United States: Connected And Autonomous Vehicles - Moving Forward In High Gear

This is my second and final installment in reporting on the Center for Automotive Research (CAR)'s 50th annual "Management Briefing Seminars" conference held earlier this month in Traverse City, Michigan.

Connected and Automated Vehicles:  Competition, Rules and Interesting Times

The first presentation on day one included a fantastic group of panelists from automotive suppliers, government agencies and leading consultancies. The session was held on the heels of the German OEM consortium's purchase of HERE, a company engaged in three-dimensional mapping which has announced an intention to pursue an "open development" approach, which created an interesting backdrop and buzz to the session.

Key Takeaway

This topic will clearly occupy the hearts and minds of automotive engineers, suppliers, consumers, governments and others involved in the automotive ecosystem for some time to come. It is safe to say that all three groups (suppliers, government agencies and consultancies) are moving forward in high gear to position themselves as leaders in the future (but not distant) world of connected and autonomous vehicles. Where all of these efforts intersect – some of which are highly collaborative and some of which are highly independent – will be a fascinating movie to watch over the next several years and longer. One thing is clear:  no one is waiting on anyone else, and connected and autonomous vehicle development is moving forward in high gear.

Presentation Details

The presentations began with an introduction by Richard Wallace, Director – Transportation Systems Analysis of CAR. He noted that "cybersecurity is at center stage" given recent developments in the market. He also reported on the recent grand opening of the " M-City" development on the University of Michigan campus, an exciting and new real world laboratory to test connected and autonomous vehicle technology.

Mr. Wallace was followed by Praveen Chandrasekar, Consulting Director at Frost and Sullivan, who predicted that 6.2 million connected and autonomous vehicles will be on the road by 2028, mostly in the Type 2 (semi-autonomous) and Type 3 (highly autonomous) categories, and not predominantly the Type 4 (fully autonomous) category. Mr. Chandrasekar identified Human Factors and Cybersecurity as the two biggest current challenges in connected and autonomous vehicle development.

Speaking of Human Factors, a group called the "Collaborative Research Safety Center" at Toyota, as reported by Mr. Charles Gulash, Senior Technical Engineer at the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, is deeply engaged in the study of these areas of technology, with a focus on societal mobility needs, using funds to seed research at a variety of universities involving a variety of engineering, design and medical disciplines. Toyota has invested $50 million over 5 years beginning in 2011 in this effort, with a $35 million re-up approved in late 2014 that will begin in 2017. I was particularly intrigued by two test subjects he referred to in their research:  "Steve and Steve, Jr.", and relieved that they were not referred to as "dummies." Mr. Gulash cited the following leading challenges in the development of connected and autonomous vehicles:

  1. in-car intelligence,
  2. human factors,
  3. vehicle systems, and
  4. "social involvements" (decisions that we need to make societally about the technology).

Kirk Steudle, P.E., the Director of the Michigan Department of Transportation, then gave a very progressive overview of the State of Michigan's efforts to collaborate with the automotive industry and other parties in creating a real-world vehicle to infrastructure test bed in Southeast Michigan called "Smart Transportation Corridors." These corridors are being developed on three of the most intensely used sections of freeway in the heart of the automotive industry. He also detailed the M-City opening referenced above. While California is grabbing more of the headlines with the Google Car, Michigan appears to be leading in V2I ("vehicle to infrastructure") test beds which will benefit not only Michigan, but the regional and worldwide development of connected and autonomous vehicle technology.

David Thomas of the National Automotive Center, U.S. Army TARDEC, followed with a presentation of the Army's efforts to develop autonomous vehicles that can be used in convoying and platooning applications in force deployment. He described the data collection that will be the focus in 2016, as part of their "crawl/walk/run" development approach.

Mr. Steffen Linkenbach, Director, Systems and Technology, Chassis and Safety Division of Continental North America, followed with an impressive report on Conti's connected and autonomous vehicle development. He began by noting the 2013 survey that identified that 66% of consumers were "rather scared" of autonomous driving, while 53% in the U.S. and 65% in China said they foresaw autonomous driving as a part of "everyday life" in 10-15 years; clearly a lot of testing and education will be needed to close that gap. Mr. Linkenbach described the Continental development regime as Sense/Plan/Act, and noted the complexities in all three phases. To date, Continental engineers have logged 40,000 miles of "Highly Automated Driving" conditions and are now in their second generation of development, he noted.

Cybersecurity then took center stage in a fascinating presentation by Brian Murray, Director of Security and Safety Excellence, Active and Passive Driving Systems of ZF/TRW. He described his job as making sure that "things don't do the things they are not supposed to do." Mr. Murray discussed the various "threat envelopes" within the following categories:

  1. Physical Safety,
  2. Physical Security,
  3. Personal Information Security, and
  4. "Pivot" (an attack on vehicle systems used as a pivot to attack other systems).

He described the evolution of the industry's response as the Countermeasures Phase (where we are now), the Systems Engineering Phase (where we will be in the near future), and the Resiliency Phase (being able to adapt to new threats) longer term.

Finally, Doug Patton, Executive Vice President, Engineering Division, and Chief Technology Officer of Denso International America, Inc., described the three biggest challenges as:

  1. Technology Challenges,
  2. Consumer Acceptance, and
  3. Addressing Liability and Litigation issues.

He described various "V2X" research efforts that have been underway at Denso since 2003, noting that every 10% introduction of autonomous driving technology is expected to reduce accidents by 20,000. Denso then highlighted its role in the Michigan Mobility Transformation Center that Director Steudle described.

In the Q&A session that followed, the absence of the cellular providers "at the table" was noted as one of the key current gaps in the development of V2X technologies, including questions about who will build the necessary infrastructure and who will pay for it? This absence may be related over the battle between the automotive industry and the cellular providers over the 5.9 GHz spectrum that is playing out, and was described as "very real" at the conference.

More Information

For connected vehicle junkies, the next chance for a fix will be September 30 when MichAuto (an initiative of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce to retain and grow the automotive industry in Michigan) is hosting its annual meeting themed "The Connected Culture:  Shaping Michigan's Automotive and Mobility Future," to be keynoted by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder at Cobo Center. Visit the event's website for more information.

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