Tesla crash raises stakes for self-driving vehicle startups

Tue Jul 12, 2016 1:12am EDT
 
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By Paul Lienert and Alexandria Sage

DETROIT/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Concerns raised by the first reported fatality in a semi-automated car were expected to speed adoption of more sensitive technology to help vehicles see and drive themselves safely, increasing demand on the emerging autonomous vehicle technology industry, investors and analysts said.

Goldman Sachs forecasts the market for advanced driver assistance systems and autonomous vehicles will grow from about $3 billion last year to $96 billion in 2025 and $290 billion in 2035. More than half of that revenue in 20 years, Goldman estimates, will come from radar, cameras and lidar, a sensor that uses laser – all tools considered essential to building vehicles that can pilot themselves.

The May 7 death of Ohio technology company owner Joshua Brown in a Tesla Motors Inc (TSLA.O: Quote) Model S while the car's semi-automated Autopilot system was engaged highlighted the limitations of current automated driving systems.

Tesla’s Autopilot system uses cameras and radar, but not lidar. The company said its system would have had trouble distinguishing a white semi-trailer positioned across a road against a bright sky.

Industry executives and analysts told Reuters they expect the Tesla crash will spur investment in self-driving vehicle systems that combine multiple of sensors, including lidar.

"As we move to a higher level of autonomy in vehicles, you’re going to want to have more redundancy," which radar and lidar can provide, Dan Galves, senior vice president at vision safety system maker Mobileye NV(MBLY.N: Quote) , said in an interview. "The more sensors, the better."

Carmakers have been using multiple sensors in prototypes that are in testing but not yet ready for market. A variety of technologies with overlapping capabilities is seen as a way to increase safety under a wider range of circumstances.

The valuations of some self-driving startups "may even increase if there are companies that can solve some of the issues" the Tesla accident raised, said Quin Garcia, managing director of AutoTech Ventures, a Silicon Valley investment firm.   Continued...

 
The interior of a Tesla Model S is shown in autopilot mode in San Francisco, California, U.S., April 7, 2016.   REUTERS/Alexandria Sage/File Photo