by Sudhir Ahluwalia | Negosentro.com |
Europe and the US both have mandated that by 2020 all automobiles should be equipped with autonomous emergency braking and forward collision warning systems. In India too as the market for cars heats up further, the awareness is growing that for safety it is necessary that vehicles need to be equipped with safety and security features.
Customers have started discriminating towards vehicles with security features. Automobile manufacturers are selling vehicles bundled with a range of assisted navigation systems features. These assist the driver to help park vehicles in tight spots, navigate blind turns, accept or reject text messages, convert incoming and outgoing messages into audio and text formats etc. Many vehicles come with reverse vision cameras that help safely reverse a vehicle.
These and other features we will talk about later are intermediary steps in building fully autonomous and connected automobiles. The technologies and services that will help in achieving this goal are categorized in industry as ADAS (Advanced Driver Assisted Services).
ADAS vehicle control systems use environment sensors like radar, laser and vision to improve driving comfort and traffic safety. These help the driver recognize and react in time to potentially dangerous driving situations. Some surveys (O. Gietelink et al July 2006) indicate that ADAS can help prevent up to forty percent of traffic accidents.
These are intelligent systems. They alert a driver to presence of other vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, animals on and around the track. The system warns the driver on an impending collision. An automated voice message and alarm is sent out to the driver to take prevention action.
The solutions alert the driver to potential dangers like unsafe lane departures, vehicle ahead with potential of leading to a forward collision etc. They read speed limit signs displayed by the sides of highways and sound an alert each time you cross a speed limit. Other features include automatic cruise control and setting cruise speeds that vary with prevailing traffic condition.
In each technology startup event that I have covered, I have come across a startup or two that is focused on building IOT innovations for automobiles and airplanes. In the Rise event held in Hongkong in the summer of 2016, I interviewed a startup (iScout) that was building a Heads Up Display unit that was mounted in the vehicle. It had most of the common ADAS features in built into the device.
In the upcoming Web Summit scheduled to be held at Lisbon in November 2016, I found Xesol Innovations a Spanish startup that too is focused on building a Smart Car solution for cars and other automobiles. To get a perspective on how they in Europe see the evolution of these innovations, I had a conversation with the venture’s Business Development head – Sergio Hernandez.
These are IOT (Internet of Things) systems. At the heart of these systems is an algorithm. It forms the neural brain of the automobile. These solutions are created by integrating and leveraging an entire range of technologies that include imaging, voice recognition, radio waves, GPS, analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence.
ADAS devices need to interact real time with the cloud. The application is stored in the cloud. This will mean that in case there is loss of connectivity, interaction would cease and effectiveness of the system will diminish substantially. I find this to be a major weakness. There are just too many dark areas in the world where connectivity is zero.
Sergio Hernandez told me this market is led by an Israeli startup Mobileye. Most major automobile manufacturers are sourcing ADAS solutions from this company. Xesol Innovation is hoping to break into this market.
Sergio claimed that their Smart Car solution is better, more precise and robust when compared to Mobileye solutions. I cannot, though, verify this claim. While Xesol Innovation was incorporated in 2012, Mobileye has been in business since 2007. The later has a first mover advantage.
On the other hand we know that technology business supports a later entrant. Theoretically speaking, Xesol solutions could disrupt Mobileye technology. The Singapore startup iScout too must be in the race. Clearly the competition in this segment is hot.
The precision of an intelligent system like the one under discussion is dependent on its algorithms. These extensively use Artificial Intelligence. The code has a self improving mechanism in built into it. The more data it receives, the smarter it gets.
Incumbents like Mobileye have an advantage here. They must be getting more and more data from systems that have already been installed on vehicles of existing automobile manufacturers. This will make the solutions over time more robust and precise. If regular updates are automatically installed on these vehicles, the ADAS services will be in a virtuous improvement cycle.
Xesol Innovations and iScout will have to make a technology leapfrog to compete in this space. I could not make an assessment of their state of preparedness to make this happen. But the market will very soon make that assessment on our behalf.
If the new entrants like Xesol are able to make a breakthrough with major automobile manufacturers, then they will very quickly be able to bridge the gap with the market leader. We have seen this happen again and again in the technology market segment where a late entrant has disrupted an incumbent.
Success will depend on the combination of technology and marketing skills which companies like Xesol Innovations are able to deploy. For that they will need access to capital. Sergio told me that they are negotiating a round of funding.
With the autonomous vehicle buzz getting louder across the world, the market is riper than ever, for accepting and deploying ADAS based systems. It will be technological excellence and innovation that will determine the success of a startup.
- IIHS Status Report newsletter, Vol. 49, No. 4, May 29, 2014
- O. Gietelink, J. Ploeg, B. De Schutter, and M. Verhaegen, “Development of advanced driver assistance systems with vehicle hardware-in-the-loop simulations,” Vehicle System Dynamics, vol. 44, no. 7, pp. 569–590, July 2006.
Sudhir Ahluwalia is a business consultant. He has been management consulting head of Asia’s largest IT outsourcing company Tata Consultancy Services, business advisor to multiple companies, columnist and author of upcoming book on herbs-Holy Herbs. He has been a member of the Indian Forest Service. His webpage is: www.sudhirahluwalia.com