The Internet of Cars

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Highly automated driving will be dependent on the cloud for a variety of reasons.  The cloud will become the “glue” that holds everything together.  This new and emerging “internet of vehicles” will be a distributed transportation fabric capable of making its own decisions that control the movement and trajectory of cars. The emerging platforms must manage seas of vehicles operating in full autonomy, with a safe harbor plan and backed by a highly-secured network.

Whether you are talking about Google, Baidu, or Apple it’s not hard to envision automated vehicle functions that are highly controlled by the assets and infrastructure that these companies have or are developing. Their respective assets will become a vital element that support the complexities of automated driving. VSI believes advanced cloud assets will vastly improve the safety and performance of automated vehicles.

These big tech companies have capacity [and scale] to extend their mobile eco-system to automated driving. And as it turns out the dynamics are very similar. A mobile eco-system for automated driving will include a collection of third parties with the services to support automated driving and a lot of things tangentially related to automated driving such as smart cities.  

The benefits of a cloud based eco-system make even more sense when thinking all the software and services that will be necessary to support performance and safety.  For example, highly automated driving becomes very dependent on geo-coded content for lane level guidance as well as ground truth.  You also have the transient conditions that are necessary to support the dynamic events like potholes, lane closures and reroutes.

Furthermore, just like with mobile, automated vehicles will require device management and in this case the device happens to be a car.  In fact, it is likely that the vehicle and mobile eco-systems blend. After all it is all about mobility services.

Automated vehicles will be fully connected as connectivity will not be an option.  The cars and fleets will be constantly talking to network, especially with respect to the real time driving requirements. Sensor data will be aggregated and passed on to other cars to insure safe and structured movement within the roadway grid. Furthermore, the software in the vehicle is constantly being updated with firmware updates much like your phone and laptop is doing now.

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Open Model

While it is certain that controlling highly automated vehicles will be managed by vast cloud assets it is not known if this will be an open specification like Baidu recently announced. Baidu is essentially modeling this after their smartphone business by creating an eco-system that helps Chinese car makers, developers and other constituents jump on board.

For Baidu the approached is pretty shrewd. Besides device management, there other factors that favor Baidu’s open stack approach. Obviously, the location assets are critical and their ability to crowd source content from other devices assures that the Map can maintain itself through crowd sourcing.  Data collection is another thing that companies like Baidu and Google can do much better that others. They already own those assets so the infrastructure is in place for this to happen. Another area is their respective work in artificial intelligence. As we know this takes lots of data, and again, it takes aggregation methods and infrastructure to support this.

We already know about the importance of localization assets. Products like HD Maps, Roadbook and Road DNA provide meta data that can not only help a vehicle understand where it should and should not be, but also can be a container for fail safe zones that vastly improve the safety envelope of the vehicle itself. Even lower level automation systems like GM’s Super Cruise relay on the cloud for localization assets that increase the safety.   

Recently Baidu announced the Apollo project which is a full AV Stack that includes a hardware reference design along with the software assets to deploy fully automated driving features.  The Baidu plan is not about building a car or anything to do with it. Rather, it is an open reference design and all the big data and services that go with it. 

Even though Google shows limited evidence of doing what Baidu is doing, we believe Google’s long term end game is just that. Controlling the internet of cars. For Apple, Baidu and Google, it all about mobile devices, and in this case the car is another device. These companies have also been developing their AV Stack for some time but Google’s Waymo has said nothing about offering up their code base for anyone to use. Of course, Google has been building this stack for some time and trying to perfect it.  Similarly, Apple is doing the same thing.  Arguably, Google has gained more experience in automated driving than either Baidu or Apple.

For Baidu an open source stack may stimulate the take up of automation in China as there are many OEMs and could enable automated features much more quickly that developing themselves. They also have a bit of a captive market because of their size – similar to mobile. China is ripe for this approach because there are lots of local Chinese auto brands that could quickly offer automated features. And China is huge. It still a level playing field, even with Baidu supplying the automation stack.

On the other hand, the rest of the world is a bit of a question. American and European OEMS don’t want to give up that much control.  Furthermore, they already have millions of dollars invested in their own AV technology. 

Long term, when we have fleets of vehicles operating autonomously, it is entirely possible that the internet of vehicles will be controlled by a handful of dominating companies just like mobile computing is now.

And while autonomous vehicles will be fully capable of operating without a real-time connection, they could not survive without it. 

Automotive is and will remain an edge computing device. There would be too much latency to rely on the cloud the control the movement in real time. Furthermore, the data coming out of autonomous vehicle is to voluminous to be done in raw formats. Lots of processing within the vehicle and lots of metadata to the cloud. The cloud will rely on the metadata to manage a variety of systems and software as well as a safe-fail plan which is very dynamic.

Conclusion

So, the billion-dollar question remains, will automation ultimately fall into the hands of a few tech heavyweights? At the end of day, it may come to this but it is going to take a while.

The era of fully automated driving is going to cause major distribution to a lot of industries… not only auto, but many other elements of mobility services, transportation, insurance, urban planning, smart cities, etc.

At the end of the day there is still room for traditional automotive and supplier to stay relevant. If the cloud assets and the AV stack become the property of big tech so be it. It is becoming increasingly clear that big tech does not want to have much to do with the car itself. Leave that to the OEMs. There will still be plenty of differentiation in the platforms to meet the many different use cases.

Eventually ownership models start to change and this too will have an impact. But here again, while the model will change the demand for vehicular transportation will not.  Longer term you have the concept of teleportation but I am not about to even go there because I cannot wrap my head around it!