Once upon a time, Mobileye was the top dog in the quest to make cars and trucks that could drive themselves. Elon Musk made Mobileye’s camera system the centerpiece of Tesla’s Autopilot system and heaped praise on the Israeli company at every opportunity.
Then, on May 7, 2016, everything changed when Joshua Brown was killed on a Florida highway after his Tesla Model S failed to detect a tractor trailer while Autopilot was engaged. After that, the love affair between Tesla and Mobileye ended. The two companies parted ways and Elon Musk embraced radar for Tesla’s Autopilot system. (Now radar is out again and a fully camera-based system is back in at Tesla.)
Subsequently, Mobileye was purchased by Intel and has been quietly pursuing its mission of providing systems that allow cars and trucks to drive without human supervision in specific situations.
Changes At Cariad
A few days ago, Volkswagen held a spring cleaning event at its Cariad software division, removing virtually all of its senior managers. This week, the company appointed Peter Bosch to be the CEO of Cariad effective June 1, 2023. Bosch will also be responsible for finance, purchasing, and internet technology. Bosch previously successfully realigned Bentley during his time as a member of the that company’s board of directors. He has also been involved with the creation of the new revived Scout brand in North America.
Oliver Blume, CEO of Volkswagen Group, said in a press release this week, “Last year, we drew up a ten point plan for operational and strategic areas of action within the Volkswagen Group. One key element is the realignment of Cariad, and we have already made good progress. We are now setting the next milestones for advancing strategic, structural, and personnel development. Cariad focuses on the development of digital future technologies for the Group brands. We are stepping up the pace and broadening our approach to partnerships. This is designed to combine our competences with the best solutions on the market for the benefit of our customers. The outcome is even closer software/vehicle development interaction.”
Blume added, “We have organized the software architectures and their timelines for our vehicle projects. We have drawn further specific conclusions on the basis of our thorough analyses, and are now advancing the in-depth development of Cariad. We would like to thank Dirk Hilgenberg and his team for their passionate commitment and the progress they have achieved. We are already in talks with them about possible new roles within the Volkswagen Group.” Hilgenberg was the CEO of Cariad until he was tossed overboard by the company this week.
Volkswagen’s electric vehicles have been plagued with software glitches, gremlins, and goblins from the beginning, but things got much worse when the heads of Porsche and Audi were told slowdowns at Cariad meant their newest electric cars, such as the battery electric Porsche Macan and Audi Q6, could be delayed for years because the software stack Cariad is supposed to deliver isn’t ready and won’t be anytime soon.
To make matters worse, Cariad lost $2 billion in 2022, according to Automotive News Europe. The planned launch of company-wide structural car software, initially designed to enable the fourth and five levels of autonomous driving from 2026, has been postponed by two years, says a report by Reuters.
Volkswagen pulled out of its partnership with Argo AI last October. At the time, it said its commercial vehicles unit would seek a new partnership. According to Reuters, that new partnership will be with Mobileye. The Volkswagen ID Buzz is built by the commercial vehicles division of Volkswagen Group.
Longtime readers may recall that Volkswagen claimed it would begin testing an autonomous ID Buzz in 2021. That hasn’t happened, which is one reason Dirk Hilgenberg and his team have been tossed out of the C suite at Cariad. The new target date is 2025.
Tesla fans can relate to how such targets get extended. It’s easy to say, if a person like Elon Musk can make rockets fly backwards, how hard can it be to make cars and trucks that drive themselves? The answer is that those rockets don’t have to dodge a myriad of other rockets along with untold numbers of pedestrians, bicyclists, skateboarders, and household pets on their way back to Earth.
What Is Level 4 Autonomy?
This may be a good time for a refresher course on the meaning of the various levels of autonomous driving. According to Torc, a self-driving company based in the US, the SAE calls Level 4 “highly automated driving.”
Vehicles with Level 4 autonomy are capable of driving fully autonomously in proper settings without the assistance or intervention of a human driver. If a driver takes control of the vehicle, the automated driving system will disengage if necessary.
The development of commercial vehicles that can drive themselves on highways or in geofenced urban areas is likely to be realized by the end of the decade, thanks to advancements in sensor technology, high definition mapping, more timely data, vehicle-to-vehicle connections, and off-site call centers that can be utilized to deal with uncommon risks.
Mobileye SuperVision For Porsche
The ID Buzz is primarily a cargo van, which is why it is being assembled by Volkswagen’s commercial vehicles division for customers whose primary focus is on making a delivery van that needs a minimum of driver input.
Porsche, on the other hand, puts a premium on building cars that excite the senses, not vehicles that are little more than horizontal elevators. But driving long distances on the highway can still be a mind numbing experience. That’s why Porsche will adapt the SuperVision system from Mobileye that allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel on certain road types. It also has the ability to follow navigation routes chosen by the driver, change lanes, and overtake slower vehicles without driver input.
The news of the expanded collaboration comes a day after Cariad overhauled its leadership team and said it would broaden its partnership base, as it attempts to get back on track after years of delays and cost overruns.
The quest for self-driving vehicles continues even as progress toward the goal remains elusive. Porsche and Audi are absolutely committed to offering advanced automated driving systems to their customers as soon as possible. It is understood the failure of Cariad to deliver those systems was the primary reason for the shakeup at Cariad that took place this week.
Mobileye apparently will be at the center of the development of those systems, years after its messy divorce from Tesla. Volkswagen Group would probably relish offering advanced automated driving suites to its customers before Tesla puts the finishing touches on its oft delayed Full Self Driving package.
Manufacturers expect to earn big bucks from such systems, whether in upfront fees or from subscriptions. What the market will be for them will likely depend on how well they perform and what the cost of those systems are.
Will there come a time when self-driving cars are the norm? Perhaps. Although, for many drivers, the idea of a turning around to play canasta with the people in the back seat while the car hurtles down the road on its own is something they are not all that comfortable with. The transition to autonomous cars may take a long time — decades, perhaps — to occur.
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