TU-Automotive Detroit 2017: Day Two – Autonomy to unite human and machine

With autonomous driving securely within carmakers’ grasp, the to-do list is longer than ever. On the second day of the TU-Automotive Detroit Conference 2017, executives debated technology approaches, design decisions and the connected car’s place in society.

Beyond gridlock

In a keynote discussion with Strategy Analytics’ Roger Lanctot, Raj Rao, CEO of Ford Smart Mobility, said the biggest problem, and opportunity, is not increasing cars’ intelligence and autonomy but, rather, solving traffic. While cars, phones and services have become more and more connected, he identified a huge design gap: “Those ideas aren’t making people’s drive to work any better. What’s the point of creating more business models for getting to gridlock faster and making being in gridlock more expensive?”

That brings a central role to governments and municipalities. Rao explained that Buenos Aires has achieved stellar results on key metrics for urban transportation in part by closing roads to private vehicles while expanding public transportation. “Roads will disappear faster than we expect,” he said.

Steve Surhigh, vice-president and general manager of applications services for Harman International, said autonomous vehicles will change every aspect of society: infrastructure, employment, lifestyle, housing and business models. It’s important to realise, he added, that these effects will be twofold, affecting physical life but also the digital realm. For example, while self-driving cars will require fewer parking spaces and enable more green space in cities, they’ll generate huge amounts of data.

Trusted collaboration

Surhigh said an essential of transformation for automakers is “trusted collaboration” to enable the exchange and use of all this data. This is also the lynchpin of the Automotive Information Sharing and Analysis Centre, or Auto ISAC. A panel led by Dennis Cosgrove, a principal of Booz Allen Hamilton, which is managing the group’s development of best practices, explained that this industry group already has benefitted from sharing information about vulnerabilities and exploits.

Said Jeffrey Massimilla, chief product cybersecurity officer at Auto ISAC member General Motors: “Good information sharing is completely organic and seamless. If someone finds something, it’s freely shared with attribution. The group comes together to understand what it is and what should be done about it.”

Business case for connectivity

Andrew Hart, a director of analyst firm SBD, estimated the upfront and lifetime costs of selling 10 million connected vehicles as $2Bn (£1.54Bn). “You have to understand very clearly why you want to support connectivity,” he said.

Part of the equation should be gaining revenue sooner rather than later, according to Marc Fredman, senior vice-president of corporate strategy and development for software development company CCC. “There’s all this money being spent to connect cars without having necessarily gone all the way to a business model,” he said. It feels like there should be value but what is the use case?” He advises clients to start with an initiative that will earn some money in the short term and then, over time, think about scaling that to other things.”

Fredman’s panel on unlocking new revenue streams focused not on the canard of getting consumers to pay for connected-car services but rather on how data could be used in new ways, for example, aggregating information on where drivers go after leaving a store.

Some of these potential uses for data may not be obvious. Brendan O’Brien, chief innovation officer of Aria Systems, suggested: “You could theoretically expose data and come up with some model like, you can download x records a day. Just see what the use cases are.”

Consumer acceptance issue

Companies will need to make sure they follow data privacy rules and also win consumers’ permission to share their data, even if it’s anonymised. That’s not the only barrier to acceptance of connected-car services and automation. Kristen Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction and HMI for JD Power, noted that consumers enjoy lower levels of automation, such as ADAS. The barrier to acceptance of higher levels, she said, is not technology. “It’s human trust.”

Automakers and designers must figure out how to communicate semi-autonomous capabilities in a way that makes consumers comfortable, said Gareth Williams, director of advanced development at Mitsubishi Electric.

That’s not so easy when carmakers have different names for these functions, different icons in the cockpit, and different methods of turning them on and off. How much can the HMI do – and what will it need to do as cars move closer to autonomy? Advances in voice recognition and cameras that can help track driver emotions and states could take the HMI to a new level, allowing the car to be more proactive in addressing driver needs and desires, according to Ajay Divakaran, technical director of the Vision and Learning at Centre for Vision Technologies, SRI International.

As technology gets better at sensing the driver and the environment, HMI designers could tailor the cockpit experience for different drivers, said Michael Tschirhart, manager of holistic innovation, advanced engineering, for Panasonic. The challenge then would be to designing controls for what could be hundreds of features and/or functions. With full autonomy, driving will no longer be the primary task, requiring an entirely different HMI and features.

Start-ups ready

Carmakers and Tier 1s are now actively seeking out early-phase companies – even ones that are not focused on automotive. A panel of venture capitalists that included Chris Thomas, a partner in Fontinalis Partners; Sean Simpson, investment manager of GM Ventures; and Tony Cannestra, director of corporate ventures for Denso International America were candid about how they evaluate potential investments.

“External innovation is becoming an increasingly important part of the auto industry. It’s very different from the past, when OEMs relied on Tier 1s,” Cannestra said. In addition to the technology, the VCs look for experienced founders who not only have a strong vision but also can be flexible and receive mentoring from investors. Start-ups also need to be prepared for the long development cycles of the auto industry.

Software and steel

Cars will require even more software than they already do. “The shift to software is happening rapidly. The winners and losers will be defined by who can do software right,” said Jeffrey Hannah, a director of analyst firm SBD North America.

Already there’s a developer shortage, and automakers must continue to adapt to the differences in cycles between software development and car tooling, said Ken Stewart, chief business and technology officer of Karma Automotive.

Kurt Hoppe, global head of innovation for the connected car at General Motors, said automakers can learn from other OEMs, for example, makers of televisions. He said practices that could be adopted include decoupling software from hardware, leaving the software open, and letting outside developers innovate. They could also learn from Cox Automotive, the multichannel, auto-oriented media company that publishes Kelly Blue Book, among other properties. Mark Huber, director of engineering capability solutions, began the process of bringing 15 different engineering teams into a single solution by understanding the culture of each team. “The customer experience is the deliverable but, sometimes, we miss the link between that and our corporate culture,” he said. “We needed to connect our engineering teams to achieve that goal.”

Ant model

That kind of unity and collaboration is one of humankind’s competitive advantages, said Roger Lanctot, director of automotive connected mobility at analyst firm Strategy Analytics. He pointed out that the notion of autonomous cars communicating and cooperating is quite radical compared to today’s competitive, ego-driven approach to driving. Ants automatically optimise their travels, he explained, for example, by traveling straighter when more ants are moving together.

Autonomous cars could do the same, he said. “Car sharing and mobility can help us find our inner ant, but only if we get it right.”

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