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From Walled Gardens to Collaboration

First people thought self-driving was a sprint race, now many think it’s a marathon. However, it’s turning out to be an ultra-marathon relay. No one can solve the challenges of self-driving alone: the future to automation lies in collaboration.


March 19, 2019

I detailed how the self-driving industry changed over 2018 and touched on how collaboration is vital to moving forward in my last blog. Following up on that, Gergely Debreczeni, our Chief Scientist took a look at how our aiDrive software stack facilitates collaboration through its modular architecture. I recommend you run through these blogs as they form the foundation of what I’ll examine today. As CEO of AImotive and beforehand Kishonti, I have been invested in the technology industry for over two decades, however, I’m originally an economist, and today I’ll take a look at self-driving with the eyes of an economist.

Safety trumps accelerated deployment

Leading up to 2018 tech news was full of claims of fully self-driving fleets and widespread adoption by 2017, 2018 and later 2021. This optimism is now nowhere to be seen. A series of accidents sadly leading to fatalities served as a wakeup call to the largely unregulated autonomous industry that the approach had to change. The focus shifted from realizing autonomy as quickly as possible to making it as safe as possible in the long term.

In practice, this has resulted in OEMs and Tier1s already reorganizing their self-driving research and development teams. Car manufacturers are now looking into deploying existing technologies as advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).  Only a select few stakeholders are still aiming to control the whole development process and deploy their own fleets, the wider industry meanwhile, is increasingly open to collaboration.

Collaboration feeds standardization

The reason behind this is simple: collaboration is the key to survival. Self-driving is immensely complex and resource intensive. No one will be able to solve every problem alone. However, the approach to the development of these systems has to change to make collaboration viable. Software solutions must increasingly move towards hardware agnostic modular designs to facilitate deployment, while industry standards are needed to enable knowledge and data exchange.

HD maps serve as a good example of the challenges ahead. The map is a thousands of years old standard with the original goal of sharing geographical information. However, HD maps don’t serve this long-standing goal well. Often available HD maps will be too out of date to be used safely, in other cases, maps are created on a per order basis, at the request of industry partners. There is no standard in place to share the information required for these maps to be properly updated and generally available for automated driving systems.

Standardization will either be achieved through cooperation and self-regulation or forced upon the industry by regulator and governments. An example of such would be enforcing compulsory “self-driving tests” for automated vehicles. The grounding of Boeing 737 Max 8s globally following the tragic events of recent months is an example of how drastically regulators can limit new technologies if their respective industries fail to regulate and standardize themselves. Naturally, the self-driving sector must strive to avoid such difficulties and work towards making the testing and deployment of automated driving as safe as possible. We’ve discussed many times how important simulation is in this regard.

Rational technology leads to rational investment

As the industry’s approach to these developing technologies changes and becomes more rational, so does that of investors. The number of investment rounds in the sector is dropping; however, their size is increasing. This is because late starters need more resources to have an impact on the industry. Nevertheless, there is decreasing investor momentum in the autonomous driving industry, and this will affect not only newcomers but existing stakeholders. Less investment in an industry predominantly led by companies with little revenue, let alone, profit will lead to consolidation.

Alongside the above broader economic trends, such as the slowing global economy and the shrinking automotive market, are leading OEMs and Tier 1s to reevaluate the budget of their costly and lengthy autonomous driving research projects. As a result, it is extremely probable that in the next three years the majority of companies connected to self-driving will disappear.

The next big thing – To survive

Thus, the question is, who will survive? The answer is simple: companies that are open to and facilitate, collaboration. In a relay, a team divides the distance between managing their resources and skills to achieve their optimal time. This is how we must think about achieving self-driving. The next big thing for companies is to survive, and to do that they must build meaningful collaborations, become increasingly transparent and work towards trusted industry standards.

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