The disruption of COVID-19 has had a major impact on many automotive companies. Autonomous drive projects have been particularly hard hit and heavy budget cuts are set to delay Level 4 timelines even further. The common approach is to prioritise initiatives with a shorter payback period, such as electric vehicle (EV) technology and connected services, as well as to assess how COVID-19 has potentially slowed other plans and commercial deployments.
Now nearly seven months since the World Health Organisation declared a world pandemic, some Chief Information Officers have had to assess their digital strategy. For those in the automotive sector this means prioritising plans to allow the company to pivot its autonomous vehicle strategy to one built for the post-pandemic period.
Level up for shorter payback
The UN has defined legislation on Level 3 autonomous drive to be adopted by 60 countries—a milestone for autonomous driving with regions such as the EU and Japan enforcing this legislation in 2021 and a clear and immediate commercial opportunity for automakers. Companies should utilise technologies already developed for Level 4 such as high-definition maps, artificial intelligence and sensors in use cases with a quicker return. This could include deploying ‘sellable’ Level 3 systems into a broad number of countries, starting with passenger cars.
Substantial returns could also be found from deploying other commercial use cases in Level 2.5 or Level 3. Technologies such as automatic parking, vehicle summoning from car parks or EV energy-optimised driving as well as adapting appropriate use cases to heavy-duty vehicles could provide large returns.
Companies should utilise technologies already developed for Level 4 such as high-definition maps, artificial intelligence and sensors in use cases with a quicker return
One of the main benefits of advanced Level 2 and Level 3 technology is data collection. We know that the main obstacle to widespread and safe Level 4 autonomous driving in a broad range of geographies is the lack of data which, when processed, is needed to train the autonomous vehicle’s perception algorithms.
With vehicles on the road featuring Level 2 and 3 technology, automotive companies will be able to gather data and produce a digital twin model of a region for essentially no cost bar possible cellular fees. This means companies can progress towards Level 4 faster and cheaper than other strategies which may involve buying such data or collecting it via a dedicated fleet of vehicles.
Partnerships can be beneficial but equally hindering if they are not complementary to your business or well executed
Diversify your use cases
Most of the pivoting actions Chief Information Officers in the automotive sector will need to make will involve turning autonomous drive initiatives into profit makers to sustain growth for the long-term. Another way of doing this is to adapt the same self-driving systems to suit other use cases. With minimal work and training of the algorithm’s neural networks, solutions can be marketed either directly to end users or to the manufacturers of robots, drones, ships and many other different products.
Find strong technology partnerships
Autonomous drive projects require a lot of heavy lifting in many cases. Finding a partner that excels in the technical areas where your company may have shortcomings can accelerate time to market. It can also significantly reduce cost at a time where savings must be made. In turn, a quicker go-to-market and adoption will also help achieving a quicker ROI. However, careful considerations must be made—partnerships can be beneficial but equally hindering if they are not complementary to your business or well executed.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.
Pedro Pacheco is Senior Research Director at Gartner
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