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AI will drive automotive future, says Audi SA head

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After the steam engine, assembly line production and automation in production, digitisation is having the biggest impact on the automotive industry, writes TREVOR HILL, Head of Audi South Africa.

As the “fourth industrial revolution” championed by the World Economic Forum’s Klaus Schwab gains momentum, it’s thrilling to anticipate what this means for the automotive industry – and as a result, cities of the future.

Schwab and the WEF link the emergence of breakthrough technologies such as artificial intelligence to a revolution in how business and society function together into the future. It makes sense. But, what this vision needs most, is for industries like ours to take the lead in translating theory into a tangible reality.

As with everything today, this happens within a context of constant change. The automotive industry is itself experiencing its own “fourth revolution”, and Audi is responding by transforming itself into an automotive brand that owns the future. Our focus is on driving progress as an innovator intentionally crossing the divide between a traditional model as motor vehicle manufacturer to being a hybrid business, where our vehicles enable superior mobility for goods and people in a more modern city.

Critical to this, is how we seamlessly integrate artificial intelligence across our product range. We know that the application of artificial intelligence opens up a new dimension of performance for vehicle products and that AI has an exponential impact on what we call the “mobility value chain”.

This means embracing the fact that future growth will no longer occur in the traditional car business, but instead it will shift to the usage of mobility products and services. Areas such as autonomous driving, new and sustainable drive concepts, mobility services and digitalisation of the car and vehicle environment are all examples of where our industry should be moving.

As a digital car company, Audi is digitising all processes: from product development with virtual reality, to the factory with intelligent robots and to sales with the latest digital technology. To enable this, we have expanded our business model to ensure that services appear alongside our products.

This by no means eliminates the need for automotive production and technology, but instead makes a giant leap forward in how traditional technologies play a greater part in society through the inclusion of AI.  With this in mind, we are focusing our business on developing alternative powertrains, integrated mobility solutions, autonomous driving technologies and a significantly greater level of connectivity that will help us better evolve the entire mobility value chain as soon as 2020.

Much of our focus is centered on the concept of the 25th hour. The 25th hour is built on the premise that in the future, self-driving cars will navigate fluently through the city – without a steering wheel, without a driver. Users will have free time. Free time that we at Audi call the “25th Hour” of the day.

Already, models such as the new A4 and new Q7 point the way ahead. Their online services, grouped together under the term Audi Connect, link them to the Internet, the infrastructure and to other vehicles. Their assistance systems operate predictively. For instance, they can alert the driver to a tight bend that comes just after the crest of a hill, or Traffic Jam Assist can take charge of the steering in slow-moving traffic on good roads, at a speed of up to 60 km/h. These technologies represent a pre-stage to piloted driving, which will be introduced in series production in 2017 with the next A8 generation.

Outside of what is included in the latest generation of luxury sedans, we are entering a time of swarm intelligence, where cars communicate with each other and with infrastructure, then use this information to plan optimum routes and speeds. A technology called Traffic Light Information (TLI) is already in place in Las Vegas, where it communicates with traffic lights and provides drivers with a “time to green light” countdown on the head-up vehicle display, telling them when the light is due to change.

Cars communicating with the infrastructure around them can also cut fuel consumption in urban traffic by up to 15 percent, as cars “surf the green wave”, adjusting their speed to ensure each traffic light turns green as they reach it.

The latest generation of mild-hybrid vehicles feature electrical systems that can coast with the engine switched off and the drivetrain decoupled, an extended start-stop mode and a high level of brake-energy recuperation. This is another step toward affordable, practical, fully electric vehicles

The buzzwords in automotive design these days are autonomy, intelligence and innovation. The vehicles of the future will continually learn and develop, while the technology adapts to people’s individual needs. Cars’ AI, or artificial intelligence will also suggest appropriate services and book them if desired by its passengers, like a concierge.

The latest software can also be downloaded as required, so you will be able to update your car in the same way you update your phone or your computer. From now on, your car can order functions on demand and always have the most up-to-the-minute capabilities – downloaded straight from the internet, as you need them.

The car of the future will be a car uniquely customised to client needs. It will be constantly learning, updating its knowledge and fine-tuning the user experience to suit the driver’s preferences. Your car can create working conditions that are even more pleasant and productive than in the office.

Piloted parking is another revolutionary innovation already available in the cars of today, such as the new Audi A8. You no longer even need to be seated in your vehicle while you park – your car does it all for you, more accurately and requiring less parking space.

This has further implications for urban design, as the space required for parking areas can be reduced. Indeed, the very idea of mobility is changing. Even the principle that you need to own a single personal vehicle to be mobile is being questioned.

Car companies are offering mobility solutions that allow you to pick up a car when required, or to change the model of car you drive several times during a year. Thanks to advancements in automation, innovation and artificial intelligence, motoring and mobility is about to change permanently. How we get around has always been part of what defines us humans, and we are about to take a quantum leap into an exciting new phase of our existence.

It’s quite a time to be alive.

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Meet Aston Martin F1’s incredible moving data centre

The Aston Martin Red Bull Racing team faces a great deal more IT challenges than your average enterprise as not many IT teams have to rebuild their data center 21 times each year and get it running it up in a matter of hours. Not many data centers are packed up and transported around the world by air and sea along with 45 tonnes of equipment. Not many IT technicians also have to perform a dual role as pit stop mechanic.

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The trackside garage at an F1 race is a tight working environment and a team of only two IT technicians face pressure from both the factory and trackside staff to get the trackside IT up and running very fast. Yet, despite all these pressures, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing do not have a cloud-led strategy. Instead they have chosen to keep all IT in house.

The reason for this is performance. F1 is arguably the ultimate performance sport. A walk round the team’s factory in Milton Keynes, England, makes it abundantly clear that the whole organization is hell bent on maximizing performance. 700 staff at the factory are all essentially dedicated to the creation of just two cars. The level of detail that is demanded in reaching peak performance is truly mind blowing. For example, one machine with a robotic arm that checks the dimensions of the components built at the factory is able to measure accuracy to a scale 10 times thinner than a human hair.

This quest for maximum performance, however, is hampered at every turn by the stringent rules from the F1 governing body – the FIA. Teams face restrictions on testing and technology usage in order to prevent the sport becoming an arms race. So, for example, pre-season track testing is limited to only 8 days. Furthermore, wind tunnel testing is only allowed with 60% scale models and wind tunnel-usage is balanced with the use of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) software, essentially a virtual wind tunnel. Teams that overuse one, lose time with the other.

In order to maximize performance within uniquely difficult logistical and regulatory conditions, the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing team has had to deploy a very powerful and agile IT estate.

According to Neil Bailey, Head of IT Infrastructure, Enterprise Architecture and Innovation, their legacy trackside infrastructure was “creaking”. Before choosing hyperconverged infrastructure, their “traditional IT had reached its limits”, says Bailey. “When things reach their limits they break, just like a car,” adds Bailey.

The team’s biggest emphasis for switching to HPE’s hyperconverged infrastructure, SimpliVity, was performance. Now, with “the extra performance of SimpliVity, it means it doesn’t get to its limits,” says Bailey. HPE SimpliVity has helped reduce space, has optimized processing power and brought more agility.

One of the first and most important use cases they switched to hyperconverged infrastructure was post-processing trackside data. During a race weekend each car is typically fitted with over 100 sensors providing key data on things like tyre temperature and downforce multiple times per second. Processing this data and acting on the insights is key to driving performance improvements. With their legacy infrastructure, Bailey says they were “losing valuable track time during free practice waiting for data processing to take place.” Since switching to HPE SimpliVity, data processing has dropped from being more than 15 minutes to less than 5 minutes. Overall, the team has seen a 79% performance boost compared to the legacy architecture. This has allowed for real time race strategy analysis and has improved race strategy decision making.

Data insights helps the team stay one step ahead, as race strategy decisions are data driven. For example, real time tyre temperature data helps the team judge tyre wear and make pit stop decisions. Real time access to tyre data helped the team to victory at the 2018 Chinese Grand Prix as the Aston Martin Red Bull cars pitted ahead of the rest of the field and Daniel Ricciardo swept to a memorable victory.

Hyperconverged infrastructure is also well suited to the “hostile” trackside environment, according to Bailey. With hyperconverged infrastructure, only two racks are needed at each race of which SimpliVity only takes up about 20% of the space, thus freeing up key space in very restricted trackside garages. Furthermore, with the team limited to 60 staff at each race, only two of Bailey’s team can travel. The reduction in equipment and closer integration of HPE SimpliVity means engineers can get the trackside data center up and running quickly and allow trackside staff to start work as soon as they arrive.

Since seeing the notable performance gains from using hyperconverged infrastructure for trackside data processing, the team has also transitioned some of the factory’s IT estate over to HPE SimpliVity. This includes: Aerodynamic metrics, ERP system, SQL server, exchange server and the team’s software house, the Team Foundation Server.

As well as seeing huge performance benefits, HPE SimpliVity has significantly impacted the work patterns of Bailey’s team of just ten. According to Bailey, the biggest operational win from hyperconverged infrastructure is “freeing up engineers’ time from focusing on ‘business as usual’ to innovation.” Traditional IT took up too much of the engineers’ time monitoring systems and just keeping things running. Now with HPE SimpliVity, Bailey’s team can “give the business more and quicker” and “be more creative with how they use technology.”

Hyperconverged infrastructure has given Aston Martin Red Bull Racing the speed, scalability and agility they require without any need to turn to the cloud. It allows them to deliver more and more resources to trackside staff in an increasingly responsive manner. However, even with all these performance gains, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing has been able to reduce IT costs. So, the users are happy, the finance director is happy and the IT team are happy because their jobs are easier. Hyperconvergence is clearly the right choice for the unique challenges of Formula 1 racing.

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Body-tracking tech moves to assembly line

Technology typically used by the world’s top sport stars to raise their game, or ensure their signature skills are accurately replicated in leading video games, is now being used on an auto assembly line.

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Employees at Ford’s Valencia Engine Assembly Plant, in Spain, are using a special suit equipped with advanced body tracking technology. The pilot system, created by Ford and the Instituto Biomecánica de Valencia, has involved 70 employees in 21 work areas. 

Player motion technology usually records how athletes sprint or turn, enabling sport coaches or game developers to unlock the potential of sport stars in the real world or on screen. Ford is using it to design less physically stressful workstations for enhanced manufacturing quality.

“It’s been proven on the sports field that with motion tracking technology, tiny adjustments to the way you move can have a huge benefit,” said Javier Gisbert, production area manager, Ford Valencia Engine Assembly Plant. “For our employees, changes made to work areas using similar technology can ultimately ensure that, even on a long day, they are able to work comfortably.”

Engineers took inspiration from a suit they saw at a trade fair that demonstrated how robots could replicate human movement and then applied it to their workplace, where production of the  new Ford Transit Connect and 2.0-litre EcoBoost Duratec engines began this month.

The skin-tight suit consists of 15 tiny movement tracking light sensors connected to a wireless detection unit. The system tracks how the person moves at work, highlighting head, neck, shoulder and limb movements. Movement is recorded by four specialised motion-tracking cameras – similar to those usually paired with computer game consoles – placed near the worker and captured as a 3D skeletal character animation of the user.

Specially trained ergonomists then use the data to help employees align their posture correctly. Measurements captured by the system, such as an employee’s height or arm length, are used to design workstations, so they better fit employees. 

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