Open source plays leading role in getting driverless cars on the road

Read time 3min 20sec

Open source is playing an increasingly important role in the race to develop fully-functional, totally driverless cars capable of handling all traffic conditions – and investors are lining up to support these efforts.

Last week, Japan-based open source company Tier IV announced it had raised a further $100 million to facilitate commercialisation of self-driving technology for what it called `private, depopulated and urban’ areas. This brings the amount of money investors have pumped into the company to around $230million.

However, Tier IV, which was spun out of Japan’s Nagoya University by Shinpei Kato and which counts Yamaha Motor Corporation among its backers, is not the only open source company in the self-driving vehicle starting line-up.

Tier IV’s offering competes with Apollo, an open source driverless software stack developed by the Chinese tech giant, Baidu. In January this year, Baidu announced the launch of Apollo Enterprise for vehicles that will be put into mass production, and Apollo 3.5, an updated version of its platform that is said to support `complex urban and suburban driving environments’.

At the time, Baidu president Ya-Qin Zhang said in a statement: “With the key development of Apollo Enterprise, Baidu Apollo expands from an open source technology platform to a leading product and service provider for autonomous driving and connected products.

“We’re excited to join hands with any Apollo developer and enterprise partner to create safe, customisable, and scalable solutions to accelerate the commercialisation of autonomous driving and enhance the mobility experience for everyone.”

Baidu announced further upgrades to the Apollo platform earlier this month. It claims Apollo is used by 130 partners around the world, including BMW, Hyundai, Honda, Daimler and Jaguar Land Rover.

While Tier IV is considerably smaller than Baidu, it claims its Autoware platform, which it bills as `the world’s first all-in-one open source software for self-driving technology’, has been widely adopted by over 200 companies around the world, and has been included in the CARMA platform developed by the US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, as well as several automotive manufacturers.

Tier IV launched the non-profit Autoware Foundation in December 2018 in order to facilitate and promote the development, growth and deployment of Autoware projects in real products and services. Today, the Autoware Foundation has over 30 member companies, is used by more than 100 firms and runs on more than 30 vehicles in over 20 countries. In addition, Autoware AI is said to be supported by the largest autonomous driving open source community. Kato, Tier IV’s founder, is chairman of the board of the Foundation.

“Tier IV has a mission to embody disruptive creation and creative disruption with self-driving technology. We have derived a solid software platform and successfully integrated it with real vehicles. It is time to step forward to real services, embracing functional safety and risk management,” he said.

Commenting on its decision to invest further funds into Tier IV, Yamaha noted that `Tier IV has led technological development related to autonomous driving’, both within Japan and further afield with initiatives that include what it said was the first Level 4 (fully automated) demonstration trial on public roads in Japan (in December last year). It had also conducted a trial of remotely monitored autonomous driving utilising 5G on public roads earlier this year.

While many countries around the world, including Japan, China and the United States, have legislation that makes provision for self-driving cars on their roads, South Africa is not yet there. Earlier this year, then transport minister Blade Nzimande reportedly told parliament that government had plans for their introduction. However, there was no enabling legislation in the pipeline.

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