More Startups Need to Join the Autonomous Car Race, States Fortune

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【Summary】Startups will push traditional automakers and technology companies to be better, create more advanced systems, and push themselves to meet tougher timelines.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Sep 23, 2018 6:00 AM PT
More Startups Need to Join the Autonomous Car Race, States Fortune

The fatal accident involving one of Uber's autonomous vehicles and a pedestrian shook things up in the autonomous segment. After the accident, fingers started flying through the air, as the company and the industry as a whole tried to find a reason for the mishap. 

After the incident, which experts claimed was avoidable, numerous companies brought their autonomous programs to a halt. Arizona's Governor got into the mix, suspending Uber's driverless tests in Arizona. But others stopped their testing, as well, including Toyota and artificial intelligence chipmaker Nvidia. While these were immediate responses to the accident, the incident caused some long-term changes, too. 

Uber brought its self-driving operation in Arizona to a complete halt, choosing to back out of the state and focus on its programs in San Francisco and Pittsburgh. While stating that companies and automakers have altered their driverless programs dramatically would be as stretch, some have backtracked, opting for an extended break before pushing boundaries again. 

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Accidents Should Make Autonomy Better

That, as Fortune claims in a lengthy article is a mistake. Instead of taking a break or shying away from autonomous vehicles, the outlet states that companies should use the incident as a reason to double down on autonomy. Making safe vehicles that can drive themselves, according to Fortune isn't something that a couple of large players can do, but is, instead, something that will require innovative technology by a lot of companies. And innovative technology, in its truest form, mainly comes from startups, which is why the autonomous race needs more of them. 

Besides coming out with innovative technology before major players, the addition of startups in the race will push everyone to be better. Competition brings better products to the market and it's the same with autonomous vehicles. With hundreds of companies working on autonomous vehicles, only the good ones will thrive, forcing those at the top to continue to make good systems and pushing lackluster companies out of the way. If only three or four companies continue to shine, there won't be a lot of competition to go around. 

In addition to forcing companies to have better technology, having more startups in the race will also result in a quicker timeline for the release of new technology. Everyone wants to be first, since cornering a market is a crucial part of the process. The first person that comes out with an autonomous pizza delivery service that's available throughout the nation will seal its fate as the one-and-only company out there to autonomously deliver your pizza in less than 30 minutes. Seeing someone else succeed in a closed-off market will cause other companies to catch up, and catch up quickly. 

A few companies, though, are dominating the autonomous race. But Fortune doesn't believe major players like General Motors, Google, Uber, or Waymo will be the ones shuffling you from one place to another. Instead, the outlet claims that a "local self-driving taxi service" will be in charge of that, as centralized models clearly haven't been the answer for autonomy. 

Fortune broke down how startups could take on major players in specific segments further. 

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When it comes to automobiles that are capable of driving on their own, the majority of companies have gone with outfitting pre-existing vehicles with the necessary hardware and software to take the driver out of the equation. This isn't a secret and it's something startups can copy themselves. 

Or, as some radical startups have done, they can go down the patch of doing something completely different. Autonomous car startup Zoox is the perfect example of a startup that's going in a different direction than almost every other company in the autonomous race. Instead of purchasing a fleet of vehicles from an automaker and then modifying the machines, Zoox is building its own cars. Is it more difficult? Yes, even the owners admit that. But the payoff if it works out will be much greater. 

If creating their own vehicles sounds like too much of a risk, startups can also enter the race as companies that can develop the necessary hardware or software that can be sold to others. 


This is one of the more prominent areas that startups can really stand out in. Large automakers have been forced to go with large sensor and chipmakers like Velodyne and Nvidia for their computing and sensor needs. Well-known companies like the two previously mentioned ones have kept their eye on the ball and know what's going on in the industry, so they saw this happening and quickly adjusted to it. But large overheads and little competition means they can charge a large amount of money for their products. 

Everyone wants to bring the high costs of autonomous vehicles down. Sensors and computers are two of the most notable components that are driving costs of self-driving vehicles up. Startups that come out with a more affordable solution to the problem will come out on top. 

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Highly detailed, 3D maps are crucial in getting autonomous vehicles to drive on their own. While some companies have found a way around using maps, the majority of them are relying on maps as a crucial part of the driverless equation. Large companies like Google have dominated the industry when it comes to maps, but smaller startups have emerged with innovative technology to take on the giants. 

AI-based simulation

Nothing beats real-world testing, but with Uber's recent fatal accidents, companies have come under scrutiny for publicly testing autonomous vehicles. And companies can't rack up millions of miles in a short period of time anyways, so they've turned towards high-end simulators that are capable of pushing an autonomous vehicles' systems to the limit in non-stop situations. 

A lot of these simulators require artificial intelligence to not only learn why a system made the mistake it did, but to learn what it could've been done better and pass that information on to the self-driving vehicle itself. Large players are already investing millions into developing autonomous technology and aren't interested in creating unique simulators for their vehicles to run on. This is where startups can dominate and create simulators that can benefit the entire industry. 

The industry still needs and relies on Google, Tesla, Uber, and General Motors for the mass adoption of autonomous technology. Few can rival the funds and manpower these leaders bring to the table. But even these companies rely on the startups that come out of left field for those light bulb ideas. And it's that level of innovation and spontaneity that will help autonomous cars come to market. 

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