German auto giant Daimler AG and auto supplier Bosch have announced a partnership to deploy self-driving taxis in California’s Silicon Valley region next year, as part of an urban test programme.
Daimler will supply vehicles, test facilities, and an app-based mobility service, while Bosch will provide sensors, actuators, and in the longer term, control units.
The test cars will feature safety drivers and traditional steering wheels, and include technology from artificial intelligence hardware and GPU specialist, Nvidia.
Initially, the service will be built entirely on the Nvidia DRIVE Pegasus platform. However, Bosch is reportedly developing its own electronic control unit, which will retain Nvidia’s chips and software.
Valley of the bots
Negotiations with an unnamed municipality in Silicon Valley are underway, said the companies in a conference call this week. Customers will be offered free rides on select routes within the test city, rather than a full on-demand taxi service.
San Francisco is the most likely candidate, where a variety of autonomous car programmes are already being tested. However, other companies – such as Apple – are looking at transporting employees around their own campuses in California’s sprawling high-tech zone.
Other sites could follow once tests in the initial partner city are underway, said the companies.
Neither Daimler – one of Europe’s premium car marques, whose brands include Mercedes-Benz, Mercedes-AMG, and Smart – nor Bosch, the world’s biggest automotive supplier, has supplied further details of the shuttle service.
Bosch and Daimler first joined forces in a self-driving alliance in April 2017, with teams from both companies working together in Germany and Silicon Valley.
Part of the project’s aim now is to develop technologies to test how autonomous cars can be integrated into a wider on-demand transport system for cities.
It’s a hyper-competitive space. For example, Uber repositioned itself earlier this year as an Amazon-style service for connecting all forms of frictionless transport, addressing one of the major challenges facing the West over the next 25 years: how to help large, ageing populations live in large, ageing cities.
Asia and Africa face a different challenge: booming youth populations in young cities. In either case, creating a sustainable, integrated, on-demand transport system will be essential. For more on these issues, see our recent report on robotics and autonomous systems in smart cities:-
Meanwhile, Waymo is due to launch a fully autonomous car-hailing service in Phoenix, Arizona, this year, following a public trial.
Plus: Daimler goes to China
In related news, Daimler this week became the first international automaker to receive a road test licence for Level 4 autonomous vehicles testing in Beijing. Mercedes-Benz test vehicles will begin trials on public roads in the Chinese capital.
To qualify for the licence, Mercedes-Benz vehicles, equipped with additional systems from China’s Baidu, undertook extensive testing at the National Pilot Zone for Intelligent Mobility.
Daimler has been engaged in research on safer automated driving in China via Baidu’s open source Apollo platform.
Internet of Business says
Meanwhile, Daimler’s key rival BMW is taking a different approach to its future in China, which could signal major changes on the world stage in the years ahead.
As one of the companies most exposed to the trade war between the US and China, BMW is now poised to take majority control of its Brilliance China Automotive Holdings venture.
The move would make BMW the first foreign carmaker to own a majority stake in a Chinese joint venture – in other words, the first beneficiary of the trade reforms that Beijing is unleashing in the world’s biggest car market, as it opens up to more partnership opportunities.
This could be highly significant as the trade war escalates, with the US threatening a further $200 billion in tariffs on Chinese-made products and components this week.
For China, the most promising long-term route out of the conflict is not to go head to head with the US in a war of attrition – though that seems inevitable in the short to medium term – but to use the battle to forge new partnerships and alliances with a Europe that finds itself increasingly alienated and ostracised by an angry US.
In other words, the transport sector could be the Trojan horse that opens up China to Europe and the rest of the world. Put another way, the current US policy of trade war with China, undermining of international agreements, and criticism of its closest allies could push the EU and others much closer to Beijing.