Premium car maker Daimler and automotive supplier Bosch announced in an interview with German weekly automotive magazine Automobilwoche that they start public tests of autonomous taxis in the next months..
Both companies entered a partnership for developing autonomous cars a few months ago. So far Mercedes and Bosch have tested their own self-driving technologies. In fact, Mercedes experimented back then in the 1980s with autonomous driving.
In the past years many new companies have entered the field to develop this technology and have taken the lead. Although Mercedes has been doing test drives on highways and country roads, and just recently finished a world tour with its autonomous vehicle, German car makers are trailing the leaders on self-driving cars.
While competitors already operate robotaxi-fleets with passengers in more than 10 cities, or Waymo has already driven over 4 million miles and Uber over 2 million miles in city traffic in autonomous mode, German automotive makers have little to show. GM/Cruise is even bringing out a first steering-wheel-less car next year.
With the latest announcement by Waymo to add several thousand cars to its fleet of 600 autonomous cars in the next months – and not just for testing, but for operating and deploying them commercially – even the German makers realized that their pants are on fire. VW wants to start testing robotaxi fleets in partnership with startup Aurora in up to five cities in 2021. If that isn’t already too late to matter anymore.
Daimler’s argument for its cars is that they have been designed and developed to integrate sensors into the car. What is actually more important is that the cars have to be on the roads and experience driving situations in real life to develop and improve self-driving car software.
IIt’s one thing to integrate sensors, but a very different one to drive millions of miles to collect data and improve algorithms. It took Google/Waymo more than 8 years to collect the millions of miles of driving experience. An analysis of the latest Disengagement Reports, which show how often a self-driving test vehicle has to hand over control to a safety driver, comparing 19 companies shows that Mercedes is far away of having an autonomous car that can be commercially used.
Daimler just embarrassed itself in January at the CES, when it showcased yet another remote controlled concept car, while other manufacturers used their autonomous vehicles to shuttle conference participants between hotel and conference venues. If one considers the other technological battle grounds including navigation maps like the ones Google is offering today, or expertise in cybersecurity and autonomous car operation systems, the gap between German manufacturers and their competitors in the new automotive industry becomes even more appalling.
Stitching those pieces of information together, makes the announcement from Daimler and Bosch look more like too little too late.
This article has also been published in German.