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Alliance Founded to Show Taiwan’s Self-Driving Vehicle Ambition

2019-01-10 16:48:10

The Taiwan government-funded Automotive  Research & Testing Center (ARTC) has teamed up with 18 prominent manufacturers to develop electric self-driving mini bus to the high-end SAE Level 4 definition set by the SAE International of the United States as a part of the government’s autonomous mass-transportation project.

Based on the SAE International definitions for automation for vehicles, in SAE Level 4, an automated system can both conduct the task of driving and monitoring the environment, without the need for a human driver to take back control.  However, operation of the system is limited to certain environments and conditions.  Google, Uber, Apple, and Samsung are currently testing these systems, which have been tested in trucks by Volvo, the Uber-owned Otto and Daimler Mercedes Benz.

The US institute has defined five automation levels for vehicles, from the level 1 for basic automation to the level 5 for sophisticated performance.

Aimed At Self-Content Capability

According to the alliance, the emergence of the alliance means Taiwan will set up self-content technologies for self-driving vehicle industry, marking the new milestone of the Taiwan industry. The 18 manufacturers comprising of the self-driving vehicle alliance include

chip vendor NVIDIA Corp.; ICT makers Acer ITS Inc., Liteon Technology Corp., Giga-Byte Technology Co., Ltd., SOE Co., Ltd., Whetron Electronics Co., Ltd., Wieson Technologies Co., Ltd., and Alpha Networks Inc.; testing instrument maker Chroma ATE Inc., battery maker Amita Technologies Inc.; automotive-powertrain developer Global Unitek Co., Ltd.; coachbuilder Shin Wei Industry Co., Ltd.; and precision-machinery maker Hiwin Technologies Corp.; and auto-parts maker Lioho Machine Works Ltd. These manufacturers encompass the upstream, midstream, and downstream sector of Taiwan’s self-driving vehicle industry.

The alliance will integrate government resource with manufacturing capability from the private to build a complete self-driving vehicle industry chain encompassing business operation service, autonomous driving integration, electric-energy integration and coachbuilding.

Bright Market Outlook 

Citing statistics complied by Bloomberg News until October this year, the alliance points out that 114 cities worldwide have launched pilot-run operations of unmanned mass transportation vehicles. In these projects, major parts include carmakers GM, BMW and Ford; IT giants Google and Uber; as well as high-tech start-ups Easymile and nuTonomy, suggesting the bright perspective of self-driving vehicle market. 

The alliance adds that with self-driving operation models growing diversified worldwide, field tests with autonomous vehicles have exceeded 40 cases, including shuttle bus, logistics transportation, cab on-call service, and general tests, with shuttle bus accounting for close to 50% of the experimental cases. 

Taiwan also chooses shuttle bus as its top field test among all self-driving vehicle cases.

Legislate to Facilitate Self-Driving Environment 

Department of Industrial Technology (DoIT) of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, to facilitate the development of the island’s unmanned vehicle industry, has drawn up a statute for the vehicles’ field tests, which has passed preliminary review in Legislature Yuan and is expected to take effect next year to become the world’s first of its kind.

DoIT Director General D.S. Lo indicates that Taiwan has built key elements for developing unmanned vehicles, including mature technology, industry preparedness, high vehicle ownership ratio, complete regulations, and complete test fields. These elements, he stresses, allows Taiwan to become an innovator rather than a fast follower in world self-driving vehicle industry. 

Lo notes the Executive Yuan, Taiwan’s Cabinet, is pushing forward the island’s autonomous vehicle industry on four fronts: industry promotion, technology R&D, environment setup, and regulation adjustment. In May this year, the government began promoting flagship fleet of self-driving mini buses. Now, the private sector and a government-funded institution have integrated their resources to build the most internationally competitive supply chain for Taiwan’s autonomous vehicle industry.

Look At Global Market 

“We hope that Taiwan would be able to push into the global market for self-driving vehicles in the future with locally developed crucial technologies and innovative business models because we are now establishing related regulations, developing the technologies, and developing innovative transportation- service models for self-driving vehicles through cooperation among the industry, government organizations, research institutes, and local government,” Lo comments.

Woody Duh, concurrently a consultant for the Taiwan Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers’ Association (TEEMA) and the chief coordinator of the Taiwan Autotronics Collaborative Alliance (Taiwan V-Team), points out that when TEEMA, which represents over 3,000 Taiwanese electronic and electrical manufacturers, was coordinating local manufacturers to form V-Team last year, it actually set sights on self-driving vehicle development in the coming years by integrating semiconductor, information-communications, automotive electronics and automobile manufacturers around the team. Duh is gratified to see the formation of the self-driving vehicle alliance, saying the alliance happens to coincide with V-Team’s goal and believing the two bodies will further help Taiwan’s self-driving vehicle industry develop and make presence in the global market.

Last Mile to Commercialized Run

The alliance is tasked with integrating all key self-driving technologies developed by the island’s manufacturers to carry out the goal of commercializing self-driving transportation service. Financed by DoIT, ARTC has plunged into the development of advanced driving assistance system (ADAS) for over 10 years, with its self-driving system on field tests at an industrial park in Lukan, Changhua County; the Keelung Harbor; a road in Taipei Nanga District; and Shalun, Tainan. With crucial components including sensors, as well as decision-making and control systems verified in many field tests, ARTC has accumulated abundant experience and data for self-driving vehicles.

DoIT Director General D.S. Lo points out that, on one hand, the alliance is established to develop innovative operating models for intelligent transportation, enhancing the safety and rapidity of mass transportation. On the other, the alliance incorporates key manufacturers spreading across upstream, midstream and downstream sectors of autonomous vehicle industry to from grouping strength integrated with local automotive supply chain’s technical capability. The team will develop tailor-made transportation system and operating models for local governments in line with the conditions of their traffic so that the vehicles can be as much friendly as possible to local residents. In the future, Taiwan’s autonomous transportation, he hopes, could one day become eye-catching on the international market.

ARTC Chairman J.Y. Chen notes that the alliance’s plan is developing electric self-driving mini buses that conform to the SAE Level 4 standard by integrating autonomous systems from the alliance members into the vehicles. Also, it plans to provide passengers with safer ride experience with self- driving vehicle through complete transportation- service models.

Relieve Urban Traffic Issues 

In intelligent transportation-service system, the electric mini bus will help boost intelligent shuttle service at local levels throughout the island as a measure to relieve urban traffic issues like traffic safety, jam pack, and insufficient transportation capacity. The bus will be able to seat 15 passengers with its multiple sensor systems Including self-driving sensor, decision-making sensor, and control-system sensor, which together can recognize road obstacles including pedestrians, bicycles, automobiles, motorbikes, and traffic signs. Real-time decision-making ability allows the vehicle to be able to shuttle all by itself at open fields, making it applicable to attractions, roads in campus, and dedicated roads at open fields.

Shin Wei will build coaches for the buses, which will be equipped with electric vehicle (EV) systems developed by Global Unitek and autonomous driving system (ADS) by ARTC, which integrates its sensor, internet of vehicle (IoV), map positioning, decision- making and control systems into the system. Acer ITS will work on operation management project, which will manage the services at all self-driving fields throughout the island to set up a complete autonomous driving industry and service eco system.

Acer ITS Chairman Y.N. Wan points out that the company has developed intelligent transportation system-related (ITS-related) products for many years, leading other manufacturers in electronic- ticket solutions and ITS service and having expanded into intelligent-parking segment by taking advantage of its abundant experience in electronic ticket. He adds that autonomous vehicle will play a major role in intelligent traffic in consideration of the growing technological maturity of telecommunications, artificial intelligence and Internet of Things (IoT). He goes on that his company, an affiliate of the Acer Group, hopes to help boost the capability of Taiwan’s autonomous vehicle industry by joining the alliance.

ARTC’s studies show that self-driving vehicle has drawn software developers, cartographers, chipmakers, and mobile-connection providers into automotive industry, in contrast to the traditional pattern that pure car-parts makers supply their products to carmakers, which in turn assemble the parts into their merchants that go to end users.

Taiwanese think-tank Industrial & Economic Knowledge Center (IEK) estimates Taiwan’s automotive electronics revenue for 2017 at NT$208 billion (US$6.9 billion at US$1:NT$30), proving the island’s potential in developing autonomous vehicles.

The institute notes that from international perspective autonomous-vehicle industry integrates automation, network connectivity, and sharing technologies, with

automation playing the leading role for it involves many technologies including sensor, positioning, human-machine interface, onboard network, and decision-making control system.

Although most of Taiwanese manufacturers are already furnished with basic capability of these technologies, they are still in infant stage when it comes to core technologies like sensor integration, picking of precision map data and road features, decision-making control chips, heterogeneous vehicular networks (HetVNETs) for autonomous driving, and deep learning.

The studies point out that in automation sector, Taiwanese manufacturers are mostly limited to single components like automotive chips, onboard lenses, and radar, lacking the capability for system integration and decision-making control system. 

In network connectivity, along with the technological standards for IoV forming and growing certain, the island’s manufacturers are developing the technology at pace close to the latest global trend. For instance, they keep working on the integration of vehicles with route data on the internet, and verification on system functions and stability.

In sharing, Taiwanese manufacturers have begun delivering international orders for solutions to vehicle-fleet and logistics platform management, backed up by the island’s well developed information-communications technology (ICT) industry.

ARTC points out Taiwan’s autonomous-vehicle industry can develop transportation vehicles for specific purposes such as shuttle service on fixed routes or
commercial logistics in initial stage, like following the successful models of self-driving mini shuttle bus in some countries before pushing into niche markets.

Given the fact that autonomous vehicles require high degree of component integration and high technology, ARTC points out that cooperation across different industrial segments, including car parts, automotive electronics, chip making, ICT, and software to set up manufacturing capability for crucial sub systems will provide Taiwan’s autonomous-vehicle industry an opportunity into global supply chain of the industry.

Combining resources from the government with the private sector, research institutes, and academic circle, ARTC has released proactive safety system for the vehicle, which can conduct multiple advance situations of environment of advanced driving assistant system such as automatic car pick-up, lane changing, pedestrian recognition, traffic sign recognition, automatic parking, and obstacle detecting.

To ensure the safety of self-driving, testing and verifying the capability of the vehicle is essential. Worldwide, many governments have opened roads for field tests of the vehicles so that the manufacturers can obtain feedback data from the vehicles. Currently in Taiwan, many local governments are striving for the central government’s permission to install test fields for self-driving according to a newly established statute. So far, the fields are planned to be located in Beitou District, Taipei; Taoyuan City; Suinan District, Taichung City; Shalun District, Tainan; and Linya District, Kaohsiung.