their ongoing partnership to develop automated driving technology. The two automakers described the split as “mutual and amicable.” The two companies said developing a shared autonomous vehicle platform was a more complex and expensive task than they had anticipated.
  • In 2021, BMW plans to introduce what could become the first system on U.S. roads to qualify as “Level 3” by SAE’s standards. BMW’s system will debut on the iNext, an all-new, all-electric production vehicle modelled on the 2018 iNext concept. The robo-driving will only engage on limited access highways and in good weather. The car can change lanes to pass other vehicles. To complement its cameras and radars, the iNext will use a lidar laser scanner to observe its surroundings, according to Autoweek.

CHALLENGERS

Tesla

  • The biggest piece of news in self-driving cars came in October 2020 when Elon Musk reported the FSD beta rollout had begun albeit “extremely slowly & cautiously”, he said on Twitter.
  • Tesla Full Self-Driving Beta is starting to reach more cars in its fleet and customers, who being used as testers. Tesla plans to use its large customer base to help train the neural nets powering the FSD. After it improves, the automaker plans to collect data until it can show regulators that the system is several times safer than average drivers.
  • Almost every single company working on self-driving cars right now uses LIDAR. Uber, Waymo, and Toyota all use it, but not Tesla. Tesla has been heavily relying on Vision and going against LIDAR sensors. Elon Musk recently reportedly said: “LIDAR is a fool’s errand… and anyone relying on LIDAR is doomed” — Elon Musk.
  • The most apparent reason for Tesla to take a different route is the cost. The cost of placing a single LIDAR device on a car is somewhere around $10,000. Tesla is highly focused on costs and making sure the cars are affordable. Adding the prices of a LIDAR on top of the already expensive car is quite significant.
  • Tesla’s vehicle’s currently uses several sources of data to acquire autonomous driving: radar, GPS, maps, ultrasonic sensors and more. But not lidar like some of Tesla’s chief competitors. Elon Musk previously explained that he views lidar as a crutch for self-driving vehicles. For Tesla, cameras are the keys to the future and its CEO sees a future when cameras will enable Tesla to see through the most adverse weather situations, according to Tech Crunch.
  • The secret sauce in Tesla’s ever-evolving solution is not the cameras themselves, but rather the advanced processing and neural nets they have built to make sense of the wide range and quality of inputs. One new technique Tesla’s AI team has built is called pseudo-lidar. It blends the lines between traditional computer vision and the powerful point map world of lidar.
  • Tesla collects a huge amount of data from its car fleet, which is expanding rapidly. It is already collecting large amounts of data from the vehicles’ owners in its Full Self-Driving beta test fleet. The data collection is voluntary for Tesla customers, but most owners are more than willing to let Tesla collect data since the automaker uses the data to feed its neural networks powering Autopilot and now Full Self-Driving systems.
  • Tesla can detect when drivers intervene during Autopilot operations and send back data to the mothership in order to help the neural networks improve. This is also true now that Tesla has started rolling out its Full Self-Driving Beta update in October 2020.

Volvo & Polestar (Geely)

  • Polestar, jointly owned by Volvo and the automaker’s Chinese parent company, Geely has launched th the Polestar 2, the new luxury electric vehicle from Volvo. It is the first electric car from the Volvo Car Group and the first of any kind of car to have a brain exclusively powered by Google. This native Android Automotive operating system controls everything from the radio to heating and air conditioning to navigation. You can even use Google Assistant to turn on the seat-heaters, reports The Verge.
  • Volvo says it has found a LIDAR maker that can produce the sensors cheap enough to justify installing them on its consumer vehicles — which it says will allow these cars to drive themselves, according to The Verge.
  • In 2018, Volvo made a “strategic investment” in a little-known Florida-based LIDAR company called Luminar to use the start-up’s high-resolution long-range sensor to build self-driving cars. In 2020 Volvo announced that new LIDAR-equipped cars, which the Swedish automaker says will be able to drive themselves on highways with no human intervention, will start rolling off the production line in 2022.

Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi

  • No news in 2020! The last news story was in June 2019: Waymo strikes a deal with Nissan-Renault to bring driverless cars to Japan and France. The three companies will simply “explore driverless mobility services for passengers and deliveries,” according to The Verge.

Navya

  • Navya has launched a level 4 fully autonomous shuttle ‘“Autonom® Shuttle Evo”’ service without a safety operator on board, in partnership with Keolis, which has been running since 22 June 2020 at the National Sport Shooting Centre (NSSC) in Châteauroux, France. The shuttle is operated within the National Shooting Sport Centre allowing athletes and visitors to move from the car park to the reception area. The shuttle travels a total distance of 1.5 km at a maximum speed of 18 km/hour.
  • Navya is a French company that has been building shuttle-bus-style vehicles equipped with lidar, radar, and video cameras and can accommodate as many as 15 passengers. They were first deployed in the U.S. in locations including Las Vegas and Ann Arbor, Michigan, on a pilot basis back in 2017.
  • During the pandemic the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, used four self-driving NAVYA shuttles to move medical supplies and COVID-19 tests samples from a drive-through testing site to a nearby laboratory. The clinic said this wis the first time autonomous vehicles had been used for this sort of task in the U.S., as reported in Car and Driver.

BUBBLING UNDER

Robotaxis in California

  • Robotaxis get the green light for paid rides in California on Nov 23rd, 2020
  • Currently, 60 companies have an active permit to test autonomous vehicles with a safety driver in California. Five of them (AutoX, Cruise, Nuro, Waymo, Zoox)have an additional permit that allows them to test fully driverless vehicles without human safety drivers behind the wheel on public roads.

Velodyne, Aeva, Ouster & Luminar: Lidar

Lidar is perhaps one of the most crowded sub-categories in the autonomous vehicle industry. Lidar is a sensor that measures distance using laser light to generate highly accurate 3D maps of the world around the car. The sensor is considered by most in the self-driving car industry a key piece of technology required to safely deploy robo-taxis and other autonomous vehicles.

Velodyne

  • Velodyne Lidar, the leading supplier of a sensor widely considered critical to the commercial deployment of autonomous vehicles, said in July 2020 it has struck a deal to merge with special purpose acquisition company Graf Industrial Corp., with a market value of $1.8 billion. Velodyne will become a publicly traded company amid a period of consolidation in the broader autonomous vehicle industry.
  • LIDAR is one of the most expensive hardware pieces in self-driving cars, but the prices are going down rapidly. Velodyne announced at CES 2020 in January new sensors, including a tiny $100 lidar unit called Velabit, as well the VelaDome and a software product called Vella. Velodyne is best known for its “KFC bucket” spinning-laser lidar. The design was inspired by sensor failures in vehicles competing in the DARPA Grand Challenge in 2004.
  • Velodyne claims to have broken the US $100 barrier for automotive lidar with its tiny Velabit, which it unveiled at CES earlier this year. The company said in a release that the Velabit “delivers the same technology and performance found on Velodyne’s full suite of state-of-the-art sensors.” The new product isn’t meant for true driverless cars, of which there are precisely none on the market now (or likely anytime soon). Rather it’s for use in advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), such as emergency braking, lane keeping, and adaptive cruise control.

Aeva

  • Aeva, a Mountain View, California-based lidar company started by two former Apple engineers and backed by Porsche SE, is merging with special purpose acquisition company InterPrivate Acquisition Corp., with a post-deal market valuation of $2.1 billion, according to Tech Crunch.
  • Aeva’s founders Soroush Salehian and Mina Rezk have developed what they call “4D lidar,” which can measure distance as well as instant velocity without losing range, all while preventing interference from the sun or other sensors. The company’s FMCW technology also uses less power, allowing it to fold in perception software, as reported in Tech Crunch.

Ouster

  • Ouster, the leading provider of high-resolution digital lidar sensors for autonomous transportation, robotics, industrial automation, and smart infrastructure, announced in September 2020 it has raised $42 million of new investment to fund product development and further accelerate worldwide sales. After launching its second generation of high-resolution lidar sensors in January 2020, Ouster’s 12-month revenue has grown by 62%, with third quarter bookings up 209% year over year as customers adopt its sensors in key computer vision technologies.
  • In September 2020 Ouster announced a $42 million fundraising round, and revealed it now has 800 customers. Ouster makes spinning lidar using solid-state chip technology to pack all of its lasers — 16 to 128 of them, depending on the product, on a single chip. The resulting combination of strong performance and relatively low-cost has opened new markets for lidar sensors. Ouster’s latest generation of 32-laser sensors start at $6,000.

Luminar

  • Daimler’s trucks division has invested in lidar developer Luminar as part of a broader partnership to produce autonomous trucks capable of navigating highways without a human driver behind the wheel. This is the latest action by the German manufacturer to move away from robo-taxis and shared mobility and instead focus on how automated vehicle technology can be applied to freight, according to Tech Crunch.

Applied Intuition

  • Applied Intuition, a lesser-known Bay Area start-up has reached “unicorn” status by offering the industry the software needed to run autonomous tests. Founded in 2017, the start-up works with other tech-first companies like self-driving truck start-up Kodiak Robotics and self-driving taxi start-up Voyage. Although its bread-and-butter clients are more like Scania and Toyota, OEMs using automation for humbler processes already in production today, such as auto-parking, automated braking systems and robots used in warehouses and mines, reports Forbes in October 2020.

Comma.ai

  • Comma.ai has launched openpilot, an open source driver-assistance system. Currently, openpilot performs the functions of Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) and Automated Lane Centering (ALC) for compatible vehicles. It performs similarly to Tesla Autopilot and GM Super Cruise. openpilot can steer, accelerate, and brake automatically for other vehicles within its lane.
  • In August 2019 Lex Fridman interviewed George Hotz all about Comma.ai, OpenPilot, and Autonomous Vehicles: You can watch the entire two-hour film on Youtube.
  • History from 2016: Comma.ai is one of more than 50 start-ups working on automating such human driving tasks as steering and braking, in effort to reduce vehicle-related injuries and deaths, according to Reuters.

EasyMile

  • In the US, Virginia got its first public AV shuttle October 2020. The Easy Mile vehicle provides free, all-electric rides from the Metro/WMATA to the Mosaic District in FairFax County — it is a great example of how communities can integrate AVs into existing transit systems.

Unikie

  • Unikie (my current employer) just recently raised €12M funding for self-driving car software development
  • Automated Factory Parking, designed to reduce costs of car logistics on factory premises, was launched by Unikie in 2020. The solution uses edge computing and combines a large and versatile network of sensors for full and accurate control and detailed situational awareness. The system can manoeuvre an unlimited number of cars accurately, even in confined spaces and crowded areas, along with other factory traffic.
  • According to Unikie, the solution builds on public or private 4G/5G wireless network, camera, lidar and radar sensors, advanced AI based machine vision and real-time edge computing solution. It can control vehicles without autonomous driving functionality as if they had Level 4 autonomous capabilities. The system enables cars to drive autonomously and avoid collisions more efficiently than a human driver.
  • Unikie AI Vision is a highly customizable sensor agnostics SW solution for self-driving vehicles and machines. AI Vision is capable of continuous real-time 3D modeling of the environment with centimeter-level accuracy, fusing together information from LiDARs, cameras, radars, GPS, and other sensors.

Sensible4

  • Finnish autonomous driving technology pioneer Sensible 4 raised $7 million in their series A funding round in February 2020 that will see the company market expansion to Europe and Asia.
  • The Finnish technology start-up specializes in autonomous driving software for demanding and harsh weather conditions. Challenging weather and limited sensor visibility have long been a problem for driverless vehicles. The company’s solution — which is first in allowing for self-driving in snow, fog and heavy rain — has attracted growing attention from major automotive players since the start-ups’ inception in 2017.
  • A fleet of three self-driving vehicles, an on-demand mobile app and a Remote Control Centre (RCC) for autonomous vehicles took part in a first-of-a-kind pilot in Helsinki in April 2020. One of the aims of the project was to gain experience from the complex traffic and real-world situations the pilot area offers and to test the whole self-driving value chain for the first time. The three different driverless vehicles, all equipped with Sensible 4’s autonomous driving software and technology, operated on the busy streets of Pasila in Helsinki.
  • According to Sensible 4’s news feed in August 2020, the autonomous vehicle pilot project concluded successfully, managing difficult conditions, including snow, wind, and heavy rain. Several big leaps forward were taken during the pilot period, including the deployment of Sensible 4-produced Remote Control Center.
  • The pilot ran for 50 days, five days a week, totalling 300 driving hours per vehicle. There were no serious incidents or accidents during the pilot, he route had a speed limit of 30–40 km/h. In the pilot, the self-driving vehicles had a top speed of 28 km/h and an average speed of 20–25 km/h.

Apple

  • Surprisingly no news in 2020 but according to Mac Rumors Apple has shifted to developing self-driving car software instead of an actual car.
  • However, reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo still believes that Apple is working on an Apple Car that will launch between 2023 and 2025. Kuo believes the car will be Apple’s “next star product” with Apple able to offer “better integration of hardware, software and services” than potential competitors in the automotive market, with Apple-designed chips manufactured by TSMC.
  • For a product that Apple still hasn’t officially admitted that it was working on, the “Apple Car” is getting a lot of research and development work reported Apple Insider in October 2020, including steering, ventilation, and software-based self-adjusting sensors.

Didi-Chuxing

  • China’s top ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing is considering Hong Kong for a multibillion-dollar initial public offering next year, dropping previous aims to list in New York. Didi, backed by technology investment giants SoftBank 9984.T, Alibaba BABA.N and Tencent 0700.HK, has started initial talks with investment banks for the long-awaited IPO, according to three people reported by Reuters.
  • Founded eight years ago, Didi, which merged with then main rival Kuaidi in 2015 to create a smartphone-based transport services giant, counts as its core business a mobile app, where users can hail taxis, privately owned cars, car-pool options and even buses in some cities. Didi, recently launched a competing AV pilot program in China.

AutoX

  • Driverless taxis are now available to the public in China’s biggest city. A firm AutoX, backed by the online tech and retail giant Alibaba, has started offering a free taxi service — using a fleet of autonomous driving cars — in a small area of Shanghai, according to the BBC. It’s one of numerous trials, of various vehicles, across the world.
  • The Chinese government’s investments in autonomous cars and 5G are supporting a series of new pilot programs in densely populated Chinese metropolises — a bid to stay competitive with the U.S, according to Fast Company.
  • AV companies could gather even more momentum thanks to infrastructure investment that the Chinese government announced earlier this year. That includes a 62-mile expressway connecting Beijing and neighboring Xiong’an that has several lanes dedicated to autonomous cars and was built by driverless construction vehicles. The paving was completed in mid-August, and the road will officially open in 2021, reports Fast Company.

Alibaba

  • To boost the efficiency of last-mile delivery during the peak of #Double11 2020 (Chinese shopping holiday on 11/11) Alibaba announced on Twitter it had deployed 22 AI-powered autonomous delivery robots at Zhejiang University, which were expected to deliver over 30,000 packages over the course of Double 11.

Honda

  • Japan’s Honda Motor Co said in November 2020 it will be the world’s first automaker to mass produce sensor-packed level 3 autonomous cars that will allow drivers to let their vehicles navigate congested expressway traffic. “Honda is planning to launch sales of a Honda Legend (luxury sedan) equipped with the newly approved automated driving equipment” before the end of March 2021, Honda said in a press release, according to Reuters.

Nuro

  • Nuro, the autonomous delivery start-up founded by two former Google engineers, has raised $500 million. Nuro was founded in June 2016 by former Google engineers Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu. While the start-up was initially bootstrapped by Ferguson and Zhu, it has never struggled to attract investors, according to Tech Crunch.
  • Nuro has focused its effort on designing a low-speed electric self-driving vehicle that transports packages, not people. Some of Nuro’s first tests and pilots were with Toyota Prius vehicles equipped with its self-driving system. Nuro partnered in 2018 with Kroger to pilot a delivery service in Arizona. The pilot, which initially used Toyota Prius vehicles, transitioned to its R1 delivery bot. Nuro has also partnered with companies like CVS, Domino’s and Walmart.
  • Nuro has since developed a second-generation vehicle, known as the R2. This delivery bot, which is designed for local delivery service for restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses, received an exemption from the federal government earlier this year that allows it to operate as a driverless vehicle, according to Tech Crunch.

TuSimple

  • TuSimple, the world’s largest and most advanced self-driving truck company, has secured property in AllianceTexas’ Mobility Innovation Zone (MIZ) in north Fort Worth, according to Business Wire. The MIZ was launched last year as a first-of-its-kind “do tank” in collaboration with Deloitte, leading the nation in smart infrastructure deployment to create a digital and physical commercialization environment for partner companies.
  • TuSimple has signed a deal to jointly develop self-driving trucks with Volkswagen’s Traton division, solidifying the San Diego start-up’s status as market leader in one of the fastest-advancing areas of autonomous vehicle technology, according to the FT in September 2020.
  • The announcement follows news earlier this year that TuSimple is making automated trucks with Navistar in the US and working with partners including UPS to start building a network of mapped routes and terminals to expand driverless operations nationwide by 2024.

Einride

  • Swedish start-up Einride has captured interest, investment and even a few customer contracts for its electric and autonomous pods designed to carry freight, according to Tech Crunch.
  • The company has made some progress with its T-Pod vehicles; four of them are on public roads today and even carry freight for customer Oatly, the Swedish food producer. Now, a year after raising $25 million, the company said it has another $10 million coming in from its existing investors.
  • In October 2020, Einride unveiled a new vehicle type that the company hopes to have on the road delivering freight starting in 2021. The vehicles, dubbed Autonomous Electric Transport (AET), came in four different variations. And much like Einride’s previous prototypes, they come without steering wheels, pedals, windshields, and, in general, no cab at all, according to The Verge.
  • The new AET vehicles come in four levels. The first two — AET 1 and AET 2 — have top speeds of 30 km/h (18 mph), weigh 26 tons, have payloads of 16 tons, and a battery range of 130–180 km (80–110 miles). AET 3 and AET 4 have similar weight and payload capacity, with top speeds of 45 km/h and 85 km/h, respectively.
  • The main difference between the four variants is their operational domain, or conditions under which the car can drive autonomously. The AET 1 is designed to operate within a geofence, or a defined geographic area, while AET 2 is permitted to travel outside a geofence using teleoperation. AET 3 is designed for rural settings, and AET 4 for highway driving.

Gatik

Wayve

  • The British Wayve claims to be “building artificial intelligence capable of driving in any urban environment, anywhere in the world” and gets Sir Richard Branson’s backing
  • Wayve raised $20M for better AI brains for autonomous cars in 2019

Helm.ai

For more insights on driverless technology and AV

Here are more of my blogs about AV and driverless technology on Medium:

1. The most interesting players in the ride-hailing market

2. Self-driving vehicles are already on the roads

3. Self driving car launch years

4. Ride-hailing replacing car ownership

5. The most interesting self driving car companies

6. All major self-driving car companies

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Erkka Niemi, PhD

Erkka Niemi, PhD

Technology enthusiast CTO with a lifelong addiction to skateboarding in Helsinki & Palo Alto @Unikieinc @AaltoUniversity #SelfDrivingCars #DeepTech