The future is here

Alex Kreetzer and Carsten Rommel, Vice President of Driver Assistance at Bosch, discuss the automotive industry’s journey from level one to level five automation. 

Right now, we live in a moment of transition. We have seen what the future holds for us in mobility, however we cannot experience this revolution for ourselves quite yet. Well, to an extent, we can enjoy a slice of the future. With many automakers rolling out driver assistance systems in mass production cars, consumers have welcomed innovations that prevent low speed collisions, keep vehicles in lanes on the highway and identify hazardous road conditions. To understand how the industry can progress in this space, I speak to the Vice President of Bosch Driver Assistance, Carsten Rommel, who specialises in the systems we see in modern cars today and the cars of tomorrow. He tells me that the main changes he has seen in the automotive industry over his career has been the speed and complexity of automotive technology systems. “Overall, the automotive industry has accelerated significantly over the last few years. The development cycle has shortened and the contents that we are working on have become far more complex and challenging, which can drive further costs and problems for not just the OEM, but also the supplier.”

Bosch has been involved in the automotive industry for well over a century and has continuously led several fields through preparation and flexibility, something that continues to be of importance in the modern era of automation. With this huge shift that we are seeing, it becomes extremely difficult to remain a leader, with the market constantly changing. However, Bosch has an advantage, being involved in many different segments within the automotive industry, so the company is used to remaining flexible and experimenting with new ideas. Carsten tells me that, “you have to keep inventing yourself in order to succeed. This increased complexity that we are seeing cannot be handled the old fashioned way through organisational structures that we used to have with certain departments and projects. Due to the complexity, you need to bring knowledge from different areas and Bosch has done this by moving towards a modern leadership culture to try and motivate self-dependant teams. By providing leadership and management, we can increase speed and reduce organisational borders.” Automotive companies must constantly evolve their business and the products they want to bring to the market. “Yes, we still sell hardware components as an automotive supplier, but we also have identified new business models and opportunities in the area of software services and solutions,” adds Carsten. “Due to the increased complexity and the investments, we have to move into challenging technological topics such as highly automated driving. To do this, it is important to partner with others, in order to share the knowledge you have and also share the commercial burden that comes with it.”

Although Bosch is in a unique position where the company deals in both the hardware and the software surrounding the connected car, collaboration is still important for progression, especially in the autonomous space where there are so many variants to a finished product. Carsten explains that moving from driving systems to automated driving was a huge interest for Bosch, thanks to its background in software and technology. “Bosch is capable of providing a lot of the components that are out there so we can provide full-system capabilities like steering, braking, engine control and driving assistance software, along with all of the architecture that is needed. But if you look at new business models, there are still areas that Bosch does not necessarily focus on.” Due to this, Bosch has teamed up with Daimler, to develop robotaxis of the future. By using the knowledge that Daimler has in this area, especially with carsharing and vehicle production, Bosch has a greater skill set to take on this mobility challenge. This is a great example of why it is so important to team up with others in the industry.

End of an era?

Carsten is convinced that we will have a mix of the traditional approach we have seen in the automotive industry, where people still own a vehicle but, as the development of mobility continues, we will see business change through services, autonomous technology and electric vehicles. “These new mobility solutions are important to overcoming the issues we will find in mega cities, but there will be areas around the world where people still require privately-owned vehicles,” he says. For the most part, a linear buy-to-sell model will be turned on its head, which will make it difficult for automotive companies to remain flexible and have the focus on how the market is developing. OEMs are also changing the way they collaborate, in order to provide the speed needed in the rapidly evolving mobility sector. Carsten explains that “it isn't about the OEMs handing us a load of requirements to work through at the beginning of the project, but more to do with a different approach. We have worked with different companies to see where we can reach in each field and what is the next step to take in order to deliver state of the art products to the market.”

This new approach, which many believe is inspired from emerging startups in the technology industry, has introduced a fresh perspective on business that only small companies have been capable of doing in the past. By doing so, companies in the mobility industry can have the freedom to move and act faster than rivals. Although not all startups gain instant success, mostly following a philosophy of learning fast and failing fast, there have however been many startups that accelerate very quickly and bring benefits to the corporation by creating new products and business models. “We look very closely to see what is happening outside of Bosch, but we also set up start-ups internally. Through this method we have seen great benefits from setting up small independent teams wherever we feel it makes sense,” says Carsten. “Bosch provides an entrepreneurial mindset, so it is really about managing your responsibility towards your own company. I personally see this as a milestone to being sustainably successful in the business.”

Catapulting future mobility

The first stages of autonomous software are here and we are starting to see these innovations rolled out in many production vehicles. This will continue to develop until the industry reaches level five automation, however this will not be soon due to strict rules and regulations on the technology. This is no surprise, however it is still important that the industry works together to allow a quick - but safe - development process to rolling out autonomous vehicles. There has been very slow development over the years, but now things are finally accelerating, with governments and organisations around the world starting to support the movement towards autonomous vehicles. Carsten believes that solutions will be found to bring vehicles of all levels of autonomy onto our streets and looks to China as a prime example of this. “In China, we are seeing a very strong push where the government is giving out benefits to the OEMs for moving towards lower level autonomy and I am convinced that it won't stop there,” he says. “However, I do not see big investment into the infrastructure for autonomous cars in the future as this technology will be developed with many different conditions in mind.” One thing that will certainly aid the roll out of autonomous vehicles is the removal of conventional transportation, removing petrol and diesel powered cars to make space for a cleaner and more efficient society. This will help the progression of autonomy on public roads, however we are still uncertain whether or not there will be a complete removal of human-controlled vehicles once we start to see level five autonomous technology in our cities.

Bosch expects to test the first autonomous robotaxis on the streets no later than next year, although we will not see these being used in the public domain for at least another five years. Carsten predicts that autonomous vehicles will be able to coexist on the street with other cars, which means that there will not need to be too much investment in infrastructure, such as dedicated lanes. “To achieve this, we need to design highly accurate maps and state of the art sensors in order to enable autonomous cars to integrate into today's traffic,” he explains. “We have developed a completely new sensor set with Daimler that allows us to do this as today's sensors that you find on emergency braking systems will not be able to fulfill these requirements.” In the short term, we will see the evolutionary development of privately-owned cars, focusing on level three automation on highways. Moving forward, Carsten foresees a more revolutionary approach towards level four and five urban driving. “Bosch is fully active in both areas and our clear goal is to be the leading partner and systems supplier to all of the OEMs throughout the rollout of this technology.”

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