About visions, software and the automotive industry

The trends towards digitalisation and automation in the automotive industry, known as ACES (Autonomous, Connected, Electrified, and Shared) represent huge shifts that are not only reflected in most industries but also across society as a whole.

We are missing visions which focus on these trends specifically in connection with the automobile. Some examples:

1. A vision of the “man-machine team”: the integration of all areas of life with artificial intelligence

“Autonomous” ultimately stands for the integration of artificial intelligence into all areas of the economy and daily life. We all know the smart refrigerator, for example, but there are also machines and robots that can maintain themselves in the industry and do all-important tasks like minimising error rates in the production process.

The examination of this trend must therefore also include more than just the question of whether vehicles will still need human drivers in the future. It is more fundamentally about the future cooperation between man and machine. It is about the division of labour in an increasingly automated world, and also about trust and responsibility. It is about the responsibility of an entire industry: how and where we want to use technology in vehicles. It is about human self-determination and self-determination by others — and ultimately it is also about how we want to define human and artificial intelligence in the future and how we want to demand and promote it.

2. A vision of “ubiquitous computing”: the real-time networking of hardware, data and people

“Connected cars”, i.e. cars that permanently communicate with their environment but also with each other, are only one part of the fully networked world we are inexorably heading towards. In the early 1990s, technology visionaries developed the idea of “a world in which billions of computers are built into everyday things and connected to each other to make our lives easier” and called this vision “ubiquitous”.

In 1999, British MIT researcher Kevin Ashton was the first to coin the term “the Internet of Things”. Empowered with new forms of artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things will form the basis for smart cities and energy-efficient solutions, for cleverly networked means of transport, and for a whole new form of industrial production. In “Industry 4.0”, machines coordinate production processes independently while service robots cooperate intelligently with people. Then, production and logistics processes are networked across companies to optimise the flow of materials, detect errors and react flexibly to changing customer requirements and market conditions.

Looking ahead, 5G has the potential to catapult the automotive industry into a new age. Vehicle-to-Infrastructure, Vehicle-to-Vehicle, Vehicle-to-Network as well as Vehicle-to-Pedestrian programs are already realities today. The aim is to create real-time networking of hardware, data and people that will significantly improve the quality of life in cities.

3. Vision “Zero”: the inevitable electrification of mobility

More than anything else, 2020 has shown the importance of our health. For many of us, it underlined how essential the ability to move around freely is — as well as what a future with clean air looks like. The reality in which the automobile industry operates seems almost absurd: dirty city centres, traffic jams and pollution from industrial, traffic and construction processes. The future has long been the present for many companies: the pressure to act ecologically and sustainably is increasing, for example, implementing noise reduction measures to protect health and the reduction of CO2 emissions.

The trend towards “e-mobility” is, first and foremost, an expression of a social necessity. Through the lens of climate change and high levels of pollution in cities, there is no way around the broad-based electrification of transport. Electric vehicles are emission-free and significantly more energy-efficient than vehicles with combustion engines. Even with today’s electricity mix, they already present an advantage for the climate that will increase further as the energy turnaround progresses. However, this is not only the hope for electrically powered vehicles but also the desire for “healthy mobility”. Healthy mobility is the logical consequence of technological progress and social necessity.

4. A vision of “sharing instead of owning”: sharing as a way of life

Just like autonomous driving and connectivity, the “shared mobility” megatrend is based on the exploding possibilities of digital and intelligent technologies. At the same time, the idea of sharing meets the attitude to life of a consumption-critical and fully networked generation that values “sharing instead of owning” as a way of life that is both resource-conserving and hedonistic. Some of the most disruptive business models of recent years, most notably Airbnb and Uber, are based on this principle.

However, many successful platforms have also established themselves regionally and locally — especially in the area of green mobility, for example, MOIA in Hamburg and the Cluno car flat rate or WeShare in Berlin. It is a new game — young, urban and free from convention. It is also a game with the established automotive industry. Mobility varies, just like vehicle-based flexibility, for example. The car is not rejected in principle, but it must necessarily become part of an all-embracing mobility chain. The desire is the fastest, safest, cheapest and most available offering. The basis for this is digital networking at any time, any place, from any device, just one click away. And the cards will be completely reshuffled in the age of fully automated driving. Autonomous vehicles that will be available nationwide and operated as fleets could once again radically change urban mobility. Maybe even more than that.

Everything is connected to everything. And that is what makes it so complex!

These examples alone make it unmistakably clear that these are not isolated trends. They are not unfounded utopias. Rather, the four major drivers of change are closely interlinked; they are mutually dependent and mutually reinforcing. The American technology expert Lance B. Eliot once put it this way:

“Autonomous leverages connectedness to boost what a driverless car can do, communicating with other cars and the roadway and pedestrians, which then is powered by the electric prowess and battery of the self-driving car, which enables ridesharing by taking the human driver out of the vehicle. Ridesharing becomes more viable. That’s how these seemingly siloed areas have come together as a fruitful amalgamation.”

So it’s all connected to everything. And that is what makes it so complex. To master the four trends, OEMs and suppliers alike must invest not only in each of these trends but also in their comprehensive integration. Because on the one hand, the combination of these four megatrends leads to substantial changes along the entire value chain, but on the other hand, it enables a multitude of new products, services and business models, which in turn attract new players.

The boundaries of the industry are opening up and shifting. New competitors and potential new partners are appearing. In short, a completely new ecosystem of players is emerging in which the traditional market players have to reposition themselves.

How to build a tech company?

An industry in transition: I would like to discuss with you, but also with international experts, what kind of organisation and processes are needed to create modern, innovative products that combine high-quality hardware with agile, smart software solutions. I would like to find out how we can jointly transfer German engineering skills into the digital or even autonomous age — which is why, in the coming months, I will be asking myself more than ever before: “How to build a tech company? Follow our Medium blog for this.

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Anja Hendel

Managing Director @ diconium | #Innovation #DigitalTransformation #Mobility | How do we transfer the successful German art of engineering into the digital age?