LA 2017: The Automobility tech conference

29 November 2017 | by Karl Smith

The first day of the Los Angeles Auto Show is largely devoted to automotive technology presentations. As the manufacturers tidy their stands for Wednesday’s Press Day opening the technology companies, along with the OEMs make interesting presentations in the adjacent tents that act as temporary auditorium and exhibition space.

In a way, every year is a sort of “round up the usual suspects”, with autonomy , connected cars, smart cities, and so on leading the discussions. But each year reveals more real world data and lessons learned. Here’s a sampling of what we learned at Automobility 2017:

  1. New sharing or ownership models are challenging everything we know about purchasing, selling, and owning a car. Car dealerships are recognizing new models and moving to transform themselves – yet another challenge to the issues facing the traditional auto dealership.

  2. Gill Pratt of Toyota Research Institute stated what many have long suspected –  namely, that there is more money in cars as a service rather than cars as a product. No wonder GM invested in Lyft.

  3. According to Pratt, autonomy can be summed up in two models, which Toyota embraces – the Chauffeur model, where a car drives you where you want to go, and the Guardian, with technologies that protect you from your own mistakes as well as others. Of the two the Guardian is the most fundamental – safety first.

  4. John Krafcik of Waymo gave his report on the progress of Waymo’s autonomous taxis in Phoenix. He noted that weather is still a challenge to autonomous technologies (hence the choice of Phoenix – mild weather except for wicked heat in the summer).

  5. Krafcik noted that the various lidar, radar, and sensor units may one day be clustered under a dome on top of a car. This ‘smart dome’ would be an indicator of autonomy. We have noted previously that these sensors would find their own design expression in the car, but we’re not sure the ‘smart dome’ is the best solution.

  6. Waymo/Google are still looking to an independent autonomous vehicle, rather than one that depends on the cloud. It is a controversy that has informed the debate about the nature (and appearance) of autonomous cars for years.

  7. Peter Rawlinson of Lucid Motors updated attendees on battery technology. He noted that batteries have held EVs back in the past due to power density issues and expense. In the future, Rawlins noted, batteries will be powerful enough and cheap enough to set the EV free to fully participate in the market. The pivot point will be around 2022.

  8. Panasonic, who is partnering with Tesla on the gigafactory, has developed its own model of the future of the car, consisting of four elements: App-based mobility, electric powertrains, mass personalisation (or customisation), and autonomy. Panasonic is working in all these spaces (especially with Tesla).

  9. Panasonic is extending its interest and investment into infrastructure, adopting a highway in Colorado to test advance sensing technologies, looking for the smart road of tomorrow.

  10. Panasonic, among others, believe the future of luxury is time – and autonomous cars can return time to us by freeing us from driving.