Progress in robocars (self-driving cars) continues to be rapid, although half of the experts say we are in a “winter” of disappointment and the market is driving ever higher valuations.
The opening story isn’t actually a story, an account of an impact between a Waymo Jaguar in San Francisco and a driver on a motorized scooter. No one was injured, and Waymo reports that the car was in manual mode before it could turn, blaming the Waymo safety driver, the scooter driver, or both. The self-driving story is that Waymo is stepping up its operations in San Francisco and unlike Chandler, AZ, the risk of interactions with such scooters is much greater, making it sometimes more difficult. A report that Waymo SF’s yard contains cars brightly painted in the rainbow colors of “Pride” suggests that Waymo has something planned. There’s no parade yet, but Waymo is a sponsor.
Waymo collects more money
Waymo also announced its second round of funding that raised an additional $ 2.5 billion after raising $ 3.2 billion last year. It was largely the same investors who added a new fund, with Alphabet itself remaining a major investor. Since other players far less stature than Waymo have seen reviews of $ 10 billion, it’s not too surprising that Waymo may be in command of a lot more and thus be able to raise that money. As a unit of Alphabet, money would never be a major issue for Waymo unless they clearly stalled. Nonetheless, it will cost a lot of capital to win this game.
GM is granting Cruise a $ 5 billion line of credit to purchase GM vehicles
In other multi-billion dollar news, GM funding Cruise – a company it owns a controlling interest in – has a $ 5 billion line of credit closer to manufacturing. Yes, it all sounds pretty incestuous, it’s mainly a statement that making Origin is a real effort. Cruise planned to deploy Origins in Dubai and the United States over the next two years.
Kodiak takes money from Bridgestone
Kodiak, which develops truck robots, added an investment from the tire maker without specifying the amount and with some smaller partnerships. While I like Kodiak, with no further details, this reminds me of a multitude of self-propelled investments that were made simply to give old businesses a cool look. I hope to counter that. Self-driving truck companies are flying high, with tuSimple having a valuation of 11 billion US dollars according to its SPAC, plans for an IPO for Plus.AI via SPAC, the valuation of 10 billion a few others. It seems that Uber’s purchase of Otto for over $ 600 million, which turned out to be one of the most disastrous decisions for the company, could have been a lot sweeter without certain famous events.
Pony runs without a safety driver
Pony.AI has joined the rare club operating vehicles without a safety driver on board on public roads in the United States. While Pony.AI is split between California and China, there have been a lot of new promotions with real robotic taxis in China lately, but they have chosen to be the leader in Silicon Valley. This step is very important. Although Pony.AI initially has no passengers, this is a statement of the trust the company has in its system to take such a step. In doing so, they are putting the company at risk. It’s difficult to measure the progress of these companies because they keep most things in-house, so steps like this are one of the most important metrics.
Pony.AI test vehicle
I look forward to hearing from Pony how many vehicles they use, how many kilometers they cover where and when they are ready for the passengers. All of these will be signs that their own internal studies are showing them that their technology is ready to take this risk. Cruise tried to make a splash last year by taking a ride with no one in the driver’s seat, but they kept someone in the passenger seat and limited it to a quiet street at night in the demo.
The video above shows pony doing more (albeit on the easier streets of Fremont.) Would love to see more. They say the public can take advantage of it this summer.
Nuro delivers some FedExes
Delivery robot company Nuro, which makes a small street delivery vehicle but does most of the testing on modified Prius vehicles, has announced a deal to make deliveries for FedEx. It starts with a pilot in Houston and will appear to include scheduled deliveries and multi-stop deliveries. The deal is stated to be long term, which is important to Nuro as FedEx is one of the biggest providers in terms of delivery. It will be interesting to keep track of details about how many deliveries are made under what circumstances.
For some man-on-the-street coverage, I now see Nuro’s test vehicles driving very extensively in my own Silicon Valley neighborhood, so her efforts there quickly expand too.
Nvidia buys DeepMap
One of the key technologies (unless you are Tesla) for self-driving is the use of detailed maps that help cars understand the road better by using data from previous trips where everything was seen better and from more angles. DeepMap is a startup developing mapping tools to create these maps for Robcars and for ADAS pilot systems. It was recently announced that they would be acquired by Nvidia. Nvidia chips are used in much of their self-driving AI processing projects, and they are busy building and purchasing components of the related technologies in hopes of becoming the leading semiconductor and software provider in the field. Disclosure: The author advises for DeepMap.
Baidu’s Apollo project, which had already announced a robot taxi service without a security driver in a small part of Beijing, showed off its new robot taxi design.
Baidu Apollo Moon Robotaxi design
While vehicle design ranks second in terms of technology by far, it is noteworthy that this design takes the step of deliberately copying a standard taxi roof sign for its sensor mount. There are those who have noticed that they think a lot of Robocar designs are ugly because the sensors have to be high so they can see everything. Apollo cleverly integrated its design to match something everyone is used to.
I’m actually not sure if that’s that important. I think robotic taxi drivers will actually want their vehicle to be very individual, to show the world that they are driving in a car of the future. But for those who don’t, this is a nice design.