Driverless challenges yet to be completely solved

As the successor organisation to Stanford University’s Stanford Research Institute, SRI International has a rich pedigree in its field. Active in one form or another since 1946, the Silicon Valley-based SRI has experts in nearly every known scientific and analytical field.

This, of course, includes assisted and autonomous driving. In this Q&A with TU-Automotive, SRI’s vice-president of global business development, Robert Pearlstein, discusses the challenges facing both carmakers and solutions providers as they drive us ever closer to an autonomous future.

Q: What are the major impediments to assisted and autonomous driving today?

“The key technology gaps are in the areas of sensor fusion, data analytics and processing, applied AI/machine learning for autonomous vehicle control, and cybersecurity. Overall V2X (vehicle to infrastructure, vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to pedestrian) data integration for intelligent mobility systems could be another tech gap. We also see opportunities in human-machine interface (HMI) and user interface and experience. Finally, there are commercial roadmap gaps relating to fundamental vehicle systems costs and the shift to mobility-as-a-service business models.

“The tech and commercial gaps exist because the promise of cheaper, safer, higher quality and more sustainable mobility requires fundamental advancements in technology along with shifts to new business models. This… transformation… is complicated and fraught with uncertainty. No single player in the ecosystem is responsible for the gaps, but all need to be engaged to help close them.”

Q: How difficult will it be to overcome these problems?

SRI believes that these gaps are indeed surmountable. The benefits of mobility-as-a-service-models are so great, and the creativity and innovation capability of the ecosystem so large that the shift is virtually inevitable, though difficult. There are core technical challenges that need to be overcome but the commercial viability and scalability of new mobility requires collaborative changes in regulations, insurance models, business relationships, etc.

Q: Who or what has the best chance of finding solutions to these issues?

“For the technology challenges, we believe that solutions will be found via collaboration with the incumbent auto industry (OEMs and suppliers), and between the auto industry and technology companies (large and start-ups) that have not only the technical resources and skill sets to address the technology gaps but also the agile and entrepreneurial mindset to rapidly and creatively deal with industry transformation and the creation of new mobility business models.”  

Q: Are carmakers and solutions providers effectively supplying the hardware and software needed to advance to full autonomy?

“There certainly has been a lot of progress over the past decade. The incumbent auto OEMs and suppliers have made great headway in developing advanced autonomous and connected vehicle technologies. They have opened up their innovation, partnering and supply chain systems to develop and integrate new hardware and software. The market will tell them if they are on the right direction or not. Our view is that many technical paths may need to be considered and tested to support the widespread deployment of safe and commercially viable advanced mobility.”

Q: Do you believe current assisted driving solutions are, or could ever be, secure enough?

“No single company or technology probably has the silver bullet to solve this problem, so it will require close collaboration across many stakeholders to ensure the problems are understood deeply and a wide range of solutions can be considered, tested, developed and deployed to address what will likely be a moving target for a long time.”

Q: Can reach full autonomy by 2020?

“One could argue that fully autonomous vehicles are available and in use today – in agriculture and mining industries. Our general view is that technology can enable fundamental shifts in society and behaviour on many fronts. Our interests are in contributing to the development and deployment of technology that address fundamental societal problems. The potential for autonomous, electric, connected, shared vehicles provide significantly cheaper, safer, higher quality and more sustainable personal mobility is one of those problems. When, where, how, and to what extent new technology and mobility models take hold will be determined by how well the various stakeholders collectively solve and integrate a myriad of issues.”

Q: Where do you see the state of assisted/autonomous driving in 10 and 20 years?

“We would not be surprised to see commercially viable deployment of semi-autonomous and fully autonomous vehicles for on-road personal mobility expand as solutions to non-technical aspects are addressed (e.g. insurance and other regulations). The expanded use of ride-hailing and shared vehicle business models could accelerate this. The location, speed and breadth of scale could largely be determined by how well the new mobility value propositions address customer needs and pain points. While the outcomes are highly uncertain, the current trajectory suggests we will see a significantly different personal mobility system emerge in the coming decades compared with the relatively static model of the past century.


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