It’s been recently announced that Huawei will develop self-driving car technology for Audi’s that will be sold in China. This particular partnership will focus on creating so-called Level 4 technology, which the Society of Automotive Engineers defines as a car that completely drives itself from start to finish – within a designated area. This is the latest deal in a very long line of similar partnerships between car companies and technology companies. Why? Well, these two industries are moving toward a goal of truly autonomous vehicles so this kind of makes sense. Of course, what we don’t have are the terms of the deal, and the announcement didn’t give us much to go on either.
Huawei did show off an Audi Q7 outfitted with the technology company’s Mobile Data Center (MDC) rig at its Connect 2018 conference this week. The MDC reportedly consists of a number of AI chips, a central CPU, cameras, LIDAR, and it sits on the roof of the car. Huawei also said it will work with Audi on vehicle-to-vehicle communications and connected car solutions.
I’d like to take a step back for a moment and give the disclaimer that I always make when it comes to autonomous vehicles. All the car companies in the world can create incredible technology, but when it comes to infrastructure, I don’t think we’re there yet. Maybe autonomous vehicles don’t need the kind of infrastructure that a flying car would need, but there are likely some changes to the way that we operate as a culture that would need to be made. Where can these cars be charged, for example? Presumably, they don’t run off of oil and gas, which means that more charging stations will need to be installed throughout cities and even at highway rest areas. Again, this is presuming that the car can travel those kinds of distances.
While I think this is a great partnership, I do think that we’re putting the cart before the horse in some ways. Sure, the development of the technology leads to other developments, but you need local governments on board in order to get this thing really moving. Yes, some state governments have signed on to provide protection for testing the self-driving cars, but you will also need local governments to help with the planning of the infrastructure over the next 10, 15 and 20 years. That’s their job.
When it comes to autonomous vehicles, though, the Chinese government is still guiding the path of Western companies. It strictly controls the permits required to test self-driving vehicles as well as the number of licenses that allow companies to make digital maps of the country’s roads, which is a crucial piece of the autonomous car puzzle. This has led major automakers like Daimler, Ford, and BMW to partner with Baidu, which is one of just a few companies that have the ability to do both.
What is interesting is that the Chinese government views a free-market approach to be a national security risk when it comes to providing information about their roads or other data. This is basically the same thing that the US was saying earlier this year when they banned government employees and contractors from using Huawei handsets or components. Overall, I think that more work needs to be done in this area, but it seems like China is on the cutting edge in terms of the technology development.