Before we do anything here at Mobileye, we think long and hard about the right path forward. And our conclusion, when it comes to ramping up to deploying fully autonomous vehicles, is that robotaxis must come first.
Our acquisition of Moovit represents a major step in our pursuit of that path. As does every new robotaxi program we embark upon in locations already including France, Japan, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, and here in our home country of Israel… with more sure to follow.
What is a Robotaxi?
A robotaxi, for those unfamiliar with the concept, is essentially a driverless car (or shuttle bus) that you order to your location when you need it, instead of buying it and keeping it on hand for when you will. Or to put it another way, it’s like a taxi, but driven by computer (instead of a human cab driver).
3 Reasons Why Robotaxis are the Right Way Forward
So why are we convinced that driverless robotaxis represent the right way forward, before autonomous vehicles can enter mass production? For a number of reasons – the first of which is cost. The hardware alone that’s required for a vehicle to operate entirely autonomously will, at the outset, be very expensive. AVs, per the Mobileye approach, will have two fully independent subsystems – one with cameras-only, one with radars and LiDars, in addition to powerful processors in order to completely and safely replace the human driver.
Fleet operators can afford that cost, which they’ll recuperate incrementally with each ride they serve up, amortizing the expense over time as the vehicles spend far more time on the road than a privately owned vehicle would be. As development and production of all this equipment ramps up, the cost will eventually come down to a level at which it will be affordable enough for private customers.
The second is regulation. Current laws governing motor-vehicle use are almost universally predicated on the notion of their being operated by human drivers. Changing that model to one in which the vehicle will be essentially operated by computer won’t happen overnight, but can more readily be phased in gradually with limited fleets of robotaxis.
Professional fleet operators can be more closely monitored and regulated than private consumers realistically can be. And based on their records, regulators will be better able to prepare for more widespread deployment of autonomous vehicles.
Finally, there’s the question of geographic scale – which principally comes down to map coverage. The general consensus across the industry is that autonomous vehicles will require highly accurate road maps, far more precise than existing GPS-based geolocation technology. Just think of how many times your satellite navigation system has gotten confused about where exactly you are and which direction you’re facing (let alone which lane you’re in), and you’ll understand why ordinary GPS isn’t nearly accurate enough for a fully autonomous vehicle.
That’s why we developed our Road Experience Management (REM)™ system, which is steadily gathering the required information for compilation into our Roadbook™ database through our extensive crowd of Mobileye-equipped vehicles… but the process naturally takes time. Robotaxis will initially be geofenced within digitally delineated areas that will already have been sufficiently mapped. All the while, we (and our colleagues across the industry) can work on intricately mapping the rest of the world’s roads.
Unlocking Enormous Potential
Each of those challenges would be difficult enough to overcome on their own. Taken together, they pose an enormous roadblock on the highway to fully autonomous mobility and the potential benefits it holds in store.
With the intermediate step of deploying robotaxi services, parties both private and public will be better positioned to drive down the cost of the technology, formulate and enact the required regulations, and create the extensive high-precision maps that autonomous vehicles will need in order to proliferate into the mainstream. Far from a mere stopgap, though, robotaxis represent a total available market (TAM) estimated to be worth $160 billion by 2030, in turn presenting an economic opportunity far too promising to dismiss.
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