Autonomous vehicle: from failure to new beginning

Véhicule autonome : De l'échec au nouveau départ

Point clouds from lidar fitted to a Waymo vehicle. The Alphabet subsidiary (parent company of Google) has launched an open database to advance research in autonomous driving.

© Waymo

Promised for 2020, the autonomous car is not there. Cooled down by technical, legal and regulatory difficulties, the sector is reorganizing itself and moving forward more modestly. It can build on the enormous progress made.

Where are the self-driving cars? They were to proliferate on our roads from 2019 and especially this year according to the promises of Tesla, Uber, General Motors, Ford, Volvo, BMW, Daimler, Toyota, Nissan… None are circulating today. Intoxicated by the power of artificial intelligence in a deep learning version, manufacturers, tech stars and start-ups have ended up clashing head-on with reality. Driving independently and safely in all circumstances remains a distant holy grail, particularly in urban areas with the multitude of users and possible behaviors. Negotiate a complex intersection, do not get stuck behind a moving truck or brake urgently as soon as a pedestrian approaches the edge of the sidewalk… The autonomous car cannot do this. As for the certification of machine learning algorithms, essential for the approval of vehicles, it remains a headache, as do the legal and ethical questions raised by the absence of a driver.

For now, it’s a cold shower. “We have recorded a decrease of 60 % of investment intentions of venture capital firms in autonomous vehicles in 2020 and 2021 ”, notes Guillaume Crunelle, specialist in the automotive sector at Deloitte. Start-ups were the first to stall. Californian Drive.ai was saved from bankruptcy by Apple which bought it in June 2019, Starsky Robotics, another Californian, went out of business in March, Australian Zoox was acquired by Amazon in June for $ 1 billion when it was worth double three years earlier. For their part, traditional builders have for the most part pushed back their promises by five to ten years, when they have not quite simply stopped making them. Driven by new legislation in Europe and China, they prefer to invest in the electrification of their fleets, which is supposed to guarantee them “a much faster return on investment”, analyzes Guillaume Crunelle.

More efficient sensors

However, it would be wrong to send the autonomous vehicle to the scrapyard. “This enthusiasm had the positive effect of mobilizing all the players concerned, judge Fawzi Nashashibi, director of the Robotics and intelligent transportation systems (Rits) project at Inria. It’s a whole ecosystem that has awakened.

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