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Self-driving startup Pony.ai today announced an agreement with Bosch to “explore the future of automotive maintenance and repair for autonomous fleets.” Pony.ai and Bosch’s Automotive Aftermarket division in North America plan to develop and test fleet maintenance solutions for commercial robo-taxi programs.
One of many opportunities in the autonomous driving space is the continuous operation of a fleet and the reduction of downtime. According to a 2017 McKinsey report, robo-taxis could reduce a fleet operator’s total cost of ownership by 30% to 50% compared with private-vehicle ownership and by about 70% compared to shared mobility, significantly disrupting the market. But robo-taxis will need vastly different maintenance infrastructure than cars, in part because they might lack regular monitoring; have only minutes between passengers; and sport expensive, sensitive, and unconventional parts like lidar sensors.
Bosch asserts its car service network is ready to meet this need with over 20,000 locations globally and a thousand in North America. It offers a software platform for fleet operators like Pony.ai, with APIs that enable the exchange of data from connected diagnostic equipment and other technologies.
Pony.ai says it began piloting a maintenance program with Bosch in the San Francisco Bay Area in early July. It’s unclear whether this had anything to do with the company’s delivery partnership with Yamibuy, which launched in April, or whether it might signal the return of Pony.ai’s robo-taxi trial service with Hyundai and Via. In May, following its decision to pause all testing in light of shelter-in-place orders and business closures motivated by the pandemic, Pony.ai told VentureBeat it had no plans to resume services, including its partnership with Fremont to transport city employees.
Pony.ai couldn’t be reached for comment at publication time. We’ll update this article when we hear back.
Bosch’s Automotive Aftermarket business is separate from its automotive supply wing, which produces components such as sensors, actuators, and control units. Bosch has a longstanding partnership with Daimler to get self-driving cars on roads within the next decade, and the company has made its autonomous driving ambitions abundantly clear. In 2018, Bosch created a new Connected Mobility Services division staffed with more than 600 employees, acquired B2B ride-sharing startup Splitting Fares, and partnered with TomTom on mapping systems that will help vehicles see the road ahead.
Pony.ai is following in the footsteps of rival Waymo, which has maintenance contracts with Avis and AutoNation. Meanwhile, autonomous truck startup TuSimple recently announced it would partner with Penske’s truck leasing division for preventative inspections.
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