Friday, December 21, 2018
From Uber’s first fatality accident in March to Waymo’s substantially scaled-back commercial self-driving service launch earlier this month, 2018 offered a clear reminder that “autonomy” remains a goal not easily reached, whether by emerging tech startups, leading automotive OEMs/Tier Ones, or even well-funded self-driving pioneers like Waymo.
Looking back on the year, Egil Juliussen, director of research for Infotainment and Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) for Automotive at IHS Markit, told us: “The realization that autonomous vehicles are really hard-sunk-in — especially proving that the software is safe.”
EE Times asked several leading thinkers on autonomous vehicle (AV) technology to list key events in 2018 that have changed the trajectory of the industry’s outlook.
Among a range of insights, one agreement has emerged: In 2018, the tech/automotive industries started to walk back their own expectations for AVs. In parallel, many analysts see 2019 as the rebound year for ADAS.
For example, Phil Magney, VSI Labs founder, described 2018 as “marked by a cooling down of expectations for the AV industry. The rollout of AV technologies is a lot harder than people realized compared to the lofty targets first established.” He added, “The automotive industry has a renewed interest in ADAS. Call it ADAS 2.0 if you like.”
What a difference, though. A year ago, robo-car dreams got a boost from Waymo’s plan to launch a fleet of AV taxis. Here was a sign of the industry’s growing confidence in its software and hardware advancements.
For most analysts, Uber’s fatality in March topped the 2018 list of events that put a damper on the autonomous vehicle. As Magney noted, “The Uber accident was a setback that fueled much criticism about the technologies, safety protocols, and development practices.”
The fact that “Uber actually killed someone shows the trajectory of autonomous driving’s progress,” said Colin Barnden, Semicast Research lead analyst. Going from human error to machine error, the autonomous vehicle industry showed that “there will still be fatalities,” he noted.
Phil Koopman, safety expert and professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said, “The Uber fatal mishap in Tempe, Arizona, dramatically illustrated the need to ensure that both the autonomy and the testing campaigns are safe on public roads. It derailed Uber’s on-road testing program for 10 months and counting.”
Most important was that “public trust in self-driving car technology took a huge hit,” Koopman told EE Times. “Any unsafe road testing is an existential threat to individual companies and, potentially, the entire industry. Right now, the public really has no way of knowing who is doing safe road testing and who isn’t.”
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