Daimler cuts robotaxi spending, believes more in long-haul freight application
Daimler boss Ola Kallenius told investors last month his company would be “rightsizing” its spending level on self-driving tech. To make things concrete: he will be investing less on the development of robotaxis and more in automated long-haul freight applications with commercial vehicles.
At the company’s investor day in London on November 14, 2019 Kallenius acknowledged that making robotaxis 100% safe in an urban environment is proving harder than first thought. Costs and regulatory obstacles are putting spanners in the works, leading to a reassessment of the business potential.
In spite of that, Daimler has started robotaxi tests in San José, California with a fleet of 30 Mercedes-Benz S Class models, with the goal of capturing what the user wants or expects from a self-driving car, a source told AutoNews. The company has already been testing Level 4 cars on public roads in Stuttgart in cooperation with Bosch.
"There has been a reality check setting in here," Kallenius said. He believes it makes more sense to invest in autonomous commercial vehicles on long-haul routes, where interaction with other road users is limited and risks are much better contained.
In June 2019, Daimler announced it would be setting up a global organisation for highly autonomous vehicles. The so-called Autonomous Technology Group unites Daimler Trucks’ world-wide expertise and activities in the area of self-driving vehicles with the goal of achieving Level 4 autonomy within the next decade. It has earmarked 500 million euros to this effect.
From level 2 to level 4
The main tasks of the unit comprise overall strategy and implementation of the automated driving roadmap, including research and development as well as setting up the required operations infrastructure and network, heading towards the series production of highly automated trucks.
Interestingly, level 3 is kept out of the roadmap: Daimler believes that in commercial trucking, level 4 is the logical next step after level 2 to increase safety as well as efficiency and productivity. Level 3 requires the driver to intervene when necessary – the vehicle is not able to manage all situations. Level 4 means the vehicle requires no intervention if a number of conditions are met.
In the first stage, ATG will focus on use cases of highly automated driving in defined areas and between defined hubs in the U.S.A. It will work closely together with customers whose business matches this automated driving application. ATG will not only develop the respective technology but also set up the required operations infrastructure and network.