No, self-driving cars are still not around the corner

March 20, 2018

Self-driving carAutonomous cars have been a hot topic for a couple of years now. It is indeed a very interesting and complex technical challenge connected to potential resolution of very serious problems and innovative use cases. But it is also about culture and liability which I believe always takes very long time to cope with.

The tragic news that a car in an autonomous trial in US killed a woman yesterday can’t be a surprise to anyone. There has been a lot of accidents with autonomous cars before, traffic is very dangerous and cars kill people every day. Each accident is followed up carefully to understand what happened, why and who is to be blamed for what. Traffic rules, law, policies, insurances, vendor responsibilities etc are in place to help deal with these tragic events. Here is the core problem with autonomous cars – when a car make a mistake, who is liable? And, do I want to meet self-driving cars on the road or fly airplanes without pilots?

Already in the Reuter article we start to see arguments about who owned the software in the car, which brand it had, if the car actually did anything wrong or if a person driving would have been able to avoid the collision. Also that the woman seems to have walked outside the crosswalk, that she had a bicycle and that she might have been homeless. But truth is that it is unclear who is responsible and for what.

I remain convinced that we will not have self-driving cars on normal roads together with other traffic and in normal speed until you and I are ready to have our kids walking to school meeting those cars. My best guess is not before 2030. And given that “rain, snow and ice are particularly challenging for autonomous cars” maybe we just should forget about it in Sweden.

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From Smart to Great Cities

November 22, 2017
most-beautiful-cities-barcelona-cr-gettyMost cities have jumped on the Smart City train and it is considered an important and good thing to do by virtually everyone. But it is unclear who drives that train, where it is going and when it will arrive. I prefer talking about Great Cities since that is something we all understand, can argue about and contribute to. A Great City to me is a safe, sustainable and efficient city where people are healthy and happy. A place I would like to live in, work in and visit. It takes systematic and continuous innovation to become and stay a Great City, and systematic innovation requires infrastructure and scalable platforms to be in place.

It is obvious that technology is a key tool to continuously make our cities better especially in terms of efficiency, sustainability, safety/security and convenience. These are the key deliverables of IoT so no wonder IoT is hot today. By connecting the physical world to the Internet of people and organisations already in place, IoT enables us to make processes completely digital thus more efficient and ready for “turbo effects” from things like Machine Learning. This drives digital transformation and the impact on people, businesses and cities will be as big as when internet arrived.

But this is not enough to make cities great. It is still primarily human beings living, working and visiting the cities why “core platforms” like decent infrastructure, healthcare, social care and education for all is required. So is an environment where people feel safe and can breathe fresh air, drink fresh water and enjoy their human rights. And not the least enjoy nature, art, design, good food and time with people they love and care for.

With my definition of Smart Cities as Great Cities I unfortunately can’t think of any. Many make progress on the technical side but when it comes to “core platforms” there is a lot more to wish for. The “core platform” we have in Sweden is relatively good which I believe attracts talent and explains some of the quite successful startup community we have, but we have ways to go.


Autonomous cars not around the corner

April 26, 2017

KITT_Knight_Rider2The car industry has its challenges. From being the ultimate provider of freedom, personal transportation and quality of life it now is supposed to solve the safety and sustainability issues it created. The very complicated and expensive cars of today are not utilised enough (5,5% according to my TeliaSense app), consume too much space, cause a lot of accidents and impact our planet badly when produced, used and discarded. It’s easy to suggest public transportation as an alternative but as soon as leaving the urban areas that is falling short. Intuitively the solution would include new ways of owning and using cars, electrical engines, even more safety features and cross-industry innovation within the car eco system. And since we can’t wait 10-15 years the cars already on the road must be included at least to some degree.

With this in mind I find today’s focus on self driving cars strange. We have continuous safety improvements in new cars, they are connected and loaded with sensors and most manufacturers have electric engines in some models. Also cars on the roads are being connected using the OBD port and offered services from the car eco-systems. But autonomous cars is what the industry, media and strangely enough IT companies are talking most about. I understand that manufacturers work on self driving cars since it’s a very complex challenge which will take many years to sort out, and it will bring continuous innovation to the cars down the road. But why talking so much about it already today? The technical challenges are big but not what will determine how soon we will see self-driving cars on the road. It’s culture, law and policies!

Take a look at airplanes. They are very complicated to make and fly but self-flying planes are here or at least around the corner depending on definitions. So are we ready for choosing flights with or without pilots? And which one would be cheaper? Imagine the first autonomous car running over a person or two in US, and what the penalties will do to the car maker involved. Some people argue we will have new infrastructure for self driving cars. But with new infrastructure I guess we could be more innovative than making cars without steering wheel.

The SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) classification for autonomous cars has six levels, from none (Level 0) to fully automated systems (Level 5). Level 3 is a vehicle in which within known, limited environments (such as freeways), the driver can safely turn their attention away from driving tasks, but must still be prepared to take control when needed. Berg Insight estimates registrations of 16,5M new Level 3 cars and 7,8M new Level 4 cars and no fully autonomous ones (Level 5) 2030.

I’m sure we can make very good but not perfect self-driving vehicles a couple of years from now but can’t see them being used on public roads for many years, unless very limited in speed. There has been some early progress when it comes to regulation here and there but I haven’t seen any progress in the field of liability yet. And I guess a generation or two of drivers will probably have to disappear from the roads before it happens.


Read my lips: new requirements on privacy approaching

December 17, 2016

dataprivacy_218266510-1200x545I never miss an opportunity to make the point that Security and Privacy are the two big challenges for IoT, and that privacy is the bigger one. Security problems can be fixed since we accept apologies and forget rapidly. Was it billions of accounts Yahoo? Privacy issues are different since it is about trust and without a proper architecture no service can cope with new requirements on privacy.

Most people respond along the lines of “I have nothing to hide” or “that’s the way people are these days”. But people living in countries where they don’t trust the government have a completely different point of view. In most western countries we have quite tough policies about what you can ask people in interviews for employment. But given the data available to employers today (provided from users by signature!) combined with data analytics, they already know much more than you can imagine, so they don’t need to ask.

This is the naive era and it will come to an end, soon! Your personal data is yours and you should only give it away if you think it is a good idea! And many organisations are equally naive today! Critical data has to be kept safe! Web services for IPR management might not be a good idea for example. At least not unless you know where the servers (and their backups) are.

The only architecture I know of today which can support future requirements on privacy, is that users own their data and opt in to share it. I’m working with Springworks in the automotive industry today. In our company, enabling mobile operators to connect cars, the owners of the cars own the data generated in the car and they opt in to insurance companies, road side assistance companies etc to get some of their data. Car manufacturers typically argue that they own the data.

Here is a good example of what will drive new requirements on privacy – a report from Democratic Media on how wearables are used to collect and sell health data. Is this something we want? I don’t think so. Consumers and enterprises will raise new requirements, and governments will follow with legislation. Proper architectures for privacy and trusted partners will be kings.

 


Respect!

December 10, 2016

volvo-productionTechnology driven innovation continues to challenge and change our world. Internet is the single most important enabler and the last big thing is the smart phone, which gave us new ways of using the Internet including apps. The iPhone is about 10 years old now and it’s time for the next big thing: connecting things to Internet, where we already have people, organisations and services. This will once again change lives, organisations, industries, companies, cities and governments in the same way and magnitude that the arrival of Internet made last time. But this time it will happen much faster since most of the bits and pieces already are in place. We call this IoT right now but soon it will just be Internet again. 

I always think that everything is a science. Regardless of what you look into in more details, it proves to be very complicated. I love the massive opportunities Internet brought and believe these will be even bigger now when we add things to it. But Internet has created a trend which I dislike: by leaving out the physical part of the equation (like running a taxi business without taxis or hotel business without hotels) we are dependent on others doing the hard “physical” part which is connected to places, people, boarders, re-cycling, communities, manufacturing etc. Not that there is anything wrong with entrepreneurs executing on these opportunities, not at all, but we all have to think a little further before celebrating or investing in these initiatives. I see a whole range of challenges, including the vulnerability of these businesses when it comes to policymakers and not the least when the incentives to provide the underlying activities or assets disappear. The Internet part alone also tends to become global leaving only one or few companies in the market (Facebook, Twitter, Google…). Put differently, we simply have to think about the type of society we want to live in.

With Internet of Things this becomes quite obvious. Data is the gold of IoT and a lot of companies are focusing on building business on that data. But without anyone connecting the things, the T in IoT, there will be no data. And when companies make the effort, I don’t think it is obvious that they will share all their gold with anyone anyway. At least not for free. On top of that I’m convinced human beings as well as organisations will become much more cautious with their data and how it is shared and used. Security and privacy are the two big challenges to IoT!

Another dimension of this is that the opportunity to disrupt using Internet has made a lot of people completely lose the respect for the underlying assets or activities. A good example of that is all IT/Internet companies announcing plans to build a car. There is nothing wrong with that, if you have funds to buy all skills and other assets it takes. But I have still to see a car manufacturer announcing that they will start make fridges, shoes, smartphones or Internet search engines. Maybe traditional companies have more respect for the complexity of other industries. 

I believe we all would benefit from a little bit more respect for how difficult it actually is to do different things. A hackathon with youngsters to innovate healthcare over a weekend is great education and fun but makes no sense from a healthcare point of view. An app to keep track on parking spaces is easy to do compared to building the infrastructure to provide all the information needed. The how of IoT is about collaboration and eco-systems, where all relevant players have an important role bringing their experience and know-how to the solution.


Inspiring example: Lightflex prints active light

September 3, 2016

lightflex-sports03Victoria and her team are true entrepreneurs! After many successful years, their current market weakened and through serious discussions with their customers they found the “next big thing” – printing active light. Sounds crazy but that’s what they do to respond to serious needs for people to be seen when falling into the ocean, running in the evenings, skiing, working in dangerous environments or simply to look fantastic. The material they have developed is connected to a battery and can be washed and applied on wearables, helmets and so on. When they won 2015 Outside Gear of the Show together with POC at Interbike 2015 in Las Vegas, their journey really took off.

Today Light Flex Technology are involved with a number of global brands who see great and innovative opportunities in their respective markets. The POC ski helmet is one of my favorites. Light Flex moved to THINGS from Barcelona about a year ago, have won a lot of awards and continue to excite people they get in front of like at the Grand opening of the Olympic Games in Brazil.

Small and big companies must learn how to work together

July 22, 2016

thingsenterprisecircleThe pace of technological development remains vivid and it takes great people and sharp focus to understand what to use it for and how. Like if this wasn’t challenging enough, a new generation of internet is rapidly emerging where things are added to the people and organisations already connected. The three key deliverables from IoT are efficiency, security and sustainability and this alone will make huge impact on business and society. Almost everything will be affected why it’s vital to start work on risks and opportunities in all fields now. The only big difference from when Internet arrived is that ignorance will not be an acceptable excuse this time.

Imagine combining 3D scanning, Internet, data analytics, design software and 3D printing. What would that do to fashion, retail, healthcare and distribution? Or heat cameras, drones, Internet, cloud computing and data analytics. What could that do to fire fighting, border control, building management and search for lost people.

We are facing huge change in the magnitude of when we went from farming to industry and it’s really time to start working on all the opportunities and issues.

Most new solutions involve connected hardware which makes life somewhat more difficult. Hardware adds complexity and time, requires financing, impact the environment directly and increase financial risks. Large scale manufacturing has moved to developing countries and with that also experience and skills. It’s quite easy to see the value added by data from the connected things but unless someone connect them there will be no data. We simply will have to cope with the fact that things will stay in the physical world even if the virtual world is much easier and faster to work with. One important implication of that is that innovative and successful startups with hardware as part of their solution hardly can scale up to become global since it will take too long time. This is why we have to learn how to transform innovation in sharp startups to value creation in large international companies.

We started the hardware hub THINGS downtown Stockholm in March 2015 to learn how to make this transformation. We have some 30 carefully selected startups and Sweden’s biggest maker organisation in our 2000 m2 building at the campus of KTH Royal Institute of Technology. And we have a handful of export companies including ABB, Assa Abloy, NCC and Husqvarna as main partners. Since hardware is too broad we focus on themes agreed with our partners and these are IoT, sensors, wearables, 3D scanning/printing, automation and robotics. We have been practicing for over a year now with all types of meetings, events and workshops with our industry partners and other enterprises including Deutsche Telekom, Daimler, l’Oreal, Airbus and Nike. By now we have learnt enough to scale up our efforts and involve more startups and enterprises. The current startup community involved includes some 150 startups now and in June we launched THINGS Enterprise Circle to build a community of Swedish and international enterprises who want us to help start or accelerate their technology innovation and digitalisation efforts.

At this point it’s clear to me that efforts to learn how to transform innovation from small to large companies have to be based on processes not one-off events, absolutely common interest (i.e. IoT and hardware are far too generic but battery technology and energy harvesting or wearables are ok) and really careful selection of companies and people for workshops. The purpose of a workshop is to inspire and bring new ideas and approaches to the enterprise and the aim is to have the enterprise to buy projects and prototypes from the startups to get the collaboration going.

Small and large companies who learn how to work together in an efficient and mutually beneficial manner will be the winners in the networked society. We are determined to figure out how to make this happen at THINGS and welcome enterprises and startups who want to be part of our journey.


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