How close are we to seeing self-driving cars in Israel? According to Mobileye CEO and Intel global’s senior vice president Amnon Shashua,the breakthrough will be coming next year.
In conversations with Israeli journalists and while speaking at the consumer technology conference CES, Shashua listed the main challenges facing the self-driving car industry now and over the next few years.
“We’re looking at 2022 as the year when Robotaxi services will begin,” said Shashua, in a reference to the company’s self-driven taxis. “Based on our conversations with car manufacturers, 2025 will be the year when the cars are consumer ready. That’s the point when we expect that you’ll be able to sit in the back seat of a self-driving car and drive anywhere in the world.”
The three-year gap is a result of the production cost and the issue of mapping. Self-driving cars are dependent on multiple vision and processing systems in order to navigate on the road, all of which involve costs. “When we’re talking about next year, the forecast is that the technology will cost $20,000 per car,” he says. “Therefore it would suit transport services, because when it comes to taxis, price sensitivity isn’t key. It’s considered a capital investment that replaces the cost of the driver, and returns itself after several years. By 2025 we’re talking about the technology costing only a few thousand dollars, and we’re forecasting under $5,000. For consumers, the cost would ultimately be $10,000-$15,000. Therefore we’re forecasting that it will first be used in luxury cars,” he says.
However, the rollout will ultimately be slow, he says – by 2030 only 10% of all cars sold will be self-driving, he forecasts.
Mobileye and its competitors are facing the challenge of building a system that’s both safe and affordable. Shashua explains that a system that depends on multiple sensors − such as cameras and radar – is like having a device that works on both Android and iOS, which minimizes the chances of both failing at the same time.
“Mobileye’s system starts with a cheap camera that serves as the main sensor, integrated with a parallel system of sensors – Radar and Lidar – that works independently and enables crucial safety aspects that is three times as safe as human drivers,” the company stated in a press release.
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The other challenge is mapping. “The phase of being consumer ready requires the vehicle to be able to drive anywhere, not just within one city,” notes Shashua. “This depends on constantly updating maps, nearly in real time,” he says. Mobileye has been working on this since 2016, he says, and through partnerships with vehicle manufacturers and Mobileye’s highway safety hardware, which has already been installed in millions of cars around the world, the company is mapping out roads at a pace of more than 8 million kilometers a day.
Shashua notes that this gives the company an advantage over others that send out dedicated mapping vehicles to do the work, and that the company maps road conditions down to the centimeter, including crosswalks, lanes, traffic lights, and road rules.
Mobileye’s rapid data collection capability enabled the company to unroll self-driving test cars in four cities – Detroit, Tokyo, Shanghai and Paris – and plans to launch a trial in New York as well, regulation permitting. The company already ran successful test drives in Munich and Jerusalem.
Mobileye partnered with Volkswagen two years ago to build a fleet of self-driving taxis for service in Tel Aviv. The company plans to launch the service next year with 100 vehicles. In the initial phase, the taxis will be made by Chinese manufacturer NIO, as Volkswagen’s vehicles aren’t expected to be ready yet.
“We’ll initially launch rides for Mobileye employees, and then let the public sign up,” says Shashua. The company needs to work with regulators in order to permit the vehicles to be entirely driverless, after which the service will expand to Jerusalem and other parts of Israel, Shashua says.
Currently, progress on self-driving vehicles in Israel is stuck due to the political deadlock. “If we weren’t having elections right now a bill would have already come up for a vote” regulating the field, he states.
Shashua says the importance of the project goes beyond the self-driving taxis. “This will strengthen all of Israel’s auto-tech, and Israel has 600 startups in the field. This is a technological revolution that Israel can lead.”