By on September 25, 2019

Automakers have begun leveling with us about vehicular autonomy. After years of promises that self-driving cars were just around the corner, the vision rollback has begun. Testing has taken longer than anticipated and nobody is as close to unleashing a commercial product as they hoped to be. Waymo’s self-driving taxis are arguably the closest, but they’re still dependent upon human safety drivers. They also don’t stray far from areas of operation that have been repeatedly mapped and deemed safe.

While nobody has given up on the technology, claims are becoming less lofty. Realism is creeping into press releases and interviews, resulting in a more complicated pathway to autonomy. Hyundai Motor Group’s heir apparent, Vice Chairman Chung Eui-sun, recently announced the creation of a $4 billion self-driving joint venture with Aptiv, but the plan is more modest than what we’ve become accustomed to.

Despite contributing $1.6 billion in cash and loads of research and development assets, there’s no plan for the JV to focus on anything other than developing reliable automated driving systems. While Hyundai said the technology could eventually be used for self-driving fleets, the primary goal is delivering a fully realized self-driving platform.

Following the joint venture announcement, Chung immediately sat down to answer questions about the automaker’s technological goals — with a minimum of hyperbole.

“We’re still going through a lot of trial and error in terms of the regulations that are coming in place. It’s not about showing off your technology. We want to make things more convenient and safe. That’s why it can’t be just one single company owning all of this technology, it has to be all players within the ecosystem,” Chung told Bloomberg in an interview.

“What’s important is: Can you meet regulations set by the government and standards set by insurance companies? That’s why this isn’t going to happen quickly and will take some time. If you think about level four or five technology, achieving that in a city like Delhi in India is different from achieving that in Palo Alto, Calif. So we want to make sure that we achieve level four or five in a city like Delhi. That’s our ultimate goal. That’s why there’s still a long way to go.”

While Chung gave a loose timeline for when these vehicles would be eligible for production, the goal is to have something ready for market in 2022. However, he hinted that introductory models would likely be prohibitively expensive.

“The technology is costly, and therefore, perhaps by 2022, we won’t be able to lower the price of these vehicles as much as customers would like,” he explained. “But we will want to apply these technologies to a variety of models, whether it’s electric vehicles or combustion engine models or diesel. And through that process, we will be able to make the effort to lower the cost.”

Hyundai sees any fruit born of the Aptiv partnership being used, at least initially, for corporate fleets. It would rather sell the technology and hardware then try to run a side business of its own, a tactic that’s gradually becoming the industry norm. While some automakers have continued to promise self-driving fleets of their own (General Motors, for example) others have becoming increasingly focused on furnishing the technology for future business partnerships (Toyota).

Some argue the difference comes down to a lack of progress. Firms like GM and Waymo were leading the autonomous charge while the likes of Toyota and Hyundai were still in the early testing phases. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve taken the right path. Industry leaders are having to confront the hard issues first. Regulatory hurdles forced General Motors to reevaluate planned functions of the self-driving Cruise AV while developmental issues seem to have slowed progress a bit. Meanwhile, every misstep Waymo’s autonomous vehicles make on public roads ends up on YouTube or in a news article. Even accidents in which an AV is not at fault makes headlines, putting additional pressures on any company in the latter stages of development.

Ultimately, this has encouraged the industry to focus less on autonomy and more on connectivity. Keeping a car permanently linked to the internet opens up the door for data acquisition and established forms of monetization that just need to be adapted for automobiles. Here, Hyundai is no different than any other automaker. It already plans to spend around $12 billion in future growth projects — which encompasses autonomous driving tech, automotive connectivity, and electric vehicles.

Hyundai’s official goals still involve mass producing AVs by 2024. As Aptiv has taken a leading role in the technology’s development, that may yet be feasible, but nobody at Hyundai is interested in making lofty promises.

[Image: Emirhankaramuk/Shutterstock]

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29 Comments on “Hyundai Gets Real About Autonomous Cars...”


  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    It’s about time folks rejoined the real world. Autonomous vehicles aren’t “just around the corner”.

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    “Even accidents in which an AV is not at fault makes headlines”

    It’s worth noting that you can cause accidents you’re not at fault for. I’ve heard of any number of people who go about their business getting involved in accident after accident – never at fault, but somehow always ending up in bad situations. This is a kind of difficult-to-quantify nightmare scenario for AVs: What if they work, but behave in such a way that they cause mayhem without technically breaking rules? And how do you design them so that doesn’t happen? Driving isn’t just about complying with regulations; a large part of it is give-and-take with other drivers and subconscious communication.

    AVs will need to match that behavior to coexist, and they’re going to need to coexist before they can dominate. I’m not sure there are any easy answers.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      “What if they work, but behave in such a way that they cause mayhem without technically breaking rules? ”

      My hope is that the introduction of autonomous vehicles results in the rules actually being enforced. I hate that enforcement is almost solely about speeding rather than the million and one other dangerous and illegal things people do.

      As exhibit #1 we have all the B&B ranting about how lane keep assist yells at them when they change lanes without signaling. Um use your turn signals jackass.

      • 0 avatar
        PeriSoft

        “My hope is that the introduction of autonomous vehicles results in the rules actually being enforced”

        My whole point is that that’s not enough. Following the rules doesn’t make you a good driver. A while back I was in the right hand lane of a 4-lane highway while someone was merging from an onramp. They came up right beside me, to my right, but panicked and didn’t accelerate or brake to be able to merge into my lane; meanwhile their merge lane was running out. I could tell they were going to freak out, so I moved over into the left lane, whereupon they snapped into the space I’d recently occupied.

        I could have stayed put; that would have been entirely within the rules. But it might’ve led to an accident, if not right then, maybe 30 seconds later if the other car had panicked and stopped or slowed drastically and then dove into my lane behind me. I might never even have known if a chain reaction happened as a result of my not letting that person in.

        An AV just *isn’t* going to know about those situations – you need to have human level intelligence to read that kind of thing, and if the AVs have human level intelligence then self-driving cars will be the *least* of our concerns. Incidents like that are replayed constantly, and I have a sneaking suspicion that if we end up with a significant proportion of letter-of-the-law AVs out there, we’re going to see an unexpected trail of destruction in their wake that’s somehow never their fault, technically, but which will be, really. That’s going to be a problem.

        • 0 avatar
          jmo

          They came up right beside me, to my right, but panicked and didn’t accelerate or brake to be able to merge into my lane; meanwhile their merge lane was running out.

          First of all people who can’t merge should be shot. I’m stunned you tried to use people who can’t merge to make your point.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            One of the reasons AVs get rear ended many times more frequently than driver-operated cars is because they can’t merge and wind up slamming on their brakes at the ends of merge lanes.

          • 0 avatar
            PeriSoft

            “First of all people who can’t merge should be shot. I’m stunned you tried to use people who can’t merge to make your point.”

            Well, for the moment, society has decided to let them live. And until it’s decided otherwise, AVs will need to deal with reality as it exists, not reality as we wish it was.

      • 0 avatar
        dwford

        So you propose that, as usual, the humans be the ones adjusting to the supposedly “smart” tech, like we always end up doing. It kind of defeats the whole purpose of these cars – for them to be able to drive along the highway and interact with other AVs and human drivers successfully.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        “As exhibit #1 we have all the B&B ranting about how lane keep assist yells at them when they change lanes without signaling. Um use your turn signals jackass.”

        I hear far more complaints from people who find that their lane keep assist car insists on hitting every pothole.

        • 0 avatar
          jmo

          If you’re leaving your lane you should let your fellow drivers know.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            Do you signal when you’re moving towards the edge of your lane to avoid a pothole? Extraneous signaling seems like the sort of behavior that benefits nobody.

          • 0 avatar
            jmo2

            “ Do you signal when you’re moving towards the edge of your lane to avoid a pothole? ”

            What specific vehicle were you driving that alerted you while you were still in your lane. Make and model please.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            I have two cars with LDW (1x GM, 1x Toyota). Both of them alert when, and only when, they think you are actually over the line.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            The complaints came from drivers of Mercedes-Benz, Tesla and Ford vehicles with lane keep assist, not cars that just have lane departure warnings.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          @ Todd, on the Ford products you can have it warn you, assist, or both. It is not so obtrusive on assist that it makes you hit every pothole. I find that I rarely notice that it is there on my 15 while on the 19 rental I had last week it was even more transparent.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            I haven’t experienced it. I was pointing out that the complaints about the systems that I have heard had nothing to do with failing to use turn signals, which is a straw man used by shills. I take it unfamiliarity leads to pothole hits, as who anticipates a car fighting their command the first time? That defeat options are needed says how close we are to AVs that are as effective as tweekers who have been up for 72 hours straight.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      PeriSoft,

      Expanding on your “Driving isn’t just about complying with regulations; a large part of it is give-and-take with other drivers and subconscious communication”:

      In today’s world, there are unskilled/inattentive/inexperienced/distracted [or aggressive or aging or sensory-impaired] drivers, average drivers, and mature/skilled drivers. The skilled drivers compensate in many subtle ways for the other two driver categories (otherwise my kids might not have made it through their first two years of driving).

      Even a tinted driver window can interfere with the ‘unofficial’ coordination that happens regularly at a 4-way stop or when pulling out into heavy traffic. Or consider the driver who understands the dynamics of an eighteen wheeler on a grade and correctly gives the ‘ok to change lanes’ signal.

      How long until autonomous systems rise to the ‘expert’ level, rather than being another category which skilled drivers will need to understand and compensate for?

      Temporarily crossing a double yellow line on a two-lane road (when clear) to give a wide berth to a cyclist or a construction worker is technically ‘against the rules’ – but it is absolutely the right thing to do. Will an autonomous vehicle recognize realities like this?

  • avatar
    bd2

    Aside from their own R&D, Hyundai also has a minority stake in self-driving start-up Aurora (which also has ties to VW).

    Pure autonomous driving is still a good while away – there’s the major issue of bad weather interfering w/ all the sensors/radar.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “So we want to make sure that we achieve level four or five in a city like Delhi. That’s our ultimate goal. That’s why there’s still a long way to go.”

    Bingo. And, I’ll add: Pittsburgh in the snow, with its hundreds of bridges, hills, potholes, construction zones, jaywalkers, and mix of city streets and unmarked lanes.

    I’m amazed they had the courage to be so specific about Level 4 or 5. But 2022 or 2024 is a crazy dream, and so it the money they’ll pour into this.

    Frankly, I don’t see anybody being able to crack this nut, and if they think they have, I don’t see their legal team signing up for the liability. You can’t sell Level 4 or 5 autonomy for use only when conditions allow it.

  • avatar
    mmreeses

    by the time autonomous cars are 100% ready to be street legal, all the key patents will have expired.

    Common for long lag time between creating tech breakthroughs and getting the kinks worked out on the commercialization side.

    I think sliced bread was the exception.

  • avatar
    Roader

    Doc’s won’t let me drive after same medical problems last week. I really, REALLY want AVs on the road soon. I didn’t realize how much I valued autonomy until I lost it.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      I’m so sorry. I think independent transport for people with disabilities is the single most compelling application for robot cars.

      • 0 avatar
        Roader

        Thanks. Doc’s say the problem might be resolved in a few months.

        Buses are close by and frequent in my central city neighborhood so getting around isn’t an issue. It just perturbs me that I can’t hop on my bike or in my car whenever I need to go somewhere. The sooner the better for AVs as far as I’m concerned. I’d buy one today if I could.

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