Managing the Transition to Self Driving Cars

Already some of the world’s top companies are investigating ways of making these changes occur seamlessly without major disruptions. How this new paradigm unfolds will be an engineering challenge equal to the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Panama Canal, the Suez Canal and the Transcontinental Railroad.

    Nov 01, 2016 11:25 PM  PT
Managing the Transition to Self Driving Cars
author: Anthony   

By Anthony C. LoBaido

How will the traffic systems of America, China, Europe and other regions of the world change as societies make the transition to self-driving automobiles? Researchers say such a massive paradigm shift will have to be implemented in stages. Already some of the world's top companies are investigating ways of making these changes occur seamlessly without major disruptions. How this new paradigm unfolds will be an engineering challenge equal to the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Panama Canal, the Suez Canal and the Transcontinental Railroad.

According to Forbes, there are some major strategies shaping the transition to self-driving cars.

Says Forbes, "The self-driving car sector is fast becoming a testing ground for new business strategies, a place where the motor industry meets technology companies. [These are] some of the likely ownership models that we'll see in the self-driving car scene."


The Forbes article took a look at some of the world's major companies in the following fashion:

First there's Apple. Says Forbes concerning this global tech giant; "Little is known about the company's plans. It is feeding rumors of its involvement in self-driving vehicles: It has been for quite some time signing up people with experience in the industry, has met with key players and seems that at some point even thought about buying Tesla. The company talks about the car as ‘the ultimate mobile device.' Apparently, some 200 people have been assigned to the initiative, and the aim is to reach 1,000, hired from companies like Tesla, Ford, or GM, as well as smaller outfits like A123 Systems, MIT Motorsports, Ogin, Autolive, Concept Systems, or General Dynamics. Most of these people are working at Cupertino, but other teams are in Germany and in Austria (to work with Canadian giant Magna, which has been dubbed by some as the Foxconn of the automobile). Given the people being hired, everything suggests this will be an electric car, possibly self-driving, and will be launched around 2020. But all the above should be seen in the context of Apple's strategy of fueling rumors."

None other than the New York Times says Apple is rethinking its self-driving strategy.

Second is Daimler. Says Forbes; "The German company is considered a pioneer in the field, and has made the greatest progress, with a lot of information on its website. Most work seems to have gone into its Mercedes Benz brand, which has already produced car and truck prototypes. It unveiled its first self-driving truck in November. Tests on cars seem to be focused on its E Class, and everything suggests the company, which in January said it was surprised at the progress being made by Apple and Google, is now ready to incorporate self-driving technology into its vehicles at a commercial scale, and is simply waiting for the legal framework required to allow them on the roads to be completed."

Third is Fiat-Chrysler. "The world's seventh-largest car-maker seems in no hurry to get into self-driving vehicles. On March 5, 2015, its CEO, Sergio Marchionne, said his company had no immediate plans to offer self-driving vehicles, due largely to development costs. But in April of this year it signed a deal with Google to work together on self-driving vehicles, with Marchionne saying that he was impressed by the speed the technology required was developing, again signaling 2020 as the year we would see self-driving cars on our roads. Google has distanced itself from the deal, painting it as a limited initiative aimed at producing a hundred units of the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid van. The Italian company has been described as "the perfect partner for Google," given its limited ambitions in the area."

Fourth is Ford. "The world's fifth-largest vehicle maker is a leader in self-driving vehicles, albeit a recent convert. The company has embraced Google's radical ideas, and has begun to focus on getting its self-driving vehicles on the road by 2020, and will continue to work in developing functions one by one, although its vehicles will also come with a manual driving option. Its efforts are focused on the Ford Fusion Hybridthough a subsidiary called Ford Smart Mobility, recently tripling the size of its test fleet and making it the largest in the automobile industry. It has made significant progress with LiDAR technology, as well as announcing successful self-driving tests in total darkness. It was the first company to begin tests at Michigan University's Mcity, and is currently carrying out full road tests in California, Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania, this last one in association with Uber.*

Fifth is Google: "The name most people associate with self-driving cars isn't a car manufacturer, but a technology company. It was the first to begin road tests under normal conditions back in 2012, tests it carried out in secret that allowed it to accumulate hundreds of miles of experience using a Toyota Prius, an Audi TT, a Lexus RX450H, and finally its well-known Koalas. The company's approach through its Xsubsidiary, is radical: vehicles with no steering wheel or pedals, eliminating any possibility of human involvement. Its vehicles have shown an impressive ability to replicate human driving, even learning when to honk to warn other drivers. Everything suggests that the company will follow its usual strategy and not build its own vehicles, instead providing Google Chauffeur or whatever technology a manufacturer needs, as with Android and smartphone makers. The company says it could be ready to reduce the cost of supplying all the technology to convert a vehicle to self-driving for between $10,000 to $15,000, a move that would undoubtedly encourage widespread uptake."

Sixth is Microsoft: "The company has just outlined its strategy via comments by Peggy Johnson, VP of business development, saying it has no plans to develop a car, but wants to provide software and operating systems. Microsoft has many years' experience working with car-makers and is in talks with up to eight companies in the industry about its platform for its connected car, and has reached agreement with Volvo over a self-driving vehicle."

Seventh is Tesla: "The newest car-maker on the block is now the leader in autonomous vehicles. It began offering limited self-driving options in October 2015 as a software upgrade for vehicles it already sold. Its Model 3 could be the first fully self-driving car on the mass market, and already has a huge advantage over rivals."

Eighth is Toyota: "The Japanese company is the world's number one car-maker was tepid about self-driving cars for a long time. But it now owns more than 1,400 patents related to the topic, more than double than any of its rivals, and seems to be pursuing a guardian angel approach based on the vehicle taking control of itself when the driver makes the wrong decision or an accident is imminent."

Ninth is Uber: "The company reached agreement with Carnegie Mellon in February 2015 to develop a self-driving car, an alliance that has been through turbulent times after it signed up a large number of research staff from the university. After making good via a large additional donation, progress is being made, as can be seen from the appearance of its vehicles on the roads of Pittsburgh, based on a Ford Fusion platform. There has been speculation that the company's estimated worth has been calculated on the basis of its transition in the near future from simply providing a platform service to becoming the owner of a huge global fleet of self-driving vehicles. There have been rumors that it was about to buy huge numbers of self-driving cars from Mercedes or Tesla, but that have since been denied."

Tenth is Volkswagen: "The world's third-largest car-maker says it will be building self-driving vehicles faster than its rivals, saying that they will be road-ready by 2020, and on the roads en masse by 2025. Its stated goal is to "save a million lives a year" and says it is building three Group Future Centers in Germany, California, and China. That said, reality doesn't seem to be accompanying these stated aims, which, along with its recent push to develop electric cars, could simply be a way to distract attention from the emissions scandal. So far it has carried out tests on an Audi A7 platform at the beginning of 2015, but the company's own estimate of moving from prototype to production line between three and five years would probably see it lag behind competitors."

Finally there's Volvo: "The Swedish car-maker is the most advanced in developing self-driving cars, and has described competitors such as Tesla as a "wannabe." The company's strategy, which has been widely advertised on its website, points to putting a fully self-driving vehicle on the roads by 2017, and what's more, with the company taking full responsibility for in the event of any accidents."

Concludes Forbes, "The majority see 2020 as the ‘moment of truth.' There are still many details to be addressed, and the first phase of popularization will doubtless yield any number of problems, with the pendulum swinging back and forth in favor or against self-driving cars. But the simple truth is that self-driving cars are here: Competition is doing what competition always does, and strategies are emerging. Big players, real strategies and imminent plans — we have moved way beyond science fiction."