5 trends in self-driving cars anyone trying to get ahead in the industry needs to know about

TuSimple Self Drving Truck 7
Autonomous-truck companies like TuSimple are starting to go public.

  • Self-driving cars may not be a reality yet, but the young industry is evolving fast.
  • For those hoping to get a leg up in this space, staying on top of trends is key.
  • From the rise of robo-trucks to a potential SPAC bubble, here’s what to know about AVs right now.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
1. Self-driving tech will deliver your packages and food before it replaces your Uber driver

During the 2010s, automakers and startups were confident self-driving taxis and consumer vehicles would be available by the early 2020s. Their predictions have mostly fallen flat, though there are robotaxis open to the public in parts of Arizona and Nevada.

Long-haul trucking and local deliveries have come to look like more promising applications in the near term, since they present fewer technological challenges than robotaxis and arguably offer stronger business models.

Startups like Nuro, Gatik, and TuSimple are already making deliveries for customers like Walmart and UPS. Aurora Innovation, seen as one of the top players in the robotaxi space, has decided to focus on launching self-driving semi trucks ahead of passenger vehicles..

2. The industry’s leaders have emerged

The gap between the AV industry’s haves and have-nots has grown in recent years, leading some companies to give up while others form partnerships with automakers or sell themselves to deep-pocketed buyers. The shakeup has left the industry with a clear group of leaders that will be hard for new entrants to challenge.

Waymo has emerged as the consensus number-one. It operates the only autonomous ride-hailing service in the US, has partnerships with the likes of Stellantis and Daimler, and boasts the industry’s largest funding round.

Experts generally rank a similar group of companies just below it, including Cruise, Argo AI, Aurora, and Motional. Each has raised more than $1 billion and, aside from Aurora, has announced plans to launch ride-hailing or delivery services by the end of 2023. (Aurora has said it intends to have its vehicles ready for use in commercial ride-hailing services “over the next few years.”)

3. The first wave of public listings has begun

The stock market’s appetite for young, high-upside companies set off a wave of public listings for pre-revenue electric-vehicle startups in 2020 and early 2021. Autonomous-vehicle startups are beginning to follow. 

Three companies focusing on self-driving semi trucks — TuSimple, Embark, and Plus — have gone public this year or announced their intention to do so in the coming months, while Aurora and Argo AI are reportedly considering public listings later this year.

Those that become the dominant providers of automated-driving technology could produce Tesla-like payoffs for their backers, but progress in the industry has been slow. Billions of dollars of funding and more than a decade of development has yet to produce a single national or even statewide autonomous-vehicle service. It remains to be seen how patient public investors will be.

4. Elon Musk has adopted a controversial self-driving strategy

Self-driving tech tends to fall into one of two buckets: systems that can handle some driving tasks in certain environments but require that the driver be ready to take over if they run into trouble, and systems that can operate without driver supervision.

Tesla’s Autopilot feature falls into the former category, but the company is trying to push it into the latter. The company has gradually increased the number of tasks Autopilot can handle and the range of environments in which it can drive. 

CEO Elon Musk believes this approach will make drivers and passengers safer — Tesla has published data showing lower crash rates for vehicles with Autopilot enabled — and give Tesla a bigger and better data set it can use to improve its technology. But critics argue that Tesla’s strategy is unlikely to lead to a robust self-driving system and is reckless because it breeds a false sense of confidence in drivers that leaves them unprepared if Autopilot makes a mistake.

Critics point to fatal crashes involving the feature and argue that the crash statistics Tesla have released don’t include enough detail to prove that Autopilot makes drivers safer.

If Musk is right, Tesla could become the first company to sell self-driving consumer vehicles, a scenario that could reduce collisions and give the company a major selling point its rivals can’t match. If Musk’s critics are right, Tesla will be stuck with an incomplete technology that makes drivers inattentive to its risks.

5. A key group of suppliers is generating excitement

Nearly every company in the industry sees lidar sensors, which bounce beams of light off nearby objects to measure how far away they are, as an essential piece of hardware for self-driving vehicles. That perception has made the companies which make them attractive merger or acquisition targets. A number of lidar startups have teamed up with SPACs or been acquired by autonomous-vehicle companies like Aurora and Argo AI.

But the lidar industry isn’t completely reliant on fully autonomous vehicles. Volvo plans to begin introducing the sensors on its vehicles next year, while Apple has started including them in iPhones and iPads. Soroush Salehian, the CEO of the lidar startup Aeva, believes the sensors will have an impact on consumer technology similar to the introduction of color cameras.

Do you work in the autonomous-vehicle industry? Do you have a news tip or opinion you’d like to share? Contact this reporter at mmatousek@insider.com, on Signal at 646-768-4712, or via his encrypted email address mmatousek@protonmail.com.

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Tesla ‘under review’ by California DMV over whether it misleads consumers with ‘full self-driving’ claims

Elon Musk
  • California’s DMV is probing whether Tesla’s “self-driving” claims broke state law, the LA Times first reported.
  • Tesla calls its $10,000 driver-assistance software “full self-driving” – it is not.
  • Amid a number of Tesla crashes, the technology is coming under increasing scrutiny.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles is looking into whether Tesla illegally misleads consumers with its claims about its “full-self driving” technology, the LA Times reported Monday and Insider confirmed.

“DMV has the matter under review,” a DMV spokesperson told Insider. “The [state] regulation prohibits a company from advertising vehicles for sale or lease as autonomous unless the vehicle meets the statutory and regulatory definition of an autonomous vehicle and the company holds a deployment permit.”

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

Tesla’s FSD technology, which customers can add to their vehicles for $10,000, gives the vehicle the capability to change lanes, adjust speed, and complete some other maneuvers without assistance from the driver.

It does not make the car fully autonomous, however, according to widely accepted engineering standards, and Tesla’s own website.

But the company, and specifically CEO Elon Musk, have repeatedly made ambitious promises about FSD’s capabilities, only to subsequently push back the timing of new features and tout the claimed safety benefits.

Tesla has faced scrutiny over its driver-assistance features for years. But regulators and lawmakers have been taking an even closer look following Tesla allowing a small group of drivers to test a beta version of its newest FSD features.

The beta sofware has been at the center of several fatal crashes and high-profile traffic violations in recent weeks, prompting inquiries from lawmakers. Yet the company plans to roll out the software more widely even as videos posted by customers continue to show bugs that could pose major risks.

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As Tesla gears up to release ‘Full Self-Driving’ to thousands more drivers, videos continue to show its flaws

Tesla Model S interior
Tesla Model S interior.

  • Tesla is eyeing next month for a wider release of its “Full Self-Driving” beta software.
  • The system is still buggy and sometimes gets drivers into dangerous situations, videos show.
  • Neither the software nor Tesla’s Autopilot make its cars fully autonomous, despite the company’s marketing.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When Tesla beamed out a prototype version of its “Full Self-Driving” (FSD) technology to select Tesla owners in October, videos of the driver-assistance system fumbling normal traffic situations – from failing to follow road rules to nearly steering into parked cars and cement barricades – flooded the web.

Now Elon Musk wants any Tesla owner that has paid for FSD to have access to the beta next month. But clips cropping up online continue to cast doubt on whether the technology is safe enough to test on public streets.

A March 12 video posted by Youtube user AI Addict shows a Model 3 running FSD beta version 8.2 clumsily navigating around downtown San Jose at dusk. With FSD switched on, the vehicle nearly crashes into a median, attempts to drive down railroad tracks, and almost plows down a row of pylons separating the road from a bike lane. All of those dicey situations were narrowly avoided only because the driver quickly took over control.

In another clip posted March 18, Model Y owner Chuck Cook tests the beta’s ability to make unprotected left turns. The software performs admirably a few times, waiting until a break in traffic to cross the three-lane road. More than once, however, Cook has to slam on the brakes to avoid coasting into oncoming traffic. And on his last go, the Tesla nearly drives headlong into a pickup truck with a boat in tow.

FSD testing videos have become an entire genre on YouTube. Many of them depict cars comfortably navigating lane changes, four-way stops, and busy intersections. Yet the buggy clips illustrate the potential dangers of letting amateur drivers experiment with a prototype software on public roads.

Tesla is using its owners as “guinea pigs for the technology,” Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a consumer advocacy group, told Insider. “And what’s much more concerning, quite frankly, is they’re using consumers, bystanders, other passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists as lab rats for an experiment for which none of these people signed up.”

FSD – a $10,000 add-on option – is a more advanced version of Tesla’s Autopilot, its standard driver-assistance feature that enables cars to maintain their lane and keep up with highway traffic using a system of cameras and sensors. FSD currently augments Autopilot with features like self-parking, traffic light and stop sign recognition, and the ability to take highway on-ramps and exits.

The limited beta software in question adds on a capability critical for any system that aims to be called fully self driving: the ability to navigate local streets, which, as opposed to highways, have a much more complex driving environment that includes left-hand turns across traffic, pedestrians, cyclists, and the like.

Even before it introduced the FSD beta last fall, Tesla faced scrutiny over Autopilot and its potential for abuse. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirmed earlier this month that it is investigating Autopilot’s role in 23 recent crashes, including multiple where Teslas barreled into stopped emergency vehicles. Over the years, numerous videos have surfaced on social media of drivers sleeping with Autopilot turned on or otherwise misusing the feature.

Read more: Tesla and Apple are incredibly important companies, but their progress on self-driving vehicles is pathetic

To make things safer, Levine said, Tesla could begin using vehicles’ internal cameras to monitor driver attention as many other carmakers do. Currently, Tesla only monitors whether a driver’s hand is on the steering wheel, while other systems, like GM’s Super Cruise, track a driver’s eyes to make sure they are paying attention to the road.

Changing the names of Autopilot and FSD – which are misleading since neither technology is autonomous and both require constant driver attention – would be a good start as well, Levine said.

“The insistence on utterly hyperbolic description really undermines any sort of good-faith effort to present this technology in a way that is going to not present an unreasonable risk,” he said.

For Tracy Pearl, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma who researches self-driving technology, the main problem isn’t so much the quality of Tesla’s driver-assistance systems, but rather the way drivers interact with them.

Although advanced driver-assistance suites like Tesla’s could make cars safer when used properly, research has shown that drivers on the whole don’t understand their capabilities and limitations, Pearl said. Moreover, drivers’ attention tends to wander when those features are switched on. Tesla exacerbates these issues by marketing its tech in ways that overstate the cars’ abilities, but the information gap between manufacturers and drivers extends to other carmakers as well, she said.

Problems with the way driver-assistance systems are marketed and the way drivers interact with them are heightened where a beta system is concerned, she said.

“I think calling it Full Self Driving is not just deceptive, I think it is an invitation for people to misuse their cars,” she said.

Tesla, though it consistently claims that self-driving cars are right around the corner, acknowledges that both Autopilot and FSD require constant driver attention and aren’t fully autonomous. Still, it’s much more blunt with regulators than it is with the general public.

In a series of emails to California’s Department of Motor Vehicles in late 2020, a Tesla lawyer said that FSD can’t handle certain driving scenarios and that it will never make cars drive themselves without any human input.

Tesla also makes an effort to inform users about the risks of using a system that isn’t completely ready for prime time. In a disclaimer beta testers received with the October update, Tesla urged drivers to use the software “only if you will pay constant attention to the road, and be prepared to act immediately.

“It may do the wrong thing at the worst time,” Tesla said.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

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Elon Musk promises 3 free months of Tesla’s ‘self-driving’ software for vehicles delivered in the final 3 days of 2020

FILE PHOTO: Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk dances onstage during a delivery event for Tesla China-made Model 3 cars in Shanghai, China January 7, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk dances onstage during a delivery event for Tesla China-made Model 3 cars in Shanghai

  • Elon Musk said in a tweet Tuesday that Tesla vehicles delivered in the final three days of 2020 will receive three free months of the company’s “full self-driving” software option.
  • “Delivery & docs must be fully complete by midnight Dec 31st,” Musk said.
  • Tesla plans to release the driver-assistance system — which does not give the car full autonomy — as a subscription service in early 2021, and released a beta version to some Tesla owners in October.
  • The company has taken heat for overstating the capabilities of the technology, and its predecessor, Autopilot, has been blamed for a spate of accidents, sometimes fatal.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Newly minted Tesla owners who receive their vehicles this week, before 2020 is over, will get a surprise holiday bonus: three free months of the company’s forthcoming “Full Self-Driving” driver-assistance system.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced the news in a tweet Tuesday, promising that “all Tesla cars delivered in the final three days of the year” are eligible, and adding that “delivery & docs must be fully complete by midnight Dec 31st.”

Tesla previously announced plans to release its long-awaited FSD technology, currently a $10,000 add-on, in early 2021 as a subscription service. The company released a beta version to some customers in October.

Tesla’s vehicles come standard with Autopilot, a predecessor to FSD that can brake, accelerate, and steer automatically, while FSD adds capabilities that allow vehicles to park themselves, change lanes, and recognize stop signs and traffic lights.

But neither technology gives Tesla’s vehicles full autonomy, despite some misleading claims by the company.

Read more: Elon Musk’s move to Texas is a publicity stunt that reveals how Tesla is maturing as an automaker

Following the beta release, the top US safety regulator, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said that “no vehicle available for purchase today is capable of driving itself.”

Early videos of the FSD beta in use showed how far the software still has to go, with numerous recordings depicting situations where drivers had to intervene suddenly to keep vehicles from crashing or breaking traffic rules.

Autopilot has also faced criticism for what critics say is a misleading name. It has been blamed for crashes involving inattentive drivers in the past, and the NHTSA has investigated Autopilot’s role in more than a dozen traffic incidents in the past four years, some of them fatal.

Musk has made – and failed to deliver – on a series of aggressive promises around when Tesla hopes to achieve full autonomy, but the company’s software remains far ahead of competitors.

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Apple’s massive cash reserves, talent pipeline, and history of innovative tech will be key in its quest to build an electric car, experts say

Tim Cook
Apple’s nearly $200 billion in cash on hand could be a massive help in getting its EV project off the ground, Wall Street analysts said.

  • Apple plans to build an electric, self-driving vehicle for consumers by 2024, Reuters reported Monday.
  • Wall Street analysts from Morgan Stanley and RBC Capital Markets think Apple has several key attributes that could set it up for a successful vehicle launch. 
  • The company’s strong brand, deep pockets, and ability to vertically integrate, among other factors, set it apart from other EV startups. 
  • However, Reuters reported — and the analysts agree — Apple won’t be able to go it alone, and will need a manufacturing partner. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

After years of ups and downs, Apple’s self-driving electric vehicle project is steaming ahead, Reuters reported Monday.

Wall Street analysts say the tech giant has several key advantages  – from a critical talent pipeline, to massive cash reserves, and a history of disruptive hardware – that could make its reported plans to bring a consumer car to market by 2024 a reality. 

Building an electric car from scratch is an ambitious task – as evidenced by the many startups that have tried and failed to replicate Tesla’s successs – but analysts from Morgan Stanley and RBC Capital Markets say Apple, with its vast resources and decades of manufacturing expertise, may have what it takes. 

For starters, Apple’s strong brand name tees it up for a successful vehicle launch if its long-rumored plans become reality, RBC Capital Markets’ Joseph Spak said in a note to clients. That’s something that EV upstarts like Rivian, Fisker, and Lucid can’t fall back on as they launch vehicles in the near future. 

Both Spak and Morgan Stanley’s Adam Jonas agree that Apple’s easy access to capital, as well as its ability to attract and retain top talent, set it up for success. Apple has one of the largest cash piles among US companies, counting more than $191 billion in cash on hand at the end of its fiscal fourth quarter in September. For reference, Amazon-backed Rivian, one of the EV startups closest to delivering its first vehicles, has raised $6 billion in funding to date, according to PitchBook data. 

Morgan Stanley’s Jonas said that Apple benefits from a “rich ecosystem to leverage recurring subscription/service revenue,” adding that “the value of the services opportunity … embedded in Internet-of-Cars (IoC) could potentially dwarf the auto business itself.”

Apple’s services business – including Apple TV, Apple Music, App Store, and iCloud – is rapidly growing as a share of the company’s overall sales. And industry watchers have noted a similarly growing importance of software in the auto sector, as over-the-air software updates provide firms the opportunity to bring in recurring revenue from a single vehicle sale.

Tesla, for its part, plans to launch a subscription service for its “full self-driving” driver-assistance system in early 2021. 

Read more: Jeff Bezos bought robotaxi startup Zoox for $1.2 billion – after agreeing to this one key term, says co-founder

Jonas also sees the electric car project as another area, like mobile phones and wearables, where Apple can “disrupt through vertical integration.”

“Importantly, Apple has recently invested to bring five core technologies in-house, which can aid their car development – processors, battery, camera, sensors, and display,” he said in the note. 

However, despite Apple’s ability to bring development in-house, its success in the EV space will also depend on which manufacturer it decides to partner with to build the vehicle, the analysts said. Sources cited in Monday’s Reuters report said they expect Apple to contract out the manufacturing to a partner. 

Morgan Stanley said that a tech company that decides to team up with a manufacturing partner would be better positioned to compete with Tesla than a traditional automaker. However, legacy carmakers have already brought battery-powered cars to market, while no tech company has done so. 

“From a Tesla perspective, we have long felt that tech players like Apple (working with manufacturing partners such as FoxConn) represent far more formidable competition than the established/legacy OEMs,” Morgan Stanley analysts said. “Such firms may also be better positioned to bring forward new innovation in autonomy and renewable tech (ie. storage) than most of today’s auto companies.”

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