During MWC, NXP hosts a side program called Me And My Smarter World. With the series of panel discussions organized over the course of three days, NXP aims to start a conversation about the deeper implications and challenges of the technological revolution that's rapidly changing our world.
What our future could look like
“I'll tell you a real world scenario of what is possible in the future”, said panelist Hermann Meyer, CEO of ERTICO ITS Europe, a partnership of organizations producing Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS). “It starts with a sad event: there is an accident. The cars involved in the crash will send information to a public service point which then alerts emergency agencies”. This is quite an obvious use case for connected cars but Meyer went on to explain the extent of what is possible: oncoming emergency cars can warn vehicles to clear a path, and communicate with traffic lights to get an all-green. Traffic management centers can use the information to reroute traffic on a massive scale if necessary.
“These are the kinds of services ITS can bring”, said Meyer. “Information needs to be shared between different stakeholders in order to make traffic more safe. There can be privacy issues and there can be liability issues when the information is wrong. But the data needs to be available to provide the right services for everyone involved.”
The entire panel - which represented a wide range of industries - agreed that automated driving will dramatically increase safety. “Automation in the aviation industry has made flying more safe than driving a car”, said Oozi Cats, CEO of Telit, a leader in machine-to-machine services. “Some planes are big flying robots and the pilots are there to take care of the machine”.
“But how do we resolve ethical questions?”, asked moderator Ben Fazjullin. “For instance, when a car is about to hit a child on the road and has to choose between killing the driver or killing the kid?” Andreas Mai, Director Smart Connected Vehicles at Cisco answered him: “There are definitely some ethical elements that are difficult to program. But 90% of car accidents today come back to driver error. You have to do the math, how much error can a machine take out of the equation. But there are other issues that need to be addressed. There are taxi and bus drivers, it is a way for people to make a living. Policy makers need to step in to anticipate what is coming.”
“You can't stop it”, agreed Lars Reger, NXP, VP Automotive New Business and R&D. “That's like trying to stop the Industrial Revolution”.
But there are still obstacles on the road to automated driving, one of them is consumer trust. People are wary about what is going to happen to all the data these vehicles are going to generate. “People have a different attitude toward privacy in different contexts. When it's about their vehicle they are extremely concerned about who gets access to their data, whereas when they're behind a computer they don't seem to care at all", said Meyer.
Ford's manager for Global Future Mobility Erica Klampfl said: We consider the data as belonging to our customers. If access to data is needed to offer better services, it will be on an opt-in basis.”
But it isn't only up to the industry to decide what will happen to the data. One question from the audience referred back to Meyer's real world scenario. When information provided by cars improves traffic flows and safety, you might get to a point where society will not accept that car owners refuse to share data. It poses ethical questions similar to the debate about inoculation wherein two important values clash: the right to decide over one's own body and preventing the spread of diseases.
NXP's Reger who represented the techies in the panel, thinks we won't be end up in such a divisive situation. Technology can solve it. Smart cars “can deal with dark obstacles on the road”, said Reger. There will be other sensors in the car to collect information about its surroundings. Automated vehicles also have to be prepared for animals on the road and they won't be wearing an electronic beacon either. “It's not like driving with your lights turned off. You can decide to stay offline”
But Cats had a different view: “A certain amount of data sharing will be part of our future society. People who don't like it will be a minority and will be outvoted. A car owner who shuts down all his communication and drives through a red light at 150 km/h, is that a right we want to give to people?”
“It may come to a point where we have to consciously decide that we need to share certain data”, said Mai. And he pointed out again that policy makers need to get involved “to establish clearly defined rules about when we protect our data and when we may have to share it.”
“Data isn't always about personal ownership”, Meyer added to the discussion, “it can also be considered a common good”. When safety can be improved by vehicle-to-vehicle communication but 50% of car owners decides to turn it off the benefits are greatly reduced. Privacy must be considered in different contexts and in some cases the right to privacy should prevail but in others sharing should be mandatory, he said.
Reger: “We techies have a role to play. We need to make sure that we don't blast information on the networks for everyone to see. Take road pricing for instance, you need to have a cryptocontroller in your car. Instead of mapping my entire route and communicating it to everybody, the information that goes out should simply be the amount of money I have to pay.
Next to privacy there is also a security concern. “One study said that 50% of Americans are worried about their cars being hacked”, said journalist Ben Fazjullin. The Cisco Director replied: “Cybersecurity is what we do. When you connect a vehicle to the networks you end up with much more attack vectors. But you can use tools designed for other industries to improve security”.
Klampfl said: “We think of the data as belonging to our customers and it is our task to secure it.”
“Who's going to win?”, teased Fazjullin, “the tech companies or the car industry?” “We can only win together”, said Mai and Klampfl wholeheartedly agreed with him.
“These are different worlds coming together”, Meyer chipped in. “The car industry, for instance, is focusing on the electronic horizon, the ability to see more of what is in front of the vehicle. But drivers also want more information from outside the vehicle such as travel apps. We need strong stakeholder cooperation to achieve it: collecting data, processing, and using it.”
“Collaboration is the new paradigm”, said Reger. “Until recently we saw single players conquering a market but that is a thing of the past”. The ecosystem in which automated driving needs to find its place is very complex. To realize the possibilities not only industries need to work together but strong participation of society and politics is necessary component as well, said Reger.