The battle between David and Goliath to rule the roads

autonomous vehicles

Only a few years ago autonomous cars sounded like something from the deepest recesses of science fiction. But the reality is in the not-too distant future.

Some of the brightest minds on the planet are currently applying their intellect and racing to be the first to solve what to many people is unsolvable – how to produce cars that do not require human intervention to be driven in a manner that is both safe and satisfies our needs.

The race to innovate

The battle to innovate in this area is well and truly on. According to industry reports, 19 companies are currently investing time and resource into the development of first generation autonomous vehicles. Included are a number of names you would expect to see. The likes of Ford, Volvo, BMW, Toyota, Nissan, Audi, Daimler and Honda have, to various degrees, committed to producing a commercially viable model within a few years.

But driverless car innovation is not just for globalised car makers.

They have also been joined by tech companies who are applying their vast financial muscle and technological prowess to solving the autonomous car puzzle. The seemingly bottomless fiscal resources available to Google is enabling it to work on having bespoke technology ready by 2020, while Beijing-based search company Baidu is working on the development of a modified BMW.  In tests, its car of the future has been shown to be capable of safely performing tasks such as U-turns, changing lanes and passing other cars.

There are even rumours that tech superpower Apple is also entering the battle. But the interesting aspect of this innovation race is that anyone can get involved, as long as they have the intellectual rigour and vision to succeed. While obviously attracting the interest of the well-known motor manufacturing and technology enterprises listed above – enticed by the commercial rewards on offer if they can be successful in this venture – other, much smaller businesses, are not being put off by the size of the challenge. Indeed, they are embracing it.

New competition

As with many new markets, it’s currently open to challenger brands, shown through the involvement of start-ups such as Zoox and Nutonomy.  They have thrown their hat into the driverless car ring and are more than happy to take on the established names at their own game. One such business is Cambridge-based tech company, FiveAI. While miniature in size compared to others it is competing against, FiveAI makes up ground in terms of ambition.   Its vision is clear, as its website proudly states:

We’re building the world’s most reliable autonomous vehicle software stack to solve the most difficult problem of all – delivering a solution that’s safe in complex urban environments without any driver involvement. Our solution will enable safe, cost effective urban mobility for all.

While developing its technology solution, it also has an eye on how the autonomous marketplace will evolve. Instead of a single global vendor, FiveAI CEO and co-founder Stan Boland predicts that no one company will dominate the market and we will see the emergence of regionally-based players, maybe even “city by city battles”.

As we look for better ways to manage the mobility challenges of the future, driverless cars are seen as part of the answer.  While there may be an expectation that the ultimate technological innovation will emerge from the so-called big names, it is also inspiring to see that in this visionary race, size does not matter and innovating companies such as FiveAI are leading, not following.

With recent research from Inrix saying that UK drivers are now enduring a day a year stuck in rush hour city traffic – time that could be far more productively spent – the day driverless vehicles arrive perhaps cannot come soon enough for many.

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