Around the corner or still on the horizon?

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are rarely out of the media spotlight. The Next Big Thing, we often hear, will open up 'endless possibilities' as we travel from A to B. Yet with so much drama (and hype) around the vision of self-driving cars, it's sometimes difficult to separate fantasy from reality or even gain a real sense how soon we could share one. Continuing just-auto/QUBE's series of research snapshots, this one covers recent auto industry activity in the AV arena, specifically supplier innovations, partnerships and acquisitions.


The terms 'autonomous' and 'driverless' are often used to mean the same thing. While 'driverless' means a vehicle that has no driver and, therefore, needs to be able to do everything by itself – without a steering wheel - hence fully automated. That suggests a level of automation hence the SAE's levels of automation. These levels are also referred to as key stages towards automated driving, namely feet-off, hands-off, eyes off, and brain off.

Regardless of claims by automakers, it will be many years before truly driverless cars become a reality and they can swivel their chair to face the back seat passengers. Although much of the technology needed to operate self-driving cars has been developed, the laws that allow such vehicles on our roads are some way behind. While some automakers are predicting fully autonomous cars by 2030, there is a still a lot of red tape to wade through before then.

Meanwhile, AV road testing continues apace. Last year, Daimler received the authorities' approval for highly automated driving (SAE Level 4) test area road use in Beijing following extensive closed-course testing. It says it is the first international automaker to receive a road test license for L4 in the city. ZF says it is looking to develop platooning concepts as it moves to increase its operations with autonomous and electric driving for vans and commercial vehicles. And local media reports in Romania say that Bosch is in talks with local authorities to get permission for testing autonomous cars on the streets of the Romanian city of Cluj-Napoca, near an engineering base it has set up.

Autonomous Driving


There's never been a more exciting time to be a designer in the automotive sector," Andreas Wlasak, Vice-President Industrial Design at Faurecia Interiors, told just-auto. "Major technology shifts like autonomous driving, connectivity and vehicle electrification, as well as social trends towards shared mobility, give us – finally – a real opportunity to truly revolutionise car interiors. It's a chance to rethink everything that contributes to the mobility experience, from the inside out.


Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Etiam varius gravida dapibus. Integer vitae dui vel eros tempor mattis. Vivamus eget aliquet urna. Aenean id leo nec nisi maximus faucibus non in leo. Cras maximus ante id suscipit blandit. Praesent consectetur posuere risus, eu porta sem cursus ac. Donec risus eros, vulputate ac sodales finibus, tincidunt ut felis. Vivamus pulvinar elementum sollicitudin.


ZF believes that the braking system is fundamental to the development of fully autonomous vehicles and will play a crucial role in both normal operation and safety-critical scenarios. Manfred Meyer, Senior Vice President global braking systems for ZF Active and Passive Safety Technology Division, told just-auto: "Highly autonomous braking systems will need to reliably provide traditional functionality in all environments without human intervention. This is driving new 'redundant' braking architecture to meet low FIT requirements. We are already working with our vehicle manufacturer partners to identify the best ways to accomplish this."


Although AVs are coming, steering wheels will be fitted as standard to new cars for a while yet. "The global race to Automated Driving (AD) that we are witnessing is also one of the key influencing factors in steering development today," Thilo Bitzer, Senior Vice President, Steering Engineering, ZF Active and Passive Safety Division, told just-auto. "This is because the steering system is the key actuator for both driver-assisted and automated vehicle lateral control. Specifically, AD is leading to steering product roadmaps for systems to support requirements of the various levels of automation (as defined by the SAE) and their associated Use Cases. … The fully autonomous vehicle will also, by definition, require some form of steer-by-wire system and in the steps towards full autonomy, we will see novel steering HMI concepts integrated into new forms of cockpit design as well as a proliferation of AD functions and features actuated by the steering system."

Hyundai Mobis has developed an electric power steering system which uses the redundant control mode that takes advantage of two electronic circuits during autonomous driving to maintain normal steering capabilities under any circumstances.


The lack of a driver in an AV re-writes the rules on many aspects of vehicle design, including the powertrain and driveline. "The impact of AVs on transmission and driveline design is still a new question for the automotive industry; most companies are still concentrating on the AI aspects of making AVs work and haven't really got to grips with it yet at this level," Lee Sykes of powertrain engineering consultancy, Drive System Design, told just-auto. He believes that drawing up a specification for an AV means addressing the different requirements of the various levels of autonomy, understanding the transitions from level 1 to 2, 3, 4 and 5 and their impact on the functional priorities in order to apply appropriate solutions. He added: "The first question for OEMs is whether to focus on level 5 or the interim steps which lead there. This will affect how much vehicle architecture will be carried over and how much will be purpose designed. A clearer picture emerges when designing for fully autonomous vehicles where the systems can be fully optimised, without the constraint of accommodating legacy systems."

Technology partnering

A number of suppliers have formed technology partnerships to develop some level of automated driving solutions. The following sets out just a handful that have been announced in the last few months as the auto industry sprints to offer AVs.

Renovo, a mobility software technology business, and HERE Technologies, a developer of mapping and location services, are partnering to deploy open interfaces for automated vehicles. The pair believe an open-standards approach will fuel greater interoperability and data exchange across the transportation ecosystem, boosting safety, efficiency and comfort for passengers.

Hertz and its fleet management subsidiary, Donlen, are to partner with Aptiv to operate and manage the supplier's Las Vegas AVs.

PSA and Inria are creating OpenLab dedicated to artificial intelligence with areas studied including autonomous and intelligent vehicles, mobility services, manufacturing, design development tools, design and digital marketing, as well as quality and finance.

ZF is partnering with Mobileye, an Intel company, to launch the S-Cam4 family of advanced cameras this year.

Continental recently let it be known that it is expanding its international network for artificial intelligence (AI) in Silicon Valley. "We are joining forces with the world's leading AI researchers," said Demetrio Aiello, head of Continental's Corporate Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Lab. "Building on the momentum of our strategic partnerships with the University of Oxford, DFKI (German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence) and other AI thought leaders, we have signed a five-year agreement to be members of the UC Berkeley DeepDrive (BDD) centre." The research partnership focuses on optimising the speed of neural networks, as well as protecting AI systems in safety-critical applications.

And Schaeffler Group has formed a joint venture with Paravan to develop drive-by-wire technology. The JV – to be known as Schaeffler Paravan Technologie - is the further development of Paravan's Space Drive drive-by-wire technology and the development and sale of mobility systems. Steer-by-wire is a key enabling technology for self-driving cars. Even in semi-autonomous passenger cars with steering wheels, the space saved by eliminating the steering column opens up new possibilities for vehicle and cab interior design.

ST Engineering and rideOS, a San Francisco-based transportation technology platform, are to partner on a pilot project to accelerate the deployment of integrated autonomous transport systems in Singapore.

For its part, Magna is partnering with May Mobility, an Ann Arbor, Michigan startup, building self-driving shuttles, to retrofit and scale up May Mobility's fleet of self-driving shuttles set to enter the US market.

Apollo, Baidu's open autonomous driving platform launched in April 2017, provides a solution that supports major features and functions of an automated vehicle. In December 2017, Daimler became a member of the Apollo Committee, subsequently broadening its collaboration to explore new fields in-vehicle connectivity services. Other recently signed-up members of Apollo include BMW, Analog Devices, Mobileye and Valeo.

Also, Suning Logistics, a subsidiary of Suning Holdings group, has signed a strategic partnership with Baidu Apollo to accelerate the commercial application of self-driving technology which - it is claimed - could see the mass production of unmanned delivery vehicles as early as 2020.

Volkswagen Group of America (VWGoA), Aquantia, Bosch, Continental and NVIDIA recently formed the Networking for Autonomous Vehicles (NAV) Alliance, "to drive the ecosystem development required for the next generation of multi-gig ethernet networking in vehicles".

Acquisitions on the rise

Luxoft has acquired a German-based software specialist in autonomous drive and connected mobility services, Objective Software. This is the third M&A for Luxoft's automotive business, following the acquisitions of digital cockpit specialists Pelagicore and autonomous drive specialists Symtavision in 2016.

Magneti Marelli has acquired SmartMeUp, a French start-up operating in the field of "perception software" aimed at autonomous driving, smart cities and safety technology applications. SmartMeUp also focuses on developing software for Driver Monitoring that is included in the NCAP requirements roadmap, expected to be mandatory by 2020.

And Denso has taken a stake in Metawave Corp, a US startup company that develops millimetre-wave radar sensing technologies to detect vehicles and pedestrians. The supplier says it will use Metawave's technologies to accelerate the development of a smart automotive radar system for autonomous cars.

As such technology partnerships and acquisitions move up a gear in the race to safely offer fully autonomous cars, predictions as to when the first truly AV will be ready varies depending on who we talk to. Even if the more optimistic predictions come true, initial volumes will be small. Whether or not we believe the hype around AVs, we can be sure it will be a game changer.

Autonomous Driving