2021: A year in review for autonomous vehicles

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As 2021 draws to a close, Autonomous Vehicle International casts its eye over the most popular news stories of the year:

2021 has seen the autonomous vehicle sector take some important strides forward, with both Japan and Germany officially approving ‘conditional eyes-off’ Level 3 autonomous driving on public roads. New legislation passed in both countries establishes the requirements for Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS) ADAS technology to be recognised in law, with Mercedes recently claiming to be the first OEM to satisfy the standards stipulated for international use, after Honda first released a system that met Japanese requirements back in March.

Meanwhile, the UK and more EU countries are expected to follow Germany and Japan’s lead and pass similar legislation in 2022.

The Mercedes story is probably a little too late to make our top 10, given that it was only posted a week before this roundup – as stories posted earlier in the year have obviously had longer to accrue views – so the top 10 that follows is far from scientific, but with Christmas so close, it’s been a slow news week, so what the heck.


Although not represented in the top 10, it should be noted that 2021 has seen a sharp increase in autonomous trucking news, with lots of stories throughout the year highlighting the huge investment continuing to pour into the largely US and Chinese companies that dominate this sector, as well as the progress made from ongoing ‘live’ road trials.

As our feature in the November 2021 issue of the magazine highlighted, the global automotive trucks market is predicted to expand sevenfold from 2021 to 2031, according to research firm Fact.MR. However, despite the ongoing driver shortage, 2022 is highly unlikely to see the widespread introduction of autonomous trucks on public highways. Although TuSimple, which says it is on course to conduct its first driver-out test on public roads by the end of this year, has stated its intention to begin driverless operation as early as 2024, 2025 is viewed as a more realistic date from when we can expect to see ‘middle mile’ applications first introduced.


Meanwhile robotaxis continue to clock up test miles and attract considerable investment, with lots of new trials in the USA, China, Dubai and Europe announced during 2021, and interest in Chinese robotaxi firms particularly evident in our top 10 (below). Again, it’s hard to predict when we can expect to see fully driverless robotaxis in widescale public service, given all the complexities of high-density urban scenarios, but it was encouraging to see AutoX mark the first 100 days of fully driverless robotaxi operations in Shenzhen back in May. (Read our exclusive interview with AutoX COO Dr Jewel Li, which gives a fascinating insight into some of the challenges so far).


Dedicated campus and national park autonomous shuttle services such as those launched by Khalifa University and Beep also continue to grow, while 2021 has also seen trials of remotely piloted ride hailing/carsharing services, whose widespread introduction will be greatly eased by the continuing and rapid expansion of 5G technology. Read our exclusive interview with Imperium Drive’s co-founder and CEO to discover how remote driving could double the income of car hire firms.


As a final note, 2021 has also seen an absolute torrent of press releases concerning ever more capable and impressive lidar developments alongside eye-watering SPAC deals or public flotations, as well as a number of strategic purchases or partnerships between sensor suppliers and leading AI/autonomous tech firms or OEMs, not least Qualcomm’s acquisition of Veoneer’s ‘Arriver’ sensor perception and drive policy software platform and Luminar’s Iris lidar being selected for Nvidia’s DRIVE Hyperion AV reference platform. (Take a look at our special report on sensors, in our May 2021 issue.)

The Top 10 news stories of 2021 (by clicks):

First international safety standard for fully automated driving systems published | Autonomous Vehicle International

SAE refines AD and ADAS level definitions | Autonomous Vehicle International

Mercedes adds to Car-X functionality with new driver warnings | Autonomous Vehicle International

Baidu and Tsinghua University introduce Apollo Air to empower autonomous driving with roadside sensing | Autonomous Vehicle International

Arriver previews next-gen software stack capabilities | Autonomous Vehicle International

AutoX fully driverless AV navigates urban villages in China | Autonomous Vehicle International

XPeng releases first data from long-distance highway AD expedition | Autonomous Vehicle International

Vodafone tests precision positioning technology that can track vehicles within centimeters | Autonomous Vehicle International

China’s Pony.ai to integrate Luminar’s Iris sensor into robotaxi fleet | Autonomous Vehicle International

Construction of CAVWAY proving ground underway in the UK | Autonomous Vehicle International

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With over 20 years experience in editorial management and content creation for multiple, market-leading titles at UKi Media & Events (publisher of Autonomous Vehicle International), Anthony has written articles and news covering everything from aircraft, airports and cars, to cruise ships, trains, trucks and even tires!

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