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Volvo executive sees one flaw in driverless race

Rothoff reveals why there is need for manufacturers to find some common ground and set agreed standards for driverless vehicles

Image Credit: Volvo
The Volvo 360c. Having common standards that all — or most — of the manufacturers can agree upon would be a big step in the right direction, Rothoff says.
Gulf News

Dubai: Carmakers, and even some of the world’s tech giants, are going their separate ways in trying to find solutions that would deliver “autonomous driving vehicles” — or driverless cars as they are more commonly known.

But amid all this competition, it would do them good to find some common ground, according to a top official overseeing Volvo’s quest.

In particular, having common standards that all — or most — of the manufacturers can agree upon would be a big step in the right direction, said Marcus Rothoff, Autonomous Drive Solution Architect, Director, Volvo Car Group.

“Most car companies and other mobility companies are developing their own software solutions, working with other software companies or start-ups,” Rothoff said.

 It is important to keep safety as the number one (priority); to be sure this solution is safe on the road. The key to that is to work with an operational design.”

 - Marcus Rothoff | Director, Volvo Car Group 



“I think it will evolve with different kind of solutions ... but it is important to find standardised interfaces.”

“For example, if you need to share data to prove that these cars are safe, that’s where we need to have standardised interfaces. That will also allow for different software solutions for autonomous driving.”

One thing the auto industry doesn’t want is be caught in a “Betamax” moment.

(For those too young to remember, there were two competing technologies — Betamax and VHS — in play when videocassette players came up in the 1970s. VHS eventually won the war and lasted all the years until the DVD came around and killed the videocassette.)

There are many who believe the auto industry is missing a trick by not agreeing on a shared vision of a platform that would allow vehicles without drivers to operate without a hitch.

And it’s not just about which company comes to market with a workable solution.

“It is important to keep safety as the number one (priority); to be sure this solution is safe on the road,” said Rothoff. “The key to that is to work with an operational design. I think the focus should be on a quite small design domain to start with and then expand from there. So we make sure we have a solution and that’s really the way forward to not take unnecessary risks.”

The industry certainly cannot afford to take on needless risks. There has already been a few accidents — and one fatality — involving driverless vehicle testing on US roads. Google’s Waymo and even Apple’s version have been involved in these incidents.

“Different companies will focus on different operational design domains for autonomous driving,” said Rothoff. “You can see companies like Waymo, Uber and Lyft are focusing on ride-hailing. They are developing more like a robot-taxi solution with their operational design. We also have car manufacturers offering autonomous driving on top of their current offering. This will be offered in parallel — so autonomous driving will come gradually from different kinds of business and offers.”

What of the Volvo version?

The Swedish brand, now owned by China’s Geely, is targeting two sets of needs — one for use in public transportation and the other to serve an individual car owner.

“Drivers can offer handover their driving to the car for parts of the journey in a safe way,” the Volvo official added. “We are also in our collaboration with Uber looking at how the mass transport market with ride hailing can be a possibility. I still think that there are business opportunities in both directions.”

More of a distraction than a realistic push

With nearly every carmaker with global scale thinking about electric as the future, should they even be thinking about autonomous driving possibilities?

Marcus Rothoff says there is room for all options.

“There are three main areas in the industry that everyone is focusing on — electrification, connectivity, and autonomous driving. Those three really fit together perfectly. The push for electrification will happen whatever it is really a must for the industry. And connectivity is also an enabler for autonomous driving.”

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