Integrating connectivity with smarter engineering in the automotive industry

It is the most exciting as well as the most disruptive time for the automotive industry. I recently delivered a keynote at the Connected Vehicles 2020 event in Bengaluru on “Integrating Connectivity with Smarter Engineering,” and spoke about the role of simulation in designing smart vehicles. I touched upon three significant points a) Consumer Trends & Regulations b) The Changing Paradigm of Automotive Design c) The Magnitude of the Challenge of Designing Autonomous Vehicles.

Consumer Trends & Regulations

With greater exposure to global trends, consumers across the globe, including India, are well-informed about the latest and greatest in global automotive technologies. Also, given the amount of time that they spend in their commute, consumers want to be as productive as possible even when they are in their cars. Interestingly, 9% of consumers globally picked self-driving vehicles as the most transformative technologies of 2020, according to a Brandwatch survey. This consumer sentiment is even stronger in some of the Asian countries. There are also regulations to reduce emissions and to promote the use of renewable fuels in the automotive industry.

The other big trend is the rise of smart connected cities and communities powered by sensors and IoT. In the automotive context, this translates to the growing demand for self-driving or automated cars that do not rely on the driver’s skill or capability but are smart enough to drive themselves. Besides, given the high number of road accidents, there is a greater emphasis on the safety of automobiles.

All these trends are driving a future where autonomous vehicles, smart cities, clean fuel, and connected cars will come to the forefront of automotive innovation.

Changing Paradigms of Automotive Design

Talking about automotive design specifically, it is becoming more complex than ever since it entails the integration of so many different streams, ranging from basic mechanical concepts to advanced electronics, IoT, automation, analytics, and advanced communication systems. Automotive engineers need to balance the need for better design, easier handling, greater comfort, convenience, etc. with the need for connectivity with the ecosystem.

Automotive OEMs have been inching towards autonomy, starting with ABS to various driver assistance features. Yet, building a driverless car spells a complete paradigm shift, due to the immense complexity that it entails.

The Magnitude of the Challenge of Designing Autonomous Vehicles

For most vehicles designed today, road testing forms a vital part of the design process, but this is often not sustainable for autonomous cars, as it involves expensive hardware prototypes. Physical tests allow for only a few use cases (less than a hundred) to be tested on real roads, which is highly inadequate. The general industry consensus is that it takes about a billion miles of testing to develop an autonomous driving system! This is where simulation comes into the picture. Simulation technology allows you to account for the thousands or even millions of possible conditions that might arise during a drive. For example, small children running onto the road dressed in a carnival outfit, or an out of control car that is swerving wildly or animals on the street, etc. How does the vehicle identify and learn from these scenarios?

Computer-aided engineering (CAE) simulation can help address these situations since it allows us to not only design the vehicle, but also design and develop the entire ecosystem, including other cars, pedestrians, bad roads, and so on. Secondly, it can help create a realistic depth perception using sensors such as cameras, RADAR, and LiDARs, which is essential for accurate simulation. Hexagon technology such as Virtual Test Drive (VTD), enables users to create, configure, visualize complete virtual environments, in which vehicle models can be thoroughly evaluated and validated in nearly any conceivable condition of operation.

Of course, the simulation will need to be complemented with adequate physical testing too. However, as vehicles evolve to become smarter, autonomous, more comfortable, and more connected, the role of simulation is front and centre.

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