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A fully connected and software-defined future can offer many benefits for humans, but there are nevertheless some serious considerations about what it all means for our transport infrastructure and safety.
In episode 3 of the Architecture of Future Tech series on autonomous vehicles, Prasanna Pendse talks with Rajeev Ranjan, Global Connectivity Leader at Stellantis, discuss how a future of high-connectivity will shape the way humans imagine transportation — and what the industry will have to do to enable such a future.
Prasanna Pendse: Welcome to episode three of The Architecture of Future Technology podcast. This is Volume one focused on autonomous vehicles. My guest today is actually somebody who I've known for a really, really long time — 23 years if my calculation is correct. How I met Rajeev is an interesting story. We were both volunteering for an organization called Asha for Education when we lived in the suburbs of Chicago. We've done a bunch of things with that organization at that time. What I remember about Rajeev — one of the things — is that not only did he bring empathy and compassion about the people that we're talking about and whose lives we wanted to improve, but also brought a sense of both a vision and a sense of reality, especially.
Rajeev comes from the state of Bihar in India, and there are certain things that happen with the nonprofit industry in Bihar. Rajeev brought a very realistic view to that. The rest of us were naïve and he brought that thinking and really helped us improve in our, shall we say, maturity in working in that nonprofit ecosystem. That was 23 years ago; the world has changed, and a few months ago at this point, a couple of months ago, I was attending an autonomous vehicles or automotive technology conference in the suburbs of Detroit. Just parked my car and I looked at my rearview mirror and there goes Rajeev. I was like, "Whoa, what are you doing here? You still live in Chicago the last I knew. How did you make it here?" and so on. And that's how I met Rajeev again, for the second time! Rajeev, what brought you to Detroit? What are you doing now?
Rajeev Ranjan: Thanks for the introduction Prasanna. We were in Chicago and I was primarily as there were company working with Motorola, we were in cellular industry development where we were doing 3G, 4G, 5G technology. Then the meltdown of telecom companies happened, and then I started looking for new avenues. One day I got a call from General Motors that they needed some help with the connectivity domain, and that's how I moved to Detroit in 2014 — helping with the connectivity, improving the connectivity of the auto industry.
Since then, I have been addressing connected vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and certainly electrified vehicles now, which are the three big domains in which the auto industry is moving, and that's the future direction for the auto industry. Just to say that I have been associated with various companies and I have been contributing in thought leadership as well as others, and my views that I'm presenting here are totally mine, not representing any company. Also, though I'm blessed that I have worked with the various industry leaders and I have learned a lot with all of them, I'll try to put my perspective here.
Prasanna: Yes, absolutely. You're no longer with General Motors but you're still in the large Detroit ecosystem. We can't talk about your employer today, but that's okay. I guess one more story that comes to mind about Rajeev and the reason why I asked him to come, I'd mentioned earlier that he has a vision a lot of times that is ahead of what a lot of other people are able to think. This example comes back in the day when Rajeev and I were both in the telecom industry, and Rajeev you saw a pattern and you tried to get people to pay attention to it. What was that? Can you talk about that a bit?
Rajeev: Yes, so back in year 2000, 2001, I was in Motorola and I was in the advanced technology team there. I was given responsibility to lead. That time, the internet was not that huge and we were still doing GPRS and edge technology, like 2G technology. I was given a thing that lead the internet applications or internet domain, how we can use it in mobile or similar industries. We did lots of work. We did in IPF, we did robust [unclear] compression because internet protocols were not very well suited to the air interface and with a very narrow band that we had. When we were doing that, we did lots of work and we started rethinking how this whole products, the thing will go.
At that point, we realized — it was not only me but our team — that, hey, everything that we are doing, 100% we could be able to run on an internet technology, that entire cellular telephone that we could do that. That time, telecom was a telecom vertical and entertainment was entertainment vertical and all that. We had one conversation with our leadership and I put forward that, "Hey, as a long-term vision, we should think towards morphing our company to an internet technology company, instead of just a telecom company." It was not taken in a very — this thing that, oh, what I'm talking about. Though we did try to put best, but then again, that time we were playing only the application area. Now, you see that reality that almost 100% thing is running in cloud, our telecom industry.
Prasanna: Right. Absolutely. The lesson that I learned from that story is that if you don't listen to what Rajeev has to say, then maybe not only would your company get into trouble, but maybe the entire industry can be adrift!
Rajeev: That's quite a statement! Sometimes we need to talk and discuss; things take their own time and pace to reach where they have to reach.
Prasanna: Yes, maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit, but when we met in Detroit, I think Rajeev you said something that because this background and having known some of these things, you said something that really made me stop, and rethink this. This podcast, this entire volume is about autonomous vehicles. When I was talking to Rajeev at the automotive technology conference, and I said that, "You know what? I'm working in automotive vehicles." Rajeev says, "Why do you need autonomous vehicles?" Rajeev, do you want to talk about your counter-view on autonomous vehicles?
Rajeev: Yes. Right now, you can see that I don't want to drive and I want to feel safe, then take Uber. There's a driver there. If you don't want to drive and you feel unsafe driving, then you can give that responsibility to others. Uber is there and other kind of mobility options are coming. But then still we want to be driving. The major thing that comes that we want to reduce accidents with autonomous driving. That's a good target and good technology can help in that direction. We are moving into that and as a first step, it is ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems), which is basically, we are giving it to the drivers, and then slowly we can get it more to reach full autonomy.
Then again, this question sometimes goes, if you get a full autonomy, it is moving to a very different world after that if at all we reach 100% autonomy. That's why I sometimes wonder. Basically, let's discuss what other kind of future where we'll end up if at all we are moving into direction of 100% autonomy.
Prasanna: Right. We'll get to that future in one second. One more thing that I think you said at that time that stuck with me is that in the immediate future, in the very short term, the value for the driver is not going to come from autonomy, but it's going to come from a couple of other things. You want to talk about that a little bit? — as far as the immediate short-term steps.
Rajeev: Short term, definitely, I think everyone is now aware, and have been where the whole world is seeing. The three major movements that is happening is about electrification, connectivity or connected cars and autonomous driving cars. And these three dimensions are taking the whole auto industry to a new world, a new business, a new ability, and new possibilities that we can do, not only from the technology perspective but also from how we will be consuming or will the mobility as a whole. The combination of all these three things goes into what now they started talking about software-defined vehicles.
Software-defined vehicles essentially gets to that space where definitely not to do so much with electrification but definitely with the connected ecosystem and autonomous driving. Autonomous driving again can be a little bit adjacent to that but when it comes to connected, we are wanting to have our car 100% upgradeable, 100% what access we could give. It's pushing us, moving from a product domain to a service domain, a place where the auto might be seen more as a service than as a product.
Prasanna: Right. Absolutely. You talked about the software-defined future of the automobile. Do you think car companies today are ready, well-equipped, well on their way in making this or are there some challenges in making the transition to think about software as a core part of what they do?
Rajeev: Yes. I think the whole industry has embraced it. That's whether they're there, no. It's still in infancy. It's pretty early stages. Some companies, you may say that they're a little bit ahead but reaching a software-defined vehicle target is still if not nothing as I think could minimum take a decade or more than that. It goes into so much because of our legacy. Also, we can say that and auto industry has been moving in good pace with technology. Every year, you see there are so many new features that are added. Now the only thing is that how little bit disruptive it's going to be. We will see major changes or more disruptive things into coming.
The way we consumers have now gotten used to our lifestyle, a connected lifestyle. Our entertainment, and connectivity at home from a mobile phone to watching TV or video or looking at newspapers — that has changed. That entire thing has to move to our auto space. We don't want to see getting– Okay, if I'm in a car, I can't do this, or I can't go there. If I have to run my meeting, I could run my virtual meeting from the car space. It's a seamless basically, experience auto industry is to address, and we are coming.
Definitely, the software-defined vehicle means that we should be able to add features, we should be able to add capabilities on a more frequent basis instead of what we bought today, and we stay with that for another 10 years or 20 years. That is not going to be there. Whether we like it or not, the auto industry has to embrace it. We are on the path, everyone is trying to define their own timeline when they'll be reaching the full-scaled software-defined vehicle.
Prasanna: Great. Let's now switch gears a little bit to the name of this podcast around the future. Talked a little bit about the software-defined future is still 10 years away to get all the way there but a little bit further in the future, when you think about autonomous vehicles, and autonomy, what does that future look like to you?
Rajeev: Autonomous vehicle, okay. That opens up lots of the genesis on mobility came. [chuckles] You see that before cars, we were running on horses, and we had a multi-dimensional way of moving. Go anywhere in any direction. When we adopted this basically driving, then suddenly we had our roads and we go in on roads and we restricted our movement because the biggest move on the roads. Now that autonomous driving is coming and we already see that "Okay, I'm not driving, but I'm being driven by an algorithm or something that is doing that," and we are still going in that very congested road trying to save ourselves from very millimeters and centimeters maybe that would lead to a major accident.
The thought comes that why do we limit ourselves to such a congested environment if at all we can free up ourselves from there? This autonomous driving essentially now says that, and then the other development that is happening is that we have drones now. Companies are experimenting that for personal mobility could be used drones or maybe a flying cars, because certainly if you have to fly, then you learn flying, and then everybody's not comfortable, driving is much easier so people are driving.
Now if it's driven by algorithm — it's driven by computers — then yes, that possibility comes that a drone vehicle or a flying car could be a possibility and it'll leave us in a space which is less congested because now we have a third degree of movement basically, instead of just going in one direction, then trying to save yourself colliding at a millimeter cent rather lift up. Then you open up a space to go 10 tiers, 20 tiers above that so it'll ease up your space. That's one possibility I see that autonomous driving takes us into the dimension of moving into three dimensions.
Prasanna: Wow, so you see the fifth element type of a future where Bruce Willis opens his window and then there's a taxi cab, and you think, "You know what? Hey, there's a cab," but later you realize that it's not just a taxi cab, it's a three-dimensional road, and the cab is floating in the air, and you're dealing with not just a two-dimensional traffic jam, but a three-dimensional traffic jam. That's interesting. One question that comes to mind is will it actually be easier from an autonomy AI perspective to navigate and avoid collisions in a three-dimensional space than on a congested road because your options are quite limited.
Rajeev: Yes. On the three-dimensional space, it's only that it eases you out. No that's it. When you're going out of your home and mobility, there are many your right of way and where you can go without it dropping. You just don't want to fly over somebody's backyard, privacy things like that. There's the corridor of these roads are there. They're certainly they're public spaces and they're meant for driving and getting help. All those things will be there.
Yes, we could still be using that public space or the roads that have been defined and we could be driving, but then if we don't have to be saving ourselves from millimeters and inches of collision and slowing down ourselves so much, but rather, if we can go maybe 10 feet high, then it's eased up, then you don't have to get into that college and then another high. It is just that opening yourself in a less congested space than to restricting yourself in a very, very small space where two or three lanes roads are there.
Prasanna: Yes, that's very interesting. You're saying that it's not just science fiction authors and fans that are thinking about flying cars, but actually, car companies are exploring and experimenting in this space as well as startups. Is that right?
Rajeev: They are. You can see. Go to your YouTube, Google and you can find so many flying cars and so many flying drones, and they're putting any closure around that the person can sit into that and they're doing lots of experiments, in fact. There was another I think recently in Japan. There was some sports event and somebody came with a flying motorbike. There was a demo there. Yes, this space is being explored heavily and I think it makes quite a good amount of sense that we will be venturing more into those exploring our three-dimensional mobility.
Prasanna: All right, so those of us, like me, who are afraid of heights, may have a little more challenging future than we had hoped for but that notwithstanding, there's one other shift that you see. You talked about adding another dimension to how we drive and a little bit about the technology that goes into it, but on the business side, you're seeing another shift that autonomy and autonomous vehicles are going to bring about. Can you talk about that?
Rajeev: Yes. That's really a very interesting part that comes. A natural change that we see is that. Today, when we drive, the drivers are the liable. The liability goes to that. Everybody has to have an insurance. Autonomous car, you are not on the driver's seat, but you're being driven by algorithms. You are not the decision maker, so the liability aspect really brings a new dimension of how future will look like. Now that comes that, who's liable then? Is it auto companies because they have built the car? Is it their algorithms? One auto company's car's algorithm could be different than other company cars. Somebody could be more aggressive in certain aspects. Somebody could be less aggressive because there's no set of standard there.
There could be some laws, but again, no standard. If you go at a traffic light, who moves first? That decision, or who breaks first? Those things. that certainly, safety is the most important. Everyone tries to be safe. Still, there are some of the strategies how to get out of that. When it comes to that and a person is not there, then the liability and all this decision-making goes to the algorithm makers, which are auto companies. If it is the auto company who is making that, then it comes that, do you really want to buy the car? What does it mean by buying a car if the liability is still with the auto company if they're still holding the insurance?
It might happen and it could go naturally that auto companies will be more interested in just giving as a rent model, or basically, leasing model. Because, ultimately, if anything goes wrong, they have to address the car and they have to take back the car. Not that they have washed their hands with the car. That essentially opens up a totally new business scenario, totally new business enablement, and a different ecosystem that maybe we can talk about that.
Prasanna: If a car company no longer sells you a car, but you're renting it and they're just giving it to you temporarily so that probably changes their economics and their mindset. I remember a story. Now, I don't know for sure, but this is attributed to Henry Ford, to be specific, that he came into his assembly line one day and asked his engineers, "Which parts break down most often? When do they break down? What is the duration of each part breaking down?" The story goes, the engineer is thinking, "Oh, wow, here's Henry Ford. He wants to make these cars last longer." Henry Ford looks at him and goes, "No, I don't want to make them last longer. I want all the parts to break down around the same time so that I can sell them another car."
The model of sales is resulting in making cars that the car company doesn't make more money unless they sell you another one. If the car works perfectly for 50 years, you will not buy for 50 years. That economic incentive itself will be changing, wouldn't it?
Rajeev: Yes. definitely. Let me put some more perspective onto this. Today, when you buy a car, the majority of the time people buy the car and the rental company or auto companies don't own them. Sometimes you lease for some time, but the most prevalent way of owning a car is that people purchase a car. What happens? Some cars, people keep driving; some people like to change their cars more frequently. On average, you see that between nine to 10 years, people like to retire their car, but they're not. You see that people drive their car 20 years, 30 years. Sometimes everybody at 20 years, quite often you can see cars moving on the road. That certainly doesn't add much economics to the people either. Sometimes they also do bad emissions and all that.
Economically, how to address that? Again, when these cars go ultimately dump, it doesn't go to the recycling all the way up to that 100% recycling is cheap. Lots of them go into different spaces. You see that if the ownership of the car changes, and if the auto companies remain as the owner and they are just leasing you or renting you for the drive —which becomes a service model — in that scenario, one thing is that they can get back those cars or the vehicles as and when they want to basically recycle them and 100% recycling could be achieved because the entire car is in their control all the time and they see the best time when to recycle them and when to bring a new fleet of vehicles on the road.
It brings a continuous renewal, it brings 100% recycling, and maybe what, I don't know if something could be reused, but certainly recycling is definitely there. If you look at it in a bigger perspective, I think not only that we are achieving a very bigger environmental win here that we are not throwing away things into that, but rather 100% recycling is achieved. It also gives a very huge economic benefit to auto companies to keep renewing their fleet, keep building and bringing new technologies and keep selling more. If they're not selling, at least keep adding more services. If it becomes a service kind of a domain, then definitely that's a economic benefit as well as environmental benefit and probably we are moving to a new era, which is much more eco-friendly than what we are today.
Prasanna: Great. That's very interesting. You're taking a bunch of different concepts from different fields, from the software updates side of things. You're looking at it from a business perspective, insurance perspective, autonomy perspective, and the impact of that on the drivers at the business model of the car companies and then tying all of that to a more eco-friendly way of continuing to make economic progress for the car company. That's a very interesting integrated way of thinking about it. Let's close on that thought around how can we not only drive and see the world but actually leave the world in a better shape than we found it by creating cars that are fully recyclable and autonomy potentially has a role to play in getting to that future. Thank you very much, Rajeev.
Rajeev: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure talking to you and your questions were really thought-provoking to bring my thoughts.
Prasanna: Thank you.
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