Dec 2020 Driverless AV M&A Recap: What’s Ahead?

Article By : Egil Juliussen

December 2020 has been an eventful month for the auto industry—especially for the AV segment. There were several announcements on driverless AVs and two AV acquisitions...

December 2020 has been an eventful month for the auto industry, especially for the autonomous vehicle segment. There were several announcements on driverless AVs and two AV acquisitions.

Amazon AWS is rapidly penetrating the auto industry on a variety of fronts. The Zoox robotaxi announcement got a lot of attention in December.

AWS is also making great progress in serving the auto industry with its traditional internet and web services and more is likely to come. AWS made at least two significant cooperation agreements in December with BMW and BlackBerry-QNX.

But that is only a partial list. We’ll get to the rest of the activity below, but there was so much in the last month or so that it might be easier to grasp the volume of it by formatting it into a table:

(Source: Egil Juliussen)

Autonomous Vehicles
AVs provided lots of news in December 2020 and much of it was focused on driverless AV technology.

Cruise

After 5 years of testing in San Francisco and 2 million miles traveled, Cruise started driverless AV testing. At first Cruise will have a safety operator in the passenger seat that can stop the AV in an emergency but cannot access any driving controls. Cruise believes driverless testing is a key milestone on the way to robotaxi and/or goods delivery services.

Cruise is likely to introduce robotaxi services in San Francisco sometime in 2021. To do so it needs a permit from California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). Cruise has probably applied for such a permit already since it became available on November 19, 2020. Under California AV rules, Cruise will also need some type of teleoperation as backup for driverless operation. Cruise may use a safety driver at the start of its robotaxi service as Waymo did in Phoenix.

Motional

On December 16, 2020, Motional announced it would deploy driverless AVs on Lyft’s ride-hailing network starting in 2023 in multiple markets. This will be based on Motional’s next-generation, driverless AV system. Motional did not specify which markets but Las Vegas is probably one city since it had provided over 100,000 rides on the Lyft network in early 2020.

Motional is a $4 billion joint venture between Aptiv and Hyundai that was announced in early 2020. Nevada granted Motional permission to use driverless AVs on November 17, 2020. It is likely that Motional will use this permit in Las Vegas for initial testing in 2021.

Nuro

Nuro received an AV deployment permit that will allow it to operate an autonomous goods delivery services in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. This is the first permit in California for operating a paid goods delivery service. Nuro will start in early 2021with its Toyota Prius AVs in an unnamed city with an unnamed partner. Nuro will transition to its purpose-built R2 delivery bots at a later time. It will add more partners and expand to other cities in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. California DMV included some restriction on the permit. Nuro goods AVs must have a maximum speed of 25 mph and can only operate on streets with a max speed limit of 35 mph. Operation is limited to fair weather conditions.

Zoox

Zoox announced and demonstrated its robotaxi on December 14, 2020. It is an exciting product with lots of innovation. My previous column has lots of details on the Zoox robotaxi’s vehicle and AV technology: Gadzooks! A Worthy Robo-Taxi from Zoox | EE Times. There is also information on production and some speculation on potential future deployment.

Mobileye

On December 15, 2020, Mobileye released a hour video of its AV driving urban roads and highways in Munich, Germany. It is impressive that within just a few days of delivering the AV to Munich, Mobileye was able to do this drive. Mobileye believes this was feasible due to its crowd-sourced Road Experience Management (REM) mapping technology. The technology is generating map data for over 15 million kilometers of roads on a daily basis to build REM maps and keep them up to date.

The AV in the video is using a camera-only subsystem of Mobileye’s L4 development AV. The camera subsystem runs on two of Mobileye’s EyeQ5 SoCs with data from 11 cameras. Note that Mobileye’s future production L4 solution (not shown in the video) includes a second sensing subsystem using radar and lidar for redundancy.

Mobileye has a permit that allows it to test AVs in real-world traffic on all German roads at speeds up to 130 kilometers per hour.

Baidu Apollo

Baidu Apollo had its yearly conference in early December with multiple announcements. Information on its robotaxi was the most interesting announcement. Apollo Go Robotaxi are operating in three cities, Beijing, Changsha, and Cangzhou, and has carried over 210,000 passengers. Apollo plans to expand its robotaxi service to about 30 cities over the next three years.

WeRide

WeRide received VC funding of $200 million in mid-December 2020, which doubled its VC investments to over $400 million. The source of the funding makes it notable since it is from a Chinese bus manufacturer named Yutong. WeRide also has a significant VC investment from Renault-Nissan.

WeRide and Yutong plan to make autonomous minibuses and city buses. They have jointly developed an autonomous minibus for future volume production.

Apple

Apple was back in the AV news column after a long quiet period. As usual there is minimal real data, but there seems to be evidence that Apple has a major project to develop a BEV with autonomous capabilities. Previous Apple speculation had gone from BEV-AV to only AV software, but are now back to a full BEV-AV. For more details: Here’s a link to EE Times’s story.

AV Acquisitions
December 2020 saw two interesting acquisitions in the AV industry. The Aurora acquisition of Uber ATG group has been covered extensively. Here is the link to my column on this important event.

The other acquisition is Nuro’s purchase of Ike Robotics on December 23, 2020. It is a much smaller acquisition and has not gotten much attention so far. Nuro is a significant AV company with around 600 employees and VC investment of nearly $1 billion. Ike is focused on autonomous trucks but is a small company with about 60 employees and VC investment of around $52 million.

Nuro already owned a portion of Ike Robotics and has now acquired all of Ike. Ike built its AV software platform for autonomous trucks, and Nuro’s AV software platform for goods AVs. In return Nuro became part owner of Ike.

It looks like Nuro acquired Ike to get more AV technology resources for its expanding goods delivery business. It also looks like Ike’s autonomous truck development projects will be on hold for a while. The question is if the autonomous truck AV platform development will be re-started and when.

Amazon AWS & Auto Industry
Amazon Web Services (AWS) has been the leader in providing internet services for many industries and is on its way to be the leader for the automotive industry too. It looks like AWS is focusing on two segments — providing IT server farms for automotive clients (the core business of AWS) and providing software and system tools for developing software apps combined with operational support while the new apps are used in cars. A few examples are summarized below.

On December 8, 2020. BMW and AWS announced a strategic collaboration to increase BMW’s capabilities in data management and analytics. BMW and AWS will jointly develop cloud-enabled solutions across every aspect of the automotive life cycle, from vehicle design to after-sales services. BMW will migrate data from its business units and operations in 100+ countries to AWS. This includes a number of BMW’s core IT systems and databases for functions such as sales, manufacturing and maintenance. AWS’s machine learning technology is certainly one reason for BMW to do this.

AWS made a similar cloud IT deal with VW in March 2019. AWS will provide web services for VW’s industrial cloud that includes manufacturing and logistics. This will eventually grow to a worldwide ecosystem to integrate over 30,000 facilities and 1,500 suppliers and partners in Volkswagen’s global supply chain.

In early December 2020, BlackBerry and AWS joined forces to develop BlackBerry IVY, a scalable, cloud-connected software platform that will allow automakers to create personalized driver and passenger experiences and improve operations of connected vehicles with new BlackBerry QNX and AWS technology

AWS is becoming a key automotive partner that provides tools and extensive capabilities for the software create and use phases. (see “‘Create-Make-Market-Use’ Applied to Automotive Analysis
for more information). AWS and its partners (BlackBerry in this case) provide the software development tools and the operational internet service during the use of the vehicle.

AWS and NXP announced a strategic cooperation in November and was described in this article, entitled “NXP-Amazon Deal Promises Carmakers Vehicle-Wide Data.

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