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Getting Closer to Autonomous and 5G-Connected Vehicles
As the Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Transportation Solutions for TE Connectivity, Alan Amici is working to make our cars and vehicles more connected — and safer — than ever before.

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Show Notes

Alan Amici (LinkedIn) is the Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Transportation Solutions for TE Connectivity. Which, in layman’s terms means that he is responsible for making our cars and vehicles more high tech and connected than ever before.

Alan grew up in Detroit, Michigan, so his love of cars runs deep. He turned that love into a 30-year career at Chrysler and now doing incredible things with TE Connectivity. Throughout his decades in the industry, Alan has not just seen the transformation of cars from simple machines that get us from point A to Point B to highly intelligent vehicles that can drive themselves, he’s been a part of making it a reality. In this episode of IT Visionaries, Alan and Ian discuss everything from how Formula-E Racing informs consumer car technology, to the future of autonomous driving and more.

Topics Discussed: Autonomous vehicles, driverless cars, 5G, transportation, connectivity, electric vehicles, innovation, IoT, wireless technology.

Introducing Alan — (1:36)

  • Alan grew up outside of Detroit, which is where he developed a love of cars.
  • Loved developing technology to make cars better/safer

What does it take to produce highly-engineered connectivity? — (3:15)

  • There are many engineering capabilities needed and you need to have a deep technical team.
  • In the sensor space, there is a product line and there is a broad scope of products and technologies, including driver safety and medical connectivity.

The advancement of automobile technology and where IoT fits in — (4:50)

  • Connectivity is the notion of “my vehicle can have a connection to the cloud,” and you can access cloud services or a 5G network from your car for anything from entertainment to safety purposes.
  • You can be connected to loyalty services as well, which creates a potential for an IoT economy with connected cars.
  • There are over-the-air updates that are now available for connected cars, which saves a trip to a dealership. So you can enjoy a new and improved feature with less hassle.
  • “These are technologies that have been available in phones that we’re seeing being utilized in cars.”
  • On your smartphone, you can get a status update for your car and get diagnostic information, which gives the owner more power and knowledge when going in to get it fixed.

Broad-reaching technologies used in Formula-E Racing —(10:15)

  • Racing is a harsh environment, so the vibrations and temperatures are much higher than you would see in a normal car. This pushes the envelope of the technology.
  • There are things you can learn from race cars that you can introduce to everyday cars.
    • Example: high-performance materials that allow for improved breaks and wireless technologies in race cars, such as connecting the driver to the outside world.
  • Racing is all about performance. Speed is making the car as light as possible. So you’re always looking for weight-reduction opportunities.

Being part of the transformation of electric cars — (13:30)

  • In early Formula-E Racing, the race was broken up between two cars because the battery would not last.
  • Now there is a higher-capacity battery, better power management strategies and range-extending measures. All of this can be applied to consumer cars. There is more aluminum and carbon fiber in consumer cars because it was proven to work well in the Formula-E cars.

What innovations are happening that will shape the future of electric cars? — (16:10)

  • The range is up between 200-300 miles, much beyond the daily commute range that electric cars started with.
  • “The next big challenge in the industry is how to accomplish quick charging and duplicating a gas station experience.”
  • Currently, it takes eight-10 hours to get a full charge via A/C charging.
  • You can switch to D/C charging, but then you have to deal with the heat in the cable.
  • There are constant problems being solved in this industry.

Autonomous driving and the problems that go with it — (19:10)

  • For autonomous driving, the new computing platforms are measured in something called TOPS —Trillions of operations per second.
  • “One of the challenges we’re seeing in autonomous cars is in creating high-speed networks that can move a tremendous amount of data around a car very quickly.”
  • What is needed for autonomous car platforms are computing platforms tens of thousands of times more powerful than what is in use today.
  • “The question is: How do you make a self-driving car reliable, repeatable and better than a human driver?”
  • There are many different sensors being used such as radar, lidar, weather and traffic information, and the platforms need to aggregate all that data and use it in real time to make adjustments.
  • There are calculations that suggest autonomous cars will put out 4 terabytes of data per car per day.

Finding talent for projects — (23:30)

  • There are a few different spaces where talent is needed.
  • At TE there is a Data and Devices team which works on servers and fiber optics for high-speed data. The automotive department then draws on that.
  • “This is a tremendous software challenge. When I started, the game was 80 percent hardware and 20 percent software. Today the tables are completely reversed.”
  • In order for autonomous cares to function, you must look at use cases and the laws required for autonomous cars to follow. Then you need to code the use cases into software that can manage the data going to the computing platform, and finally, all the software needs verification.

The autonomous test vehicles are everywhere — (27:50)

  • Autonomous vehicles are slow, but that’s because the vehicles are obeying the speed limit while all the other drivers are not.  
  • It’s about whether the test vehicles encounter use cases they haven’t seen before because that’s where the learning occurs.

Accounting for outside elements in working with autonomous vehicles — (30:00)

  • Lidar and radar are involved, and in heavy snow, your camera is covered and can’t be used until it’s removed. But those problems come later.  
  • “You have to solve the big problems first.”
  • There will be a period of time when the car still has a steering wheel and pedals because at some point the car may need to pass control back to a driver. For example in inclement weather, if a system fails, or various other environmental circumstances. This requires the driver to be ready for this situation, which means more technology including driver-facing cameras, biometric readers and more.
  • “There’s a whole other level of complexity with semi-autonomous driving.”
  • Removing the steering wheel opens up so many possibilities of design and what a car can be.

Working with 5G technology — (34:28)

  • “5G could be a big game-changer for cars in vehicle-to-vehicle communications.”
  • Each car will have a radio on board with a short range — one kilometer or less. Each car can exchange information with other cars or even pedestrians or others, and it creates an opportunity to provide the driver awareness and the ability to prepare for upcoming situations or hazards.

Lightning Round — (37:10)

  • Skype is Alan’s favorite time-saving tool.
  • Grew up a Detroit Tigers fan.
  • Advice: Pick one or two items you’re going to work on for the next year and avoid trying to do everything all at once.

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