Fully-automated cars, trucks and buses and the future of it.
Fully-automated self-driving cars are one of the seemingly futuristic concepts that are becoming a reality right now. With correct applications, sophisticated driving systems and acceptance from the car manufacturers, it can gradually replace all of the current vehicles. Particularly if will see large car producers starting to apply the economies of scale through mass-production, making them affordable and more readily available. However, there are more applications than just owning such a car. Considerable breakthroughs would come in the field of logistics, where automated trucks are gradually adapted to service the logistical routes by such companies as UPS. This has the potential to speed up all of the transportation and even make it cheaper. Which are the two most important factors in any kind of logistics? Moreover, beyond that, would it be possible to completely automate our transportation? If that happens, what would the transportation systems look like? "At the societal level, self-driving cars have the potential to save millions of lives, reshape our cities, reduce emissions, give back billions of hours of time and restore freedom of movement," said Mo El Shenawy, vice president of engineering at GM Cruise. "At the individual level, we believe self-driving cars will deliver safer, more convenient, more affordable, and more accessible transportation." We will most likely see a huge impact on both rural and urban areas as the traffic becomes fully automated.
First, the most known company that is greatly investing in automated and fully-automated cars is Tesla. The company is on the verge of releasing a full self-driving package: “While it's going to be tight,” Musk said on Tesla’s quarterly earnings call in October, “It still does appear that we will be . . . in early access release of a feature-complete Full Self-Driving feature this year.” Even though the supervision would be required at this stage, it would be very technologically advanced: “There's the car being able to be autonomous, but requiring supervision and intervention at times. That's feature complete,” Musk said on the October earnings call. “And it doesn't mean like every scenario, everywhere on earth, including every corner case, it just means most of the time.” It would be close to a limited beta test, thus limiting the number of vehicles that will be operated in such way. We are likely to see it reach the full scale near the end of 2020. This will be coupled with autonomous taxis in some parts of the US. Allowing people to add their cars to a Tesla network that is meant to work similarly to Uber and Airbnb.
The self-driving chip for the full automation already built in late 2017. They have started using it in their Model S and Model X as well as Model 3 earlier this year. It has 6 billion transistors that offer 21 times more than the performance of the top Nvidia chips. Therefore, Tesla has managed to develop and implement the chip that can handle the data far faster than any other alternative currently available at the market. It is capable of 36 trillion operations per second and costs the company 80 percent of what the previous alternatives cost them. All while having 32 megabytes of high-speed SRAM memory on the chip. The chip designer is a former AMD engineer.
It is important to mention some other companies working on self-driving cars as well. Those Are WAYMO, GM Cruise and ARGO AI. First of all, let us take a look at WAYMO: "They very recently announced to consumers on their platform in Arizona that they're going to start launching actual autonomous rides, which is a significant step forward. I don't think anyone else is that close to being able to physically take the engineer out." Waymo One is a self-driving taxi service that was successfully tested in Phoenix, Arizona. Even though supervised by a human driver, their autonomous cars are on the horizon. According to Waymo, "the self-driving sensor suite consists of LiDAR, cameras, and radar, as well as microphones to detect sounds such as sirens. Like a person's own five senses, Waymo's self-driving technology is more powerful as a whole than the sum of its parts; each sensor complements the others."
Another company – GM Cruise is a subsidiary of General Motors, having billions of dollars in investments from SoftBank, Honda, GM and T.Rowe Price Associates with a large number of vehicles on the road and 180 vehicles in testing. They plan to release their driverless taxies around late 2019 or early 2020. With the cars that were produced being fairly advanced. Being a part of the world’s largest automakers – General Motors, allows them to assemble the vehicles on the Orion assembly line in Michigan. Capable of producing hundreds of thousands of vehicles per year. On top of that, their Cruise vehicles use machine learning techniques, cloud-based tools, and IoT sensors to gather data about their surroundings and make intelligent decisions based on that insight.
The last company that is worth mentioning is Argo AI. Partnered with Volkswagen that invested 2.6 billion USD they also have 1 billion USD investment from Ford Motor Company. Its main goal is to develop a self-driving system, while not being that concerned with developing the entire car. This allows them to solely focus on the development of technology itself. "In a very short period of time, we've been able to basically put the system at a level of maturity far beyond what other companies of our age have been able to do," Nick Twork, Senior Communications Counsel explained. It operates with a combination of sensors – LiDARs, radars, and cameras. LiDAR is used to locate the distance of objects and cameras help with depth perception.
Those companies have the capability of developing and putting fully automated cars on the roads. And, as they indicate, those cars will be able to fulfill the functions of taxis as well as personal cars. As previously mentioned, with enough production volume the cost of such cars will inevitably go down. We can see this from the large investors, such as Ford, Volkswagen, and General Motors. Thus, the role of taxi drivers will become obsolete and we might expect most of the older cars to be gradually replaced.
Another interesting aspect is the automation of public transport. For example, Metro line 1 in Paris has completely undergone the transformation to the new automated trains. Not to mention that the first automated public transport line – Victoria line in London was opened in 1967. By 2016 there were 53 fully automated metro lines in 36 cities across the world. Of that 786km of these automated lines, half sit in four countries: France, South Korea, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates. By 2023 there should be 2200 km of automated metro lines. Some of those need operators oversight, while the ones in Copenhagen and Barcelona and truly driverless. The train’s location is determined using track onboard data that is then wirelessly transmitted to a central control facility, which manages all trains in the system. This central control means that service can be adjusted quickly to respond to delays or accommodate crowds and allows for better real-time information.
The more noticeable form of public transportation – buses are currently seeing several automation projects across the world. The biggest progress was probably done by China, who have launched their first self-driving bus in August 2015. This bus drives with guidance by cameras, laser radars, and a master controller, coupled with a human driver who’s supervising it and can intervene at any time. It does everything, including handling complicated maneuvers like lane changes and traffic light responses without human assistance. In Europe, the first buses were tested in 2013 in Italy and in 2015 in the Netherlands and Switzerland in 2016.
China has more than a dozen start-ups that went to the global market in artificial intelligence. DeepBlue is one of such companies since they were founded in 2014 they have shifted from producing technologies for “smart retail” that involves recognition of had vein patterns to attempting to make commercially viable self-driving technologies, selling its autonomous buses to city governments in China and beyond. They have their “smart Panda bus” operating in 10 cities across China and is expected to be in 10 more by the end of 2019. Those buses are a part of hundreds of state-led “smart” city trial zones across the country. Part of China’s effort to develop urban areas that have automated traffic control, waste management and other amenities.
There is a US mobility company – Beep, that has successfully developed and tested its battery-powered driverless shuttle. They work together with a French company – Navya that has to build the bus. Even Navya’s vehicle had crashed in its first day of testing in Las Vegas, the proponents of autonomous vehicles argue that they are safer than manned vehicles. Thus, it will be used to fill the transportation requirements of Central Florida. On top of that, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has spoken of eventually getting the technology downtown in its LYMMO circulator buses. “I don’t see that happening in the next year or so, but we’re certainly working toward that,” he said. “We want to embrace technology. We want to be known for that.” While Orange County Mayor Jerry Deming wants to use it to shuttle visitors around International Drive and the Orange County Convention Center. Over time, Demings anticipates the buses to be able to take on more region’s transit burden. Being able to grow in size and be able to travel farther and on more advanced routes. “As fast as we’re growing, with as many tourist visitors as we have in this area, we have to do a better job of efficiently moving people throughout the community,” he said.
Another advancement that has been fairly recent is the driverless buses in Berlin. With no steering wheel, no driver and no charge. They were launched in Berlin earlier this year, while they had been in the Bavarian town of Bad Birnbach since 2017. They are powered by electricity and will trial in the northwest of the German capital until the end of 2019. "We believe that self-driving small buses are a clever addition to our big yellow buses, for example in areas with narrow roads or strict speed limits," the head of Berlin public transport operator BVG, Sigrid Nikutta, said. However, the major downside is that the buses will be very slow. Traveling only 15 kph (9 mph).
Thus, we can see that automation has been in the public transport sphere for a very long time. However, it is only starting to reach into automated buses. With all likelihood, those will develop at around the same rate that the automated cars. However, there is a more interesting application for large vehicles. Automation of trucks that are used to ship cargo. This would potentially reduce the costs and the time of transportation and delivery, greatly improving all of the worldwide logistics.
This technology is being successfully implemented by UPS, through their trucking startup – TuSimple. With fully-automated vehicles already hauling cargo between Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, since May this year. TuSimple had previously been in a partnership with the United States Postal Service, where their startup’s trucks carried mail on the 1000-mile stretch between the USPS’s Phoenix, Arizona, and Dallas, Texas, distribution center. The two parts are currently discussing the next steps of the implementation.
TuSimple was founded in 2015 and its Navistar trucks are outfitted with their own technology. This includes the nine cameras, a pair of LIDAR sensors all of which comprise the vision-based autonomous system. That is very similar to what we can see in Tesla’s cars. It is being backed by Nvidia and the Chinese technology company – Sina. “TuSimple says it has been helping UPS “better understand the requirements for Level 4 Autonomous trucking in its network” — a reference to the Society of Automotive Engineers’ scale for self-driving vehicles, where Level 4 refers to full autonomy that’s locked to a designated geographic location.” Like many other self-driving vehicles, they still have a safety driver and an engineer on board to monitor the system.
Several other companies are also working on self-driving trucks: Kodiak, Einride, Waymo, Daimler, and others. With Tusimple being one of the few who actually, haul commercial cargo. Even though they are limited to only a few routes. There is also a Chinese company that are working on self-driving vehicles – Pony.ai, which also has an office in California and is focused on applying the technology to passenger vehicles. They are testing 30 self-driving passenger vehicles in Nansha and they are able to navigate rush hour traffic.
Overall, in the US alone the trucking industry summed up to 796.7 billion USD in 2018, according to the American Trucking Associations. Trucks moved more than 70% of the country’s freight. “When fully realized, self-driving trucks will reduce the cost of hiring drivers that are required by law to take regular breaks. A major factor for businesses in choosing self-driving trucks is greater fuel efficiency, which cuts fuel costs by at least 15%, according to Plus.ai.” Currently there is high demand and interest in this technology which often outweighs the supply. Thus, we will quite certainly see the technology take root and gradually replace conventional trucks.
If the technology would progress at this rate we would most likely see all of the cars and trucks and all vehicles overall becoming entirely automated. This would definitely have several results. One of which would surely be an increase in the traveling speed of vehicles. It would be possible to maximize the traveling speed outside urban areas and small towns. Thus, we would surely see faster trucks, delivering cargo much faster. In addition, all of the traffic would be automated inside large cities, potentially reducing the load and giving the opportunity to greatly regulate it to avoid traffic jams. This would most definitely have an impact on urban life and could bring in some reorganization of traffic and roads in the cities.