The Global Development of Autonomous Vehicles in 5 Categories

Suhasini Gadam Blog

Self-driving vehicles are finally here and how they are deployed will change how we use different modes of transportation today. Autonomous vehicles are being developed with the aim of preventing long traffic jams and making public transport systems more convenient. The automated drive technologies to solve critical transportation issues are being developed in mainly five categories, based on how the autonomous vehicle will be used and below we take a closer look at each of them.

Autonomous Public Transit

The one goal of transportation is to help move people from one destination to another. What we see today as individually owned cars, manually driven buses and trains, and taxi services will all transform into fully automated modes of transport.

  • Mass Transit: Many cities around the world are already replacing non-automated buses and trains with automated ones. As an example, Las Vegas hosted autonomous shuttle buses that took passengers up and down Fremont Street in January 2017, Finland’s capital, Helsinki, started running self-driving buses in 2016 with the intention of making the city car-free by 2025 and self-driving electric shuttles are running through the streets of Tokyo as the Japanese government prepares for the 2020 Olympics. While driverless metro systems have been around as early as the 1980s, China launched the first autonomous rail rapid transit system that can carry up to 300 passengers and run on virtual rails, in October 2017. This is just the beginning, soon most cities will follow the same path.
  • Personal Transit: Uber, Lyft, Didi and ZipCar are among some of the companies that are protesting to ban personal self-driving cars. Although a major chunk of vehicle ownership will shift to shared mobility, there will still be groups of people that will want to own luxury vehicles. Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Tesla are some of the OEMs that will continue to target these groups, giving their customers varied automated drive options.
  • Shared Transit: Uber and Lyft have already disrupted the shared mobility space. Aptiv, GM, Waymo and Nissan are taking it a step further with autonomous robo-taxis. Daimler also recently announced that they are in the race to launch robo-taxis by 2023 in partnership with Bosch. These robo-taxis will be available to consumers through ride-hailing apps like the ones Uber and Lyft have already established. They will also solve the first-mile, last-mile challenges that the public currently face with mass transit modes of transportation such as buses or trains. Though these services will be provided predominantly in urban areas, the comfort and convenience provided by autonomous vehicles will enable the expansion of these services in the suburbs as well.

Autonomous Delivery

When vehicles are not transporting humans, they are transporting goods. Though pizza delivery services have been around for many years, new food delivery services such as UberEats, DoorDash and Grubhub have become popular in urban areas. The growth of Amazon and their quick delivery of every kind of item you can imagine have made other brands, especially supermarkets like Walmart and Costco focus on speedy deliveries. Domino’s is already testing autonomous pizza deliveries in partnership with Ford while companies like Nuro and UDelv are developing autonomous vehicles with the specific intent of delivering goods like groceries to customers. People will soon be able to get all kinds of goods ranging from daily groceries to heavy appliances or furniture delivered with a click of the button through autonomous vehicles, most of which will be electric or battery operated.

Multi-Purpose Autonomous Vehicles

At CES 2018, Toyota unveiled its multi-purpose E-Palette concept which can be used as a traveling storefront, a rideshare service or a mobile office. The company visualizes mobility as a series of modular vehicles that can be designed to fit the needs of different groups of people, where changes are not made to the vehicle itself but to the in-vehicle experience it provides its users. An ecosystem of automotive and retail service providers will be required to make these multi-purpose vehicles successful, as demonstrated by the “E-Palette Alliance” which included Toyota’s partnership with online retailer Amazon, rideshare service providers Uber and Didi, the restaurant chain Pizza Hut and another OEM Mazda.

Specific-Purpose Autonomous Vehicles

Ford filed a patent for an autonomous police car in January 2018 that it would be able to detect infractions performed by another vehicle, either on its own or in conjunction with surveillance cameras and/or roadside sensors. It would then connect wirelessly to this vehicle to communicate with the passenger inside, verify identity and issue a citation. Emergency vehicles such as police cars, fire trucks and ambulances will make up a big chunk of these specific-purpose autonomous vehicles. Wheelys, a Sweden-based startup, started with small mobile coffee carts and are now testing the Moby Mart in partnership with China’s Hefei University. The Moby Mart is an autonomous grocery store that can restock itself automatically either by driving to the warehouse or finding another stocked store that can help replenish its out-of-stock goods. Retail stores and shopping marts will also find these specific-purpose vehicles a great option to design unique in-vehicle shopping experiences.

Autonomous Long-Haul Trucks & Freight Trains

The autonomous trucking industry has been around for long, but recently big companies like Waymo, Uber and Tesla are testing their semi-autonomous trucks and racing to put fully autonomous trucks on global highways. Daimler and Volvo are not far behind in that competition, where even Amazon is exploring autonomous long-haul trucking solutions. Start-ups like Starsky Robotics that is designing aftermarket retrofit kits enabling autonomous capabilities, Embark that is focused on driver-assistance features like object detection in glare, fog and darkness on long highways, and Peloton that is developing driver-assistance technologies for truck platooning are also playing a major role in the transformation of the trucking industry. Rio Tinto, the Australian-British mining giant completed its first fully autonomous freight train journey across the Western Australian desert in October 2017 with the goal of launching a fully autonomous heavy-haul, long-distance train network by late 2018.

As advancements are made in the automotive industry and new innovations are brought forward, there will be autonomous vehicles that will overlap two or more of these categories and even create new categories depending on how the autonomous vehicle is used. While the race towards autonomous vehicles will be the main goal of most companies, they will start addressing specific user problems and cater to different target groups.

As the auto industry is changed by technological and economic currents, OEMs and Tier-1 manufacturers will need to partner with technological specialists to thrive in the era of the software defined car. Movimento’s expertise is rooted in our background as an automotive company. This has allowed us to create the technological platform that underpins the future of the software driven and self-driven car. Connect with us today to learn more about how we can work together.

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