- Advanced Driver Assistance Systems
- Automated Driving Systems
- Battery Electric Vehicles
New Mobileye Robotaxi Service Shows Where Battery Swapping Makes Sense
Mobileye has been the leading supplier of vision-based advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) to the automotive industry for over a decade. In recent years, the Israeli company, which was acquired by Intel in 2017, has worked extensively on developing Level 4 (L4) automated driving systems (ADS) to power robotaxis and delivery vehicles. At the IAA Mobility show in Munich, Germany, Mobileye announced plans to launch commercial robotaxi pilots in 2022 in Munich and Tel Aviv using a vehicle based on the battery swap-capable NIO ES8 electric SUV.
Mobileye and NIO’s Collaborations
Mobileye’s relationship with NIO goes back to the Chinese automaker’s relatively early days. When the ES8 launched as NIO’s first product in 2018, it was one of the first vehicles to be equipped with Mobileye’s current-generation EyeQ4 system-on-a-chip. EyeQ4, which is now in several million vehicles from manufacturers including Nissan, BMW, and Volkswagen, features the ability to gather data from the vehicle’s cameras for the Road Experience Management crowd-sourced map system.
When NIO went through financial difficulties in 2019, it shelved plans to develop its own L4 ADS and opted for Mobileye’s system with the intention of installing it on future production models. After recovering in 2020, NIO revived its internal program and selected Mobileye’s competitor Nvidia for the computing platform. However, Mobileye and NIO have maintained a relationship that will see the Chinese company supply the vehicles for Mobileye’s robotaxi effort.
One key factor in that decision may be NIO’s support for battery swapping. As of July 2021, in its home base in China, NIO has more than 300 battery swap stations deployed and has completed more than 2.9 million swaps. While the long-term viability of the battery swapping model for consumer vehicles remains unproven as the number and type of EVs proliferates, robotaxis are prime candidates for swapping.
Battery Swapping Is Ideal for Robotaxis
The combination of electrification and shared automated vehicles have long been considered the holy grail to reducing emissions and congestion in cities, but there are challenges. ADS consume significant amounts of electrical power for all of the sensors, computers, and redundant actuators. This can reduce the driving range of the base vehicle by 40% to 50% and require more frequent charging. To be economically viable, shared mobility requires a high degree of vehicle use and minimal downtime. Companies, such as General Motors and Cruise, are focusing on direct current (DC) fast charging. However, DC fast charging faces infrastructure, cost, and battery durability challenges.
For a fleet of robotaxis or delivery vehicles that is likely to be more homogeneous than the typical consumer fleet, swapping makes perfect sense. These vehicles are going to be geofenced in operation areas, limiting the need to install stations in remote locations or rural locations with low use. NIO’s stations have a comparatively small footprint, roughly equal to three to four parking spaces, and are fully automated, eliminating the need to have someone plug in the vehicle.
Installing stations at multiple locations around a city where the fleet operates can help reduce the number of miles vehicles drive back to a depot for charging, improving use and unit economics. Mobileye hasn’t publicly announced whether it plans to use the battery swapping capability of the ES8, but it seems likely and would make both economic and technical sense.