China’s Google, Baidu, unveils a self-driving concept car ahead of a production model in the near future

Baidu’s JIDU unveils ROBO-01 self-driving concept car

When Baidu, the company frequently referred to as “China’s Google”, unveils a self-driving concept car ahead of a nearly-ready production model it deserves our attention, so here goes…

In January 2021, Baidu announced plans to establish an electric vehicle (EV) company and formed a strategic partnership with Chinese vehicle manufacturer (VM), Geely. The result was JIDU and on 8 June 2022 the new start-up unveiled the ROBO-01 concept car, which supports “high-level autonomous driving”.

Self-driving ROBO-01 video

JIDU ROBO-01 self-driving concept car video

JIDU’s CEO, Xia Yiping, commented: “The Intelligent Car 3.0 Era is the era of robocars. The transition to this new era is marked by the shift of driving power from humans to AI, with robocars ultimately achieving self-generating progress led by AI.

“The automotive industry in the 3.0 era will see a seismic shift from a revolution in energy to a revolution in product attributes. The ultimate goal is to realize a fully driverless transportation experience.”

JIDU ROBO-01 self-driving concept car
JIDU ROBO-01 self-driving concept car

The robocar was unveiled at an event branded Roboday, where digital human car owner Xijiajia interacted with ROBO-01.

JIDU ROBO-01 self-driving concept car side view
JIDU ROBO-01 self-driving concept car side view

The futuristic look involves a robot-like body with butterfly wing doors and an adjustable rear wing, while the interior features a large integrated screen, “swan neck” headrests and a foldaway U-shaped steering wheel – thus passing our Has it got a steering wheel? test.

The self-driving capabilities are enabled by the Baidu Apollo autonomous driving system, Nvidia‘s dual Orin X chips and 31 external sensors including two LiDAR, five millimeter-level wave radar, 12 ultrasonic radar and 12 cameras.

Self-driving production model

The aforementioned production model will be “90 percent similar” to the concept, sporting its futuristic designs and the U-shaped foldaway steering wheel.

The plan is apparently to prove the model in its home market first, targeting the 25-35 age group, and then go global.

Leading voice on US self-driving policy Latta namechecks China, Japan and Germany as self-driving leaders. No UK?

The UK is a global leader in self-driving. Someone please tell Bob Latta.

The race for global leadership in self-driving is well underway, but there are worrying signs that the UK’s recent achievements are going unrecognised.

Last week, a senior voice on US autonomous vehicle (AV) policy, Bob Latta – the Republican leader of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee – wrote an opinion piece for The Hill, including the line: “Unfortunately, the lack of a federal AV framework threatens U.S. leadership on this issue and empowers countries like China, Japan and Germany to take the lead.”

Leading voice on self-driving policy, Bob Latta
Leading voice on self-driving policy, Bob Latta

So, for this big hitter at least, the UK apparently doesn’t spring to mind when it comes to self-driving.

Latta continued: “If Congress fails to act, other countries will step in and dictate the future of AV technology. We cannot allow this to happen. For the United States to be the driver of cutting-edge technology, we need a framework that allows the industry to innovate while ensuring high safety standards. To maintain our leadership in the world, Congress must avoid shortsightedness, look over the horizon and pass the Self Drive Act.”

There are certainly parallels with the debate on this side of the pond. In May, the government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) announced a new £40m funding competition to kick-start commercial self-driving services in the UK.

The launch press release contained this eye-catching line: “The first vehicles to be listed as self-driving in the UK – vehicles approved under the Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS) Regulation – could be available for people to purchase, lease or rent later this year.”

Not everyone agrees with the approach or the timetable, so the government has a tricky balancing act to perform.

Back in 2018, then Business and Energy Secretary, Greg Clark, commented: “Low carbon and self-driving vehicles are the future and they are going to drive forward a global revolution in mobility. This revolution has the potential to be worth £52bn to our economy by 2035, and the opportunity to be at the forefront of this change is one we cannot afford to miss.”

Self-driving readiness

At the time, we were fifth in KPMG’s Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index (AVRI), judged against four pillars – policy and legislation, technology and innovation, infrastructure, and consumer acceptance.

By 2019, we had slipped to seventh, behind The Netherlands, Singapore, Norway, the US, Sweden and Finland, just ahead of Germany in eighth. 

By 2020, we were down to 9th in the KPMG ranking, having been overtaken by South Korea and the United Arab Emirates, with Germany slipping to 14th.

KPMG re self-driving readiness 2020
KPMG re self-driving readiness 2020

Germany have upped their game since, with 13,000km of motorway approved for conditionally automated driving and Mercedes-Benz announcing that it will accept legal responsibility for accidents caused by its Drive Pilot system.

Let’s remind ourselves of the three countries namechecked by Bob Latta: China, Japan and Germany. According to the latest KPMG ranking those three placed 20th, 11th and 14th respectively.

UK self-driving

The self-driving industry is evolving at lightning-fast speed and the UK is still very much in the vanguard.

Just last month, Oxbotica ran the first zero-occupancy, fully self-driving, electric vehicle on publicly accessible roads anywhere in Europe.

Oxbotica European self-driving 1st

Lord Grimstone, Minister of State for Investment, said: “This exciting development will further strengthen the UK’s reputation as a leading destination to develop and deploy self-driving vehicles, as well as helping grow a sector that will support highly-skilled jobs across the country.”

Then there’s Project Encode, which recently demonstrated transfer of control across three states – manual driving, autonomous driving and teleoperation – in live vehicle tests in Oxford and London.

And CAVForth, with its landmark two-week trial of a Level 4 automated bus in Scotland. The list goes on.

However, if Bob Latta’s comment is anything to go by, we clearly need to do more to highlight these successes on the international stage.

Why insurance is fundamental to the advancement of Oxbotica’s trials and self-driving in general

Oxbotica self-driving 1st illustrates insurance industry’s increasing focus on A-EVs 

Further details have emerged of the insurance industry’s contribution to Oxbotica’s recent self-driving first – running a zero-occupancy automated electric vehicle (A-EV) on public roads in Europe.

As noted in our original story, the insurance was arranged by broker Marsh and created by Apollo Group’s Insuring Businesses Of Tomorrow, Today (ibott) initiative, in partnership with Aioi Nissay Dowa Europe.

Insuring Businesses Of Tomorrow, Today (ibott) re self-driving
Insuring Businesses Of Tomorrow, Today (ibott) re self-driving

Additional comments provided via Haggie Partners on 26 May included the following by Rebecca Marsden and Sam Tiltman.

Enabling self-driving

Rebecca Marsden, underwriter at Apollo ibott, said: “The world is on the cusp of a once in a lifetime world-changing technology revolution, and Apollo through its ibott business, in partnership in the UK with Aioi Nissay Dowa Europe as insurer, is thrilled to have taken the first step with Oxbotica in ensuring universal autonomy reaches its full potential, enabled by innovative, comprehensive and flexible insurance solutions.”

Sam Tiltman, sharing economy and mobility leader for the UK & Ireland at Marsh, added: “Insurance is fundamental to the advancement of Oxbotica’s trials; this latest exciting development signals growing market confidence in how AVs will revolutionise UK transport infrastructure.” 

Oxbotica’s self-driving first – a zero-occupancy automated electric vehicle on public roads

Focus on self-driving

Other recent examples of the insurance industry’s increasing focus on self-driving include: our 17 May interview with Doug Jenkins, Motor Technical Risk Manager at AXA Insurance UK; the 27 May Insurance Post piece by Pamela Kokoszka, “Awareness campaign needed for drivers before accelerating introduction of AVs”; and the 1 June piece in The Actuary, The magazine of The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA), by Ben Hoster, director of transformative technologies at Marsh McClennan, “Changing gears: autonomous vehicles and motor insurance”.

In the latter, Hoster opined: “Electric autonomous vehicles (E-AVs) can help manufacturers to generate short-term revenues by providing semi-autonomous features such as advanced driver assistance systems, aspects of which include lane keeping assistance.

“Data collected from these systems – sensor inputs, camera feeds and electronic control unit decisions – will help to improve deep learning algorithms, facilitating a safe and scalable migration to full urban autonomy.

“The data collected from E-AVs will also increase the accuracy of risk assessments, making it more viable to insure them.”

He goes on to predict that multiple forms of coverage (including product, motor and cyber liability) will begin to overlap, that the determination of liability for bodily injury and property damage (BIPD) will become more difficult, and that E-AVs will influence vehicle ownership.

The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted more rival self-driving terminology here, with Marsh McClennan preferring electric autonomous vehicles (E-AVs) and the likes of PWC putting the A first, with autonomous electric vehicles (A-EVs).

Hoster concluded: “The insurance industry’s rigorous risk assessment methods and strict safety standards will build public confidence, improve profitability and pave the way for a future in which mobility is driverless and electrified.”

Despite criticism following another blue light incident, Cruise gets permit to charge for self-driving rides in its home city of San Francisco.

Self-driving 1st: Cruise wins permit to charge in San Francisco

On Thursday 2 June, as the UK began four days of festivities to mark The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, General Motors’ Cruise was celebrating the award of a permit to charge for self-driving car journeys in its home city of San Francisco.

The California Public Utilities Commission approved Cruise’s application in a unanimous 4-0 vote, with the company immediately announcing that paid services would launch within weeks.

Up to 30 Chevrolet Bolt automated electric vehicles (A-EVs) will be limited to a maximum of 30mph, and they still won’t be allowed on highways or used during periods of heavy rain.

Big moment for self-driving

It is a big moment for Cruise with San Francisco considered a harder technical challenge than Phoenix, where rival operator Alphabet has been charging for rides.

Cruise self-driving the iconic streets of San Francisco
Cruise self-driving the iconic streets of San Francisco

In April, we looked at its success in our article “Bullitt was peak 20th century, self-driving is sensational San Francisco today”, but it hasn’t always been plain sailing.

For example, this video of a police stop – “Ain’t nobody in it!” – went viral. With comic timing, when the officer turns his back, the car drives off, pulling over again on the other side of an intersection, with the police car in pursuit, lights flashing.

Just days before securing the permit, Cruise came in for more criticism following another blue light incident.

Self-driving blue light incident

This time a fire engine on a 4am shout was briefly delayed, although a garbage truck was apparently the main cause of the blockage.

Highways News reported: “A Cruise vehicle with nobody in it was moving in the oncoming lane. According to Cruise, their vehicle detected the fire truck and as it is programmed to do, pulled to the right and stopped (avoiding blocking any intersection) and summoned remote assistance. However the oncoming lane was not wide enough for the fire engine to pass, so the truck driver got into that vehicle and got it out of the way. The report says the fire engine was delayed only 25 seconds.”

It meant more negative headlines though, such as “Concern Caused After San Francisco (CA) Fire Truck Blocked by Autonomous Car” in Fire Apparatus Magazine.

Official comment

Despite these setbacks, the permit was awarded and Cruise’s Chief Operating Officer, Gil West (formerly COO at Delta Air Lines), was quick to post an upbeat blog titled “We’re going commercial”.

“Today, we received the first-ever Driverless Deployment Permit granted by the California Public Utilities Commission, which allows us to charge a fare for the driverless rides we are providing to members of the public here in San Francisco,” he said.

“This means that Cruise will be the first and only company to operate a commercial, driverless ridehail service in a major U.S. city.

“Now with this approval, we’ll begin rolling out fared rides gradually, expanding in alignment with the smoothest customer experience possible. As always, our focus is on delivering a magical and safe service for our riders.

“Crossing the threshold into commercial operations isn’t just big news for Cruise alone. It is a major milestone for the shared mission of the AV industry to improve life in our cities. And it’s a giant leap for our mission here at Cruise to save lives, help save the planet, and save people time and money. 

“We’re grateful to the CPUC for their thoughtful review and approval of our application, and we’ll continue our close coordination with regulators and community stakeholders as we expand our service and improve our product.

“Collaborating closely with the communities we serve will only become more important as we continue to deploy this transformative technology.

“Thank you to each and every Cruiser whose focus and dedication is bringing our vision for the future to life — here and now. And thank you to every San Franciscan who has taken a ride with us, provided feedback, and helped us on our mission to continuously improve our service.”

A star of early self-driving, it might be farewell to the Roborace race series.

End of the road for self-driving race series Roborace?

Thanks to Autocar for alerting us to the fact that the Roborace self-driving race series may be no more.

Roborace was established in 2015 by British-based Russian businessman Denis Sverdlov’s Kinetik Group.

Self-driving media boost

Its media profile was boosted by Formula E champion Lucas Di Grassi becoming CEO from 2017 to 2019.

Formerly Russia’s Deputy Minister of Communications, Sverdlov is now best known as the founder and CEO of electric vehicle startup, Arrival.

It was therefore no surprise when Roborace was acquired by Arrival.

Roborace self-driving race car 2019
Roborace self-driving race car 2019

While there had been plans to create a full race series, to be held before Formula E events, the vision never transpired.

Video of a less than successful test – when the car did a sharp right off the start line and crashed straight into a wall at Thuxton – went viral.

However, we prefer to look back at Roborace’s finest hour, in 2018, when it became the first self-driving car to climb the hill at the Goodwood Festival of Speed:

Roborace at Goodwood  in 2018

In May, Autocar reported filings showing that Roborace has been renamed Arrival R, with a focus on “interactive leisure and entertainment software”.

Arrrival commented: “We have made the decision to explore various strategic alternatives with regards to Roborace’s future and are in active discussions with potential partners.”

Kodiak and TuSimple are both in the vanguard of the fast-growing self-driving freight industry.

Driver out: US autonomous trucks lead the self-driving charge

Here at Cars of the Future we like to keep an eye on global self-driving media coverage – that’s how we find the hyperbolic headlines – so naturally we watched this Voice of America (VOA) news report:

Voice of America: Self-Driving Trucks May Beat Autonomous Cars in Race for Acceptance

In it, Cheng Lu, Advisor to TuSimple CEO Dr Xiaodi Hou, and Don Burnette, Co-Founder & CEO of Kodiak Robotics, go into bat for autonomous trucking, while Cathy Chase, President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and economic sociologist Steve Viscelli, author of The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream, provide cautionary commentary, if not overt opposition.

Self-driving opinions

While Lu and Burnette sell the benefits and share their progress – we’ll come to that in a minute – Chase points out: “We’re the ones on the roads with these vehicles and the public right now is an unwitting participant in a very high tech science experiment.”

Viscelli adds: “I’d say all drivers are concerned about the future of those jobs. They’re not yet convinced of the potential for really upskilling your job.”

As an aside, here’s a fact: Voice of America is apparently the largest and oldest US-funded international broadcaster.

Self-driving terminology

Anyway, with the US and UK apparently heading in opposite directions when it comes to describing the self-driving / driverless / autonomous / automated vehicle industry, the bit that caught our attention was “driver out”.

A quick visit to the TuSimple website reveals that it coined the term.

“TuSimple became the first and only company to autonomously operate heavy-duty trucks on open public roads with no humans in the vehicle, no remote control, and no human intervention of any kind,” it says. “TuSimple calls these, ‘Driver Out’ runs.”

Earlier this year, the California-based trucking company announced that Union Pacific Railroad will be the first to move freight on its fully automated trucking route between Tucson and Phoenix, following a test run on a similar route in December.

“At TuSimple, our mission is to automate certain routes that make the most sense to automate — and those are longhaul applications, the ones that have greater distance, a lot of repetition,” Lu told Transport Topics.

“It frees up valuable driver resources and valuable freight capacity to other parts of the logistics network — first-mile, last-mile, stuff it doesn’t make sense to automate.”

In March, the company posted this video to YouTube:

TuSimple: Advanced capabilities of driver out

Titled “Advanced capabilities of driver out autonomous driving system”, it shows the TuSimple autonomous trucks changing lanes and carefully avoiding other vehicles, including motorcycles.

Meanwhile, on 12 May, Kodiak posted this video of its truck performing a staged “fallback”, autonomously pulling to the side of the road after a pre-planned wire-cut:

Kodiak truck performing a staged fallback

Kodiak has been delivering freight daily between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, operating autonomously on the highway section of the route, for over a year now.

Ten times each second, the company’s self-driving system evaluates the performance of more than 1,000 safety-critical processes and components in both the self-driving stack and the underlying truck platform.

Kodiak self-driving truck performs fallback on pre-planned wire cut
Kodiak self-driving truck performs fallback on pre-planned wire cut

“It’s essential that the self-driving technology powering an 80,000-pound semi-truck is capable of reacting swiftly and safely, no matter what happens,” said Burnette.

“Kodiak’s autonomous trucks are constantly monitoring themselves and preparing to pull over in case of a fault, just like a human would.

“Implementing a fallback system is a fundamental necessity to achieving that level of safety and we are the first autonomous trucking company to demonstrate this capability on public roads.

“We have integrated fallback technology into the Kodiak Driver’s architecture from the beginning – it would be incredibly hard to add this capability as an afterthought.”

Self-driving photos

Kodiak and TuSimple – both in the vanguard of the fast-growing self-driving freight industry, and therefore in the eye of the media storm – also appear to be in competition for the best ‘truck on a bridge’ photo.

TuSimple self-driving truck on bridge photo
TuSimple self-driving truck on bridge photo
Kodiak self-driving truck on bridge photo
Kodiak self-driving truck on bridge photo

We think TuSimple just edge it on that score, but the big self-driving winners are yet to be decided.

Get your grant application in! UK government announces £40m funding for commercial self-driving projects

£40m CCAV funding competition will kick-start self-driving as rival to new railway lines and bus routes

On 23 May, a new £40m funding competition to kick-start commercial self-driving services – Commercialising Connected and Automated Mobility – was announced by Minister for Investment, Lord Grimstone.

Run by the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) – the government unit tasked with shaping the safe and secure emergence of connected and self-driving vehicles in the UK – the competition aims to bring together companies and investors so that sustainable business models can be rolled out nationally and exported globally.

The types of self-driving vehicles that could be deployed include delivery vans, passenger buses, shuttles and pods, as well as those for airports and shipping ports.

Self-driving Spokesperson

Lord Grimstone launched CCAV's self-driving funding competition
Lord Grimstone launched CCAV’s self-driving funding competition

Minister for Investment, Lord Grimstone, said: “Self-driving vehicles have the potential to revolutionise people’s lives, whether it’s by helping to better connect people who rely on public transport with jobs, local shops, and vital services, or by making it easier for those who have mobility issues to order and access services conveniently.

“This funding will help unlock the incredible potential of this new and growing industry, building on the continued development of self-driving technology, attracting investment and helping make our transport cleaner, safer and more efficient.”

Regular readers will note that this is the second high profile self-driving comment by Lord Grimstone this week, following his praise for Oxbotica’s landmark self-driving success of running a zero-occupancy vehicle on UK roads.

Transport Minister, Trudy Harrison, added: “We know that self-driving vehicles have the potential to revolutionise the way we travel, making our future journeys cleaner, easier and more reliable. But our absolute priority is harnessing the technology to improve road safety.

“With around 88% of road collisions currently caused by human error, this funding will drive the introduction of new technology to improve travel for all, while boosting economic growth and highly skilled jobs across the nation.”

Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Chief Executive, Mike Hawes, was also quoted in the official competition launch press release, saying: “Self-driving vehicles offer major benefits to society – improving road safety, supporting new jobs and economic growth, and enabling greater mobility for everyone – so the UK is rightly seeking to be at the forefront of this technological evolution.

“Recent regulatory reforms have helped Britain establish itself as a leader in the rollout out of self-driving passenger vehicles, and today’s announcement is a significant step towards self-driving public transport and goods delivery services becoming a reality.

“This new funding competition will help drive innovation and, potentially, private investment in UK automotive, ensuring cutting-edge self-driving technology finds a clearer path to UK roads.”

CCAV self-driving funding competition 2022
CCAV self-driving funding competition 2022

Self-driving Statistics

The statement went on to trot out the now familiar lines that self-driving “could be worth £42bn to the UK economy by 2035… potentially creating 38,000 new skilled jobs”.

However, deeper into the announcement came more interesting nuggets: £1.5m of the funding will be used to study using self-driving vehicles as an alternative to mass transit systems, for example, instead of new railway lines or bus routes.

Although there was no mention of it in the actual speech, unlike rail, the competition launch also included this eye-catching line: “The government announced a Transport Bill in the recent Queen’s Speech that will introduce comprehensive legislation for self-driving vehicles to enable safe and responsible deployment.”

Slightly worryingly, it went on to confirm that: “The first vehicles to be listed as self-driving in the UK – vehicles approved under the Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS) Regulation – could be available for people to purchase, lease or rent later this year.”

We get tired of saying it, but the continuing conflation of assisted driving and self-driving really isn’t helpful.

To be fair, the “notes to editors” section did reiterate that “Currently, there are no vehicles approved for self-driving on Britain’s roads meaning drivers must always remain in control of the vehicle.”

Further headline stats included:

  • In 2035, 80% of Britain’s jobs relating to CAV technology production are estimated to be in software-related industries. The remaining 20% would be in the production of CAV hardware, such as sensors.
  • Over 90% of the jobs created in developing CAV software and over 80% of the jobs relating to the manufacture of CAV hardware are expected to be in professional, technical and skilled trade occupations.
  • The SMMT estimates that self-driving vehicles could save 3,900 lives and prevent 47,000 serious accidents by 2030.
  • The Connected Places Catapult forecasts that, by 2035, 40% of new UK car sales could have self-driving capabilities, with a total market value of £41.7bn.

Key To UK Self-driving

The Commercialising Connected and Automated Mobility competition officially opened on 23 May 2022, the day before a CCAV, Innovate UK, Innovate UK KTN and Zenzic industry engagement event at the National Digital Exploitation Centre in Ebbw Vale, Wales.

As an indicator of the documents the Government considers most important, projects must align with the nine principles of the Future of Mobility Urban Strategy, those using public roads must comply with the DfT’s Code of Practice: Automated Vehicle Trialling, while terminology in applications should comply with the meanings set out in BSI’s CAV Vocabulary.

Only UK-registered organisations can apply. Your project’s total grant funding request must be between £500,000 and £9m, and projects must start by 1 March 2023.

Entries close at 11:00am on 20 July 2022.

Lord Grimstone says Oxbotica’s zero-occupancy feat will strengthen UK as a leading destination to develop self-driving vehicles

Minister praises Oxbotica’s landmark self-driving success: 1st zero-occupancy vehicle on UK roads

On 20 May 2022, Oxford-based autonomous vehicle software specialist, Oxbotica, announced a landmark success – the first zero-occupancy, fully self-driving, electric vehicle on publicly accessible roads anywhere in Europe.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel praised Oxbotica for Europe’s first zero-occupancy self-driving vehicle journey
Lord Grimstone praised Oxbotica’s zero-occupancy self-driving feat

The sensational road test, conducted in Oxford earlier this month, was praised by Lord Grimstone of Boscobel, Minister of State for Investment jointly at the Department for International Trade (DIT) and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), formerly Gerry Grimstone, chairman of Barclays Bank.

“Oxbotica’s completion of Europe’s first zero-occupancy self-driving vehicle journey on the road is testament to the UK’s world class automotive sector,” he said.

“This exciting development will further strengthen the UK’s reputation as a leading destination to develop and deploy self-driving vehicles, as well as helping grow a sector that will support highly-skilled jobs across the country.”

Self-driving European 1st

In a video detailing the achievement, Oxbotica founder & CTO, Paul Newman, explained: “Today, we ran an autonomous vehicle with no driver on open roads in the UK for the first time. It’s a great moment for this business and for the ecology of driverless vehicle technology in the UK.”

Oxbotica’s zero-occupancy self-driving vehicle

The peculiar-looking all-electric AppliedEV boasts radar vision, laser-based sensors and the Oxbotica Driver System, but what is more striking is what it doesn’t have – doors, windows, seats, pedals or a steering wheel.

Instead, it features an array of self-driving tech mounted on a small pylon fixed to the centre of the chassis.

The Oxbotica Driver software provides the vehicle with a rich understanding of its surroundings, with multiple Artificial Intelligence (AI) continuously checking decisions.

Oxbotica’s European 1st zero-occupancy self-driving
Oxbotica’s European 1st zero-occupancy self-driving

Coming hot on the heels of its strategic partnership agreement with NEVS, Oxbotica says the successful trial sets a new benchmark for safety standards in autonomous vehicle (AV) testing, as well as marking “the next step in commercialising AV technology”.

Newman continued: “Oxbotica is changing the way people and goods move. Our goal is to be indistinguishable from perfect on safety, and this achievement, alongside our partners, is proof of that. It’s a historic moment for the UK, the transport and logistics sector, and autonomous vehicle technology.”

Zero-occupancy self-driving

The plan is to deploy a goods delivery variant for grocery business Ocado as early as next year (2023).

Alex Harvey, Chief of Advanced Technology at Ocado Technology, said: “This is a fantastic milestone and we are delighted to see Oxbotica making significant progress towards zero-occupancy goods deliveries.

“We continue to collaborate closely with Oxbotica and are excited about providing this transformational capability to Ocado Smart Platform (OSP) partners at the earliest possible opportunity.”

The successful on-road trial, conducted in line with the UK Code of Practice 2019, and BSI’s PAS 1881:2020 and PAS 1883:2020 standards, also represents important progress for insurance solutions as part of the UK’s evolving mobility network.

The insurance was arranged by broker Marsh and created by Apollo Group’s Insuring Businesses Of Tomorrow, Today (ibott) initiative, in partnership with Aioi Nissay Dowa Europe.

Oxbotica says it is the first insurance of its kind in the UK, tailored specifically for the risks associated with Level 4 autonomy on open roads.

Gavin Jackson, Oxbotica CEO, concluded: “This Europe-first trial positions the UK as the number one destination for autonomous vehicle development and leapfrogs us towards commercialisation and the subsequent economic benefits available in this hyper-growth technology category.

“Autonomous vehicles will create billions of pounds in new revenues and generate thousands of high-skilled jobs, while helping cities and businesses meet their targets for carbon reductions.

“Our zero-occupancy, all-electric, fully autonomous prototype is exactly the new-type vehicle that will form the mainstay of the transportation industry for decades to come.”

Oxbotica will now focus on accelerating commercial deployment of autonomous vehicles globally, working with big-name partners including ZF, BP and NEVS.

Self-driving related highlights from Elon Musk’s keynote conversation at the FT Future of the Car Summit 2022

Elon Musk talks Twitter, Tesla and self-driving at FT Future of the Car Summit 2022

Following Volkswagen CEO, Herbert Diess, and Volvo Cars CEO, Jim Rowan, on day one of the FT Future of the Car Summit 2022, there was no doubting the biggest draw on day two: an hour-long “keynote conversation” with Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, covering Twitter, Tesla, SpaceX, self-driving and more.

The part live, part digital session was hosted by The Financial Times’ Global Motor Industry Correspondent, Peter Campbell, from The Brewery in London.

Tesla early days

It started with JB Straubel, formerly chief technical officer at Tesla, now Founder and CEO at renewable energy company Redwood Materials, joining Campbell on stage to discuss the origins of Tesla, with Musk contributing via video link.

JB Straubel and Elon Musk at FT Future of the Car Summit 2022
JB Straubel and Elon Musk at FT Future of the Car Summit 2022

EM: “We got together for lunch and the conversation turned to electric vehicles. JB said I should test drive the tzero prototype from AC Propulsion, that was in 2003. I tried to convince them to commercialise the tzero and, after a while, they said they really did not want to. I said, do you mind if I create a commercial electric sports car?”

JBS: “That’s pretty close to how I remember it. My perspective was us trying to chat with you about this electric hydrogen aeroplane concept, but our conversation completely turned to talking about lithium ion batteries… stringing together large numbers of small lithium ion batteries to potentially have hundreds of miles of range, which seems commonplace today, but in 2003 was absolutely unheard of. You understood that concept better than anyone else.”

They went on to cover the early work on a Lotus Elise chassis with the AC Propulsion drive train.

EM: “An insane nightmare, basically… almost everything about the first design of the Tesla Roadster was wrong. It was just an important thing that needed to happen to move to a sustainable technology future.

“At the time we created Tesla, there were no startups doing electric cars, and the big car companies had really no electric car programmes going. Therefore, unless we tried, they were not going to be created. It wasn’t from a standpoint of thinking, hey, here’s a super lucrative idea.

“There’s an incredibly big graveyard of car startups. They’ve almost all gone bankrupt. You’ve only heard of a tiny number of them, the DeLoreans of the world, but there are hundreds of others.

“The only two American car companies that have not yet gone bankrupt are Ford and Tesla. Tesla almost went bankrupt so many times I lost count. To start a car company is mega pain. It’s the furthest thing from easy money you could possibly imagine.

“The car industry is hyper competitive. Throughout the world, they have entrenched customers, dealers, service, factories, existing expertise – these are veteran armies.”

At this point, Straubel exited, leaving Campbell attempting to elicit answers about the widely rumoured purchase of Twitter. We’ll only cover that very briefly here.

Musk on Twitter

EM: “I think Twitter needs to be much more even handed. It currently has a strong liberal bias. This fails to build trust in the rest of the United States and also perhaps in other parts of the world.”

Peter Campbell and Elon Musk at FT Future of the Car Summit 2022
Peter Campbell and Elon Musk at FT Future of the Car Summit 2022

PC: “Are you planning to let Donald Trump back on?”

EM: “I’ve talked with Jack Dorsey about this. I have the same mind, which is that permanent bans should be extremely rare and really reserved for spam accounts, where there’s just no legitimacy. I do think that it was not correct to ban Donald Trump, I think that was mistake because it is alienating a large part of the country.”

20 million cars a year by 2030

Global media coverage assured, conversation returned to Tesla and the ambition to make 20 million cars a year by 2030.

EM: “There are approximately two billion cars and trucks in the world and for us to really make a dent in sustainable energy, in electrification, I think we need to replace at least 1% of the fleet per year, that’s where the 20 million units comes from. I think we’ve got a good chance of getting there.

“We have an incredible team at Tesla, executing very well and our annual growth rates are faster than for any large manufactured product in the history of Earth. I think the next fastest was the Model T. If that growth rate continues then we will reach 20 million vehicles a year, but we may stumble.”

On raw materials, he continued: “The two main cathode choices are nickel and phosphate. Iron is extremely plentiful and the second biggest element is oxygen. So, I do not see any fundamental scaling constraints. Lithium is also quite common.

“Our goal is to accelerate the advent of sustainable energy. The three pillars of a sustainable energy future are electric transport, stationary battery packs and sustainable energy sources – solar, wind, geothermal and hydro.

“All of Earth can easily be powered by solar and wind, stationary battery packs and electric transport. You could power all of Europe with a section of Spain, all of the United States with a corner of Utah or Texas. Obviously, it would make more sense to spread this out. I invite anyone to do the basic math in megawatts per square kilometre.”

They went on to talk about SpaceX, in particular the Falcon 9 rocket. Classic Musk: “I’m sure we’ll do more than 1,000 times the payload to orbit of all other rockets on Earth combined.”

Then, briefly, China, and the Tesla factory in Shanghai. Finally, with the hour flying by, they got to self-driving.

Musk on self-driving

EM: “I don’t think you need full human level intelligence to drive a car. You don’t need deep conceptual understanding of esoteric concepts or anything like that. Anyone who’s driven a car for any length of time, once you have some years of experience, the cognitive load on driving a car isn’t that high.

“You’re able to think about other things, listen to music, have a conversation and still drive safely. So, it’s not like matching everything a human does. It is matching enough of the silicon neural nets to at least be on a par with the biological neural nets to enable self-driving, and I think we’re quite close to achieving that. Don’t take my word for it, sign up for a beta programme, look at the videos people are posting.

“I’m confident we will get far in excess of the safety level of humans. Ultimately, probably a factor of 10 safer than a human, as measured by the probability of injury.

“It’s around a million people per year dying from automotive accidents, maybe 10 million per year are severely injured.  So, with autonomy, the cars driving, or assisted driving right now, but it will be fully autonomous the future, there’s those who didn’t realise they would have crashed, or hit a pedestrian or cyclist.

“It is important to note that we have never said ever that Tesla Autopilot does not require attention. We have always made that extremely clear, repeatedly. You can’t even turn it on without acknowledging that it requires supervision. We remind you of that ad nauseam, so this was not a case of setting expectations that the car can simply drive itself.”

It was Q&A time, so I submitted the question: “Why don’t you change the name of the Full Self-Driving package? It is driver assistance not self-driving. The name causes so much unnecessary criticism.” I didn’t get an answer.

Neil Kennett self-driving question for Elon Musk at FT Future of the Car Summit 2022
Neil Kennett self-driving question for Elon Musk at FT Future of the Car Summit 2022

To be fair, his hour was nearly done and questions from the audience were stacking up. Classily, he stayed on for a lengthy period of overtime.

Audience Q&A

Here are some of the highlights…

On micromobility: “Scooters are very dangerous. We don’t recommend anyone drive a scooter.”

On building a small car: “There’s some probability that Tesla will do a smaller car.”

On Tesla licencing their products to other OEMs: “They may be interested in licencing Tesla Autopilot full self driving. I think that would save a lot of lives. I would be very open to that.”

On competitors: “VW is doing the most on the electric vehicle front. There will be some very strong companies coming out of China.”

On AI: “We have the best real world AI team in the world.”

On the next big innovation in personal transportation: “Tunnels are underrated, underappreciated. This notion of induced demand is one of the single dumbest notions I’ve ever heard in my entire life. If adding roads just increases traffic, why don’t we delete them? Decrease traffic. I think you’d have uproar. We already have a proof of concept in Las Vegas with a tunnel going from the convention centre to the strip. It’s working really well.”

On super capacitors: “There simply isn’t enough ruthenium. I thought about it quite a lot. Had I continued as a student and done a PhD at Stanford, a theory I had at the time was to use advanced chipmaking equipment to build solid state capacitors.”

On hydrogen: “The number of times I’ve been asked about hydrogen! If you want a means of energy storage, hydrogen is a bad choice. It’s extremely low density, maintaining it in liquid form is incredibly difficult and it does not naturally occur on Earth. So, you either have to split water with electrolysis or crack hydrocarbons. It is the most dumb thing that I could possibly imagine for energy storage.”

And finally, on wanting to die on Mars: “I just said sure, but not on impact! Really, the goal on that front is making life multiplanetary… to preserve life as we know it, not just humans, but also the other animals and plants. So we don’t end up like the dinosaurs.

“You know, there will be natural calamities that occur on Earth – giant meteors and super volcanoes – and we can also do ourselves in, World War III is maybe looking a little bit more probable these days.

“So, I think it’s important for preserving the light of consciousness that we become a multi-planet species and, ultimately, a multi-stellar species.”

You like autonomous and we like self-driving, as US and UK push different descriptors.

A divergence in self-driving terminology: has Tesla’s FSD wrecked general usage in America?

The issue of confusing terminology in the, er, self-driving / driverless / autonomous / automated vehicle industry, has raised its ugly head once again, with the US and UK apparently heading in opposite directions.

An article on the 2025AD website this week, titled “Autonomous driving: Do we need a common language to move forward?”, warned that “unclear terminology limits understanding”. 

The oft-quoted Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has recently updated its “Levels of Driving Automation”, revealing in itself, reflecting a shift towards “Automated” and away from “Autonomous” in some quarters.

SAE levels of driving automation 2022
SAE levels of driving automation 2022

Self-driving in the UK

Then there’s “self-driving”. In the UK, the Government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and others have been keen to embrace it in place of “driverless”.

For example, in its “Government paves the way for self-driving vehicles on UK roads” statement in April, and the two mentions in the Queen’s Speech 2022 lobby pack.

You can see the logic. It isn’t generally good practice to brand something by what it’s not, so “self-driving” certainly has the advantage over “driverless” in that respect.

We’re talking headline descriptors here. Let’s not even get into acronyms… like the fact there’s one letter difference between Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and Automated Driving Systems (ADS) when confusing the two is so dangerous. Grrr.

Self-driving in Korea

Anyway, back to self-driving. We’re not alone in liking it. For example, this month saw the launch of the epically-named Self-driving Robot Alliance in Korea.

Park Jae-young, official for Korean industrial policy, said: “I hope that the Self-driving Robot Alliance will become a place to drive the growth of the domestic self-driving robot market.”

Argument over then, self-driving it is. Not if the largest economy in the world has anything to do with it!

Autonomous in America

Across the pond, Americans are falling out of love with the term “self-driving” and going back to “autonomous”.

TechCrunch reported last year that Waymo was dropping self-driving. Now, the lobbying group the Self-driving Coalition for Safer Streets (including big hitters like Cruise, Ford and Argo AI) has changed its name to the Autonomous Vehicle (AV) Industry Association.

You have to question Tesla’s part in all this. It’s a shame, given everything Elon Musk has done for electric cars, that so many hyperbolic headlines are caused by its confusingly-named Full Self-Driving (FSD) package.

It simply isn’t self-driving as the rest of the industry understands it, and it risks drivers misunderstanding what their cars are capable of.

As Forbes reported back in 2020, Tesla has already had to rebrand its Autopilot as Autodrive in Germany. Has its Full Self-Driving (FSD) brand wrecked the self-driving name for everyone else?

Define self-driving

Not in the UK apparently. British Standards group, BSi, with its famous kitemarks, recently updated its connected and automated vehicles (CAV) vocabulary, sponsored by the autonomous-leaning CCAV.

Thanks to lead technical author Nick Reed, of Reed Mobility, BSI Flex 1890 v4.0:2022-03 included some notable additions, not least for “self-driving”.

BSi's CAV vocabulary includes "self-driving"
BSi’s CAV vocabulary includes “self-driving”

Referencing other definitions in the document, BSi defined self-driving as: “Full function of the dynamic driving task (2.1.24), performed by the automated driving system (2.1.7) within its operational design domain (2.1.48)”.

By way of justification, the definition was accompanied by two notes: 1) Although this term is deprecated within SAE J3016 (2021), it is included here because this is the term best understood by the public to mean the definition as stated (which is the same as that for automated driving).

And 2): The Law Commission of England and Wales and Scottish Law Commission joint report (2022) extended this definition with the condition that the vehicle is to drive “safely and legally, even if an individual is not monitoring the driving environment, the vehicle or the way that it drives”.

Peter Stoker, Chief Engineer for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles at Millbrook, nutshelled the issue last year, telling us: “The key to the future of self-driving is education, education, education – for everyone, the public, vehicle manufacturers, the aftermarket… we have to work on the terminology – autonomous, driverless, CAV, CAM – it’s confusing, even to people who know what they’re talking about.”

With marketing teams in the US pushing “autonomous” and the UK and others pushing “self-driving”, the confusion looks set to continue.