‘It is about making mobility more efficient’
With the world witnessing a paradigm shift, albeit gradual, to automated driving, we caught up with Dr Rolf Bulander, member of the Board of Directors at Robert Bosch GmbH, at the 2017 Bosch Mobility Experience in Boxberg for his take on the changing scen
Bike India (BI): What are the big changes that you see in mobility in the near future, considering what we already know about electrification, connectivity, and automation?
Dr Rolf Bulander (RB): Is that not enough? (Laughs) I think with the possibility that we will have fully autonomous driving, there will be a further change coming from shared mobility. This goes along with the need for traffic route requirements in cities. There isn’t a difference any more, whether you go to a small city like Stuttgart with 600,000 people or a big city like Delhi or Bengaluru. When I’m in Bengaluru, I’m usually stuck in traffic. And so, the question is how can this be solved? The answer is already introduced in a lot of cities in the world. I think three or four years ago, everyone was thinking about how to make car mobility more efficient. But this will change. It is about making mobility more efficient. This includes other possibilities as well: cars, bikes, public transport, bicycles.
In Europe, we are market leader of the powertrain for e-bikes, with an unbelievable figure being sold. When you look at European streets, a significant amount of vehicles are not classic, mechanical bikes, but e-bikes. Those offer different opportunities. Also in cities like Stuttgart where there are steep hills, where you would never use a bicycle unless you are a sports person, with e-bikes, a lot of people use bikes!
So, shared mobility, inter-modal mobility, use of different opportunities, and a seamless change of mobility opportunities is the major change in the future.
BI: In the two-wheeler sphere, we’ve seen ABS, ESP and a lot more assistance come in for big bikes. Where do you see you biggest challenge coming in the mass market? What sort of systems do you see coming in on mass-produced bikes, such as the 100-110-cc bikes in India?
RB: You will see ABS coming in there as well. You will even see ABS on bicycles. If you have tried it on the Proving Ground, you will be amazed. Even at 25 km/h with a full brake, it’s amazing! Your neighbour will have an accident, and you will stop like you’re on a railway. It will come, and it will be affordable on bicycles as well as on 100-cc bikes. This will save lives, I’m very sure. For me, this is one of the most important inventions. This is an angel, because the possibility to die on one of those bikes is high compared to a Mahindra car or whatever.
BI: Will the e-Call feature as well as Digital Shield also become equally important in the future? Especially for markets such as India and China? When do you think this could become massmarket?
RB: We already have that. The e-Call via smartphone is already available. As everyone has a smartphone, we link a lot of functions for the two-wheeler to the smartphone. For instance, theft control and e-Call can be directly linked to the smartphone. I think what is important is that two-wheeler not exceed certain price limits, and for that you have to use what’s available. What is available is a small connectivity box which links to your smartphone and not to the cloud, because then you have to have extra to pay for fees. You link the smartphone and the services are provided by the smartphone to the two-wheeler. BI: How important is it for the industry to collaborate; for instance, do you think tech companies and traditional automobile companies can coexist? RB: This is what we’ve already experienced. The capability of the computer and software industries linked with the auto industry offers various solutions which are much more competitive than those earlier. This is clear. Take the use of Alexa or Amazon in cars. There are several examples. BI: Specific to electrification, what’s the development that is happening in the area of batteries, especially their energy density?
RB: We have a two-fold approach. We have a joint venture with two Japanese companies: Mitsubishi Corporate and GS Yuasa, very established producers of batteries from lead-acid to lithium-ion batteries. Our mission is to improve the energy density of cells tremendously. They already have their production and their customers. We have highly sophisticated production and manufacturing technology. That is one approach. The second is post-lithium technology, or solid-state batteries, whose technology [has not reached] as far as lithiumion batteries. It’s more in the stage of research close to predevelopment. This is done on our own, together with a start-up company we have bought two years ago, and we brought that together with our research area. If you bring together those systematic researchers looking for everything everywhere in the world, and the start-up folk who are fast in reinventing; if you bring systematic simulation know-how together with fast recursion of tests, then the speed is quite high. BI: The key demands from batteries are to increase range and bring down costs. How do you see costs coming down over a period of time? RB: Our target is ‘double range, half cost’. You cannot really distinguish between range and cost because as soon as you can increase the range in the same volume, if you double the range, you can only take half of the cells and you have half of the cost with the same range. So, both go along with each other, and this is the key. If the efficiency of the powertrain improves by 10 per cent, you could invest that in range or reduce your number of cells.
BI: You’ve been investing quite a lot in the Indian market with over 17,500 people undertaking research. Have you identified more areas for the future? RB: Artificial Intelligence. We have 4,000 of those 17,500 working directly on combustion engines and electrification. Our activities in India have strategic importance for our business worldwide. We’ve even extended the activities from India to Vietnam, so they have a separate branch working for us for the ASEAN market. They even have a branch in Mexico. This is a vital part of our worldwide R&D network with the main focus being software.
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