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.

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M2M doping

May 27, 2013

freeimage-3771421-webMany of us are convinced that M2M, Internet of Things or whatever we want to call it, will happen big ways and will bring massive change to most industries. The part of it easiest to measure is things connected using a mobile subscription and it grows with some 30% per annum. Good growth but from small numbers. Since standard mobile subscriptions sometimes are used to connect things it’s hard to say exactly how many mobile M2M connections we have but it should be close to 150M. And an absolute majority of these are 2G – probably still around 90%.

150M subscriptions is a lot and annual growth 30% normally sends sales directors on President Club trips to Hawaii. But there are a two issues I would like bring attention to.

A big part of the subscriptions comes from connected meters. Connected meters are great and enables smart metering, smart grids, new services, etc. But most of the meters are connected due to political decisions and not business decisions. I called the combination of regulation and public stimulation packages for “M2M doping” at a speech at M2M+ in Milan earlier in May which triggered an interesting discussion. Personally I  believe the political push for smart meters around the world is very good for the society and obviously for the M2M industry too. My point is that people in the M2M industry must remember that a big chunk of M2M business so far comes from artificial promotion and not genuine market demand. I believe meters would have become smart also without the doping but it would have taken much longer time. Let’s not fool ourselves!

The next wave of doping is eCall and similar public initiatives. The idea to save lives and minimize injuries due to car accidents by sending an SMS with position when the airbag explodes is over ten years old. Me and my colleagues at BrainHeart Capital invested in Wireless Car at the time together with Volvo, Telia and others, and OnStar was developed in parallel by GM and others in the US. It looked very promising until the owners of the connected cars with the airbag service had to start pay for the service themselves. Very few did and Wireless Car and OnStar, both still live and kicking, had to go after adjacent business opportunities. I’m not saying it’s wrong now when politicians are pushing this to the market, I just want to remind everyone in our industry that this is “doping” and not the result of genuine market forces. Interestingly enough the car industry is very active in Telematics again, with visions and plans often quite similar to the first wave of plans ten-fifteen years ago. But due to the technical approach chosen for eCall these plans might be separated from implementation of eCall. Transport is supposed to be the biggest segment for M2M 2013 and it will be interesting to see if the “built-in approach” will beat the “BYOD-approach” that won last time.

Mobile operators have taken the lead in promoting M2M. All operators want to exploit the expected growth of subscriptions but most if not all of them are uncertain of exactly which role to play. The fact that the M2M business still is a tiny fraction of the operator’s business together with the widespread uncertainty of which role to play could make operators become less aggressive and take on a more cautious “wait-and-see” approach. I definitely don’t vote in favor for such approach and suggest more concrete collaboration with selected partners to conquer industry by industry. Specialist service enablers are key to such efforts and in a perfect world operator device connectivity platforms should be delivered with an á la carte menu of specialist service enablers for different industries. But until that happens I have to continue introducing the members of Swedish M2M Service Enablers to mobile operators one by one.


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