Driverless cars are still distant reality, says Visteon President and CEO Sachin Lawande as he discusses the role of AI in automotive tech, advances in car systems and efforts made by the auto sector towards the climate change challenge.
How would you categorise the integral role of tech in automotive solutions around the world?
Technology is redefining the auto industry, particularly in the form of software and sensor-driven solutions. In the near future, the focus is on two areas - improving the driver's access to information and media content and reducing the number of accidents on the road. The vehicle cockpit is evolving into a fully digital environment with multiple digital displays that show information about the driving environment, vehicle dynamics and safety, as well as connected multimedia content.
The car is already becoming a connected device on wheels, whether the connectivity is brought into the vehicle by the driver with their phone or built directly into the vehicle with a telematics gateway. Sensors such as camera and radar are enabling the car to warn the driver of dangerous road situations, and to avoid accidents. In the near future, we will have technology that will take over the driving function in high-risk conditions, and accelerate, brake, or change lanes as necessary to avoid accidents. The role of technology is critical in helping make the driving experience both fun and safe at the same time.
Does the “Make in India” programme hold an attraction for auto systems providers?
Auto suppliers have been manufacturing in India for several years now. Visteon has been in India for the past 20 years, and our manufacturing volume has grown steadily over that period. We currently employ more than 1,500 people in our manufacturing facility in Chennai, and we expect this to grow over time. India is an important market with approximately 3 million units manufactured in the country. Although we have experienced a contraction in the market in the past few months, we believe that India will continue to grow as a market in the long term.
In fact, India will have one of the fastest-growing auto markets in the world, once consumer confidence returns. “Make in India” is a welcome policy by the government of India to promote electronics and other manufacturing in the country. The growth of the consumer electronics manufacturing ecosystem in India will be highly beneficial to suppliers of automotive electronics like Visteon. It is important that a local ecosystem of suppliers for components such as decorative plastics, printed circuit boards, etc., emerges to serve the needs of both consumers and automotive electronics manufacturers like Visteon.
Is the concept of driverless cars becoming more realistic in terms of roadworthiness?
Driverless cars that drive themselves in all conditions were always a huge challenge from a technology viewpoint. Despite the hype in the media, to the contrary, Visteon has always held the position that full self-driving is many years away. The industry has made a lot of progress in the past five years in sensor and software technology, but it will require much more progress on several fronts for the goal of self-driving cars to become reality.
However, this does not mean that the progress made in the past few years is all for nothing. These new sensor and software technologies can help reduce accidents and improve road safety dramatically. In India, more than 150,000 people die each year in car accidents, far more than in the developed world. Most of these accidents are due to human error.
Advanced safety features such as blind spot detection, forward collision warning, and automated emergency braking can reduce the number of accidents significantly. Sensors such as cameras and radar are coming down in price dramatically. Yet only a small percentage of cars in India today are equipped with these safety features. With the innovations we are driving in the core areas of technology related to safety, such as camera-based vision processing and sensor fusion, Visteon is bringing these advanced safety features to cars in a cost-effective manner.
What are some of the new systems and modules in the sector that excite you?
We are excited about the transformation on the cockpit into a digital environment with multiple displays to bring information of the vehicle, its surroundings, and cloud services to the driver. This transformation has the potential to make the vehicle cockpit the third living environment after your home and office. This change requires the development of several new modules.
First, the multiple displays are being integrated with a glass cover lens that gives the entire system a seamless and high-quality look-and-feel. The multi-display module is one of the most interesting new systems to emerge for the cockpit in the past several years.
Second, these multiple displays are powered by an integrated cockpit computer that runs multiple software domains such as the instrument cluster and infotainment. The infotainment system is powered by an Android operating system, which brings the app ecosystem to the cockpit. Visteon is a global leader in integrated digital cockpit computers, as well as in multi-display modules. We believe these new trends will be very beneficial to Visteon's growth in market share and revenue going forward.
What is the role to be played by artificial intelligence in the vehicles of the future?
Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is one of the most interesting new technologies to become available to the auto industry. We see it impact two areas of the automotive cockpit user experience in a significant manner. First, voice-based interaction is seen as the most natural and safe mode for the driver to interface with cockpit electronics. AI is critical to the development of natural language speech recognition and smart assistant features. Second, AI is also critical to camera-based vision processing capability, to detect and classify objects into lanes, cars, pedestrians, etc.
Visteon has developed a strong AI competency in these two areas of voice recognition and vision processing. With AI, we can hope to achieve a word error rate (WER) of less than 5 per cent, which is as good as or better than the human ability for voice recognition.
Similarly, we can detect objects on the road such as cars, pedestrians, lanes, etc., at 95 per cent or better accuracy, and at distances that even exceed the ability of the human eye to detect these objects. The challenge with AI is to reduce the need for computational power, which today is fairly significant and translates into higher cost. At Visteon, we are working with several partners in the AI ecosystem to develop more cost-competitive solutions for these capabilities.
How is the tech-auto industry aligning with the climate change challenge?
Climate change is a signature global concern of this generation, and the automotive industry is doing its part to address it. New fuel efficiency and emissions requirements are driving down the generation of greenhouse gases emitted by cars in a significant manner. These requirements are propelling the growth of electric vehicles, which are expected to grow rapidly and become a significant portion of all new cars sold in the near future.
Overall, the technology suppliers in the auto industry are addressing climate change by addressing the performance, emissions and efficiency of vehicles. Downsized engines, lighter materials and electrification are all helping address greenhouse gas issues and reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Visteon specifically is addressing climate change through several paths. For example, we strive to make our components lighter and more energy efficient.
Reduced power consumption and lighter weight directly translate to fuel economy and reduced fuel consumption. Additionally, our cockpit domain controller SmartCore™ and automated driving controller DriveCore™ both serve to deliver a superior user experience, but also offer significant weight savings as well as a reduction in wire harnesses. SmartCore™ and cloud connectivity support the shift to electric vehicles by providing clearer EV information to the driver and making it easier to find charging stations during a commute.