Technology transforming the automobile industry

It’s obvious that the automobile industry is on the cusp of a technological revolution. Manufacturers and technology companies are working together to reinvent the automobile, much like the way Apple reinvented itself from a computer company to a cultural force or even how Madonna has remained a media icon by constantly adapting to new trends.

Although new technologies and consumer markets are still in their gestation stage, Ford, for example, is making major investments that will transform it from a company that just makes cars to one that touches all aspects of mobility.

Technology companies see a driverless world of autonomous or robotic vehicles as a software and artificial intelligence play. For them, the car is a platform, a commodity, like a cell-phone body. You can get the car body anywhere; the real smarts are in the software. The car may be the ultimate mobile device.

As the value of each vehicle becomes more dependent upon the software it contains, tech companies may be in a better position to capture this value than the automakers. New technologies are redefining boundaries between software firms and the lumbering dinosaurs of the automobile industry.

Opinions differ as to when widespread adoption of fully autonomous and commercially viable vehicles will occur. They could dot our roadways in five-to-ten years but saturation will take several decades.

Market penetration may not be uniform; it could start in trucks, for example, before private cars, or even as part of an on-demand commercial ride sharing fleet. In any case, it is not too early to start planning for the roadway management challenges that will be created by autonomous trucks and cars sharing the roads with driver-operated vehicles.

Autonomous vehicle proponents claim they hold the potential to dramatically reduce traffic casualties by eliminating human error. Activities like speeding and driving while texting are deadly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says human error is a factor in 94 percent of fatal crashes. According to the National Safety Council, as many as 40,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes last year, a 6 percent increase over 2015. An estimated 4.6 million people were seriously injured.

When we begin seeing fully driverless cars hinges as much on the regulatory environment as advances in self-driving technology. Autonomous vehicles operating without a steering wheel, brake pedals, and human intervention pose questions about whether regulations can catch up to technological advances.

Market participants argue that realizing the safety benefits of autonomous vehicles will require a single national standard, not 50 sets of rules. Automakers complain that states are moving ahead with their own regulations, creating the potential for a confusing “patchwork” of laws under which autonomous vehicles operate. As of December, California, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Utah, and the District of Columbia had enacted laws authorizing autonomous vehicle testing under certain conditions. Washington, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas have active testing programs but no legislation.

On the same day Uber started to test its self-driving Volvos near its Bay Area headquarters, the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles ordered the firm to stop because its cars did not have the proper registration for such testing. Uber loaded the cars onto a self-driving truck and sent them to Arizona.

Michigan now allows companies to test self-driving vehicles without steering wheels, pedals or a human that can take over in an emergency. In contrast, California has a rule that self-driving vehicles can only hit the road with a safety driver.

It is uncertain how soon fully autonomous vehicles will enter the mainstream. When they do, avoiding the pushback that, for example, on demand mobility firms such as Uber and Lyft have faced in a variety of cities will require clarifying the proper role of all levels of government within the regulatory landscape. If autonomous vehicles are safer than their driver-operated counterparts, it is imperative that regulators not risk preventable injuries and deaths by unnecessarily delaying their deployment.

Originally Published: March 4, 2017

Automakers under pressure to reinvent the industry

Automakers face unprecedented technological changes and market trends that will ultimately force them along with the Cleveland Browns and the Democratic Party to reinvent their business models. Sources of disruption include electric vehicles; connectivity; autonomous vehicles, including trucks; changing patterns of car ownership and use; and on-demand ride services.

Car companies face an array of new competitors. Besides their traditional rivals, new market entrants including Google, Apple, Tesla, Uber, and Lyft, are fielding new technology vehicles.

Technology is but one of the threats that connected, automated and autonomous driving are introducing to the industry. Connected vehicles are able to “talk” with one-another through radio frequency devices or cellular technology.

General Motors plans to have connected vehicles on the street by the end of the year. The 2017 Cadillac CTS sports sedan will offer technology that allows sharing information about driving conditions like weather, speed, sudden braking and more. Other automakers are expected to follow suit.

Automated and autonomous driving is more complicated. Automated cars use on-board sensors and systems to aid the driver, while autonomous vehicles actually do the driving. It is unclear whether fully autonomous vehicles are 10 or 15 years away.

Autonomous vehicles may get the attention, but the notion of cars talking to one another is the real deal. Vehicle connectivity has garnered great interest from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Holy Grail of connectivity is vehicles talking with one another without human intervention. The feds have bet that such communication will prevent millions of crashes that result in thousands of fatalities. Last December, USDOT proposed rules requiring that all new cars and small trucks contain technology allowing them to broadcast data to other vehicles within a 984-foot radius about their speed, location and direction.

The proposed rules will standardize how one car talks to another and warns drivers, and eventually autonomous vehicles, about potential dangers. The car- maker determines what to do with the data, be it automated braking or a visual dashboard warning. At an intersection, vehicles would decide if you have enough time to make that right on red and who gets to go next at a four-way stop.

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) equipment and supporting communications functions would cost about $350 per vehicle in 2020. If the rule is adopted, the feds say all new cars would have the technology in four years.

The rule would not require existing vehicles to be retrofitted. As technology evolves, automobiles will likely become more connected to people’s home and mobile devices, and integrated into the internet of things.

Deployment of V2V technologies faces a number of hurdles, such as data security and privacy concerns. If V2V communications get hacked, the possibilities for traffic accidents increases.

Then there is the question of the underlying technology that would enable V2V communication. The feds mandate the use of dedicated short-range communications (DSRC). Many believe DSRC is obsolete and that newer technologies, such as 5G cellular wireless to power smartphone communication, will be released before DSRC market penetration is achieved.

Moreover, critics argue that cellular has already built infrastructure in the form of cell towers, obviating the need to for state and local governments to roll out dedicated short-range receivers on roadside infrastructure.

The other half of the communication network is vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I). USDOT plans to issue guidance on V2I communications, which in theory should help transportation planners integrate the technologies to allow vehicles to “talk” to roadway infrastructure such as traffic lights, stop signs, and work zones to improve mobility, reduce congestion, and improve safety.

No matter how the technology battle sorts out, the car of the future will be connected. Our transportation system is on the cusp of a transformation, with technology bridging the gap between vehicles and intelligent roadside infrastructure, creating a network that works like the internet and can prevent collisions, keep traffic moving and reduce environmental impacts.

Originally posted: January 21, 2017