Mobileye, the Intel-owned company that specializes in chips for vision-based autonomous vehicles, announced that it will launch a robotaxi service in Germany in 2022. It’s the latest big move by a company seeking to buck the trend in AV development by becoming both a supplier of autonomous driving technology as well as a fleet operator and service provider.
The taxi service will be operated in partnership with German rental car company Sixt and Moovit, an Israel-based startup that specializes in mobility data that was recently acquired by Intel for $900 million. Customers can hail a ride through either Sixt’s or Mobileye’s app.
But it won’t be a full-fledged robotaxi service at launch. Mobileye says it will begin “early rider testing” in Munich in 2022, but it won’t shift from testing to fully commercial operations until it has received approval from German regulators. The vehicle’s will also include safety drivers behind the wheel “until regulatory approvals have been received,” a spokesperson said.
Among self-driving companies today, Mobileye is uniquely ambitious in its plans for the future. The company is working on four different products that offer varying levels of automation, including an advanced driver assist system (ADAS) that it currently supplies to 25 companies and a “premium” ADAS that will launch with Zeekr, an electric vehicle brand recently announced by Geely. Neither ADAS system will include lidar, the sensor that uses lasers to determine the real-time location of objects on the road.
Mobileye’s other two products will use lidar and are more advanced in their automation technology. Mobileye Drive is a self-driving system that utilizes the companies’ EyeQ system-on-a-chip, as well as a data crowdsourcing program called the Road Experience Management, or REM, which uses real-time data from Mobileye-equipped vehicles to build out a global 3D map. This product will be used by customers like Udelv, Transdev, Lohr, and Schaeffler for applications like delivery vehicles and self-driving shuttles.
The robotaxi with Sixt and Moovit will be the most advanced version of the company’s AV technology, Mobileye CEO and president Amnon Shashua said. He noted that while the company’s ADAS works using only cameras and software, that kind of hardware setup is not “safe enough” for a commercial taxi fleet without a safety driver.
Mobileye is using three lidar produced by Luminar to power the robotaxi’s object detection — though the Intel-owned company is working on developing its own in-house sensors for future vehicles.
“We believe that for a company that is going to deploy many thousands of their self driving vehicles, you need to create a public trust,” Shashua said, “and you need to demonstratively show that you are much, much better than human drivers.”
Previously, Intel said it would begin testing a robotaxi service in Israel in partnership with Volkswagen, which it plans to also launch in 2022. And the chipmaker additionally has a deal in place to test autonomous vehicles in South Korea, also for a robotaxi service. Those plans are pending local approval by regulators as well.
Most notably, Mobileye recently announced plans to test its vehicles in New York City, a notoriously dense and difficult city in which to test AVs. But the plan is already running into problems with local lawmakers. The city’s Department of Transportation is adopting new rules that would require AV companies to obtain a testing permit before deploying any vehicles.
The issue is that the permit would require operators to state that their autonomous vehicles are “as good as human drivers” without any key performance indicators, Shashua said. “It opens up a quagmire of issues that will basically make suppliers or make companies that want to test run away from the New York City,” he said.
Update September 7th, 4:40PM ET: Updated to include information about Mobileye’s use of Luminar lidar.