Initially, experts were sure to have fully developed autonomous cars by 2021 at the latest. This optimism has now vanished. A series of accidents that unfortunately resulted in deaths has been a wake-up call for the largely unregulated sector. The approach has to change. The focus shifts from the fastest possible realization of autonomy to long-term security.
In practice, this has resulted in OEMs and Tier 1 providers reorganizing their autonomous driving research and development teams. Car manufacturers are currently considering whether existing technologies should be used as advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). Only a few selected stakeholders are still striving to control the entire development process and deploy their own fleets. The entire industry is now increasingly open to cooperation.
Collaboration promotes standardization
The reason is simple: cooperation is the key to survival. Autonomous driving is enormously complex and resource-intensive. Nobody will be able to solve every problem alone. The approach to developing these systems, however, needs to change in order to facilitate collaboration.
Software solutions must increasingly move toward hardware-independent modular designs to facilitate deployment, while industry standards are required to enable knowledge and data exchange.
HD map data is an example of the challenges ahead. The map is a millennium-old standard with the original goal of sharing geographic information. However, HD cards do not serve this long-term goal so well. Often they are too outdated to be used safely. In other cases, order-based maps are created at the request of industry partners. There is no standard for exchanging the information required for these cards to be properly updated and generally available for automated driving systems.
Standardization is achieved either through collaboration and self-regulation or imposed by regulators and industry governments. An example of this would be the implementation of mandatory “self-drive tests” for autonomous vehicles.
The global ban on the Boeing 737 Max 8 after the tragic events of recent months is an example of how much the regulators can restrict new technologies if their respective industries fail to self-regulate and standardize. Of course, the autonomous driving sector must strive to avoid such difficulties and work towards making the testing and use of autonomous vehicles as safe as possible. We have often listed how important simulation is in this regard.
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Rational technology leads to rational investments
As the industry changes and becomes more rational with these evolving technologies, so does the approach to investors. The number of rounds of investment in this area is declining – but their volume is increasing, due to the fact that late entrants need more resources to impact the industry.
Nevertheless, the financing dynamics around autonomous driving is decreasing, which affects not only newcomers but also existing ones. Less investment in an industry, mostly led by low-income companies – not to mention profits – leads to consolidation.
In addition to the more general and economic trends outlined above, such as the slowdown in the global economy and the shrinking auto market, leading OEMs and Tier1 companies are revising the budgets of their costly and lengthy autonomous research projects. Therefore, it is very likely that over the next three years the majority of companies engaged in autonomous driving will disappear.
The next big thing: To survive in the market
So the question is: who will succeed in the market? The answer is simple: companies that are open and facilitate collaboration. In a relay race, a team divides the routes based on their resources and abilities to achieve the optimal time. Exactly this procedure is required for autonomous driving.
The next big thing for the companies is the existence in the market. To do so, they must build meaningful cooperations, become more transparent and work towards trustworthy industry standards.
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Lazlo Kishonti is CEO of AImotive and has been in the technology industry for over 20 years.