Nagoya startup offers unique tactic to sell driverless tech

In the area of ​​self-driving cars, Japanese companies are being left behind by their American rivals, notably Google operator Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo LLC and General Motors subsidiary GM Cruise Holdings.

However, a Nagoya University startup is throwing its hat in the ring using a unique strategy.

Tier IV Inc. is considering a business plan that offers its software for free, in principle, to encourage more companies to use its self-driving technologies.

Shinpei Kato, the company’s technical director who studied autonomous driving at Carnegie Mellon University in the United States, founded the Nagoya-based company.

“The value of software will continue to increase. We want to improve system capabilities and increase sales,” Kato said.

Tier IV bought a chassis from automakers to develop an autonomous driving system.

Automakers gathered in late September for a test drive experience of their self-driving cars along Tokyo’s Aomi waterfront. The vehicles were used for demonstration rides under the government-led Strategic Innovation Promotion (SIP) programme.

One of the vehicles was a taxi equipped with eight sensors, including high-performance detection and ranging sensors (LiDAR), and a dozen cameras to monitor the environment and remotely monitor the vehicle.

A driver sat behind the wheel in case of an emergency as the taxi drove for around 30 minutes on its own.

Although at one point the vehicle could not recognize an oncoming car, prompting the driver to take the wheel, the taxi got to its destination without too much difficulty.

The taxi was installed with the operating system developed by Tier IV, Autoware. The software recognizes the environment and controls the vehicle according to the situation.

The software developer has received numerous inquiries from bus and taxi companies facing severe labor shortages.

Kato became an associate professor at Nagoya University to continue his research in the Chubu region, a center of the automotive industry, and developed self-driving software.

Automakers have put software development on the back burner as they focus on hardware performance to improve the stopping, driving and cornering capabilities of vehicles.

However, electric vehicles are more simply structured than traditional gasoline cars.

It is said that there will be fewer factors left to determine the performance of autonomous electric vehicles in terms of hardware.

Instead, with self-driving technologies being developed, there is an ever-increasing need for software.

The company was named Tier IV because it wants to become a new entity-agnostic presence, instead of just being Tier 1, 2 or 3 suppliers to the automotive industry, according to a publicist.

Classically, the automotive industry has a pyramid structure, with automakers taking the lead and placing orders for auto parts from subcontracted suppliers.

Margie D. Carlisle