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What to Expect from Autonomous Vehicle Industry in 2023?

autonomous-vehicleAutomated technologies across the automotive industry are starting to come of age. The ‘robotaxi’ industry is beginning to see more small commercial deployments. Autonomous trucks are on the cusp of real-world use, and next-generation sensor technologies are being deployed on vehicles that are for sale. This article covers some of the most exciting developments and milestones over the last year and makes predictions about what might come next year.

Robotaxis Services Starting to Come Online

The biggest news from this year in the world of robotaxis is commercial services have come online in San Francisco. This is a major milestone that the industry has been working towards for some time, but it is unfortunately not as exciting as it initially sounds.

Cruise was the company to reach this point in San Francisco first. Their journey has been quite long and is littered with other smaller successes. It began in October 2020, when Cruise was awarded a driverless testing permit by California DMV. This meant it could run the vehicles without anyone on board, not even a test driver. In June 2021, it was then given permission to start offering rides to San Franciscans without a safety driver on board. These were free rides and had no paying customers, an important distinction. The big step came in September 2021 when both Waymo and Cruise were awarded a “driverless deployment permit”. The final part of the puzzle would be gaining permission to operate a commercial service from California Public Utilities Commission, which was awarded to Cruise in June 2022.

People may think they can now turn up in San Francisco and hop into a driverless robotaxi without a second thought. While this may be true on paper, it is quite limited in practice. Only 30 vehicles, out of Cruise’s fleet of approximately 150 vehicles, are allowed to be used. The vehicles are limited to 30mph, the service can only operate between 10 pm and 6 am, and only a small part of the city can be used – not the transportation revolution hoped for, but a step in the right direction.

Cruise hopes to prove competence and expand its testing parameters over the coming months and years. Perhaps though, the real question is, what has happened to Waymo?

Waymo has been at the forefront of the autonomous vehicle race for some years, but in 2021 this changed. IDTechEx uses a metric called ‘miles per disengagement’ to assess the progress and maturity of the autonomous car players. The metric is the number of miles a player such as Waymo completes in a year divided by the number of times a safety driver must intervene with the autonomous system, taking back control. In practice, this suggests the average number of miles that an autonomous vehicle can complete before coming across a situation that it might not be able to deal with. The two charts below show how Waymo slipped from being the leader in miles per disengagement to ranking seventh.

autonomous-vehicle
IDTechEx’s example sensor suite resembling what is typically deployed on highly automated vehicles. Source: IDTechEx

Waymo’s performance slip came as it ramped up its testing in San Francisco, whereas previously, it had favored less challenging, more suburban environments. IDTechEx suspects that this slip in performance might be related to the fact that Cruise had started a limited service in San Francisco. However, Waymo is now eyeing a deployment in Los Angeles, which generally has a slightly more robotaxi-friendly road network than San Francisco.

Roboshuttles Struggling to Get a Foot Hold

This new and exciting future mobility solution is fast becoming not so new, not so exciting, and possibly soon confined to history. The concept of a roboshuttle-powered future is that these small, shared vehicles will be able to operate more flexibly than a bus. Thus, offering more diverse routes and some working on an on-demand basis.

These vehicles first emerged decades ago but were restricted to running on isolated roads with embedded guidance systems. From a functional perspective, they were comparable to a very cheap but slow autonomous train with very limited capacity. The modern open-road version has been around since the early 2010s. The pioneers in this industry are EasyMile and Navya, two French companies with similar vehicles and funding of around EUR€100 million each. Over the years, they have supplied around 200 vehicles each to different companies, transport agencies, and other mobility stakeholders that are interested in trialing the technology. The problem is that after many years of trials, they appear no closer to deploying a commercial, fully developed, roboshuttle service. Even more concerning is that interest in these vehicles seems to be on the decline, with the number of companies actively working on roboshuttles appearing to have peaked. This was a key finding of IDTechEx’s heavy-duty autonomous vehicles report, which can be seen in the figure below. Notable companies such as Local Motors have been forced to close their doors, while others like Continental and Bosch have shown concepts in the past but then gone quiet on the topic.

Three Predictions for 2023

With all the excitement over the past year and the promise for the future, here are three predictions from IDTechEx for 2023.

  1. Robotaxi service expansion: There are now a small handful of robotaxi services coming online in the US. Next year this will grow. It is unlikely that many new cities will go online; a few will, but the services in existing cities will grow — particularly Cruise in San Francisco, which will be a key service to keep track of.
  2. Commercial ‘driver-out’ autonomous trucking will enter a trialing phase: IDTechEx thinks that in 2023 the first commercial autonomous truck routes without a driver behind the wheel will go online. This will likely start with a single route, perhaps Tucson to Phoenix, as demonstrated by TuSimple. However, IDTechEx thinks a handful of routes and companies will be online by the end of next year.
  3. More level three vehicles in Europe enabled by higher performing radar and LiDAR: So far, there has only been one true level three car on the market*, the Mercedes S-Class. However, its level three functionality could only be used in Germany. IDTechEx thinks that next year more OEMs will be looking to deploy level three vehicles such as BMW, Stellantis, and perhaps more Mercedes models. Additionally, the UK and some European countries will likely allow level three to be used on their roads. In Germany, there may be the level three speed limit increase from 60kph to 130kph thanks to a UNECE regulation change coming into effect in January. Level three in the US and China is harder to predict as the relevant governing bodies have been as forthcoming or transparent as UNECE on a plan to make it happen. These regions have some of the most pioneering OEMs; they pushed the bounds of what is possible and are lobbying for more regulation around higher automated level deployments. IDTechEx does not think it will be long before deployments are seen here as well.

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Nitisha Dubey

I am a Journalist with a post graduate degree in Journalism & Mass Communication. I love reading non-fiction books, exploring different destinations and varieties of cuisines. Biographies and historical movies are few favourites.

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