The Race for Autonomy Gets Tighter

August 16, 2023

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There have been several revelations recently concerning the state of the autonomous vehicle market, with more than one company announcing some sort of departure. From industry giants to smaller startups, the initial sprint to is starting to slow a little.

In a blog post from late July, Waymo Co-CEOs Tekedra Mawakana and Dmitri Dolgov revealed that the tech leader was taking a step back and focusing on the Waymo One ride-hailing project.

“With our decision to focus on ride-hailing, we’ll push back the timeline on our commercial and operational efforts on trucking, as well as most of our technical development on that business unit,” read the post.

While Waymo will continue collaborating with Daimler Truck North America “to advance technical development of an autonomous truck platform,” the company doubled down on its commitments to the Waymo One platform.

“Laser-focusing on ride-hailing today puts us, our partners, and our customers in a strong position to be successful in the future across all of the business lines we pursue over time, showcasing the breadth of the Waymo Driver.”

Other companies have taken more than just a backseat to autonomous trucking, with some slowly closing operations.

Embark, a company developing Level 4 autonomous driving technology since 2016, announced a possible closure in March 2023, but was acquired by Applied Intuition two months later. The autonomous tech company plans to integrate Embark’s tools, data, and software assets to improve its own solutions for the market.

“This acquisition should enable us to advance our products and solve more specific, complex challenges for our customers. We respect the work Embark has accomplished in the autonomous vehicle industry and look forward to leveraging their expertise to better serve our global customer base,” said Qasar Younis, co-founder and CEO of Applied Intuition, in a May 25th press release.

Five years after being founded, Locomotion began winding down Pittsburgh operations this past February due to lack of funding. The announcement came as a surprise, since two week before, the company had hosted an event for shareholders and the press to experience the technology themselves. Argo AI, another Pittsburgh-based autonomous tech company, closed its doors just a few months before, with certain portions of the business being absorbed by its two biggest investors, Ford and Volkswagen.

But not all companies based in the Iron City have ceased operations. Last month, Aurora Innovation revealed that the company had rounded up an additional $820 million in investment funding. Chris Urmson, CEO and co-founder at Aurora, addressed the announcement in a blog post, writing, “Investors see what we see — an incredible and unique opportunity to do something important and valuable in the world.”

Others, like TuSimple, are racing against financial deadlines to keep afloat. The company recently stated that it will not be able to meet a Q2 2023 financial report deadline, which was imposed by Nasdaq after sending TuSimple a delisting notice in May. This was the result of the autonomous tech company failing to file its 2022 financial reports in a timely manner. After the company terminated Xiaodi Hou, its CEO, president and chief technology officer, last fall, there have been numerous layoffs, as well as attempts to sell of its U.S. operations.

But there are some players left in the game that are working to advance autonomous technology for the commercial trucking industry. Kodiak Robotics has been working with national fleets such as U.S. Xpress Enterprises, Werner Enterprises, and Ikea to test its tech, recently posting a number of videos highlighting the Kodiak Driver platform.

Torc Robotics, which has been developing autonomous technology for more than a decade, is benefitting from the backing of a global OEM. Daimler Truck acquired the company in 2019, describing the move as an “ideal combination between Torc’s expertise on agile software development and our experience in delivering reliable and safe truck hardware” in a press release. With the financial backing of the OEM giant, Torc purchased Algolux this past March for its intellectual property and expertise in computer vision and machine learning.