Self driving vehicles will be behind an eye-watering $7 trillion worth of economic activity and new efficiencies per year worldwide by 2050, according to a study released last year by Intel and Strategy Analytics.
The rewards for successful companies in the sector are obvious. So, it is little surprise that manufacturers are plowing tens of millions of pounds, dollars, and euros into data and technology research and development in an effort to stay at the front of the queue when autonomous road transport becomes the norm in the years to come.
The involvement of companies such as Apple, Tesla, and Uber have been well documented and, according to Car Magazine, 20 manufacturers have said they will sell autonomous vehicles by 2022, with analysts at HIS forecasting 21 million driverless vehicles worldwide by 2035.
However, earlier this year, professional services firm Navigant released a report that highlighted what it claims are the 10 manufacturers that are taking the most significant strides in terms of developing self driving technology.
Navigant rated the manufacturers according to 10 criteria: Vision, go-to market strategy, partners, production strategy, technology, product capability, product quality and reliability, product portfolio, staying power and, finally, sales, marketing, and distribution.
According to the study, GM topped the rankings, having recently revealed its Level 4 self-driving Cruise AV, which does not have a steering wheel.
In December, the company confirmed plans to launch a fleet of driverless taxis in large cities by 2019, with GM expecting the taxis to generate profit margins of between 20 and 30 percent, according to chief financial officer Chuck Stevens.
However, many observers believe Waymo – which is operated by Alphabet, Google’s parent company – and has been working on driverless technology for nearly a decade – is setting the benchmark in the sector.
Gartner research director Michael Ramsey told ZDNet that Google has “a significant technological lead on the field” in this area. He added: “They’re years ahead in on-road testing and the human-machine interface, and they’ve already developed all their own sensors and computer systems on board.”
Daimler-Bosch, third in the rankings, is a partnership that will lead to Level 4 and the top-tier Level 5 self driving cars – which will be able to manage the necessary volume of data to travel anywhere.
Other manufacturers in the rankings included Ford, which is focusing on commercial rather than consumer autonomous or self driving vehicles, Volkswagen, Aptiv and PSA.
Several joint ventures were also listed in the top 10, including BMW, Intel and FCA, which are aiming to launch self-driving cars by 2021, with a focus on the BMW iNEXT model, and Volvo, Autoliv, Ericsson, and Zenuity.
Meanwhile the collaboration between Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi is focusing on autonomous ride-hailing and car-sharing, with a pilot self driving service launched in Japan this year.
With manufacturers innovating and exploring ways to manage the extreme data required to stay ahead of rivals in terms of research and development, regulatory bodies have had to sit up and take notice.
In its recent communication, ‘On the Road to Automated Mobility’, the European Commission set out its ambitions for the future of the sector.
Responding to the communication, a spokesperson for the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) said: “During the next decade, the Commission expects to see the introduction of automated driving on Europe’s motorways – truck platooning, for instance, which the Commission wants to facilitate by standardising data exchange between different truck brands.
“The EU automobile industry has been actively working on the development and introduction of platooning technology over the past years and welcomes the attention given to it in the Communication. In this respect, the ACEA is looking forward to seeing the remaining regulatory barriers to the EU-wide deployment of truck platooning being removed in the near future.”
With more research and tests being done around world, such as Singapore’s recent mini-city for driverless cars, manufacturers have a wealth of knowledge to help develop breakthrough technology.
In the driverless technology goldrush, regional, national and international authorities and agencies have been scrambling to come up with the legislation and rules required to ease the impending transition to driverless technology, while the challenge of managing evolving data requirements due to changes in insurance terms and vehicle use and movement have been widely acknowledged.
However, the ACEA highlighted the importance of effective data management and security to enable the sector to fulfil its potential.
“The European Commission envisages a move towards fully autonomous mobility by the 2030s,” the ACEA spokesperson said.
“In the short term, however, the EU’s executive arm wants all new vehicles to be connected to the internet by the year 2022.
“Already now, our vehicles are becoming increasingly more ‘connected’. These new levels of connectivity obviously present major opportunities, but opportunity comes with risks, and one of these is the threat of a cyber attack on your vehicle or even a whole fleet.”
The Commission prioritised the need to ensure “safe and secure access to vehicle data” in the third Mobility Package that was published last month and said the right approach to data access must ensure “safety and cybersecurity, in full compliance with the… protection of personal data”.
The ACEA spokesperson added: “Our industry is convinced that this can only be achieved if relevant vehicle data are communicated to an off-board facility, from where service providers can access the data.
“The safety of drivers and passengers is paramount to us. That is why we need to use this secure off-board model for data sharing.
“This approach minimises safety and security risks in a way which no other method of access to vehicle data can accomplish.
“By contrast, giving third parties direct and uncontrolled access to data in a moving vehicle is an open door for hackers. Because, let’s be frank here, how well would you sleep at night with your front door wide open?”
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