Reimagining Mobility – Possibilities and Pitfalls

The recent Automobility 2016 event, co-sponsored by Dassault Systèmes, examined the design, technology, regulatory and business issues that all play a role in our transportation future.

Courtesy of Pocketsquare Design
Courtesy of Pocketsquare Design

It’s highly doubtful that you’ll find any argument from people in the transportation industry that change is coming at a faster rate than any time in history. The whole idea of what a “car” is has transformed, opening the imagination to new ideas of mobility as well as the hurdles that need to be overcome to realize this new paradigm. Imagine a world of autonomous vehicles that run on electricity. Where augmented reality allows temporary customization of shared-vehicles so that each experience is personalized to the passenger’s taste. Where you can have your ride smell, look and even feel a certain way.  Want a free ride?  Perhaps you allow a retailer where you shop to advertise on the vehicle after you make a purchase, subsidizing your ride with marketing dollars.

Potential Hyperloop station, courtesy of UCLA, AUD & AN.ONYMOUS
Potential Hyperloop station, courtesy of UCLA, AUD & AN.ONYMOUS

What about traveling 700 miles per hour via a Jetson-like tube, known as the Hyperloop? Or what about a drone delivering medical equipment in emergency situations? Sound impossible?  History shows that man has made incredible strides in his ability to travel. In 2000 B.C., it took 90 days to travel the Silk Road.  By 1776, it took three weeks to go across the continental United States by train.

These are just some of the thought stimulators covered at the Automobility conference.

The Road to Autonomous Driving
 What the industry experts made clear is that getting to this future requires a convergence of technology, standards, regulations, and user acceptance. The presentations examined each of these requirements in some detail.

Technology:  To date, autonomous driving has only been accomplished in controlled environments. Speakers noted that for self-driving vehicles to become a reality for the common man means overcoming key technical developments in HMI, sensors (both in the vehicle and the environment) and connectivity to the cloud. Vision systems have a long way to go before vehicles can see and interpret like the human eye. However, with the current rate that technological advances are achieved, the future will likely come faster than we expect.

Engineering

Speakers during this session emphasized that safely and effectively launch self-driving vehicles requires a strong understanding of systems engineering; it’s all about the system architecture. These autonomous vehicles feature increasing complexity with a convergence of technologies that must be dynamically tested and validated. Noted was the shift toward the role of software in the vehicle where there are typically 50+ computers, electronic control units, and 100+million lines of code. It should be no surprise that 99% of issues today are said to be software-related.

Standards

With new developments come new terminologies that must have a shared understanding. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has developed an automated driving taxonomy, which is available for no charge, that will help clarify the laws, policies, regulations and standards needed to move the technology forward. The good news is that these standards are starting to be adopted globally.

Regulations

A panel of experts addressed the complex legal and regulatory issues that need be addressed in order for the transformation of traditional ownership and vehicle usage models to occur. In general, the legal framework is full of uncertainty. The recent guidance for the safe development of highly autonomous vehicles  issued by the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration was noted as a good start to providing a framework for getting states on board for a more standard regulatory scheme.

Consumers

More than one of the presentations focused on the need to educate the consumer as well as gain their trust for the adoption of automated driving technologies. Although 63% of people believe that roads would be safer with self-driving cars, 61% say they are scared of the technology and 80% want the option to drive themselves. Current studies show that consumers don’t even use the technology present in their vehicles today. So, as we transition through the levels of autonomous driving , driver education is critical in propagating correct and full use of the technologies.

The event ended with a panel discussion comprised of the day’s speakers. The sense of excitement among the entire panel and audience was palpable. But, it was also made abundantly clear that there is real work to be done from a technical, infrastructure and regulatory standpoint before we self-driving vehicles become a mobility choice for the masses.

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Nancy Lesinski
Born and raised in the Motor City by a Donna Reed mom and Corvette engineer dad, my parents were continually surprised that their humanities-loving daughter ended up with a career focused on manufacturing and the automotive industry. I’ve been providing communications services to Dassault Systemes since 2001.
Nancy Lesinski