Delphi, an American auto supplier, and Mobileye, an Israeli self-driving firm, say that by 2019, they expect to introduce a fully self-driving system—one capable of taking the wheel and holding on to it for the duration of most trips.
The system will be what robocar wonks call a “Level 4/5” system. Level 4 means the car can drive itself from start to finish except under unfavorable circumstances. Level 5 is the same, but without the caveat. That’s a very tall order, even for three years from now. Or four, if you count the time it’ll take automakers to integrate the system into their vehicles.
Not even Google, which jump-started the robocar trend, now predicts that throw-away-the-steering-wheel capability will come anytime soon. Instead it’s talking five years for sunny climes and exquisitely mapped roads, and up to 30 years for snowy backways in the Yukon.
Even so, in today’s market, Delphi and Mobileye are not so much leading the pack as scrambling to retain their positions. In the past year, a number of automakers have taken steps to bring the technological guts of robocars in house, and that threatens to leave suppliers out in the cold.
Just last week, Uber bought the robotruck startup Otto and said it would work with Volvo to start a commercial, human-monitored ride-hailing service in Pittsburgh this summer. The week before, Ford Motor Company and Baidu, the Chinese search company, invested in Velodyne, a leader in LIDAR—a key, laser-based sensor technology. In July, Tesla Motors severed its relationship with Mobileye, ostensibly to take more control over its own robotech projects, though there were also other reasons for the split-up. And back in March, General Motors acquired Cruise Automation.
At a conference call today and in comments beforehand, Delphi and Mobileye said they would serve smaller auto companies, which might lack the resources to develop a robocar outfit or buy one ready-made. They said they planned to invest “hundreds of millions” of dollars in the venture.
In the meantime, to keep enthusiasts stoked, the companies will show off the current version of their system in January, at CES, the expo formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show.