Mobileye, the company that specializes in chips for vision-based autonomous vehicles, is now testing its AVs in New York City — a difficult and rare move given the state’s restrictions around such testing.
The announcement was made by Amnon Shashua, president and CEO of the Intel-owned company, at an event in the city on Tuesday. Shashua said the company is currently testing two autonomous vehicles in New York City, but plans to increase that number to seven “in the next few months.”
New York City has some of the most dangerous, congested, and poorly managed streets in the world. They are also chock-full of construction workers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and double- and sometimes even triple-parked cars. In theory, this would make it very difficult for an autonomous vehicle to navigate, given that AVs typically rely on good weather, clear signage, and less aggressive driving from other road users for safe operation. But Shashua said this was part of the challenge in deciding where to test Mobileye’s vehicles.
“I think for a human it’s very, very challenging to drive in New York City,” Shashua said, “not to mention for a robotic car.”
While other states have become hot beds for AV testing, New York has been a bit of a ghost town. Part of the reason could be the state’s strict rules, which include mandating that safety drivers keep their hands on the wheel at all times and requiring state police escort at all times to be paid for by the testing company.
A spokesperson for Mobileye says the company has obtained a permit from the state to test its vehicles on public roads and is currently the only AV testing permit holder in the state. The spokesperson also said that police escorts were no longer required. (A spokesperson for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo deferred comment to the state’s Department of of Motor Vehicles, which did not immediately reply to a request for comment.)
In 2017, GM-backed Cruise announced plans to test its self-driving vehicles in lower Manhattan, but those plans were scuttled with little explanation as to why. Boston-based Optimus Ride has been testing autonomous shuttles in Brooklyn, but only on private roads as part of the borough’s Navy Yard. Meanwhile, operators flocked to places with friendlier regulations (like Arizona) or ones that are more convenient to their headquarters (like California).
Mobileye’s turn-key self-driving system relies on two subsystems, Shashua said: one that relies on 12 cameras and no other sensors, and another that includes lidar and radar, but no cameras. The company will combine the two subsystems later this year, he said.
The camera-only system will go into production as a Level 2 advanced driver assist system on Zeekr, which is a new electric vehicle brand from China’s Geely. This will allow Mobileye to gather more data from consumer-owned vehicles, which it will then use to bolster its fleet of autonomous cars.
Mobileye’s system also includes two of the Israeli company’s latest EyeQ system-on-a-chip and a data crowdsourcing program called the Road Experience Management, or REM, which uses real-time data from Mobileye-equipped vehicles to build out a global 3D map.
The company is testing autonomous vehicles in a variety of cities around the world for the eventual launch of a robotaxi service and has said it would bring its technology to personally owned consumer vehicles by 2025 as well. Earlier this year, Mobileye said it would launch a full-scale, fully driverless delivery vehicle service starting in 2023.