Weekly Brief: Daimler promises ‘robotaxis’ in four years

The race to get self-driving vehicles on the road now has a clear finish line. Andrew Tolve reports

Human history often turns on a single year: the printing press of 1440, the first powered airplane of 1903, the first computer, Colossus I, in war-torn England, in 1943, and, if carmakers have their way, the first commercially available self-driving car of 2021.

Last week Daimler became the latest carmaker to promise a fully self-driving vehicle by that date. Auto supplier Bosch is on-board to accomplish the lofty goal. The two companies say they will work together tobring fully automated (SAE Level 4) and driverless (SAE Level 5) driving to urban roads by the beginning of the next decade. That’s just four years away.

BMW announced the same target date earlier this year and has partnered up withIntel and Mobileye to make it happen. Then there’s Ford, which says that it too will have fully self-driving cars commercially available by 2021. It recently invested $1Bn (£807M) in start-up Argo AI to kick-start the initiative. General Motors (GM) boughtCruise Automation for north of $1Bn in 2016 and has a similar target date, as do Waymo and Uber.

It’s important to note that none of these carmakers are promising fully self-driving vehicles for general customer purchase. Instead, the focus is ridesharing and putting robot taxis on the road to cash in on the new paradigm of on-demand mobility. Daimler said as much in its announcement and Ford made a similar promise last week at the Society of Automotive Engineers International World Congress, noting that self-driving cars for consumers may not hit dealerships until 2026 or perhaps even as late as 2031.

In other news, there was a flurry of activity on the car-sharing front last week. PSA Group brought its car-sharing service Free2Move to the United States, with initial launch at the Los Angeles airport. Free2Move incentives car owners to rent their rides with free parking at set locations plus rental income for use of their cars, while car users pay approximately 50% less than traditional car rentals. PSA is creating a new North American entity devoted to the programme.

Audi announced plans to take over 100% ownership of car-sharing company Silvercar. Silvercar streamlines the rental process by only offering one type of car, a silver Audi A4, and by allowing customers to book entirely by app in a matter of minutes. Audi has held a minority share in Silvercar since 2015. It says it plans to use Silvercar as a springboard to pursue a range of mobility services in the US.

GMis expanding its car-sharing programme Maven again, this time to the city of Baltimore. Maven stations have already been built at 20 locations around Baltimore’s downtown district. Hourly rates start at $8. In 14 months, Maven has grown to more than 30,000 members in the US.

Keyless car-sharing company Getaround expanded to the New Jersey Tri-State area, specifically the cities of Hoboken, Jersey City and Weehawken. Getaround allows renters to unlock a car from their mobile phones and eliminates the need for owners to provide keys to the renter in-person. Getaround plans to expand to more markets later this year.

Navigation app Waze is getting into the real-time, in-app ordering business. Drivers can now place their orders at nearby Dunkin’ Donuts whenever a little DD icon pops up on the Waze map. Drivers don’t even have to leave the navigation screen, although they do need to have the Dunkin’ Donuts app also downloaded on their phones. Waze plans to extend the deal to other eateries if the initiative is successful.

The new Mercedes-Benz S Class will come with an impressive suite of ADAS when it arrives this fall, including automatic steering, automatic braking, assisted lane changing, speed limit monitoring (even in work zones) and pedestrian detection and avoidance. More impressive is the fact that these can be combined into fully autonomous driving given the right situation, like a wide open country road. Also, the fact that each feature is responsive to real-time data from the car’s map and navigation systems, allowing the car to, for example, predictively reduce its speed ahead of bends, junctions, roundabouts or toll booths.

Finally, Hyundai is building a new Internet of Things platform that will be integrated into Hyundai vehicles starting in 2018. The Connected Car Service Platform is broken into two bins: ‘Home to Car’ voice controlled operations that allow drivers to start their cars and open or close doors through speech; and ‘Car to Home’ options that connect customers with smart home  services, including home lighting, climate control, and audio systems. The connectivity services are currently on display at the 2017 Seoul Motor Show.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU-Automotive analysis with information from industry sources.

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