Nand Kochhar and I begin a two-part discussion on the development of autonomous vehicles and shared mobility systems. Our discussion focuses on the overall trends that are intertwined with the development of self-driving cars. Some key topics include regulations and policy, partnerships, and how companies can most effectively marry the many disciplines involved in AV development. The transcript of our conversation is below:
Conor Peick: So back to autonomy, which I think a lot of people view as the next evolution of the vehicle when it can start to drive itself. So far, what we’ve seen is the industry taking these you could say bite-sized, but I think that would maybe minimize the challenge for each step – but these kind of one step at a time moving up through the levels of autonomy from level one up to the full autonomy. But I’m curious what it will take to reach true self-driving fully autonomous vehicles?
Nand Kochhar: Yeah, as you said, there’s two approaches that some companies – or the trend so far has been – continue to address the issues, continue to grow, starting with, for example, the braking related functions only and then into the steering aspect of it and now you can see into the SAE level three when you’re combining the mapping and the route planning and the availability of information wherever the vehicle is gonna go. That’s one approach and I think a good chunk of layers are still on that path of growing, learning more, and maturing, and going towards autonomy. On the other hand, there’s something new going on as well within the industry that some companies have come to the realization that continues to add more chips, more systems, and chips and being able to work efficiently might not be really possible if you want to get a true SAE level five autonomy. There’s too much information which is collected – gigabytes, terabytes of data coming in on a live basis every few milliseconds – and then the ability to process that information, it might need a totally new kind of thinking a new electrical architecture, new sensors, and ability to process at a sensor level. Things of that nature. Only then you’ll be able to get to the practical SAE level five, which we’re calling ‘full autonomy’. So, that’s on the technical side of things.
Nand Kochhar: At the same time, for full level five autonomy, a lot of other things need to happen, starting from regulations to the requirements imposed in different countries. As you know, even in today’s environment, the regulations are different from country to country and across the regions – sometimes multiple requirements within the same countries, etc, as well. So there’s the regulation side of it, and then there’s the legal side of it. Who’s going to be responsible for some of these things? So, there are several factors feeding into when you’ll be able to hit full autonomy. So I think there’s the technical aspect of it, there is the model you describe today, going from a level one to level five, companies attempting that, and then there’s new thinking about we might need a new electrical architecture, processing of information, new sensor technologies, new processing technologies, and getting to autonomy of that way. Those are several different scenarios.
Conor Peick: The concern with autonomous vehicles seems to be that the current architectural philosophy won’t scale up to the level required for an autonomous vehicle. Is that correct?
Nand Kochhar: Yeah. One of the thoughts is to continue to push on current architecture and also taking a look at new electrical architectures. And also combining that with the advances happening in the semiconductor, the chip industry, and how the chip itself and the systems on chip is becoming an integral part of solving that equation on full autonomy.
Conor Peick: And then you also mentioned some regulatory concerns. And when that gets brought up, it always makes me think of, you know, companies having to work closely with cities and even at the country level that they want to be operating in. And I think this also brings us into the idea of shared mobility or mobility as a service where companies are starting to investigate new models of providing vehicles to people, whether it’s through ownership or through this mobility as a service idea. So, I’m curious, how do you see new mobility or shared mobility tying together the multiple ongoing trends in the automotive industry?
Nand Kochhar: Yeah, sure. There are two aspects we touched on. One is the regulations which is working with the safety authorities and the regulatory bodies within the countries. So for us, in the US, for example, NHTSA – National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – you would work with them. What are the safety standards just like we have for today’s automobile, what are they going to be for the autonomous vehicle environment? That aspect of it. The second part is, the vehicle is going to be connected. In order to deliver full autonomy, it needs to be connected to the city infrastructure, for example, with the traffic lighting systems and the pedestrian walking in the cities, it needs to be connected at that level, in addition to connected power grades within a city for managing the overall traffic. So, that’s working with the cities.
Nand Kochhar: That’s very interesting when it comes to your next question on mobility as a service, which is to deliver the holistic user experience for the customers. That’s what is bringing the new business models and also touching on what’s called a multimodal transportation system. It doesn’t have to be necessarily the way it is today, that car or automobile is your only vehicle, which takes you from point A to point B. You’re combining a lot of different modes of transportation to go from point A to point B, and have the holistic experience a person wants. So, it could be a combination of you taking a train up to a certain point and you drove your vehicle to the train station. And then, once you land in the city, you’re using electric scooters or shared mobility, taking a shuttle from point A to point B. So, those are all coming together. The idea in there is, what is given, all the congestion in the city, other global trends of megacities and what’s possible and driving from the environment standpoint with restrictions in certain countries, cities might put what they allow within their infrastructure or not, driving the need for all this new mobility and the shared mobility in the new business models.
Conor Peick: And then are major automakers trying to shift their structure, their business model to adapt to these trends?
Nand Kochhar: Yes, my experience, my observation from all the things I see, my view is every automaker who is planning to be in business for the next several decades and centuries, it’s always been thinking about these kind of things. It’s pretty apparent from all the industry conferences we attend and the industry-standard bodies – we learn that people in the auto industry are thinking about all these things. And the ones who have a vision to be a viable business for the next century, are taking actions investing, and continually studying these trends and how they need to adapt within their business models as well. And I think you touched on one of the other things. That’s also where – to your previous question on these partnerships because now the whole ecosystem is getting so complex and for the companies, if they can’t address all aspects of it on their own, they at least have a vision and a plan and then they create partnerships with other companies, other businesses, and the cities, and the governments to deliver to that vision.
Conor Peick: So, these partnerships are going to be really critical in achieving this vision?
Nand Kochhar: Definitely! Partnerships are going to be very, very critical to this holistic role we’re talking about because it’s no longer about just an automobile. It’s about the holistic experience and it is how to be more efficient, not only just from a cost perspective but the time it takes to go from point A to point B. It’s all about transportation and that’s where these partnerships are coming into play at all levels.
Conor Peick: And then, as we look towards this future, the future of potentially shared autonomous mobility, what are things that companies, automakers need to be doing not only to remain competitive but also to realize this future of transportation and to thrive and succeed?
Nand Kochhar: So, the most important thing – which I said, most companies do – which is monitoring these trends. And these are societal trends. These are not just trends for automobiles. What is going on? If the world population is going to continue to grow, obviously, globalization, things are changing in different parts of the world in a different way. But one thing you can see is a continuous growth of people moving from rural areas into urban areas, and then cities are getting congested. Then, there’s megatrends of that shift causing megacities – in almost every country you can name a few of them, so it’s no longer that only New York or San Francisco are the megacities, but every part of the world, whether it’s in Asia – you go to China, it’s not just Shanghai and Beijing; you will see more and more cities popping up which are a definition of megacities, whether it’s in Mexico City, or whether it’s anyplace else in the world. So, those trends are causing the need for a mix of more transportation and a need for innovation for all these business models.
Conor Peick: Yeah, as cities continue to grow and become these centers of modern life, it seems likely that our current methods of getting around won’t be able to handle the additional stress.
Nand Kochhar: That’s right! And it’s pretty obvious and it’s kind of happening in other parts of the world. We’ve seen in cities putting limitations on the total number of vehicles allowed, in certain parts of the world, sleaze issue, that limit the number of plates they issue for vehicles to enter and they put all kinds of restrictions to manage the environment, both from a congestion standpoint and also from an environmental standpoint.
Conor Peick: And then, from the company side, again for the automakers, the tech companies, all these groups that are trying to claim their share of the future automotive market, this really comes back to pursuing that digitalization, digital solutions throughout the company. Is that correct?
Nand Kochhar: So, these companies are going after transportation solutions – automobile is part of it – but the other modes as well. And that’s all connected to have a holistic experience. So, that’s where the technology companies come and play even a bigger role because they have the technologies which were in the software world side of the business as well as the semiconductor companies coming in from the hardware perspective – and then marry all these things: the Software, Technology, the know-how of the automotive industry and the manufacturing aspect of it – bringing that combination together. And digitalization or digital transformation is a common thread in all those companies, all these things coming together. The whole idea is, if you have the information in a digital environment, then you can act upon that, then you can make some analytics, and the decision-making to deliver that efficient solution. A lot of it we talk on also goes into combining what’s called IoT and the analytic side of the business where you’re trying to do a big closed-loop process and create a digital twin of the physical environment and a digital environment so that you can make the decisions fast and you can make the right decisions to deliver efficiency. So that’s what is bringing all these technologies and the transportation companies, the auto companies, together to deliver that.