Even as governments across the world – including the central Government of India – make long-term projections and line-up missions with regards to electromobility, there are strong mobility advocates that believe internal combustion engines will continue to thrive. This, at a time when the world is looking at adopting smarter mobility solutions in the near to long-term future – one that is connected, safe, shared and autonomous – all aided by artificial intelligence and deep learning. Auto Tech Review was invited to the Bosch’s biennial technology showcase – the Bosch Mobility Experience (ME) 2017 – in Boxberg, Germany, where it demonstrated technologies that would define and drive the future of mobility.
Bosch, the largest supplier of automotive components in the world, is fast becoming a provider of mobility services. While it commits to remain a strong automotive supplier, its future, the company acknowledges, would be defined by how it shapes its vision for urban, connected and smart cities, and develop and provide solutions thereto.
Clearly, deteriorating air quality in cities, worsening congestion in urban areas, rising number of accidents and heightened levels of stress are some of the most critical concerns today among city dwellers. At the Bosch ME 2017, held in the first week of July in Boxberg, Germany, the company demonstrated technologies that would address most of these concerns, and improve the quality of life in cities. The answer, they say, lies in “smart mobility solutions” that are electrified, connected and autonomous, and ones that lead to an environment free of emissions, stress and accidents.
CONGESTION & SMART CITIES
Talking of our cities today, urban congestion has become an impediment to economic movement and growth. Available statistics suggest that by 2050, over six billion people will live in megacities, double the current estimates. By the same time, urban traffic will have tripled, severely stressing the available resources in our cities. To mitigate such circumstances, Bosch believes the need of the hour is to look at new solutions for transporting people and goods that go beyond the car. And the potential is fairly large. Until 2020, Bosch claims the smart city market will grow by 19 % each year, reaching a volume of € 700 bn.
Dr Rolf Bulander, Chairman of the Mobility Solutions business sector, Robert Bosch GmbH told us that the big changes beyond the current trends of electrification, connected vehicles and automated driving would be in the areas of shared mobility as well as inter-modal mobility, assisted by seamless connectivity – a solution where all means of transport in the city are connected with each other.
He spoke about developing a new concept of urban traffic, where “goods are delivered from inner-city distribution centres by connected electric vans, people who can switch from road to rail, and from four- to two-wheels, depending on congestion and need.” Bosch is looking at reaching out to civic authorities in such megacities with solutions similar to what it is already offering through a series of projects in cities such as Singapore, San Francisco (US) and Tianjin (China). Apart from connected parking and fleet management, these solutions also involve electromobility and multimodal transport, he stated.
The key to making a city smart, Dr Bulander said, lies in making its traffic smart. One is the key to the other, and this fundamental challenge is the rationale behind the diversification of Bosch’s mobility solutions, he said. It will, of course, continue to be a strong automotive systems supplier, but is fast evolving into a provider of services for road users. “To come up with new concepts for mobility, we are also revising our conception of Bosch,” he said.
PRAGMATIC APPROACH TO MOBILITY
The past few years have seen extraordinary changes in the automotive sector, and many industry leaders have projected that developments through the next decade will be far more than what has happened in the past 50 years. Electrification of the powertrain is offering vehicle makers new opportunities in terms of performance and efficiency. Connected cars are being seen as the third living space, beyond homes and offices. And artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning is becoming the key element in making a car smart.
Bosch is investing heavily in AI, as it believes it needs to be one of its core competencies. A car equipped with AI needs a brain, one that Bosch will supply for the self-driving cars of the future. Such a car, Dr Dirk Hoheisel, Member of the Board of Management, Robert Bosch GmbH said, will not only react faster than any human, but will also drive more defensively; eventually leading to safer urban roads – both for vehicle occupants as well as others using the roads.
The AI onboard computer is expected to go into production early next decade and will be able to process 30 tn deep learning operations per second, roughly three times more than a human brain can collect and process. Bosch has announced an investment of € 300 mn in the Bosch Center for Artificial Intelligence over the next five years. This centre would employ some 100 experts at locations in Bengaluru (India), Palo Alto (US) and Renningen (Germany), with the objective of making the AI onboard computer capable of anticipating and interpreting events “at least” as well as a human driver.
To meet this objective, Dr Hoheisel believes three fundamental things have to be achieved: one, the car has to know what its sensors are detecting; two, the car has to be able to take decisions; and three, the role of high-resolution maps, wherein vehicles use sensor data to keep cloud-based digital maps constantly up-to-date. Bosch is keen to create an open standard for this.
While its focus on AI and deep learning is relatively new, Bosch’s focus on automated driving isn’t. Over the years, it has built a team of close to 3,000 engineers, who are involved in the research and development of automated driving technologies. Its recent alliance with Daimler seeks to co-develop and introduce fully automated (SAE Level 4) and driverless cars (SAE Level 5) by the beginning of the next decade. The objective of this tie-up is to develop and launch an autonomous driving system for robocabs.
The company has been doing brisk business in the area driver assistance systems (DAS), the basis for automated driving. Last year, the company crossed € 1 bn in sales in DAS, and received orders worth € 3.5 bn. Radar sensors and video sensors grew 60 % and 80 % respectively in the last year, clearly highlighting the demand and growth in this area. Bosch has also built strong capabilities in-house in many other aspects of autonomous driving, including testing and validation. All of this puts Bosch in a unique position to lead the development of autonomous vehicle technology into the future.
It has been proven beyond doubt that electric vehicles are the future, and OEMs world over are investing heavily in them. While Tesla has been the most aggressive of all OEMs with its range of battery-powered cars, there are others that are lining up products to meet the likely demand for EVs in the near future. The thrust also comes from the fact that many European countries, initiated by Norway, have called for bans on fossil-fuel-powered vehicles by the middle of the next decade or thereabouts.
India too have committed to go all electric by 2030, a move that is expected to substantially cut down India’s oil imports as well as pollution levels. How practical or feasible that move would be is still not clear.
Bosch, meanwhile, is of the opinion that urban electromobility will take-off with small EVs, which would include e-scooters and small four-wheeled cars. As mentioned earlier in the report, Bosch is looking at developing unique solutions to decongest cities and light EVs seem to be a plausible solution. By 2020, it is estimated that some 100 mn light EVs will be produced worldwide and they are expected to be a big success in Asian metros, including those in India.
Some of the biggest concerns associated with electric vehicles are efficiency, range and cost. Dr Markus Heyn, Member of the Board of Management, Robert Bosch GmbH, however, believes that urban electromobility is not just about the quest for greater size and range. Smaller EVs make better sense for urban areas, considering they can weave through traffic quickly, and finding a parking space too is less cumbersome. They can cut down on emissions as well as noise. Above all, smaller EVs will also be economically prudent for last mile transportation – be it for commuters or for goods.
The one solution that Bosch believes is ideal for this segment of vehicles is its 48 V powertrain system that can power two-wheelers such as the E-Schwalbe and small four-wheel vehicles such as the e.Go – both demonstrated at the Bosch ME in Boxberg. The integrated system includes motor, control unit, battery, charger, display, and also comes with an app for two-, three-, and four-wheelers. Heyn said Bosch expects 48 V systems to generate annual internal growth of well over 100 %.
The most critical aspect of future mobility is perhaps connectivity. We already have examples of connected technologies in our vehicles, but this is just considered to be the beginning of what seems like an ocean of opportunities. Among various other things, autonomous cars will need to connect and communicate with almost everything around them – pedestrians, vehicles, traffic signals and buildings – and many such protocols are under extensive research and development.
Over the next decade, Dr Bulander believes connectivity will go hand in hand with the transformation of the car itself. Next year, Bosch plans to introduce to the market its Automotive Cloud Suite – a software platform that is claimed to be practically the centrepiece of connected mobility. This will also allow Bosch to open up the area of mobility services to the millions of application programmers to cooperate.
Ultimately, the objective is to ensure stress-free mobility. Bosch has on offer its connected parking solution – be it for community-based parking, active parking lot management, or automated valet parking, and in the future it is looking at introducing connected logistics. This, in fact, is an interesting development and can bring about tremendous efficiency to the operations of logistics providers. Bosch is looking at connecting and automating freight traffic. The integrated micro-mechanical sensors, for instance, monitor the freight and this could eventually lead to reduction in costs, improve logistical efficiency, and relieve the overall infrastructure.
IC ENGINES STILL VIABLE
Electric mobility might well be making for strong headlines, but Dr Bulander isn’t one to give up on diesel engines yet. Why just him, Bosch as an organisation strongly believes in the potential in making diesel engines cleaner and far more efficient. Scathing in his attack on politicians, he said the decision by several countries to ban diesel vehicles from 2025 is “ecologically misguided” or at best is environmental protection from a blinkered perspective. “Politicians should not restrict our engineers’ creativity by favouring or disadvantaging a certain technology,” he said.
It is significant to note that Bosch spends half its € 7 bn annual R&D budget on environmental protection and resource conservation. By any measure, that is huge. Bosch believes IC engines and battery-electric cars will coexist for many years, and hence is deeply focussed on making IC engines cleaner and more efficient. He said the industry won’t be able to achieve the stringent CO2 emission targets solely on the basis of EVs, and it is important to improve both diesel and petrol engines.
There are a variety of solutions Bosch is offering towards emission-free mobility. The first-time certification of diesel models that comply with Euro 6 emissions standards in real driving emissions (RDE) will happen this year, and it is a Bosch solution that is making it happen, claimed Dr Bulander. Bosch is currently involved in some 300 RDE projects with its customers. It is further aiming to reduce NOx emissions from diesel vehicles at the test bay.
The company also has decided to no longer carry out engineering work in Europe on spark-ignition engines that are not fitted with a particulate filter, a component already common on modern turbo diesel engines. Diesel has not had a particulate problem since these particulate filters were introduced, claimed Dr Bulander. Then, there is the 48 V onboard network suitable for entry-level hybrid powertrains, and high-voltage systems to make larger vehicles capable of driving electrically.
Overall, Dr Bulander advocated the thought that there are multiple paths that lead to emission-free mobility, and Bosch is exploring all such options. One such area is synthetic fuel produced using renewable energy, which itself would make the combustion engine an alternative powertrain.
There were over 20 prototypes at the Boxberg proving ground – centre of the Bosch Mobility Experience 2017 – each reflecting the company’s solutions and innovations in the areas of automated, connected and electrified mobility. But clearly, there was more than what we saw at Boxberg – the automotive industry in general is making shifts hitherto unknown or not practiced. Partnerships, for instance, is becoming commonplace. The startup ecosystem is allowing larger players like Bosch to explore new domains, which could potentially offer disruptive innovations, be it for products, processes or services.
From an Indian perspective, this market will continue to be a hotbed of R&D and engineering activities for Bosch. Over the years, the view of using Indian knowledge and engineers has completely changed, said Dr Hoheisel. The earlier notion was to take advantage of the cheap labour cost here, thus helping the company keep costs under control and also get the sufficient number of people. That, however, has changed completely. The Indian operations now possess high competencies, and is at par with all other global centres for Bosch, he said.
“For instance, the eCall solution for two-wheelers was developed in Bangalore. It’s a simple solution, but the application can fit into all two-wheelers globally,” he said. As for the future, we were told that all activities related to future two-wheeler and electrified two-wheelers will happen in India. The Indian R&D centre will also be the front runner for the next generation of all communication related technologies, including 5G.
In all of these, Bosch continues to grow at a pace far higher than the industry rates. In 2017, the company expects to grow by 7 %, which is two to three times the growth of the global auto industry. And going by what we experienced recently, we can only expect more disruptive innovations to come out of the Bosch stable in the coming years.
TEXT: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah