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  • - Autonomous driving is a big technological challenge.

  • Probably the biggest of our generation.

  • - [Narrator] This is a Tesla.

  • It comes with a feature known as autopilot.

  • And Elon Musk says in the future,

  • it'll have a feature called.

  • - Full self-driving.

  • - [Narrator] Several other cars being sold today

  • also come with assisted driving technology

  • which still requires someone behind the wheel.

  • But new vehicles that won't have anyone in the driver's seat

  • are getting closer to production.

  • Startups Waymo, Cruise, TuSimple, and Aurora,

  • are already testing driverless tech

  • on some public roads across America.

  • - It's gonna move quickly.

  • We'll start to see this move from prototypes

  • to actually scaling products (indistinct).

  • - We see us becoming fully driverless in 2024.

  • - [Narrator] As they invest billions in R&D

  • and sign multi-billion dollar deals,

  • their valuations have soared and TuSimple has gone public.

  • They're pitching a future where people won't even own cars.

  • - Younger generations won't even think about owning a car.

  • - [Narrator] And some jobs will no longer exist.

  • - We fundamentally believe that every trucker will be able

  • to retire as a trucker.

  • - [Narrator] But first of all,

  • they need to convince governments

  • and the public that their technology is safe.

  • - You're limiting your potential

  • if consumers are not comfortable getting into your vehicle

  • and taking a ride.

  • - [Narrator] So could these startups make driving

  • a thing of the past?

  • Tesla has been working

  • on making its vehicles autonomous since around 2016

  • and said it planned to have self-driving cars

  • on the road by 2020.

  • - And sometimes I'm not on time.

  • But I get it done.

  • - [Narrator] For now, experts say these cars

  • have what they call level two autonomy.

  • - It is a level two system where they're saying

  • that the driver has to be there, they have to pay attention.

  • They're counting on them.

  • - [Narrator] What does that mean?

  • Well, it's a scale used by auto engineers

  • and it starts at zero.

  • - Which means, you know, kind of a 1950s car

  • with no automation at all.

  • - [Narrator] And goes up to level five.

  • - [Tekedra] Basically when the car can do everything,

  • anywhere.

  • - You can drop it off in Afghanistan today

  • and it will be able to operate without maps by itself.

  • - [Narrator] Instead of releasing vehicles

  • and working towards autonomy,

  • these top startups want to roll them out directly

  • at level four autonomy.

  • Which is where the car doesn't need a driver

  • as long as it's preloaded with information

  • about its surroundings like maps and directions.

  • - And we just simply think level four is the goal

  • for any domain.

  • - [Narrator] Some companies in the US and Asia

  • like Baidu AutoX and Didi,

  • say they've reached level four in some vehicles

  • though none have rolled them out at commercial scale

  • but some are getting close.

  • Waymo and Cruise have piloted a fleet of robotaxis

  • in some ring-fenced areas around the US.

  • Think ride-hailing without the driver.

  • Like this, the Waymo One.

  • - We're the only company

  • that has a fully autonomous ride-hailing service

  • available to the public today in the Phoenix metro area.

  • - [Narrator] In late 2020,

  • Waymo began removing support drivers

  • from its vehicles after its cars racked up

  • some 20 million miles on public roads,

  • gathering troves of data for its algorithms.

  • - The car shows up completely empty.

  • They take a ride from point A to point B.

  • That's one of the ways you make this real,

  • is you launch a service in the city

  • and you see if customers will actually adopt the service

  • and use it.

  • - [Narrator] Waymo started as a Google project in 2009,

  • and now has a $30 billion valuation and Alphabet,

  • Google's parent, as a majority shareholder.

  • Cruise has roughly the same valuation as Waymo

  • and is owned by GM.

  • With whom it has built an autonomous vehicle from scratch.

  • It has accrued fewer miles than Waymo, some two million,

  • in it's tests in San Francisco.

  • - Miles driven absolutely matters

  • because ultimately the goal is to put this technology

  • on public roads,

  • interacting with other human-driven vehicles.

  • So you do need that experience at some point to say,

  • yes, this is not only safe, but it's actually viable.

  • - [Narrator] Cruise recently got permission

  • to remove the support driver

  • but it's yet to carry paying passengers.

  • It plans to begin production of this vehicle,

  • the Origin, in 2023.

  • We spoke with company representatives over the phone,

  • who said GM's backing is a strategic advantage

  • but it's not just cars, startups are also eyeing trucks.

  • - The trucking industry is a massive industry.

  • It's $4 trillion globally,

  • 800 billion dollars in the US alone.

  • - [Narrator] That's the market Aurora

  • and TuSimple are betting on.

  • Aurora which has received investment from Uber

  • says it has a handful of test vehicles out

  • on public roads in the US.

  • TuSimple has around 60 autonomous trucks circulating

  • on highways in the Southwest with support drivers.

  • It was the first driverless company in the US

  • to go public, getting a roughly $8.5 billion valuation.

  • - In the US alone, 60,000 driver shortages this year

  • that will increase to about 160,000 by 2028

  • based on latest numbers.

  • So it's a very real problem.

  • - We don't intend to ever build a car or build a truck.

  • We work with great companies like Paccar and Volvo

  • and Toyota, and integrate our technology to their vehicles.

  • - I think consumer goods can provide, you know,

  • an easier path.

  • You're already kind of simplifying the situations

  • that you would have to deal with.

  • If you're driving the same pathway often,

  • you're not gonna have pedestrians and cyclists, you know,

  • interacting with traffic.

  • - [Narrator] But their tech needs

  • to overcome some big challenges

  • before it can be widely adopted.

  • - And the more we discover about the challenges,

  • the more we learn about how long this is gonna take.

  • And so I think you saw all of industry

  • start to reset expectations.

  • - [Narrator] Waymo and others had previously said 2020

  • was the year that robotaxis would become commonplace

  • across the US but the coronavirus pandemic

  • and technical hurdles

  • have led to forecasts being pushed back.

  • One issue, these vehicles still don't work well at night

  • or in bad weather.

  • - It's not a coincidence that you see companies testing

  • in fair weather places first.

  • - When you think about the barriers,

  • it's really engineering barriers.

  • It's time, it takes capital, but we'll get there.

  • - [Narrator] But those are not the only barriers.

  • - A Honda Civic right there colliding with the Waymo van.

  • We're being told it was not at fault in this accident.

  • - [Narrator] The industry has to address safety concerns.

  • As autonomous cars have been involved

  • in a number of accidents in recent years.

  • After a fatal crash in 2018,

  • where a car's built in automatic emergency braking system

  • was disabled, Uber had to stop testing autonomous vehicles

  • in Arizona.

  • It continued tests in other cities

  • before selling its unprofitable self-driving car unit

  • to Aurora at the end of 2020.

  • All players in this industry know

  • that they have to deal with a lot of skepticism.

  • - There's this suggestion that the technology

  • is presenting new risk or first risk.

  • The reality is though roads have risk.

  • - So it's not possible to make anything 100% safe,

  • whether it's a toothbrush or an airliner.

  • And so we try to make these systems

  • really safe.

  • - [Narrator] A recent study found

  • that even if autonomous vehicles cause accidents

  • at half the rate of human drivers,

  • only 37% of Americans would opt in.

  • - We've got more forgiveness, we've got more understanding

  • if that happens or is caused by another human driver.

  • I don't think we have that same compassion for a robot

  • that might produce the same result.

  • - [Narrator] To show that self-driving vehicles

  • because very few accidents,

  • Waymo started disclosing all of its crashes

  • and near misses in Arizona,

  • a total of 47 episodes over 2019 and 2020.

  • - Because we thought it was really important

  • to start to demonstrate

  • that you insert a fully autonomous vehicle into an ecosystem

  • and there is still human error around the vehicle.

  • - Sure, we've got disengagements, we've got miles driven,

  • we've got the number of crashes

  • and we can relate that to human drivers,

  • but that doesn't necessarily make it much easier

  • to kind of say, this is safe, safer, or safe enough.

  • So just being able to quantify these things

  • I think it's still a challenge for the industry.

  • (gentle music)

- Autonomous driving is a big technological challenge.

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Beyond Tesla: Driverless Startups Promise Next-Level Autonomous Vehicles | WSJ

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/29
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