When electric car giant Tesla recently introduced a beta of it latest full self-driving software then withdrew it, the abrupt reversal encapsulated the stop-start state of autonomous vehicle technology.
In a tweet on Oct. 23 about the withdrawal of the system, Tesla CEO and founder Elon Musk said it’s impossible at this point to test all configurations of a fully self-driving vehicle.
That dilemma is at the heart of the fitful progress on autonomous vehicle technology by major automakers such as Ford, General Motors and Hyundai, and tech giants including Apple, Google’s Waymo subsidiary and Amazon’s Zoox robotaxi subsidiary.
The industry must also overcome daunting challenges in ensuring safety.
While Tesla cars now have only limited autonomous capabilities, the company has made significant advancements, including putting cars on the road with limited self-driving features.
But some experts say Tesla’s chief limitations stem from a sensor suite that is not quite diverse enough. And different iterations of that problem also afflict other developers of autonomous vehicle technology.
Tesla relies on mainly cameras and software to perform all aspects of sensing the environment surrounding the car, leaving its level of autonomy at what is known in the industry as level 2, meaning the driver’s hands must always be on the wheel. Others in the industry that are developing level 3 or 4 technology (vehicles that don’t require limited help from the driver or don’t require a safety driver) are using a combination of cameras, software, lidar, radar and updateable HD maps.
“The advantage to adding these additional sensor modalities is that it provides redundancy across environmental conditions … and road types, and provide[s] an alternative method to distinguish certain roadway elements and actors,” said Matt Arcaro, an analyst at IDC.
Advances in autonomous vehicle technology
A prominent vendor in this area is Waymo. The Google subsidiary runs a self-driving taxi service in a section of Phoenix.
The vendor is also working on using the technology in other areas such as trucking, logistics and personal vehicles. Recently Waymo and GM’s Cruise division were the first autonomous vehicle technology vendors to obtain autonomous vehicle permits in California that would allow them to transport passengers.
Other promising projects involve traditional and new automotive manufacturers working on autonomous technology for robotaxis and personal vehicles.
For example, in 2019 Volkswagen said it would join Ford in investing in AI vendor …….