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2020 Year in Review: Adapting to Autonomy

Christopher Robinson, Senior Analyst
March 2, 2021

Autonomous vehicles have arguably the greatest disruptive potential of any mobility technology, with the ability to transform how we move both people and things around the world. With more than $20 billion in funding to date, companies have worked aggressively to be the first to develop and deploy self-driving cars in a variety of applications, ranging from robotaxis to trucking and everything in between. Despite all this funding, consumers still cannot purchase self-driving vehicles, and many deployments today rely on special government permission to operate with heavy oversight.

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Like most aspects of mobility, the pandemic had an immediate and lasting impact on the autonomous vehicle space, with both positive and negative consequences. Autonomous vehicles were used in new ways, quickly adapted to disinfect public spaces or transport medical tests from testing sites to labs, which may sway public opinion and that of local officials as they take a closer look at how to regulate the technology. However, the financial pressure also forced some automakers to pause developing Level 4 vehicles and smaller companies to seek an early exit.

As we look back on 2020, we take a look back at some of the most important developments that occurred in the adapting to autonomy storyline.

Technology Development

  • Innoviz's cheaper lidar may make its way into Level 2 vehicles, one example of the cheaper lidar now coming to market; with lidar included, Level 3 could be enabled via software updates.

  • GM commits to 5G connectivity in all 2022 Chinese Cadillac models, in line with China's leadership in supporting the rollout of 5G and V2X infrastructure.

  • Honda announced that it will launch the world's first Level 3 vehicle in Japan in early 2021, beating out Audi, which never commercialized its proposed Level 3 system due to regulatory barriers in Europe.

  • Tesla debuted the beta version of "Full Self-Driving," a misnomer, as it is still only a Level 2 system, and its overall performance has the autonomous driving industry nervous that it is not yet mature enough.

  • Cavnue's 40-mile AV corridor aims to explore infrastructure support for autonomous vehicles, and while projects like these are in early stages, they could become the next step between Level 4 and Level 5 autonomy.

 

robotaxis

  • Intel acquired Moovit, a complement to its subsidiary Mobileye, boosting its value to provide not only a hardware solution but also software to support AV operation.

  • WeRide launched a robotaxi fleet in Guangzhou, with teleoperators leveraging a 5G connection to monitor the vehicles, in one of the first cases of driverless robotaxi operations.

  • Waymo opened driverless rides to the public – until this year, those were only available for users in its "early riders" program – an important step toward larger commercial deployments.

  • Ford launched its fourth-generation autonomous vehicle, a Ford Escape, notably with a larger battery than the nonautonomous vehicle it is based on, highlighting the high power demands of autonomous systems.

  • AutoX launched the world's first completely driverless robotaxi service with no backup controls – including teleoperators – with plans to expand to 10 cities in H1 2021.

strategy

  • UPS announced expansions of its use of autonomous vehicles with Waymo, as well as expansions of its drone program, as part of a sound last-mile strategy.

  • BMW and Daimler paused their joint venture focused on Level 4 autonomous vehicles, likely in large part due to COVID-related financial challenges rather than pessimism about autonomous vehicles.

  • Amazon acquired Zoox as part of its strategy to build up its own logistics network; although the exact details of how the companies will work together are unknown, the strategy is likely to intersect with its investment in electric vehicle startup Rivian.

  • Luminar, a lidar developer, was one of several companies that went public via the special purpose acquisition company, a now-popular financial tool for startups to go public and avoid a traditional IPO process.

  • Uber sold its autonomous vehicle group, Uber ATG, to competitor Aurora, following several challenging years, as the company never recovered from its pedestrian fatality and lawsuit with Waymo.


In addition, the Lux Mobility Team curated the following "Analysts' Choice" for further reading on the adapting to autonomy storyline.

  • Lux's market forecast of autonomous adoption is useful for understanding key drivers and the pace of autonomous vehicle adoption.

  • Robotaxis are a popular application to develop and test autonomous driving systems, and this insight highlights the key elements required to operate a network of robotaxis.

  • Regulations are a key factor influencing autonomous vehicle adoption, already limiting Level 3 deployments, while a lack of clarity may harm Level 4 deployments in the future.

  • While COVID-19 created financial challenges for large automakers and startups alike, there are indications that COVID-19 may have accelerated adoption timelines for autonomous vehicles.

  • The importance of CES to the automotive sector continues to grow, and this year, we highlighted several important products and announcements related to connected and autonomous vehicles.

This blog is part of the Lux Mobility Team's Year in Review series examining the highlights and key developments of the mobility sector in 2020. For an overview of the other storylines in the Future of Mobility program, keep an eye out for our upcoming blogs and subscribe to our newsletter.

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