Autonomous awareness

Companies have been enabling autonomous vehicles for years, but there has been no focus on mainstream education, says Tim Woods, General Manager at the Autonomous Vehicle Alliance. 

The Autonomous Vehicle Alliance (AVA) is a collaborative research organisation that focuses on the consumer and customer-facing value propositions of autonomous vehicles, including fleet owners and cities. In the future, everyone will be involved in shared, owned and subscription services, so it is important that an embryonic ecosystem is created, where companies, cities and local authorities can collaborate and identify new opportunities together. Tim Woods, who also founded service development consultancy POCO Labs, has been involved with the AVA since 2016, helping create the ideal ecosystem for self-driving software to thrive. “Everything we do is a discovery and new to everybody,” he says. “Over the course of a year, we brought forward our first group of companies which included General Motors, Ford and some US States, before bringing in additional members such as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Spartan Motors.” Woods sat down with all of AVA’s members and analysed what could be achieved together, with the clear understanding that it wasn’t focused on the enabling technology but on creating the standards, value propositions and use cases. “We started to understand what the opportunities were for autonomous vehicles in fleets, such as not needing to completely remove the individual from the process, but instead make that person hyper-efficient. We also realised that we needed a completely separate piece of research within cities to understand what they knew about autonomous vehicle and their capabilities but, more importantly, understand what their concerns and needs were,” Woods continues.  

By creating seamless mobility for different groups of people and talking to cities and their representatives, everyone can become involved in transportation and mobility, which allows a clear roadmap for autonomous vehicles. “If the automakers and governments collaborate and agree on what to spend their time and research on, we can enable and maximise the efficiency of autonomous vehicles in the city and create mobility hubs,” Woods stresses. Autonomous vehicles are part of the overall solution to urban ecosystems and it is up to the industry to come up with a common list surrounding infrastructure. But, more importantly, there needs to be a lot more education towards cities, consumers and businesses to understand what the capabilities are related to autonomous vehicles. Woods believes that, right now, no one is projecting this vision. “Telling these stories is going to be extremely important; the whole dialogue surrounding autonomy is owned by the media, reporting on autonomous accidents instead of the deep value propositions that are going to be associated with the consumers and customers. We need to educate cities, consumers and businesses in order to achieve this vision.” 

Perception, awareness, collaboration: the three pillars of success

When it comes to future mobility, it is all about perception and awareness. The focus always seems to be on the problems and accidents that occur, rather than the improvements that the innovation can make to our lives. We need this kind of coverage in the public domain, as there has been background progress in this area for years, but it has only recently entered the spotlight. Now that the larger car manufacturers are getting involved with these technology specialists, a new world has been formed, especially in the eyes of the public, which has led to the rapid growth we see today. Woods is fascinated by this shift, as the industry is going through a lifetime of change, although he believes that this revolutionary innovation extends far beyond the sector. “As people realise how big this is, deeper opportunities will start to emerge, but we are at a point in time where this change is going to be more dramatic than we have ever seen before, moving from a driver world to a non-driver world. The opportunities for businesses and consumers is captivating, but we also have the opportunity to address things far beyond the automotive industry, through an open dialogue with the entire world. We have the ability not to put ourselves into the same position we did a century ago.” Once this is achieved, we can then eliminate the barriers that have been holding back development for so long.  

From a business perspective, technology specialists do not have the manufacturing skillsets of the automakers and the car companies lack the know-how to create advance connected systems. Due to this, it is important to have consortiums such as the AVA to help the wider transport industry work towards a standard and push the development of these revolutionary innovations. Associations and groups can create a constant dialogue between industry players and cities which allows each party to understand the capabilities around autonomous technology and the solutions needed to solve it. If the industry works together with the cities, it becomes non-adversarial. “If there is no business case, it is going to be very difficult for any company to move in any one direction, so we have to establish where and how big the opportunities are,” says Woods. “We believe that the only way to do this is by creating a mechanism that allows this kind of collaboration to happen.” Although the OEMs and technology companies may be going off and doing their own thing, such as making acquisitions that help them pursue their business models, the real opportunity is understanding what cities and businesses need. This opportunity is bigger than any one organisation and it is thanks to groups like the AVA which allow many to identify this.   

The autonomous opportunist  

Autonomous technology will have to fit the needs of many different scenarios, whether that's ridesharing, e-hailing or public transport, which means that the industry will have to plan ahead. Solutions can be created that never existed before the autonomous vehicle, which means that they need to understand the benefits of the technology and the types of vehicles used to meet these requirements. “I believe that none of these solutions existed before because there has been no dependence on autonomous technology, so a lot of businesses cannot rationalise doing these things because it is all being dictated by the infrastructure that doesn't exist,” stresses Woods. “This is a global thing, so we need to bridge the gap between other organisations around the world to create a pool of knowledge that people can share, wherever they are.” The idea that the technology industry is competing with the automotive industry is rapidly disappearing, which is vital to development. This is an archaic view of what is going on right now, because there is such an interdependence with each other and the opportunity is massive. “We are going to figure it out together, whether it's hardware or software,” continues Woods. “You can already see what's going on with the relationships being formed around the world right now, that wouldn't have been likely a few years ago.”

Two very different industries have crashed into each other and it's not so much down to Silicon Valley vs Detroit, but how the two industries can fit together to succeed in a completely new area of transportation. The automotive industry is changing from the top, transitioning to a more relaxed and open approach, with CEOs losing the suit and tie approach and developing their ideologies. Woods believes that the differences are cultural, with Silicon Valley focused on rapid production of technology and the longer, more structured approach of manufacturing with a much longer product cycle. “There is obviously going to be friction in the early stages between the two industries, but there is also going to be a sense of reality,” says Woods. “OEMs are realising that they have to become agile and technology companies need that dose of reality to understand the manufacturing side of things.” Through this approach, we are starting to see an incredible sense of urgency from both sides to make everything work for consumers and the ecosystem around them - which will also stem from real-world testing. The future of autonomous vehicles is all dependant on vetting these vehicles and rolling them out into the real world, rather than remaining on a test track. Obviously, a lot of work has to happen on close environments, which is a methodology leveraged by OEMs for decades, but these companies need to look at getting autonomous vehicles on the road through mobility services like ride sharing and operating in dense urban environments to prove that they can exist anywhere. “This is one step in an unbelievable staircase of issues that need to be addressed and this is where consumers will see their first experiences,” adds Woods.  

As trust is built up with autonomous vehicles, it will roll out into many different areas, such as shipping and home delivery. This is going to be an evolution and people are starting to realise that they will soon see autonomous fleets on public roads. In fact, we are already seeing this in the US with Waymo, General Motors and Uber, which is a great sign for fully-autonomous fleets in the near future - driven by the approval of cities and governments. But, if there are going to be speed bumps along the way that are going to have to be addressed to move to the next level, the industry needs to change the business models it has been used to following and grow a global understanding of autonomous vehicles with cities, businesses and consumers.   

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