Looking back, a decade ago self-driving cars were a mere work of fiction that used to drive us to the fantasy world. However, through these years we have seen a number of automotive companies rising to bring such fictional vehicles into reality. Every big automotive industry player is dedicated to developing extremely efficient and safe self-driving cars.
However, as the new technology as a concept enters the market, how can our big techs including Google, Microsoft, and significant others stay behind in bringing about innovation. Not many are aware of the developments companies like Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Baidu are making in autonomous technologies to revolutionize the auto industry landscape. Let’s explore how these big techs are contributing to the progress of self-driving cars.
The Google self-driving car project is now popularly known as Waymo. Waymo stands for a new way forward in mobility. It is a self-driving technology company with a mission to make it safe and easy for people and things to move around.
The company puts Waymo Driver through the world’s longest and toughest ongoing driving test, through millions of miles on public roads and billions of miles in simulation. That’s hundreds of years of human driving experience that benefits every vehicle in its fleet. With every mile Waymo drives, it never stops learning.
In April 2017, Waymo started a limited trial of a self-driving taxi service in Phoenix, Arizona, and a year later in 2018, the service launched a commercial self-driving car service called “Waymo One”; users in the Phoenix metropolitan area use an app to request a pick-up.
Between 2009 and 2015, Google spent at least US$1.1 billion to develop the tech powering its self-driving cars, IEEE Spectrum’s Mark Harris first reported.
According to Tech Crunch, Waymo raised US$2.25 billion in a fundraising round led by Silver Lake, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and Mubadala Investment Company recently. This is the company’s first external investment, which also included Magna, Andreessen Horowitz, and AutoNation and its parent company Alphabet.
The e-commerce giant Amazon announced an investment in Aurora, a highly-regarded Silicon Valley startup that develops technology to powerfully autonomous vehicles, in 2019. This clearly implies that Amazon doesn’t want to miss out on an innovation that has the potential to create a sea of change in business and society.
“Autonomous technology has the potential to help make the jobs of our employees and partners safer and more productive, whether it’s in a fulfillment center or on the road, and we’re excited about the possibilities,” Amazon said in a statement about the investment.
Amazon is part of a handful of investors — including Silicon Valley venture capital firm Sequoia, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and Shell Ventures — that participated in the funding round, which raised more than $530 million. The funding values Aurora at more than US$2.5 billion.
According to a recent McKinsey study, the deployment of autonomous vehicles for last-mile delivery could reduce transportation costs by as much as 40%. In an attempt to rein in these costs, Amazon has invested in its own cargo jets, freight shipping, and trailer trucks. The company cut ties with FedEx and scaled back the number of packages it delivers via the U.S. Postal Service.
On the autonomous driving front, Amazon has a multi-pronged approach that involves almost everything except building its own self-driving vehicles. Signs of the company’s moves into the autonomous vehicle market started in 2015 when Amazon filed for a patent for autonomous lane-switching technology. The company was granted the patent in 2017.
Unlike others, Microsoft’s strategy in an autonomous vehicle is slightly different. Microsoft’s first point of its new strategy is to “empower connected vehicle solutions.” This is done largely through the Microsoft Connected Vehicles Platform (MCVP) which combines cloud and computing services with partner networks to “build connected driving solutions that span from in-vehicle experiences and autonomous driving to prediction services and connectivity.” Microsoft announced several new partnerships for this program, including LG Electronics’, Faurecia, and Cubic Telecom. Microsoft already works with Volkswagen and Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.
Microsoft’s second point is to “Accelerate autonomous driving function development.” To accomplish this goal, Microsoft announced the Microsoft for Startups Autonomous Driving. This program aims to help new businesses in regards to delivery, ride-sharing, long-haul transit, and other areas.
Microsoft’s other core points are to “Enable creation of smart mobility solutions,” “Empower connected marketing, sales, and services solutions,” and “Provide services to build an intelligent supply chain.” Microsoft highlights how partnerships with TomTom, Moovit, Annata, BMW, and other companies help accomplish these goals.
Microsoft’s partnerships with vehicle manufacturers are centered on Azure and cloud computing. Earlier this year, Microsoft shared how it works with Audi using Microsoft Azure and enormous simulations.
In 2013, Baidu commenced the development of autonomous driverless vehicles, through the Baidu research institute, noted Wikipedia. This project gradually expanded to including 10,000 developers working on an open platform, and more than 50 partners across the world, including Intel, BMW, Benz, Kinglong, and XTE. On 5 July 2017, Bloomberg reported that Baidu had negotiated 50 partners to sign in for the development and purchase of the new unmanned buses.
Baidu says that Apollo is “a complete open automatic driving ecosystem” enabling partners in the automotive industry and autonomous driving to combine vehicle software and hardware systems to quickly build their own complete AV system.
The Apollo platform consists of three parts: localization, open-software platform, and cloud-service platform. Apollo also offers a simulation engine, which the company claims as “the only one in the world that is open and is equipped with massive data.” Baidu has also introduced a new Module aptly named Guardian, focused primarily on safety in mind. The Guardian ensures the safety of the vehicle by carefully bring the vehicle to a stop during any emergency situations.
In June of 2017, Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke publicly about Apple’s work on autonomous driving software, confirming the company’s work in a rare candid moment. Apple doesn’t often share details on what it’s working on, but when it comes to the car software, it’s harder to keep quiet because of regulations.
“We’re focusing on autonomous systems. It’s a core technology that we view as very important. We sort of seeing it as the mother of all AI projects. It’s probably one of the most difficult AI projects actually to work on.” — Apple CEO Tim Cook on Apple’s plans in the car space.
In early 2017, Apple has been granted a permit from the California DMV to test self-driving vehicles on public roads and is testing its self-driving car software platform in several 2015 Lexus RX450h SUVs leased from Hertz. The SUVs have been spotted on the streets of Cupertino host of sensors and cameras starting in April.
Apple has several of the Lexus SUVs outfitted with a range of different sensors running its self-driving software. New LIDAR equipment was spotted in August of 2017, and Apple has been significantly ramping up its fleet in 2018. As of May 2018, Apple has 70 vehicles out on the road using its autonomous driving software.