Autonomy is a given, so what's next? Susan Kuchinskas reports from TU-Automotive’s Consumer Telematics Show 2017.

Innovation was the major theme of the Consumer Telematics Conference 2017, held this week in Las Vegas. Autonomous driving itself was positioned as a given: automakers will continue on the evolutionary path to true, Level 5 autonomy. The technology is there. The new questions are, where's the white space that autonomy will open and who will fill it?

It was, therefore, fitting that venture capitalists Chris Thomas of Fontinalis Partners and Shahin Farshchi of Lux Capital kicked off the conference, held on the eve of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Farshchi gave an example of the kind of innovation Lux looks for. Thanks to Uber, Lyft and their ilk, he said: “Ride-hailing is abundant right now. So, what does that make scarce? Opportunities can be built around the abundance that Uber has created.” No, he didn't answer that question – that’s up to start-ups to figure it out.

Fontinalis is investing in all aspects of next-generation mobility, including trains, shipping and bikes, as well as cars and busses, said Thomas. He's especially interested in the impact that artificial intelligence will have on autonomy.

Open path for developers

Sandy Lobenstein, vice-president of connected strategy and product planning for Toyota NA, joined Don Butler, executive director of connected vehicle and services with Ford Motor Company, to discuss their announcement of the SmartDeviceLink Consortium.

Ford originally developed SmartDeviceLink to enable a branded user experience in a safe and seamless way, Butlersaid. In addition, he said: “From a developer's standpoint, there's a freedom in how your app operates in the vehicle that you might not have with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. We're enabling a market for developers that would be attractive.” For Toyota, Lobenstein said: “It's good because it simplifies integration for the OEM and the app maker. The app maker can easily integrate SDL into their platform and have access to multiple OEMs.”

Cognitive cars

This was a concept introduced in a panel led by ABI Research analyst Dominique Bonte. ABI expects the install rate of in-vehicle AI to grow from 8% to 109% by 2025. A present example is OLLI, an on-demand, driverless shuttle developed by Local Motors and powered by IBM Watson. It greets riders in a cheerful, human voice and can answer questions and josh with them. “What makes OLLI cool is its personality; that's where cognitive artificial intelligence comes into play,” said Sachin Lulla, global leader of Watson IoT for Auto leader at IBMWatson.

Wireless battle

One source of debate was how to implement V2X communications. There are plenty of proponents on both sides. Stressing the importance of increased safety, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) administrator Dr. Mark Rosekind pointed to his agency's notice of rulemaking to mandate V2V communications for light vehicles.

NHTSA's rule may be too little too late, however, with the growing momentum for 5G. Strategy Analytics’s Roger Lanctot noted that Chinais a fast-growing automotive market that's pondering V2V but it hasn't decided which technology to use. Its advantage is that it can mandate whatever it wants. Moreover, Huawei is a strong advocate of the 5G approach, he said. “That decision will have a big impact.”

Jim Mazurek, assistant vice-president of automotive sales and business development for Neusoft, said his company and many others have been developing and testing DSRC since the late nineties. “It's disappointing that we can't get our heads together and just go out and do it,” he said. Because of this lag, he thinks that, while the United Statesis ahead of the rest of the world in terms of V2V innovation, Chinacould take the lead within two years.

Legislative tipping point

Of course, NHTSA also released a model state policy and clarified the roles of the Feds and the states. The semi-autonomy of the states is a mixed blessing. While it's good to have that clarity, and democracy is seen as a positive thing, varying state regulations could be a barrier to innovation in autonomy and connectivity.

Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan DoT, outlined the recent legislation his state has enacted to eliminate hurdles to testing and licensing autonomous vehicles. “There are economic components and quality-of- life issues but it's mostly about safety for us,” he said. April Sanborn of the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) noted that her state was first to license driverless cars in 2012. Since then, the DMV has revised the regulations in cooperation with industry partners and other agencies, she said.

Bold statements

Speakers were not afraid to be brash. Mike Cottle, vice-president of sales and business development for RideCell, promised to help carmakers disrupt ride-hailing companies with their own services – and he backed it up with the success of early roll-outs of BMW's ReachNow. Thomas of Fontinalis said that autonomous vehicles, with all their enabling technologies and services, are the greatest opportunity of his lifetime. Lanctot noted that, despite the meme that car ownership is dwindling, in fact, automotive is one of the few industries that's still growing. “In the developing world, they are just graduating from two wheels to four wheels and it’s a dream for them. That's where lot of growth will come from,” he said.

Security is critical and automakers should not accept any vulnerabilities in the OS kernel, said Joe Fabbre, director of platform solutions for Green Hills Software. No one could disagree with that. There was also agreement among a panel discussing paid subscriptions for connected-car services. Probably not going happen was the consensus.

Don't clutter up the HMI was another area of agreement in a panel of the human/machine interface. “[The market is] already tapering back a little,” said Joe Cusumano, senior sales manager for Blackberry QNX. “For a while, a lot of features got added in; now, we're realizing it's too much information. As all these autonomous features start flooding the driver, it will be important to keep same lesson in mind. Don't overwhelm the driver and don't go too far before we understand what works.”

Smart cities move ahead

While it didn't win the Smart Cities Challenge, Las Vegashas a strong start in implementation, according to Tina Quigley, general manager of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada. Because her commission has responsibility for the bus transit system, metropolitan planning and roadway funding, while handling traffic management at the regional level, it was able to work with Audi to implement Audi's Traffic Sign Recognition system. Said Quigley: “My definition of a smart city is using data so you become more efficient with every one of your tax dollars.”

Grayson Brulte, co-chair of the City of Beverly Hills' autonomous vehicle task force, said his little city is well-positioned for autonomous driving with its lack of potholes, good weather and 3D mapping. In fact, in February, it will close down iconic Rodeo Drivefor an all-day autonomous driving demonstration that will let consumers try out the cars.

Barriers to leap

Avery Ash, autonomous vehicle market strategist for INRIX, identified three roadblocks to rolling out autonomous driving:

1.      Consumer acceptance. The industry needs to validate safety and capabilities and show tangible benefits.

2.      Public sector support. Governments at the state and federal level should ensure that they understand the technology that's being tested without impeding innovation.

3.      Insufficient industry collaboration. This is changing and coalitions are now forming to share information and educate public about the technology.

As is traditional, Lanctot closed the conference with a wealth of statistics about the connected-car market. ADAS is a fast-growth area, he said, and it's the path to full autonomy. He said, “OEMs need to keep in mind the revolutionary impacts while following the evolutionary path.”

TU-Automotive Detroit 2017

07 Jun 2017 - 08 Jun 2017, NOVI, USA

The Undisputed Home of the Connected, Autonomous Car. With 150 speakers, 200 booths and 3000 attendees it's the world's biggest conference & exhibition dedicated to automotive tech. innovation.