November 12, 2018
By Dylan Adelman
Picture this: you’re running late for work and you haven’t had your morning coffee. You make a request on your phone and within minutes a driverless car stops in front of your apartment. You climb inside and it begins to give you the day’s news while also feeding you updates on your ETA. You’ll make to the office with time to spare.
And there’s a hot cup of coffee in the armrest, because the car picked it up for you.
The global race to make this vision a reality is in full swing. Companies and governments around the world are making daily breakthroughs that will increase the efficiency, safety, and comfort of your transportation.
Three of the most impressive pack leaders are the United States, Japan, and Israel. Each comes with a different set of advantages and disadvantages, each is a major contender for making autonomous vehicles the global standard, and each has much to gain from working together.
What does each country bring to the table?
Competition and collaboration between tech companies and manufacturers are robust in the United States. Silicon Valley powerhouses such as Uber, Lyft, and Waymo are jockeying to be the first company to implement robotic taxi services. Many have already deployed fleets onto U.S. roads, and if government regulation continues to progress, test programs will continue to grow. As data collection improves, component costs decrease, and demand rises, expect some major leaps in autonomous tech in the coming years.
Simultaneously, longtime manufacturers like General Motors and Ford, as well as newcomers like Tesla, are beginning to shift from pure manufacturing to car services and fleet management. This means less vehicles rolling off of assembly lines, and more tech centers and research facilities. These companies have realized that the days of personal-use vehicles are numbered (because who needs their own high-maintenance vehicle when you can just grab one off any street?). These companies are making a pivot to the service industry, which includes significant investments in self-driving cars.
The Government of Japan has presented remarkable goalposts and deadlines for the public implementation of autonomous vehicles. During a strategic review in June of this year, Prime Minister Abe revealed a plan to start testing self-driving cars on public roads within the fiscal year (which ends in March 2019). They then plan to launch an automated service publicly on the eve of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and hope to commercialize the system by 2022. In fact, the government aims to have self-driving vehicles account for more than 30% of new-car sales by 2030. But lofty ambitions may be tamped by lackluster innovation. So-called “Tier One” companies, namely Toyota, are trailblazing in their development of self-driving technology, but smaller companies and startups have yet to step up to the plate. They’ll need to do so in order to hit their desired targets.
While Israel may lack major manufacturers, it’s a hotbed for tech development and investment. Well over 400 Israeli companies are operating in areas such as the shared mobility economy (bike-sharing, ride-sharing, etc), fleet management, Big Data for transportation, connected vehicles, autonomous driving, and electric mobility. Along with this homegrown innovation, Israel is attracting investments from the world’s largest tech and automotive companies, including a $300 million investment from Volkswagen in Israeli ride-hailing provider Gett, a $1 billion purchase of Waze, a Raanana-based mapping company, by Google, and a $14.7 billion purchase of Mobileye, a Jerusalem-based autonomous vehicle technology company, by Intel.
Testing of self-driving cars in Israel began earlier this year. The Advanced Technical Center (TAC) of General Motors in Israel, which has been operating out of Herzliya for the past 23 years, has been conducting experiments with new smart sensing, vision imaging, and human machine interface technology, including on Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Freeway.
OK, so how can they work together?
In the automotive industry, the U.S., Japan, and Israel are a perfect synthesis of a strong manufacturing industry, advanced technologies, and economies supportive of innovation. With companies such as Israel’s Mobileye, Japan’s Denso, and America’s General Motors all having offices in each of the three countries, the groundwork has already been laid for scaling cooperation. As the Government of Japan works to boost productivity at small and midsize businesses, especially startups, it will find great opportunity in collaboration with Silicon Valley and the Tel Aviv. Israel lacks the geographic scale and Big Data to pioneer self-driving implementation, and will therefore integrate domestically-produced AI, sensors, security measures, and more into the larger markets of the U.S. and Japan.
Each country is making significant strides in the future of vehicles, but to develop fully autonomous, commercialized vehicles soon, information sharing, mutual investments, and government cooperation are a must. This is not to say that other nations can’t or won’t join in on the opportunities (certainly China and Germany will play significant roles in improved navigation), but the U.S., Japan, and Israel form a winning team.
Very Cool. When Will I Be Able to Call Myself a Driverless Taxi?
Tough to say. Publicly implemented fully driverless (what is referred to as “level five”) driving is likely at least a few years away. What’s more, conversation to an automated transit system won’t be an overnight process. While events like the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will provide a stage to showcase the cutting edge of innovation, these technologies will creep into daily life at a slow and steady pace.
There will be incredible changes far before an automated Uber shows up to take you to the airport. Costs of ride services will drop as self-driving capabilities improve, safety on the road will drastically improve, and targeted user experiences will become the norm. Jobs will be created and lost, legislation will be forced to change, and entire industries will be born and die off. There are positives and negatives to this kind of societal upheaval.
It’s a bit scary, it’s a bit exciting, and it’s coming sooner than you think. Make sure to watch carefully as these three countries work together to shape the future of travel. Oh, and get ready for flying cars too.
Dylan Adelman is Senior Program Associate at the AJC Asia Pacific Institute.