**Why Robotaxis Are the Focus Rather Than Consumer Cars**
The Importance of Robotaxis
Robotaxi Technology vs Consumer Car Technology
The Misconception about Robocar Development
The Flawed Levels of Self-Driving
The Commercial Viability of Privately Owned Robocars
The Value of Different Sectors in the Self-Driving Industry
**Why Robotaxis Are the Focus Rather Than Consumer Cars**
In the field of self-driving cars, there is a notable focus on developing robotaxi technology rather than consumer cars. While Tesla stands out as a major player that emphasizes consumer vehicles, most other significant companies prioritize robotaxis. This strategic decision is driven by several factors that make robotaxis a more valuable and commercially viable option.
**Robotaxi Technology vs Consumer Car Technology**
Robotaxis are designed to serve as a transportation service, providing customers with rides on-demand, whereas consumer cars are targeted towards selling to the general public. Building and deploying a fleet of robotaxis has several advantages over creating self-driving consumer cars:
1. **Easier Implementation**: Developing technology that powers robotaxis is a more achievable goal compared to creating fully autonomous consumer cars. The complex task of enabling a car to navigate all streets within a country is challenging, both technologically and financially.
2. **Defined Service Area**: Robotaxis operate within a specific service area, typically concentrated in urban settings. This allows companies to optimize their technology for a particular city or region rather than needing to support all streets nationwide, which is necessary for consumer cars.
3. **Fleet Ownership**: Robotaxi companies own and maintain their vehicle fleets, as opposed to consumer cars that are privately owned. This gives robotaxi operators more control over the maintenance and modification of their vehicles, resulting in better service quality.
4. **Ease of Design**: Robotaxis can be designed with specific purposes in mind, allowing for innovative designs such as the Zoox and Cruise Origin. In contrast, consumer cars must adhere to conventional car designs to meet the demands and preferences of buyers.
5. **Electric Vehicle Adoption**: The transition to electric vehicles is more feasible with robotaxis due to their defined service areas and centralized operations, making it easier to establish charging infrastructure and manage battery range.
**The Misconception about Robocar Development**
The perception that the development of robocars is lagging behind expectations is a common misconception. While some individuals anticipated faster timelines for the technology’s advancement, others understand the challenges associated with creating fully self-driving cars. It is essential to differentiate between consumer cars and robotaxis to assess industry progress accurately.
**The Flawed Levels of Self-Driving**
One reason for the misconception surrounding robocar development is the misinterpretation of the Levels of Automation, a hierarchical system defining the degree of autonomy in self-driving vehicles. This system, established by NHTSA and managed by the Society of Automotive Engineers, was not designed by developers in the industry and has limited utility.
The Levels of Automation primarily focus on the decreasing role of human drivers in self-driving cars, an irrelevant aspect in modern robocar development. The Level 5, representing fully autonomous vehicles capable of driving in any situation without human intervention, is not a realistic or practical goal currently pursued by most companies.
**The Commercial Viability of Privately Owned Robocars**
While privately owned robocars have been promised by companies like Tesla and some startups, the reality is that these vehicles are still far from being commercially valuable products. Developing consumer cars that meet the comprehensive needs of individual buyers and can operate on all streets across the country is a challenging and lengthy process.
The focus on robotaxis and other specific niches within the self-driving industry is driven by the potential for creating commercially viable products and services. By concentrating on providing transportation services through robotaxis, companies can capture revenue from various sources, including vehicle rides, energy, insurance, maintenance, and parking.
**The Value of Different Sectors in the Self-Driving Industry**
Within the self-driving industry, various sectors hold different levels of value and importance. The primary focus areas for self-driving technology development include:
1. **Urban Robotaxi**: Companies like Waymo, Cruise, AutoX, and Baidu are focused on developing self-driving technology for robotaxis operating within urban environments. These vehicles serve as transportation services, offering convenient rides within a defined service area.
2. **Freeway and Arterial self-drive**: Car manufacturers, such as Mercedes and Honda, concentrate on creating self-driving technology that enhances the driving experience on freeways and arterial roads. The goal is to enable drivers to hand off control during long commutes and enjoy automated driving on straightforward highway sections.
3. **Freight for Freeways and Arterials**: Self-driving technology is also being harnessed for the trucking industry, with companies like Waymo Via, Kodiak, and tuSimple developing autonomous freight vehicles. The focus is on optimizing long-haul freight transportation on freeways and arterial roads.
4. **Delivery**: Several companies, including Nuro, JD, and Starship, are investing in self-driving technology for last-mile delivery services. These vehicles operate on streets or sidewalks to transport goods efficiently and autonomously.
5. **Shuttles**: Self-driving shuttles designed for closed areas and fixed routes are also part of the self-driving landscape. These vehicles cater to specific transportation needs within controlled environments, such as university campuses or theme parks.
6. **Off-road**: Some companies are exploring self-driving technology for off-road applications, targeting industries like mining, agriculture, and construction. Autonomous vehicles in these sectors can enhance productivity and safety in challenging environments.
7. **ADAS**: Almost every car manufacturer is incorporating advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), which provide features like lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control. While not fully self-driving, ADAS technologies contribute to increased safety and convenience.
Overall, the value of different sectors in the self-driving industry lies in their commercial viability and capacity to fulfill specific transportation needs more effectively than privately owned consumer cars. By focusing on developing technologically feasible and commercially viable products, companies can accelerate the adoption and deployment of self-driving technology.