Attending the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas has always been something I’ve been interested in doing. Most know the show for it’s significant consumer electronics product announcements; but it broadly covers many vectors of technology evolution. Doug Farrell, one of our Principal Solutions Marketers, and I were particularly interested in hearing from the leading vendors at different stages in the Automotive supply chain. Here are our take-a-ways from the show.
Getting Intimate with Your Car
This is where the coolest thing I saw intersects with one of the hottest industry debates: “Will we ever be FULLY autonomous?” In the Society of Automotive Engineers’ terms, this means reaching Level 5, a fully-autonomous system that expects the vehicle's performance to equal that of a human driver in every driving scenario.
Nissan took the firm stance that we would never want to be fully autonomous, stating that car-buyers want to be able to take control of their vehicles – that it will assist, but never replace a driver. Nissan had their “Brain-to-Vehicle” technology on display, which promises an intimate partnership between humans and their machines. The technology used a headset to gather electroencephalogram, or EEG, data from 11 spots on the brain’s motor cortex while driving a simulated car through a mountain’s curvy terrain. A machine learning mechanism then adapted the autonomous driving algorithm to react as you would.
Nissan believes that drivers will maintain an emotional connection with their car, even to the point of maintaining brand affinity, and that emotional connection will manifest itself into expectations of the car driving just as the driver would. As a supporting point, Kathy Winter, Vice President of the Automated Driving Solutions Division at Intel discussed a focus group they did with a group of first-time autonomous car riders. The punch line was that after their first ride, a large percentage of the group described the car as too tentative, while another significant group described the car as too aggressive. Guess you really can’t please everyone.
New Day, New Word: It’s All About Mobility
While some companies have been re-positioning themselves as mobility companies, the movement seemed ubiquitious across the show this year. It’s less about vehicles, and more about getting from point A to point B. When it boils down to it, that’s what transportation is becoming.
While brand affinity will always be present, even today there are a variety of ways to get somewhere. In many places, owning an automobile isn’t required anymore. The promise of autonomous vehicles extends far beyond being able to take YOUR car somewhere without driving; it’s not even needing to own a car.
The ubiquity of mobility has far-reaching implications. Consider this prototype that Bell Helicopter had on display. Their “Air Taxi” is an autonomous air vehicle that can take you from here to there. Imagine an Uber that flies, and (according to Bell) will cost less.
Getting Comfortable In Your New Car
More than half of the content I saw revolved around the Infotainment dashboard in the car. It’s no longer just a screen in the dashboard, it’s becoming an immersive experience that can anticipate your needs and offer on-demand solutions.
There was a prevalence of health information on display, such as blood pressure, heart rate, stress levels, and sleepy eyes. Imagine your car automatically playing stress-reducing music or recommending that you pull off the road and participate in exercises to reduce dangerous driving situations.
Most of the innovation here ultimately came from a focus on removing distractions from driving, which stems from answering a simple question with a complex answer: What are people going to do in the car, if they aren’t driving?
Centralized or Distributed? That is the Question
As more sensors are added to cars and the operation of the vehicle becomes more complex, more processors were distributed throughout the car. However, as the volume of data from those distributed sensors grows and is used for decision making, the trend returns to a more centralized architecture. Centralizing the processors simplifies software updates, data aggregation, and data streaming. This concept can be applied to the OS itself as well as the sensor architecture.
It’s most likely that vehicle architectures will standardize on a hybrid approach with some smart sensors and some raw data coming into a fusion ECU. Similarly, the software will be move in the same direction with a core, hardened OS for running critical functions, and additional software on top for the UI.
One incredible data point I heard at CES was that a modern car’s advanced sensors gather 40TB of data an hour. It’s hard for my tiny brain to conceptualize a number like that, so I looked it up. According a blog post on simplyted, ONE TERRABYTE is the equivalent to all 350 episodes of The Simpsons or roughly 250,000 MP3s (2 years non-stop listening). And we’re talking FORTY of those every hour.
Let me translate that into some technical terms – that’s too much data to raw stream everything. There’s data necessary for short-term decisions like notifying the car of quickly-approaching object, and it will be processed and discarded at the sensor. However, there’s loads of raw data stored and transferred back for machine learning.
This is the true societal advantage of the connected future. When there’s an accident in today’s world, two people learn from it – the two drivers. When there’s an accident in a wholly-connected world, every single car on the network can learn from it.
The Unknown - Regulations
With all the focus on the technology and potential applications, it’s easy to get lost in the majesty of it all. However, government regulations have yet to catch up to the technology. The existing leaders will need to work with the disrupters to determine how to test autonomous vehicles in a way that meets regulatory mandates.
This naturally leads to discussions about the safety of autonomous vehicles. How do you PROVE the vehicles are safe? Who’s culpable for an accident? The general sentiment among attendees is that it’ll be a gradual transition, and not the flip of a switch.
Whatever the timeline looks like, it’s crystal clear that no one company can do this by themselves. Much like the timeline for 5G, it’ll be a combination of experts working together – cybersecurity, managing data, testing process, etc.
Everything Needs to Be Tested
Through all the incredible technology – electric vehicles, vehicle-to-vehicle communication protocols, autonomous cars, and flying taxis – it all boils down to an evolving landscape for testing.
If there’s one thing that an NI veteran gets jazzed up about, it’s new technology to test. In fact, one of the reasons that NI is so well positioned to help automotive engineers ensure a safe, reliable product as they continue to change the world through their craft is our expertise in testing electronic, mechanical, and electromechanical systems.
Stay tuned for more information about the challenges this key industry is facing and how our platform can expedite the process of validating the technology that will drive us into the future.