The demand for global autonomous vehicles has been growing exponentially each year. By 2026, the market is projected to be valued at $556.67 billion, and recently, President Joe Biden announced a proposal for infrastructure investments, which allocates $174 billion to build electric vehicle charging stations in the US. In China, the Ministry of Public Security began drafting new regulations for road safety due to the sheer amount of autonomous technologies being developed. Clearly, investors and political leaders are optimistic about the market. Let’s drill down into why.
Top three players
Ford has been dominating the market with 1250 patents filed over the past five years. In February 2017, Ford invested $1 billion in Argo AI, a company that builds infrastructure to power self-driving vehicles. The vehicles are equipped with Level 4 autonomous technology, meaning that the cars are fully capable of driving themselves without human interaction. Currently, these vehicles are being tested in Israel, Texas, and Michigan. By the end of 2022, Ford plans to launch robotaxi and autonomous delivery services.
Toyota Motors has 956 patents and is also prioritizing autonomous driving software. This past month, Toyota unveiled new versions of their Lexus LS and Toyota Mirai in Japan. They’re equipped with Advanced Drive, a Level 2 autonomous system that helps the car stay in its lane and maintain distance from other vehicles. The system also includes Advanced Park to allow hands-free parking and controlled steering, acceleration, braking, and gear changes when parking. These vehicles will be coming to the US this fall. Interestingly, Toyota is the US top market player with 539 patents filed, and Ford is second in the US with 406 patents filed. Expect Toyota’s new innovation will propel them even further from their competition.
In a close third place is Baidu USA & Beijing with 909 patents. Baidu’s Autonomous Driving Unit (ADU) is developing autonomous driving technologies at Level 4. Since 2014, they’ve focused on autonomous driving to reduce traffic accidents and relieve traffic jams. They have thus far developed Apollo, an open-source driving system. At the beginning of this year, Baidu partnered with Geely Auto Group, an automobile manufacturer in China. In 2019, Baidu’s patent count decreased 9% from the year prior; however, in 2020, their patent count increased by 78%. Be sure to keep a look out for Baidu’s partnership production debut expected later this year.
Despite the aforementioned infrastructure policies the US and China are implementing, they haven’t been innovating as quickly as other regions. In 2019, the US market gained 38.1% more patents than the year before but in 2020, only gained 28.5% than the year prior. China’s results are even more striking. In 2019, China increased their patent count 68.2% over a year but in 2020 only increased by 5.1%. The novel coronavirus pandemic has surely played a significant role in halting innovation. However, not every country has seen their rate of innovation decrease — in fact, some have seen an incredible increase.
Singapore has been innovating at an enormous rate. They increased their patent count by 200% in 2017 and 300% in 2018. Despite dropping their patent count by 16.7% in 2019, which could also indicate a loss in patents, they rebounded spectacularly by increasing patent count by 300% again in 2020. Singapore’s most recent autonomous vehicle isn’t actually a car; it’s a grocery delivery robot from OTSAW. Rather than be crippled by the pandemic, OTSAW sought opportunities to create autonomous vehicles to fix a problem. This year, Singapore also announced the launch of autonomous bus services to drive sustainability efforts and improve the transit system.
Meanwhile in 2017, Denmark had decreased their patent count by 25%, and in 2018 and 2019 had a 0% change. Yet, in 2020 they suddenly increased their patent count by 233.3%. A contributor to this extraordinary increase could be the government’s announcement to have at least 775,000 electric or hybrid cars by 2030. It could also be due to a self-driving minibus service by Holo, an autonomous vehicle operator. Either way, Denmark has publicized that reducing carbon emissions is a priority over the next 10 years, and the harsh spike in autonomous vehicles patents reflects that sentiment.
Coronavirus hit the market hard but expect companies to rebound
Our data shows that every autonomous vehicle company took a massive hit due to coronavirus. Clearly, companies began innovating less. However, there were a few massive surges of innovation in a few companies. Most notably is Stradvision, a South Korean based company that creates AI assisted driving technology. They had a 3,050% increase in innovation in 2020. They implement an AI-based vision processing technology to power driver assistance systems. Currently, they are working on a learning-based perception software system for a Level 4 autonomous bus in Europe. Level 4 cars are fully capable of driving themselves without human interaction.
UATC, otherwise known as Uber Advanced Technologies Center, was acquired by Aurora at the end of 2020. Their innovation rate skyrocketed as well to 1,464%. Aurora built the Aurora Driver, a combination of software and hardware that work together to power a self-driving car. They’ve been researching methods to perfect road anomaly detection and safe stops for their vehicles. Recently, Aurora partnered with Volvo to integrate the Aurora Driver with their on-highway trucks.
German car parts company Zahnradfabrik Friedrichshafen (ZF) increased innovations by 550% in 2020. ZF has long been working on self-driving vehicles and is an established, dominant force in the market. One month ago, ZF and Mobileye launched their CoAssist Level 2+ system, which offers safety benefits such as advanced camera and radar sensors, adaptive cruise control, and traffic sign recognition. Level 2 indicates partial automation, meaning that drivers have to monitor the system at all times. ZF also developed CoDrive and CoPilot, which will eventually all work together to create the best autonomous vehicle experience.
The autonomous vehicle market is lucrative and increasingly competitive. With restrictions easing and workplaces opening again, expect the market to recover quickly and grow even faster. Keep an eye on the roads for new autonomous vehicles.
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