Last week, the flagship event of The Autonomous initiative gathered over 500 leading experts and decision-makers from 170 companies to discuss the latest AV technologies, regulatory frameworks and safety approaches. 

“It’s not just about technology. It’s about partnerships and the ecosystem,” said Young Sohn, chairman of the board of HARMAN and former president of Samsung Electronics, during The Autonomous Main Event on September 29. 

 

The automotive and technology industries have made significant advancements in bringing computerization into what has been exclusively a human function: driving. Consumers today already enjoy the benefits of a car that will automatically brake when it anticipates a collision or helps stay in its lane and the possibility of autonomous vehicles (AVs) dominating the roadways is increasing by the day.

However, even though AVs are on the fast track to availability, there are still barriers, including technological blind spots, a lack of universal safety standards, possible cybersecurity threats, and regulatory and liability challenges. Achieving widespread adoption will depend on a foundation of safety and reliability.

“Collaboration is not an option in the future world. Collaboration is a cornerstone to build an ecosystem for an autonomous future,” as HERE Technologies CEO Edzard Overbeek put it.

He was one of the keynote speakers at The Autonomous Hybrid Main Event in Vienna. Ricky Hudi, Chairman of the initiative, summed up the clear message throughout the event:

“The automotive industry is facing a historical chance. The upcoming years will redefine our understanding of mobility. Overcoming the safety challenges for truly automated driving cannot be mastered by a single OEM, Tier 1 or tech company.”

The participating industry leaders discussed today’s top issues and how best to untie the knots that are currently blocking the AV landscape.

Disruptive vs. Traditional — A recipe for innovation?  

Digitization, automation and new business models have revolutionized many industries, and the automotive industry is no exception. How can auto leaders prepare?

Established tech players as well as start-ups will play an important role in the development of AVs. Auto industry incumbents will have to collaborate with newcomers and invest in the development of new technologies and products. On the other side, disruptors will need OEMs (car manufacturers) to have the cars to take their technology on the road. At the end of the day, a collaborative ecosystem between the two is critical, especially when it comes to addressing complex safety challenges.

Alejandro Vukotich, vice president of automotive product management at Qualcomm reinforced this sentiment stating:

“We have innovative and disruptive companies in the space and we have traditional industries in the space. Each approach by itself is not taking us to where we have to be.”

Jody Kelman, General Manager of Lyft Autonomous, also spoke about the criticality of the two worlds — traditional and disruptive — joining forces.

“Both are necessary … It’s less about incremental innovation versus disruptive innovation, it’s more about where along the value chain you need to think about bringing the end-consumer into the process sooner rather than later.”

To achieve powerful value from collaboration there must be a constant feedback loop between OEMs and disruptors to guide innovation. Summing it up, “In the automotive industry, we need to collaborate on all domains of common interest,” said Reinhard Ploss, CEO of Infineon.

Certified Control with Safety Architectures 

Despite extraordinary efforts from many of the leading names in tech and automaking, widespread adoption of AVs still requires greater confidence in their safety. Trust is a psychological aspect, as Simon Segars, CEO of ARM stated, but technology can help support safety perceptions. While there isn’t a silver bullet to guarantee safety, starting with a common system architecture that is fundamentally built with safety in mind is the best first step. OEMs and technology suppliers cannot make this happen with a go-it-alone approach. Bernhard Augustin from VW’s software division CARIAD added:

“If we want to provide safety, we have to understand how each level — silicon, OEM, systems provider — works together. That’s the challenge.”

Stefan Poledna, CTO of TTTech Auto, described what a common architecture should look like:

“Every system can fail, especially the very complex systems. We have to talk about a common system architecture. In essence this means redundancy. We need an architecture where every point of failure can be mitigated.”

The only way to manage any potential for failure is to build an autonomous vehicle with a safety design in mind right from the start. The Autonomous already established in June of this year a first Working Group entitled “Safety & Architecture”, bringing together car manufacturers, technology, and research leaders to work towards a safe system architecture for self-driving vehicles.

How to define and measure safety is another obstacle holding back wide-scale AV adoption. Sagar Behere, director of systems and safety engineering at Aurora, hones in on how current safety standards have no consistent definition.

“With AVs, we have to bite the bullet and define what we mean by safety.”

How regulation can leave space for innovation 

Today, licensing and testing standards in the U.S. are being developed at the state level, rather than nationally, which may lead to potentially dangerous inconsistencies. When it comes to AVs and regulation, this topic was top of mind for many speakers. A panel made up of Candice Plotkin from Cruise; Gail Gottehrer from the law office of Gail Gottehrer; Brad Stertz, government director at Audi; and Benedikt Wolfers from the law firm PSWP to tackle these highly complex issues. The panel came to the same conclusion that regulators are moving in the field of tension between speed of regulation, legal certainty of regulation and space for innovation. According to Wolfers, this could be achieved “by implementing objectives and goals in a regulation but not defining how to reach them, which leaves the necessary space for innovation.” This is roughly how the first worldwide level 4 regulation is set up in Germany.

Is Artificial Intelligence Driving AV Development?  

AVs are equipped with multiple sensors to understand their surroundings and pathfind. To process this data, they need supercomputer-like, real-time capabilities — like those made possible by AI. While necessary to function, AI also comes with its challenges. Interacting with that many sensors and using that much data in real-time requires flawless computing speed and memory capabilities or the consequences could be deadly. Many also question how reliably AI can handle critical situations. According to a group of consumers surveyed, a top perceived risk for autonomous vehicles was performance risks (safety) of the vehicles’ AI and sensor systems. With any technology, AI included, failure is possible. This begs the question: what is considered to be acceptably safe?

“AI is a learned model based on a certain input. So, there is always a certain unknown part,” said Jan Becker, CEO at Apex.AI.

Understanding that there will always be potential for failure with AVs puts greater emphasis on the need for consistent safety standards and systems in place.

Georges Massing, vice president for MB.OS Automated Driving, Powernet & E/E Integration at Mercedes-Benz AG, said during his panel, that it is not only important to “architect your systems to be able to deal with the criticality of the [AI] failure,” but you must also learn from those errors by using the data collected from AI. “The more data you get, the better you understand the environment.” Once again, the importance of consistent technology architectures and standards, solidified only through collaboration, remains fundamental to safety.

The automotive industry is confronted with massive technological and legal complexities in the drive to bring safe, self-driving cars on the road. Collaboration is the answer and the insights shared during The Autonomous Main Event is further proof of how necessary it is for AV stakeholders to align on all issues to ensure safety. Georg Kopetz, CEO of TTTech Auto, captured the spirit of the event:

“Global collaboration is key to make safe autonomous evolution a reality. There is vast experience and deep know-how in all of our companies, but we have to bring together this knowledge in a pre-competitive environment.”

The Autonomous initiative mobilizes the entire AV industry. Already counting on multiple partners, such as renowned OEMs, automotive suppliers, technology companies, academia and semiconductors, The Autonomous welcomes all stakeholders who share the same collaborative vision to join the growing ecosystem and actively solve the industry’s biggest safety challenges.

By Iulia Baidac

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