Have you ever seen a driverless vehicle? Not a Tesla, but a moving car, truck or SUV without anyone in the driver’s seat? True self-driving cars are less than a decade away, and key players have established a new industry that’s on the verge of spilling out into the mainstream. Legacy automakers are investing billions of dollars into emerging AI startups focused on driverless tech. These are the big names in autonomous driving, and the automakers they’re teaming up with.
Argo is a Pittsburgh based tech company that is making a name for itself as a leader of autonomous driving technology that is relatively close to mass adoption. Argo has partnerships with Ford, Volkswagen, Walmart and Lyft. The Argo Self-Driving System is already undergoing testing with Ford and Volkswagen vehicles.
Argo’s weakness is more likely a tradeoff that engineers at Argo were willing to accept in exchange for higher probability of success in the near future. And it seems to be working well for them. Argo Self-Driving works on roadways that are intricately mapped beforehand so that the system knows about street-level conditions and safety precautions.
In conjunction with an all-of-the-above sensor approach (LiDAR, radar and cameras), Argo Self-Driving is designed to drive like an experienced driver, but only in certain areas. The benefit of this approach is that it’s much more realistic in the near-term, despite its limited use case.
The first generation Cruise Autonomous Vehicle exists on a modified version of the Chevrolet Bolt. That’s because General Motors bought the Cruise startup back in 2016. Rest assured that the next milestone for this promising company is the launch of the Cruise Origin, a driverless pod without a steering wheel. In January of 2021, Honda announced a partnership with Cruise to bring the Origin to Japan. GM announced that the Cruise will begin production in Detroit in 2023. Cruise will certainly be competing head-to-head with Zoox and others with eerily similar product roadmaps.
With millions of kilometers of testing completed and a data-driven approach, Pony.AI is playing the long game in autonomous driving. That’s not stopping them from getting off to a strong start. Pony.ai was the first to launch a robo taxi service in 2018, allowing passengers to hail self-driving cars in Guangzhou, Beijing, Irvine, CA, and Fremont, CA. In February 2020, Toyota invested $400 million in the company.
Formerly the Google Self-Driving car project, Waymo is off to a great start with their sensor-loaded approach to autonomous driving. Google started their self-driving research in 2009 back when optimism about near-future autonomy was peaking. Now, Waymo continues as a subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s parent company.
In 2022, Waymo currently operates ride-hailing driverless vehicles in the Phoenix area, and testing has started in San Francisco and New York. Waymo equips vehicles with a suite of sensors that help the autonomous system paint a picture of the environment around the car at all times. It’s not perfect, but riders say it’s impressive and improving. Interestingly, not all of the vehicles equipped with autonomous driving are fully-electric. Driverless Chrysler vans are a common sight in Phoenix.
Zoox, a recent subsidiary of Amazon, has the goal of providing enjoyable mobility-as-a-service in dense urban environments. Basically, autonomous ride-hailing. Zoox handles the driving, charging, maintenance, and upgrades for their vehicles. It’s like an autonomous taxi, sort of like Waymo. The rider will simply pay for the service. The Zoox vehicle is a passenger-focused capsule designed in-house. We’ll be hearing more about Zoox autonomous vehicles.
Investments in True Autonomous Driving Are Accelerating
The global autonomous vehicle market was valued at $76.13 billion in 2020, and is projected to reach $2 trillion by 2030. Legacy automakers like GM, Ford, Stellantis and Volkswagen are banking on partnerships with AI startups to leapfrog into a future where driverless vehicles are safe, affordable and accessible. How will the likes of Tesla, Lucid, Rivian, and other newcomers innovate and adapt to the changes to come? Time will tell.
Want to know more? Here’s every automaker’s plan for autonomous driving investments.
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