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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.

Cars

Why sports cars make us feel good

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Forget romance, fine dining or an epic boxset binge – new preliminary research reveals that driving a sports car on a daily basis is among the best ways to boost your sense of wellbeing and emotional fulfilment.

The study measured “buzz moments” – peak thrills that play a vital role in our overall wellness – as volunteers cheered on their favourite football team, watched a gripping Game of Thrones episode, enjoyed a passionate kiss with a loved one or took an intense salsa dancing class. Only the occasional highs of riding a roller coaster ranked higher than the daily buzz of a commute in a sports car.

Working with neuroscientists and designers, Ford brought the research to life with the unique Ford Performance Buzz Car: a customised Ford Focus RS incorporating wearable and artificial intelligence technology to animate the driver’s emotions in real time across the car’s exterior. 

Watch the video here https://youtu.be/AFpt6jziFsU

“A roller coaster may be good for a quick thrill, but it’s not great for getting you to work every day,” said Dr Harry Witchel, Discipline Leader in Physiology. “This study shows how driving a performance car does much more than get you from A to B – it could be a valuable part of your daily wellbeing routine.”

Study participants who sat behind the wheel of a Ford Focus RS, Focus ST or Mustang experienced an average of 2.1 high-intensity buzz moments during a typical commute; this compared with an average of 3 buzz moments while riding on a roller coaster, 1.7 while on a shopping trip, 1.5 each while watching a Game of Thrones episode or a football match, and none at all while salsa dancing, fine dining or sharing a passionate kiss. 

For the research, Ford took one Focus RS and worked with Designworks to create the Buzz Car:

From concept, design and installation to software development and programming, the Buzz Car took 1,400 man-hours to create. Each “buzz moment” experienced by the driver – analysed using a real-time “emotional AI” system developed by leading empathic technology firm Sensum – produces a dazzling animation across almost 200,000 LED lights integrated into the car. The Buzz Car also features:

  • High-performance Zotac VR GO gaming PC
  • 110 x 500-lumen daylight-bright light strips
  • 82 display panels with 188,416 individually addressable LEDs

Driver state research

Researchers at the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Aachen, Germany are already looking into how vehicles can better understand and respond to drivers’ emotions. As part of the EUfunded ADAS&ME project, Ford experts are investigating how in-car systems may one day be aware of our emotions – as well as levels of stress, distraction and fatigue – providing prompts and warnings, and could even take control of the car in emergency situations.

“We think driving should be an enjoyable, emotional experience,” said Dr Marcel Mathissen, research scientist at Ford of Europe. “The driver-state research Ford and its partners are undertaking is helping to lead us towards safer roads and – importantly – healthier driving.”

Activity Buzz Moments *
Roller Coaster 3
Driving 2.1
Shopping 1.7
Game of Thrones 1.5
Football Game 1.5
Kissing 0
Salsa Dancing 0
Dining 0

* Average number of high-intensity buzz moments per participant

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Car that sees round corners

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Jaguar Land Rover is leading a £4.7 million (approximately R79 million) project to develop self-driving cars that can ‘see’ at blind junctions and through obstacles.

Britain’s biggest carmaker is leading a project called AutopleX to combine connected, automated and live mapping tech so more information is provided earlier to the self-driving car. This enables automated cars to communicate with all road users and obstacles where there is no direct view, effectively helping them see, so they can safely merge lanes and negotiate complex roundabouts autonomously.

Chris Holmes, Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Research Manager at Jaguar Land Rover said: “This project is crucial in order to bring self-driving cars to our customers in the near future. Together with our AutopleX partners, we will merge our connected and autonomous research to empower our self-driving vehicles to operate safely in the most challenging, real-world traffic situations. This project will ensure we deliver the most sophisticated and capable automated driving technology.”

Jaguar Land Rover is developing fully- and semi-automated vehicle technologies, offering customers a choice of an engaged or automated drive, while maintaining an enjoyable and safe driving experience. The company’s vision is to make the self-driving car viable in the widest range of real-life, on- and off-road driving environments and weather.

AutopleX will develop the technology through simulation and public road testing both on motorways and in urban environments in the West Midlands. Highways England, INRIX, Ricardo, Siemens, Transport for West Midlands and WMG at the University of Warwick join the AutopleX consortium, which was announced as part of Innovate UK’s third round of Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Funding in March 2018.

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