8 March 2019

Brave New Wheel

I first wrote about the legal implications of autonomous vehicles approximately 15 years ago for another three6zero publication. Much that I predicted remains relevant and unanswered. However, the world has moved on with new powerful influencers like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Tesla and a new generation dependant upon smart devices with little aspiration to own a car.

This year’s Geneva Motor Show hosted its first Shift Conference with the Show’s Chairman Maurice Turrettini describing the event as a selling and debating show about new technolgies; or as Jens Heithhecker of Messe Berlin mentioned “a digital ecosystem with mobility as a service”. No coincidence speakers included Chaesub Lee of ITU Communications and WayRay’s Vitaly Ponomarev.

Last year Lord March said the Festival of Speed was the Davos of the auto industry; as such the Geneva Show was the “peace talks” of two super powers auto and tech. Will entente cordiale between the two occur or will one party be the loser?

Shift had a stellar cast under the engaging stewardship of Roger Lanctot of Automotive Connected Mobility. The tagline for the conference was “how the new technologies will change the way we think, live and drive.” Core themes included autonomous driving would drive road deaths to zero and reduce pollution and congestion. According to Bill Wyman of Harman International tomorrow’s “browsers on wheels” would be about experience per mile. Whilst Sarwant Singh of trend doyens Frost and Sullivan foresaw occupants of self-driving vehicles having the choice of up to 100 connected services.

One survey states 70% of the population would not ride in a self-driving vehicle but currently OEMs spend 15% of budgets on autonomous driving. Dimitri Konstantos of the Univesity Geneva refered to a “cat and mouse” between fast moving technlogy and regulation. Common international standards to combat automotive cyber crime is required.

Microsoft’s Avijit Sinha explained their systems were designed to complement OEMs with manufacturers owning the data.

Shift flagged that established manufactuers are concerned about tech companies building tech laden data embedded vehicles and cut out the old guard; after all it happened elsewhere like Netflix and traditional TV. OEMs have to be disrupters in their own yard. Polestar was one stand out at Geneva with its Polestar 2 using Volvo EV know how and Google tech. Autonomous vehicles are here because the likes of Waymo and Google say there is value in the technology. Dino Flore reckonned that the autonomous vehicles industry was worth $2.4 trillion to the auto sector. Auto makers can’t risk being left behind.

Bryn Balcombe of Roborace reaffirmed motorsport as an accerelerator for safety (endorsed at the FIA press call). Racing will be about intelligence and getting the autonomous driving cars to do things you would not dare with a human at the wheel. Bryn saw automous driving for all posing the question can a blind person drive a car?

Micro Mobility’s Oliver Ouboter visited basic principles. Do we need large heavy vehicles? Some of the solutions offered by autonomous vehicles are many years away. Meanwhile, his nimble mirco car inspired by the original “bubble cars” meets L70 category regulation (car meets bike).

Shift started a debate about established manufactuers prospects; their interaction with tech companies - allies or rivals? Can regulation keep pace with tech change. Do you configure the law and regulation first or use trial and error? Will the rural mobility market be the same as the city market? What about public perception and acceptance? What about cyber security and data protection? What about personal choice and freedom? What about IP ownership and where does the real value rest- car or tech?

Could 2019 be the year the OEMs reinvent themselves? This is not just about company structuring but a fundamental shift of how society interacts with mobility and the purchase of services.

As Aldous Huxley said in Brave New World- “Unorthodoxy threatens more than the life of mere indivudals; it strikes at Society itself.” Quite.


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