Cultural influences could stand in the way of autonomous and electric mobility, Fast Future Research’s Rohit Talwar tells Paul Myles.

Driverless and electrification could be set to break-up our concept of globalisation where nations seek different mobility solutions based more on cultural than economic constraints.

That’s the scene being painted by futurist and co-founder of commercial consultant Fast Future Research, Rohit Talwar. While Talwar sees a very clear pathway to achieving mass adoption of the technology, he also sees the different nations moving at varying paces towards its adoption. He points to India’s recent announcement that it would never allow driverless technology fearing the economic disaster or high unemployment among its 1.3Bn population.

He explained: “Then you have emerging nations like India where you have story that only a tiny fraction of the society drive cars. It would be an absolute hell if say 40% of the population drove cars because it would be gridlock – the roads aren’t good enough, driver behaviour is appalling – so for them driverless cars would be the way to go because it’s a leap-frog technology. India could take this bold step as it has done by taking large notes out of the currency system in a fight against corruption.”

For other countries Talwar sees the technology broken down into four main elements each with opportunities and challenges to meet.

Robotic technology

“The first is the technology that enables a vehicle to be driverless and lots of people are trying to move ahead with artificial intelligence (AI), deep learning, machine learning and generative adversarial networks to run our vehicles and make all the same sort of decisions that an on-board computer would make today plus those that a human would make,” said Talwar. “Of course, all the problems we have heard so far with the technology, is down to us not yet having enough data for the machine to make a split-second decision.”

Logistics

“This is something of a hybrid with the technology that is about the regulations required to get these cars on the road. It’s also about sufficiently strong geo-mapping to ensure cars have near perfect information and that relies on us moving to the IoT where every piece of street furniture has information in it and, in rural areas, it would have to come down to every tree and fence post. These would all have to be feeding information into the Cloud.

“The other part of logistics is knowing what to do in those situations and this is where, as is happening in the aerospace industry, the vehicles will have to start doing their own mapping and growing their own information.”

Manufacturers

“These will have to decide at what level to just in to driverless technology. Here we will see the existing players getting mired in the lower Levels 2, 3 and 4, while the new players will just go to fully autonomous Level 5.”

Societal attitudes

Talwar sees societal influences as among one of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of mass adoption of driverless technology. He explained: “It used to be that many people saw the car as a thing of beauty, of power or a status symbol. Now, there is a growing generation coming through, and it’s not just an age-related generation, who see cars merely as a service and don’t care what the car is or what it looks like. In the same way a people don’t care what type of bus or train they get on.

“So it comes down to whether the consumer feels safe driving in a car they have no control over? There are a lot of societal adaptive issues that have to be addressed even though they seem a long way off being resolved right now. Into this, if you add all the legal, moral and ethical issues that the car will have to answer. ‘Do I crash the car a kill the 35-year-old investment banker in the back and save the 25-year-old environmental innovator walking on the pavement?’ We do not have a formal structure today to make those choices we all do that in a split-second in our heads. The car can’t do that – it will have to justify its decision making.”

Cultural influences

Yet, despite the seemingly unstoppable march of autonomous and electric powertrain technology, Talwar sees the role of the future car being applied differently dependent on a nation’s historical relationship with the automobile. He said: “The US is a car-owning nation and it has become part of the national identity. Yet, other nations do not have this so much and will be asking ‘how quickly can we get out of cars to become the most environmental nation on the planet?’

 “China, too, could well decide to be a totally electric nation very quickly and make it work. For them it’s also about building an ecosystem – the manufacturing, the insurance models, the usage models, the street infrastructure. All of this they can take to other countries they are economically involved with and deliver that country the entire ecosystem in a package. This will be very attractive for countries who want to leap-frog forward with this technology.”

Talwar believes, however, that commercial vested interests will, ultimately, see the spread of advanced mobility solutions even despite cultural reluctance by some nations. He explained: “I could see the two biggest populations in the world going in different directions – China going electric and autonomous while India clings on to petrol and human driven cars. That’s until companies start leaving and want to go to another country where it’s easier to get around and do business.”

[Mob.Myles.2017.07.26]

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