Labelled as the world’s leading autotech conference, WebSummit’s AutoTech focused on autonomous vehicles, connected cars and the internet of things. Ibusiness was on hand to bring you all the latest.
The WebSummit 2017 opened with inspiring stories of innovation as well as some stark warnings of the power of AI.
CEO of WebSummit, Paddy Cosgrave, opened proceedings in front 15,000 attendees at the Altice Arena in Lisbon, Portugal. He told delegates that the summit, first held in 2010, was designed to ‘connect industries of old with technology of the new world.’
Keynote speaker for the occasion, Professor Stephen Hawking, invited to speak at Web Summit by Feedzai, an AI company specialising in fraud prevention, spoke of the ‘precarious but exciting’ future.
Hawking said, ‘We cannot predict what we might achieve, when our own minds are amplified by AI. Perhaps with the tools of this new technological revolution, we will be able to undo some of the damage done to the natural world by the last one, industrialisation. We will aim to finally eradicate disease and poverty. Every aspect of our lives will be transformed.’
However, despite his optimism, Hawking warned that computers namely AI, in theory, could ‘exceed human intelligence’, and urged caution in its development and use. ‘AI could be the best or the worst thing for human kind – we just don’t know.’ Promoting collaborative management and the sharing of beat practice amongst developers, Hawking said, ‘we must ensure AI does what we want to benefit humanity.’
He continued, ‘we stand on the threshold of a brave new world which is both precarious and exciting.’
Also speaking during the opening ceremony was Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner for Competition, European Commission. In her opening night address, Vestager made the case for European competition law, arguing that, market monopolisation stifles innovation. ‘Competition-law enforcement can help to show that no company is above the law,’ she said. ‘No company has the right to close down competition to disable the innovation of each and every one of you.’
Citing Google as an example, which the commission hit with an antitrust fine of $2.7bn in June, Vestager suggested the world’s tech giants could be hampering entrepreneurial dreams by abusing their dominant positions. ‘What if the thing that was holding back innovation wasn’t our own determination, but the actions of powerful companies? Well, then we would certainly need competition rules. Because competition makes innovation work.’
The role of artificial intelligence and algorithms also needed to be debated publicly, according to Vestager. She said she wanted to spark a discussion about ‘compliance by design’ for algorithms to avoid a situation where ‘what happens in the black box remains in the black box’. She said, ‘Whatever the algorithm, there is still a person or business responsible for it.’
She continued, ‘We want a free market but we know that sometimes the paradoxes of a free market are you have to keep it clean – it’s not the law of the jungle, it’s the law of democracy apply.
‘Companies have to put fairness and trust at the core of their business,’ she said, to ensure ‘society (is) served by technology and not the other way around.’
Another major contributor to the opening ceremony was Antonio Guterres, secretary general, UN who pointed at climate change and growing inequality are the two major consequences of rapid global growth – ‘I believe climate change is the defining threat of our time’, he told delegates. He then stated, ‘Thanks to new technology – the green business is the good business. You can do business and do good.’
Highlighting how eight men own as much wealth and the poorest half of the global population, Guterres said, ‘Globalisation is a force for good, development of new tech is a force for good but we need to be able to respond to the collateral damage that exists.
‘This forth industrial revolution can be the answer to the main questions that we as humanity are facing today. We need to look into the future with a strategic vision and combine all resources to ensure this revolution is a force for good.’
He continued, ‘It is clear there will be a dramatic impact in our societies, our way of life but also in labour markets so it’s very important to anticipate the impacts of these technological evolution. As an example, where I live today in the US, the profession that employs the most people is driving… now very probably in a few years’ time we will not need drivers for cars, trucks or the equipment we have to handle. So we risk having massive unemployment – both in developed and the developing world – but the answer is not to stop the technological development, the answer is to be able to effect the way we work within our societies in order to anticipate the changes. That means a revolution and a massive investment in educational change.’
One supercomputer to rule the roads
Martin Hofmann, group CIO, Volkswagen
Opening the AutoTech conference programme, Martin Hofmann, Group CIO, Volkswagen spoke of a super computer that would not only allows cars to talk to each other but to infrastructure and signals, coordinating the transportation clutter and virtually eliminating traffic. This, explained Martin, was the aim of pioneering work VW was doing in quantum computing.
Martin suggested two typical approaches to mobility: new mobility concepts which are vehicle and service centric, and optimising urban mobility which is crowd centric. ‘I guarantee if we do not focus on both areas, we will have traffic queues of autonomous vehicles,’ said Martin.
He went on to explore how mobility demand and supply was defined by data and context, for example weather; vehicles themselves; traffic systems; road systems; and people. ‘All of this defines the context of how people want to move,’ said Martin. ‘Eventually we are dreaming of coming from chaos to order.’
Martin highlighted how in March this year, through a combination of ‘brute force (super computers) and intelligence’, VW became the first company to use a quantum computer, out of Canada, to solve a traffic jam in Beijing before it even happened.
‘Machine learning is the best way to do this,’ said Martin, ‘it learns to recognise patterns of movement and mobility and can put contexts together – algorithms can learn and then run predictions.’ Martin suggested that with quantum computing, a prediction can be communicated with 10,000 cars within an urban environment in less than a second.
‘We are inhaling data from connected vehicles, traffic systems, data legs of cities – basically anything that is accessible to us,’ explained Martin. ‘We collect it, combine it and then put context on top – anything that you can ingest from the web will feed the algorithm to predict the future.’
Martin stated that in the future autonomous vehicles will need a constant connection to the internet – something which will allow the dissection and dissipation of traffic to avoid blockages.
‘The ingredients to achieve this utopia are high performance computing; massive data integration and management; connectivity of objects (infrastructure); deep learning; and optimisation algorithms. These are the ingredients that could change the way traffic is managed in the future,’ said Martin.
With this in mind, he then went on to announce a major partnership with Google to develop quantum computing and machine learning capabilities. ‘It’s highly experimental but we have the first algorithms on the way. With quantum computing we are also looking at enterprise applications in supply chain management systems using a quantum machine to optimise supply chain – for planning services but also for material science to simulate battery development.’
Live linking with the Google Quantum AI Centre in Santa Barbara, development director, Hartmut Neven, said, ‘We are very much looking forward to our partnership.
‘This is a very exciting time for quantum computing. In our hardware labs we have sufficient number of qubits and the ability to have a high level of control of these qubits to soon reach a milestone that is known as quantum supremacy – this is a processor that executes well defined computational benchmark tasks in say a second whereas a conventional computer would take a year.’
Autonomous driving and handling the handover
Zach Barasz, partner, BMW i Ventures / Adam Kell, partner, Comet Labs / Karen Francis, board director, Nauto / Jim Motavalli, auto expert and journalist, National Public Radio
Exploring the ‘in-between period’ in which human and machine will alternate control of the steering wheel as driverless technology advances, Jim Motavalli, Auto Expert and Journalist, National Public Radio pointed out some work Buick did back in 1997. He said Buick ‘stopped the work because they found out people could not handle the handover.’
Introducing themselves, Zach Barasz, partner at BMW i-Ventures said the business was investing in great tech companies that are ‘re-imaging transport mobility manufacturing’. ‘When it comes to autonomous vehicles we are looking at everything from the full stat company building autonomous shuttles to those who make sensors. We’re also looking at big data companies and others outside of the autonomous vehicle sector.’
Karen Francis, board director at Nauto – a retro fit safety device video tool that uses AI to prevent distracted driving and coach drivers to be better – described how technology and humans need to interact in order for the technology to flourish.
‘What we have now is an incredible attraction of technology talent to tackle one of the thorniest challenges that we have had in a lifetime,’ said Karen. ‘At the same time we have humans who have to adapt to this concept – physically and mentally. What is important is that whilst we are designing the tech that we understand what is happening in peoples’ heads – we must marry the psychology with the technology.
She continued, ‘The automakers have different approaches to driverless technology – some want to just go straight to L5 to eliminate the driver, others want the driver in the loop – there is no definitive answer in terms of timescales.’
Highlighting human’s shortcomings when driving, Zach said, ‘People are horrible at paying attention in vehicles.’ He then referred to research carried out by a BMWi portfolio company – NDrive – which identified that in 88 out of 100 drives people took out their mobile phones and used it for 3.5mins in every hour.
Adam Kell, partner at technology incubator company, Comet Labs suggested ‘exception handling’ was the name of the game for fully autonomous driving. He said, ‘I’m a big fan of people operating within the environment they are used to but giving them ‘super powers’ and then using that information we can start to teach the vehicle what that means.
Zach suggested autonomous vehicles will make their way to market in the form of fleets first. ‘People won’t own these vehicles initially. They may first experience it through a mobility solutions provider and those people are focused on cost – electric mobility being critical to this.’
In closing, Karen said, ‘What we are dealing with today is a very old industry that many of us have a passion about, combined with what we know as the IoT. Just consider how exciting it is to have our vehicles connected to our lives.’
Hack your way to a self-driving car
George Hotz, founder, comma.ai
George Hotz, a notorious hacker, and the man behind comma.ai revealed his plans to take on the auto industry giants in the autonomous driving game.
Showcasing his aftermarket hardware and software – Openpilot – which can effectively give certain vehicles self-driving characteristics, George said, ‘Tesla autopilot is to ios as comma.ai openpilot is to Android.’
Highlighting the ‘bounty programme’ in place which sees drivers actively assisting in developing the software’s capabilities, George stated how 150 drivers are currently using system – ‘reporting to the mothership’ in order to make constant updates.
Adamant comma.ai will be the self-driving solution, George said, ‘The reason car manufacturers are going to lose and we are going to win is because they do not update or understand software – for them adaptive cruise control is a box which you can just check off.’
He continued, ‘Tesla owns the vertical – they build hardware and integrate the software with it. All the other vehicles need great self-driving software as well and it’s not going to come from the car manufacturers.
‘In fact the car companies who are the furthest advanced today and think they have the best shot at autonomy will lose the hardest. Why is that? Because the phone companies who were furthest along in 2006 – Nokia and Blackberry – are dead. Who won in smartphones? Apple which is Tesla; Samsung, LG – these companies were making atrocious flip-phones in 2006.
‘My prediction now is watch as Kia and Hyundai embrace the future and ship Openpilot or similar systems on their cars.’
Beyond cars: Daimler’s digital revolution
Sabine Scheunert, chief digital officer, Daimler
Sabine Scheunert, chief digital officer, Daimler offered WebSummit attendees a world premiere by introducing its first chatbot – Ask Mercedes – a cognitive assistant.
Ask Mercedes will be available in several markets and languages immediately before being rolled out globally. ‘Ask Mercedes is a new cognitive assistant available any time to support customers in exploring all the functions of their Mercedes-Benz vehicles, said Sabine. The chatbot will allow both existing and also potential customers to interact with Daimler services, day or night, using voice-activated commands, text-based chat and augmented reality.
The announcement came as Sabine explained how for OEMs it is not enough anymore to just manufacture the best cars. In order to meet today’s customer expectations it takes the provision of innovative mobility services – intelligent and easy-to-use.
‘We work in one of the most rapidly changing and challenging environments – new competitors, new technologies and new consumer behaviours,’ Sabine told the audience. ‘Building the best cars is not enough anymore – customers want the best product and are expecting that we deliver technological products and mobility solutions that fit their lives.’
She explained how, since 2016, Mercedes Benz has created an ‘intuitive digital ecosystem’ within its Mercedes Me app. ‘It has allowed us to truly enhance the customer experience,’ explained Sabine. ‘Today we can be in daily contact with our customers.’
She suggested the key to it all was data – ‘structured data, useful data – it is all about exploiting the data.’ She highlighted the company’s new strategy in relation to data – DITNO or data is the new oil – which is based on five pillars within the entire company: speed; customer interaction; data insights; digital engineering and production (industry 4.0); and the empowered employee.
Sabine then spoke of the ‘smart factory’ – the centrepiece of the digitalisation of the entire company – which sees the company’s products, machines and the entire environment networked with each other and connected to the internet. This integration of the real world into a functional, digital world enables a so-called ‘digital twin’ to be created, which allows the real-time representation of processes, systems and entire production shops.
Sabine closed her session, stating: ‘The car industry is currently undergoing one of the biggest transformation processes ever – let’s shape our digital future together.’
Where we’re going we won’t need roads: Flying cars are coming
Francois Chopard, founder, Starburst Aerospace Accelerator / Alexander Zosel, co-founder & chief innovation officer, Volocopter / Mathias Thomsen, GM, urban air mobility, Airbus / Jennifer Kite-Powell, contributor, Forbes
It’s fair to say no sci-fi incarnation has been more sought after and, as yet, unrealised than the flying car but this session proved it’s not only more than likely to become a reality but it’s already happening.
From the outset it was agreed that flying car was not the correct term but more so urban air mobility, according to Mathias Thomsen, GM, urban air mobility, Airbus is simply ‘irrestistable’. ‘We think there will be no shortage of demand, it’s all about the supply,’ said Mathias. ‘We are developing the technology, machines, infrastructure, airspace, digital interfaces etc.
‘When such radical ideas come to market a lot of things have to be solved and we are doing everything we can across this value chain.’
Mathias referenced how more than 100 start-ups were currently working on air mobility, each with their own take on the ‘type’ of solution.
Francois Chopard, founder, Starburst Aerospace Accelerator agreed that urban air mobility is only a matter of time. ‘It’s a very exciting time to be working in aerospace,’ he said. He then used Sao Paulo as an example, where airborne transport systems already exist in the form of helicopters, as well as LA where 300 helipads are on the ground and the air space and infrastructure already exist. The evolution, Francois pointed to however lies in the creation of a mass ecosystem of electric transport solutions and making it more cost effective.
Alexander Zosel, co-founder and chief innovation officer of Volocopter which completed a fully autonomous test flight of one of its craft in Dubai earlier this year suggested initially be point to point but will later evolve to ‘on demand’.
In rounding the session, Mathias told audience members, ‘People are excited by this technology. It’s about getting faster from A to B.
‘The development of urban air mobility has already started. There will be many more tests but we believe it could be commercially viable within five years.’
BMW’s smart car
Dieter May, SVP, digital products and services, digitalisation customer interface, BMW
Dieter May, SVP, digital products and services, digitalisation customer interface, BMW presented how BMW is making its vehicles not just transportation vessels but extensions of their customer’s digital lifestyle.
He opened by proclaiming BMW had ‘quite some legacy’ in the digital space already with 8.5 million connected cars in the market to date. However, he said that although connected they were considered as vehicles without a consumer centric approach and this is what BMW plans to significantly change.
Dieter highlighted how consumer demand is changing significantly and along with it the assigned value of the vehicle. He pointed to research which showed that in the US – 73% and Germany – 59% of consumers would switch vehicle brand if the digital offering was not on par with competitors. A similar attitude was also evident within the intelligent personal assistant space, with 66% of US and 54% of German respondents ready to switch brands.
Dieter said, ‘This is really driving change and is reflected in our strategy – with four strands: autonomous; connected; electrified (more than 20 models in the next few years); and shared (Drive Now).’ All four strands being connected in order to deliver the BMW experience regardless of how people travel.’
‘Digital is a very important part of the business value chain,’ explained Dieter pointing to how it enables differentiation by providing the opportunity for a vehicle to become a ‘real living object’ so drivers can keep it ‘alive’ over its lifetime by personalising and customising it. ‘We can provide continuous innovation, allowing customers to personalise their vehicle as they wish and to contextualise its usage,’ said Dieter.
Ultimately, Dieter pointed at how BMW sees itself being integrated into a customers’ digital lifestsyle – ‘The car is becoming a really important object in peoples’ lives. It needs to be connected, seamlessly integrated, personalised and contextual.’
He continued, ‘For us it’s really important to go horizontal and for us the car is one touch point of many – smartphone, smartwatch, car, digital assistant or web. We need to play these out whenever they are right – it’s all about the right contact for the right application.’
A new way forward for self-driving cars
John Krafcik, CEO, Waymo
Taking to the centre stage, John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo revealed how Waymo was now testing on public roads, fully self driving cars without a human driver able to ‘takeover’.
‘It’s not happening in 2020, it’s happening today,’ said John whilst showing a video of the vehicles in action. ‘Waymo team members chose three separate destinations, pressed the start button and the vehicle did all the rest – choosing the route, when to turn, when to yield and everything in between – that is called true autonomy.
‘If that ride looked ordinary to you, then we are one step closer to our ultimate goal of making the extraordinary completely normal. This wasn’t just a one-time ride or demo, what you are seeing now is the start of a new phase for Waymo and for the history of this technology.’
He explained how the vehicles were currently being tested in a part of Pheonix, Arizona and that over time it will expand the tests to cover the entire Phoenix region (an area much larger than greater London).
‘Our ultimate aim to bring self-driving technology to more cities in the US and around the world. Fully self-driving cars are here,’ said John. He stated that within the next few months, members of the public will get to experience Waymo’s fully self-driving rides via its early rider programme.
Rhetorically questioning how it got to the point of removing a driver, John said, ‘There is a driver and its called Waymo – it needs to be capable, reliable and safe and this takes time and experience.’
Discussing the make-up of the vehicle itself, John told the audience how the self-driving vehicles included some ‘unique safety features’ running thousands of system checks every second to allow it to ‘instantly diagnose any problem and pull over to a safe stop if needed’. He also noted that Waymo goes a ‘step beyond’ and has added a secondary safety system with all of its minivans having a back-up for steering, braking, computing and power.
John said, ‘We then take all of this technology through, what we like to think is the world’s longest, toughest, unmanned driving test. In the last eight years Waymos vehicle have driven more than 5.5 million autonomous kilometres on public roads – that’s the equivalent of 140 times around the globe. We have also practiced rare and unusual situations through encounters on our test track. We have created more than 20,000 scenarios there for our vehicles to practice and that includes everything from bits of paper covering our vehicle sensors to having people jump out of a box and surprise the cars.’
He continued, ‘Finally, we have built a virtual world where our vehicles can re-drive and practice every mile we have ever driven. In our simulator we have the equivalent of 25,000 vehicles driving these virtual streets every hour of every day focusing on the most complex and challenging types driving. In the last 12 months alone we have completed over four billion kilometres of virtual driving and we continue to pick up experience at a rapid pace. Right now we are driving about 16,000km per day on public roads and 16 million kilometres every day in simulation. We go to all these efforts because we know that experience is absolutely the best teacher and the route to make Waymo the best experienced driver on the road today.’
Recognising the paradigm societal shift required for mass uptake of this form of mobility, John said, ‘For the last 100 years vehicles have largely stayed the same – you open the door, get in the driving seat, start the car, step on the accelerator and go. But the way people will use full self-driving cars will be fundamentally different. Our role will shift from driver to a full time passenger who isn’t responsible for any part of the driving process.’
With this he emphasised how Waymo is working on creating new ways for users to interact with the vehicles – ‘we have to find ways to build trust between the rider and our technology’. John continued, ‘One way of doing this is through our in car screens. The goal is to show what the vehicle is seeing and thinking without overloading riders with too much information. It begins with curating all the types of information and objects we display as well as how and when to highlight them.
‘This communication is crucial because when people feel confident and comfortable in a fully self- driving vehicle, more and more of us will want to use them in our everyday lives and with more self-driving cars on the road the way we think about transportation will fundamentally change too.’
John then went on to highlight how statistics show that in the US a vehicle sits idle for 95% of its life and 60% of all car trips are less than two kilometres long. ‘Waymo’s technology will allow vehicles to be used in a different way. A small fleet of self-driving cars could serve an entire community. Parking lots could be transformed into parks. Fewer traffic accidents could ease congestion,’ exclaimed John.
On announcing the development of the Waymo Driverless Service, John explained, ‘This technology can unlock the full potential of sharing mobility. With Waymo in the driver’s seat we can reinvent the many different types of transportation from ride hailing and logistics to public transportation and personal vehicles. Think of our technology as the platform that can enable many different applications.
‘In the long term Waymo could provide you access to nay mode of transport – each one tailored to the type of trip you want to take. You can reimagine the very idea of what a vehicle is because you no longer design it around the driver as the primary user, instead you can design it to the specific purpose suited to the rider – you might create offices, dining rooms, luggage transporters and you could have the vehicles for any length of time.’
‘This is now a future we can all begin to imagine.’
A Fiat Chrysler plug in hybrid minivan with power sliding doors and a top safety rating forms the basis for Waymo’s mobility solution. It operates its cars with an array of hardware including a powerful artificial intelligence (AI) computing platform aligned with lasers, camera and radar – all developed entirely inhouse at Waymo.
Its combination of powerful sensors gives the vehicles a 360 degree view of the world. Lasers can see objects in three dimension up to 300m away, whilst short range lasers stay focused on things close to the car. Its radars can see underneath and around vehicles and it claims ‘even track moving objects hidden from the human eye’. A fine resolution vision system enables its vehicles to see in a wide variety of lighting conditions.
‘Our engineers working side by side whether it be our software team or AI experts at Waymo, we are able to design everything to work together seamlessly – they are the things you cannot see,’ said John.
Uber reveals flying ambition
Jeff Holden, CPO, Uber
Uber’s CPO, Jeff Holden has revealed the ride sharing service UberAir has partnered with NASA and is set to take to the Los Angeles skies in 2020.
Speaking at Web Summit and providing a world exclusive visualisation of the UberAir experience, Jeff announced UberAir has signed a partnership with NASA to work on an air space agreement in order to accelerate its development.
The company also revealed its first LA Skyport – UberAir’s landing stations – partner as Sandstone which has earmarked 20 sites for development.
‘Uber is on earth to radically improve urban mobility,’ Jeff told attendees. ‘Every major innovation requires someone to step in and lead the charge, and that is us. We are partnering with the right people via the Uber Elevator Network to crack the urban air mobility code.’
UberAir will use an all-electric, fly by wire, distributed electric propolusion (DEP) vehicle which will be ‘piloted at first’.
‘Our ambitious target is to make UberAir less expensive than driving your own car,’ said Jeff who suggested that soon after launch using UberAir’s pool riding service will be equal in cost to riding an UberX.
Back on the road, Jeff explained that Uber now has 65 million monthly active riders – ‘we’re still very much in hyper growth’ said Jeff and has made over five billion rides – ‘we are only just getting going’. He told delegates that the aim was to ensure the cost per trip was significantly lower than vehicle ownership – ‘this is a watershed moment,’ said Jeff, ‘we firmly believe it’s the beginning of the end for car ownership.’