Company / division: Mercedes Benz
This is Uber’s second partnership with a carmaker around autonomous driving – it already has one with Volvo, under which Volvo supplies the base vehicle along with redundant power supply and other features which is then plugged into Uber’s autonomous driving “brain”. It looks like the Daimler/Mercedes relationship will be similar. Both Alphabet’s Waymo and Uber have now made clear statements to the effect that they don’t see value in trying to build cars, a topic on which Apple still seems to be somewhat uncertain. What’s less clear is whether Uber, like Waymo, sees a role for itself in designing the hardware to go into cars, such as LIDAR. These tie-ups between carmakers and ride sharing services make plenty of sense: if autonomous driving is going to have a role in the near term, it will likely be as part of ride sharing or ride hailing services, which have narrowly defined geographic areas in which they operate – that’s the same reason Ford’s aggressive 2021 goal is designed for a fleet scenario rather than retail sales. It’s also interesting to see a premium brand like Mercedes associated with Uber here – though limos were an important part of the early value proposition for Uber, the focus has since shifted well down market towards UberX and Uber Pool.
Though lots of the fuss about AI in cars relates to autonomous driving, the reality is that we’re many years from broad scale autonomous driving, and so what we’ll get in the meantime is lots of technology that assists human drivers rather than doing the driving itself. This Nvidia-Mercedes partnership is very much in this category, though we don’t know all the details yet, but we’ll see lots more of this kind of thing in the next few years, which in turn will help train AIs to take over the driving later on.