Car tech beyond the connected: what does the future hold for India and the world?
According to MarketsandMarkets, 37.7 million connected vehicles will be sold globally by 2022, and India will be building the software for these cars. And some of these technologies will come to India sooner than we think.
In the heat of the Bosch proving grounds, in Boxberg, Germany, all makes of cars, from tarmac-burning Porches to ordinary Polos, are racing across the tracks. These are testing technologies that make them intelligent. Some of them have technology that helps them make real-time decisions. The monochrome camera, for instance, serves as the eyes of the car — it can make the car brake by itself at 40 kmph when, say, an unseen cyclist pedals through. Similarly, the radar, LIDAR and ultrasound on them are meant to prevent fatal accidents.
Then there are others who are building connected vehicle modules. If one drives in New York or Miami one would see cars interact with each other. The software and hardware for cars in these two cities is being built out of Bengaluru by Savari Inc. This technology will add to the safety of cars travelling on major roads at stipulated speeds by sharing information about accidents and traffic conditions. “These technologies will become standard in the next decade,” says Saighiridhar V, Senior Engineering Director at Savari Inc.
However, India has rubbished the need for connected vehicles. Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari recently said that connected vehicles will not make sense in India. But the fact remains that technologies are being built so fast that some of them will come to India irrespective of what anybody says. After all, haven’t we made it mandatory for all new cars to have airbags and ABS from April 2018?
Although connected technologies such as vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure modules will not be available in India until 2031, technologies like in-vehicle diagnostic services, passive and active safety systems will come in faster than we think.
In a real sense a connected car is a vehicle that will connect to the infrastructure on the cloud, where data and services are managed on a real-time basis. Here the smartphone and the car's telematics screen become the interface for sharing information on a real-time basis.
This summer, the discourse around artificial intelligence and connected devices has made its way into government circles, which are now actively debating their use. Germany, for instance, has appointed a constitutional judge to head an ethics committee to study AI in cars. The objective is to find the answer to a fundamental question: How does the car decide whose life it has to save?
“You look at a vehicle of the future. It is about algorithms that will play an active role in the entire experience of driving, which includes safety and entertainment” says Rolf Bulander, Chairman of Mobility Services, Robert Bosch GmbH. He says this includes autonomous cars and those that will be connected to the cloud; these cars will be secured by the automobile company or a cloud service provider, which will be managed by Bosch.
In Bengaluru, at Continental Automotive, Dr Bernhard Klumpp, Executive Vice President, Passive Safety & Sensorics Business Unit, and member of its Management Board, Chassis & Safety Division, is working with 200 engineers to prepare technologies that can fit the lifecycle and maturity of each country in accepting connected technologies. Continental is readying passive safety systems like ABS and airbags to go in cars that cost less than $10,000 in India.
“Today, algorithms for cloud-based cars are still in the lab stage. Homologation of these technologies for specific markets will be a challenge. But technologies that save people will be in-built in cars,” says Klumpp. He adds that the controllers that supports the integration of active and passive safety systems require clear design rules of the software before they enter any market. Continental, for instance, is working with controllers that predict a crash and its outcomes in milliseconds, which will assist in the opening of side airbags in a roll over.
The three-point agenda
The essence of all the work being done in the automotive world today is driven by the following goals or agenda:
- Sustainability/ electrified mobility
- Future of connected consumer services (home to car to office & ride sharing)
Here are some examples of the technologies that are geared to these larger goals:
The car as a chauffeur: Bosch and Continental are making the car a chauffeur with a 360-degree view. Bosch has put in 1,400 hours of work, which has essentially entailed the use of 1,300 metres of cable, 400 cable ties and 50 new components, into the testing of the Tesla Model S, which is capable of automated driving. The vehicle drives autonomously on highways without the driver needing to monitor the car. The vehicle perceives its surroundings and its sensors crunch data to recognise the environment. The Human Machine Interface informs the driver when a stretch of the road is available for automated driving, which allows the driver to relax. The vehicle can even sense if the person has shut his eyes for a long period. It first sends warning signals and if the person does not take control of the car, the vehicle is able to drive to safe zones on the highway and call emergency services.
Car’s that can park itself: The driver can get out of the car and pull out the smartphone to activate the park function. The car will use park assist cameras, by triangulating its environment, to navigate the car to up to 100 metres to park by itself. The car can also drive back to where the person is standing when they want to exit the area.
Changing Internal designs thanks to automated driving: The entire seating of the car changes thanks to automated driving. The seating is going to become variable, which means they are four rotating lounge chairs that allow a face-to-face seat configuration. There is continuous exchange of information between vehicle, passengers and the outside world. The passenger can connect with the car through gesture controls through several displays attached. The first such car is going to be launched by Daimler along with Bosch in five years.
Reducing emissions: Car manufacturers are working hard to meet regulatory requirements of the Euro6 emission norms, which aims to drop CO2 from 120 gm to 95 gm per km by 2020. It is in this area that sensor technology is being pushed to the limits. This requires sensors at the fuel injection and exhaust gas levels to work in tandem to reduce the CO2.
Electric Mobility: The Mahindra & Mahindra Group and Ashok Leyland have their own electric vehicle platforms. Electric vehicles have not been able to scale up thanks to the lack of infrastructure. However, that is going to change with startups like Sun Mobility planning set up the infrastructure across the country. The Niti Aayog recently announced that India wants a large all-electric fleet by 2030. 1
“The future is to harness solar energy and support electric vehicle infrastructures,” says Chetan Maini, Co-founder of Sun Mobility.
Smart car services: Every company is working on smartphone integration. The future cars will be keyless and will be encrypted digitally. There will be “over the air” software updates that will have eCall and concierge services.
Today, predictive diagnostics is becoming popular and some vehicle brands already offer diagnostic services, However, predictive and prescriptive diagnostics is yet to get scale. Google’s Android Auto and Apple’s Car Play is available in more than 200 cars across the world. These applications can be mirrored on to the car’s telematics unit and controlled by voice or gestures. Here the race is to get data of the customer while they are driving. “It will be a collaborative world in the automobile industry thanks to smartphone integrations,” says Purnima Kochikar, Head of Business Development for Google Play.
India is making ABS compulsory in bikes and cars. Automakers like Maruti Suzuki are already integrating some of their apps on to the telematics unit of the car by allowing customers to use Car Play and Android Auto.
“The objective of all these technologies is to bring fatalities down and improve driving experiences in crowded urban experiences,” says Klumpp of Continental. He says the future is in making cities and human life smarter. A lot of these technologies are being built in India, and it is only a matter of time when these technologies will leapfrog policy and consumption will force policy to regulate these technologies.
For now, there are 30,000-odd engineers working out of Bengaluru to create software for the connected cars of the future, for the world. May be India too needs to study how the best of machine and human capital can be used to create cars of the future that will drive here first rather than internationally.