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Auto industry antes up self-driving car technology at Consumer Electronic Show

Monday, February 12, 2018 - 08:00
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Autonomous vehicles (AVs) continued to hog the spotlight at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, with a number of self-driving cars cruising the Las Vegas Strip. This year, though, there were more real supporting technology systems on display that had already come to market as autonomous systems enter what could be a substantial growth period over the next few years and decades.

“We’ve seen incremental steps to help bring these new mobility solutions closer to market,” says Jeremy Carlson, principal automotive analyst at IHS Markit. “We’re seeing some of these new technologies becoming productized to help automakers make that transition into actual products, rather than building AVs from the ground up.”

One example: networking advanced driver assistance systems into a central “brain” for an autonomous vehicle. NVIDIA, for instance, is pushing its technology for this type of solution, and has partnered with Volkswagen on a project that will enable vehicles to recognize specific drivers. The NVIDIA platform (Xavier) will be part of collaborations with Audi, Bosch and other companies, including Uber.

Other key announcements at CES included:

• GM unveiled the fourth generation of the Chevy Bolt, an autonomous vehicle that will not include pedals or a steering wheel. Because the design is so unconventional, the company has submitted a petition to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for permission to skirt some federal safety standards.

• Toyota showed off its e-Pallette autonomous vehicle concept, which is the centerpiece of a partnership with Amazon, Uber, Pizza Hut, Chinese ride sharing company DiDi, and Mazda. The boxy vehicle is also a showcase for Toyota’s Mobility Services Platform (MSPF). The vehicles would be multi-purpose, so they could be shared by different types of businesses, including delivery companies, e-commerce companies or public transit providers.

• Delphi spin-off Aptiv and Lyft demonstrated self-driving BMW vehicles, ferrying attendees around the city.

• Argo (formed by veterans from Google and Uber) was on hand as well. The company is developing a new software platform for Ford’s AVs, and the automaker has already invested $1 billion in the company.

• Volkswagen also plans to help establish mobility as a service fleets, and has partnered with Aurora Innovation to that end. Aurora also has partnered with Hyundai to bring self-driving cars to market by 2021.

AV growth driven by mobility services

According to the most recent IHS Markit data, there will be more than 33 million autonomous vehicles sold globally in 2040. The firm expects there to be just 51,000 units sold in 2021, which is expected to be the first year of significant volume.

AVs will likely be adopted for mobility services first – ride hailing and sharing services, for example. That’s where General Motors sees an opportunity, and the company has outlined a future where more people use such services rather than purchase a car.

“Mobility services is the first place where we expect to see fully autonomous vehicles deployed, Carlson says. “Personal ownership is definitely going to follow that trend.”

That shift from buying cars to buying drive-time will have a huge affect on the automotive and parts industries. By 2040, vehicle miles traveled will reach an all-time high of 11 billion per year in China, Europe, India and the U.S., according to IHS Markit. At the same time, sales of new light-duty vehicles will decline.

Mobility as a service companies are expected to buy as many as 10 million vehicles in key markets by 2040.

“Diversity of choice in personal mobility and autonomous driving technologies are both evolving more quickly than ever, but their convergence will have the greatest impact,” Carlson says. “Autonomous mobility services can deliver newfound personal freedom to the young, old, disabled and others without reliable transportation for everyday needs.”

U.S. will lead adoption

The U.S. market will embrace AV technology first, according to the Markit analysis. Total U.S. volumes of autonomous vehicles are expected to reach 7.4 million units per year in 2040. China also will see strong growth, and both markets will see early adoption in mobility services fleets. In Europe, however, regulations against ride sharing and other services will tilt the market more toward personal ownership.

Right now, a number of vendors are jockeying for position in the AV platform space, each hoping their technology will serve as the basis of many of these self-driving cars.

Bosch, Ford and a few other companies also are touting potential integration with “smart city” or smart infrastructure technology so that traffic signals, roadways and other systems can help better guide AVs. Ford has partnered with Qualcomm on adding vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology to its fleet in 2019, and is working with a company called Autonomic on a Transportation Mobility Cloud that would enable communication between cars, public transit, infrastructure and pedestrians.

Robert Bosch GmbH also touted new autonomous technology at CES, including a solution to help drivers find parking spots and an electronic personal assistant (similar to Alexa) that responds to verbal commands. The company also is working on a solution that would use sensors in light posts and cameras to monitor air quality and redirect vehicles away from traffic jams.

That data can eventually help guide self-driving vehicles around a city by being integrated into high-definition maps. "We're working on a manufacturer-independent solution for cars to share traffic information collected by their sensors, which can be used to update maps in real time," said Stefan Hartung, a member of the Bosch board, at a CES press event. "We'll also be working together on applications for this technology beyond the automotive domain – for example in connected industry, where high-definition indoor maps could be used to automate and streamline the flow of goods all the way to the production line."

Bosch already has a project underway with Daimler that allows self-driving cars to park themselves in garages via an automated valet solution.

However, this somewhat utopian smart city model would require significant state and municipal investment that may not be forthcoming.

“There will always be added value when you have more information and can connect to infrastructure,” Carlson says. “But you can’t guarantee that the infrastructure is going to be there. The bottom line is I don’t think we can rely on infrastructure to make these vehicles deployable.”

In the meantime, the U.S. Department of Transportation has asked for public comment on its Federal Automated Vehicle Policy (FAVP) 3.0 update, which is aimed at integrating AVs on surface streets and highways. This will directly impact regulation of more advanced Level 4 and Level 5 AVs, which require minimal or no driver interaction, and would include GM’s steering wheel-free design.

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