Aptiv puts its self-driving system to work in Vegas
Las Vegas — Before Aptiv’s self-driving BMW 5-Series navigated the bustling Las Vegas Strip on Sunday, one executive promised an underwhelming ride.
That’s the true test of a good autonomous car, said James Zizelman, vice president of engineering and program management for Aptiv PLC. “It should just feel like you or me were driving the car,” he said.
Aside from a few sudden stops and cautious speeds, it was hard to tell from the back seat that the chauffeur in the front wasn’t controlling the vehicle. A screen atop the dashboard showed a colorful rendering of what the car’s sensors were picking up, and it alerted passengers when it was preparing to change lanes or when it was switching from manual to self-driving mode.
It’s been only a month since mega-supplier Delphi Automotive split into two entities: Aptiv, which is focused on developing high-value electronics, smart mobility and autonomous driving; and Delphi Technologies PLC, which focuses on developing powertrains and after-market sales.
Aptiv is ready to show the industry what it’s made of.
“Aptiv is a tech company,” said Zizelman. “We call ourselves a 100-year-old startup.”
The renamed automotive technology supplier announced ahead of the CES technology show — formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show — it would put its autonomous technology to the test on the busy streets of Las Vegas with real passengers. Aptiv partnered with Lyft at the show to offer a self-driving ride-hailing service to the public through Friday.
Rides started Sunday for members of the news media, with short demos from the Las Vegas Convention Center to Caesars Palace.
The self-driving Bimmers are equipped with Aptiv’s newest autonomous technology architecture, powered by 21 subtly integrated sensors, including nine lidar units, which bounce lasers off surroundings in order to “see”; 10 radar units; and two cameras. The integrated sensors are noticeable only upon second glance — a far cry from the bubble-shaped units atop Waymo’s Pacifica minivans.
“We’re not really so much of a tier-one (supplier) anymore, we’re more like a tech company,” said Zizelman. “At the same time, we bring this history and this heritage of all of this work and execution we did in automotive, so when we do a vehicle, it really does integrate well.”
The partnership with Lyft demonstrates a possible deployment plan for the technology. Neither company is committing to a long-term implementation of the service offered at CES, but said Lyft and Aptiv will continue to work together well after the show.
“We don’t have anything to share right now,” said Bobby Rasmusson, who runs the self-driving experience for Lyft.
The San Francisco-based ride-hailing company is essentially running logistics in the Aptiv rides at CES, equipping the back seat of each vehicle in the fleet with a Lyft console that asks riders to confirm their identities and displays the vehicle’s route during the drive.
When Lyft users open the app in the vicinity of the Convention Center this week, an offer for the free autonomous ride will automatically pop up.
Lyft is already running a pilot for driverless ride-hailing in Boston with NuTonomy, a self-driving technology developer that was acquired by Delphi just before the supplier split and began operating as Aptiv. For now, the NuTonomy partnership is not related to Aptiv’s work with Lyft, Zizelman said.
Aptiv is just one of many partners in Lyft’s arsenal right now, with other big names like Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and Waymo topping the list.
Rasmusson said he sees Aptiv as the “cross-section” between all of these partnerships.
“Each of these folks have different strengths, some are really good at (mass-producing) vehicles, others focus entirely on self-driving systems,” he said. “Aptiv is a great example of being able to be in between all of that, and we really want to be able to come together, collaborate and understand how can we get this technology that’s as advanced as possible together and usher in that future of self-driving cars.”
Aptiv’s aggressive run into the spotlight at CES takes place as automakers and suppliers try to find their places in an industry in transition.
“There are a lot of companies in Aptiv’s position,” said Karl Brauer, an automotive analyst with Cox Automotive. “They want to be seen as a vital component to this entire ecosystem. Every company is trying to pick one area and show it’s very competitive, the leader, in that area.”