Updated: May 8
For those of you who thought that Google/Alphabet was going to take over the world with their self-driving cars and crowd-sourced live traffic app Waze, it turned out that the incumbent automakers were not going to take that lying down. At Paris Motor Show this week, BMW, Audi AG and Daimler announced that they would launch new live traffic monitoring services next year in their vehicles’ infotainment system. This system would be powered by the joint acquisition these three giants made of a subdivision called HERE from Nokia last year. Rumor has it that the German automakers acquired HERE so that Alphabet or Apple and the like couldn’t. HERE, now a Berlin-based company owned by the aforementioned premium automakers, will offer live traffic services based on real-time video data collected by sensors and cameras on the connected vehicles in the first half of 2017.
This announcement signals that the competition is heating up in the infotainment space, particularly in traffic data. For example, TomTom announced on Sept. 29th that it would supply traffic data to Volvo Trucks and Volkswagen’s Skoda cars in the coming year. Mobileye announced in February of this year that Nissan intended to integrate Mobileye’s REM(tm), a camera-based high definition data and precision-localization technology, into its fleet. The strategic alliance partner of Nissan, Renault, on the other hand, has shown a prototype of a Waze system built into its car dashboards which run Android Auto, Alphabet’s operating system for carmakers. GM, in addition to agreeing to integrate Mobileye’s REM, acquired Cruise Automation, a Sillicon Valley autonomous vehicle startup in March.
We can see the future now - all these partnerships and acquisitions point to one thing: autonomous driving, and perhaps, starting in the ride-sharing industry. We first heard of a self-driving car at Google. It has since been testing driver-less Lexuses in the San Francisco Bay Area and making cute autonomous vehicles. However, it lacks scalability as a serious contender as an automaker. In May, Alphabet and Fiat agreed to work together to build 100 self-driving vans. However, Alphabet is nowhere near a commitment to a long-term partnership. We are, therefore, still some ways from a Google/Alphabet autonomous vehicle that can seriously scale. What we do have today as a new-comer automaker, just down the street from Alphabet, is a company that produces all electric vehicles with its top line model capable of going from zero to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds. The Tesla Model S was first autonomous-diving capable through a software upgrade. It, too, used a Mobileye system in its earlier version of autonomous driving. As of today, despite Tesla’s issues, its vehicles’ autonomous driving capabilities are still quite far ahead of what most competing automakers are attempting. In Elon Musk’s “Master Plan Part Deux,” Tesla will also build self-driving heavy-duty trucks in the foreseeable future. Uber launched a self-driving fleet of Volvo XC90 in Pittsburgh last month. Don’t worry, they all have a “supervising human,” so you are not completely alone in the passenger seat, yet.
If autonomous driving is the future, are you willing to give up the pleasure of driving?