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“Ladies and Gentleman, Start Your Software!”

July 29, 2022 by Jailin Harris-Putulin
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“Ladies and Gentleman, Start Your Software”, announced Karen Chupka at the first annual Indy Autonomous Challenge (IAC) on January 7th, 2022. This event marked a huge milestone in the development of fully autonomous (self-driving) vehicles.

Like NASCAR is the proving ground for consumer vehicle technology, IAC is the proving ground for future consumer and commercial-based autonomous vehicle technology.  When you see driverless trucks on the road in the very near future, thank IAC.

“Today was the real birth of autonomous racing,” Politecnico di Milano team leader Professor Sergio Savaresi said.

The real high-speed multi-agent racing was pushed to its very limits. The research on autonomous cars will certainly benefit from this historic milestone.

IAC’S Purpose

The IAC is a collaborative effort that incorporates private partnerships and academic institutions to challenge university students around the world to brainstorm and invent advanced vehicle technology to produce autonomous racecars. The IAC uses the information collected from these challenges to create technology that will solve real-world issues such as:

  1. Solving extreme scenarios – To be able to react to situations that occur at extreme conditions, such as avoiding obstacles at high speeds while maintaining control of the vehicle, is a goal for IAC to maintain necessary safety regulations.

  2. Making AV technologies more accessible – A.V.s are too expensive for commercial deployment, as result, automakers and tech companies are seeking sources of advanced intellectual property (IP) and qualified engineers and software developers are partnering with them to develop a modern-day fully autonomous vehicle at reasonable prices.

  3. Ensuring the public accepts the use of A.V. technology – Guaranteeing that the public is familiar and comfortable with the idea of A.V.s is important to the future of technology. Providing consumers with data that proves safety gives them a sense of security.

Future Consumer & Commercial Applications

But autonomous racing isn’t just for fun. The information gathered in these races is directly applicable to cars and trucks that can improve how the modern-day world works.

Technology companies are redefining the way freight moves from pick up to drop off.  From rockets to semi-tractor trailers, Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starship freight rocket and Tesla’s Semi are being actively tested with the goal of completely removing humans from the equation of freight transport.

Long-Haul trucking is about to make some big advancements! These autonomous advancements will deliver powerful advantages to both shippers and carriers and assist in fixing many of the challenges in supply chain logistics today. This will result in reduced freight costs. Highway driving is not a big obstacle when developing self-driving trucks.  The issues start when trucks get into areas with more traffic and tighter streets.  A company called Starsky Robotics (no longer active) had a solution for this type of terrain and it included a driver, but not in a traditional way.  “Drivers” would be at a location off-road behind a desk with the ability to control the truck from there.  So instead of having a driver behind the wheel, the “driver” would control the truck like a video game.

Benefits of Autonomous Trucking

  1. LaborCurrently, the supply chain is experiencing labor shortages due to worker unavailability. Today, we have 3.25 million fewer Americans working compared to February 2020.
  2. Transit Times – When autonomous vehicles are used, transit times will reduce due to being able to drive without breaks. When a trucker is driving, frequent rest stops increase transit time.
  3. Driving Efficiency – Human error will be reduced when using A.V.s for trucking and will increase driving efficiency. This can prevent accidents and detours due to “wrong turns” will be a thing of the past.
  4. Reduced Carbon Footprint – Comparing manually driven trucks and autonomous vehicles, A.V.s proved to be 10% more fuel efficient than manual trucks. This reduces the carbon footprint of trucking.

The Current Autonomous Vehicle Industry

Elon Musk has become one of the world leaders in autonomous technology. Creating more than 5 autonomous vehicle models, Musk’s brand, Tesla, has created competition in the A.V. world. Following in Tesla’s footsteps, Kia, Ford, and Audi are just a few of the other car manufacturers advancing in the autonomous industry.  According to Confused.com, the United States is THEE most ready for AV technology, with a score of 8.62/10, beating Japan by 1.03 points.

The United States has far more companies working on AV technology with 50 total across the country. That equals a lot of investment and is 39 more companies than second-placed Israel with 11. The UK is in third place with just 5.  As well as having the most AV companies, the U.S. also has an inflated number of AV-related patents issued. Currently, there are 127,570 autonomous driving-related patents in the US. South Korea is ranked second with 25,861, and Japan ranks third with 21,242 patents.

AV is by no means just limited to cars, trucks, and rockets, though. Hundreds of tiny robots created by Starship Technologies are now navigating college campuses and even city sidewalks in the U.S. and the U.K.. They are using cameras, sensors, GPS, and laser scanners to navigate sidewalks and occasionally streets autonomously at about 5 mph. The robots have some setbacks that companies are competing to reduce. They’re electric, so they have to return to a “base” location to recharge regularly. Grubhub recently partnered with a Russian robot maker Yandex to develop 50 robots to be used on the campus of Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Grubhub plans to add more campuses soon and in the future expand to city delivery.

Amazon revealed a new fleet of robots and autonomous systems, including the first fully autonomous robot that operates alongside humans on the warehouse floor. They perform the movement of large and heavy rolling carts of packages that have proved to cause bodily injuries. Amazon states that it has proven critics of automation wrong by expanding its robotic workforce and reduced bodily injury. Amazon currently has 520,000 robotic units and has added more than a million jobs worldwide.

Looking into the future, the annual production levels of robo-cars (autonomous vehicles) are expected to reach 800,000 units by 2030. Robo-cars are driverless entities boasting advanced driver-assistance systems of levels 4 and 5.

Upcoming Race

The race that accelerated the autonomous vehicle industry is back! January 7th, 2023 is the day of the second annual Indy Autonomous Challenge held at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This race will include teams from all over the world including AI Racing Tech of the University of Hawai’i, TUM (Technische Universität München), and PoliMOVE of the University of Alabama and Politecnico di Milano, the first place winner of last year’s race. The official racecar of this year’s race is the  Dallara-built AV-21 that the teams will modify to achieve top speeds of about 173 mph as seen in last year’s race. These teams will be competing not only for a prize of $150,000, but also for the technological advancements in safety and performance. Teams will get 9 race practice days ranging from December 6th, 2022 to January 6th, 2022 leading up to race day.

Current Leaders of the Commercial A.V Industry

  1. Microsoft CorporationMicrosoft Corporation is a top A.V manufacturer list. Microsoft is well-known for its personal computers, consumer devices, and software.
  2. Alphabet Inc. – Alphabet Inc. , also known as Google. Alphabet Inc. consists of internet services and products that span the globe.
  3. Uber Technologies, Inc.Uber Technologies, Inc. will invest USD 400 million in Aurora, a self-driving firm, in 2020. Aurora’s manufacturing technology is likely to be licensed by the corporation.
  4. General Motors Company – In early 2023, General Motors Company’s majority-owned subsidiary Cruise is anticipated to begin manufacturing of the company’s first self-driving vehicle.
  5. Tesla, Inc.Tesla, Inc. is an electric vehicle and sustainable energy company based in California. It designs and manufactures electric vehicles, as well as home and grid-scale battery energy storage and related equipment. The firm became the first electric vehicle manufacturer to sell one million vehicles in June 2021.
  6. Ford Motor Company -Henry Ford created the American multinational vehicle manufacturing in 1903. In 2020, Ford produced over 4.187 million automobiles. Ford Motor Company said in 2020 that its self-driving commercial company would debut in 2022 with vehicles based on the Ford Escape Hybrid crossover.
  7. Luminar Technologies, Inc. –  Luminar Technologies, Inc. began in 2012 in California as an autonomous car sensor and software company. Daimler Trucks, SAIC, and Volvo are among the companies with which the company has partnered.

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