German auto heavyweights Daimler and Bosch have announced they are to partner to develop the technology for a self-driving taxi service. The service is planned for 2020 as the race to be the first to launch a commercial autonomous programme gathers pace.
The ambitious collaboration will first aim for Level 4 autonomy, which requires no human intervention in limited situations, and then completely autonomous Level 5. The vehicles will operate in urban areas – the most difficult areas for driverless cars to handle.
The bold plan for the service will see customers able to call for self-driving taxis from their smartphones within a predetermined area. The scheme will begin in at least four locations, including California’s Silicon Valley and Daimler’s hometown of Stuttgart. The programme will have a large workforce of a few hundred people. It will use the self-driving supercomputer technology developed through Bosch’s partnership with chip and AI specialist Nvidia. Daimler – long regarded as a tech pioneer – has also announced it will supply its self-driving cars to ride-hailing leader Uber.
While Daimler and Bosch have set a 2020 deadline for the software, they both say they aim to have the technology ready ‘as early as possible’ – suggesting they could even bring the deadline further forward. This contrasts will Ford – recently considered the autonomous leader – which is aiming for a Level 4 ride-sharing service to launch in 2021. It has bought AI company Argo for $1 billion (€938 million) to facilitate this. Ford’s head of research believes that public ownership of autonomous vehicles (rather than ride-hailing schemes) is still a considerable way away – not until between 2026 and 2031.
Daimler – the world’s largest maker of commercial vehicles – is well-placed for the upcoming revolution in urban driving. It also owns the Smart city car brand, and its fleet of these so-called ‘robo-taxis’ will allow it to much more easily monetise the technology once it becomes mainstream. Daimler has spent billions developing its autonomous technology largely in-house. It has warned its profits will only rise slightly in 2017, and its research and development continues to surge following a hefty 15% further rise last year to €7.6 billion. It also owns Car2Go, the ride-sharing company, which has 2.2 million global members, and cab-hailing app Mytaxi, now also the main London black cab app after merging with the UK’s Hailo last year. Daimler also co-owns mapping leader HERE, key to autonomous driving, alongside BMW and VW’s Audi. The Daimler-Bosch project will also use this technology.
Photograph courtesy of Daimler