The race for the driverless car

By Jason Madelénat
— Jan 3, 2018

The race for the driverless car

It’s all happening. The driverless car is gambling on a radical reduction in road-traffic accidents based on the principle that over 90% of them are caused by human error. The race for the car of the future is now more than ever being contested by competitors in the sector.

Waymo, the Google subsidiary, is starting its tests without engineers to take back control of its vehicles, and has just created a machine vision system which is much more effective than current models with its AutoML AI.

Tesla and Jim Keller (formerly of AMD) are going for the internal development of customised chips dedicated to AI with a view to creating the company’s own Autopilot system which would then be fitted in all its vehicles.

The Apple brand has just unveiled its VoxelNet software which, with the help of a Lidar (a laser beam which turns around the vehicle) producing a high-quality image, may mean being able to do without cameras.

Uber, in partnership with Volvo to supply its autonomous vehicles, is moving into the construction of driverless trucks with Otto, Anthony Levandowski’s startup, and has joined forces with the universities of Arizona and Carnegie-Mellon to develop better mapping and imaging technologies.

Finally Baidu, the Chinese search engine, has invited 70 players from the automotive sector, IT, cartography etc. to join the “Apollo Platform” to support a number of projects relating to the driverless car.

Waymo is currently the frontrunner, but a French outsider could and should find its place in the competition and pip its competitors at the post in certain segments of the “car of the future” market.

The Lyon-based company Navya revealed its robot taxi called “Autonom Cab” in early November. This anthracite people carrier, 4.65 metres long, powered by electricity, with its futuristic lines and sensor-studded roof, has an interior comprising two rows of three seats facing each other. No hint of a driver’s seat. Navya wants to speed up the roll-out of driverless vehicles.

Its fifteen-seater Autonom Shuttle vehicles are already present on restricted stretches, usually not in traffic. They can be found in Lyon’s Confluence district, on the La Défense concourse, and elsewhere in Europe, the United States and in Asia, that’s all. After fifty experiments, Navya has already covered 160,000 km and transported 200,000 passengers.

The “Autonom Cab” will enhance the range from Navya which is setting its sights higher. Christophe Sapet, CEO of Navya, announces it as the first robot taxi marketed worldwide. According to him, this is simply a few of months away.

Navya is targeting transport operators such as Keolis (Navya’s partner in Europe and the United States) and Transdev which wants to roll out a fleet of on-demand vehicles. Taxi and public transport companies and local authorities are also potential future customers. It will be possible to order the driverless taxi via a mobile application which will give the option of choosing a private vehicle or a shared one.

Navya has announced that it will be ready to bring its taxis into circulation in 2018, if the legislative changes recognising AI as drivers does not prove to be an obstacle and cause a delay.

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