Once the stuff of science fiction, self-driving vehicles could be about to hit the road. Partly spurred on by the global pandemic, the autonomous vehicle (AV) market has accelerated in 2021, with unparalleled levels of investment and technological advancement. In this blog, we’ll be looking at what’s driving the AV industry right now and what you can expect in the coming year and beyond.
Firstly, what is autonomous driving?
To be specific, there are five levels of autonomous driving:
The driver remains in control of the steering but the driving assistance system (e.g. traditional cruise control systems) may help with speed, acceleration, and braking.
The driver can disengage from some driving functions such as steering, acceleration, vehicle distance, braking and speed (e.g. with adaptive cruise control systems) but must still pay attention and be ready to intervene.
Under ideal road conditions (think multilane highways with a central divider), the driver can perform other activities while the system takes partial to full control, like Tesla’s AutoPilot system and Audi’s AI Traffic Jam Pilot.
The vehicle can control itself on highways or (certain) city streets without driver input (e.g. Google’s Waymo ride-hailing service in the USA). In unsafe conditions, these vehicles are programmed to park in a safe place and/or give control back to the driver/remote operator.
The vehicle, controlled by an advanced AI system, can drive itself under any conditions and doesn’t require any human interaction. Even with current technologies full AV is extremely complicated and will only be achievable in the (near) future.
Self-driving certainly sounds good, but is it allowed? Since the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) passed new regulations in January 2021 allowing the use of automated lane assist on public roads, governments have been scrambling to pass new AV regulations. Since then, Germany, Japan and the UK have officially approved conditional eyes-off Level 3 AV driving on public roads, with more European countries expected to pass similar legislation in 2022. Germany is expected to become the first country to pass new Level 4 AV laws.
AV around the world
Things are speeding up. Currently, there are countless AV pilots all over the globe, with more and more acquisition deals, partnerships and consortiums by the day. Some recent ones include Amazon’s acquisition of Zoox, Aurora’s purchase of Uber’s AV division, and Toyota’s acquisition of Lyft’s AV division. There’s also the new Autonomous Vehicle Computing Consortium, comprising leading automakers, chipmakers and suppliers, including ARM, Bosch, Continental, Denso, GM, Toyota, Nvidia, and NXP. While there are similarities, there is also much difference in how countries are approaching AV technology. In Europe, mass mobility seems top-of-mind, with public/private partnerships geared towards developing autonomous shuttles. In China, the focus is on AI, as a leading global developer in that field. US tech giants, meanwhile, are focused on applications such as robotaxis, last-mile deliveries and trucking.
Major AV launches expected this year
Some of the most talked-about AV launches coming in 2022 include new cars by Mercedes, Volvo and Ford. Mercedes-Benz’ 2022 S-Class claims to be the first Level three AV with no-hands self-driving features. The new car, with its proprietary Drive Pilot self-driving system, may currently only self-drive on the German autobahn and only at speeds up to 60 km/h. Volvo, meanwhile, will debut its new hands-off, eyes-off Level 3 autonomous driving feature later this year. Called Ride Pilot, it uses a Luminar Iris LiDAR sensor as well as eight cameras, 16 ultrasonic sensors and five radars to enable the software to judge depth. It will be offered as a paid add-on to the automaker’s new electric SUV. Ford is launching a Level 2 Bluecruise system, which uses geofencing and availability maps via the HERE platform so that drivers can activate the self-driving tech in safe areas across 1.6 million km of highways in the USA and Canada.
Thanks to rapid technological advances, the development of self-driving cars are being fast-tracked. In fact, the global AV market is predicted to top 1.75 trillion euros by 2030 – that’s 58 million self-driving vehicles on the world’s roads! At LeasePlan, we’re always interested in innovations in the mobility industry and we will continue to monitor trends in the field of autonomous driving.
Autoevolution: The five levels of autonomous driving explained
Car & Driver: Mercedes Drive Pilot Level 3 Autonomous System to Launch in Germany
Here 360: The road to hands-free: automated driving trends for 2022
Tech HQ: The state of the autonomous vehicle space heading into 2022