The sine wave of safety has brought the industry back into focus. I believe the straight-to-Level-5 players will have their time, but right now it’s all about ADAS...
I’m a big believer in cycles. Virtually everything is cyclical. The sine wave is one of the most fundamental functions in mathematics, representing relationships between subatomic particles right up to the nature of the universe itself. But the elastic, return-to-origin motion that the sine wave represents is illustrated throughout society, politics, the economy and, in my view, almost all aspects of life.
With all the hype about robotaxis and the utopic future of mobility over the past five years or so, we have lost sight of what autonomy was all about in the first place. Right now, the elastic motion of the sine wave is bringing us back around to focus on what the original objective was, namely, safety.
The Covid-19 pandemic has created a challenging environment for the automotive industry, but it’s also helped us regain focus on what matters most. Autonomy was meant to be a by-product of safety: We’d build the safest cars we could, and by default they would be fully autonomous because computers would be better at driving than humans.
I still believe that this will be the case in the long term, but it was always going to be a big challenge, even in boom times with seemingly unlimited budgets. In the engineering community, it’s become clear more recently that autonomous driving is really, really hard, and in a post-Covid-19 economy solving the last 5% of technical challenges could be slower than previously thought.
But that doesn’t mean we suddenly give up on safety. Automakers, regulators, and consumers alike still want to see the road become a safer place, and despite the squeeze in some areas of automotive manufacturing, it’s encouraging to see safety programs remain a top priority. I’ve always said the key was to focus on incrementally improving advanced driver assistance systems, and if we stick with driver assistance, the action the car takes in an emergency is mostly limited to bringing it to a safe stop.
Safety has many facets, but if we focus on ADAS, it’s primarily about perception:
Sensing — improving sensor capabilities and optimizing image quality
Robustness — building in system redundancy, SOTIF (Safety of the Intended Functionality), and a continuous development approach
Monitoring — real-time assessment of system performance, understanding degradation pathways and impacts