Autonomous vehicles: brief reflections of a remarkable 2019 and expectations for a promising 2020

Wow! What a hectic 2019 has just clocked out! And bear in mind we’re still remaining at the beginning of the journey of the autonomous world future. However, we started seeing things happen in the real world beyond the PowerPoint sales pitches and limited Proof of Concepts (PoC) here and there. We’ve started to seeing real deployments, though on a very tiny scale, but even autonomous vehicle services being integrated to the public transport network. It’s proof that investors, venture capitals (VC), large and Small to Medium-sized Enterprises (SME), and related authorities believe in the future of an autonomous transport system, and all are eager to try it!

My 2019 in brief

In 2019 I attended a number of internationally renowned events in Asia and Europe: conferences, seminars, congresses, summits, roundtables, panel discussions, interviews, you name it! Surely 20+, in at least 13 of them I delivered a keynote on stage as an invited speaker, and unfortunately I had to decline a few other invitations due to limited time; this is not my full-time job at all! It’s more like a hobby to me when I just try to conciliate my daily job duties and travels with such participation in events to act as an ambassador for the future of transportation and Scania Autonomous Solutions. It’s unfortunate that seldomly I see my peers representatives from the heavy automaker industry; but this is changing, gladly to my participation in promoting the heavy automaker as I heard from a few event organizers.

Fortunately, these efforts in 2019 were enough to place me in the roll of acknowledged international conference speakers. Of course I enjoy it, even more because I learn a ton from each one. It’s indeed an unmeasurable amount of knowledge by dealing with the audience, peers, competitors, authorities, etc, that I can bring back to my organization, my peers and my career.

Again this last year, I had the pleasure to meet distinguished Public Authorities, Transport Operators, CxO executives, start-up companies, universities, academics, potential partners, etc. I even had the honour of a dinner at the residence of the Ambassador of Sweden to Singapore H.E. Niclas Kvarnstrom after having had the honour of a closed meeting at his office in Singapore.

Much more happened, including successes, but also failures. As usual in life and business. It’s simply a lot to sum up in only a few lines…

 

Briefly revisiting my last year’s prediction

Here I want to briefly revisit my last year’s predictions while peering ahead. (Ref. Autonomous vehicles: brief reflections on a remarkable 2018 and expectations for an exciting new year) (1)

Definitely we saw the continuous trend kept by a lot of names in the automotive industry injecting buckets of money into the race of developing autonomous driving to swap humans for algorithms, with all the VCs, heavy investments in R&D, mergers and acquisitions (M&A), start-up funding raising, etc. At the end, the clear trend continues to boom!

On the other hand, the year 2019 was seen as an anticipated year with regards to real deployment of autonomous solutions in scale. We did see some breakthroughs, but in my view the “scale” part of it is still to be seen in 2020 and beyond.

But, as I just mentioned, we saw a number of important breakthroughs. I don’t need to mention them, they’re so many and all over mentioned in the media.

Worth mentioning due to its very high ambition and importance for driving numerous discussions in the industry, is the Call for Collaboration for the Pilot Deployment of Autonomous Buses and Shuttles in Singapore (2), and the publish of a set of provisional national standards, by Enterprise Singapore, known as Technical Reference for Autonomous Vehicles – TR 68 (3).

Also worth mentioning is that companies and authorities started signing very serious agreements to commit to implement autonomous systems in many ways.

Close to me, I want to highlight the recent agreement between Qatar and Volkswagen to pioneer electric and autonomous urban mobility for the capital city of Doha, where Scania has a big stake to operate autonomous electric buses. The project is expected to go live in 2022 to provide a showcase of future autonomous driving, featuring the next FIFA World Cup that will be held in Qatar in 2022. Read more: Taking Doha’s local public transport to the next level in 2022.(4)

What’s happening

The are a lot of places, cities, authorities, that are well beyond many of its peers when it comes to the ambition and readiness for autonomous vehicles, either for people and/or goods. Just consider the KPMG Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index (AVRI) (5) as a reference. In four pillars: technology, regulations, infrastructure and user acceptance. I don’t take the KPMG index is a rule, far from it, because many other places not mentioned are putting great efforts on autonomous. But we have to consider the 4 pillars on how KPMG measures the readiness, which makes it a trustful source.

But I also want to take into account the maturity and understanding of the complexities. Not all are on the same page. Even the top ranked places have stakeholders that need to be educated about their ambitions. I met a few stakeholders who are very eager and ambitious, but clearly in need of being educated about the evolution of the autonomous vehicle business, technology and impact on society. There’s no such thing as an off-the-shelf business model and product to be deployed right away. The ecosystem is very complex, and full of uncertainties and unknowns at the moment. Gladly, many are open to discuss and understand the needed approach of a collaboration model. Others want to be seen as a frontrunner, but sooner or later they will realize the need to cooperate. The technology maturity is not there yet. Beyond the tech aspects, business and society play an equal or even more important role.

Also, there’s a lot of differences concerning “readiness”, considering the differences between people and goods transport and the various deployment scenarios. Obviously people transport offer a much greater risk, worsened in a dynamic city environment full of unpredictable and uncontrolled situations. But the autonomous transport is already a fact in controlled environments, like logistics centres, mining, short-range goods transport, etc. I tend to focus on urban transport, but a lot has been achieved in other ways of deploying autonomous solutions.

In my view, which I also get to better understand now, people transport will take a while more to be viable in a commercial deployment. The good news is that early adopters who understand the complexity are eager to enable autonomous driving and are working hard to make it possible as early as possible, and are open to discuss the complexities. So is Scania too.

We all know of the exaggerated excitement just a few years ago. The peak of the inflated expectations hype has passed and now everyone is more down to earth and willing to make things the right way in due respect to the complexity of the autonomous ecosystem. (Ref. Pic “Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2019”).

 Adoption by major stakeholders are now passed the early excitement, though we are fostering an accelerated roadmap adoption. No matter what, the stakeholders are putting great efforts to move fast, but in a safe and secure way as paramount. In no means there will be a call back, there’s no way to undo the decisions made in the last years. The only convenient option is moving forward!

Worth checking this article by Gartner: Gartner Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2020. (6)

Much more to say…

I don’t wat to further extend this article, though there’s a million of more things to say. There’s much more to say about what I experienced in 2019, like government regulation, consumer privacy backlash, etc.

As my final comments, very often I get questions related to alternative fuels (incl. electrification), size of future vehicles in public transport, future business models in a shared economy, the future role of the Public Transport Authority (PTA) and the Public Transport Operator (PTO), how will the shift impact the automotive OEMs, what’s the role of 5G, etc. These are pertinent questions and of very uncertain answers at the moment. Hence, I don’t mean to have these kind of discussions in an overall context here.

 

Final Conclusions

At the end, 2019 was a banner year for business and tech in the autonomous and electrified world.

Independent of the current maturity of technology, authorities and cities need to start preparing the road for AVs as of now, otherwise it might be late. Even because is not only about the technology and how far it’s to become viable and scalable, but it’s more about preparing the society (consider the needed upskilling and ways to stand the economic growth that benefits the citizens). The macro pain points of cities are very well known: space utilization (incl. parking spots, urban real state), congestion, CO2 emissions, First/Last (F/L) mobility, reducing number of bus/truck drivers, aging population, inclusivity. Of course there are different considerations comparing different places and economies. But I’m considering developed nations. The followers will join at a later stage as usual.

An important question: how to offer a superb autonomous seamless integrated transport system that forge people to get rid of their cars? Otherwise, only a few pain points will be solved…

 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions in this article are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect neither the position of the company I work for nor of any official authority nor private entity. Copy right reserved. Please contact me to reproduce part or the whole. Sharing in social media, kept the source, is allowed.

 

References

  1. Autonomous vehicles: brief reflections on a remarkable 2018 and expectations for an exciting new year (2019, January 13). Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/autonomous-vehicles-brief-reflections-remarkable-2018-rodrigo-caetano/
  2. Call for Collaboration for the Pilot Deployment of Autonomous Buses and Shuttles in Singapore. (2019, January 7). Retrieved from https://www.edb.gov.sg/en/news-and-events/news/call-for-collaboration-on-pilot-deployment-of-autonomous-buses-and-shuttles.html
  3. Joint Media Release by the Land Transport Authority (LTA), Enterprise Singapore, Standards Development Organisation & Singapore Standards Council - Singapore Develops Provisional National Standards to Guide Development of Fully Autonomous Vehicles. (2019, January 31). Retrieved from https://www.lta.gov.sg/content/ltagov/en/newsroom/2019/1/2/joint-media-release-by-the-land-transport-authority-lta-enterprise-singapore-standards-development-organisation-singapo.html
  4. Taking Doha’s local public transport to the next level in 2022. (2019, December 16). Retrieved from https://www.scania.com/group/en/taking-dohas-local-public-transport-to-the-next-level-in-2022/
  5. Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index (AVRI). (2019, January) . Retrieved from https://home.kpmg/xx/en/home/insights/2019/02/2019-autonomous-vehicles-readiness-index.html
  6. Gartner Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2020. (2019, October 21). Retrieved from https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/gartner-top-10-strategic-technology-trends-for-2020/

 

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