Technologies that will drive the automotive transformation

By | 9 minute read | January 12, 2017

Auto show

We’re here this week at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS 2017), and it’s all about IoT, connected cars, and autonomous driving.

The first panel IBM is taking part in explores the technologies that will drive the biggest changes and transformation in the automotive industry. Here’s how it went…

The session kicked off with introductions from each of the panelists. First up: John Estrada, CEO, Etrans. Here is John’s perspective:

For the last 100 years cars have had a very driver centric focus. The driver does everything, and is responsible for all the communications.

You buy a car, dream of the open road, and you deal with with road signs and congestion. The driver is the central comms channel. I tell my foot what it needs to do to make my car do what I want.

There are big changes coming in transport. A big push for shared vehicles. We stop dreaming of owning the car, and place less emphasis on the driver as we move towards autonomous vehicles. But this creates tech challenges. Primarily, I need to replace the communication method (me). And in order to do that we need an infrastructure and we need connectivity.

The advantages and disadvantages

Imagine today, when a traffic light changes, one car goes, and then another, then another. There is a need to allow processing time.

But with autonomous vehicles, when the light changes they all go – there is no processing time needed with the right comms, which eases congestion.

There’s also the issue of vehicle fleets, for example within a campus or small city or town center. Sharing is a perfect alternative to owning a vehicle, but what happens when that vehicle is empty?

Next up we heard from Dr Samit Ghosh, President and CEO of P3.

Future mobility services will reach far into our daily lives, in terms of transport and shared mobility, said Dr Ghosh. But think further. Think consumer electronics; how you connect devices and how they interact. You can sit in a car and the vehicle can measure your pulse, your heartbeat, and automatically trigger a 911 call at the sign of a heart attack.

This is about more than just transport. It incorporates your home and work too. Your home will have security, and you can manipulate security within it. You have guidance in your workplace on where to park and where to store cars at different times of the day. It is not only transport – it’s a whole ecosystem. We call it mobility services, and it’s fueled by innovative, complex technologies happening within the vehicle, outside it, and on the network.

The in car user experience

ECU’s have doubled from 60 to 125 in 2016 vehicles. And the key to this technology is the user experience. When we travel today we say Uber is cool. It cuts time. It’s all about the value add that the experience brings. Today, would we rather drive in the car or read in the car? Technology will give us the choice, not just ‘either, or’; it can be ‘and’. A good UX gives us time back in the car.

But how do we design the user experience in the right way? How do we add excitement, accessibility and add value? We need to focus on the design, and make it adaptable for continuous improvements and developments for the future.

It’s not just the product development. Service providers need a strategy and market position. Do they want to be the innovator, disrupter or fast follower? How do we want to be positioned in the market?

Next up: IBM’s Global Automotive Research Lead, Ben Stanley.

The digital mobility ecosystem

The things we talk about today have been around for a while. On demand, and ride sharing, for example. But it is digital that has made them more seamless and streamlined.

People are at the core. They are driving this new ecosystem by using this technology, and demanding new services. We need to ask for their expectations about:

  • Vehicle experience – what are the things you expect when you are using the vehicle? Do you want it to play music? Do you want it to drive?
  • Services – what services do you want, which will make your time more valuable?
  • Modes of transport – how do people want to move around? Would you rather have your own car, or use an on-demand service?

When we at IBM talk about ecosystems, these are the layers that we talk about:

  • Vehicle of the future: people don’t want to own cars, but they do want access to personal transport, a self-enabling vehicle, with the option of self-drive, self-integration. As a device on the IoT, the vehicle of the future is multi-functional, and it moves us from A to B.
  • Configuration: the vehicle will recognise who you are and know your preferences. Regardless if it’s owned or shared, if it is within the same brand, it will follow your preferences and feel like your car.
  • Self-learning: vehicles will learn and understand about us and our environment. They will learn how they can provide a personal experience.
  • Self-healing: cars will fix themselves, identifying and solving problems and scheduling maintenance appointments.
  • Socialising: cars will talk to each other and share information, a bit like the Facebook of cars. They will share, learn, and help each other to optimise for safety and traffic flow.

The power of cognitive

Cars will use cognitive for learning, adapting, and relating to insights. Their fuel is data. The car of the future will deliver over 4000 GB of data a day. If we can learn how to harness that data and use cognitive technology to analyse it, we can see the types of services that should be provided. Consumers are looking for infotainment, commerce, health monitoring, concierge help and much more, all within their car.

Following Ben was Scott Shogan, VP, Connected / Automated Vehicle Market Leader, WSP / Parsons, who talked about the need for efficiency.

The key piece to automotive is the concept of efficiency. It’s a three legged stool: affordability, accessibility, and efficiency.

Automation can bring costs down if the vehicle can drive itself, and a distributed shared mobility model, on demand, makes transport accessible for more people.

Efficiency is the unresolved bit of the puzzle, with congestion issues and threats to the transport system. The transport infrastructure needs to develop; it can’t cope with the congestion.

The total travel on our roadways is increasing. Populations continue to grow, and more and more people are driving, but roads are not getting wider, and the funds are not there to improve them.

And what happens if we are sitting behind the wheel and doing other things? We are working, on a call, or on our computer. If self-driving and autonomous cars become widely adopted, will more people be willing to drive? Probably. If so, what is the impact on congestion?

And then what happens when we introduce new road users: for example the elderly, who wouldn’t usually be able to drive? That we add more trips that wouldn’t happen today. Maybe your kids make a trip in their own car while you go off in yours? All these factors further increase the amount of travel.

The vehicle of today is roughly equivalent in space and size as a vehicle of tomorrow. It has the same footprint on the road. If we are each in our own vehicle instead of on a bus or using public transport, we are taking up more space, which means this technology is not solving the efficiency issue.

So what can we do? Here are some ideas:

  • Improve road capacity
  • Reduce vehicle sizes
  • Change attitudes regarding pooling and car sharing
  • Make changes to cost structure
  • Make changes to land use policy
  • Strength transit services using new technology.

Q&A for the panel

We then moved into the discussion and questions part of the session, kicked off by moderator Brian Daugherty, CTO, MEMA.

Q: What do you all see as the timeframe for some of these developments? When will they impact users?

John: It’ll be steady, but not slow; incremental changes every quarter, ever year. I see a continuous set of changes. You’ll look back one day and won’t remember it happening.

Samit: 2021 is the timeframe given by some OEMs. That’s when we see the technology become more widespread. The user experience stuff is already happening. As soon as people see they can make money with it we will see more growth.

Ben: It’ll be fast and furious for mobility services, for those that don’t need to be run by the car. If the consumer acccepts them, they will happen quickly. Car integration, however, will take longer.

Scott: I agree. Mobility services are already moving fast. In terms of automation we hear a lot of ‘2021’. What will be ready in 2021 may not be accessible to most people due to costs. But behavioral change towards shared vehicles has already started.

The way I hear it is that automation has such an economic function, that the market for an Uber or Lyft will plateau. At the moment the cost is not practical, but there is a ceiling of cost and that will be the connection.

Samit: Automation has the key tech to enable more services.

John: It’s not just development of tech but where the vehicles run. The Detroit people mover is a driverless vehicle, just in a limited space. It’ll be a while before they can run anywhere and by themselves.

Brian: Ben, you talked about cognitive, and about people overwhelmed by technology, and their differing levels of comfort. How can cognitive overcome this?

Ben: The ability to use some technology can be hard. It can be complicated. If people don’t get it right away, they don’t use it. We found in our consumer study that people have different levels of ability and desire, from the spectators to the ones that want to adopt and learn. Automotive companies need to know this so they introduce it at the right level. Cognitive can help. It can provide an assistant in the car to help people learn things, and gradually build on it, and teach more and more over time.

Q: How critical is connectivity to this ecosystem? How difficult will this be to carry off, with so many service providers and systems?

Samit: We are seeing the challenge that you outline already. Take for example a simple system like telematics. It runs in the vehicle and interacts, it needs a wireless interface, and to land on the backend. And then you have the front end, an app or web portal. If you think about this and all the players, you already come to a supplier landscape with six or seven players. Who’s the director of it all, who provides the tune we all march too? Who validates the work? It’s all systems integration. We need neutral and unbiased players. This will be the key to mobility systems, we need all the players to play together.

Scott: Legal frameworks, insurance markets, different road agencies it is a complex problem.

Ben: It is something that has to be addressed. OEMs are covering performance, quality and safety. Everything else is collaboration with non-traditional companies. People will turn to their own devices if they can’t get it into the car.

For more information on automotive and automation please take a look at the IBM Internet of Things website.