15 Jun 22

Who's driving? Pulling back the curtain on AV developments in the USA

As well as representing a great challenge, autonomous vehicles (AV) are the inevitable future of the automotive world but they currently surpass the individual capabilities of almost all automakers. Many have revealed their ambitions in the past but have yet to deliver: 

  • Elon Musk claimed in 2016 that Tesla may make an autonomous trip across the US in 2017 and plans to roll out 1 million robotaxis by 2020.
  • In the same year, Ford announced its plans to build a fully autonomous vehicle without a steering wheel for 2021.
  • After acquiring Cruise in 2016, General Motors (GM) is still working on developing an autonomous Chevrolet Bolt. 

Ambitions falling behind the schedule revealed the true importance of AVs and also the lack of collaboration and, most importantly, required infrastructure for self-driving vehicles. Eventually, three main reasons have pushed the research and developments in the AV area to the next step: 

  • Safety: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), fatalities in road accidents increased 10.5% from 2020 and reached 42,915 in 2021. NHTSA says 94% of the accidents can be attributed to human errors. 
  • Competition: The increasing competition among automakers to bring better services in transportation and logistics has placed AVs among priorities. 
  • Collaboration: The intense R&D required for developing self-driving vehicles has triggered a strong wave of collaboration in the automotive industry. 

As a result, Mordor Intelligence predicts the US self-driving car market to reach $9.36 bn volume by 2027, up from $3.51 bn in 2021, displaying a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of more than 17% between 2022-2027. 

What are the ongoing AV projects? 

The US is booming with AV projects, aiming to offer self-driving vehicles with Conditional Automation (Level 3), High Automation (Level 4), and Full Automation (Level 5) level for the end-user, public and commercial markets. 

  • Fiat Chrysler and Waymo, an Alphabet-owned autonomous driving technology development company, announced a partnership in 2020 to develop light commercial vehicles (LCVs). The initial step of the project involves integrating Level 4 Waymo Driver technology into the Ram ProMaster van.
  • Amazon-owned autonomous vehicle company Zoox announced last year that it would start tests on rugged terrains and rain-soaked streets of Seattle in 2021. Zoox will use Toyota Highlander SUVs equipped with sensors. The company plans to open an office in Seattle this year. 
  • American tech giant NVIDIA signed an agreement with Mercedes-Benz to provide the new AV compute platform DRIVE as standard equipment, starting from 2024. According to Forbes, two companies are focusing on a software-defined computing architecture for self-driving. This architecture will mainly depend on Over-the-Air (OTA) update capability. 
  • Alphabet's Waymo is not only collaborating with only one multinational giant but also partnered with Volvo in 2020. Becoming the exclusive L4 partner of Volvo, Waymo will install the Driver fully self-driving technology into Volvo's new mobility-focused electric vehicle (EV) platform for ride-hailing services. 
  • Following a fatal crash involving one of its vehicles, Uber's self-driving car division, the Advanced Technologies Group (ATG), has accelerated the development of self-driving software and sensors and has been working on the L5 Volvo XC90 SUV with Volvo since 2016. Uber ATG also received investment from Toyota, DENSO and Softbank in 2019. 

What are the most recent developments? 

  • Cruise, an American self-driving car company, launched its autonomous EV taxi service to the public, starting in San Francisco in February 2022. 
  • Aurora Innovation and Xpress Enterprises joined forces to deploy Aurora's autonomous driving technologies for US Xpress's commercial operations, starting in 2023. Uber, which has ambitious plans in AV tech, holds a 26% stake in Aurora.
  • AV technology company Motional partnered with Uber to autonomously deliver food from a particular list of restaurants in Santa Monica, expected to start in early 2023. The project will involve Hyundai IONIQ 5, Level 5 vehicles. Uber also has an ongoing delivery pilot with Serve Robotics, which will handle short food delivery trips in West Hollywood, while Motional will take long trips in Santa Monica. 
  • Hyundai Motor Group and the California-based pharmacy startup NowRX launched a pilot in May 2022 to provide prescription medication delivery through automated logistics services. The project will launch in late 2022, serving micro-fulfilment centres in the Los Angeles area. 
  • Israel-based driver assistance technologies developer Mobileye teamed up with German MaaS (mobility-as-a-service) provider Benteler EV Systems to install Mobileye Drive self-driving system for autonomous shuttles. Mobileye, acquired by Intel in 2017 for $15.3 bn, has shipped over 100 million computer vision solutions. 

Rise of CAV corridors 

Autonomous vehicles can not operate in full safety and efficiency without the required infrastructure. One of the companies to address this issue is Cavnue, which raised $130 million early this year to build the first network of connected and automated vehicle (CAV) corridors in the US. The project will start in Michigan and enable L2 AVs to be driven hands and eyes-off. 

Embark announced an autonomous trucking lane operating between Houston and San Antonio for trucks. Houston sits at the centre of 965 km trucking lanes, ideal for automation. According to Embark, a 965 km run could take around 22 hours to complete manually, while it would take only 12 hours to complete autonomously. The company is working with Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station in research and testing as a driver auto-pilot is set for 2023. 

The autonomous vehicle market in North America is booming with increasing collaboration and cooperation, as Mexico's new trade agreement with the US and Canada involves the transfer of autonomous technology, according to Mordor Intelligence. On the other hand, while staying behind some of its ambitions, Tesla is the leader in the L2 self-driving tech and stirred a new wave of competition with the release of Autopilot software in 2015. The latest Fully Self Driving (FSD) technology came with many controversies, yet Tesla released the new version of the FSD Beta program last month, aiming to expand the Beta fleet. 

The AV market is preparing to witness significant fruitful developments under the most critical goal: Safety. 

The main photo shows Waymo One autonomous vehicle, 
The first in-article photo shows Tesla Model S car in self-driving mode, courtesy of Shutterstock,
The second in-article image shows Benteler shuttle, courtesy of Benteler, 
The third in-article image shows the CAV system being developed by Cavnue, courtesy of Cavnue. 


Authored by: Mufit Yilmaz Gokmen