In the trailer of the third season of American TV Series Western world, an Audi sports car without accelerator and steering wheel carries the hero to disappear in the night. Audi’s advertisement has aroused heated discussion in the automotive industry and technology industry, because such a scene will happen in the real world in the near future.

Driverless taxis are becoming the next battleground for tech giants.

At present, the pattern of leading enterprises in the global robotaxi (driverless taxi) industry has basically taken shape. Domestic enterprises are mainly led by Baidu Apollo, Xiaoma Zhixing, autox, wenyuanzhixing and Didi, while foreign leading enterprises are waymo, zoox, cruise and aurora.

On October 8, us time, waymo, the autonomous driving subsidiary of Google’s parent company, announced that it would open driverless taxi service without safety officers to the public in Phoenix. This is the first time that an autonomous driving company has opened completely driverless taxi service to the public.

Baidu followed suit and announced the official launch of its self driving taxi service. On October 11, Baidu’s self driving taxi service was fully opened in Beijing, allowing passengers to take Apollo for free.

In fact, Baidu’s move has long been “prelude”. On September 15, a driverless taxi without a safety officer, carrying Li Zhenyu, vice president of Baidu group and general manager of intelligent driving business group, and CCTV reporter, drove nearly 700 meters in Beijing Shougang park.

On the same day, Baidu CEO Robin Li predicted the commercialization schedule of automatic driving at “Baidu world 2020 conference”. “5 years later, the automatic driving vehicle will enter a comprehensive commercial stage”. By virtue of the intelligent transportation system, the efficiency of 15%-30% can be improved. “Within five years, China’s first tier cities will no longer need traffic restrictions, and after 10 years, the problem of traffic congestion will be solved.”

Liberating traffic congestion is an important topic in the field of travel. “The real use time of the car is only 5% of the whole life cycle, and the other 95% of the time is just put in the garage or parking lot. Robotaxi can maximize this part of productivity.” A self driving industry practitioner told “deep insight” that in his view, this is the expectation and mission of robotaxi.

The auto driving field ushers in the historical singularity of full profit

Perhaps, as Robin Li said, Robotaxi commercialization is at hand, but how long will it take to achieve large-scale landing on the premise of complete technology?

1. Remove the security guard

“Waymo finally got rid of the safety guard and provided the completely driverless robotaxi service. This is the historic singularity of full profit in the field of automatic driving.” A person in the automatic driving industry said so.

According to waymo’s plan, waymo one’s completely driverless service will take the lead in providing services in Phoenix.

According to waymo coeo John Krafcik’s recent interview, waymo self driving vehicles tested in Phoenix are operating in a variety of modes. In addition to vehicles with safety officers to provide services and some vehicles for testing purposes, from 2020, some vehicles are “only for passengers” – that is, to remove safety officers.

Back to September 15, Apollo, without a safety officer, drove nearly 700 meters with Li Zhenyu, vice president of Baidu group, and CCTV reporter. In less than one kilometer journey, baidu revealed a message: it has become the first company in China to withdraw safety officers for automatic driving road test.

Previously, for the sake of road safety, it is a common phenomenon in the driverless industry to assign a safety officer to each driverless test vehicle. The removal of safety officers means that the technology accumulation of the autopilot company is very mature. “After the safety officer is removed, there may not be too many technical things for autonomous vehicles to overcome.” Li Zheng (pseudonym), an insider of autopilot company autox, told “deep diving insight”.

In the development of driverless taxis, China is not far behind.

Under the epidemic situation, the domestic automatic driving industry bucked the trend. In the past few months, a number of large amount financing events occurred. Xiaoma Zhixing obtained $400 million investment from Toyota, and didi announced that its automatic driving company had completed the first round of over $500 million financing. According to the statistics of China electric vehicle 100 people meeting, in the first quarter of this year, the total financing amount of domestic and foreign autonomous driving enterprises exceeded 3.5 billion US dollars, an increase of 34.1% year on year.

Public information shows that Didi’s current open test roads in Shanghai cover core areas such as auto exhibition center, office area, subway station and hotel. While autox cooperates with Gaode map, Shanghai citizens can call an autox unmanned car through Gaode taxi.

In Nansha District of Guangzhou, Xiaoma Zhixing’s driverless fleet has been set up, but it is only open to employees at present. Also in Guangzhou’s high tech Zone, another domestic driverless technology company, Wenyuan Zhixing’s robotaxi team, has been opened to the public.

However, it should be emphasized that the commercialization stage of domestic robotaxi enterprises has not progressed to the level of waymo’s “no safety officer and charging operation” in Phoenix. At present, it still provides free test ride service. From a technical point of view, under limited conditions, autonomous driving companies can now achieve the functional safety of unmanned driving, but there is still a long way to go from L5 level unmanned driving with full speed and full scene.

It is no longer exciting to open the road test and remove the safety officers. In the case of relatively mature technology, commercial exploration has become the next highland for autonomous driving enterprises. An observer of the autonomous driving industry told “deep diving insight” that “however, it’s not easy to let the scenes in science fiction movies land.”

“It’s not difficult to build a robotaxi. What’s difficult is mass production and fleet management. Taking off the safety officer is just the first step.” In Li Zheng’s view, technology is only the first step in the commercialization and scale of robotaxi. He believes that at present, robotax is still in the embryonic stage of development, autonomous driving enterprises should break through the driverless technology by expanding the operation scale and enriching the test data, at the same time, gradually focus on the single vehicle operation efficiency of the fleet and carry out scheduling optimization, so as to make sufficient preparation for the large-scale commercial landing of robotaxi.

2. The future of commercialization is uncertain

In the process of commercialization, cost is the first difficulty.

In Li Zheng’s view, if robotaxi’s business model wants to succeed, it is necessary to realize bicycle profit. “If you compare this car with an ordinary taxi, you have to pay the security officer and bear the cost of so many sensors on the car, so you can’t make a profit. But if you remove the security officer, you can make a profit immediately, because the price of sensors like lidar has been declining in recent years.” Li Zheng said.

Some industry views show that the road to realize the commercialization of robotaxi is very clear, but the difficulty of practice still exists.

“The price of robotaxi is basically twice that of ordinary passenger cars. Ordinary consumers can’t afford it. They can only sell it to operating companies. Operating companies can make money and recover the cost by renting it out.” Xiao Jianxiong, founder and CEO of autox, said in an interview with the media.

Dripping autopilot company Meng Meng, COO, has said that the cost of dripping autopilot is more than 1 million yuan. In order to realize the commercialization of the automatic driving vehicle, we need to constantly improve the performance at this stage. Only after the basic performance is established, can we reduce the cost.

However, these goals need the cooperation of automobile enterprises in terms of hardware. “To achieve the goal of unmanned and large-scale automatic driving, high requirements will be put forward for the unified design of vehicles and the coordination of software and hardware, including all aspects of redundancy in software systems such as vehicle control, supply and electrical sensors. All these require more in-depth cooperation with vehicle enterprises,” an insider of Pony wisdom bank told deep insight

In August, Cao Cao, a travel company under the auspicious technology group, announced its cooperation with Yuan Rong and Kai hang. Based on Geely’s high-end electric vehicle geometry A, it built an automatic driving vehicle operation test. In the same month, Volkswagen announced the formation of an automatic driving team in Hefei, launched the test in September, and conducted a public manned trial on the open road in January.

The joining of these two enterprises has broken the blank of “zero layout” in the domestic market of robotaxi test project led by automobile manufacturers.

But in the field of robotaxi, there are still many things that need to be done by car companies. At present, most autopilot companies are software companies, only providing autopilot software services, but the final realization of autopilot still needs to adapt to the hardware of specific models. According to Li Zheng, the current mainstream automobile manufacturers are capable of producing less than five car companies that can satisfy the automatic driving system.

According to “deep diving insight”, some automatic driving system suppliers will also provide automatic driving hardware devices, but they are not yet in mass production stage. “It’s easy to design these hardware devices, but it’s hard to meet the requirements of vehicle specification.” One person in the industry said.

In addition to the cost, the policy is also a big problem for the landing of automatic driving. According to the incomplete statistics of “deep insight”, at present, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Changsha have set up the test sections of vehicle network, and issued test licenses for corresponding enterprises. “Although many cities have issued licenses, there are still many things to explore in the process of fully implementing commercial and testing. Now the government is very active in this aspect, but we don’t know what will happen in the future.” The observer said.

“Without the support of the government, it is impossible for enterprises to talk about smart travel alone. In my opinion, at present, robotaxi is far from the stage of commercial competition, and it is still in the primary stage of exploration of joint research and development by all participants. ” The above industry insiders said to “deep insight”. He stressed that commercial application is “urgent” and still needs to be done step by step.

“From mature technology, mature business to mature laws and regulations, automatic driving has a long way to go. At least we need to make a plan of continuous investment for ten years, and be prepared to face all kinds of difficulties and challenges, but the direction is clear and firm.” Cheng weizeng, founder and CEO of didi travel, said.

3. The market scale exceeds one trillion

Although the future of commercialization is uncertain, the commercial prospect of robotaxi is still optimistic by most people.

According to the McKinsey Co, China is probably the largest auto driving market in the world. By 2030, the total sales volume of autopilot will reach 230 billion dollars, and the order amount based on automatic driving will reach US $260 billion. IResearch, a market research firm, predicts that by 2022, the penetration rate of L1-L5 global autonomous driving will reach more than 50%, and by 2030, the penetration rate of global autonomous driving will increase to 70%.

Compared with third-party organizations, the views from practitioners are bolder. Xiao Jianxiong once said publicly that if the current online car Hailing market in China is completely replaced, robotaxi will be a $6 trillion market. Tesla CEO musk said that the cost of a robotaxi per mile may be less than $0.18, which is far lower than the average cost of Uber’s traditional carpooling service (US $1-2 per mile). In addition, robotaxi can increase the basic utility of electric vehicles by five times.

Even if the market is blue ocean, Li Zheng thinks that there will not be a hundred schools of thought contending in the future robotaxi market. “This industry has relatively high technical threshold requirements, including high capital threshold requirements, so it is difficult for players to surpass the head players in the future. In addition, there is no network effect in this industry, it is just a technology, so the competition in the future industry is still in technology.” Li Zheng said.

“In the US $6 trillion market, because of the high technical threshold, there are not many domestic manufacturers participating, which means that each manufacturer can get enough market share and there is no pressure of merger or competition,” Xiao Jianxiong said. “Now it’s up to us to see who can break through the finish line first and who can cross the starting line of large-scale commercialization first, which will completely change the pattern.”

Li Zheng believes that in the next two or three years, the Matthew effect of the industry will become more prominent, resources will gather to the head, and no more than five players will finally stand out.

“In fact, I think this industry is very different from other industries. There is no business model innovation in this industry. It all depends on PK technology. If your technology is good, you will live to the end.” Li Zheng said. In his view, robotaxi industry is a pure technology industry. Whoever has the most solid technology and who can spend the least money to achieve unmanned driving can become an oligarch.

In fact, the realization of fully automatic driving is not only of commercial significance, but also means the far-reaching impact of technological change and the further liberation of human labor force. As Li Zheng said, “if anyone can make all unmanned driving first, he is really making history.”

Editor in charge: Tzh