Daimler and automotive parts supplier Bosch will pilot a free self-driving ride-share service in the San Francisco Bay area starting in the second half of 2019, the companies announced this week. Using a custom version of NVIDIA’s autonomous vehicle technology, the two companies will offer rides in modified Mercedes-Benz cars along preselected routes. No further details were given about the location or size of the trial, as the companies said contracts are still being worked out.
Daimler is still determining whether it will offer rides in Mercedes S-class cars, V-Class vans, or both. There will be a safety driver present in each vehicle, and Daimler is sticking with a steering wheel and pedals for now (unlike GM’s plans for its autonomous Chevy Bolts).
Mercedes-Benz and parent company Daimler have worked on a number of self-driving projects in the past that range from futuristic concepts (like the F-015 or the Smart Vision EQ) to more practical attempts at developing something for the near term (like Daimler’s semi-automated Freightliner truck). But this would be the first time either company has offered anything close to resembling a taxi service.
To take on the challenge of autonomously navigating city streets — wherever that city may be — Daimler has turned to NVIDIA, which has become one of the leading providers of the so-called “brains” of autonomous cars. Daimler says it will use some of NVIDIA’s Drive Pegasus autonomous technology, but it is developing some of its own hardware and software to control the cars.
“Autonomous driving is by far the biggest revolution of mobility. It is also one of the biggest challenges ever in the automotive industry,” Uwe Keller, the head of Daimler’s autonomous driving division, said on a call with reporters. “Hardly any company in the world can meet this challenge alone at the moment.”
Beyond those details, Daimler and Bosch say they can’t share much more about the self-driving pilot. The companies wouldn’t comment on how many cars will be deployed, how many rides it plans to offer, or even exactly where the trial will take place — though there aren’t many options based on the language of the companies’ press release. According to that, the cars will drive “select routes in a city located in the San Francisco Bay in Silicon Valley.”
Whatever the trial winds up looking like, Daimler and Bosch won’t be the first to offer rides in semi-autonomous or fully automated cars. Waymo is already shuttling around willing participants in a few US cities, Lyft has been offering rides in Las Vegas, and a startup called Voyage is giving them in a Florida retirement community. The first trial of this kind, run by NuTonomy, opened up in Singapore in 2016.