2016 has been a landmark year for autonomous vehicle development. In April, Volvo announced plans to test driverless cars in China, before Audi’s autonomous A7 had its first media road test in June. In November, Nissan revealed it will roll out Internet-connected cars next year, while just days ago, Ford unveiled plans to start testing driverless vehicles on UK and European roads.
It really does feel like autonomous vehicle investment has moved up a gear over the last 12 months – but what does this mean for the wider automotive industry?
Everything is changing
Self-driving vehicles are far more than a vision for the future. The research and development going into greater connectivity is going to have a very real impact on the entire automotive sector – from production processes to customer relationships. And it’s going to happen sooner than many people think.
This is because the greater connectivity we give vehicles, the higher consumers’ expectations will rise. Today, someone with a two-year-old car might accept the limitations of the two-year-old sat nav system within it, and use their phone to navigate instead. But pretty soon they are going to want the real-time information they can receive through their mobile to be delivered through their vehicle, so they can plan a journey based on actual traffic conditions, rather than selecting a generic fastest route option.
And it’s not just in-vehicle technology expectations that will change. As more and more connected objects reach mainstream awareness, consumers will expect their cars to integrate with their digital devices in other ways. An app that allows them to remotely de-ice their car ten minutes before they leave the house is one example, or an automatic alert that triggers roadside assistance if they suffer a fault, rather than them having to call for support.
The ripple effect
The possibilities for greater automotive connectivity are exciting, but they will place new pressures on the industry. Not only are manufacturers and suppliers going to have to invest in R&D to discover new ways to autonomise vehicles, and bring that technology to market; they will need to contend with the software updates and upgrades needed to sustain this new functionality.
The actual updating itself is relatively straightforward, as it can be done over the air. However, this comes with its own set of challenges, principally security. If a manufacturer or supplier can access a vehicle remotely, what’s stopping someone else from hacking the system?
Security of autonomous vehicles is a major discussion point, and something that I will address in greater detail another time. The challenge facing the automotive industry for now is ensuring companies can accelerate their development cycle to meet the ever-increasing demands of the consumer.
As cars become less about the chassis and more about the connected experiences they offer, purchasers will expect the vehicles they buy to keep pace with the other digital devices they use. And therefore automotive companies must ensure their autonomy strategy is underpinned by agile software, which can rapidly deploy new functions to keep surprising, delighting and improving the lives of their customers.
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