In the 60s, Hollywood introduced children around the world to Dean Jones and Herbie, his Volkswagen Beetle with a mind of its own. It’s doubtful that Disney realized how soon the fantasy of their film would become a reality. Of course, the magic behind today’s self-driving cars isn’t pixie dust but radar, LIDAR, algorithms, and cameras. It’s the hours of testing and refining from engineers and drivers that make these cars move on their own, not animators and movie magic. And yet, you might make the case that both the film crews of old and the inventors of today are motivated by a dream.
In 2021, the dream is no longer found in the wishful thinking of idealists but on the streets of San Francisco, Houston, Ann Arbor, London, and now, New York City. Mobileye, an Intel-owned company, recently announced that it would begin testing its cars in the busy streets of the City that Never Sleeps within the next few months. After testing its cars in Jerusalem and Munich, Mobileye says it decided to bring its technology to New York City due to the unique and challenging driving conditions in the city. Of course, as AVs begin their commercial deployment, cities like NYC stand to reap the most rewards. In densely populated areas, with twisting streets and large commuter populations, autonomous vehicles will bring needed safety and convenience to local passengers who do not own cars or who need to travel to areas where public transit doesn’t adequately reach. By being the first autonomous vehicles company to secure a testing permit in New York, Mobileye will be confronting the fiercest challenges to autonomous technology and getting their boots on the ground in a city where this technology can flourish.
Of course, Mobileye is not the alone in their quest. Instead, 2021 has seen multiple autonomous vehicles roll out onto the road. Last week, Ford and Argo AI announced that by the end of the year, they would launch a ride-hailing service with Lyft. The service will begin this year in Miami and reach Austin by 2022. In five years, the company plans to operate about 1,000 self-driving vehicles in multiple markets. This announcement comes soon after Lyft sold its venture into autonomous vehicles to Toyota in April. Instead, Lyft will receive 2.5% common equity in Argo AI, which is backed by Ford and Volkswagen and set to go public as soon as this year. This partnership is just one more example of the increasing consolidation in the AV market, signaling its growing maturity.
Furthermore, by partnering with Lyft, Ford and Argo AI will immediately integrate with consumers’ ride-hailing options. Many experts agree that fleet vehicles will serve as the first avenue for autonomous driving. Companies like Cruise have already taken steps to create their own fleet vehicles. Last year, Cruise debuted a vehicle built from the ground up for autonomous driving. Known as the “Origin,” the vehicle has no steering wheel, peddles, or other unnecessary features. With this debut, the company challenged folks to view the vehicle as a peek into the “post-car” future. Cruise displayed a simple interface in their presentation that would allow customers to unlock their vehicle with a code and join other passengers headed toward similar locations. While these vehicles are set to go into production in 2023, Cruise is currently refining its autonomous technology to be ready for the “post-car” world.
Just a month ago, Cruise announced that it received a permit from the State of California to become the first autonomous vehicle company to offer rides to the public without a safety driver present. After years of testing in San Francisco, Cruise’s announcement served as a symbol that even in California’s regulatory environment, genuinely autonomous vehicles were safe for the public.
This movement, however, is not contained to the US. In Shenzhen, China, DeepRoute.ai launched its own level 4 Robotaxi service to the general public on July 19th. While safety drivers will still be required, DeepRoute.ai will be the first to obtain a permit to transport passengers on public roads in Shenzhen. Olympic athletes in Tokyo will get a chance to ride on one of Toyota’s E-Palletes, electric autonomous shuttles, between their events. The autonomous sector around the world is coming to maturation.
Lastly, autonomous delivery vehicles continue to improve life for consumers all over the country. Nuro has emerged as a leader in the field after their much-publicized partnership with Domino’s Pizza. Now, customers in Houston can receive their pizza straight from Nuro’s R2, a zero-occupant delivery vehicle. Now, Nuro has partnered with FedEx to address last-mile delivery of goods in Houston and holds a deployment permit to operate in California commercially. Perhaps due to the pandemic, more consumers are beginning to see the value in autonomous delivery. In fact, college students will soon be able to receive their GrubHub orders through on-campus deliveries by Yandex, a large Russian technology firm that makes AV rovers, starting sometime in the fall. These delivery vehicles will serve as an excellent opportunity to normalize autonomous technology and introduce the public to its benefits and safety.
Autonomous vehicles are not a new idea. Now, however, for the first time autonomous vehicles are no longer just an idea. We live in a world where self-driving cars exist and can assist the general public in many different locations. The fact of the matter is that autonomous vehicles are not a far-off future technology – autonomous vehicles are here, now, and they are here to stay.
“Autonomous Vehicles are Here” will be an ongoing series of posts from the Driverless Commute that recap recent developments in autonomous vehicle deployment. Subscribe to the Driverless Commute to stay up-to-date on autonomous technology in the US and around the world. Check out our AV Index and Global Guide for more information.