It’s good to talk

The Irish Times - Thursday - Property - - Front Page -

It’s easy to be scep­ti­cal about the au­tonomous ve­hi­cles of the fu­ture, but only if you don’t re­alise how tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced to­day’s cars al­ready are.

New BMWs have an app on board that al­ready en­ables them com­mu­ni­cate with the out­side world, in­de­pen­dently of the driver, for ex­am­ple.

“We get no­ti­fi­ca­tions from each car about ser­vice rou­tines or things like brake fluid changes, so we al­ready have that in­de­pen­dent con­nec­tiv­ity with the car,” says Mark Bradley, head of busi­ness at Frank Keane BMW.

BMW’s elec­tric i-cars al­low drivers to lock their car or check fuel lev­els re­motely via an app. You can even set it to your de­sired temperature be­fore you get in. “It means that on a win­ter’s morn­ing it’s de­frosted and ready to go,” he says.

Man­age­ment at BMW reck­ons four pil­lars of in­no­va­tion will un­der­pin the cars of the fu­ture: au­to­ma­tion, con­nec­tiv­ity, elec­tri­fi­ca­tion and shared mo­bil­ity.

The last makes par­tic­u­larly good sense. “If you con­sider how a car works now, it typ­i­cally com­mutes to work, sits there all day and goes home again,” says Bradley.

The fu­ture will be not one of car own­er­ship, but of “cars as a ser­vice”.

“Cars will be­come more like a trans­port in­fra­struc­ture and peo­ple will use them on a pay-as-you-go ba­sis. They may re­place buses.”

In the medium-term de­mand for ul­tra-clean diesels will re­main strong among those whose an­nual mileage is high, and hy­brids will play an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant role.

But while full elec­tric cars won’t suit ev­ery­body – yet – range anx­i­ety is be­ing ad­dressed “and the next wave of ESB charg­ers will be a lot more pow­er­ful and faster,” he says, point­ing to Nor­way, which has seen a mas­sive shift to­wards elec­tri­fi­ca­tion, as a trend­set­ter.

Ben­e­fit in Kind

Here in Ire­land, de­mand has in­creased since the ad­vent of zero-rate Ben­e­fit In Kind (BIK) tax for pure elec­tric ve­hi­cles. “It means that if you are a low-mileage driver, you can now run a com­pany car and in­cur no BIK,” says Bradley.

Au­tonomous ve­hi­cles will be an even big­ger step change, but in some ways they make even more sense. “You have to think of them in terms of the growth of megac­i­ties and the num­ber of peo­ple due to move to them, as well as is­sues such as air qual­ity. On top of that, the av­er­age 16- to 18-year-old doesn’t buy mu­sic, they stream it. They are not go­ing to want to buy per­sonal cars. And from a safety and ef­fi­ciency point of view alone, au- It’s good to talk. In the fu­ture, it’s the cars that will be do­ing it while we sit, and pos­si­bly snooze, in the back.

“It’s all about con­nected cars, cars talk­ing to each other,” says Karl McDer­mott, head of busi­ness ICT at Three. Much of what they say will re­late to safety. “The up and com­ing 5G net­works will al­low sub-milli-sec­ond re­sponse times, which means cars will be able to re­act im­me­di­ately to any dan­ger.”

There’ll be no keys. Fin­ger prints or iris scan­ners will be used to gain ac­cess, says McDer­mott. New gen­er­a­tion VW vans – the iconic Scooby Do ones –al­ready of­fer fa­cial recog­ni­tion se­cu­rity.

Once we’re in, the cars of the fu­ture will have win­dows that are ac­tive touch screens and tonomous sense.”

Though not likely to emerge for in­di­vid­ual use, they are be­ing pushed hard by plat­forms such as Uber and Google. The ques­tion is whether it’s the car com­pa­nies with their 100-year her­itage of mass pro­duc­tion, or the plat­form com­pa­nies with their dig­i­tal skills, that will win out.

Al­ter­na­tively, the win­ner could emerge from left­field. “There’s more than one in­dus­try look­ing at this. Vac­uum ma­chine maker Dyson is look­ing at elec­tric cars,” says Bradley.

For their part, legacy car makers are em­brac­ing smart tech­nol­ogy, and us­ing it in in­no­va­tive ways. Audi Ire­land cre­ated a mixed-re­al­ity con­sumer ex­pe­ri­ence to demon­strate its new A7, us­ing a holo­graphic tour guide called Si­mone to talk prospec­tive buy­ers through its fea­tures.

Global first

ve­hi­cles make De­signed by in­no­va­tive Dublin tech­nol­ogy com­pany vStream, it was a global first for Audi, and a good ex­am­ple of how car-makers are also us­ing tech­nol­ogy to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them­selves in the marketplace.

“Our strate­gic fo­cus is to pro­vide the best cus­tomer ex­peri- voice con­trol fea­tures sim­i­lar to Ama­zon’s Elec­tra. “You’ll say take me to work, and the car will know where that is,” says McDer­mott.

Makers are al­ready in­stalling GPS route-finder app Waze as part of their ‘in­fo­tain­ment’ fea­tures, in some cases it is be­ing dis­played on the wind­screen.

The con­nected, self driv­ing cars of the fu­ture open up a world of op­por­tu­ni­ties for re­tail­ers too. These will be look­ing to en­gage with what is, at least for the du­ra­tion of the jour­ney, a cap­tive au­di­ence.

“There’s al­ready a don­gle you can put into your car which en­ables you to find your car and can be used to get you cheaper in­sur­ance if you drive care­fully and can be tied in to your Pay­zone ac­count,” he says. ence, and, from the minute you walk into the show­room, the ex­pe­ri­ence you have should re­flect this,” says Richard Mol­loy, gen­eral man­ager, prod­uct and mar­ket­ing at Audi Ire­land.

“More and more peo­ple do their re­search on­line, so they have more in­for­ma­tion be­fore they come to the show­room. They have in­vested their time in us, so our view is that we should make their visit the best pos­si­ble ex­pe­ri­ence for them in re­turn. And, as the Audi A7 is packed full of tech­nol­ogy, we wanted to tell this tech­nol­ogy story in a more en­gag­ing, in­for­ma­tive and even en­ter­tain­ing way.”

Next year will see Audi launch a fully elec­tric car, an SUV, with two mod­els to fol­low by 2020. It’s some way down the road to­wards au­tonomous ve­hi­cles too. The flag­ship Audi A8 al­ready has the fa­cil­ity to be­come fully au­tonomous to Level Three spec­i­fi­ca­tions.

The tech­nol­ogy is there, he points out. It’s the reg­u­la­tory en­vi­ron­ment that is fall­ing be­hind. wel­come, not least as the num­ber of ur­ban dwellers is pre­dicted to rise from its cur­rent 50 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion to a prospec­tive 70 per cent by 2050.

Pubs will make a killing, with au­tonomous ve­hi­cles re­vers­ing the im­pact of decades of drink-driv­ing laws. There will be a lot of wor­ried road users, how­ever, fret­ting about a panop­ti­con fu­ture of end­less sur­veil­lance, where your ev­ery jour­ney – and con­ver­sa­tion – is recorded. One thing’s for sure, it’s the end of the open road.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: JOERG KOCH/GETTY

A BMW i8 plug-in hy­brid. BMW man­age­ment say four pil­lars of in­no­va­tion will un­der­pin the cars of the fu­ture: au­to­ma­tion, con­nec­tivi­ity, elec­tri­fi­ca­tion and shared mo­bil­ity.

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