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The Race to Autonomy

When most people think of autonomous, or self-driving, cars Tesla usually comes to mind first. Understandably, as Elon Musk stated last year that by the end of 2021 Tesla cars would give users the option to operate at Level 5 autonomy… for an extra $10,000, of course. With Tesla recently admitting that their cars are still operating on a SAE Level 2, could they be falling behind in the race? Cars are ranked from Level 0 to Level 5 on autonomy. Level 0 being completely driver controlled, your typical every day car, and Level 5 being full autonomy, no human intervention needed.

John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo, a Google owned company, says Musk’s claims are far fetched and believes it will be virtually impossible to jump from Tesla’s current driver-assistance system to full autonomy. But where is Waymo in this race? In October of 2020, Waymo launched WaymoOne, a completely driverless ride hailing service for consumers in the Phoenix-Metro area, operating in a 100-square mile radius. Waymo plans to expand these services but no announcement on their next location.

Honda just introduced the Honda Legend Sedan, the first mass-produced vehicle operating at Level 3 autonomy, that is available for public purchase in Japan on March 4th. With only producing 100 of these vehicles, Honda has no current plans to bring them to the United States. Honda is ahead of BMW, as BMW hoped they would be the first to release such a vehicle and stated last year they had plans to bring their own Level 3 system to the roads in 2021, the iNext EV. Although, when BMW released the specs of the all-electric SUV, recently renamed the iX, the automation feature seemed to be missing. BMW opted not to share why this feature was left behind on the drawing board.

Other companies such as Ford, General Motors and Toyota are brainstorming and testing concepts and ideas to bring their own autonomous vehicles to the roads in the coming years. Ford originally had plans to launch a commercial self-driving business in 2021, but stated that plans were delayed until at least next year due to the pandemic. However, Ford is collaborating with partner, Argo AI, and recently began testing self-driving vehicles in multiple cities such as Pittsburgh, Miami, Washington D.C., and most recently Detroit. General Motors and their subsidiary company, Cruise, began testing their automated cars without a driver monitor late last year. This year they have acquired self-driving startup company, Voyage, as well as teaming up with Microsoft, in hopes of bringing them closer. General Motors has not stated an estimated release date. Toyota recently announced its partnership with self-driving startup, Aurora, aiming to bring their own driverless ride hailing service in the Toyota Siennas. Toyota stated they expect to have designed, built, and begun testing on those vehicles by the end of 2021.

In conclusion, at this time, fully autonomous vehicles available for public purchase are probably still years away, but with new AI technology and self-driving startups appearing all over the world, we may be closer than experts originally thought