Partnering for big AV challenges
Just before we went to press, the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) called upon federal regulators to create a review process before allowing automated test vehicles to operate on public roads. This assessment was based upon the agency’s investigation into the probable cause of the fatal collision between an Uber vehicle and a pedestrian in March 2018 in Tempe, AZ.
The NTSB said that Uber Technologies Inc. division’s “inadequate safety culture” contributed to the nighttime incident. The pedestrian’s impairment at the time, coupled with crossing outside a crosswalk, contributed to the crash, as did the Arizona Department of Transportation’s insufficient oversight of automated vehicle testing, the NTSB found.
“Safety starts at the top,” said NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt. “The collision was the last link of a long chain of actions and decisions made by an organization that unfortunately did not make safety the top priority.”
The NTSB also noted that federal and state government agencies have failed to put in place requirements for verifying the safety of test vehicles used to develop self-driving cars. After the board released its findings, Consumer Reports called for substantial safety improvements to the testing and development of self-driving cars.
“This is a pivotal moment for road safety, and should be a wake-up call for companies testing and developing self-driving cars. Companies must put safety first,” said Jake Fisher, Senior Director of Auto Testing for Consumer Reports.
Clearly, the scale of the challenges in fielding safe, production-ready, automated driving systems are enormous. It is clear that industry stakeholders are realizing that they must join together to meet the challenge. This was made clear in our process for determining this issue’s 2020 AVT ACES award winners. The theme of collaboration is now stronger than ever as incumbent OEMs and suppliers, as well as tech companies and startups, recognize that not even the largest and most capable of companies can address all of the challenges of new mobility technology, engineering, and development.
Among the notable winners is Ford and Volkswagen’s announced expansion of their global alliance to include autonomous vehicles (AVs). A major component was VW joining Ford in investing in Argo AI, the Pittsburgh-based AV technology platform company. VW will invest $2.6 billion in Argo AI, with $1 billion in funding and the other $1.6 billion by “contributing” its Autonomous Intelligent Driving company. The transaction values Argo AI at more than $7 billion. The Argo AI system looks set to be a major player in the self-driving arena.
Another recognized collaboration was the more recently announced partnership between Aptiv and Hyundai Motor Group, which will form an autonomous driving joint venture for the design, development, and commercialization of SAE Level 4 and 5 autonomous technologies. It is expected to begin testing fully driverless systems in 2020 and have a production-ready autonomous driving platform available for robotaxi providers, fleet operators, and automotive manufacturers in 2022. The supplier and OEM will each have a 50% ownership stake in the JV valued at $4 billion.
These two partnerships illustrate the huge challenges for AV developers, but another 2020 AVT ACES award winner is aimed at ensuring that automated driving functions will demonstrably comply with regulatory requirements right from the outset. TÜV SÜD is looking to formulate self-driving validation standards to verify those claims. Last year it announced a cooperation with Nvidia and AVL to develop the AV certification process, the goal of which is to validate and establish simulation as a method and approval tool for future homologation. The effort would enable manufacturers and regulators to validate that self-driving technology will behave as intended. It would not only make transportation safer, sooner, but also enable greater transparency as well as confidence in and adoption of life-saving autonomous vehicle technology.