By Jeff Sanford
Toronto, Ontario -- October 30, 2016 -- We round up the latest news on autonomous vehicles (AVs) just in time for Halloween. Highlights from the last week include executives from the OEMs firing back at the tech companies encroaching on auto turf and an autonomous truck makes its first delivery (of beer).
- Apple has hired dozens of software engineers in Canada as a way of building its car operating system. A Bloomberg report notes, this is a, “... rare move for a company that often houses research and development projects close to its Cupertino, California headquarters, according to people familiar with the matter.” The report goes on to note that, “Many of the engineers working in Canada were hired over the past year and about two dozen came from BlackBerry Ltd.’s QNX, a leading automotive software provider ... The engineers now work at an Apple office in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata, about a five-minute walk from QNX, the people said. Apple targeted QNX employees because of their experience developing fundamental components of operating systems and power management, a former QNX executive said ...” Former Blackberry-QNX people now at Apple's Project Titan include its chief executive officer, Dan Dodge, who has, “... taken on a larger role overseeing the car operating system, splitting his time between Canada and California ...”
- The idea that driverless fleets of electric-powered AVs could provide an autonomous ride-hailing service is a popular one right now. Uber is testing its AVs in Baltimore. This week Elon Musk spoke out at a Tesla event about something called the Tesla Network. Last Wednesday Musk explained that he will be able to create, “... a car-sharing network that’s so good, customers will abandon Uber and other ride-sharing companies in droves to adopt it,” according to one report. The thinking is this: Once there are enough Tesla Model 3's on the road with Autopilot, those cars will be rented out by owners to provide rides on demand to others in their area. Tesla is working on an app that would others to summon a nearby Tesla not being used by the owner. Revenues from this service would be shared by the Tesla Network, with some of that money be redirected by to original Tesla owners.
- A report found that the cost of a Tesla AV mobility network would be about 60 cents a mile. The study found that, “Based on the mid-cost structure, the researchers arrived to a cost of $0.479 per mile plus an additional $0.184 per mile for general administration costs for a total costs of $0.663 per mile. That is significantly less than any other ride-hailing or car-sharing service in the same market and it is even competitive with private car ownership.”
- The biggest news in AVs last week was the first delivery by a commercial self-driving truck. The technology came from Otto, a company owned by Uber. The product delivered was a load of Budweiser beer. A post on the Otto blog noted that, “Today, we are announcing that Otto and Budweiser have accomplished a major milestone with the completion of the world’s first shipment by a self-driving truck ... Yes, you can go out right now and buy a can of beer that was shipped by a self-driving truck.” The post went on to note that the, “... truck moved 51,744 cans of Budweiser from Fort Collins, through downtown Denver, to Colorado Springs. By using cameras, radar, and lidar sensors mounted on the vehicle to 'see' the road, Otto’s system controlled the acceleration, braking, and steering of the truck to carry the beer exit-to-exit without any human intervention ... In fact, our professional driver was out of the driver’s seat for the entire 120-mile journey down I-25, monitoring the self-driving system from the sleeper berth in the back."
- Uber also announced last week the launch of Uber Freight. The first product from Uber Freight is a marketplace to connect a shipper with a truck, much like the Uber app connects drivers and riders, according to a report on Business Insider.
- Last week Collision Repair magazine reported in this space that some of the Silicon Valley tech firms are pulling back from building actual AVs to focus on building the technology needed instead. This may be because OEMs are pushing back against the tech firms. A report by Forbes gives some context and quotes Toyota’s Executive Vice President Didier Leroy, “Many say carmakers have no future, and that they will become commodity producers, because Google, Apple, Microsoft or Tesla will take the lead in the automotive business in the future. We don’t want to give them the space to do that ... Do you believe we will just open the door and say go ahead? No, we won’t let them come inside like that.”
- The battle for who will control the final product—Silicon Valley or Detroit—continued to unfold over the week. Bill Ford told Bloomberg he is, “... tired of hearing the future of cars belongs to Silicon Valley.” For years “... the Apple and Google crowd have been telling him that only Big Tech can make driverless vehicles,” but according to Ford that's not the case.
“There was this presumption that we were too dumb to get it,” said Ford. Regarding the tech companies, the story goes on to note that, “... the concession that they're not up to the complex task of mass production tilts the balance of power to traditional automakers ... Vehicle manufacturing is a massive undertaking. There is the metal bending and assembly, a highly evolved process in itself. Car companies also integrate millions of lines of code that control everything from the radio to the radar sensors that will soon allow hands-free driving. Detroit also has deep experience managing the long chain of suppliers that provide roughly 30,000 parts.” Huh. It's almost as if manufacturing an entire vehicle is a complicated and specialized business. Who knew?