The autonomous race: From racetracks to roadways

There is a moment in time when the impossible passes into history and we are at that point today with autonomous vehicle technology. John Waraniak, vice president of vehicle technology for SEMA echoed this message from the atrium stage at the 2018 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) preview week.

“It is not about a faster horse anymore, it is about a smarter horse,” Warniak explained.

AutoMobili-D and technology startups stole the show this year, as the industry edges closer and closer to vehicles of the future becoming consumer products. A panel of experts that are at the forefront of tech and autonomous innovation sat down to discuss the race to autonomy from road-driven cars to racecars, and how to create a safer environment overall.

Today, companies like Toyota Research Institute and other OEMs are bringing all the technology they can bear to be first to market. Ryan Eustice, vice president of autonomous vehicles for Toyota Research Institute acknowledged Toyota President Akio Toyoda’s philosophy to “make it, make it well, and take the cost down.”

“We are focused on maximizing capability and utilizing all the technology we have to bring self-driving cars to life,” Eustice explained.

Safety must be top of mind

As much as companies want to be first to market, they know they cannot rush safety.

“The safety aspect is going to drive adoption,” said Danny Shapiro, senior director of automotive for Nvidia. “These cars are for the masses, it’s not just premium brands. We are making this life-saving technology for everybody.”

OEMs no longer need to solely focus on exterior and interior design components to keep passengers in the car safe. With autonomous cars, identifying software vulnerabilities is also key.

Shapiro noted that safety will be an ongoing evolution.

“What we are inventing is technology that keeps getting better all the time. As your phone gets updates, your car would continuously get software updates to get better,” he said.

Bringing autonomous vehicles to market will require a level of public engagement to build trust in this new economy that relies on software and technology to keep us alive.

Collaboration is key

Autonomous vehicle deployment isn’t something that one company can do alone acknowledged Kay Stepper, vice president of automated vehicles for Bosch.

“The most important component is that partnerships form – it’s too big for one single company to bring it together by themselves,” she said. “That’s where new technology companies come together with OEMs and Tier 1’s – they all bring certain things to the table.”

Kevin Kerrigan, senior vice president for the Michigan Economic Development Corp.’s Automotive Office, agreed that working together will help speed the process across all sectors.

“To see companies that collaborate like this around the world is great. The role of government is to stay out of the way as much as we can. Our job is to harmonize legislation with other countries to make sure we don’t get in the way,” Kerrigan said.

He pointed out that in Michigan, OEMs, universities, suppliers and nonprofits are working together through research, infrastructure and advanced manufacturing.

From racetracks to roadways

Testing these vehicles must start somewhere.

“Racing in general is the proving ground for technology limits,” Kerrigan explained. “It’s always been a passion of mine to see the technology that’s coming from racing into the mainstream.”

Roborace is the world’s first driverless electric racing car. It is also an extreme motorsport and entertainment platform for the future of road-relevant technologies. Bryn Balcome, chief technology officer for Roborace, explained that there is a disconnect between the automotive, motorsport and connected vehicle industries.

“The biggest shift in racing is that vehicles are becoming intelligent,” explained Balcome. “We are taking the physical world and merging it into the digital as an extreme sport.”

The Robocar is on display during NAIAS, and is one of the first racing autonomous vehicles that is being tested.

“Roborace isn’t about taking the driver out of the loop, it’s about proving AI in a performance arena,” Waraniak said. “The racetrack is basically two things – technology demonstration on the world stage and where you solve problems.”

The AI talent dilemma

The forbidden word that has been whispered around the auto show all week is talent. When looking toward the future and bringing technology to the car, where is that education coming from?

“There has definitely been a renewed interest in computer science in general, but also AI and data science; this is the new language of programmers,” Shapiro said.

Many companies are encouraging re-education for computer scientists to go back to school and taken courses on Udacity and Coursera, online education platforms that provide the education that is needed in the industry today.

“It just comes down to talent. – that is what we are focusing on here with the auto show, PlanetM, AutoMobili-D,” explained Kerrigan. “Next week, we plan to turn this whole area into a career fair for youth to get them involved in this exciting industry at a young age.”

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