WCX17: Tech leaders talk AI, cyber and next-gen HMI

  • 06-Apr-2017 06:10 EDT
WCX17 CTO panel (2).JPG

Technology leaders share a laugh during the Leadership Roundtable at WCX17. From left: 2017 SAE International President Doug Patton; Ford's Ken Washington; GM's Jon Lauckner; Continental's Jeff Klei. (Not shown in photo is FCA's Phil Jansen.)


The role of artificial intelligence, the search for cyber security solutions, and the next level of human-machine interface in vehicles were discussed in a Leadership Roundtable of top technologists from Ford, GM, FCA, Continental and Denso, on the final day of SAE's WCX17 conference in Detroit.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has the industry’s attention as engineers look over the horizon for more capability in autonomous vehicle systems. Jon Lauckner, General Motors CTO and President of GM Ventures, explained that AI is a good option for certain tasks, like getting an autonomous vehicle to do object detection and classification. “But to have the power of a human brain—even a teenager, for example—it’s very far away from that capability.”

He added, “We need to go well beyond neural networks if we’re going to deploy AI as the ‘central brain’ in any sort of an autonomous vehicle system.”

Tier 1 supplier Continental employs about 100 engineers and scientists currently working on AI, noted Jeffrey Klei, the company's North America president. “There’s room for AI in all areas of business, not just for the development of automated driving,” he said.

Cyber security was a sizzling topic throughout WCX17, and the technology leaders had their say. "Make no mistake, cyber security is going to continue to escalate as an issue that the automotive industry must address,” said Ken Washington, Ph.D, Ford's Vice President of Research and Advanced Engineering. He noted that there are cyber security lessons to be learned from the computing and aerospace industries.

According to GM's Lauckner, the auto industry’s cyber security challenges are different than those of enterprise IT, which is primarily focused on protecting data elements. But he explained that it’s not data elements sending commands to various vehicle systems. “It’s a message. And we don’t have time to authenticate each and every message that’s on a CAN bus system; authentication takes clock time,” Lauckner noted.

In an automated driving scenario, those messages are spinning around in milliseconds. “Again, you don’t have a lot of time to be doing very sophisticated message authentications,” Lauckner said, adding, “I think there are opportunities for innovations with regard to the particular systems we have on board vehicles.”

The experts also discussed next-generation human-machine interface. “It’s about the consumer,” said Washington. “You don’t know what the customer wants unless you observe them.” He noted that the Internet and Apple iPhone happened because of a technology-push, and that refinements to products and technologies happen by watching the experiences of users.

“It’s really about how you stitch it together to create an experience that customers will love. I think we need to get much better at that as an industry,” he explained. Klei of Continental asserted that HMI should be viewed by the user as an intuitive feature.

“We’ve all learned as an industry that we can’t have all touch-pad surfaces; there must be some haptic feedback in certain circumstances,” he said. “I think as an industry we have to do a better job of getting the HMI right so that the customer’s first experience is a good one.”

Attracting the world's best talent to solve these and other engineering challenges, "the automotive sector is calling," noted Phil Jansen, FCA's Vice President Product Development for NAFTA. “We’re in the business of providing personal transportation for six billion people on this planet. Walk away excited. Don’t walk away fearful because this is a very interesting time,” he told the audience.

The discussion was moderated by Doug Patton, Executive Vice President and CTO for Denso, and the 2017 SAE International President and Chair of the Board.

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