Mobileye to launch pilot scheme for autonomous taxis in Tel Aviv, Munich in 2022
Jerusalem-based Intel subsidiary partners with German mobility service provider Sixt to test ‘robotaxis’ next year; passengers will hail ride on Moovit or Sixt apps
Ricky Ben-David is The Times of Israel’s Tech Israel editor and reporter.
Intel Corporation’s Mobileye, a Jerusalem-based maker of self-driving technologies, will roll out a pilot for autonomous taxis and ride-hailing services in Munich and Tel Aviv next year, pending regulatory approval, in collaboration with German-headquartered international car rental and mobility service giant Sixt SE.
The announcement was made on Tuesday by Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger at the annual IAA Mobility 2021 conference (also known as the International Motor Show Germany) taking place in Munich this week. Intel bought Mobileye in 2017 for a whopping $15.3 billion.
Mobileye will own the fleet of vehicles — which it calls “robotaxis” — powered by the company’s fully integrated self-driving system, dubbed Mobileye Drive, and developed specifically for commercial, driverless ride-hailing services. Sixt will maintain and operate the fleet both in Israel and Germany.
Gelsinger and Sixt co-CEO Alexander Sixt demonstrated the new service at the event with a video showing a driverless vehicle maneuvering the streets of Tel Aviv-Jaffa as it pulls up to waiting passengers who had hailed the ride. Mobileye co-founder and CEO Prof. Amnon Shashua, also senior vice president of Intel, then briefly addressed the crowd via video segment to detail the technologies powering the ride-hailing service.
Riders will be able to access the service on the app developed by Moovit, the Israeli smart transit data company Intel bought last year for some $900 million, as well as the Sixt app, which combines ride-hailing, car rental, car-sharing and other offerings.
The vehicles include Moovit and Sixt branding so that customers can easily “distinguish between traditional ride-hailing and the autonomous fleet vehicles,” according to the announcement.
The vehicles in the Mobileye fleet are orange NIO SE8s, an electric seven-seater SUV made by Chinese electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer NIO, with which the company signed a collaboration agreement in 2019. According to the deal, NIO produces the Mobileye Drive system for Mobileye and integrates its Level 4 Autonomous Vehicle technology into its EV lines for consumer markets as well as for driverless ride-hailing services. Level 4 provides high automation without the need for human intervention in limited areas (also known as geofencing), but humans can still manually override if necessary.
Mobileye began testing autonomous vehicles (AVs) in Munich last summer, after obtaining an AV testing permit recommendation from the country’s independent technical service provider TÜV SÜD. It was the first city in Europe to approve the pilot, which built on Mobileye’s existing program in Israel where the company has been testing self-driving vehicles since 2018. The company launched similar pilots in Detroit, New York, Tokyo, and Shanghai this year, with plans to soon begin testing in Paris.
In May, Germany adopted legislation that allows Level 4 autonomous driving on public roads in specific areas in 2022, paving the way for companies to deploy driverless taxis and other autonomous mobility services such as deliveries in the country at scale.
Gelsinger hailed Germany’s move on Tuesday and said the country “has shown global leadership toward a future of autonomous mobility by expediting crucial AV legislation. Our ability to begin robotaxi operations in Munich next year would not be possible without this new law.”
“We’re delighted that Germany is a first mover,” Shashua said, adding that “with strong logistics and operational partners like Sixt, Mobileye can bring the promise of full autonomy to life in cities around the world.”
The Mobileye-Sixt collaboration is the first known commercial robotaxi service between a tech supplier and a mobility services provider, the companies said, with plans to “scale driverless ride-sharing services across Germany and other European countries later this decade.”
In Israel, draft legislation (Hebrew) released last August by the Transportation Ministry enabling the approval of driverless pilots without a safety driver, but with passengers in the vehicle, is still making its way through the legislative pipeline.
In a briefing with reporters this week ahead of Mobileye’s announcement, Vice President of Mobility-as-a-Service at Mobileye Johann Jungwirth said that the pilot in Tel Aviv will start with about 20 vehicles after regulatory approval is granted. The fleet will grow as the pilot expands, he indicated.
Passengers will be able to hail a robotaxi and ride alone or as part of a ride-sharing journey with others, said Jungwirth.
He noted that Mobileye chose an EV for its robotaxi services to advance “sustainable transport.” The NIO ES8, he said, has a range of over 500 kilometers (311 miles) but riders will have to stay within the limits of Tel Aviv (or Munich) in the first stage of the pilot.
Mobileye’s self-driving technology
“Autonomous driving really has the potential to revolutionize almost every aspect of our lives,” Shashua said in his video address on Tuesday. “With our unique strategy and technological assets, Mobileye is positioned to be a leader in both autonomous ride-sharing and consumer-level autonomous cars.”
Mobileye’s self-driving system Mobileye Drive is comprised of three pillars, Shashua noted. The first is the advanced vision sensing technology, which Mobileye calls True Redundacy, comprised of two perception sub-systems that the company says allows for better safety and validation as they work independently from each other.
“The first layer is the cameras. There are 11 cameras around in the car; at the front, rear, inside the body, on the side mirrors, and on the top. The second layer is the long-range lidar sensors, using our partner Luminar, and short-range flash lidars, and radar sensors,” Shashua explained.
The two layers “perform independently to get a redundant system,” he said, in which there is a duplication of critical components to increase reliability.
Shashua said that Mobileye Drive also “influences the evolution of advanced driver assistance systems [ADAS]” for consumer-level autonomous vehicles based on proprietary software algorithms, EyeQ chips which use cameras to interpret the visual field, and a lidar system-on-chip (SoC) for Mobileye use in AVs starting in 2025.
“[The system] will provide Level 2 plus [automation], where the car drives hands-free but with the supervision of a driver in the seat and on alert,” he said.
The second pillar is Mobileye’s crowd-sourced Road Experience Management (REM) mapping technology that creates high-definition maps of road infrastructures worldwide to serve as a basis for safe autonomous driving.
Mobileye gathers data for its maps through consumer vehicles already on the road and equipped with Mobileye’s EyeQ4 driving assistance system. Mobileye says this technology generates data about more than 15 million kilometers (roughly 9.3 million miles) of roads daily. In addition, data from 25 million vehicles is expected to be collected by 2025, in cooperation with various auto manufacturers.
“These maps are like gold, they let us drive anywhere in the world — but it also tells us how humans actually drive,” Shashua said. He noted that the company recently launched AVs in New York City, “one of the most challenging driving environments in the world” in addition to its pilots in “Detriot, Munich, Tokyo, and soon Paris, all because we have a map that is produced and continuously updated using crowdsourced capabilities.”
“The scalability we get from our AV maps is unparalleled,” he added.
The last pillar is Mobileye’s “pioneering” Responsibility-Sensitive Safety (RSS) driving policy.
“[This model] supports fast scaling to all regions around the world with different driving cultures and gives us the balance of safety and usefulness that, I believe, will make our AVs welcome in streets around the world, both in robotaxis, and very soon, in consumer-level cars,” Shashua said.
The event marked the first time Mobileye has publicly displayed the fully integrated self-driving system.
Separately, Mobileye also has a number of running partnerships to supply self-driving systems to California delivery startup Udelv, which plans to have a fleet of autonomous delivery vehicles on the roads within two years, and with two French-based firms to jointly develop and deploy commercial autonomous shuttles for public transportation services in Europe in 2023.