While there is nothing wrong with viewing autonomous driving as an emerging sector in the car manufacturing industry, big tech companies are also playing a central role, and have been making huge investments in automotive technologies. The reason is simple: According to Bain and Company, the autonomous vehicles market is estimated to hit US$25 billion by 2025. That has tech companies jockeying for position in what is shaping up as the largest and fastest-growing area of the IoT.
Amazon has filed patents for autonomous cars reversible lane navigation, and last April established a team to work on driverless delivery vehicles. In partnership with Toyota, Amazon announced e-Pallette, a self-driving food delivery concept car.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has revealed the company is working on autonomous systems and software that could power self-driving cars amid rumors of a possible “Apple car” release. According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, Apple has collaborated with Hertz to test its autonomous driving software on the streets of San Francisco.
Google is probably the best-known tech giant in the autonomous driving market. In 2016 the company renamed its self-driving car unit “Waymo,” and is building an end-to-end self-driving system complete with sensors and software. Waymo claims to have more than four million miles of real-world driving experience and data gathered from cities including Mountain Views, Austin, and Phoenix.
IBM has several patents that use machine learning and its AI engine Watson in autonomous driving. Last year the company received a patent for a machine learning system which can shift control of an autonomous vehicle dynamically between a human driver and a vehicle control processor in the event of a potential emergency.
Intel has big ambitions in autonomous vehicles. The company acquired Mobileye, which makes systems for collision detection and other applications in self-driving vehicles, for some US$15.3 billion last year; and has partnered with Waymo to provide sensors and connectivity. BMW, Nissan, and Volkswagen all plan to use Mobileye technology to create safer self-driving cars. Intel is also building a test fleet of 100 cars equipped with cameras, radar, laser scanners, chips, processors and systems developed in collaboration with Mobileye.
NVIDIA says its Xavier chipset can conduct 20 trillion deep learning operations per second. Xavier was introduced in 2017 and is now being manufactured and shipping to select automotive customers and partners. NVIDIA’s Drive IX and Drive AR software development kits are being used to create features such as facial recognition and autopilot for Volkswagen electric buses. The company is also working with Uber, Baidu, and the startup Aurora on driverless cars. At its GTC 2019 conference earlier this month, NVIDIA announced its NVIDIA DRIVE Constellation autonomous vehicle simulation platform is now available, with Toyota the first adopter. Using the simulation engine, self-driving cars can be trained with millions of miles in virtual worlds across scenarios ranging from routine driving to rare and dangerous situations.
Microsoft has partnerships with many automakers, including BMW, Ford, Renault-Nissan, Toyota, and Volvo. Microsoft has also joined with Baidu, which is developing an open source platform for self-driving cars, Apollo. Microsoft is providing its Azure cloud services to companies that use Apollo to build and run their self-driving cars. Microsoft also provides Azure cloud services to Ola, Uber’s competitor in India, which hopes to one day offer self-driving vehicles on its app.
Clearly, it is in the interests of traditional car manufacturers to partner with advanced tech companies in autonomous driving. As the market expands, we are also seeing a growing number of niche tech startups getting involved. These trends are expected to continue advancing autonomous driving R&D in the years to come.
Author: Paul Fan | Editor: Michael Sarazen