In 1885, Karl Benz built the first Motorwagen that kick-started the automobile industry. His Motorwagen was a basic structure with four wheels powered by an internal combustion engine. The primary purpose of this invention was to develop a faster and efficient mode of transport.
However, a century down the line, cars have just gone beyond simple machines used to transport people from A to B. Cars today are an integral part of our lifestyle. Right from achieving highly efficient internal combustion engines to zero-emission electric vehicles, a lot has changed in the automobile industry. Tesla spearheads the electric car revolution. Tesla model 3 has a high level of safety owing to the autopilot function. The car can drive itself with a safety level better than a human driver.
A major development recently has been in the field of autonomous vehicles. Many tech companies, including startups and existing giants, have registered interest in self-driving cars and their development. So what makes autonomous cars such a hot proposition? Who have been the key players in this area? Is this the direction that the whole of the automobile industry will soon be moving toward?
Amazon lately has been in the news for showing their interest in the research of autonomous vehicles. Amazon recently invested $530 million in an autonomous vehicle technology startup, Aurora Innovation. Aurora is led by the former of Google’s self-driving vehicle program, Chris Urmson. The founding team of Aurora Innovation consists of former top executives from Google, Uber, and Tesla. The firm is backed by Sequoia, the venture capital powerhouse from Silicon Valley.
In a media statement, Amazon said that it finds huge potential in autonomous technology. It also added that it sees a huge capability in this technology to make lives simpler and enhance the productivity of their employees and partners. Responding to an AFP inquiry, Amazon said that they are always looking to invest in innovative and customer-centric companies and Aurora is just one of them and they are already excited for the future possibilities. In just two years of its launch, Aurora has already been valued at $2.5 billion.
Almost all the automobile giants are putting in funds for research and development of autonomous cars and tech startups like Aurora are just speeding up the R&D process. Last year, Aurora Innovation entered into a strategic alliance with the German heavyweight, Volkswagen. Along with VW, Aurora has developed a technology suite called ‘Aurora Driver’ which largely focuses to harness autonomous technology to develop safer driving environment initially and gradually moving towards complete autonomy. With this tie-up, a few things are pretty clear. Number one, Volkswagen is all set to drive in an autonomous vehicle very soon. Number two, we will see more and more startups like Aurora who’ll be entering the autonomy vehicle technology space and provide solutions to the existing automobile giants. And number three, we’ll soon witness a stiff rivalry amongst automakers to see as to who makes the best self-driving vehicle.
It’s not just Amazon that has been snooping into the self-driving car space. Tech giants like Google, Tesla, Uber, and Microsoft too have shown a keen interest in this area and have already started making progress. Microsoft has set up an open-source research project called AirSim which is a high fidelity system that provides realistic environment, sensing and vehicle dynamics for testing the safety of autonomous and artificial intelligence systems. The AirSim module is rapidly building a richer environment which includes a diverse variety of conditions which include traffic lights, parks and construction sites. Microsoft says that the AirSim platform can be used by automakers to simulate their autonomous cars through several types of neighborhoods like downtown, semi-urban, rural and industrial areas.
The very idea of autonomous cars is fascinating. It is almost like your childhood dream of your car driving on its own coming to life. This very concept of self-driving cars has opened up an ocean of possibilities for tech companies as well as automakers. Self-driving cars hold a large business potential and at the same time have provided a huge platform for technological development.