Let’s Catch up on Mobility

Article By : Egil Juliussen

There are a lot of important products introduced, technologies improved and business announcement that happens every week. Let's catch up on mobility...

Let’s catch up on mobility news you might have missed.

There are a lot of important products introduced, technologies improved and business announcement that happens every week. I cannot write a column on each one, but they are still important and deserves some analysis and assessments.

Catching up on Mobility

In the next table I have listed a few recent activities that I think are interesting and I will give my perspectives. The table covers multiple automotive segment from batteries and battery-electric-vehicles (BEVs) to autonomous vehicles (AVs) and mobility as a service (MaaS). The table summarizes the key aspects of each topic with more detail below the table by topic.

Mobility News
Click the table to enlarge. (Source: Egil Juliussen)

Rand AV Report
Rand Corporation released an important AV report on October 29, 2020 called: “Safe Enough: Approaches to Assessing Acceptable Safety for Automated Vehicles.” The report was requested by Uber Advanced Technology Group in 2017 with Rand being responsible for the content. The report is 140+ pages long and available from Rand at here.

It is impossible to summarize the report in a few paragraphs, but I offer my comments below. In its press release on October 29, 2020, Rand summarized the report, which I have also included below.

It is likely that there will be criticism of the report because it is focused on being safe-enough. Safe-enough will require a definition and cooperation of key stakeholders. The key is that the safe-enough definition must improve over time as AV technology advances. Rand did extensive surveys with leading AV developers to gather expert knowledge for the AV safety report.

Rand developed three different approaches to assessing AV safety—measurement, process, and thresholds. The three approaches complement each other, with no one classified as the best approach.

The leading measurement approach is so-called “roadmanship” or the ability to drive safely without creating dangers and responding well to hazards created by others. Processes include setting and meeting safety-relevant standard for AVs by various technical, automotive and government organizations.

Thresholds, qualitative or quantitative, are another way to assess AV safety. Human driving performance as a threshold makes the most sense. Thresholds will evolve as AV technology advances. Meeting safer and stricter thresholds are long-term AV challenge.

The Rand press release included the following recommendations from the report:

  • AV developers and the larger AV research community should continue to advance and integrate leading measures, including roadmanship. An industry consortium could help.
  • Developers should forge uniform and transparent approaches to presenting evidence for meeting safety thresholds. These would factor in differences in use cases, operational design domains, and more, and they could focus on better-than-average driving as a threshold.
  • The U.S. Department of Transportation should support further research into human drivers to enable the comparisons that stakeholders seek. Such research should address differences in operational design domains.
  • AV developers should collaborate with state and local leaders to bring their vehicles into communities around the country. Direct exposure to AVs supports public understanding

Overall, the Rand report has lots of useful and valuable information from AV expert interviews, analysis and perspectives.

Paid California Robotaxi Service
California has not allowed paid robotaxi services—only testing that are free to robotaxi customers. That changed on November 19, 2020.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved two new programs that allow companies to launch paid robotaxi services.

There are lots of requirements to meet until deployment can start and much quarterly operational data must be filed with CPUC during service deployment. The CPUC documentis over 140 pages and is available here. The AV order is the last 23 pages of the document.

The two paid robotaxi programs include AVs with safety driver and a driverless AV with remote teleoperation as backup. Overall, the AV companies are happy that California finally allowed paid robotaxi services but wish the permit requirements were simpler and that less operational data was mandated. There is concern that deployment may not happen until late 2021 or even later.

Participating companies must submit a safety plan to CPUC. Quarterly operational reports to CPUC are also required. The quarterly data includes anonymized information on pickup and drop-off locations, miles traveled, passenger miles traveled, volume of wheelchair accessible rides and service levels to disadvantaged communities. Vehicle fuel type must also be specified.

Uber AV Group for Sale?
Uber’s  Advanced Technology Group (ATG) may be for sale according to multiple press reports. It is possible that Uber is looking for more investors or partners instead of an ATG sale. Aurora may be negotiating with Uber for purchasing Uber’s AV subsidiary.

There are lots of “maybes” here, but this would have significant impact on the AV industry and deserves some speculation. There are several complicating factors in making an Aurora-Uber ATG acquisition happen. Aurora is smaller, 600+ employees, than Uber ATG which has around 1,200 employees.

Uber ATG had a large investment of $1 billion in April 2019 from Toyota ($400 million), Denso ($267 million) and SoftBank ($333 million). This investment gave the three companies around 14% ownership of ATG. This means the valuation of Uber ATG was around $7 billion in April 2019 but is likely lower now. Aurora’s VC funding is around $700 million with valuation in the $3 billion range. The different company sizes and valuations make it hard for this potential acquisition to be done. If the acquisition happens, I believe if would be a win-win event. Stay tuned for future news.

Battery Factory in Norway?
Panasonic has signed a preliminary agreement with two Norwegian companies, Equinor and Norsk Hydro to cooperate on building a battery factory in Norway. The batteries would be based on Panasonic technology that are currently used by Tesla and other auto OEMs. With Tesla building a battery electric vehicle (BEV) factory in Berlin, this would be a promising opportunity for this venture. BEV sales are growing rapidly in Europe and the battery demand is growing even faster as average battery size per car is increasing every year. This potential battery factory is probably about three years in the future.

Equinor is the leading oil company in Norway but is also a leader in offshore wind farms. Battery use is increasing fast as time-shifting technology for wind and solar energy and probably power from wave motion in the future. Such temporary energy storage will expand the demand and production of batteries and help drive the down the price per kilo-watt-hour which will benefit the auto industry.

GM Accelerate EV Introductions
The Electric Vehicle (EV) is receiving increasing investment by many auto makers across the world. GM is a good example as it recently announced it will speed up introduction of EVs and invest more in EV and AV technology. GM announced it will invest $27 billion in EV and AV technology–up from $20 billion planned before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

A key to all of these activities is battery technology advances. GM’s Ultium battery packs are forecasted to cost 60% less than current packs by mid 2020s—and with twice the energy density. GM is also building its own battery factory in cooperation with LG Chem with production starting in 2022.

GM’s Ultium platform is the building blocks across its vehicle range, from mass market to high performance vehicles—all from a single, common battery cell and interchangeable propulsion components. GM will also sell its Ultium platform components to other companies which will increase its economy of scale to drive unit costs down.

I think this is one example that shows that BEVs are likely to grow faster than some part of the auto industry is planning on. In the last three years, there has been significant changes in how the auto industry perceived future BEV success. Keep changing your view to an even more positive BEV future.

Amazon In-Garage Delivery
At CES 2019 Amazon announced that it would start in-garage deliveries. The feature is open to Prime members who have a myQ garage door opener. Amazon has expanded the use of this dramatically and now offers this feature in over 4,000 cities—up from 50 cities in April 2019.

Tens of millions of Amazon Prime members have access to Key by Amazon’s In-Garage Delivery service. This service lets eligible Prime members receive contactless package delivery inside their garage and offers delivery confirmation when using the Key by Amazon app. Prime members can also receive grocery orders from Whole Foods Market or Amazon Fresh delivered inside their garage.

This trend has long-term importance for AV-based goods delivery. The technology is likely to be useful for sidewalk AVs and dedicated goods delivery AVs that are now emerging.

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