PwC predicts collapse of car sales because of self-driving cars

PricewaterhouseCoopers – the world’s largest professional services firm – has just released an analyst note about the effects of autonomous cars on the auto industry. While the report is extremely positive about the technology (predicting a reduction of traffic accidents by a factor of 10) it cautions that the fleet of vehicles in the  United States may collapse from 245 million to just 2.4 million. This is a reduction by the factor of 100 and significantly higher than the factor of 10 provided in a recent study by  the Earth Institute which we highly recommend.

It is encouraging that the major consulting firms and think tanks are beginning to take note of the tectonic shifts which will occur in the auto industry within a few years – and which we have emphasized for the last 3 years. The study contrasts with a recent report by KPMG on “Self-driving cars – the next revolution“. While KPMG’s analysts briefly mentioned on-demand mobility services (autonomous car sharing), they failed to see its disruptive potential.

It is time for the auto industry to seriously plan for this future. Contact us – we can help!



Audi first automaker to receive Nevada test license for autonomous cars

After Continental reported their test license in Nevada in December, Audi USA now claims to have become the second recipient of a license for testing autonomous cars – before Continental and after Google. Audi’s driverless Audi TTS race car can now roll through Nevada. The car has been developed by Stanford University and the Volkswagen Electronics Research lab in Silicon valley. In their statement Audi introduces the somewhat misleading term ‘piloted’ driving and ‘piloted’ parking for their autonomous driving. Apparently they still have a hard time imaging a future without driver or pilot…

Source: Audi 1,2

Update 09 Jan: German newspaper FAZ reports from CES hat Audi was optimistic about the introduction of driverless cars and expects to see autonomous vehicles on the market before the end of this decade.




Continental to make fully automated driving a reality by 2025

Over the past weeks the board of automotive supplier Continental has reoriented its long-term strategy. Acknowledging that automated driving will be a key element in the mobility of the future the board has outlined a path to fully automated driving and created an “Advanced driver assistance systems” business unit. Continental already has more than 1000 specialists working on automated driving technology.

By 2016 Continental plans to have driver assistance systems in production that can operate on freeways in stop&go situation (below 30 km/h). By 2020, they will make highly automated driving possible – i.e. autonomous operation on freeways up to 130 km/h. This should fit well with the time frame outlined earlier last year by the Japanese government for enabling autonomous driving on Japanese highways. Continental then plans to provide more fully automated driverless technology by 2025, but still envisions automated driving as being restricted to the freeway. It is hard to see the difference between their highly and ‘fully’ automated driving in their scenarios.

Source: Continental

Two days after this announcement, Continental became the first automotive supplier to receive a test license for autonomous driving in Nevada. Their test car has already driven more than 24000 km apparently on highways and in stop-and-go traffic. The car is equipped with current, production-grade sensors and is able to operate without the costly LIDAR system used by most other autonomous vehicles.

This new strategic focus by Continental is an indication of the fundamental shift which is currently gaining momentum in the automotive industry. Within the next two to three years we expect to see the auto makers acknowledge and come to understand the full implications of this trend.

Sources: Continental 1,2


Driverless campus shuttle being tested at Swiss university

Students at the Ecole Polytechnique of Lausanne may soon drive across campus in up to 6 driverless shuttles developed by French company Induct. The Navia shuttles, of which the first was delivered to the university in December for testing, operate autonomously with a speed of up to 20km per hour. They are fully electric, are equipped with GPS, laser sensors, 3D cameras and can transport up to 8 persons. The shuttles are ideal for last mile transportation. As the laws in most European countries still require all cars to be operated by a driver they currently only can be operated in private areas – such as airports, business and amusement parks, shopping malls, university campuses etc. By removing the first/last mile hurdle, Induct’s shuttle technology has great potential for making public transport more appealing and effective. Compared to individual autonomous vehicles, they are also much easier to justify economically because the high costs of current autonomous technology (especially 3D sensors) are less of an issues for multi-passenger vehicles which clock so many more operating hours than private cars.

Source and copyright:

Induct is not the only company focusing on autonomous shuttles. Google operates (or has operated?) a fleet of autonomous golf carts on their campus. Robosoft, another French company also offers 2 types of such shuttles, which have been developed in the European CityMobil research project).

The technology certainly has great potential to become a starting point for more efficient and environment-friendly autonomous people movers and buses. Hopefully the legal framework will be adapted soon to allow the operation of such shuttles in public. This applies especially to European countries which have been heavily financing research in such autonomous transportation systems for almost a decade (and are continuing to do so e.g. in the new CityMobil2 project).

Radar on a chip reduces sensor costs

European research project SUCCESS has developed a low-cost radar system which could help reduce the costs for some of the autonomous car sensors. The tiny chip contains all required high frequency processing components and even includes the antenna! The radar operates in the 122GHz band and has a wavelength of 2.5mm. It can measure distances and velocity of moving objects within a range of up to 5 meters with high precision. The sensor was developed by a consortium of European companies including Bosch, Silicon Radar and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. At an estimated price of less than 2 U$ the chip has a wide field of potential applications and may be especially attractive for smaller autonomous devices where it could replace currently used ultrasound sensors.

Autonomous vehicles could slash road infrastructure costs

Driverless cars are not only getting better at racing, they also drive more efficiently. They react faster and therefore require shorter safety distances. This increases the number of cars that can drive on a given road. A group of researchers from Columbia University have calculated the potential capacity increases and have shown that autonomous cars could greatly increase highway capacity. If cars are able communicate with each other and negotiate their speed and safety distance, highway capacity could increase by up to a factor of 4!

This could translate into great savings for infrastructure expenditures. Annual spending for highway infrastructure alone in the United States amounts to approximately 150 billion U$! Great savings could also be realized in developing countries with fast-growing road networks.

The paper systematically models different cases of capacity utilization and calculates the distances required between cars at different speeds and for different mixes of cars being operated by human drivers, running in autonomous, sensor-based mode or driving in connected mode. They find that the optimum capacity increase occurs when all cars are linked electronically. Just a few cars that are able to communicate makes little difference however. This is different for sensor-based, non-communicating autonomous cars. Even a few such cars would increase road capacity.

The paper provides great insights for anyone interested in the economic implications of autonomous car technologies. Investments in this technology have great potential of reducing road infrastructure expenditures.

Source: Tientrakol, P.; Ho, Y.-.C and Maxemchuk, N.F.: Highway capacity benefits from using vehicle to vehicle communication and sensors for collision avoidance. Vehicular Technology  Conference, 2011. (url)

Volvo cars aims for leadership in the field of autonomous driving

At a seminar in Washington last week, Volvo executive Peter Mertens has vowed to move beyond concepts and bring driverless car technology to the customer. He emphasized that Volvo cars “aims to gain leadership in the field of autonomous driving”. He also lamented the current trend to regulate this technology on the state-level in the US and emphasized the need for a comprehensive legal framework.

Volvo cars, which is owned by the Chinese Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, has a long history of improving car safety and has participated in the EU SARTRE road train project which was completed this year.

In the wake of Nissan’s announcements last month concerning drive-by wire technology in some of their upcoming models and their (limited) self-driving Nissan ‘Leaf’ prototype the statement by Volvo cars may be another sign that the tide is turning and competition in the driverless space may start to heat up.

It will be interesting to see when the larger car manufacturers begin to communicate their autonomous vehicle strategy.

Source: Volvo Cars


Chinese company to commercialize driverless cars?

CarNewsChina reported yesterday based on article in China Daily that a cooperation between China’s First Auto Works ( a commercial car manufacturer) and the National University of Defense may lead to the introduction of commercial driverless cars in China. There is no more specific information about this effort, but China has been accelerating its research in this area.

It would make much sense for this country to invest early into driverless technology. Driverless cars have many benefits: besides fewer accidents and lower mobility costs because of car-sharing, they also use road networks more efficiently and thus could greatly reduce the enormous investment needs for building up the traffic infrastructure in this large country.