Automated driving specialist Mobileye and car rental company Sixt plan to offer autonomous electric ride-hailing services in Munich this year. The companies want to scale ride-sharing services based on self-driving vehicles in Germany and other European countries in this decade. Mobileye managing director Johann Jungwirth betrayed the automobile week More about the project at the end of 2021.
The basis for the robot taxis used in Munich is the SUV ES8 from the Chinese electric car start-up NIO. The model has been on the market in the People’s Republic since 2018, in Europe so far only in Norway. NIO is coming to Germany at the end of this year, but initially only with the ET7 sedan. Mobileye uses NIO’s ES8 because the car meets all the necessary requirements for the pilot project in Munich.
“When we were looking for the right vehicle for our first robotaxi fleet in 2019, we had three requirements,” explained Jungwirt. The vehicle should already be ready for autonomous driving at level 4 to make the conversion easier. In addition, it had to be able to be delivered by mid-2021 and the manufacturer also had to allow conversion and use as a robotaxi. NIO was the first manufacturer to meet all three requirements and was therefore awarded the contract.
For fully autonomous driving (Level 5), the ES8 has a roof module with Mobileye technology. The black box above the windshield contains six cameras and three lidar sensors, with which the subsidiary of the chip manufacturer Intel wants to turn the SUVs into completely self-driving shuttles. There are also other lidar sensors, cameras behind the windshield and on the sides, and radar behind the bumpers. The control unit, the heart and brain of self-propelled technology, is housed at the rear under the trunk. “This is an all-round sensor package, all-round cameras, all-round radar, all-round lidar,” says Jungwirth. “All in all, a turnkey solution that replaces the driver.”
While Mobileye operates the ES8 robotic taxis in Munich in cooperation with the car rental company Sixt, the company in Tel Aviv puts other vehicles on the streets on its own. 20 to 25 of the 50 vehicles that are to be converted for this purpose are to start in each of the two cities. The deposited cars are used for reconnaissance trips to other places.
Start planned by the end of 2022
Driverless test cars from Mobileye have been on the road in Munich since mid-2020, but the converted Ford Fusion are not allowed to take passengers. That should now change in the joint project with Sixt and the converted ES8 E-SUV. Mobileye provides the vehicles and technology for automated driving, Sixt takes over the operation. The shuttles can then be booked via the app.
When exactly it starts in the Bavarian capital is not yet certain. “We have the second half of the year, the end of next year, as a target date,” said Jungwirth 2021 in an interview with the automobile week. “It depends on the authorities when we get the approval.” For legal reasons, the Robitaxis in Munich will initially have safety drivers behind the wheel, just like the Ford test cars. As soon as the authorities allow it, Mobileye wants to omit the security driver. Whether this will happen in 2022 or only in 2023 remains to be seen.
In 2023, Jungwirth could probably see the first robot taxis on the road, which, unlike the NIO electric vehicles that have now been converted, no longer have a steering wheel or pedals. The manager expects the first fully autonomous private cars in 2025.