In the near future, cars will be expected to do much more than just transport you from ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B’.
Just like the smartphone brought innumerable changes to the telephone, connected cars are poised to usher in a new era of connected mobility expected to be radically different to the model of transport seen on our roads today.
That future is now being re-imagined at the Geneva International Motor Show.
Amid the show’s glitz and glamour, leaders from companies such as Microsoft, Volkswagen, Harman and Qualcomm met with leaders of smaller auto and tech startups – as well as academic, technical and business analysts – to discuss their visions for the future of smart mobility at the Shift Automotive Forum and the Future Networked Car Symposium – both co-organized by ITU.
Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) and connected fleets may transport goods and people with far less risk of loss due to accidents on road. Autonomous delivery drones may drop off online purchases to your door. Without a steering wheel or driver’s seat, the car itself may transform into a mini-office on wheels. In fact, the car you ‘drive’ may not be your car anymore, with ‘car sharing’ seen as a very compelling model for future transport.
Whatever the future holds, experts posit that future networked cars will be connected, increasingly autonomous, much safer and very much tied into the sharing economy.
One person dies every 24 seconds on the world’s roads, according to data from a recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO). Connected cars are expected to make cars and streets safer for passengers and pedestrians.
Technologies such as driver assistance systems, lane keeping, adaptive cruise control, collision warning and blind-spot monitoring are now making their way into all vehicle models. Sensors are taking the place of human senses, and artificial intelligence is substituting for human intelligence, all in the interests of making driving safer.
“By prioritizing safety, technology will provide a way of leapfrogging the ever-worsening global road safety crisis … and the global tragedy around the world and suffering caused by road traffic crashes,” says Jean Todt, President of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile and the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Road Safety.
“What is the goal of these autonomous vehicles?” asks Anne Mellano, VP of Operations and co-founder of Bestmile, which provides tech platforms for mobility services, such as fleets of autonomous shuttles. “Is it just to replace individual vehicles with individual autonomous ones? No, we need to shift from the ownership economy to the shared economy.”
“The mobility of tomorrow should decrease congestion, reduce pollution and increase safety,” said Sebastian Ruffino, Head Business Development & Strategic Alliances at Bestmile.
Not only will this reduce traffic congestion and emissions, but it will allow a new form of mobility that enables traditionally excluded groups such as people in poverty, or persons with disabilities, to benefit from improved mobility services.
Car-sharing and smart mobility services appears to be where a significant part of the market is going, experts agreed.
“The auto industry is at an inflection point,” said Avijit Sinha, Senior Director of IoT and Intelligent Edge for Microsoft, as he told the audience how Microsoft is partnering with carmakers to help the auto industry transform into a ‘mobility services’ industry to meet shifting consumer demands. This is part of the 5 billion USD he said Microsoft is set to spend on IoT-related products and services.
Many of the expert speakers spoke about how car ownership in cities and suburbs is expected to decline as the use of scooters, bicycles and public transport increases.
“People need most efficient means to get from Point A to Point B,” even if that means multiple means of transport, said Mr Sinha. “It is really important to weave all these forms of transport into one fabric.”
Experts highlight that car-sharing models look to hold more potential for profit than ride-hailing models such as those pioneered by Uber and Lyft. The profitability of mobility services such as ride sharing, and their high potential for growth, make the concept a very disruptive one.
“What we are seeing is a very aggressive creative destruction going on with the carmakers,” says Roger C. Lanctot, Director of Automotive Connected Mobility at Strategy Analytics during an interview. “All of these technologies that they’re looking at – electrification, autonomy, mobility services – they’re all undermining, challenging, reformatting the existing business models.”
How will carmakers adapt to a marketplace where cars are manufactured to be shared, not sold?
One possibility is that, rather than sell cars to dealerships, carmakers may run fleet operations providing transportation services directly to consumers, explains Lanctot.
“Companies like Ford, VW, GM and Renault have the very beginnings of fleet operations, which means a whole different value proposition … We are reformatting the entire automotive industry,” he said.
“We can’t just sell cars and forget about them anymore. It’s a whole product lifecycle driven by tech updates,” said Lanctot. “The car is actually a browser on wheels. Google makes a ton of money off advertising. What about car companies?”
The world’s first fully electric self-driving racing car shows how far we have come and the possibilities that lie just around the corner.
Bryn Balcombe, the Chief Strategy Officer at Roborace, discussed how advancements in automobiles often happen first on the race track. And he argued that to build trust in these new technologies, people need to see them in action in a real environment.
He discussed the power of Roborace, a live race track where self-driving cars maneuver in the real world. This race shows audiences the power of self-driving cars and the future that lies ahead.
The next generation of mobile technology, 5G, is just around the corner, and carmakers are ready for the faster speeds, higher precision and increased range of applications that the technology will bring.
“It’s an exciting time for the telecommunication world. We are introducing 5G. How can we work together with the transport system? It’s very exciting for me that the communications world and automakers are working together,” said Dino Flore, VP of Technology at Qualcomm.
And 5G is expected to improve road safety, says Johannes Springer from 5G Automotive Association, a global organization for car and tech companies to work together, but only if we use the data properly says Springer.
“There’s a common agreement in the industry: cellular networks play an important role in transport,” says Springer. “But the usage of cellular networks for safety is not being fully used. We have a lot of data and information, but it is not being used on a broad scale… Let’s discuss how to increase the speed of using this information.”