A report from the Department of Motor Vehicles in California – a US state where a number of companies active in the autonomous vehicles are carrying out tests – has shown that Waymo and GM Cruise have stolen a march on their competitors, Apple and Uber.
According to an analysis carried out by UBS bank, the autonomous car market is set to represent between 1,300 and 2,800 billion dollars by 2030. This is a sector which includes automotive manufacturers, start-ups and tech giants, all of whom are ramping up road testing in the hope of being able to commercialise their projects.
Of the various companies involved, Waymo are beginning to steal a march on the rest, if figures released by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in California on 13 February and reported on French website Les Echos are anything to go by. Of the 48 firms to have carried out road testing in California last year, the Alphabet subsidiary not only has the greatest number of kilometres covered but also the lowest level of system breakdown, with its autonomous cars having covered 1.2 million miles (around 2 million kilometres) and driver intervention only required every 11,018 miles (compared with 5,595 the previous year).
Apple vehicles and Uber behind the competition
Apple vehicles on the other hand are lagging behind, with human intervention required every 1.15 miles on average. Uber’s performances are even more limited, requiring no fewer than three interventions every mile, although it should be noted that the driving service called a halt to its California testing in March 2018 following the fatal accident caused by one of its autonomous cars.
Among automotive manufacturers, strategies appear to be more prudent, with many of them preferring to enter into partnerships and leverage the competencies of specialists in the autonomy sector. This is illustrated by alliances between Honda and Cruise and also between Renault-Nissan and Waymo. Ford meanwhile are carrying out their tests outside of California, which has become a veritable autonomous vehicle laboratory.
Figures to be taken with a pinch of salt
According to Les Echos, this data should however be interpreted with caution. No standards have yet been set by the DMV, and the traffic conditions (weather, number of other cars on the roads, routes chosen etc…) differ between firms.
Mary Cummings, an autonomy expert at Duke University, believes that the previously-mentioned score of 11,000 miles of complete autonomy would be unattainable even "in carefully constructed environments with an extremely detailed route map and in the event of a minor level of uncertainty and without any adverse weather conditions, and in typical traffic etc… This metric can be rather misleading as we have no idea of what these conditions really are," she said in an interview for Futurism website.
Meanwhile Laurent Petizon, an associate with AlixPartners in France, added that the level of accidents with human drivers was at one every 500,000 miles, which is a score that autonomous vehicles are not likely to achieve before 2023 at the earliest according to his firm.
Cover photo credits: Waymo
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