Top Self-Driving Car Stories Of 2022 In Review – Big Ups, Big Downs
a ford/argo ai vehicle drives before company closes, in the year’s big bad story
As we head into 2023, these were the big stories in self-driving cars for 2022. You can also check out my early 2022 roundup for more details on that quarter, but these are the game changers for this year.
Reading: Self driving car review
There is no doubt that this was a year of great ups and downs. a year in which some gave up and others doubled down. a year in which the stock market and vc funding plummeted and companies mostly went down, but also a year of great technical progress.
I usually do this as a countdown to the big story, but I’ll spoil it right now and say that the big story was the incredible contrast between the good news and the bad news. so instead I’m going to tell you the good, the bad, and what’s not particularly ugly.
Here is a video version of this story with video illustrations.
First, the bad news.
While there’s been talk of a robocar winter for some time, ever since automotive OEM players failed their made-up predictions of having cars in 2020, things hit a low note in 2022. The events I’m about to enumerate triggered a series of articles in some press declaring the death of the robocar. it now became fashionable to predict that such cars were decades away, and untold billions had been spent in the market frenzy with little to show for it.
One of the companies that dealt with some of the bad news was one of the biggest newsmakers of the year, GM’s cruise unit. Cruise had his vehicles out on the street every night, but he didn’t become a fan of city officials. Cruise had a number of incidents where his cars would simply “get stuck”, frozen on the roads with their blinkers on, sometimes several of them at the same time. some people got mad or pretended to be mad, but the reality is that while the cruise ship clearly had some weird bugs, if blocking traffic in the middle of the night is such a calamity, we would have banned human drivers long ago.
The cruise garnered a lot of attention and went viral in a bad way when police pulled over one of their cars for not having its lights on. that was weird enough, but a weird result of special cruise scheduling for such events made it go viral. the car is programmed to attempt to stop in a safe space when it is determined (by remote operators or the car) that it is being pulled over by the police. but decided that only after he stopped and the police walked towards him, and then sped across the intersection to stop in a better spot, apparently trying to get away.
for decades, a very common question from people who first learned about self-driving cars was “what happens when the police want to issue a ticket?” the police did not issue a ticket in this case, but the car had a protocol to be stopped. he flashed a phone number in large print on his screen and the police called him, talked to the cruise operators and resolved the issue. a remote operator had mistakenly turned off the lights. If it had been a software bug, Cruise would have quickly fixed it and it wouldn’t have happened again. When the police ticket a human driver, it doesn’t do much to prevent other drivers from doing the same. not so with robots.
The fire department was further upset when an unusual situation caused a cruise vehicle to stop in the oncoming lane, as it was scheduled to do, when a fire truck approached. the problem was that he stopped at a place in front of a double-parked truck, and the road was blocked, and the cruiser could only back up at the intersection, which he did not want to do. the crew of the cruise ship was about to fix it when the truck continued on its way. The fire department didn’t like this short delay at all, but I actually think that automatic cars will make the roads much better for emergency teams than they are now.
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Cruise ship had a much more serious problem with its first injury accident. They were trying to make a left turn and began to turn as a car was approaching them very fast in the right turn lane. the car did not turn around and tried to pass directly. the cruiser froze, a mistake, and was hit in the corner by the oncoming car. the injuries weren’t serious, but the cruiser somehow arranged silence from everyone involved so we don’t know much more. The police didn’t blame the cruiser, the other car was speeding and in the wrong lane, but definitely could have done better. Cruise issued a “recall” to fix this, but it was just a software update. a recall is pointless when the automaker owns the cars.
The real bad news was the corporate news. Earlier this year, Cruise fired its CEO, Dan Amman, over a dispute with GM CEO Mary Barra over whether the company would go public and focus only on autonomous driving or providing useful technology to gm. founder kyle vogt returned to the role of CEO.
but there was much worse business news than that. Victims were left on the side of the road as Optimus Ride transportation companies and local movers closed their doors, along with Amazon’s Explorer delivery robot project. we saw significant layoffs at high-flying nuro, even though they started manufacturing, and also at the hyundai and aptiv motional joint venture. Tusimple Trucking Company experienced major chaos at top management and in the boardroom, ending the year by laying off ¼ of its staff. almost no companies emerged unscathed from the layoffs. the many companies in the space that went public over spacs experienced massive devaluations, and the lidar pioneer quanergy, which I helped start, went bankrupt in December.
We’re also legalizing Audi to shut down its Artemis unit: Every automaker except GM and Tesla has been winding down its self-driving efforts in some way, which is part of what inspired the doom statements in the press .
we also saw leaks that apple was winding down its project, with a potential release in 2026 but with pedals and one wheel, like a normal car. apple, of course, has not commented.
but without a doubt the biggest and baddest story was the closure of argo ai, a startup financed by ford and later by vw. argo was one of the big players, with billions invested, although he was not one of the leaders. Ford just announced that they would close it. they rehired about 700 staff members at ford and reabsorbed the ip.
It was no surprise that the OEMs chickened out. They never wanted a fast robocar revolution and are glad to work on adas. what was most surprising is that no one wanted to buy argo for a song. Amazon, which already owns Zoox, was reportedly interested in delivery vans, but nothing happened. if they bought it from someone else, no one bit in this slow market.
Tesla shares fell sharply and government agencies conducted new investigations. they obtained a misordered recall on the ability to make rolling stops at empty intersections and investigations into collisions with emergency vehicles and other autopilot accidents. Surprisingly, there are no reports of serious FSD crashes. they also made dan o’dowd, the wealthy ceo of green hills software, decide to spend a lot of his money on a campaign against tesla fsd, running full page ads in the new york times and pretending to run for us. Senate to make political announcements. That didn’t seem to affect Tesla much, but the biggest hurts came from Elon Musk deciding to buy Twitter and seemingly destroying it and his previously stellar reputation in the process. this took your eyes off the ball in tesla and scared off at least some customers.
but there was good news
even with all the layoffs, closings, and market cuts, many players kept going. in particular, teams that were startups and tech companies rather than auto companies. I’m including cruise here, which started as a startup and is mostly run as one.
Several of the transportation and delivery companies made big improvements this year. starship, where I am a shareholder, reached the milestone of 4 million paid autonomous deliveries and expanded to a large number of new service locations, mostly universities. gatik, a “half-mile” delivery company now runs regular bare-bones runs between warehouses in arkansas for wal*marts and in toronto for loblaws. Regular commercial duty with no security driver on board in a large heavy truck is nothing to sneeze at. while long-haul companies taken public by spac have been wildly successful, einride, which makes trucks that can’t even carry a driver, just closed an additional $500 million round of investment. Kodiak, a long distance company run by Don Burnette, who worked on Waymo’s first team, just announced a big military contract. meituan, a Chinese company similar to nuro, has seen good growth due to covid lockdown deliveries.
mobileeye was bought by intel for $16 billion several years ago. at the end of 2022 they went public at a valuation not dissimilar to that, which at first seemed like bad news. they appeared on day one and mbly is up over 75% while the rest of the market has been flat or down.
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while tesla has certainly had its challenges, its fsd prototype, mislabeled as beta, definitely shows improvement. While I still can’t get it to do any meaningful driving without interventions, the distance between interventions is improving and the system is getting better in turns. I still wouldn’t expect any of Elon Musk’s usual “next year, and I mean it this time” predictions to come true, and all his attention is on Twitter.
The news from China was continued growth and the opening of a few more cities to robotaxi service without a security driver. there are now more than a dozen Chinese cities with robotaxi service. baidu showed off its custom robotaxi design – it still has a wheel
due to the law, but it is designed so that it can be removed later. they say it will cost only $37,000 to make. waymo also announced that it would use a new robotaxi built by geely in china.
zoox is growing. Amazon is building a factory for them and spending a billion dollars a year on them. they’re hiring when the rest of amazon is cutting back with the recession.
but the big story was the progress and expansion of the two best teams in the field, namely waymo and cruise, with many coming close by the end of the year.
in 2019, waymo launched service in chandler, a phoenix suburb, with no security driver in the vehicle. This year, Cruise began offering overnight service in San Francisco to a subset of the public, with Waymo later joining in with 24-hour service (with safety drivers in inclement weather). cruise also got permission to collect money.
near the end of 2022, we saw big improvements. waymo began serving the public and expanded its territory without safe drivers to the entire city, although the ne quadrant, including the city center, is for employees only. waymo also expanded into downtown phoenix, opening to public use there, doubling the service area this month. As a bonus, they will also take you to the Phoenix Airport Skytrain which runs to all terminals. waymo will soon collect money in sf. I rode in their car in SF, and while no experience can tell you a system is good, it can quickly reveal if it’s bad, and the ride was smooth and performed well. waymo now has 700 vehicles in operation across its fleet.
cruise announced in october that in 90 days they would open both austin and phoenix, and they did, even though it’s still only after dark, and the phoenix area is also the easy suburb of chandler and the austin area is small. even so, she shows that they can expand and do so quite quickly.
waymo has also said that they will be operating in los angeles soon and they just got their permit from the dmv. there are now many cities around the world where people can take a robotaxi ride, sometimes without a security driver in the vehicle. This map shows where they are, mostly in the USA. uu. and china, but they grow regularly.
not so ugly
This year I started a youtube channel. you can enjoy some of the videos there, which come with text articles for those who prefer it. This includes a 2-part series on why you still aren’t riding in a robocar, plus a Tesla FSD review that gave it an “F” – and still does, albeit better. i also covered why tesla should get maps and why they might be installing imaging radar. There was also plenty of coverage of electric vehicles and the charging business, as well as something on air travel overhead, e-vtol planes, and much more. plus a lot about tesla, as always seems to be the case.
tune in and read on in 2023 for what should be an interesting year. Hopefully, we’ll bounce back from the market downturn, though not without losing a few businesses along the way. business models will be more refined and that will inspire a new round of startups if they can get financing. we are getting closer to the time when a real commercial robotaxi service arrives, scaled to make money, at least on a gross margin basis. then the land rush can begin. The same will happen in China in the coming years.
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