It is time to update my pictorial view of the competition and cooperation across the leading autonomous vehicle (AV) software platforms...
It is time to update my pictorial view of the competition and cooperation across the leading autonomous vehicle (AV) software platforms. The latest version is shown in the next figure and this is probably the tenth version due to the rapid changes in the AV industry. An earlier version that I did while working at IHS Markit is available in an article Junko Yoshida did in May 2020.
The AV software platform picture looks complex, but this is a simplification as there are many additional companies participating. The cooperation relationships are primarily drawn to main auto OEMs. A few relationships that have been cancelled are still marked with a dotted line and a red X.
I will give a short overview of the leading AV software platforms including partners, AV use-cases and other worthwhile information.
Waymo is recognized as the leader in AV software platform development due to its early start in 2009 and extensive investments. It is difficult to estimate how much Waymo has spent on AV development, but it is probably over $4 billion and could be in the $5 billion range. Waymo has received $3 billion in VC (venture capital) funding in 2020. Waymo has about 1,500 employees.
Waymo has about 600 AVs in-use with around 400 in its Waymo One robotaxi service in the Phoenix area. Waymo One had provided about 120,000 rides in March when the services was temporarily stopped. Waymo has the most AV testing experience with over 21 million miles of road testing and 17 billion miles of virtual or simulation testing in March 2020. Waymo was adding about 1 million miles of road testing (including robotaxi use) per month before Covid stopped its testing from late March to mid-May. Waymo was adding about 1 billion miles of virtual miles per month before Covid and this probably has continued.
The Waymo Driver software platform is focused on three AV use-cases. The robotaxi use-case was deployed in Phoenix area with paying customers in December 2018. Waymo started its Early Rider trial operation in June 2017 as a free service. These robotaxi rides had a safety driver as a backup, but Waymo started driverless service in September 2019. The driverless ride portion was less than 10% of total rides. Waymo just announced it will go to driverless robotaxi service in Phoenix for nearly all rides.
Waymo is also testing goods delivery with the vans used in its robotaxi service in Phoenix area. In 1Q 2020, Waymo started a pilot project with UPS to pick up packages at UPS stores and deliver the packages at UPS sorting facilities.
Waymo is also testing autonomous trucks using its Waymo Driver software platform and using the name Waymo Via for this business. Waymo Via has started testing in the Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California corridor. Waymo Via is using Dallas as a center of autonomous truck testing.
Waymo’s strategy is to license its Waymo Driver software platform to auto OEMs (consumer and commercial vehicles), fleet operators and other AV participants. Waymo is expected to continue its robotaxi service and expand to other cities than Phoenix.
Waymo has multiple OEMs as partners such as Renault, Nissan, Volvo, Jaguar and Fiat Chrysler (FCA). It is also working with Magna, which is integrating the FCA Pacifica and Jaguar I-Pace with the AV hardware and sensors that are needed for AV operation. Waymo has ordered 60,000 Pacifica and 22,000 I-Pace to be uses for future AVs. Delivery schedule of these 82K vehicles are not available and are probably changeable.
Cruise was founded in 2013 and was acquired by GM in February 2016 for around $1 billion. GM has continued investing in Cruise since 2016 and is the current leader among auto OEMs. In 2018 GM spent $728 million on Cruise, which increased to $1 billion in 2019 according to GM’s earnings reports. Cruise has around 2,000 employees and an estimated 250+ AVs in-use for testing. Adding up California’s DMV testing data shows that Cruise drove a total of 1.4 million AV miles from 2017 to 2019. Total AV test miles is probably over 2 million miles currently. There is no data on virtual AV test miles from Cruise.
Honda has joined GM in investing in Cruise and the three companies announced the Origin AV in January 2020. The Origin is a battery electric vehicle (BEV) and the first auto that is designed for AV use-cases including hardware redundancy for driverless operation. Production is planned for 2022 in a GM plant in Detroit area.
Cruise is planning to enter the robotaxi business in San Francisco when California allows such operation and will use the Origin when available. Cruise has been operating a robotaxi service for its employees in San Francisco since mid-2018.
Cruise is also planning to participate in goods AV use-case. When the Covid pandemic hit, Cruise started using its AVs in San Francisco for package delivery to local food banks and similar Covid-related assistance. Cruise has made over 100,000 deliveries in San Francisco.
GM is no longer the only investor in Cruise with $7 billion raised from SoftBank, Honda and multiple VCs. Recent VC valuation of Cruise is around $20 billion.
Argo was founded in 2016 and is in an enviable position with two major auto OEMs as its customers and investors—Ford and VW. Ford made a five-year commitment to invest $1 billion in Argo in 2017. The Argo and VW investment deal closed in June 2020. VW is investing $2.6 billion in Argo as part of VW and Ford’s cooperation across AVs, BEVs and other technologies. Argo can also sell its AV software platform to other companies.
Argo’s CEO has more auto industry experiences than Argo’s competitors and seems more deliberate and with less hype than other AV software developers. Argo has released limited information on its AV testing activities. It is a believer in AV simulation miles and is doing about 1 million virtual miles per day. Argo is estimated to have 150 AVs.
Argo is focused on two use-cases—goods AVs and robo-taxis. Ford and Argo are testing both use-cases in Miami with a 2022 goal for some type of deployment. Argo has mostly done testing for AV goods delivery and has worked with Walmart, Postmates and Domino. Argo has also used its AV test vehicles to deliver thousands of Covid-related goods in its hometown of Pittsburgh, PA. Argo has done robotaxi testing with Lyft.
Aurora was founded in 2017 with three AV-experienced founders. Aurora’s CEO was leading Waymo’s AV effort before co-founding Aurora. Aurora call its AV software platform “Driver” as does Waymo and is focused on multiple AV use-cases. The Aurora Driver has been integrated with six different vehicle categories—multiple sedans, SUV, minivan, large commercial vehicle and a Class 8 truck.
Aurora is the most independent AV software platform company since it does not have a relationship with a major OEM. The closest is Hyundai, which is an investor in Aurora. Aurora needs a large VC investment to keep its independence and is doing well with $690 million in VC funding. Amazon is among the investors. Aurora had about 500 employees in May 2020. Aurora has few AVs doing road testing due to its focus on virtual AV testing. Aurora only used 6 AVs according to the 2019 California DMV testing data but has additional AVs in Pittsburgh.
Aurora is also developing its Aurora Ecosystem to support a large variety of partners including vehicle OEMs and fleet operators ranging from mobility services to logistics, goods and fleet management services. The core of the ecosystem is the Aurora Driver software and the Driver hardware. The Aurora Driver is to a large extent platform-agnostic to other hardware that controls the vehicle. The second core is the Aurora Cloud, which is a single interface for its partners.
According to Aurora, “the Aurora Ecosystem was designed with flexibility so the Aurora Driver can first be deployed in middle mile trucking applications, then last-mile goods delivery and finally, passenger mobility networks”.
Aurora’s testing is focused on virtual AV testing first and foremost with road testing following when the Aurora Driver has passed thousands of virtual tests. Aurora is doing millions of virtual miles per day.
Mobileye is a leader in developing AV software and systems. Mobileye’s AV testing is mostly done in Israel, where robotaxi testing started several years ago. Additional information on Mobileye’s testing in Israel is available from Junko Yoshida’s recent article entitled “Is AV Software Driver Detecting What We Are Seeing?”
Mobileye has permission to test self-driving vehicles in France, Japan, Korea and Germany. The latest AV test permit for Germany allows AV testing anywhere in Germany, including urban and rural areas and Autobahn at driving speed of up to 130 kilometers per hour. Mobileye expects open-road testing in other countries in late 2020.
Mobileye is the global ADAS leader. Mobileye ADAS deployment has surpassed 60 million vehicles with availability from over 25 auto OEMs on 300 auto models. Many ADAS vehicles have Mobileye’s mapping system for acquiring detailed AV location maps. The map collection system is called REM or Road Experience Management. Over 3 million vehicles collect REM data with BMW, Nissan and VW as publicly disclosed customers. Mobileye projects around 25 million vehicles will use REM in 2025. Mobileye’s large ADAS customer base will be an advantage as volume AV deployment starts. The ADAS technology experience will also be a benefit in the AV era. A few auto OEMs that have publicly announced support for Mobileye’s AV software platform such as BMW and Nio. It is likely that many of Mobileye’s ADAS clients will become L4 AV customers.
All of the AV companies stress their dedication to AV safety, but Mobileye seems to be more dedicated than its competitors with a specific strategy and plan for AV safety. Mobileye is developing multiple AV components including two independent sensing subsystems that are both used by the AV software driving system. The first sensing system is based on cameras and the second sensing system use radars and lidars.
The radar-lidar sensing system is currently used in Mobileye’s AV testing and will be a core function in future AV systems. The camera sensing system is also used in Mobileye’s AV testing and will be fundamental part of AV systems. The independence of the two sensing systems should improve AV safety.
Mobileye is also including a driving policy called Responsibility-Sensitive Safety (RSS). RSS is a driving policy, which helps an AV operate safely where lane markings may not be visible and other road users might pose a hazard. Mobileye also describe RSS as an open, transparent, technology neutral safety model for autonomous driving.
SuperVision is the camera-only portion of its redundant sensing suite that Mobileye is developing for L4 AVs. The SuperVision will be included in Mobileye’s next generation hands-free ADAS that will be available in 2021. SuperVision also includes RSS for its driving policy and OTA software update capabilities.
Other AV Software Platforms
There are many other AV software platforms in the above picture. I will give you more perspectives in the next column. I will also look at how AV strategies differ among the key players.