Some challenges and concerns lie ahead for autonomous vehicles and ships, experts say

Self-driving vehicles can enhance your lifestyle, according to Adient's Nick Petouhoff. Notice the seats are facing each other.

DETROIT — Autonomous vehicles and marine vessels were one of the many topics at this year’s 2018 SAE WCX (World Congress Experience) this week at Cobo Center in downtown Detroit. Experts say these self-driving vehicles will change everything as we know it today.

Phill Lawson-Shanks is the Chief Architect and Vice President of Innovation at EdgeConneX. He discussed The Third Wave of the Internet and What that Means to the Automobile.

Phill Lawson-Shanks from EdgeConneX

Lawson-Shanks said that we are in the middle of a digital transformation. Video content is one of the largest points of data. We’ve created more data in the last two years than the last 2,000 years. We don’t manage it very well. It’s growing beyond capacity. A person in Africa with a smartphone has more data then President Clinton when he was in office. The internet was really designed for email, according to Shanks.

“When we start looking at connected vehicles,” he continues, “If you lose signal, is the car going to turn too late or too early? I don’t think that’s going to happen. Autonomous and connected cars are going to be the next killer app. It’s back to the latency issue. A tsunami of data is about to hit us. The internet needs to be everywhere.”

Nick Petouhoff serves as the Executive Director for Advanced Development at Adient. He discussed Designing Interiors in an Autonomous Vehicle Future and offered attendees a brief history of the automobile.

With new technology comes new challenges, Petouhoff said. A lot of people say the future is virtual. It took 50 years to develop the automobile. Can traditional players make it in the tier one market? We can turn the old guard into a new leader. Willow Run has turned into a place to safely test the autonomous vehicle.

“We need to be bold in defining the unmet needs,” he argued. “We can’t just jump to solutions. Some OEMs have safety as their first priority. Safety must be a key principle in our designs. Adient is looking for partnerships to speed the development of the future. Reliable experiences for the consumers. Creating new things from the old. Be more inclusive of women. Never underestimate the wisdom of the past to set the course for the future.”

Dr. Stephen Zoepf is the Executive Director of Stanford University’s Center for Automotive Research. His talk was titled Data Driven: The Future of Mobility.

Zoepf said the assumption is that newer cars will be expected to last for half of a billion miles. In addition, cars will be fully consumed in just three or four years, due to car sharing, when they used to last 10 years. There should be one app that you open and choose a wide variety of transportation solutions. You should be able to mix modes.

Dr. Stephen Zoepf from Stanford University

“We see changes to the vehicle themselves,” he explained. “Vehicles carrying around more of us in a shared context. It only took Uber about five years for its 1 billionth ride. They are also pulling people away from walking and biking and their private cars. We’ve moved to a car sharing more miles earlier. Sales continue to be strong and profits can shrink.”

Zoepf asked the audience, ‘Does brand really matter?’ The brand depends on what the use of the car is. When you rent a car or shared mobility system you can select the use of the car. In Washington, there is activity to bring these services right next to the bars and clubs to reduce driving under the influence. The average car is idle 95 percent of the time. We tend to travel at he same times.

“We’ve all heard the statistic that 94 percent of accidents are by human error,” he added. “Automation doesn’t eliminate human error. It transfers human error to the design process. I think that’s easily overlooked. More people are moving to densely populated urban areas. There is an assumption the autonomous investments will repay themselves. But is it a winner take all Race? That’s not the only possible outcome. The government might say, ‘You must license it to others.'”

Not only will cars, trucks and SUVs become autonomous, but self-driving boats and ships are also coming in the near future. That’s when we introduce Oskar Levander from Rolls Royce Marine who talked about Remote and Autonomous Ship Setting Sail in the Near Future.

“The industry is in for bigger change,” he explained. “The marine business is very conservative. It’s actually every aspect of the business That will change. More autonomous operation and new business models. The normal ship looks like it does in the 60s. Batteries are coming stronger into the marine picture. How can we operate from a shore based facility? It’s driven by safety cost sustainability risk and new business models.”

Oskar Levander from Rolls Royce Marine

Most marine accidents are caused by human errors, Levander said. The crew is tired and not concentrating. That is where automation can help. Money is the big driver. Autonomous ships also become more energy efficient and consume less fuel and less emissions when we make it unmanned. We take out cost and complexity. What we need to put back into the ship are the sensors. It’s one of the biggest challenges is actually the reliability. All systems will function for weeks without human interaction. We need to adopt more standardization of the ships. Be able to predict before anything breaks down.

He estimates the first autonomous shops will be coming around the year 2020. Regulations do not allow us to operate them today. That will take some time to put in place. We can operate within one country’s borders. On a road ferry, the captain presses button and it will take itself to the port. Using Lidar to paint a better picture.  We had hackers try to break into the system to prove the cyber security.

“In respect to autonomous tugs…how do we connect tug to big ship without any crew?” Levander asked. “Every ship will be a mix of remote and autonomous operation. You want to be able to step in and take over. When the ship comes to port we bring in the captain or the pilot. Still keep the human to do things hardest to predict.”

There is no doubt that self-driving vehicles are coming. The only question is when and where? The answer might be sooner than you think because testing is already underway in Michigan, California, Arizona and a few other states where it is allowed. So the next time you look at the vehicle in the next lane over, there might not be a driver in it.

For more information about the 2018 SAE WCX, visit


Chevrolet Bolt EV outfitted with GM’s SuperCruise autonomous technology


Phill Lawson-Shanks argued that the internet was not designed for connected and autonomous vehicles.
Nick Petouhoff from Adient discussed designing interiors for autonomous vehicles.
Stephen Zoepf discussed his three ingredients for a Utopian Autonomous Future.
An autonomous tug boat by Rolls-Royce Marine.
In the future, autonomous boats will be controlled by a captain sitting in front of monitors with a joystick.

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