Beyond trendy names like Tesla and Alphabet chasing self-driving cars, a host of auto brands and other tech heavyweights are also investing in autonomous R&D.
Private companies working in auto tech are attracting record levels of deals and funding, with autonomous driving startups leading the charge.
Along with early-stage startups, VCs, and other investors, large corporations are also angling to get a slice of the self-driving pie.
Using CB Insights’ investment, acquisition, and partnership data, we identified over 40 companies developing road-going self-driving vehicles. They are a diverse group of players, ranging from automotive industry stalwarts to leading technology brands and telecommunications companies.
This list is organized alphabetically and focuses on larger corporate players in the space (as opposed to earlier-stage startups). Companies working on industrial fully autonomous vehicles were not included in this analysis.
A few of the companies or brands listed below belong to the same parent organization but are detailed separately if they are operating distinct autonomous development programs. Some companies are grouped together by key partnerships or alliances. Given the complex web of relationships between these players, other collaborations are also noted in each profile.
This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of corporations working on autonomous vehicle technology.
This brief was originally published on 9/25/2015 and featured 25 select corporations. It was updated and expanded on 5/17/2017, 9/4/2018, 8/28/2019, and 3/4/20.
Amazon experimenting with autonomous package delivery
- Filed patent in 2015 for autonomous lane-switching technology
- Invested in autonomous tech startup operated by Google and Tesla veterans
- Autonomous delivery robot Amazon Scout currently making the rounds in Washington State
- Working on a multi-function autonomous vehicle with Toyota
Over the last decade, Amazon has spent billions of dollars working on finding ever-better solutions to the last-mile problem in delivery. It’s built its own fleet of cargo jets, explored delivery by drone in the form of “Prime Air,” and more. More recently, an increasing percentage of that investment has been directed toward autonomous vehicle technology.
In September 2019, Amazon said that it planned to put 100,000 electric delivery vehicles on the road by 2030, with deliveries starting as soon as 2021. The US technology giant plans to buy these vehicles from Rivian, an electric automaker in which Amazon has invested $440M. Amazon revealed a prototype of these delivery vehicles in January 2020.
Amazon’s investment in Rivian came on the heels of its deal in February 2019 with Aurora Innovation, an autonomous tech startup run by former Google and Tesla executives that pioneered autonomous driving teams at both giants.
An Amazon company spokesperson told Wired about the investment:
“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.”
The Rivian and Aurora investments aren’t the only autonomous technology play that Amazon is pursuing. In January 2019, the company introduced the Amazon Scout, a 6-wheeled electric-powered delivery robot. These robots are currently making deliveries in a Washington neighborhood and in Southern California’s Irvine area during daylight hours, Monday through Friday, under the supervision of a human associate.
For Amazon, these developments are years in the making.
The company initially announced that it would be getting involved in autonomous vehicles at CES 2018 through a partnership with Toyota. The demo vehicle, known as the e-Palette, was designed as a multi-function, autonomous minivan to move goods, people, or even a mobile office. The plan is to debut up to 20 of its e-Palette vehicles at the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games in Tokyo to transport athletes.
In 2015, Amazon explored a trial with DHL and Audi that involved delivering customers’ parcels to the trunks of their automobiles.
In the same year, Amazon filed for a patent for a system that helps autonomous cars navigate roadways, especially complex, reversible lanes, and even pick which lane to use depending on current traffic estimates — an early indicator of the company’s ambitions in this space and AVs’ importance to Amazon when it comes to lowering delivery costs. The company was granted the patent in early 2017.
In April 2017, the Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon had built a team more than a year prior devoted to focusing on driverless vehicle technology.
We’ve written more on Amazon’s self-driving vehicle patent activity here.
Apple is starting to catch up
- Building employee transportation network; currently has 70 self-driving vehicles on the road in California
- Some setbacks for Apple’s self-driving car program, Project Titan, in 2016
- Hired former Waymo and NASA engineer in June 2018 to head Project Titan
- Acquired Drive.ai in June 2019
In January 2019, Apple cut more than 200 employees from its self-driving car initiative, Project Titan, in what was internally described as a “restructuring.” Five months later, Apple confirmed that it had acquired Drive.ai, a self-driving startup that is backed by more than $77M in funding and was valued at $200M in 2017. The move is reported to be an “acqui-hire,” with Apple’s interests lying more with Drive.ai’s talent than its proprietary technology.
For Apple, the move appears to be an effort to get its own autonomous vehicle efforts back on track. Project Titan has suffered setbacks since as early 2016, which marked the departure of project head Steve Zadesky and a rumored hiring freeze, as well as strategic uncertainty about the vision of the project.
In July 2016, Apple selected its legendary hardware executive Bob Mansfield to lead its effort, in addition to hiring Dan Dodge, the founder and former CEO of QNX. The hires indicated a shift in strategy, with Project Titan reportedly deciding to prioritize the development of an autonomous driving system, while deprioritizing development of an electric vehicle.
In April 2017, new details seemed to confirm this pivot: Apple documents revealed the company was building an “automated system,” and the company hired robotics experts from NASA to boost its driverless efforts.
Apple spent 2018 building out the beginnings of its self-driving car fleet, with 70 vehicles officially on the road and registered with the California DMV as of September of that year. This reportedly made Apple the owner of the third-largest autonomous test vehicle fleet in the state, behind GM Cruise and Waymo. Apple’s test fleet logged a total of 80,739 miles of autonomous driving time from April 2017 through November 2018.
In May, it was reported that Apple was working to provide autonomous cars for employee transit between corporate facilities. The Volkswagen T6 transporter vans slated to be used will feature a human driver present in case of any issues with the self-driving technology in the car.
In June 2018, Apple brought on Jaime Waydo, a senior engineer with experience at both Waymo and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, to work on Project Titan.
In late 2018, Apple poached a designer and vehicle engineer from Tesla, a move that suggested that it may be reevaluating Project Titan’s move away from building an autonomous vehicle. The company has also built prototypes of an electric van, Apple Insider reported in February 2019.
Aptiv logs 100,000 rides and sets sights on China
- Autonomous driving operations underway in Boston, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, and Singapore
- Completed 100,000+ self-driving taxi rides in Las Vegas in collaboration with Lyft
In February 2020, self-driving software company Aptiv and ridesharing company Lyft reached a major milestone: the companies crossed 100,000 rides of its autonomous passenger service in Las Vegas. The company now services over 3,400 spots in Las Vegas, including popular locations such as the Los Angeles Convention Center and McCarren International Airport.
The program features a fleet of BMW 540s, retrofitted with Aptiv’s autonomous tech but with a safety driver present in the car. Reception to the program has been positive: Lyft reports that 98% of the passengers who took the rides gave the service a 5-star rating.
The Lyft partnership is just one of several programs that Aptiv has underway with its self-driving software. The company currently has autonomous driving operations in 4 markets: Boston, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, and Singapore. In spring 2019, the company announced it was adding a fifth city, Shanghai.
The expansion into China is a major strategic move for Aptiv. China is expected to account for more than two-thirds of autonomous miles driven worldwide by 2040, according to McKinsey.
Aptiv’s President of Autonomous Mobility Karl Iagnemma said:
“The long-term opportunity in China is off the charts… For Aptiv, it’s always been a question of not ‘if’ but ‘when’ we’re going to enter the Chinese market.”
These initiatives have translated into strong financial results for Aptiv. Over the course of 2019, the company’s stock posted gains of more than 50%.
The last few years have witnessed a number of transformations at Aptiv. In May 2017, the company, then known as Delphi Automotive, spun off of its powertrain segment and rebranded itself as a new company: Delphi Technologies. A few months later, that company was renamed Aptiv. The rebrand was intended to focus the company’s software, electrical components, and other work on autonomous vehicles.
In October 2017, Delphi acquired autonomous software development shop nuTonomy, Inc. for $400M upfront. The goal of the acquisition was to get more than 60 Aptiv-branded autonomous cars onto public roads by the end of the year. The acquired startup had a strong track record: in 2016, nuTonomy integrated self-driving car technology into a ride-hailing service for the very first time in Singapore. It then also became the first to test such technology on public streets in Boston, Massachusetts. In April 2018 (after the acquisition), nuTonomy was officially named a finalist for Fast Company’s 2018 World Changing Ideas Awards.
The company has also partnered with Quanergy Systems to develop and deploy solid-state lidar, which could dramatically lower the cost of these systems. (Here are some other startups working on improved sensing and vision solutions.)
Audi unveils its autonomous A8
- First auto company to deploy hands-free driving
- Flagship self-driving A8 model approved for street driving in Europe
- Former Tesla Autopilot manager hired as CTO of self-driving tech subsidiary
Audi has made big promises about its plans for autonomous and electric vehicles. The German brand has said it plans to spend close to $16B on self-driving and sustainable tech by 2023.
Those efforts are primarily being undertaken by Autonomous Intelligent Driving (AID), Audi’s self-driving technology outfit, first launched in 2017. The operation, which is based in Munich and boasts more than 200 employees, is currently testing 12 autonomous vehicles on public roads in its home city.
Audi chief technology officer Alexandre Haag has compared AID to GM’s self-driving unit, Cruise, and Ford’s unit, Argo. But Haag is pragmatic about the realities of getting autonomous fleets deployed, given how much rests on the dependability — and safety — of the technology.
“Getting to 90 percent [in perception] is fairly easy. Getting to 95 percent starts to get interesting. And then you still need to go way beyond that. Nine point nine nine nine nine… Adding each nine is ten times harder. When you’re at 95 percent, you’ve just scratched the surface.”
Audi is starting to bring in new technology partners in an effort to expedite its autonomous timelines. In December 2018, the company announced that AID would partner with Luminar, a Silicon Valley manufacturer of LiDAR sensors and perception software that also works with Volvo and Toyota.
Audi is also part of the German consortium — which includes Daimler and BMW — that bought Nokia’s HERE precision mapping assets for $3.1B. HERE has made strides in designing an open specification for vehicle sensor data collected and transmitted to the cloud by connected vehicles.
Audi has revealed several autonomous vehicle prototypes derived from its A7 and RS 7 models, including consumer-oriented test vehicles. In July 2016, news broke that Audi was joining many automotive peers by setting up its own advanced subsidiary, SDS Company, to focus on self-driving tech. In April 2017, Audi hired former Tesla Autopilot program manager Alexandre Haag as the unit’s CTO.
Audi plans to commercialize its technology in its next-generation A8 flagship, although the vehicle’s SAE Level 3 automation will have limited availability, pending regulatory approval. The luxury brand operates under the umbrella of the Volkswagen Group, so developments within the division could have broader implications going forward.
While a fully autonomous fleet may still be a ways away for Audi, the company has been among the most aggressive at introducing semi-autonomous options to the market.
In July 2017, Audi unveiled its new flagship A8, which has a controversial autonomous driving feature that lets drivers fully take their hands off the wheel while the car drives up to 37 MPH. At the time, it was the first vehicle in production that could actually allow its users to “drive” hands-free.
The 2019 A8 model includes an enhanced suite of semi-autonomous features, including adaptive cruise control and collision mitigation capabilities, as well as improved object recognition.
As of publication, the Audi A8 with the full complement of self-driving features has only been approved for release and made street-legal in Europe, not in the US.
Baidu’s Apollo platform logs 1M+ autonomous miles driven and 150+ partners
- Built “Android of autonomous driving” to support development of self-driving tech
- 3M autonomous kilometers driven in urban environments
- Opened AI research lab in Silicon Valley
The Chinese autonomous vehicle market represents a huge opportunity — $500B by 2030, according to McKinsey. Companies around the world are jockeying to capture that market, including Chinese tech giants Tencent and Alibaba. But only 1 contender can claim nearly 2M miles of autonomous driving: Chinese search company Baidu.
The main hub of Baidu’s automation efforts is Apollo, its open-source autonomous driving platform, which originally launched in 2017. Baidu’s COO has called Apollo the “Android of the autonomous driving industry.” More than 130 partners worldwide use the service, including automakers Chevy, Ford, Honda, Toyota, and Volkswagen, as well as technology company Intel, according to Baidu.
Baidu first began testing its open-source Apollo software system on the open road in 2017. In 2018, the company received approval from the Chinese government to start testing Apollo on 33 different roads spanning 65 miles around Beijing. The Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport also granted Baidu its first batch of T4 test permits — the highest level of autonomous vehicle clearance currently available in China. The T4 permits let Baidu operate its vehicles in challenging urban environments, such as tunnels and school zones. In January 2019, Baidu unveiled Apollo Enterprise, a new line that will focus primarily on use cases including highway driving, valet parking, autonomous mini-buses, and mapping technology.
By December 2019, Baidu had 300 autonomous vehicles on the road and had logged over 3M kilometers (roughly 1.8M miles) of urban driving. The same month, Baidu received licenses to test its fleet of autonomous robot taxis in certain areas of Beijing.
Baidu has also entered a partnership with Zhejiang Geely Holding Group to equip Geely cars with self-driving technology provided by Baidu, including Apollo’s DuerOS. Tesla partnered with Baidu in January 2020 to use its mapping data for its vehicles in China.
In April 2014, Baidu partnered with BMW to develop a semi-autonomous prototype. The partners tested their technologies on highways in China but parted ways in November 2016 following disagreements about strategy.
The search giant has also opened a Silicon Valley artificial intelligence research lab, although Andrew Ng (its chief AI scientist) departed the company in March 2017. Baidu also intends to spin off its self-driving unit once it matures (similar to Alphabet with Waymo).
For years, Apollo has been used by chipmakers and small startups to kickstart work in self-driving cars, but big corporates — including Nvidia, Bosch, Daimler, and Ford — have also found it useful.
BMW-Intel-Mobileye alliance forges ahead
- Showed off autonomous car concept at CES 2016
- Plans to deploy self-driving car on the road by 2021
- Opened second autonomous driving campus in Munich in 2018
BMW has begun aggressively pushing its autonomous strategy since showing off an autonomous i8 concept at CES 2016. In July 2019, the company announced a partnership with another German automaker, Daimler. The companies will commit 1,200 technicians to the task of developing new autonomous systems with the goal of getting them on the road by 2024.
The Daimler collaboration is just the latest partnership for Munich-based BMW. In 2016, the company announced an alliance with Intel and Mobileye, which Chrysler and Magna also joined in 2017. The coalition plans to create an open standards-based platform for bringing self-driving cars to market, aiming to put its first vehicle, the BMW iNEXT, on the road by 2021.
Intel has been keen to push into the sector, having been beaten to the punch by companies like NXP and Nvidia to supply automotive silicon and autonomous processing power. In late 2016, it created a new Autonomous Driving Group (ADG) and committed $250M to auto tech investments through its Intel Capital arm. In March 2017, Intel further ramped up its autonomous focus when it announced its $15.3B acquisition of Mobileye.
Mobileye itself has a number of other partnerships through its Road Experience Management (REM) mapping platform, including Nissan, VW, and BMW. BMW is also part of the group that bought Nokia’s HERE mapping assets for $3.1B. In 2017, Intel took a 15% stake of HERE as well.
In 2018, BMW opened an autonomous driving campus near Munich, Germany, to work on self-driving pilot projects, making it BMW’s second workplace dedicated to autonomous technology alongside its office in Mountain View, California.
Bosch tests autonomous taxi service with Daimler
- Began trial for a self-driving taxi service in California
- $1.1B facility in tech works dedicated to self-driving, smart home, and smart city technologies
- Developed world’s first fully autonomous parking function approved for everyday use with Daimler
- Internally dedicated 2K+ engineers to working on driver-assist technology
In December 2019, Bosch and partner Daimler started a trial for a self-driving taxi service in San Jose, California, a first for both the German companies. The companies said that a select group of users will be able to call for a Mercedes-Benz S-class vehicle through an app, to ply on a fixed route in the city. The passengers will be accompanied by a human driver to monitor the vehicle.
The trial comes as part of a collaboration between Bosch and Daimler that stretches back to 2015. The companies have also announced plans for urban road-friendly vehicles to be brought to market by the early 2020s.
In July 2019, Bosch and partner Daimler received approval from German regulators to operate their autonomous parking feature without having a human safety driver behind the wheel. The approval marks the world’s first fully automated parking function to be approved for everyday use.
Bosch, one of the world’s largest automotive suppliers, reportedly has more than 2,000 engineers for driver-assistance systems. The company is also in the process of constructing a $1.1B facility in Dresden that will produce semiconductors for use in autonomous vehicles, as well as smart home and smart city technologies.
In October 2019, Bosch became a part of a consortium working towards making self-driving technology commercially viable. Some other members of the Autonomous Vehicle Computing Consortium include Toyota, GM, Continental, Nvidia, and NXP.
Mercedes has also been taking other steps toward self-driving cars. Like other luxury brands, Mercedes has begun deploying semi-automated advanced driver assistance systems in many of its newer models.
An ad characterizing Mercedes’ 2017 E-Class as “self-driving” landed the company in hot water, and it pulled the ad in the face of fierce criticism from consumer advocates. Like Tesla’s Autopilot, the E-Class was capable of Level 2 (partial) automation.
In April 2017, Bosch and Mercedes joined forces to develop Level 4 (high automation) and 5 (full automation) vehicles, with Mercedes having 2 years of exclusivity to the co-developed system before it can be offered to competing automakers.
Read more: TechCrunch
Cisco works on building the data layer of the self-driving car movement
- Started building autonomous driving infrastructure with Michigan DOT in 2017
- At CES 2018, announced a project to build technology bringing gigabit-speed connectivity to smart cars
Over the last few years, Cisco has begun exploring the potential in building out the data collection and analysis layer of the autonomous driving and smart car industries.
In October 2017, Cisco began working with the State of Michigan’s Department of Transportation on a self-driving car “adjacent” initiative. The purpose of the project, also known as Cisco Connected Roadways, was to find ways to better connect individual automobiles on the road with the infrastructure around them — including roads, parking meters, and street lights.
At CES 2018, Cisco announced that, through a partnership with Hyundai, it would focus on bringing gigabit-speed Ethernet connectivity to smart cars — enabling both faster-than-ever over-the-air updates and setting the foundation for better self-driving technology.
Cisco says its Ethernet technology should allow automakers to save $35B over the next 4 years by eliminating the need for many routine dealership trips. It could also boost the development of autonomous technology, given how much information self-driving cars need to be able to process and send for analysis every second they are monitoring the road.
Continental AG takes an incremental approach
- Focus on driver-assist technologies and smart car infrastructure
- Opened Silicon Valley R&D lab in 2017
- In 2018, announced partnership with Nvidia to build self-driving vehicle systems
German auto supplier Continental AG has steadily been operating its own autonomous vehicle program. The company has been taking a gradual approach to self-driving cars, only committing to a vague “2020s” time frame for its products and preferring to gradually roll out driver-assist technologies such as its “Cruising Chauffeur.”
In February 2020, Continental said it would invest 100M euros to build a plant for radar sensors in Texas, US. The investment comes as part of the company’s plan to invest “high triple-digit million euros” in the areas of assisted and automated driving over the next 5 years.
At the company’s annual Tech Show in July 2019, Continental self-driving head Andree Hohm highlighted a number of barriers that made faster implementation of autonomous technologies untenable. These include continued technological limitations, consumer skepticism, and the variation in how technologies and regulations are taking shape from market to market.
“Lots of pilot projects are pushing forward, but in a very heterogeneous way. This is a very challenging scenario, because if we’re going to invest a lot of money we have to be sure that the solutions we create fit a wide variety of countries.”
Nevertheless, the company is moving forward with a number of autonomous technology efforts, including manufacturing parts for robotaxis, some of which are in use in the EZ10 autonomous shuttle from French company EasyMile.
In August 2019, Continental underscored its focus on electric vehicles when it announced that it would prioritize development of electric powertrains over internal combustion components. The move came a few months after the company appointed Dirk Abendroth, an autos industry veteran with expertise in electric powertrains and autonomous driving, as its technology head.
In April 2017, Continental expanded its Silicon Valley research operations by opening an R&D lab in San Jose, California. The lab focuses on developing self-driving cars that can communicate with one another and with roadway infrastructure. Continental also said it would invest $300M to expand electric and hybrid vehicle technologies.
At the North American International Auto Show early in 2018, Continental executives discussed reorganizing the business and working to focus more on mobility and self-driving technology.
A few weeks later, Continental announced a new partnership with Nvidia to create self-driving vehicle systems, combining Continental’s automobile software engineering with Nvidia’s Drive platform and operating system. The goal is to develop an independent piece of autonomous technology that can then be marketed and sold to other automakers and grafted onto an existing vehicle to provide self-driving capabilities without the need for any complex, time-consuming, or expensive integration.
DAF, Daimler, Iveco, MAN, Scania, and Volvo complete truck ‘platooning’ trip
- Daimler to invest $570M in autonomous truck technology and create a dedicated organization for infrastructure R&D
- Main project involves self-driving truck “platoons” connected through wireless signals
- Started testing self-driving connected trucks on the road in Oregon in 2017
In April 2016, 6 convoys of truck “platoons” completed the first-ever cross-border trip of its kind. The experiment featured a dozen trucks from a diverse group of European brands, originating from various factories and converging in Rotterdam.
In the semi-autonomous “platooning” concept, multiple trucks controlled by a lead truck are connected through wireless signals, forming a train with 1 truck following another. This allows more trucks to be controlled by fewer people, maximizes efficiency, and decreases drag. However, the trucks featured in the test still required human drivers to be on board as a precaution.
Separately, Daimler has been testing its own autonomous trucks in Nevada since May 2015. The company announced it would be investing $570M in autonomous truck technology at CES 2018. Daimler has also created the Autonomous Technology Group, an organization focused specifically on developing “automated roadmaps” and other infrastructure initiatives to support the technology.
In February 2019, Daimler and fellow German automotive giant BMW announced that they would collaborate on autonomous driving technology, with the goal of getting the project ready by the mid-2020s. Mercedes-Benz head of automated driving Michael Hafner said of the collaboration:
“We have learned that the development of these systems is a bit like climbing a mountain. Taking the first few meters from the base station to the summit seems easy. But the closer you come to the goal, the thinner the air around you becomes, the more strength is required for each further step, and the more complex become the challenges you have to solve.”
In August 2019, it was reported that Audi was set to join this alliance between Daimler and BMW, although none of the 3 automakers confirmed it.
Note: the Volkswagen Group owns a controlling stake in both MAN and Scania. Daimler Trucks is a division of Daimler AG, which was also part of the group that bought Nokia’s mapping assets for $3.1B. Volvo Trucks is now a distinct company from the Geely-owned Volvo Car Group, mentioned above.
In September 2017, Daimler announced that it would be testing connected trucks in a platooning configuration on public roads in the US following approval from the Oregon Department of Transportation. Daimler showcased the trucks, which can make an emergency stop while loaded to 78,000 GVW (gross vehicle weight), at the Portland International Raceway in June 2018.
Didi Chuxing hires Uber, Waymo engineers for its AI lab
- Opened AI lab in Silicon Valley autonomous driving tech R&D in March 2017
- Announced demonstration of a working self-driving car in February 2018
- Received permission from California to undertake further public testing of its technology
After absorbing Uber’s China unit, ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing is now following its US counterpart into self-driving research. In March 2017, Didi opened its own artificial intelligence lab in the heart of Silicon Valley, creating a distinct unit to drive its R&D for intelligent driving systems and AI-based security for transportation.
In August 2019, the company said it would start using self-driving vehicles to offer free rides in autonomous vehicles to its customers in a district in Shanghai city. Didi has plans to expand this service to the rest of Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzen by 2020, and its other global markets by 2021.
The company’s expansion plans followed a few days after it spun off its self-driving unit as an independent company. The new business’s goal is to “integrate the resources and technological advantages of Didi’s platform, continue to increase investment in R&D of core innovative technologies, and deepen collaboration with upstream and downstream auto industry partners.”
Didi Chuxing has already poached a number of noteworthy engineers for its new lab, including Charlie Miller (formerly of Uber’s autonomous vehicle security unit) and Jia Zhaoyin, a senior software engineer at Alphabet’s Waymo unit. It is also one of several companies to partner with Udacity to hire graduates from the startup’s self-driving “nanodegree” program.
In March 2017, the Udacity and Didi joint partnership announced a contest focused on self-driving technology and safety, where teams could win $100K for developing the best “Automated Safety and Awareness Processing Stack.”
Didi also has a 60% stake in a self-driving joint venture with Volkswagen, located in Shanghai.
In February 2018, Didi announced that it had demonstrated a working self-driving car for the first time, reporting that it had built the software for the vehicle and constructed the hardware in partnership with various carmakers and suppliers. In May, Didi received permission from the California Department of Motor Vehicles to begin conducting further tests of its self-driving vehicles on public roads in the state. According to Didi Smart Transportation Initiatives vice president and chief scientist Henry Liu, the company has 40 autonomous vehicles.
In February 2020, Didi partnered with a China-based operating system technology company, ThunderSoft, to share technology and expertise on autonomous driving, advanced driver assistance systems, smart assistants, among other things.
Ford taps private markets for self-driving, partners with Domino’s & Postmates
- Plans to roll out autonomous vehicles by 2021
- Acquired AI startup Argo for $1B
- Partnering with Domino’s, Postmates, and Walmart on autonomous delivery pilots
In early 2015, Ford announced its “Smart Mobility Plan” to push the company forward in innovative areas including vehicle connectivity and autonomous cars. This plan culminated in the formation of Ford Smart Mobility LLC in March 2016, a new subsidiary focused on connectivity, autonomous vehicles, and mobility (e.g., car- and ride-sharing services).
As part of its 10-year autonomous vehicle plan, Ford announced that it would triple its test fleet to 30 total vehicles in 2017 and to 90 by 2018. It has pioneered the testing of self-driving cars in environments including snowy weather and complete darkness.
The company has committed to roll out highly autonomous vehicles within pre-mapped, “geofenced” areas, including Austin, Texas, by 2021. In April 2019, CEO Jim Hackett reaffirmed that timeline but stated that the vehicles’ applications would be “narrow,” and that the automotive industry “overestimated the arrival of autonomous vehicles.”
In a speech at Ford Field in Detroit in 2019, Hackett re-emphasized the enormity of what autonomous technology would mean, for the company and society as a whole:
“When we break through, it will change the way your toothpaste is delivered, logistics and ride structures and cities all get redesigned. I won’t be in charge of Ford when this is going on, but I see it clearly.”
In June 2019, Ford announced the opening of a new research center in Tel Aviv focused on self-driving technologies including sensors, in-vehicle monitoring, and cybersecurity. Israel is evolving into a major hub for self-driving technology, with Intel, Continental, Samsung, Daimler, and General Motors also making investments or setting up shop in the country.
The company has aggressively pursued external investment and acquisition opportunities since H2’16, backing or acquiring a number of companies working in AI, lidar, and mapping. Its biggest move came in February 2017, when Ford announced that it would take a majority stake in AI startup Argo, investing $1B over the course of 5 years. Argo will operate with significant autonomy, becoming a de facto AI research (and recruiting) center for Ford. As of 2018, Ford is testing out Argo’s technology with its third-generation Fusion model sedan. Ford also has testing projects underway in Michigan, Miami, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C.
Additional Ford partners include Domino’s Pizza, with a partnership launched in August 2017 to develop a fleet of self-driving pizza delivery vehicles, and Postmates, to enable on-demand autonomous delivery. In November 2018, the company added Walmart to its list of autonomous delivery partners, with a grocery delivery pilot located in Miami-Dade County.
GM teams up with Honda and Lyft, invests billions in cruise automation division
- Launched semi-autonomous Super Cruise in 2018 Cadillac CT6
- Filed petition in January 2018 to run commercial ride-sharing business through autonomous Chevrolet Bolts
- Received $2.25B from SoftBank to support autonomous work
General Motors made waves in 2016 with a series of aggressive moves within the tech sphere: it bought Sidecar’s assets, invested $500M in Lyft, and acquired autonomous tech startup Cruise Automation. In May 2019, GM announced an additional $1.15B investment in Cruise, bringing the operation’s post-money valuation up to $19B.
These deals have already borne fruit, with Cruise prototypes following Google in expanding testing into Arizona. In October 2018, GM announced an autonomous vehicle partnership with Honda that will see Honda invest $2.8B in GM’s Cruise unit over 12 years.
However, a full commercial self-driving operation is taking longer to materialize than GM initially hoped. The company planned to have an autonomous ride-hailing service in operation by 2019, but in July it announced the launch would be pushed back to allow for additional testing.
Cruise CEO Dan Ammann said of the delay:
“Our goal is to get there as soon as possible. We want that moment to come as quickly as we can. But everything that we do right now is going to be gated by safety. And that’s why we’re increasing our testing and validation mileage just to get to that point as rapidly as possible.”
In January 2020, GM unveiled a self-driving 6-seater, Origin, calling it “the beginning of the future beyond the car.” The vehicle lacks a steering wheel, brake and accelerator pedals, a rear-view mirror, etc.
While the company did not reveal a date when the vehicle will be commercially available, it said that it would develop prototypes and test the car “in the near future.” Origin will not be available for purchase by customers but will be used as a ride-hailing vehicle through GM’s Cruise service.
In its partnership with Lyft, GM planned to deploy thousands of self-driving Bolts beginning in 2018. However, this partnership was not exclusive, and Lyft and Waymo made a separate deal in May 2017 to collaborate on their own self-driving pilot projects. In June 2018, GM CEO Mary Barra told reporters that while GM still had a financial investment in Lyft, the 2 were no longer actively working together on any projects in the self-driving space.
Separately, GM has been developing its own semi-autonomous technology in-house, with its delayed Super Cruise finally launching in the 2018 Cadillac CT6. In February 2020, the company said that its autonomous driving unit now employed 1,800 employees, up from 1,000 in March 2019. The company also plans to actively experiment with new go-to-market models in its Maven Reserve and Book by Cadillac subscription concepts.
Honda also testing autonomous cars, offering semi-autonomous features in Civic
- Introduced semi-autonomous driver-assist on Civic models
- Partnering with GM on self-driving cars and batteries
The $2.8B, 12-year autonomous vehicle partnership that Honda and GM recently announced is just the latest development in a long history of collaboration between the 2 automakers. The companies also have a joint venture in place to develop hydrogen fuel cell systems by 2020.
Honda has also received approval from California to test autonomous vehicles on public streets (with restrictions on the number of vehicles and the testing methods). Like Apple, the automaker is using the GoMentum Station proving ground, with 2,100 acres of testing area for its self-driving fleet.
In January 2020, it was reported that the Japanese automaker plans to launch a Level 3 autonomous vehicle in Japan the same year.
Honda also introduced semi-autonomous ADAS (advanced-driver assistance systems) options on its entry-level Civic, offering lane-keeping, automatic braking, and adaptive cruise control functionality. These features have become ubiquitous on luxury models offered by brands like Tesla and Mercedes but are increasingly common at mass-market price points.
In April 2017, the company launched its R&D Center X, following Japanese competitor Toyota in establishing a dedicated AI research lab.
Honda was reported to be in talks with Alphabet’s Waymo to deploy Waymo’s self-driving system as early as 2016. By 2018, the deal had fallen through — allegedly due to Waymo’s reluctance to share its autonomous technology with the automaker.
Huawei autonomous R&D team tops 200, tests smartphone road-recognition tech at Mobile World Congress 2018
- Partnered with Vodafone to work on cellular car-connecting technology
- Created own driverless car R&D team with 200+ engineers
- Test drove self-driving Porsche Panamera at MWC 2018
According to Huawei’s chief strategist Dang Wenshuan, 70% of autonomous vehicles’ value will reside in information and communication technology rather than in the cars themselves. So it’s unsurprising that the telecommunications giant has shifted resources toward developing autonomous vehicles in a bid to be the company that creates — and captures — that value.
Huawei is working with automakers in Europe (Audi) and China (GAC Group, Beijing New Energy Automobile, and Changan Automobile) with the goal of launching autonomous cars as early as 2021.
American automakers are conspicuously absent from Huawei’s list of partners — likely a result of restrictions put in place by the US government to limit the sale of Huawei components in the United States.
In November 2019, Huawei said that it was partnering with Chinese mapping company NavInfo to use its mapping data for navigation in its self-driving cars. Like Tesla, the technology company also plans to integrate 5G technology into its driverless vehicles.
Huawei’s bid to expand beyond its home turf of telecommunications is several years in the making. In 2016, the company came out with a white paper detailing how mobile network operators could prove valuable in the connected car space. Some of these areas include smart parking, fleet management, data related to in-car entertainment, and LTE-based emergency services.
Reports also indicate that Huawei has assembled its own driverless car R&D team, with over 200 developers as of February 2017.
Huawei partnered with Vodafone to demonstrate some of its latest innovations at the 2017 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, including cellular technology used to connect cars called Cellular V2X.
At Mobile World Congress 2018, Huawei unveiled a Porsche Panamera equipped with its Mate 10 Pro technology for object recognition. The technology uses a smartphone to guide the car. The car performs automatic object recognition and differentiates other cars from people and inanimate objects to determine its course of action. This demonstration, however, was seen as less of an ambitious push into the self-driving space and more of a way to showcase Huawei’s generalized AI capabilities.
Hyundai focuses on affordable driver-assistance technology, aims to release self-driving SUV in 2025
- Focus on creating affordable driver-assist technology
- Investing $35B over a 5-year period in electric and autonomous driving
- Aiming to bring an autonomous vehicle to market by 2025
- Invested in Israeli technology firm Autotalks
After debuting a 2014 TV commercial that showed a convoy of cars outfitted with Hyundai’s driver-assistance tech, Hyundai was more conservative by September 2015. Its European head of operations, Thomas Schmid, asserted that autonomous driving would come “by far not as quick as everyone says,” giving a timetable of 10 to 15 years. Nevertheless, the Korean motor group intensified its efforts in 2016, ramping up investments in AI and setting up a new business unit to develop “hyper-connected” and self-driving cars in the near future.
These efforts gained full steam in late 2019, when Hyundai announced plans to invest $35B over the next 5 years on its self-driving, electric, and connected mobility initiatives. The move came in line with South Korea’s plans to beat other countries to have commercially viable autonomous driving vehicles.
Following this announcement, Hyundai said that it would test 6 autonomous vehicles on the roads of Seoul, with plans to take this number to 15 by 2021. It also said that it planned to test a free self-driving taxi service in Irvine, California, in November 2019.
In September 2019, Hyundai formed a $4B joint venture with Aptiv with affiliates Hyundai Mobis and Kian Motors, with plans to begin testing fully autonomous vehicle tech by 2020 and commercialize it by 2022.
Much like its automotive philosophy as a whole, Hyundai is striving for an affordable system that it can offer to mass-market buyers, showing off its Ioniq autonomous concept at CES 2017. The automaker also hired the former head of GM’s autonomous technology development to run its new Intelligent Safety Technology Center, a combined research body for Hyundai and its affiliate Kia.
In January 2018 at CES, Hyundai said it would begin testing an autonomous SUV, aiming to test the technology by 2021 and to go to market by 2025. The model would be powered by Hyundai’s partnership with Aurora, a startup working on autonomous technology founded by ex-executives from Uber, Tesla, and Google.
Later, Hyundai announced that its next-generation safety system being sent to production vehicles would give drivers the power to remove their hands from the steering wheel for up to 15 seconds at a time.
An investment in the Israeli firm Autotalks followed in July. Autotalks builds communications systems that help cars connect and convey information to one another, which Hyundai touted as a way to help build better detection and sensors in its cars.
Jaguar Land Rover focuses on drive assist, partners with Waymo to build self-driving cars
- Deploying a fleet of 100 self-driving research vehicles on the road in Britain by 2020
- Partnered with Waymo in 2018 to build a fleet of self-driving electric cars
- Supplies cars for Waymo’s fleet of ride-hailing vehicles
In March 2018, Jaguar Land Rover announced a new partnership with Waymo to build a fleet of electric, self-driving cars. By spring 2019, test vehicles began appearing on the public roads around Waymo headquarters in Mountain View, California.
Up to 20,000 new Jaguar I-PACE models will be built to serve in Waymo’s fleet for its ride-hailing transportation service, with production on the vehicles beginning in 2020. In May 2018, Jaguar announced it would begin working on off-road self-driving technology as well.
The Waymo partnership would have been unthinkable not that long ago. In June 2015, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) Director of Research and Technology Wolfgang Epple stated that autonomous vehicles would run counter to the brand’s philosophy, as the company doesn’t “consider customers cargo.” He asserted that the Tata-owned companies would instead favor advanced assistance features that would help drivers without taking full control from them.
However, in February 2016, JLR joined a $7.9M UK program to further autonomous driving R&D, aiming to gather data on driving habits and test vehicle communications technology. In July 2016, JLR formalized plans to deploy a fleet of at least 100 research vehicles over the next 4 years to test self-driving and connected car technology on roadways in Britain.
Jaguar is also working on some technological innovations related to autonomous vehicles, including a system that projects a series of bars onto the road to notify nearby vehicles and pedestrians if the AV is turning, stopping, or starting.
It’s 1 solution to a problem that has continued to perplex autonomous automakers: how to enable AVs to signal their movements to their surroundings. However, its usefulness may be limited in bright light or inclement weather.
Magna joins Waymo’s stable of partners, also pursues lidar & autonomous tech
The Canadian auto supplier giant has long been the subject of self-driving interest as the world’s largest automotive contract manufacturer. The company was dubbed the “Foxconn of cars” in an autonomous world, manufacturing vehicles designed by tech companies like Apple and Waymo.
However, Magna made a U-turn on fully autonomous tech in January 2020, when it scrapped its 2-year partnership with Lyft to develop self-driving technology. The Canadian company said that it would focus instead on developing assisted-driving technology, or the level 1-3 market, where it sees more growth opportunity until 2025.
Magna and Lyft, in which the former has invested $200M, will continue to work together on other software and hardware related to self-driving tech.
In January 2019, Magna announced that it would team up with Waymo to build a factory to manufacture self-driving cars in southeast Michigan. The facility will initially produce autonomous versions of the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan and Jaguar’s I-PACE electric SUV — all capable of level 4 autonomous driving — with a production rate of several thousand vehicles per year.
The company is already supplying legacy automakers with capabilities for advanced-driver assistance systems (ADAS). In 2016, Magna partnered with solid-state lidar startup Innoviz to round out the sensor package for its self-driving system. The supplier has also tapped iPod visionary and Nest co-founder Tony Fadell for its tech advisory committee.
Microsoft pursues collaborative strategy with automakers, offers Azure cloud to startups
- Supplying Azure cloud services to companies working on self-driving cars
- Working with Toyota on robotics, AI, and self-driving car development
- Supplying HoloLens technology to Volvo in self-driving partnership
Microsoft is dipping its toes into AV research, though it’s later to the game than other tech giants.
Building off the capabilities and relationships of its Azure cloud computing platform, Microsoft is focusing its autonomous vehicle efforts primarily on “connected car platforms” — back-end networks tasked with crunching the data that cars produce. That data, in turn, informs a wide range of autonomous vehicle functions, including braking, advanced cruise control, and lane assist.
In March 2016, Microsoft and Toyota announced the expansion of their 5-year-old partnership to support Toyota’s research in robotics, AI, and AV development. As of June 2016, the company’s strategy focuses on providing automakers with technological assistance, as opposed to developing a car itself. Business from auto clients is now driving strong growth in Microsoft’s Azure cloud business.
Microsoft has also reportedly weighed taking a stake in the HERE high-definition mapping service, currently owned by BMW, Daimler, and Volkswagen.
In 2017, Microsoft announced it would begin offering its Azure cloud services to companies using Baidu’s Apollo self-driving platform for autonomous projects. Then, in 2018, it became the data partner at the 330-acre American Center for Mobility facility in Michigan.
In December 2019, Microsoft partnered with Ericcson to allow the latter to build its connected vehicle cloud on top Microsoft’s connected vehicle platform. This would allow automakers to deploy self-driving tech in vehicles at scale.
Nissan/Renault tests self-driving taxis, promises ‘significant autonomous functionality’ by 2020
- Alliance Intelligent Cloud partnership to deliver cloud-connected cars in ~200 markets
- Partnership with Waymo to bring self-driving cars and trucks to Japan and France
- Expanded self-driving technology testing in 2016
- Began partnership with DeNA to run self-driving taxi trials in Yokohama
In February 2020, Nissan achieved a major milestone in its self-driving journey: its battery-powered autonomous car Leaf successfully undertook the longest and most complex road journey in the UK, covering a total of 230 miles. The car was on self-drive mode 99% of the time, though 2 engineers were present in the car the entire journey.
In 2016 at the New York Auto Show, Chairman and CEO of Nissan and Renault Carlos Ghosn promised that the group would have 10 vehicles on sale by 2020 with “significant autonomous functionality.” Since 2017, Nissan has been testing an autonomous model on the roads of Tokyo. Nissan and Toyota also announced a joint effort to develop standardized “intelligent” maps, perhaps in response to German automakers’ acquisition of the mapping company HERE.
Nissan expanded the scope of its projects in 2016, with plans to test single-lane autonomous driving in Japan, as well as a wider range of experiments from its Future Lab mobility research center. In April 2017, Nissan joined Mobileye’s crowdsourced autonomous vehicle mapping effort. Mobileye also powers Nissan’s ProPilot system, which resembles Tesla’s Autopilot and controls the vehicle’s speed, lane positioning, and distance from other vehicles with minimal input from the driver. In 2019, ProPilot 2. 0 received government approval in Japan.
In February 2018, Nissan announced that it would be working with the Japanese online game and e-commerce company DeNA on a self-driving taxi trail, Easy Ride, which ran public trials in March in Yokohama, Japan. The service was booked via mobile app, and passengers were taken to their destinations in a modified Nissan Leaf electric car.
Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi introduced the production release of “Alliance Intelligent Cloud” in March 2019. The system, built on Microsoft’s Connected Vehicle Platform, will deliver cloud-connected services in cars in most of the 200 markets served by the companies.
The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi “alliance” has partnerships with other major players as well. In 2018, they announced a multi-year deal with Google to put Android-powered infotainment systems in their vehicles, with the rollout to commence in 2021. In June 2019, the Google/Renault-Nissan relationship deepened with the announcement of a deal to bring driverless cars and trucks to France and Japan.
Nvidia, Paccar working on autonomous trucks
- Unveiled 8 teraflop computing platform designed for autonomous cars in 2016
- Unveiled plan to build self-driving trucks in 2017
- Partnered with Baidu, Tesla, Bosch, and Toyota
At CES 2016, GPU and semiconductor company Nvidia unveiled the Nvidia Drive PX 2, the second generation of its platform expressly designed for autonomous cars. With 8 teraflops of processing power, the platform is designed for deep learning, sensor fusion, and computer vision applications — all key elements of a potential self-driving car.
Since then, Nvidia’s early bet led to automaker, supplier, and tech partnerships, from Baidu and Tesla to Bosch and Toyota. The company’s upcoming Xavier system-on-a-chip, built on its new Volta architecture, promises improved processing power and efficiency.
Of note is Nvidia’s partnership with truck maker PACCAR to develop self-driving trucks, unveiled in March 2017. Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang has asserted that the effect of autonomy in logistics and transport will be a major opportunity for the company.
In June 2019, Volvo announced that it had selected Nvidia Drive as its autonomous driving platform for its planned fleet of autonomous trucks. The Volvo deal comes shortly after a similar deal with Continental.
Samsung enters the driverless race, tests driver-assist technologies on roads
- Received approval from South Korea to publicly test self-driving cars in 2017
- Acquired Harman for $8B
Not to be outdone by its American competitors like Apple and Google, Korean electronics giant Samsung has thrown its hat into the autonomous vehicle ring.
In May 2017, the tech giant secured a permit to begin testing self-driving cars on South Korea’s public roads. Samsung’s self-driving cars are based on Hyundai vehicles equipped with cameras and sensors. In March 2017, the company also completed its $8B purchase of Harman, a leading supplier of in-car technology and connected vehicle systems. Samsung is already planning to leverage its new acquisition to shape the in-vehicle experience.
In January 2018 at CES, Samsung unveiled a new technology platform designed to help automobile manufacturers build customized autonomous vehicles. The first planned product in the platform is a camera that offers lane departure warnings, pedestrian and collision warnings, and adaptive cruise control. Cars testing the new platform, known as DRVLine, are already being tested on the roads in both California and Korea. The first product is expected to enter production around 2020.
Another major area of development for the company is advanced memory technology, which Samsung says is essential to “enable effective, high-speed driver feedback” and ensure the safety of autonomous vehicles. The company has developed a number of technologies in the space, including solutions for map data storage and data transfer.
In December 2018, Samsung announced that it would build mobile network infrastructure, including 5G and V2X networks, for K-City, a testing ground for autonomous vehicles and other smart city technologies located in Korea.
SoftBank’s SB Drive venture pushes forward
SoftBank Group’s SB Drive, an autonomous vehicle joint venture between the Japan-based giant and research company Advanced Smart Mobility, received a $4.4M investment from Yahoo Japan in March 2017. SB Drive focuses on advancing self-driving technology, especially related to public and community services such as buses.
SB Drive is conducting trials and testing the commercial viability of fixed-route buses for community public transportation, as well as autonomous truck-based freight delivery. In January 2020, the company said it planned to start operating a self-driving bus service on a fixed, 2.5-km long route in the Japanese town of Sakai. France-based autonomous and electric vehicle co Navya will provide the buses and SB Drive will provide the autonomous driving software for the buses.
SB Drive has smart mobility partnership agreements with 4 municipalities in Japan.
The Japanese company has also inked a partnership with Finland’s robotics company Sensible 4 to focus on deployment of driverless shuttles in Europe and Japan. The companies will begin by testing SB Drive’s Dispatcher and Sensible 4’s GACHA shuttles on roads in Finland.
PSA Groupe finds startup partner
- PSA’s self-driving car traveled 300+ kilometers without supervision between Paris and Amsterdam in 2016
- Partnered with nuTonomy in 2017 to install self-driving tech in Peugeot vehicles
In April 2016, France-based PSA Groupe (including Peugeot, Citroën, and DS) announced that 2 Citroën cars had driven without driver supervision from Paris to Amsterdam. The vehicles navigated over 300 km (186 miles) without supervision on authorized stretches of road, with PSA claiming the cars had achieved Level 3 Automation in this mode. The “eyes off” mode is slated to arrive by 2021, while semi-autonomous “hands off” modes will be available by 2020. These features, along with electric vehicles and new models, form the core of PSA’s broader Push to Pass growth strategy.
In May 2017, Peugeot announced a partnership with the MIT self-driving spinoff nuTonomy to install the startup’s self-driving systems in Peugeot 3008 vehicles.
Tata Elxsi showcases valet system, focuses on autonomous vehicle security
Tata Elxsi, a division of the Tata Group, showcased an autonomous parking valet technology in January 2015 in which the car understands where open spots are and uses sensors to park itself. While the company began with a focus on autonomous vehicles, it has recently reassessed the move. In August 2019, Tata Elxsi’s CEO Madhukar Dev said that the company would focus on assisted driving technology, as demand for fully autonomous tech was slowing. Dev explained the rationale behind the move:
“The need for full autonomy seems to have disappeared for the moment and what is coming in is assisted driving. So, some elements of our Autonomai are of interest and relevance to our customers, which is what we are now licensing.”
The company also put a priority on security, designing a central unit in the car with extensive security measures that govern internal and external automotive communication.
In January 2020, Tata Elxsi unveiled its concept autonomous car RoboTaxi at CES 2020. The taxi is built on the company’s middleware AV platform, Autonomai and is fitted with AEye’s sensor system, iDAR.
In June 2017, the company licensed Autonomai to one of the top 5 OEMs. The software connects hardware (cameras, radars, etc.) with the AI and machine learning algorithms used to train AVs in complex driving scenarios.
Tesla got an early lead but struggles to meet expectations, feuds with NTSB
- Released Autopilot, its semi-autonomous driver-assist technology, in 2014
- Autopilot Hardware 3 released in April 2019
- In 2016, announced that all Tesla vehicles on the road would be able to receive self-driving technology through a software update
- Three recent fatal crashes involving Autopilot have hurt Tesla’s self-driving reputation
In the public eye, EV manufacturer Tesla became an early leading banner-carrier for advanced driver assistance and self-driving technology. CEO Elon Musk has been particularly bullish on the field, announcing in 2015 that the technology behind fully autonomous vehicles was only “2 to 3 years away,” with another “1 to 5 years” needed for regulatory approvals.
Tesla pushed its Autopilot software update to properly equipped Model S vehicles in October 2015, enabling auto-steering, lane changing, and parking features. Tesla’s deployment strategy and messaging were criticized following a series of crashes and its first Autopilot-driven fatality in the summer of 2016, although the NHTSA’s official report was favorable towards Autopilot and did not find a safety defect.
Since the accident, Tesla and Mobileye severed ties, with the California automaker seeking to consolidate control over the development of its radar- and camera-based system (eschewing costly lidar sensors). According to Travis Kalanick, Tesla has also rebuffed a partnership with Uber to collaborate on self-driving vehicles.
Starting in October 2016, all Tesla vehicles were built with Autopilot Hardware 2, a sensor and computing package the company said would enable “full self-driving” capabilities once its software matured. The system traded Mobileye’s EyeQ3 for Nvidia’s Drive PX2 platform and required an activation fee to unlock the full autonomy promised. Users reported poor performance during the initial rollout of Autopilot 2.0 software, although the system has improved with subsequent updates.
In March 2018, a man died when his Tesla ran into a highway barrier in California. After federal investigators learned the individual, Walter Huang, had previously complained about his Tesla’s Autopilot feature malfunctioning, they opened an investigation into Tesla’s self-driving technology. After Tesla made data from the car public in its defense, the US National Transportation Safety Board stripped Tesla of its role in the investigation into the crash, launching a feud and setting back expectations for Tesla’s self-driving car project.
In August 2018, Elon Musk announced the upcoming release of Autopilot Hardware 3. Model X and Model S vehicles equipped with Autopilot Hardware 3 went into production in March 2019. The system features custom chips manufactured by Tesla, replacing the Nvidia Drive platform.
Tesla offers 2 tiers of self-driving capability in its vehicles: Autopilot and Full Self-Driving. Full Self-Driving (FSD) costs an additional $5,000 and includes features like Summon and Navigate on Autopilot, which enables lane changes and interchanges.
Despite the title, Tesla’s vehicles are only designated autonomy Level 2 by SAE, meaning they are capable of some autonomous maneuvers but are not considered fully autonomous. Development is currently underway on a next-generation chip that Musk claims will be “3 times better” than the current chip.
Musk also claims that the US electric vehicle maker will be able to launch fully autonomous robotaxis by the end of 2020.
Toyota develops ‘Guardian Angel’ approach to autonomy, invests $2.8B
- Invested $22M in University of Michigan for robotics and AV research
- Focused on a “guardian angel” self-driving system, where a car will intervene when a human driver is about to make a mistake
- Invested $2.8B in Ford spinoff dedicated to autonomous technology
Toyota has notably reversed from its 2014 claims that it would not develop a driverless car on public safety grounds. The Japanese automaker announced at CES 2020 an ambitious plan to build a city to test its self-driving and smart technology as well as robot-assisted living.
According to Toyota’s CEO Akio Toyoda,
“With people, buildings, and vehicles all connected and communicating with each other through data and sensors, we will be able to test AI technology, in both the virtual and the physical world, maximizing its potential.”
The city is expected to house about 2,000 people, and will be located in the foothills of Mount Fuji. Work to start building the city is expected to start in 2021.
Toyota’s self-driving tech ambitions began in 2015, when it announced a $1B budget for autonomous driving research, establishing its advanced Toyota Research Institute (TRI) headed by Gill Pratt. Toyota has also hired professors and researchers from Stanford University, MIT, and the entire staff of the autonomous vehicle company Jaybridge Robotics. In April 2017, it also announced its third US university partnership with an automotive engineering stalwart, the University of Michigan.
In January 2018, Toyota revealed the latest iteration of its flagship autonomous vehicle. A few months later, it announced an investment of $2.8B in a new spin-off company, the Toyota Research Institute – Advanced Development, designed to accelerate the company’s progress towards its self-imposed deadline for achieving testing of autonomous, electric cars.
TRI CEO Gill Pratt has been a vocal proponent of a “guardian angel” system, where the vehicle would monitor a driver’s inputs and intervene only when a human is about to make a dangerous mistake. TRI is also researching a second system (dubbed Chauffeur) targeted toward traditional Level 4 and 5 autonomy. The Chauffeur system would be primarily targeted at elderly people and people with disabilities.
Toyota is partnering closely with Nvidia on software to power its autonomous vehicles. Nvidia’s technology powers the full autonomous vehicle workflow for Toyota, from neural network training to testing, validation, and deployment.
“Our vision is to enable self-driving vehicles with the ultimate goal of reducing fatalities to zero, enabling smoother transportation, and providing mobility for all,” said Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development CEO James Kuffner in a statement. “Our technology collaboration with Nvidia is important to realizing this vision. We believe large-scale simulation tools for software validation and testing are critical for automated driving systems.”
Kuffner said in December 2019 that Toyota will offer self-driving features first in commercial vehicles such as ride-sharing services, ambulatory services, before providing them in personal use vehicles.
The Japanese company also infused $400M into Chinese self-driving startup, Pony.ai, in March 2020 to deploy the latter’s autonomous driving tech in Toyota’s Lexus RX vehicles in Shanghai and Beijing.
In August 2019, Toyota inked a partnership with Suzuki to work on autonomous vehicle tech. As part of the deal, Toyota took a stake worth $96B yen in Suzuki, while Suzuki invested $48B yen in Toyota.
Uber continues dealing with controversy and an uncertain future after fatal crash and missed deadlines
- Hired 40 engineers from Carnegie Mellon Robotics Lab to work on self-driving tech for Uber in Pittsburgh
- Has since faced legal troubles and criticism over its role in a fatal crash involving a self-driving Uber vehicle
Self-driving cars have a big role to play in Uber’s goal of becoming the “one-stop shop for the movement of people and powering local commerce around the world.” Its $7.3B self-driving unit, Advanced Technologies Group (ATG), accounted for a significant chunk of Uber’s valuation in April 2019.
ATG was spending $20M per month as of 2016, according to court documents that were unsealed in the lead-up to the company’s IPO in 2019. A major reason for why Uber is focused on self-driving is that it would help curb a major cost to the company: human drivers. Drivers account for nearly 80% of the company’s cost per mile for a ride, according to data by Frost & Sullivan.
The documents also reveal just how quickly Uber expected self-driving adoption to accelerate: it planned to have 75,000 autonomous vehicles in operation by 2019 and to have driverless taxi services operating in 13 cities by 2022.
The company has already fallen short of that first milestone: as of April 2019, it had just 250 autonomous cars on the road.
Uber has had a tumultuous relationship with autonomous vehicle development.
Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was a noted champion of his ride-sharing company embracing autonomous cars, with the technology representing both an existential threat and an opportunity for the startup to validate its stratospheric valuation.
“What would happen if … we weren’t part of the autonomy thing? Then the future passes us by, basically, in a very expeditious and efficient way.”
The company has made several moves in that direction, such as poaching nearly the entire Carnegie Mellon Robotics Lab (40 engineers) to work on the project in Pittsburgh. Uber also partnered with the University of Arizona to develop better mapping and optical safety technology.
In May 2016, Uber revealed its in-house autonomous prototypes for the first time, and the company acquired self-driving truck startup Otto later in the year. The acquisition embroiled Uber in legal controversy, with Waymo alleging that employees stole confidential files relating to its proprietary LiDAR sensors.
That lawsuit settled, as Uber agreed to give Alphabet $245M in equity. The company has also faced waves of negative press on sexual harassment and poor culture, in addition to deceiving authorities and ignoring autonomous testing regulations. The company has suffered from an exodus of both engineering and non-engineering talent. And the company has had numerous troubles with its self-driving cars and safety.
Just hours after Uber began self-driving trials in San Francisco, reports surfaced of a close call with a human-driven car. Subsequent reports alleged that Uber vehicles were self-driving into bike lanes throughout San Francisco without warning. Finally, in March 2018, a self-driving Uber vehicle was involved in a fatal crash in Arizona, striking and killing 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg. Uber was subsequently banned from testing autonomous vehicles on public roads in Arizona.
In the aftermath of the crash and the ensuing investigation, Uber suspended all of its self-driving car trials and pulled all its autonomous vehicles off the road. Around the same time, Uber announced the end of its self-driving truck program, Otto. However, in August 2018, Uber announced a $500M investment from Toyota and a plan to jointly work on autonomous vehicle development.
In June 2019, Uber unveiled a new self-driving car model, this time developed in partnership with Volvo. The model features more safety features and redundancy than the previous self-driving models Uber has developed — but it is also being designed to operate without a human driver behind the wheel. Uber says it will start testing the new model on public roads in 2020.
Uber has secured new capital for the venture as well: in April 2019, it was announced that the company had raised $1B in investments to fuel its autonomous driving efforts: $333M from the SoftBank Vision Fund and $667M from Toyota Motor Corp and Denso Corp.
In a move toward reviving the testing of its autonomous vehicles, Uber received licenses in February 2020 to resume its self-driving trials in California and to launch trials in Washington D.C and Dallas.
Valeo shows off autonomous driving tech at CES 2018
- Partnered with Mobileye in 2015 to work on an affordable self-driving car
- Unveiled technology at CES 2018 for identifying and analyzing individual passengers within a car
Like many other suppliers, Valeo has been working on its own advanced driver-assistance systems and self-driving systems, with the company’s innovation chief tapping autonomous driving as Valeo’s main growth driver by 2020.
The auto supplier showed off its eCruise4U automated concept at CES 2017, which was equipped with a connected camera, laser sensors, and a reconfigurable cockpit.
Valeo’s quarterly sales rose 22% in the first quarter of 2017, partly driven by the company’s push in ADAS technology alongside partner Mobileye. The 2 have an agreement dating back to 2015 to build an affordable robocar, combining Mobileye’s camera vision expertise with Valeo’s lidar units.
At CES 2018, Valeo demonstrated its system that identifies individual passengers within a car and can adjust the car’s interior according to the passengers’ preferences. At the same conference a year later, the company signed an agreement with Mobileye to develop a new safety standard for autonomous vehicles based on Mobileye’s mathematical safety model.
The same year, Valeo became the first company to test its autonomous car on the streets of its hometown, Paris.
Valeo’s team is based in Tuam, Ireland, and teamed up with Irish software company Lero to create new, more durable autonomous vehicle sensor technology.
Lero tests its sensors at the National University of Ireland at Galway, where it can rain as many as 225 days a year. The group hopes to develop smarter autonomous car technology that is more road-conditioned and weather-resistant.
Read more: Valeo
Volkswagen teams up with Ford, Making Argo AI the world’s farthest-reaching AV platform
- Board began investing in autonomous driving initiative in 2016
- Unveiled self-driving shuttle concept car called the “Sedric” in 2017
- $7B joint venture with Ford announced in 2019
While the head of Volkswagen’s self-driving unit recently admitted that full autonomy in vehicles in all conditions may never become a reality, the German company has been putting its full weight behind self-driving.
In October 2019, Volkswagen spun off its self-driving startup into a subsidiary, Volkswagen Autonomy, in a bid to “make autonomous driving market-ready.” The automaker plans to expand this initiative and set up similar companies in Silicon Valley in 2020, and in China the year after.
This was followed by Volkswagen’s parent, Porsche SE, taking up a minority stake in self-driving tech startup Aeva. Volkswagen has also struck a deal to launch fully-functional autonomous van service in Doha, Qatar, by the end of 2022.
The road to Volkswagen’s self-driving ambitions started in 2015, when it revealed its V-Charge project. The plan was for a Volkswagen e-Golf equipped with sensors and 3D maps to find open parking spaces in a garage and park without human input. The company suggests that there will be a prototype for demonstration available within 4 years.
VW Group CEO Matthias Muller announced in March 2016 that the board had signed off on a huge autonomous driving initiative, claiming that the goal was to “[bring] these technologies to market faster than the competition.” The Group’s head of digitalization has said that self-driving cars will be “commonplace” by 2025.
The auto giant unveiled its new Moia brand in late 2016, joining other automakers in creating a unit dedicated to new mobility services like fleet-based shuttles and autonomous, on-demand transportation. Shortly thereafter, the company unveiled its “Sedric” concept, a fully autonomous shuttle-like vehicle designed for ride-hailing applications.
The Vizzion — the fourth in Volkswagen’s line of autonomous car concepts — was unveiled at the 2018 Geneva Motor Show. With no steering wheel or pedals, the vehicle represents Volkswagen’s vision of a fully self-driving vehicle that requires no human input to drive whatsoever.
In July 2019, Volkswagen announced that it had entered a joint venture with Ford to develop autonomous vehicle technology. The partnership will see the companies invest $7B in Argo AI, Ford’s autonomous driving platform, and will give Volkswagen an equal stake as Ford’s. Once complete, Argo AI will have the largest geographic reach of any autonomous driving technology to date.
Volvo Cars prioritize safety & perception with strategic partnerships
- Sought to build a reputation for safety in self-driving tech with IntelliSafe
- Lidar technology produced in collaboration with Luminar spots objects at 250 meters
- Self-driving technology deployment target date of 2021
The Geely-owned Volvo car brand has placed an emphasis on safety innovations when it comes to developing self-driving passenger vehicles. Volvo labeled its autonomous vehicle project “IntelliSafe,” setting a zero-fatality goal for when it fully rolls out autonomous features to the public.
That’s not the only goal Volvo has set for its autonomous efforts — the company also aims for self-driving cars to make up one-third of its sales by 2025.
In June 2019, Volvo and ride-sharing company Uber announced that they had created “a production car capable of driving by itself.” The car in question is Volvo’s XC90 SUV, modified with Uber’s self-driving system.
Volvo’s statements about the autonomous XC90 have focused on the safety features, which include “several back-up systems for both steering and braking functions as well as battery back-up power,” according to a statement from the company.
Volvo has previously announced plans to give 100 Swedish customers early access to an autonomous XC90 by 2021 (with restrictions on when, where, and how the autonomous mode will be used).
(Note: Volvo Cars is now distinct from the independent Volvo Group brand, which focuses on heavy-duty commercial trucks, buses, and equipment.)
The company has stated that it will accept full liability when its vehicles are in autonomous mode and has announced plans to expand its pilot program to China and the United States. Volvo has followed rivals like BMW in setting 2021 as its target deployment date.
Volvo has other autonomous innovations in the works as well. In January 2017, the company announced a self-driving joint venture with Veoneer called Zenuity, which is focused on self-driving vehicle software. In June 2019, it was announced that Zenuity would provide self-driving software for Zhejiang Geely Holdings, the China-based auto company that acquired Volvo from Ford in 2010.
As of 2018, the joint venture is negotiating with 5 potential customers and aims to close at least 1 new deal through the rest of the year.
In June 2018, Volvo announced another partnership with lidar startup Luminar to work on both physical, car-mounted sensors and the software designed to process, label, and tag captured data. In November 2018, Luminar CEO and founder Austin Russell stated that the technology Luminar is developing with Volvo has the ability to detect objects at a distance of as much as 250 meters — significantly higher than the 30-40 meters most systems are capable of today.
If true, the technology would represent a substantial leap forward in tackling one of the most persistent challenges with self-driving vehicle technology: the ability to recognize — and react to — a constantly changing physical environment.
“Perception is the cornerstone to solving the autonomous drive problem in a safe way,” said Volvo R&D head Henrik Green in an interview with Automotive News Europe. “You need to see the object, understand what it is and, most importantly, predict the intent of that object.”
Waymo (Alphabet) receives license for robotaxis in California
- Waymo One self-driving car service launched in December 2018
- Permission to transport passengers in Waymo robotaxis granted in California in 2019
- Surpassed 20M self-driven miles by Waymo autonomous vehicles in November 2017
- Purchased 62,000 new Chrysler minivans to increase size of Waymo self-driving fleet 100x
The Google Self-Driving Car Project is one of the most iconic and tenured autonomous vehicle programs. Google hired ex-Hyundai and TrueCar exec John Krafcik to lead the program in September 2015. It later brought a legal lead on board, indicating an increased focus on commercialization under the new Alphabet structure.
The project formally became Waymo in December 2016. It expanded its testing beyond Mountain View and Austin to Kirkland, Washington, and Phoenix, Arizona.
In March 2020, it raised $2.3B in its first external funding round, with investors including Silver Lake, Andreessen Horowitz, and AutoNation. It also announced that it had accrued more than 20M miles on public roads and 10B simulated miles.
The company revealed a partnership with logistics company UPS in late January to test delivery of packages along a pre-set route in its self-driving vans in Arizona. Waymo has also said that it would bring its driverless vehicles to the streets of Texas and New Mexico.
In April 2019, Krafcik painted a picture of the scope of Waymo’s ambitions for the future:
“Anything that has wheels and moves along the surface of the earth is something that we, in the future, could imagine being driven by Waymo.”
Waymo publicly revealed its custom self-driving hardware in February 2017, planning to sell an integrated hardware and software package. It opened signups for the first public tests of its customized Chrysler Pacifica minivans a couple of months later, quickly followed by its Lyft partnership.
In Q2’18, Waymo announced the purchase of 62,000 new Chrysler Pacifica minivans, increasing the size of its self-driving fleet by about 100x. In August 2018, the company launched a program to provide residents of the Phoenix area with rides to bus stops and train stations using the autonomous fleet.
Waymo launched Waymo One, its commercial self-driving ride-hailing service, in Phoenix, Arizona in December 2018. The program is being piloted by a small group of approximately 400 Phoenix residents as part of Waymo’s early rider program.
The company received permission from the California Public Utilities Commission to operate its robotaxis on California roads in July 2019. The license comes with restrictions — Waymo can’t charge for rides, and vehicles must have a safety driver behind the wheel. Waymo is also not the first company to receive the public license: self-driving startup Zoox got its clearance to join the program 7 months earlier.
Waymo settled its high-profile lawsuit against Otto (and its parent company Uber) over the alleged misappropriation of Waymo’s proprietary lidar designs for $245M in 2018.
Yutong has successfully tested driverless buses
Chinese bus manufacturer Yutong has been researching driverless buses since 2012. The company claims to have successfully navigated a bus on an inner-city road in central China’s Henan Province. The bus can switch between manual and automatic mode.
Greyhound Australia started a 6-month trial of Yutong’s T12 coach in June 2018.
ZF, Nvidia, Baidu partnering to build an autonomous car for China
- Invested in portfolio of self-driving tech companies, including Hella
- Partnered with Nvidia on integrating self-driving platform chipset into production vehicles
ZF Friedrichshafen AG, commonly abbreviated to ZF, is a major German auto parts manufacturer. It entered the autonomous vehicle space in 2015 with its $12.4B acquisition of TRW, a Michigan-based automated systems supplier.
Over the next few years, ZF began gradually acquiring and investing in its own portfolio of companies working on radar, camera, and LiDAR technology, including Hella, Astyz Communication & Sensors GmbH, Ibeo Automotive Systems GmbH, and doubleSlash Net-Business GmbH.
At CES 2017, ZF’s CEO Stefan Sommer announced that the company had teamed up with Nvidia to bring the chipmaker’s Drive PX2 AI Computing platform into production on automobiles. The system is expected to begin appearing in production vehicles in 2020.
At CES 2018, Nvidia’s founder Jensen Huang announced that ZF systems technology would be used to produce a fully production-ready autonomous vehicle platform for China. The partnership combines ZF’s ProAI car computer with Baidu’s Apollo autonomous platform and Nvidia’s new Drive Xavier™ technology.
ZF made another bet in March 2019 on autonomous tech with its proposed takeover of rival Wabco. The $7B deal was approved by US and European regulators in January, provided ZF sells Wabco’s steering components business in North America. The deal is expected to close in early 2020.
This report was created with data from CB Insights’ emerging technology insights platform, which offers clarity into emerging tech and new business strategies through tools like:
- Earnings Transcripts Search Engine & Analytics to get an information edge on competitors’ and incumbents’ strategies
- Patent Analytics to see where innovation is happening next
- Company Mosaic Scores to evaluate startup health, based on our National Science Foundation-backed algorithm
- Business Relationships to quickly see a company’s competitors, partners, and more
- Market Sizing Tools to visualize market growth and spot the next big opportunity