What did we learn from the conference agenda and discussions in Detroit?

AutoSens in Detroit took place at the Michigan Science Center in May 2019. Robert Stead, Event Director of AutoSens takes time out to share his three key take-aways from the week.

There are no disillusioned engineers here.

We heard in both the opening and closing presentations that in the latest Gartner Hype Cycle, the autonomous vehicles topic has started on the descent into the Trough of Disillusionment. If you’d asked me to forecast this 2-3 years ago, the hype was so intense at that point, I would have said we’ll still be hovering around the Peak of Inflated Expectations for several years to come. It’s difficult to buck the hype cycle, as the inevitable doubts sink in about the realistic speed to market for exciting new technologies. We’ve seen some high-profile autonomous vehicle accidents, and I think there’s a general realisation that deploying level 4 and 5 autonomous vehicles are incredibly difficult tasks. That said, I didn’t meet a single disillusioned person at AutoSens. The engineering community is as engaged and excited as ever about the task in hand. The hype curve is a symptom of media coverage and industry PR announcements, but behind this façade of over-ambitious claims and unrealistic forecasts is an army of engineers and scientists who are working on the short term solutions. Yes, it’s going to be difficult, but that has never deterred scientists and inventors previously. This community of engineers is up to the challenge, and I believe they have never been more so.


Focus on the wins.

Highlighted by a fascinating presentation on Wednesday from Matt Moore of IIHS, we need to give the wins our full attention. While the bold claims in the press focus on zero fatality targets and other such lofty ambitions, there are a great many ADAS features currently available in vehicles today that are already contributing to road safety. This may include saving lives, but their contribution stretches far beyond this into avoiding accidents at low speeds, bumps in parking lots and any number of other minor incidents. We do know that the performance of autonomous vehicles will need to be significantly higher than humans for public acceptance. But if we set the target at zero road fatalities, we’ll be forever chasing our tails and presenting disappointing results. If we choose to focus on the many wins already being achieved by ADAS systems incorporating many of the technologies that will ultimately make up autonomous vehicles, we can build public trust incrementally. And it’s not just about saving lives, there’s a really significant economic impact from avoiding accidents, all the way from a major motorway smash to a car park bump. We can be and should be very proud of those achievements, not least in the reverse camera space where lives are saved daily throughout the world.


Collaboration is key.

This is a personal drum I’ve been banging for a long time, but we have to collaborate to succeed. Of course I’d say that as an event organiser. Throughout industry, the growth and accumulation of collaborative initiatives is evident, as organisations large and small realise they can’t make this all happen themselves. Just this week at AutoSens we’ve heard about P2020, SOTIF, ISO26262, MIPI Alliance and various other technical working groups. We’ve heard recent announcements of industrial partnerships from Daimler and BMW collaborating on mobility solutions to GM, Ford and Toyota working on new standards, all bringing technologies, expertise and strategies together to work towards a common goal. The feedback from AutoSens suggests that gatherings of like-minded scientists and engineers is of huge value to industry. Everyone at AutoSens met new people, learned about new things, and most importantly, shared some of their own knowledge to the collective. By collaborating and solving the core problems together, we can free up resource to focus on the more challenging ‘edge cases’. Slowly, this understanding (that the engineers have known all along) is filtering up through the management levels, and it’s encouraging to see widespread engagement in collaborative initiatives. I hope to see this trend continue.

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