Five years ago at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the buzz was all about autonomous vehicles. Several major automakers made presentations to journalists projecting their brands would offer self-driving vehicles by the 2021 or 2022 model years. With prototypes being tested, the message was that production was not far off.
Obviously, that hasn’t happened — at least not yet.
In 2020, reports indicated that the automotive industry had spent $16 billion on driverless technology, and this year that number has risen to $100 billion in pursuit of the dream of a driverless car. Yet for all that investment, the self-driving car seems farther away than it did half a decade ago.
Collisions involving self-driving tech shake consumer confidence, even as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says owners overestimate just how self-driving their vehicles really are. According to a report in Autoblog, industry analysts are questioning the value and valuation of autonomous tech companies, saying “These companies have squandered tens of billions of dollars.”
Against that backdrop, automakers and self-driving tech companies are taking a good look at their autonomous efforts and making changes to their business plans. Ford just abandoned its partnership with Argo AI and Volkswagen, which was working toward Level 4 autonomous driving. It did so in favor of making its own Level 2 driver assistance technology more profitable.
Ford CEO Farley indicated that the company had not yet developed a profitable business model for Level 4 tech despite the fact that Argo AI had expanded its driverless vehicle testing into additional cities earlier this year. Ford’s partnership with Mobileye for driver assistance technology seems to be moving forward, however. Volkswagen moved to partner with Israel-based Mobileye as well.
Waymo moving forward
The dream of the self-driving car is not dead, however. Google’s Waymo project started offering its autonomous ride hailing service in Phoenix, Arizona. The service uses modified Jaguar I-Pace SUVs and customers can hail a self-driving ride using the Waymo app. The app is available at the Apple App Store and through Google Play.
Waymo’s robotaxi website states, “With millions of miles driven through countless situations on public roads, and billions more in simulation, we’ve gathered incredible amounts of data and invaluable lessons to develop autonomous driving technology further than anyone else.”
The company has also stated aspirations to offer similar ride hailing services in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Its technology has been under test in 13 different states. However, state laws and regulations are inconsistent when it comes to requirements and permits for self-driving vehicles.
Other players still in the game
General Motors has expanded its Super Cruise driver assistance technology, adding more roads to the system’s known map, but its Cruise self-driving project has faced challenges. The project’s cloud-based operating system failed in San Francisco, tying up the vehicles and conventional traffic in part of the city’s downtown area for a couple of hours.
Apple’s Project Titan has had its own bumps in the road, with failures to keep vehicles in their lanes and problems recognizing pedestrians. The company recently brought in development talent from Lamborghini to get the project back on track.
Ride hailing service Lyft is also continuing its project to provide robo-taxi services in Las Vegas with tech company Motional providing the autonomy. Motional itself is a project founded by Hyundai and Delphi spinoff Aptiv.
Volvo is also moving forward with its unsupervised autonomous driving feature, known as Ride Pilot. The company plans to roll out the feature to customers in the state of California first. Once it has been verified as safe for use on highways, Ride Pilot is planned to be available as an add-on subscription on the company’s forthcoming fully electric EX90 SUV. It is extremely unlikely that Volvo, a company built on a reputation for safety, would risk its credibility on an unproven system.
Finally, Tesla has continued to promote its Autopilot system and Full Self-Driving program, even as government scrutiny increases. Outside critics have also pointed out shortcomings in the California-based company’s autonomous performance, noting in several tests, Tesla vehicles using FSD failed to stop for child-size crash test dummies crossing in front of them.
At this point, no automaker is completely abandoning research and development into self-driving vehicles, but executives are clearly looking at mounting expenses and asking pointed questions about return on that investment.
5 responses to “Waymo One’s Shift to Full Autonomy Only Confirms Uncertain Future for Self-Driving Cars”
The “outside critics” in the “pointed out shortcomings” article referenced here is Dan O’Dowd. He’s CEO of Green Hills Software a competitor of Tesla’s FSD technology. He’s biased against Tesla and its technology. His video allegedly showing Tesla’s FSD failing to yield to child-sized mannequins is suspect at best and quite likely a complete fabrication. Shame on you for not mentioning this.
And Musk’s FSD continues to be linked to accidents. Shame on them for overhyping the tech’s capabilities.
That said, we’re planning to look a lot more closely at O’Dowd.
Tedious article, showing zero understanding of what’s currently happening in this industry or what’s likely to happen in the next couple of years.
The excruciating Tesla misinformation at the end (always the end of the article, as Tesla are not Level 4 right?!) demonstrates that 1 hour of research might not be sufficient to cover this area
Whats interesting is that Teslas will drive the entire US and Canada 24/7, on cameras only, and with zero setup or pre-scanning.
Cruise operates only at night when no one is around and in a TINY portion of San Francisco, and the capabilities haven’t translated to the customer cars since they have no lidars.
Waymo avoids freeways and has the same scaling problem as Cruise wherein they have to pre-scan everything first or they wont go to the area. It seems like Tesla is massively ahead here, and their product, with its shrinking list of bugs, is going to only to accelerate that lead while all the distant second place players fumble around with pre-mapping and hundreds of sensors that Tesla has already advanced away from.
Over-playing Tesla’s capabilities. First, they require hands on wheel. Secondly, numerous crashes. Third, Tesla is getting ready to start using radar again because the Camera-only system doesn’t do what FSD needs.