Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Going autonomous is the future of mobility with self-driving cars

I believe that self-driving cars are going to be the next big thing, with mainstream companies like Tesla, Google, and start ups like Zoox leading the way.

Although Tesla has gotten a head start and is planning on launching their technology in 2020 or sooner, don’t underestimate Zoox, who has a new CEO in Aichia Evans, a native of Senegal, with impressive credentials and a track record to match with tech giants like Intel Corporation and Communication and Devices Group.

Evans has been responsible for wireless engineering in past roles, especially at Intel, where she engineered WiMAX networks, and also during stints with firms like Conexant, Rockwell Semiconductors, and Skyworks.

Now the former Intel senior vice president, with an army of gurus from other tech companies, will try to work her magic in the autonomous driving sector, with a vision of robo-taxis tooling passengers around town . With testing going in San Francisco, the Zoox team is hoping to be on the streets in 2020. Time will tell if Zoox is able to turn its visionary ride-hailing idea into a successful business and revenue.

As reported in Business Insider, Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Leninson said Zoox is developing autonomous vehicles for “ride-hailing” instead of individual ownership. This makes more economic sense to me, as monies will be accepted by the same vehicle multiple times of day and night. Whereas, with individual ownership, sure you’ll pay a bundle to purchase the self-driving vehicle, but then what? It’ll stay parked and depreciate until you need to make a trip.

One big gamble for Zoox is that Waymo, owned by Alphabet (Google’s parent company) and Cruise Automation, backed by General Motors, are using vehicles already in operation by traditional auto manufacturers, while Zoox is building their vehicles from the ground up, with custom hardware and software. While Waymo has been testing their vehicles on a limited basis in Arizona, they recently got permission to test their prototypes on roads in Las Vegas, which might be more challenging than the streets of their home territory in San Francisco.

Waymo has been developing their public ride-hailing service for a couple of years now with an early-rider program and recently launched apps in the Apple and Google Play stores.

Let’s certainly not count out Elon Musk and Tesla’s Autopilot system, which has been around since 2014. While not entirely self-driving at this point, this innovative system does offer limited autonomous driving, lane changing and “summon your car” features.

The Autopilot feature, which is now standard on every Tesla, has had several updates over the past years and is now available as an enhanced package for customers who purchase the Full Self-Driving, or FSD, package for around $7,000. Just be aware that even with Telsa’s ability to drive autonomously, a driver must stay alert and ready to take over the controls.

Depending on who you believe, Tesla is pushing for their FSD package before the end of 2019 or a debut in 2020. The company also has plans in the works for s Tesla robotaxi service.

A fleet of self-driving vehicles for autonomous Chinese startup AutoX.
Chinese startup AutoX has been developing their self-driving technology since 2016.

On the world stage, another player in the autonomous arena is Chinese startup AutoX, founded by Jianxiong Xiao, or Professor X, who has vast experience in computer learning and robotics. With a team of notable engineers, they have been developing their self-driving technology since 2016. Their approach to self-driving includes real-time cameras, sensors and artificial intelligence for quick reactions and autonomous decisions. They have already earned the coveted “California Public Utilities Commission” permit and completed their first Robotaxi service to a passenger in California.


The AutoX team is also turning their attention to deploying RoboTaxis in Europe by partnering with Swedish EV manufacturer NEVS, who acquired Saab Automobile AB in 2012. We’ll probably see more autonomous development from this team in 2020.

Simply because of who they are, and with deep pockets, Waymo is probably considered the market leader in the autonomous driving arena, The Google-backed company seems to be further along with their technology while shuttling real passengers who are using their service.

I imagine it’ll be that way for a while, or at least until Apple and Amazon reveal their autonomous plans.

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