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March 6, 2017

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Home » Business » Autotalk Special

Cooperation and innovation — the path to autonomous driving

GIVEN the speed of its development, it won’t be long for autonomous driving to turn from concept into reality and replace human driving, providing a safer and more cost-effective way of mobility for the human society. Maybe for Chinese consumers, one of the most visible benefits is that it can save people from the nightmare of the Spring Festival migration. They will no longer need to worry about the fatigue of driving in long journey or traffic congestion on the expressway, and more people, not just the experienced drivers, can arrive at home safe and sound.

Of course, the benefit of autonomous driving is more than that. In addition to easing the pressure of traffic, autonomous driving also benefits those who are incapable of driving such as the disabled, the elderly, and children, thus making car driving a fairer and more convenient mobility experience.

Autonomous driving is not only changing people’s way of transport, but also reshaping the automobile industry. When it comes to R&D of autonomous driving technologies, the boundary between car manufacturers and Internet companies is blurred. While established automakers are developing platforms and modules tailored to autonomous driving with their advantages in engine, material, vehicle manufacture, design and control technologies and other traditional fields, Internet companies are developing automatic driving control system with their reserve of advanced technologies in artificial intelligence, big data, cloud computing, and other fields. This cross-industry integration is a manifestation of market-based resource allocation and division of labour. Therefore, to build an innovation-friendly cooperation mechanism will be key to the success of autonomous driving.

That being said, many car manufacturers and Internet companies are reluctant to share their technological secrets. Instead, they build walls to against cross-industry technology cooperation. Some manufacturers are devoted to the development of disruptive technologies which they hope could lead to their dominance in the market. Making cars behind closed doors is not necessarily a bad thing, but an open, efficient cooperation and communication platform that forms synergy among the competitive technologies of various players, might be more effective in boosting the maturity of autonomous driving technology and even the upgrading of intelligent transportation and cities. Autonomous vehicles make transport more efficient, because it allows for the communication between cars themselves and with the transport system, and they are more compliant with traffic rules than human drivers. The research and manufacturing of connected cars also require players in different links to contribute their best wisdom and generate sparkles of inspiration through the exchange of ideas. This, perhaps, is the very spirit of innovation and cooperation needed in the era of intelligent and connected cars.

The UK is well-known for its world-class R&D capability in complete vehicle design, intelligent driving system, materials, power system, and aerodynamics. Yet I believe what truly differentiates the UK from other global powers is the diverse and collaborative innovation system of its automotive industry. In the face of the emerging trend of connected driving, the UK is uniting all players of the supply chain with an unprecedentedly transparent attitude to cooperation, in the hope of building the UK into an innovative manufacturing base of connected cars.

To this end, the British government created the Center for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) in 2015. The funding projects provided by CCAV for the promotion of intelligent mobility involve multiple dimensions, both extending consideration for every detail of intelligent driving and benefiting all the car manufacturers, telecommunications and insurance service providers, local authorities, universities and research institutes, and small- and medium-sized enterprises, including Oxbotica, the Oxford developer of automated driving control system; Westfield, who built the shuttle based on an existing design already in operation at Heathrow; the TRL lab, which has been involved in autonomous vehicle research since the 1950s; the Greenwich Council, which is keen to understanding what this system could do to help them solve their transport problems, the Royal College of Arts, who are eager to find out the implications for future vehicle design; Royal Sun Alliance, which seeks to develop the right risk models for intelligent driving, and more.

The performance of the Chinese government and business sector in the field of autonomous driving has been particularly impressive over the last couple of years. At the policy level, the Society of Automotive Engineers of China has established a roadmap for the development of connected cars, with a R&D schedule made and strategic goals on market share set. At the commercial level, traditional car makers like Chang’an, BAIC, Geely, SAIC, and Great Wall and Internet companies like LeTV, Baidu, Huawei, and Nextev have all made development plans for autonomous driving cars and launched certain products. However, like all other countries, China faces similar technical challenges and policy dilemmas in the dissemination of autonomous driving technologies. To overcome these problems is a common task for us all.

Autonomous driving makes a huge impact on our economy and society. Just imagine this: the automotive industry shaped the course of urbanisation in the early 1900s, and the rise of autonomous driving today will not only fundamentally change people’s driving behaviour, but also reshape the political, economic, and cultural landscape of the human society. Recognizing the infinite power of cooperation, many Chinese companies in recent years invested in the UK automotive sector. For example, SAIC Motor set up a UK Technical Centre in Longbridge employing 300 people, Chang’an established its UK R&D center in Birmingham, Geely invested 250 million pound (US$306 million) to open a brand-new factory in Coventry to produce the Green London Taxi TX5, and CRRC developed through its R&D center based in Lincoln power electronics for low carbon vehicles as well as other green energy applications. Building on these successful collaborations, the British government and business sector are looking forward to working together with Chinese companies to promote autonomous driving at a faster rate and a wider reach, and let more people benefit from its progress.


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