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Hearing news about autonomous vehicles has become a daily occurrence, especially when a vehicle makes a mistake. Debates spark as to whether the high prices of autonomous vehicles are worth it, and if the technology will ever be fool-proof given the large number of variables that can enter a vehicle’s path on the open road.
What many people don’t realize is that for the last several years, autonomous vehicle (AV) retrofit technology has been quietly carving out a new niche, offering both open-road and industrial vehicles the ability to adapt AV technology ranging from advanced driver assistance to Level 5 fully autonomous driving. Retrofit systems start with basic camera sensor technology and progress to complete systems with combinations of LiDAR, Radar, Camera, GPS, and IMU sensors, all operating in concert with advanced sensing and driving software.
The retrofit kit industry for autonomous vehicles is expected to continue to grow significantly in the coming years. The spike in demand for AVs, whether fully autonomous or advanced driver assistance, consumer or commercial, is due to driverless technology’s ability to improve efficiency, reduce fuel costs, improve safety, provide convenience, reduce commercial labor costs and to offer driving ability to those with disabilities.
Many blame the demise of the Apple-backed startup Drive.AI on their efforts to develop a retrofit, and the failure of similar AV startups has left many with an assumption that retrofitting is impossible. There are, however, some key points worth noting. A truly universal, one-size-fits-all vehicle retrofit kit for fully autonomous driving may be too lofty a goal to aspire to, at least not without skilled installation, given the variances in automotive manufacturing and vehicle types.
For example, each Can-bus system is unique to the individual brand in terms of both hardware and software, so an electronic signal to turn left on a Ford is not the same as a turn left on a Chevy or Kia. Many of the universal retrofit kits on the market are capable of driver assistance, or at best, Level 3 autonomy. The fully autonomous, Level 5 retrofit systems, such as those from Cyngn, Perrone Robotics, and Mobileye, are highly customized for specific vehicles.
That being said, let’s get you started on the AV retrofit journey with a brief sampling of the top AV retrofit solutions, including both consumer automotive and industrial applications.
Perrone Robotics TONY Kit
Vehicle Types: Any
Perrone Robotics’ TONY Kit is a sensor, controls, and communications agnostic autonomy kit. TONY retrofit kit includes both Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) hardware and software solutions and works with 30-plus different vehicles, including shuttle buses, transit vans, military vehicles, sedans, SUVs, desert vehicles and more. The TONY platform has a rich set of autonomous capabilities and reliability and boasts sophisticated pedestrian and vehicle avoidance and interaction maneuverability. The kit allows vehicles to operate in degraded weather conditions and can be configured to do practically any task requiring a driver.
Perrone Robotics is headquartered in Charlottesville, Virginia and has been in business for over 20 years.
Comma.ai Openpilot Kit
Vehicle Types: Select vehicles
Comma’s Openpilot is an open-source, advanced driver assistance system that installs in over 200 automobiles such as Toyota, Hyundai, Honda, Kia, and more. Installation involves fitting a car harness in about 30 minutes, with no permanent modifications, and no need for professional installation.
Openpilot’s features include adaptive cruise control and automated lane centering. Openpilot can accelerate, brake automatically for other vehicles, and steer to follow the road/lane. A driver monitoring system watches the driver and ensures the driver is attentive and ready to take over at all times.
Comma.ai was founded in 2015 by George Hotz and is headquartered in San Francisco.
Vehicle Types: Most vehicles
Kopernikus Automotive, a Berlin startup, is making self-driving technology accessible and affordable to ordinary drivers via a retrofit solution. The conversion process is straightforward: seven cameras are strategically placed around the vehicle and connected to a high-performance computer, which serves as the self-driving car’s “brain.” Additionally, the startup utilizes the sensors and actuators that are already factory installed in the vehicle.
The system functions by controlling the steering, similar to a parking assistant, and by the application of adaptive cruise control. The Kopernikus system is a cost-effective automobile retrofit kit, which also comes with an online connection that enables over-the-air updates, allowing the car to constantly learn and improve its autonomous capabilities.
Kopernikus Automotive was founded in 2016 by Stefan Jenzowsky and Tim von Törne and is headquartered in Leipzig, Germany with an R&D Center in Berlin.
Vehicle Types: Industrial
Cyngn’s DriveMod Kit is a full-stack, robotaxi-level sensor hardware and software solution for industrial vehicles. The advanced sensor systems include LiDAR, camera, Radar, GPS, and IMU, which operate in concert, but with a flexible architecture that allows for the replacement of individual sensors. The kit is designed to either retrofit a customer’s existing fleet of industrial vehicles or to integrate autonomy onto vehicles at the time of manufacture. Cyngn’s initial deployment of DriveMod Kit was fitted to Columbia’s Stockchaser, one of the top vehicles used in warehouses and manufacturing, but it has also been adapted to fit other industrial vehicles, such as forklifts, etc.
In addition to the self-driving vehicle technology, DriveMod Kit features a lighting system that communicates vehicle status (mode, battery status, route obstruction, and more), and a sophisticated user interface that allows customers to program routes, call vehicles, and more. More than just an AV retrofit kit, we can say that DriveMod is a complete industrial autonomy solution.
DriveMod’s fast deployment offers manufacturers and logistics companies the ability to reap the many benefits of autonomy, such as improvements to productivity, safety, and operational costs.
Cyngn was founded in 2009 by Kirt McMaster and is headquartered in Menlo Park, CA.
Vehicle Types: Auto or Industrial
With an inherently scalable technological backbone, Mobileye offers solutions to enhance safety in today’s mass-market consumer vehicles with a suite of premium autonomous driving products. Mobileye’s innovative self-driving systems can be implemented to disrupt various industries by turning them autonomous, from driver-assist packages all the way to complete self-driving vehicle and robotaxi capabilities.
Mobileye offers a complete range of ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance System) packages, enabling drivers to benefit from autonomous vehicle technology. Mobileye products include features such as Cloud-Enhanced Driver-Assist, with real-time information about the driving scene: lane marks, road priority, traffic lights, and much more. Cloud-based information is the most significant way to offer enhanced features and achieve the next leap in ADAS performance while allowing already-deployed technology to be upgraded as development progresses.
On the near horizon are Mobileye’s turnkey self-driving solutions that can convert virtually any vehicle into an autonomous vehicle, with 360-degree Lidar and 360-degree camera technology. Already being integrated in autonomous public transit, autonomous goods delivery, and autonomous mobility-as-a-service – across industries and around the globe, Mobileye Chauffeur and Mobileye Drive are set to offer both open-road and industrial vehicle autonomy.
Mobileye was founded in 1999 by Amnon Shashua and Ziv Aviram and is headquartered in Israel.
Cyngn: In addition to Cyngn’s DriveMod Kit, they have embarked on custom retrofits of fleets of vehicles such as various warehouse vehicles and autonomous forklifts. The DriveMod Kit technology is easily adaptable to other vehicle types, making Cyngn a forerunner in the retrofit space.
Fieldin: Agtech company Fieldin has developed a farming platform with autonomous retrofit technology available in kit form. They have just launched the largest known deployment of autonomous tractor retrofits in the agricultural industry to date. In November 2021, Fiedlin acquired Midnight Robotics to develop autonomous tractors.
Teleo: California-based Teleo, has announced custom-supervised autonomy projects (including remote operations) to provide retrofit solutions for heavy construction equipment for vehicles such as wheel loaders, bulldozers and dump trucks.
Retrofit Kit Technologies Similar to AV
Worth mentioning are leaders in spaces similar to AV retrofit who are quickly gaining ground:
Polysync.io: Retrofit harness kit for drive-by-wire autonomous driving.
Peloton Technology: Peloton’s truck platooning system uses Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) communication to link the braking and acceleration systems between two trucks, allowing the lead truck to control the acceleration and braking of both trucks simultaneously.
AutonomouStuff: A leader in providing products, engineering services, and software that enable robotics, unmanned off-road systems & self-driving cars, allowing companies to implement autonomy reliably and safely.