[Herald Interview] Future of mobility is on auto companies

By Cho Chung-un

UK physicist urges carmakers to step beyond ‘car selling’ by embracing technology

  • Published : Nov 4, 2018 - 17:44
  • Updated : Nov 4, 2018 - 17:44

DAEGU -- Software technologies applied to vehicles by tech companies have been unnerving traditional carmakers in recent years, stoking fears that they might lose their exclusivity in the auto industry. But such a scenario is not likely to happen, according to a British expert on connected and autonomous driving.

“I think there’s a lot of uncertainties at the moment. We are not sure whether these tech companies are going to be competitors or possible collaborators,” said professor Paul Jennings, head of intelligent vehicle development at Warwick Manufacturing Group, in an interview with The Korea Herald in Daegu on Thursday.

“Automotive industry has so much experience in building quality vehicles that it finds it difficult to make a standing start. It is in fact easier for automotive OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to adopt technology than it is for technology providers to start learning how to make a vehicle.”

Professor Paul Jennings, head of intelligent vehicle development at Warwick Manufacturing Group
(Institution of Mechanical Engineers)
WMG is an academia-industry partnership on future car development in the UK, where the professor has worked more than 25 years. Jennings is a physicist who has led the development of intelligent vehicles and energy storage in collaboration with WMG’s industrial and academic partners.

Asked what carmakers should do in order to maintain their growth, Jennings advised they need to think beyond the conventional frame of selling cars and instead focus more on services.

“What they need to recognize is that the industry, as well as the culture, is changing very rapidly as we are moving towards service-driven industries. They also need to make sure that they adapt to their own businesses, without fearing (newly rising tech companies),” he said.

“Carmakers have to embrace new technology and software, focusing on how to improve the service experience of customers.”

Jennings, who also serves as a principal investigator on the OmniCAV project, was in South Korea’s southeastern city of Daegu last week to speak about the progress of UK’s development on self-driving and connected cars.

OmniCAV is a 2.7 million-pound ($3.5 million) project to create the new testing frame for connected and self-driving vehicles. WMG has been working with a team of 11 other organizations, including Oxford-based Latent Logic. The group recently won a funding competition run by the Center for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles and Innovate UK.

The scheme is to create a highly accurate virtual reality simulator environment by providing highly detailed scans of real roads, traffic camera data and artificial intelligence-trained pedestrian models.

“Our vision was to bring the city to us, so people sitting inside vehicles may experience the city or any other environment just as if it is real,” he said.

While the complexity of human behavior remains a challenge, Jennings is using artificial intelligence-trained pedestrian models so that driverless vehicles could learn how to react to people in various situations.

“We need very sophisticated algorithms to mimic the real world, and that is why we use AI. A resemblance to real life experience is required, instead of a simplistic representation,” he said.

“Our major challenge is to prove that these vehicles are safe and reliable.”

WMG is hoping that partnership with South Korean companies may help the universal goal of improving the safety of self-driving cars. The group is also working with a number of European carmakers and universities, seeking to attain the level three autonomy.

According to a figure in the UK, over 90 percent of vehicle accidents are attributable to human error, he pointed out.

“By eliminating human error, we will not only save numerous lives, but also cut down on the social cost caused by accidents,” he said.

By Cho Chung-un (