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A world where there are no car accidents, congestion is a thing of the past, and artificial intelligence (AI)and Internet of Things drive the future are no longer wishful thinking. It’s a reality that German-based companies like Bosch is pushing and could be happening in as little as five years.
At Bosch’s annual press conference held earlier this year, Dr Volker Denner, chairman of the board of management for Bosch, outlined the company’s future strategic plans for automated cars and the impact AI and the IoT will have on many things in the not-too-distant future.
How serious is the company in pressing innovation in this space? This year the company added 500 more engineers to work on its automated driving projects, which means it has more than 3000 specialists working in this arena.
Collaboration is a key ingredient and necessary to make these concepts a part of the automotive and manufacturing landscapes. To highlight the point, Denner spoke of some of the partnerships Bosch has undertaken in recent times to reinforce its commitment to the automated car industry.
“We are entering into a development partnership with Daimler in order to enable automated driving in cities – in other words in highly complex driving situations,” said Denner. “Success in this first decisive step will bring us closer to a revolution in personal mobility.
“Second, together with Nvidia we are building the ‘AI onboard computer’ the very brain of self-driving cars. With the help of artificial intelligence, we are making cars clever enough to interpret and predict the behavior of other road users.”
The company also has highly automated driving activities in Australia with the launch of a trial and demonstration vehicle at the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) World Congress in Melbourne last October.
Many issues need addressing, such as how the technology can guarantee that passengers will arrive at the correct destination. This is an issue that Denner’s company has been working on for some time, and is something he is confident will be solved.
“Before this decade is out we will have managed to create an essential prerequisite for automated driving – an ultra accurate map that also contains the readings from our radar sensors,” he said. “We are working on this together with TomTom, as well as with Chinese providers AutoNavi, Baidu, and NavInfo. This radar signature will enable self-driving cars to determine their location with precision.”
Bosch is also ramping up its investment in the IoT and the connectivity required for automated cars. The company sees it as an essential growth area with the market predicted to increase well into double digit percentage points every year up to 2020. Bosch will be releasing a cloud service that is designed to take advantage of what the IoT will offer.
“By the start of the next decade, the market for connected mobility will grow by almost 25 percent each year; by 2020, it is expected that 250 million vehicles will be part of the Internet of Things,” said Denner. “That is why we will be launching the Bosch Automotive Cloud Suite next year. It is a software platform that can be understood as the heart of connected mobility. The suite will enable both us and our customers to establish new mobility services, whether it’s predictive diagnostics or online parking.”
Expanding into new technologies, Denner also outlined how Bosch is drawing a line in the sand as to how AI will impact on its business. Denner predicts that every new product rolled out by the company will either be produced or developed by AI, or will have AI integrated into it. Bosch also wants to use AI to make connectivity an emotive experience for car drivers and end-users in general.
“We sold 27 million web-enabled products in 2016 and it is our stated aim to make every new electronic product connected and develop related services,” said Denner. “The one relates to the other: artificial intelligence makes connectivity a personal, even emotive experience. It enables us to create technologies that support people in their everyday lives, that learn from data, and that relieve their users of the burden of daily chores.”
And how is Bosch measuring the impact of the IoT and AI? Dollars and cents, as well as peripheral factors.
“We estimate that the worldwide market for the IoT will grow by 35 percent each year until 2020, reaching a value of US$250 billion (AUS$330 billion),” said Denner. “The global semiconductor market offers another clear indication. Chips for the IoT are the strongest drivers of growth, even ahead of mobile telephony and automotive applications. Not least, the number of digital assistants will triple to over 1.5 billion by the start of the next decade.”
As with its Cloud Suite being set up to help fast track advancements in mobility offerings, Bosch recently set up the Bosch Center for Artificial Intelligence (BCAI) as a place where the interplay between connectivity and AI meet.
“The BCAI is spread across sites in Renningen, Palo Alto, and Bengaluru,” says Denner. “We can build on a solid base of expertise here, for instance in image analysis, as used for video surveillance in our security systems. The BCAI will initially focus above all on supporting the development of automated driving and connected manufacturing. We are also strengthening our 3 S’s for connectivity – sensors, software, and services.”
By strengthening, Denner is also referring to engaging with more collaborative partnerships with those who seek similar goals and aims, and realise that the IoT is bigger than any one company.
“Our motto here is openness – we want to collaborate and enter into partnerships,” said Denner. “For example, we offer microservices from our Bosch IoT Suite software platform not only on our own cloud but also through Amazon Web Services and IBM Bluemix. The logic of the connected world points to partnerships like the ones we have entered into with GE, SAP, and Software AG.”
Then there is the elephant in the room. The end game. Does this mean, as some fear, that automation is the beginning of the end? Does all the innovation in AI, IoT and automated cars mean massive job losses in the processing and manufacturing industries? No, said Denner.
“We want humans and machines to work together in intelligent teams and we have taken this as the organising principle for our apprenticeships, which are available in 30 countries around the world,” he said.
“In Germany, for instance, we provide robotics training to all our technical apprentices at our Blaichach plant, while in Homburg we have set up a learning island on sensor- and software-based maintenance.”
Nobody can predict to any certainty on how these technological advances will impact on the process and manufacturing landscape. However, as Denner said at the press conference, “on the one hand, we must further develop our existing and very successful businesses. On the other, we need to be quick to seek out new businesses, so we can stay ahead of possible disruptions”.
Leading those disruptions will be AI and the IoT.