Everyone involved in the automotive sector, wherever they are in the world, has set their sights on the same target: the autonomous car. The future of the car is ever more closely entwined with new technologies, a fact well illustrated by the way trade shows have changed, with traditional automotive shows ceding the limelight to events focusing on applied electronics, like CES in Las Vegas. In 2018, a number of challenges face the sector.
Managing data in the connected car
Today’s cars are already connected and smart. Built-in cameras, radars and lidars can be used for real-time analysis of the vehicle’s environment, and these data sources are so powerful that the current solutions for processing the data are largely insufficient. Innovations over the next few years will therefore relate to the ability to transfer large volumes of data, which will have a positive impact on safety, as well as improving assistance.
Data transmitted from the server or from vehicle to vehicle enables on-board or remote systems to manage potential dangers. As such, thanks to warnings about road accidents, weather changes, faults in the road or blockages, vehicles will be able to reduce their speed prior to reaching them, which will increase safety and improve traffic flow. In addition, an increased ability to remotely analyse problems arising in a vehicle will make it possible to apply the right remedy within seconds. Some makers already carry out immediate analyses of the causes of breakdowns so that the appropriate assistance can be provided (e.g. by sending out a breakdown truck or technician with the necessary parts).
Applying these innovations to other sectors
Many current innovations, when approved for and applied to a single vehicle, will, in the future, enable fully autonomous cars to be manufactured for sale. Automotive OEMs currently collaborate with most makers on developing these new features.
In the coming years, research is set to intensify even further on new built-in systems for improving traffic flow and reducing the risks of accidents, as well as contributing to driver well-being. Driver assistance systems will also have a positive impact on safety and mobility for the elderly – an important area of development in Europe’s ageing society.
Advances made in the automotive sector also have considerable potential for being used in a range of other sectors, notably medical services (ambulances, patient transport) and the emergency services. As human resources are sometimes insufficient, some areas could benefit from autonomous vehicles that enable emergency teams to focus on the task of providing assistance. The innovations could also easily be applied to security and the police services. And while these ideas would have been considered science fiction a few years back, they are now a reality!
Adopting a sustainable approach
Integrating innovations into cars is a long process in terms of development, validation and investment. New technologies are becoming more and more complex. However, for efforts to achieve better performance to be sustainable and for the innovations to be really applied, it is important to think in the long term: the level of management risk is high. From another perspective, it is critical for the environmental impact to be managed too.
We must bear in mind, however, that these considerations do not only relate to the electric car, which, despite popular belief, is not a solution to pollution. It is perhaps rather a new source of pollution, only shifted geographically. It is true that the urban landscape will be improved by it (with fewer particles and less smoke and noise), but we know that, using current practices, producing electricity is not carbon-neutral and there is still a long way to go in terms of recycling batteries. Innovations need to involve the use of alternative energy sources: hydrogen, fuel cells and all those other solutions that we haven’t even imagined yet.
Another area of potential improvement is making after-sales services better geared towards the repair of on-board systems. Increased ability to carry out automotive repairs makes it possible to avoid over-production, reduce costs when breakdowns occur and, lastly, reduce the need for recycling and storage of waste. The benefits are incalculable.
Creating innovations in the automotive sector is good, but getting them adopted is better! Opinions are currently divided on the question of whether or not users are ready to adopt autonomous cars. One thing is sure though: they all want their cars to be equipped with all the available innovations. And with current road conditions being as they are, driver assistance services are becoming a necessity. In France, however, despite advanced R&D in the automotive sector and very strong skills in engineering and industry, users seem to be more conservative than in, for example, Japan. Over the next few years, the big challenge will therefore be to gain their trust in these new ways of getting around.
Edited by Ken Briodagh