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Self-Driving Hopes Continue to Recede

Nvidia, the California based tech giant, has announced a move away from producing the essential chips many automakers have relied on in their self-driving efforts. And GM's Cruise is announcing that it will be laying off employees. [1,2]  

The CEO of Nvidia, Danny Shapiro, said that the “shift in strategy is aimed at meeting the existing needs of automakers that struggle with maintaining two systems – one for the driver assistance available today, and one for the more advanced self-driving technology of the future.”[1] This means a focus on features many will be familiar with, such as, lane-keeping and assisted braking. By straddling traditional automaker needs with the needs of future self-driving it seems Nvidia is positioning itself to maintain its dominance even with the hoped-for robo-taxis looking unlikely anytime soon. 

This important move by Nvidia coincides with another key actor in the self-driving space, Cruise, announcing that it will be laying off 8% of its 2000 employees. This is not due to financial constraints or the global pandemic specifically, but as CEO Dan Ammann pointed out this is “the right choice for the mission.”[2] Cruise had already postponed its planned debut of a functional robo-taxi to an indefinite time in the future earlier this year, and this announcement reinforces a move away from self-driving and, as Ammann says, a ”doubling down on engineering work and engineering talent.” It is unclear, however, what that engineering work will be put on. 

 

Personal comments

Many of the companies that hoped to crack the problem of self-driving have recently been distancing themselves from concrete deadlines and demonstrations, and now Nvidia and Cruise – both large players in the self-driving game – also adjust their strategies. The technical challenge is no doubt extremely difficult, but the drastic effect of Covid-19 should not be overlooked. In a recent poll, IBM Institute for Business Value points to how the pandemic has changed people’s driving habits and expectations.[3] Any automobile company hoping to survive these massive economic and social changes will have to reckon with the changing behavior of consumers. It looks like we may need to delay, at least for a while longer, our hopes for self-driving. 

 

Written by Joshua Bronson, RISE.

 

Sources

1. 2020-05-14. Nvidia turns to driver-assistance market as robo-taxis stall

2. 2020-05-14. Cruise Lays Off Staff in Pivot From Self-Driving Hiring Spree

3. 2020-05-01  IBM Study: COVID-19 Is Significantly Altering U.S. Consumer Behavior and Plans Post-Crisis