2020 will see a flurry of new autonomous functionality appearing in almost every new car. Autonomous capabilities like self-parking and adaptive cruise control will be available from virtually every auto OEM in new vehicles. This movement is unstoppable and, while driverless cars themselves won’t populate the road in 2019, the direction seems clear. Tesla and Google are also making inroads into producing road-legal driverless cars. Just one example of a big step forward next year will be some high-profile trials of techniques like platooning, in which convoys of driverless vehicles follow each other to reduce congestion.
And don’t forget that Ford already announced its plan to mass-produce autonomous vehicles by 2021. The fact that one of the world’s oldest, largest, and most successful automakers is rewriting decades of standard practice to satisfy companies one millionth its size, evinces the scope and speed of the change rocking its industry. Ford, GM, Audi, BMW, Tesla, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, and others have promised to deliver self-driving cars in the next five years or so. These newly forged partnerships are a vital part of making that happen.
The goal is always the same: Reduce cost and complexity—and increase profit—by joining forces with the folks whose strengths match your weaknesses. Every other serious player in the autonomous car space is doing the same. Last year, General Motors bought self-driving startup Cruise, and Nissan shacked up with NASA.
Mobileye, the largest supplier of cameras for self-driving cars, is now working with major industry supplier Delphi, plus Intel and BMW. Uber is working with Volvo to strap self-driving add-ons to real vehicles. Volvo is also partnering with Autoliv. Those two companies are lending employees to a joint project called Zenuity, to share patents and ideas. “You have the old established industry, trying to automate their vehicles, but you also have the tech companies coming in from the left with new, more disruptive ideas.” says Thomas Jönsson of Autoliv, a leading supplier of car safety systems.
China plans to build the world’s largest autonomous driving test zone from this year in the south-eastern city of Zhangzhou in Fujian province. The project was signed off in December and involves building autonomous driving infrastructure, including traffic signs, in a 56 sq km area in Zhangzhou’s economic and technological development zone. The zone will become a real-life lab for autonomous vehicles. The city also plans to build a 60,000 sq m in-door experimental laboratory and a 2m sq m open-air testing ground.
It means that driverless cars are approaching reality. The industry is moving past the oh-so-easy to build a concept car (ahem, Faraday Future), and flashy demonstration videos filmed in one, experimental vehicle (ahem, Tesla). It’s a lot harder to create a stable and long-lasting business that makes money building millions self-driving cars, but that’s exactly what companies, large and small, are working to do.