Bosch is on a schedule to deliver automated driving, what used to be the stuff of science fiction, in a matter of years. That’s years, not decades. They say that by 2020, cars should be driving themselves on main highways. By 2025, they expect to get automated driving onto all types of roads, not just on smooth tarmac retrofitted with layers of support systems.
Bosch itself doesn’t manufacture entire vehicles. But, with 95% of the world’s vehicles having at least one Bosch component (as reported by Paulo Duarte, Bosch Philippines Country Sales Director for the automotive aftermarket), the company already supplies conventional components to almost all of the world’s original equipment manufacturers, them the visible carmakers. And the trend is continuing with Bosch’s driver assistance technologies that’ll eventually be incorporated into a complete automated driving solution.
Real world impact
The argument for self-driven cars has always been road safety for all, not just a luxury for a marginal few. “More than 90 percent of road accidents are caused by human error,” said Bob Joop Goos, chairman of the International Organisation for Road Accident Prevention (IORAP).
Another organization, the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), puts the count at nearly 1.3 million people dead because of road crashes each year, an average of 3,278 fatalities a day. That’s’ just the morbid tip of the iceberg with an additional 20 to 50 million injured or disabled.
The economic impact of road crashes is significant. Over 90 percent of all road deaths occur in low and middle-income countries which have less than half of the world’s vehicles, costing USD 65 billion annually and exceeding amounts received in developmental assistance.
But, at the end of the day, the most striking aspect of all is that crashes are killing, maiming, and hurting our young, our next-generation in very real flesh. Crashes are the leading cause of death among young people aged 15-29, the second leading cause among kids ages 5-14.
Already decades and millions in
Right now, halfway through the UN-declared Decade of Action on Road Safety, Bosch already has a brace of driver assistance systems being picked up by both major conglomerations and independent carmakers. Since pioneering electronic stability control two decades ago in 1995, a system for precise judicious application of the brakes with varying force on each wheel, Bosch has rolled out technologies for automated steering and accelerator inputs as well.
There’s adaptive cruise control to keep the vehicle in automated cruise even as it decelerates or accelerates again to adapt to real world traffic. There’s lane-keeping and evasive steering assistance to help keep a vehicle on its line, or take it out when it comes upon an obstacle. And there’s the popular pedestrian protection system that slams on the brakes faster, and more effectively, than any human driver if anyone suddenly steps into a car’s path. With all these on which to simply build new capabilities, it won’t be much of a stretch, nor a long wait, before automated driving hits the mainstream.
And business is already booming. Bosch’s sales of radar and video sensors doubled in 2014 when they sold more than 50 million units, and they expect this number to again double in 2015. A growing number of these are high frequency 77GHz radar sensors that have the resolution and throughput for advanced driver assistance systems with control over steering, brakes and throttle. Dr. Dirk Hoheisel, member of the board of management of Robert Bosch GmbH, says: “In 2016, our sales in driver assistance will exceed one billion euros.”
Third party dynamics
With Bosch in the thick of efforts to finally deliver automated driving solutions, such self-driving systems can then be acquired by carmakers for bolting onto their vehicles, even if they themselves haven’t invested a cent in developing the technology. The economies of scale alone—with Bosch potentially supplying automation components to as many original equipment manufacturers as it already is with its more conventional offerings—should prove dramatic enough to make the technology accessible to average consumers, and bring in the critical mass that could convince linked industries to build up capacities in next-generation services and infrastructure.
Just this month, the German group succeeded in convincing Dutch digital mapping company TomTom to work with Bosch to produce the high-definition digital maps needed by self-driven vehicles. In an announcement last July 21, Bosch and TomTom confirmed that they will be working together, competing with Finnish giant Nokia’s own Nokia Here service that premium marques BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz are already trying to acquire for their own automated-driving initiatives.
Also recently, the need for new infrastructure was highlighted by the recent proof-of-concept hack into a current-model Jeep Cherokee’s telematics system. IT security researchers managed to take steering and brakes control away from the driver, forcing the SUV into a ditch. Industry experts agree that the experiment proves it is critical to air-gap the mobile network on which vehicles will depend for realtime information on road conditions that would compliment on-board sensor data.
David Shearer, CEO of (ISC)2, the premier information systems security certification organization, concurs that the Jeep experiment and the resulting recall of over 1.4 million vehicles is a call to action for air-gapping mission-critical networks. This entails an entirely new network of networks, a new “Internet” dedicated to driving data and separate from the sprawling and saturated ‘Net.
Public sector apace
Bosch’s history shows that there’s profit in linked-industry mass-produced innovation, yes, but it also depicts these as sustainable even when meant to make seemingly whimsical goals attainable. And the momentum that Bosch now seems to be building may finally be enough to influence innovations in public policy as well.
The Vienna Convention on Road Traffic that was introduced at UNESCO session in 1968, and finally implemented in 1977, specifies that drivers remain in full control of their vehicles at all times. You can imagine the hoops that carmakers had to go through to introduce mere cruise control. Currently, fully automated driving is illegal.
There’s a change on the horizon to allow automated driving as long as the driver serves as supervisor and has the option to take back control of the vehicle at any time. In fact, this is what makes vehicle telematics or infotainment systems a key concern. These have to be turned into in-vehicle systems to allow for instant interruption and alerts for erstwhile drivers. You can’t have them with heads buried in their own smartphones, tablets or other personal gadgets. So, ironically, self-driven vehicles will still need integral connectivity to the Internet at large while, ideally, using a separate, secure and dedicated wide area network for drive automation.
Out in front, finally
But this possible change in policy comes with the condition of using current methods for validating the new systems. This entails field tests over millions of kilometres before the new products and systems can be put into full commercial production. Old methods entail elevated development costs and stretched timeframes just for validating road-worthiness. Bosch started testing its prototypes on selected highways in Germany and the US back in 2013 and yet, the test regimen still puts them half a decade away from putting anything on the production line.
Ironically, Bosch is in this unique position to effect the mainstreaming of automated driving exactly because it has cornered a lion’s share of the market supplying big or leastwise visible carmaker brands. Bosch Philippines Managing Director Andrew Powell admits that they have always deferred to original equipment manufacturers, appropriately letting their carmaker clients upstage and overshadow them. This will be changing as well with Bosch now lobbying to rationalize and accelerate the testing phase with its de-facto clout borne of decades of success with driver assistance technologies, the building blocks for full-on automated driving.