Building Blocks Of Future Mobility

Cover Story September 2019 Building Blocks Future Mobility

The megatrends of connected technologies, autonomous driving, shared mobility, electrified vehicles and digitalisation are leading to major disruptions across the globe, including India. The last big disruption witnessed in the automotive industry was when internal combustion engine moved past steam and ironically – electric propulsion – to emerge as the technology of choice. What essentially began as the horse and cart has evolved past engines and gearboxes, moving towards batteries and electric propulsion systems, all aimed at promoting greener and cleaner mobility.

Globally, the automotive industry has begun its shift towards electric mobility, selecting it as the next domain of vehicular propulsion technology. However, the internal combustion engine is not considered dead as yet by many, with companies focussing on electronics to derive more efficiency and improve performance.

Many global players in the auto industry have invested heavily in autonomous driving technology, as it is considered one of the essential building blocks of future mobility. It is set to significantly transform inter and intra-city mobility as well as parking. A few companies have also received licenses to run significantly automated test drives on public roads. At present – sensors, control units, brake systems, connectivity solutions, software, information and driving functions are globally being developed with a focus on major markets such as Japan, China, the US, Europe and India. Developments have been aimed at seamless, efficient, sustainable and comfortable mobility without crashes.

The coming years will be about mobility systems, connected mobility, convenient mobility with cities designed and developed to reduce congestion, accidents and pollution. This is a period where shared mobility will play a leading role. Mobility as a Service (MaaS) will bring in a paradigm change in the industry. In India as well as the world over, shared mobility and autonomous mobility will give time back to the customer. The speed of megabytes is gaining more importance in mobility systems and with many digital companies entering the mobility space, there is a clear restructuring of the industry.

AN ELECTRIFIED FUTURE

Electric mobility across the globe has been gaining momentum with previous investments infused by manufacturers now being realised as products for the consumer market. The Indian government had previously mandated OEMs in India to comply with a 100 % electric vehicle portfolio, which was later filtered down to 30 % for four-wheelers in 2030, 100 % for three-wheelers in 2023 and 100 % for two-wheelers in 2025. Even in the recent budget announcement, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman stated that the government’s ambition is to transform India into a hub for electric vehicle manufacturers.

While home grown OEMs like Tata Motors and Mahindra & Mahindra have electric vehicles in their portfolio and have lined up plans to roll out more in future, a few global OEMs are moving in this direction as well. Hyundai has recently introduced its Kona Electric in India and MG Motor India too has plans to soon introduce the eZS electric vehicle in India.

Various recent studies have also revealed that electric three-wheelers have witnessed the highest growth in India. Industry experts have analysed the large penetration of e-rickshaws in India to have been market led as well as driven alongside government initiatives. For two-wheelers, lithium-ion batteries are slowly but surely gaining traction with manufacturers such as Ather Energy, Okinawa and Revolt Motors introducing models powered by lithium-ion batteries. However, scientists and researchers in India believe there is further scope for the technology to mature. Lithium cobalt oxide batteries in theory have a higher charge capacity, but in reality may end up losing up to 50 % charge holding capacity over time. There is a need to improve charge holding capacity and subsequently work on stabilising the structure for higher charge capacity.

Electric vehicles hold a strong promise for the future of mobility, but have a few shortcomings as well. Due to the poor economies of scale, the cost of EVs remains high besides other concerns such as range anxiety among customers and a lack of charging infrastructure within the country. However, experts believe that many ecosystem players will invest in charging infrastructure over the near term, with companies like Schneider Electric, Delta, ABB, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and other such companies keen about tapping new opportunities in the charging infrastructure space. The charging infrastructure space is set to gain more traction with these companies looking to partner with local players to set-up infrastructure across India.

According to analysts, another emerging business model in this space will be battery swapping. Revolt Motors has also made a move in this direction with its new electric motorcycle Revolt RV400, offering battery swapping services for this electric two-wheeler. The company plans to set-up battery swapping stations across cities in India, beginning with the capital city of New Delhi.

IS SHARED MOBILITY THE WAY FORWARD?

The shared mobility megatrend is relatively new and does not need deep technical knowhow like that of autonomous or electric vehicles. However, shared mobility could potentially alter the entire landscape of the mobility industry, say experts. Various studies have suggested that mobility as a service holds immense potential to reshape how people travel and how manufacturers create products for mobility. It is anticipated that with the dawn of autonomous and electric vehicles, shared mobility may receive a significant boost. Further, manufacturers may develop electric vehicle platforms dedicated to optimising vehicles for shared modes of transport.

In India, analysts have evaluated that in the short and medium term, subscription-based business models such as those of Revv and Zoom Car, will gain more traction in India, especially with millennials not being interested in purchasing new cars. Experts have concluded that the huge population of millennial buyers in India do not necessarily want to get bogged down with owning a vehicle, but rather are looking to experience different vehicles and will prefer opting for a subscription-based model. This along with trends such as a lack of public transportation, four-wheelers being safer modes of transportation, penetration of smartphones and features phones in India and the economics of cost, have created the perfect backdrop for shared mobility to start working in India.

But although shared mobility is picking up steam in the country, there are challenges as well. Pressure points such as earnings of drivers, regulations and legal framework of these kinds of business models, pricing models and other such factors are coming up for discussion. In metropolitan cities, these aggregator service providers are reaching a level, where they form a part of being essential services and hence there is a stronger need for regulations.

Globally, autonomous and electric vehicles have a significant part to play in shared mobility, but these technologies are yet to permeate in India. However, players such as Ola have begun the shift towards e-mobility at a local level, with the company spinning of its electric business into a new entity. Ola has also committed to bring one million EVs to Indian roads and is working with the government to promote battery swapping and fast charging technologies that will help drive the penetration and acceptance of EVs in India.

AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES A DISTANT DREAM FOR INDIA

Engineering the autonomy of vehicles is posing a tricky problem for OEMs and suppliers alike, who are working on creating systems to move ahead of the present levels of autonomy towards completely autonomous vehicles. These systems include contemporary advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) technologies that we have seen in vehicles as well as those that are under development. ADAS will offer a clear path forward, adding new technologies and also growing consumer acceptance of these advanced systems. The usage of ADAS systems will also bolster and demonstrate the robustness of these technologies.

Globally, it is predicted that the implementation of autonomy in vehicles will be uneven and erratic. But all the various systems that facilitate autonomous functionalities in cars today, are moving in the direction of complete autonomy. Features such as self-park, assisted parking, autonomous braking, collision avoidance and the likes, all form interim steps towards true autonomy. Some of these technologies have been around for several product generations and have become mainstream features on mass market brands. Park-assist systems using ultrasonic sensors have been widely used since the mid-2000s and were later ramped up along with systems to offer parallel parking, with the driver only needing to shift gears and brake.

The next generation systems that will hit the market may likely incorporate data inputs from both visual and ultrasonic sensors. At present, data from mono cameras, Radar, LIDAR, stereo cameras, and ultrasonic sensors are being used to detect objects in the environment. Middleware systems further process these data inputs to classify or identify these as 2D & 3D objects, creating an environmental map. This information is shared with guidance, navigation and control systems that will enable vehicles to achieve enhanced levels of autonomy. Autonomous sensor fusion systems have also been proven to offer a higher accuracy of traffic sign detection than that of an average human being. However, there is a need to standardise these across geographies or conduct region-specific adaptation of validation systems.

In India, ADAS features such as emergency braking, lane assist, driver alertness monitoring, etc will get mass implementation only if they are mandated by government policies. Emergency braking, autonomous braking are features that have been offered on high-end luxury car models and as we move forward in India, these may become more mainstream. Experts analyse that India will stay at a L1 or L2 autonomy, as a L4 or L5 will need a lot of infrastructure and network systems, which will allow that processing. The speed at which all these data and knowledge gets processed will play a key role. At present, the 3D mapping of roads, navigation, connectivity between cars and infrastructure, classification of vehicles in India will be a challenge. There is a lot of groundwork to be done, but for systems to be enabled, a lot of support systems need to be worked on. At present, the priority should be to have adequate safety systems in vehicles.

Autonomous mobility will happen in India, but experts believe it will begin in more controlled environments such as industrial compounds, university campuses, etc that can have dedicated tracks. In such closed areas, there is a lot more control over the infrastructure, road patterns can be mapped and the range of autonomous vehicles can be fixed. In the public domain, it will take a lot more time before autonomous vehicles can become usable. Experts have estimated that India will adopt autonomous vehicles at least 10 years after global adoption of such technologies. Certain analysts have also estimated autonomous technologies to be first adopted in the commercial industries for tractors and off-highway equipment such as backhoe loaders and earth movers. The industry has also seen a spurt in manufacturers launching their autonomous tractor technologies. But for all these technologies to work there is a requirement for a lot of machine language updating as well as strong connectivity between systems.

ONSET OF CONNECTED TECHNOLOGIES

Connected technologies such as those seen at the recent launches of global manufacturers are not just additions to bolster their product offerings, but also to bring in unique differentiation. However, companies such as Hyundai, MG and Kia have had to create their own ecosystems to facilitate such services. These technologies are being developed in partnership with other companies and are being presented as a united front with technology partners and it will be supported by the entire ecosystem of players.

These connected features such as voice activated features, internet access, remote control functions for engine start/stop and air-conditioning control are being facilitated by an embedded sim. With a sim that is dedicated to a single service provider, any gaps in network coverage will also result in a disruption of these services. Embedded sims play a critical role as they allow multiple service providers to be connected, catering to perpetual connection and service access. It also allows for over the air updates, for instance. More importantly, it also ensures data privacy as the data is translated, embedded, machine languaged, encrypted and sent out. A lot more protection would be offered on an open platform when using a mobile application for such services.

The major challenges for such connected technologies will be towards creating new features, updates, applications and services that customers need or want. Another challenge will be to ensure these applications and services remain fresh and how OEMs drive continuous subscription to these services by consumers. Analysts have clearly highlighted such connected technologies to be the way forward. With customers getting more exposed to subscription models, these features are set to gain more traction. Moving forward, some of these services will become mandated. Services such as emergency assist and location recording for legal purposes will be mandated to enhance the safety aspect of vehicles. Experts believe insurance companies may even begin offering a higher premium based on driving patterns of car owners.

ROUND-UP

The automotive industry in India has begun seeing the percolating effects of major global megatrends and while these technologies are highly appreciated, making heavy investments to steer companies in line with such trends requires an accurate assessment of the future. Manufacturers are also investing in digitalisation and Industry 4.0, among others. At present though, the auto industry needs policies that will make technologies more accessible.

(Inputs from Frost & Sullivan, Ola, Continental, Counterpoint Research, Plante Moran, Hyundai Motor)

TEXT: Joshua David Luther

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