Who will pioneer Autonomous Mobility on Demand (AMoD) and how?
The race towards autonomous vehicles (AV) is intense. Billions are being spent in developing sensors, computing hardware, software and maps as well as in testing in various types of driving situations. Even though the roadmap to Level 5 remains unclear, intermediate levels of autonomy are visible. Level 2 is a reality. The most advanced carmakers have announced the release of Level 3 cars around 2019, though some will skip this level. The first Level 4 cars announced for 2021 will be for specific applications. However, autonomous shuttles are likely to offer the first AV use cases, contributing to public acceptance for autonomous driving in general.
Autonomous shuttles are already becoming part of the landscape in a number of test cities around the world. They are being evaluated by public and private operators and will be the first autonomous vehicles a large number of people will become accustomed to. Costing currently $200-250k for a capacity of 12-15 people and a top speed of 25 mph, they are tested on pre-determined routes or as a ride-hailing service in geo-fenced areas. They currently operate on virtual tracks, which makes them ideally suited for confined environments, such as city centers, university and corporate campuses, industrial sites, residential communities or amusement parks.
These electric shuttles are being (or have been) tested in cities like Paris, Las Vegas, Lausanne, Taiwan, Singapore, Perth or Dubai. Disney is evaluating the solutions for possible deployment at its Orlando park. So far, the focus has been placed on moving people by providing last mile mobility, shuttling passengers between locations or simply as a way to eliminate drivers’ costs. Notwithstanding, goods could provide a new set of opportunities, for example to move merchandise on industrial sites or make deliveries in dense city centers.
Key shuttle makers Navya and EasyMile, and to a lesser extent Local Motors, have already gained significant experience in various settings with their respective products Arma, EZ10 and Olli. EasyMile has reportedly logged 1.5m passengers. Newer players such as Auro Robotics, which focus on university campuses, and SoftBank’s SB Drive are joining the race; the latter is targeting to put autonomous shuttles on public roads by 2020. And even more players are joining in.
Tier 1 automotive mega-supplier ZF announced last month they were partnering with mini-EV maker e.Go to enter the market. Their JV, e.GO Moove, will develop and manufacture e.GO Mover, a 15 passenger shuttle with Level 4 driving autonomy using Nvidia’s AV hardware. Similarly, Daimler and Bosch have partnered with the goal of producing a self-driving taxi by 2020. Furthermore, Volkswagen’s Moia mobility arm plans to test autonomous prototypes in their fleet by 2019 and to deploy the service in 2021, probably with a vehicle inspired from the I.D. Buzz concept car.
It is interesting to note who some of these shuttle startups are raising funds from and why. Alstom (rail equipment and services) has invested in EasyMile to expand its product offering. In parallel, Keolis (transit operator) has injected cash into Navya to integrate autonomous shuttles in their fleet and Valeo (Tier 1 auto supplier) did the same to develop its technology offering.
Autonomous shuttles will operate in fleets to provide Automated Mobility on Demand (AMoD). These fleets must be managed and operationally optimized. That is exactly what another set of players have emerged to do. Among the most experienced in this field is BestMile, which operates both the back-end (dispatching, routing, energy management, operator interface) and the front end (user interface), partnering with the key shuttle makers. Renovo leverages its expertise in self-driving software and data analytics to scale AMoD fleet operations. RideCell, an other player, builds on its car-sharing experience to offer AV fleet operations. There is also a big fish in the game: Tier 1 auto supplier Delphi tested AMoD in Singapore in 2016 with local transit operator LTA. They just partnered with transit operator Transdev to evaluate AMoD in France as a last mile mobility solution, from a train station to a university campus.
The mature technology and various proofs of concept combined with significant interest on the part of public and private operators will make autonomous shuttles the first widely visible AVs. Cities may even race to put them on their streets as a way to showcase their sense of technological modernity.
Also published on LinkedIn (https://goo.gl/1WldNU)