Pony.ai is the latest autonomous car company to headline for the wrong reason. It has just lost permission to inspect its fleet of autonomous vehicles in California due to concerns about the driving records of its hired safety drivers. This is a big blow to the company, and the autonomous car industry highlights the interesting place it is now. After years of very poor publicity, several companies have made real progress in getting self-driving cars on the road.
If you’re curious about Pony.ai and some of the other flagships, here’s a simple alphabetical guide for some of the flagship companies that operate autonomous vehicles.
Ford and Volkswagen’s self-driving cars are taking things to a few different cities. Just last week, it announced that it was expanding its driverless operations to Miami and Austin, where it would operate during daytime business hours. The service will initially be available to employees, but will soon be integrated with Lyft to offer driverless (with a safety driver) ride-hauling service and Walmart driverless grocery delivery. Argo AI now has the most diverse test pool. In addition to Miami and Austin, it is testing in Palo Alto, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Washington, DC, and Germany.
The company bought Uber’s former self-driving division in 2020 and is testing its self-driving Toyota Sienus on the streets of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. It plans to launch a ride-hailing service with Uber in 2024. Although, perhaps more interestingly, it announced this month that it is expanding its self-driving cargo pilot with FedEx. Its trucks, which currently operate a 240-mile cab between Dallas and Houston each night with two security drivers, will soon begin transporting goods within a nearly 600-mile journey between Fort Worth and El Paso.
Owned by General Motors, Cruise has been a resounding success. It is offering only rider-autonomous trips to the public in San Francisco and is expanding its driverless Walmart delivery service to Phoenix. Apparently happy with the progress that its parent company is making; GM expects to spend $ 2 billion on autonomous vehicle subsidiaries in 2022.
A joint venture between Aptiv and Hyundai, Motional is offering free rides to the public, although there is a safety-driver behind the wheel. It is currently testing in downtown Las Vegas, where it plans to launch a commercial driverless ride-hailing service with lifts in 2023.
Its California dreams don’t look great. DMV had just revoked the above-mentioned permission to inspect a fleet of 41 autonomous vehicles, including safety drivers behind the wheels (it currently employs 71 drivers in this role). It lost the driving record of three employees and the apparent approval process that allowed these operators to inspect its vehicles. The license to test autonomous vehicles without a safety driver was suspended in November last year after a collision with a lane divider and a road sign. Things seem to be getting a little better at the Chinese company’s home base: it has recently been allowed to operate in Beijing and Guangzhou.
The well-established firm is owned by Google-parent company Alphabet, and is expanding its Waymo One ride-hailing test service in Phoenix, Arizona. Its vehicles are now operating in both the Eastern Valley and downtown areas. It has also launched an offer of fully autonomous rides for employees in San Francisco. The service also demonstrated its practicality: a rider made more than 400 trips as of October last year.
Bought by Amazon in 2020, Zoox is expanding into new environments from California and Las Vegas. It plans to start work this year at its parent company’s home in Seattle to clearly test its sensors in wet weather. Most autonomous vehicles are operating in sunny states, so it’s exciting to see companies begin testing in more diverse climates. Like the Cruise, Jux hopes to eventually hire a two-way car so there is no room for the driver.
In the end, despite the still relatively frequent set-backs, the autonomous automotive industry has been quiet for the past year or two. We’re still far from the ubiquitous driverless car, but technology is being tested in more space, in more ways, and with less drama. What a time to be a robot.