Autonomous driving – just around the corner

I was fortunate enough to attend my second Pioneers event, held in Munich, Germany. Its focus: Game-changing technologies set to govern the future of mobility. To get there I took a bus from Vienna in Austria, thinking I would use the time to catch up on things. What I didn’t expect was a 10-hour journey complicated by log-jam traffic and punctuated by the bus driver’s union regulations that require him to stop for 30 minutes every six hours no matter what. The journey ended with a road-side stranding in sub-zero temperatures on a snowy highway just outside of Munich. What would autonomous driving have to offer this crisis, I wondered, and would technology ever be able to outsmart the weather?

As ever, the organisers of this Pioneers event curated a stage of mind-blowing innovators who are grasping the future with all their imagination and combining blue-sky solutions with the very best of technology to create products and services that will provide a variety of solutions to redefine our concept (and experience) of mobility. The future looks like a space-age version of the present, with plans for flying cars and artificial intelligence geared up to not only drive you around but map your route, monitor environmental conditions and sort out a few of your administrative tasks like the best PA. Linked to these innovations are increased security interfaces and new solutions for machine-to-machine payment that will enable transactions to happen in real time and with absolute transparency thanks to blockchain technology.

The event was opened by European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, who leads the project team Energy Union. In a video address, he said: “Thanks to your ideas, today’s kids might never have to learn to drive,” adding: “The concept of car accidents might be something they learn about in their history books. Air pollution could sound like a medieval epidemic to them.”

Certainly, the acceleration towards clean, connected and automated mobility could bring reductions in carbon emissions and an increase in road safety – but how will consumers feel about getting into a car that drives itself?

Rise of the machines

More than 20 start-up pitches were presented, each with their own game-changing technology and inspired solutions for the future of transport. The overall winner was Swiss start-up embotech, which has developed software that enables a car to literally drive itself and is already being explored by top vehicle manufacturers in Europe.

Electric cars were also under the spotlight and opinion is that autonomous driving will go hand in hand with electric vehicles, making human drivers obsolete in the process.

In his 2014 book The Rough Ride to the Future, scientist and futurist James Lovelock predicts the role artificial intelligence (AI) will play in changing the face of future humanity, noting how AI is already integral in our lives. He points out that aeroplanes are already able to fly themselves, but consumers can’t accept the fact that no pilot is required – we are not quite ready to hand over to a machine, no matter how smart it is.

Changing consumer perspectives is obvious and key to mass acceptance of the driverless car. Christoph Stadeler, Facebook’s Head of Automotive Strategy, delivered a keynote address reflecting on the role this social media megalith can play. However, with all high-tech solutions the threat of hacking into systems to steal information or conduct fraudulent payments is ever-present. It is dangerous territory, but therein offers opportunities for high-tech security innovations.

Stadeler said that the four main things driving automation are connectivity, electrification, shared mobility and autonomy with the number one interface being your mobile phone. This makes consumer centric software a necessity; consider a smart car that offers a range of digital services with mobility an added extra.

A revolution in transport

Peter Campbell, renowned British motoring journalist from the Financial Times, said, “Driverless cars will bring a revolution in transport,” and begs the question: “Why would anyone ever buy a car again?” Consider the freedom of movement these cars will give to the elderly, the disabled and millions of carless commuters, not to mention the reduction in road accidents. Worldwide millions of people are killed every year due to human misjudgement on the roads – could automated cars solve this?

The innovators leading the development of the software for autonomous cars believe so. This new way of driving is will soon be making headlines despite the barriers to uptake that currently exist, including outdated legislative rules and regulations that have not caught up with new technology yet. Despite these barriers, my sense is the future of clean, connected and automated mobility is just around the corner.

Future Mobility Pioneers to keep an eye on

Electrification winner: ChargeX

Electric supercar: Rimac Automobili

Connectivity winner: High Mobility

Cyber Security: Karamba Security

Blockchain technology: Slovakian developers FinID

Shared-use technology: Getaway

About Pioneers

Founded in 2009 in Vienna, Pioneers establishes and facilitates direct, meaningful business relationships between start-ups, corporate executives and investors to champion growth and innovation. It is the ultimate one-stop hub for global tech innovators to access high-value, curated and qualified information about new and Series A European start-ups. Its annual flagship event takes place in the 500-year-old Hofburg Imperial Palace in Vienna from 24-25 May. The award-winning event will unite a community of 2 500 founders, investors, executives and public-sector representatives from over 100 nations.