eSOL Blog

The Story of Two Companies That Want to Finally Make Autonomous Driving a Reality

Jun 15, 2023 3:00:00 PM

This is a conversation between Shinpei Kato (founder, CEO and CTO of TIER IV, co-founder and chairman of the Autoware Foundation) and Masaki Gondo (eSOL CTO and Senior Executive Vice President), about a massive project started in 2015 whose aim it to make autonomous driving (AD) a reality.

img_blog_autoware_conversation_1 img_blog_autoware_conversation_2
Shinpei Kato, TIER IV Masaki Gondo, eSOL

For this purpose, the relevant software and hardware components had to be coordinated to form a reference design, and real-life demonstrations and long-term tests had to prove it was possible.

The conversation was held ( on 2023-01-12. Current information updates are added in brackets "[]".

1. Purpose of Strategic Partnership

Development of AD technology by leveraging the strengths of both companies

Gondo In July 2021, TIER IV entered into a strategic partnership with eSOL for the commercialization of AD technology. Originally, the two of us had been engaged in joint research projects using our scalable real-time OS, eMCOS®, and the development of the open-source AD  software Autoware.
Professor Kato
 was at Nagoya University at the time. Later, when Dr. Kato founded TIER IV, we entered into a formal partnership agreement with the aim of starting full-scale joint development of a fully ADsystem that exceeds the level of automatic driving assistance systems (ADAS) which is currently in widespread use, and leading to AD implementation in society.
Kato When we established TIER IV in 2015, we asked eSOL to invest in the company and become a shareholder. TIER IV is a so-called "full stack" company that handles both hardware and software, as well as mechanical development. As for eSOL, it is Japan's leading company in the field of AD software and has a world-class track record in embedded software. Through this alliance, we aim to build a win-win relationship between the top layers by leveraging each other's strengths and products, thereby accelerating development to provide new value for the industry and social development too.
Gondo The basis of our alliance is the relationship of trust between Dr. Kato and me – a relationship we have nurtured together over the years. We have many similarities in the way we think about various things, and our attitudes toward research and development are also similar. For example, there is an overlap in our mindsets, such that we would rather take on something fun even if it is a little risky rather than go through a painful experience without risk. We have been doing R&D together because we like each other, and with the establishment of TIER IV, we forged an alliance as strategic partners between our companies.
Kato So to speak, you drew the line from joint research to joint development, which started as a personal relationship, to the phase of business-to-business interaction. In fact, there is quite a bit to lose by entering into a strategic partnership. For example, if something goes wrong, there are no excuses and there is no going back. Therefore, you can only enter a partnership with a partner you know well and trust. Also, strategic partnerships are practically exclusive. From eSOL's point of view, we will cooperate with TIER IV in AD  startups, and from TIER IV's point of view, we will cooperate only with eSOL in embedded software. So, I think this is the result of a mutual decision to take on the challenge with two companies that make sense from both a human and business perspective.

2. Outline of Strategic Partnership

Providing AD  technology with Autoware and eMCOS

Gondo To promote the commercialization of AD  technology using Autoware (Autoware is a registered trademark of the Autoware Foundation (AWF)), it is important to support functional safety certification and a high-quality, highly functional software platform. Given the growing needs in the market, we aim to further accelerate the commercialization and diffusion of AD  technology by entering into a strategic partnership. To this end, TIER IV and eSOL will integrate Autoware on eMCOS, which is developed in compliance with the ISO 26262 functional safety standard [and ISO 21434 security standard] for the automotive sector and provide engineering services utilizing Autoware to the customers of both companies.
Kato Specifically, as the first step, both companies will bring their expertise in AD to the customers who use Autoware. Then, after hearing various opinions and requests from customers, such as the functions they need, the two companies will provide engineering services to meet those requirements, thereby accumulating their own know-how and improving their skills. In the second phase, relevant products of both companies will be embedded on eMCOS, for example, Autoware.Auto, the next-generation Autoware platform, and they will be offered to customers who need Autoware-based AD  technology as a commercial offering [meanwhile eSOL support AWF’s newest Autoware Core/Universe architecture]. In addition, we will continue to explore new solutions and services that leverage the strengths of TIER IV and eSOL.
Gondo On the other hand, TIER IV is a startup that is trying to create something that has never existed in the world before. It aims to create something that no one has yet realized for a new market, and it has advance technological capabilities. It also moves quickly. However, customers tend to have a more stringent view of safety and security, especially when it comes to technologies that involve human life, such as AD. The ability to leverage each other's strengths and complement each other's weaknesses through a strategic partnership is a major advantage.

3. Progress and tangible results

Realization of autonomous vehicle demonstration tests and autonomous  transport systems within facilities

Kato The first phase of the alliance, as explained in the details of the partnership, is proceeding almost as planned. As a concrete result, eve autonomy, a joint venture between TIER IV and Yamaha Motor, has developed an autonomous factory transport system that can operate unmanned 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is already being commercialized and sold for use in factories and university campuses. Basically, TIER IV provided the AD software, and eSOL handled the final safety verification and system integration. Also, although still in the demonstration stage, we conducted a driving experiment in Tokyo with Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Sompo Japan, and Sompo Care, in which an autonomous transport robot was driven at a speed of about 6 km/h. This is also an experiment in which TIER IV provided AD functionality. TIER IV provided the AD function, and eSOL provided the integration. In addition, a demonstration test of an autonomous bus on public roads has also begun. Currently, the Japanese government is aiming to realize Level 4 driverless transportation services in more than 50 locations throughout Japan by 2025, and the technologies of both companies through the alliance are being applied to a demonstration bus in Shiojiri City, Nagano Prefecture, which aims to implement AD in society.
Gondo In terms of products, TIER IV is investing a lot in R&D to provide solutions while developing technologies. On the other hand, eSOL is also currently making a large investment of about 20% of its sales, mainly in the development of eMCOS, a safe base required for the OS side to run Autoware more stably and at higher speeds, as well as the development using eMCOS for RISC-V in NEDO (New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization), a Japanese national project. We are now in the process of developing a complete OS and tools that will streamline the development of AD applications, incorporating the various functions, performance, and specifications required.
Kato Our ideal situation is to realize the three elements demanded by customers: high quality, short delivery time, and low cost, by providing each other with our products. Currently, it takes a long time, quality is not sufficient and prices are high, which does not meet the expectations of customers. Even for TIER  IV, the development of fully AD itself is quite advanced and difficult in the first place. At present, there are still many variable factors, such as the manycore hardware platform on which eMCOS is implemented. In a few years, the hardware to be used in AD will probably be finalized and the complete OS will be ready. We will then be able to put out each other's product, and what used to take a year to develop in the past will be possible in a shorter period of time of, say, one month, resulting in lower costs.

4. Impact on the Automobile Industry and Society

Contributing to the Intelligence of Society by Applying AD Technology

Kato Until now, automobiles have mainly been built with "simple software”, a collection of closed software. The development of hardware-oriented systems has been the focus, and the introduction of so-called level 4 and 5 technologies such as AD and connected technology has not progressed, so even within the huge automotive industry, our target market has been small. However, in recent years, national policies and industry marketing strategies have finally accelerated the trend toward software-defined development, and a shift toward software-oriented development is beginning to take place. The open source-based "complex software" that eSOL and TIER IV will provide is expected to further contribute to the development of automated driving and IVI (In-Vehicle Information and Communication) systems; it will also provide the mobility market, which is becoming increasingly software-oriented, with the ideal framework and architecture. We believe this complex software based on open source will further contribute to the development of AD and IVI systems, as well as provide the ideal framework and architecture for the mobility market, which is becoming increasingly software-based.
Gondo Our strength lies in our ability to communicate not only domestically but also internationally. Discussions within the Autoware Foundation and AUTOSAR, a software standardization organization in the automotive industry in which we participate as a premium member in specification development, are conducted in English, and all eSOL and TIER IV staff involved participate in those discussions in a successful manner. In my opinion, there are surprisingly few Japanese companies with excellent technology that can easily communicate in English and who can play a similarly active active role on the global stage. Even among large companies, few are those that can handle complex software, realize AD, have the technological elements for vertical integration, and have a corporate culture that promotes information sharing in English. I believe that the partnership between our two companies is a rare pairing in Japan and has, therefore, tremendous potential.
Kato Even if there were no TIER IV or eSOL, AD would surely be realized by other companies someday. In extreme cases, if one researcher worked hard for a long time, it would be possible to create one or two AD cars before he or she dies. But it would take an enormous amount of time and cost.
TIER IV and eSOL can make it happen faster than any single company – or group of companies. We have products that outperform the competition when it comes to AD, we know how to manufacture them, we know how to make them more efficient, we have the right tools, and we know how to keep costs down. Without us, fully AD with safety and quality might have to wait until around 2040, but with both companies working together, the completion of fully AD will happen much faster.
Gondo In the future, the intelligence of various devices, not just automobiles, will be improved, and efforts are underway to make society more intelligent and affluent using computers and robotics, which is known as Society 5.0. For example, it is possible to provide information in the event of a natural disaster, but there are high hurdles to overcome in order to automatically control infrastructure, such as automatically guiding evacuation routes or automatically opening and closing dangerous river floodgates, as in the case of AD. The reason for this is that it is mission-critical, meaning that even the slightest error in judgment can result in the loss of human life. Autonomous vehicles are no different, and any error in judgment or control can lead directly to accidents, so complex software must be brought into mission-critical areas. The early establishment of safe and secure AD technology and its application not only to mobility but also to various autonomous control systems will be a breakthrough to realize a more intelligent society. We expect that the technologies created through our partnership will make a significant contribution to the development of the future society 10 to 20 years from now.

The conversation took place in 2023-01-12 at the eSOL head office in the Harmony Tower, Tokyo.

Marketing Communications Team