The Direction of Autonomous Driving


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Feinberg: Very good. Can you discuss what companies you're working with now?

Hoarau: Yeah, as you can tell, as the space is moving quickly; what I can say is that we're engaging with several customers at different parts of the stack. That means in the sensors, in the sensor fusion, in the autonomous computers, which is going to become more and more critical as you move to autonomous. An area that people tend to forget sometimes is the in-cabin experience. As we're moving to autonomous vehicles, it's not just about moving you from point A to point B safely, which is important, but also the user experience inside the vehicle is going to change, and understanding what technology needs to be there to help do that.

The companies we're working with are OEMs, as you could guess. The Tier One companies, some of the big names you probably know. And let's not forget the brand new companies, the ones coming up with unique approaches to the market and producing these new services. A critical part of this ecosystem is the new technology providers. Those companies providing things like the LIDAR solutions. We're working with them to help them scale their solutions. Those are pieces of equipment and systems that didn't exist five years ago.

Feinberg: And the leading brands, the leading companies that are announcing on this—we've seen announcements by Volvo, Volkswagen, and Ford, Tesla, and various parts of GM—I would say at this point probably a good answer is that there isn't anybody who's really involved in transportation that isn't looking at this at some level.

Hoarau: I think you're right. Like you mentioned earlier, we are at the beginning of the transformation. And that means there are many other players today which are looking at it, and there are the players which we don't even know about yet that will arise and will come up with new solutions.

But the important part, and you're starting to see in the news today if you look at the market, is that it will vary by region. Every region is going to have different players that will dominate because they can understand the localization of it, and it's a normal process in this space. I think the big discussion today that we're seeing in the industry is who is going to be in charge in the future? And there are a lot of articles and news about it, and people are debating it. Will it be the service providers? Will it be the car makers, or will it be entertainment companies? It all depends on the type of vehicles. To me, it's really fascinating, and I'm excited to be in this space. It's going to come down to where the new value is being generated because the pie is growing , and who is going to control that value generated?

Feinberg: It's interesting because of all the various disruptive technologies out there—and again I'm saying disruptive as change, not negative. Two of the ones that I'm most interested in, and that I'm following very closely—and it's interesting, I've spoken with Flex on both now—are of course autonomous driving and the other one is artificial reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality, and so forth. I've had some very interesting demonstrations and interviews recently and some of the stuff that's happening is just amazing what we're going to be seeing over the next 20 years in these areas.

Hoarau: You're correct, and I will argue at some point you can put those two together.

Feinberg: Oh absolutely, they will absolutely be coming together. I don't think there's any doubt about it. One additional question here: What do you think are the key advantages of autonomous driving? Let me give you some examples; there's safety, eventually there's cost. Right now, cost is higher, but I think ultimately it could be lower. There is ease of travel and reduction in labor. What do you see as the main drivers for autonomous transportation initially, and then maybe a little later?

Hoarau: I have a two-part answer on that one, and it comes back to the point earlier there are autonomy features and then there is fully autonomous. In terms of the autonomous features, it's going to be about safety and convenience, and that's a near-term driver for those technologies. This is what's going to put us at scale. This is going to be what brings money to the market to some degree.

When you're looking at the full autonomy, which is down the road, it's going to be about transportation-as-a-service, and every big player is looking around and saying, “Okay, what are the business models? How do we play in that space to be relevant in that future?” Everyone is different. There are many, many partnerships. If you look, there’s a complex web of partnerships of all the different companies across different industries trying to get to this future. And all that's going to be driving both the demands and the need for it and the financing for it.

As for the advantages, safety is there for sure because that's what society wants. We need it for safety. The way it is today, we need to improve it. Over the last two years, for the first time we have seen an increase in accidents on the road. And it's because of distractions, and many other things that we're doing in our lives. So those technologies should hopefully put us back on the right track towards reducing accidents.

Feinberg: There's no doubt that there are distractions while driving; you see people swerving around the road and, as you go to pass them, you notice that they're sitting there texting while they're driving.

Let me give you one other one that I've heard. It has nothing really to do with technology, but it's the use of real estate. For example, some very high percentage of vehicles that have been manufactured, are presently, at this moment, not going anywhere. They're parked. They're sitting there waiting for the owner, they're sitting there waiting for the company that needs them. With autonomous vehicles, you can have these vehicles running pretty much all the time, being used and therefore the need for a million and half parking places in every city is going to be somewhat less. It's kind of interesting how this is all going to start to come together and change society as we know it.

Hoarau: You're correct, and that's why it gets exciting for everyone to have this quality of life. Today you're using the car, and we must be fair to the car today, it's an extremely efficient and flexible way to travel whenever you want to go somewhere. And in that sense, it's an inexpensive way to give that flexibility and where you want to go. But in the future where we're moving, it's just going to be switching to those new services. That's where it moves from ownership to services. That includes everything from parking, to gas stations, to buying your groceries, to everything you do today. It will be exciting. It's not going to be a future which is just one way or the other. We really believe that it's going to be many different business models and use models which go in parallel and work together to get there.

Feinberg: Well, I appreciate you taking the time today. Is there anything that you would like our readers to know, anything else that you think that we should mention?

Hoarau: We talked about the fact that in the future the car is part of a larger ecosystem. We must work together, and we are, as a company, extremely excited to help accelerate that transformation at scale, because the benefit will mostly happen for everyone when we're going to scale, and at the right price.

Feinberg: Very good. Again, congratulations on that and we certainly will be following what you're doing with this.

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