How COVID-19 Moves us Closer to a Driverless Future…

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are now no more confined to the realms of science fiction. Over the past few years, driverless cars have been grabbing the headlines. While auto and tech giants have been betting big on futuristic robotic vehicles, the public has been mostly apprehensive about the same. However, the coronavirus outbreak has made people rethink about AVs.

With the coronavirus outbreak keeping most people housebound, these cars have indeed proved to be an asset.

Autonomous vehicles have provided a valuable mobility solution as they have been used to deliver necessary medical supplies and meals to health-care professionals and the public in infected areas.

China significantly capitalized on these vehicles to deliver meals and groceries, as well as transport medical aids amid the coronavirus pandemic. Companies like Baidu (BIDU) and JD.com (JD) have effectively utilized robotic vehicles to deliver medical supplies to hospitals in China. With social distancing becoming the key theme for 2020, thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, the need for autonomous driving is accelerating.

Massive Prospects

The rapid development in the self-driving vehicle space can primarily be attributed to breakthroughs in technology, with the integration of robust AI and ML capabilities in advanced driver-assistance systems.

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Moreover, improving neural networking capabilities and advancements in digital mapping and obstacle recognition functionalities are expected to lead to safer navigation, reduction in accidents, as well as commuter comfort.

According to Kenneth Research data, the self-driving car market is expected to reach $173.15 billion by 2023 at a CAGR of 36.2%.

Per another report from Allied Market Research, the autonomous driving space is expected to witness a CAGR of 39.5% between 2019 and 2026,and reach $556.67 billion by 2026.

Further, a Market Data forecast indicates that the self-driving cars market is expected to hit $56.21 billion in 2020 and reach $220.44 billion by 2025 at a CAGR of 36.5% between 2020 and 2025.

Given this upbeat scenario, tech companies like Alphabet (GOOGL), Baidu, NVIDIA (NVDA), Intel (INTC), Amazon (AMZN), Yandex (YNDX), among others, are also making efforts to capitalize on strength of the autonomous driving space.

Alphabet’s Aggressive Stance

We note that Alphabet has been aggressively strengthening Waymo initiatives, which are likely to help it stay ahead of the curve.

Recently, Alphabet's Waymo teamed up with Volvo to develop self-driving electric vehicles for ride hailing services. Per the deal, Volvo will design and manufacture the vehicles, while Waymo will work on artificial intelligence and certain hardware, including cameras, lidar as well as radar.

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Notably, Alphabet enjoys a first-mover advantage in this space on the back of well-performing Waymo vehicles that recently exceeded the 20-million miles mark. Waymo has $3 billion in fresh capital after expanding its first funding round from outside investors with $750 million raised in mid-May.

The company recently acquired Latent Logic, a British AI company that specializes in a form of machine learning, namely imitation learning, which is expected to make Waymo’s simulation technology more advanced and realistic. This, in turn, will strengthen the behavior prediction capability of Waymo.

Further, Waymo’s partnership with Lyft helped it in making some of its self-driving minivans available to Lyft customers.

Additionally, Alphabet is merging local delivery and long-haul trucking operations into a single business line called Waymo Via.

Other Stocks in Focus

Baidu has received license for five of its self-driving vehicles in China. Further, the launch of its Apollo Robotaxi fleet of 45 self-driving cars in Changsha — Hunan province in China — for trial operations in urban road environment remains a major positive. Additionally, the company has teamed up with Volvo to launch Level 4 vehicles in 2021.

Amazon has agreed to acquire Zoox, a developer of self-driving technology, in a bid to foray into uncharted territories for diversifying business. This will further strengthen its presence in the autonomous driving space.

Also, the company has invested in Aurora, a startup that develops technology to power fully autonomous vehicles.

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Yandex has invested millions of cash in the self-driving program to date. Its autonomous vehicles have driven 2 million miles to date.

Further, the company is gearing up to offer autonomous taxi service to visitors at the June 2020 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Notably, the service will offer a wide range of self-driving vehicles.

Intel’s autonomous driving unit — Mobileye — announced two new agreements in China and South Korea with the SAIC and Daegu Metropolitan City, respectively. These agreements are likely to expand Intel’s global footprint in driver-assistance systems and autonomous mobility-as-a-service.

NVIDIA has partnered with automotive companies to drive innovation in simulation software, automotive sensors, cameras, and LiDars to facilitate driverless transport.

The company recently introduced Drive AGX Orin, which is a highly advanced software-defined platform for autonomous vehicles and robots powered by a new system-on-a-chip called Orin that consists of 17 billion transistors.

Further, its partnership with Uber, Volkswagen and Baidu remains noteworthy in the autonomous driving space.

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Read more from Shalu Saraf at Zacks.com

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