Autonomous vehicles: brief reflections on a remarkable 2018 and expectations for an exciting new year

As part of my journey in the autonomous driving world from the heavy automaker industry perspective, during the previous year I travelled to hot spots around the world to scout and meet  distinguished stakeholders for inspiring insights: C-level execs of private and public companies, transport authorities, transport operators and top-class university research centres. I also attended  events like seminars, congresses, symposiums, exhibitions. I’ve learned a lot, though still only a tiny fraction of the whole thing! Notwithstanding, on this basis, here I’m thrilled to briefly share a bit of my thoughts and expectations. As tradition dictates so, a new year is a time for reflection and balance of expectations. As I am a watcher of the innovation happening, I am also glad to be part of it.

On the subject, we are seeing traditional names in the automotive industry injecting buckets of dollars into the race of developing autonomous driving to swap humans for algorithms. Map out the partnerships and mergers and acquisitions (M&A) happening all over the world along with huge Research and Development (R&D) investments. The disruptive autonomous technology is shaking the industry.

Obviously not without reason! Automation may be the future core business of the current automotive industry. Likely not so soon as some players might believe or predict, but I would bet my chips in a high level of consolidation in the foreseeable future towards the end of the next decade. Just weight all the hectic ecosystem being formed and challenging the traditional OEMs, new business models, search for new revenue streams, sustainable use cases, smart city solutions, sustainability, consolidation, etc. It is comparable to the scene seen a few years ago with the boom of the Internet of Things (IoT) that disrupted the traditional telecom segment (I lived that phase intensely).

The digital transformation continues at a fast pace and all segments of the industry and society are affected. There’s no way back! So, the matter is to be prepared in a climate of uncertainties to be able to make the right strategic moves with the right partners.

The challenges are enormous! The high-realism simulations and technical evaluations of the so far demonstrated technologies are not sufficient to make autonomous driving possible in a safe and secure manner. More advanced complimentary technologies are necessary for AVs to predict and understand the surroundings.

Equally important is the need to successfully tackle the business aspects of this meteoric evolving mobility ecosystem, as well as to assess the societal and economical aspect to design a sustainable system. The users need to understand the technology, and the solutions need to be less costly and scalable in a business sense.

It is all about a sustainable mobility for all with the technology as enabler. For all: nations, cities, citizens, industries and businesses. The future will be unquestionably about a shared economy driven by connectivity, electrification and autonomy.

The uncertainties remaining are many: technology readiness, use cases, business models, the way to conduct business, and the international regulatory and insurance aspects. They are daunting and demanding as industry and society move fast, but we know that it will happen where only the strong enterprises will prevail. By strong I mean those who understand the limitations, dare to change for the future and those who understands the link between technology and sustainable business. It is definitely not business as usual!

Before 2018, we saw the driverless cars unfolding around the world with remarkable developments, but the growth figures fall short of the expectations. The reason is that the hype created unrealistic predictions and underestimation of complexities. But in 2018, on my perspective, we experienced a better understanding of the complexities and the developments have even made a turn with the public transport sector now playing an active role in the autonomous industry.

It is a common understanding that autonomous vehicles will not improve lives by only being driverless. It has to be clean, safe, democratic, shared, seamless, regulated. This is the way to payback for society. If you are curious and want to further understand the rationale, please check these UITP policy briefs: Autonomous vehicles: a potential game changer for urban mobility and Public transport as an instrument for urban regeneration

Today we find ourselves in the position where perceptions are changing from a technological centric approach to a business centric, or at least both are of great relevance. So far we have seen lots of proofs of concept, trials, demos, etc. Now, the real business acumen behind all tech developments are part of the board meetings as well. It is a logical step since the value of the business is realizing.

Lots of possibilities are emerging in the business domain, but still a clear need to deal with the current technology limitations and all the complexity involved. We’re changing from a fragmented domain to a needed partnership domain in the value chain. On a daily basis this is happening to build the very complex full autonomous stack and accomplish its tremendous potential. Companies not even considered a couple of years ago are now becoming serious players. As the ecosystem is being formed, so the competitive landscape is changing.

On the communication technology aspect, telematics enabled connectivity paired with 5G networks may play an important role. Tons of ITS features are littering the catalogues with V2X/C-V2X solutions of all types. In my view, nonetheless my limited knowledge, it is still not clear how to integrate these technologies as a must have to enable fully autonomous vehicles as they are being built to be infrastructure independent. Though still in an early stage, C-V2X could enable more advanced solutions to address the current limitations of line of-sight sensors. But what is the threshold of a “must have” and a “nice to have”? What is crucial to control the vehicle in a safe manner? What kind of information from/to different sources should be wireless exchanged? Of course that several applications for infotainment, publicity, etc, are welcome. But here I aim to stress  the real need to enable full autonomy in a safe and secure manner.

Data security is another concern. All the ICT systems must exchange data in a very high level of cyber-security. An open platform to integrate systems will have to be completely secure to avoid the so obvious scary hacking threats.

Data analytics will be embraced as it is needed to process the information and take the outputs to quantify and qualify the business impact, user acceptance and future deployment against performance indicators.

Well! 2019 will bring massive innovation to push the envelope to connect the missing parts of cutting-edge technologies and businesses. We will see new vehicle platforms to fit out the mobility service needs, high focus on mobility as a service (MaaS) solutions and pilot deployments of commercial operations of fleets.

We will also see further involvement of the user, as well as public education efforts into helping consumers to earn trust in AVs. On this, a coalition was announced at the CES 2019 show in Las Vegas last week: the Partners for Automated Vehicle Education - PAVE is an effort into helping consumers to understand the technology and its benefits.

We will continue seeing the rise of start-ups bringing together the best minds and delivering improved Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms to enable a shared autonomous transport. Likely many of these start-ups will be acquired by incumbent players at a high stake coupled with the ability to raise investment.

That’s all folks! Keep watching sci-fi coming true!

PS: A notable place that is taking the lead in implementing a serious integrated autonomous public transport system is Singapore. The city-state is leading new urban development projects, best-in-class mobility solutions which include pilot deployments of AVs as a form of public transportation.


Rodrigo Caetano

Comments (login to comment)
Rodrigo Caetano
I would be glad to have your opinion, either in favor or not. Important for learning and exchange of opinions.
Rodrigo Caetano
I would be glad to have yout opinion, either in favor or not. Impotent for learning e exchange of opinions.
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