This isn’t huge news, and I think people who follow the transportation industry and autonomous driving technology closely would probably know this already, but it’s worth noting these comments from Alphabet subsidiary Waymo’s CEO on the timing of various applications of self-driving technology. He said at an event today that he sees trucking and ride sharing being the first applications for autonomy, and that either one might be the first to be commercialized at this point. That’s very much in keeping with the conclusions I’ve reached and what I’ve heard from various other industry players – the fact that trucking largely involves long distances and highways dramatically simplifies the driving task there and enables platooning of vehicles, all of which means it has a much clearer near-term return on the investment in autonomous technology than most other applications. Ride sharing, meanwhile, typically involves cars which have very high utilization rates versus private vehicles, and is often limited to a well defined geographic area, making the training and gathering of mapping data a more manageable task too. Of course, we still don’t know quite what the business model for either of these applications will be – whether a licensing of the technology, a direct participation or revenue sharing agreement for the ride sharing market, or something else.
Uber Launches Uber Freight for Truckers (May 18, 2017)
Elon Musk Tweets About Future Tesla Products Including Semi and Pickup Trucks and a Convertible (Apr 13, 2017)
Nvidia Partners with Bosch and Truck Maker Around Autonomy (Mar 16, 2017)
Here are two partnership announcements from Nvidia, the first a deal with automotive component maker Bosch to incorporate Nvidia chips in self-driving solutions, and the second with truck maker PACCAR for self-driving truck technology. Nvidia continues to be one of the biggest names in autonomous driving, and certainly one of the most successful chip vendors (hence Intel’s Mobileye deal). These deals come on top of lots of existing ones, but trucks are a particularly interesting area – it feels like that’s a segment of the market that could actually see real-world adoption of autonomy much sooner than cars.