The US driverless market has become a competitive – and crowded – arena, with big names like Google, Apple, Uber, and even Intel intent on leading the pack. Not to be outdone, the EU is also getting in on the automated car action with self-driving fleets launching in both the UK and the Netherlands within the next two years.
The BBC reported last month that a consortium of companies known as DRIVEN in England planned to test autonomous vehicles between London and Oxford last month, albeit with a human on board as a precaution.
DRIVEN's partners, led by driverless software developer Oxbotica Ltd, include insurer XL Catlin, the Oxford Robotics Institute, Nominet, Telefonica, the Transport Research Laboratory, UKAEAs RACE facility, Oxfordshire County Council, Transport for London, and Westbourne Communication.
RACE — the UK's Atomic Energy Authority's robotics division at Culham Science Centre — was announced as a test site, due to its 10 kilometers of roads, junctions, and roundabouts, which includes traffic lights and pedestrian crossings.
The project received £8m in funding from the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles from the UK government's £13m investment in driverless development. The end goal is to test these vehicles on UK roads and motorways from London to Oxford by 2019.
It would seem the UK is riddled with enthusiasm about driverless tech; but Professor David Bailey, from the Aston Business School, told the BBC that the amount committed to DRIVEN by the UK government was "relatively small beer":
Britain is trying to keep up, but the big development in the field is going on elsewhere.
Over in the Netherlands, startup Amber Mobility is launching a self-driving car service in 2019. The company, created last year, uses already-existing technology courtesy of companies such as NVIDIA, Microsoft, TNO, and others. Their goal is to design a new vehicle specifically for shared commuter-use, starting small with electric cars while testing the project with corporate clients according to TechCrunch. A company spokesperson told Driverless that their cars would drive autonomously to the right location during the night, at slow speeds and in bus lanes, to maximize safety. There are fewer people around then, so accidents are less likely to happen.
Amber certainly seemed confident about its capacity to expand and compete, particularly in relation to its own-brand car:
In the end, we hope to compete with Waymo and other services based on the fact that we'll be using our own car (the Amber One) that's designed especially to be shared. It has a long lifespan (1.5M km), long range (400 km), light weight (700 kg), modular and customizable design, as well as an extremely low cost of ownership (or in our case, running costs). This will allow us to offer our mobility service to users at an affordable price.
The Dutch startup told us that it "definitely envisions expanding to the U.S. in the future." Amber maintain that they have a geographical advantage, unlike the driverless companies clustered in Silicon Valley:
The Netherlands provides the most logical starting ground for the service: it's so densely populated and contains many medium-sized cities with a lot of inter-city travel (i.e. not suitable for typical public transportation solutions). But we see the US as a potentially big market opportunity.
But Driverless expert Grayson Brulte thinks that Britain and the Netherlands will only be able to compete with the likes of Waymo and Tesla on a short-term basis. Brulte, the co-founder of Brulte & Company and Autonomous Tomorrow, told Driverless:
Today, yes. Tomorrow, no. Driven and Amber have to play to their strengths and their respective executives have to position each company as the leader in their respective markets. If Driven and Amber can gather enough data, scale their technology and grow market share in a relatively short-time frame, the companies will be well positioned for a possible acquisition by an OEM.
It's really difficult to predict who will come out on top and which country will emerge triumphant from the driverless race at this point. As Brulte points out, "2025 will become the tipping point." We'll have to wait until then to see whether Amber stays true to their word.