- MobileyeCEO Amnon Shashua published an op-ed on Tuesday in which he laid out the Intel-owned company’s strategy for self-driving vehicles.
- Shashua thinks robo-taxis are the most likely business application for autonomy as it’s currently developing.
- He also maintains that government regulation has been overlooked as self-driving businesses have matured.
A shakeout is commencing in the youthful world of self-driving cars.
It’s a brave, new world barely a decade old. Alphabet’s Waymo, formerly known as the Google Car project, is widely thought to have been attacking the problem the longest, starting in 2009 and beginning commercialization in 2018.
But Israel-based Mobileye has been at it for a decade longer. Founded in 1999, the company was acquired by Intel in 2017 for just over $US15 billion.
Since then, founder and CEO Amnon Shashua has been expressing a rather broad view of mobility and autonomy. In an op-ed published at Intel’s corporate website Tuesday, he summarized his perspective – and provided a major look ahead to how Mobileye and Intel intend to move forward.
At the moment, as Shashua points out, self-driving is about three distinct systems: driver-assist features; autonomous robo-taxis; and self-driving technology in individual cars. For Waymo, General Motors-owned Cruise, and increasingly, Tesla, the robo-taxi approach is shaping up to be the quickest means to bring autonomy to market. To this push, Shashua has added the need for companies to assess the regulatory framework, as governments move to oversee what has been essentially a large-scale science project.
“The auto industry is gradually realising that autonomy must wait until regulation and technology reach equilibrium, even for limited use cases such as highway driving or level 3 complex hand-over scenarios in which the driver and car exchange control,” Shashua writes.
“The best place to get this done is through the robotaxi phase.”
The regulatory aspect
According to Shashua, “It will be easier to develop laws and regulations governing a fleet of robo-taxis than for privately owned vehicles.” The key difference would entail licensing fleet operators, of which there will be few, versus adding self-driving evaluations to the existing licensing of millions of human drivers.
As a result, while Shashua and Mobileye don’t contemplate abandoning the broad view, in terms of the shakeout, the company is “all-in on the global robotaxi opportunity,” he writes.
“Our hands-on approach with as much of the process as possible enables us to maximise learnings from the robotaxi phase and be ready with the right solutions for automakers when the time is right for … production passenger cars.”
The major players in autonomous mobility are all hedging their bets, to a degree. Waymo has developed what it calls a “driver” – a suite of hardware and software that can be applied to everything from electric luxury cars to heavy trucks. Cruise aims to roll out a ride-hailing service in a clearly defined urban area, such as San Francisco, to maximise fleet usage and concentrate the business where the most customers are.
Mobileye has sought ancillary applications (including detailed maps) and to codify its regulatory expertise, while not rising so far above the fray that it misses out on good commercial opportunities. This is the thinking-person’s strategy, but then again Shashua has spent more time thinking about the challenge of autonomy than just about anyone else.
And what’s now clear to him is that while a lot of people might have dreamed of owning a car that can drive itself, they probably won’t. The near-future belongs to the autonomous fleets.
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