The Factors Of Change

Metro Detroit-based Dataspeed Inc provides full autonomous vehicle (AV) integration for R&D that allows engineers to get up and run quickly on their algorithm, sensor, or data research. The ADAS Kit allows seamless control over a vehicle’s throttle, brake, steering and shifting to enable testing for AV applications. It also features full by-wire control with little modification to the vehicle, and without adding any actuators. Dataspeed’s growing fleet of autonomous test vehicle platforms includes the Ford Fusion, Lincoln MKZ, Chrysler Pacifica, Jeep Grand Cherokee, and Ford F150. Its by-wire solutions form the foundation of these platforms. Louis Rumao of Auto Parts Asia spoke to Paul Fleck, Founder and CEO, Dataspeed, about the motive to start the company, its operations and the way forward. “Convergence of changes and thinking on mobility, autonomy, and electrification will fundamentally transform the automotive industry,” he said. Edited excerpts:

Q: Did you have a personal reason to start your company?

Fleck: Some time ago, I lost a loved one in an auto accident. With my engineering background, I knew that I could make an impact in the future of automotive to help prevent tragedies such as this. I formed Dataspeed to develop technology that I believe will kickstart autonomous vehicle testing and research and in turn, ultimately save lives.

Q: What does your company do?

Fleck: Our team of highly skilled engineers developed our ADAS By-Wire Kit which is complete automotive-grade hardware and software solution that allows seamless electronic control of a vehicle’s brake, throttle, steering, and shifting to enable testing for autonomous vehicle applications. The kit taps into the vehicle’s existing control system and CAN bus messaging with minimal modifications to production parts and without disabling safety features. In addition to developing by-wire systems, our team is fully capable of integrating a full suite of sensors to provide companies the option of a fully-equipped autonomous research and testing vehicle.

Q: Do you have any relationship with OEMs?

Fleck: We have strong relationship with numerous OEMs and Tier-1 suppliers that enables us to produce highly engineered, safe, and reliable by-wire kits. We currently have several Ford, Lincoln, Chrysler, and Jeep platforms readily available.

Q: What’s your view on the future of mobility? How soon will fully autonomous vehicles (AV) displace driver-controlled vehicles?

Fleck: This is a question that just about everyone in the industry has interest in. However, the timeline relies heavily on research advancement, public acceptance, and new transportation policies. Autonomous vehicle testing is rapidly evolving, and Dataspeed technology is contributing to this growth every day.

Q: Studies have shown that people are a little nervous about the idea of letting the vehicle do the driving. What are your thoughts?

Fleck: You are right, and Dataspeed is fully aware of the sentiment. Autonomous vehicles are undeniably the future of transportation, and it’s critical we ensure the public is properly informed on the technology. The Dataspeed team is eager to share our knowledge on self-driving car safety, testing, and research. This month we partnered with PAVE (Partners for Automated Vehicle Education) and SAE to allow Detroiters to take a spin in a self-driving vehicle as part of SAE Demo Days in conjunction with SAE World Congress Experience. As the AV development progresses and the public has more exposure and hands-on experience, comfort and acceptance will become more widespread.

Q: Which of the following two views about the future of mobility do you subscribe to: The disrupter view that says the change will soon become unstoppable, driven by technology and new stakeholders, or the insider view that says the industry will evolve naturally and incrementally?

Fleck: I have a disrupter outlook on the future of mobility. The new convergence of changes and thinking on mobility, autonomy, and electrification will fundamentally transform the automotive industry over the next 15 years.

Q: To support new mobility, infrastructure (roads, traffic signs and control devices, energy supply) and regulations will have to be upgraded. Do you think bureaucracies will be able to keep pace with the AV advances?

Fleck: At our recent event, several members of the Congress joined us for their first self-driving car ride. Similarly, for public acceptance, it’s important to provide readily-available information and hands-on experience to individuals involved in policy-making. Technology is rapidly advancing, so the entire AV community needs to ensure that data surrounding safety and progression is properly dispersed.

Q: Do you see future vehicle mix to change, such that people will only own specialty vehicles and depend on ride-hailing and fleet operators for commuting needs? Similarly, automotive OEMs face momentous and difficult decisions for the future. It is believed that they will have to become an ‘end-to-end’ mobility services provider, rather than ‘make-and-sell’ companies. What do you foresee happening?

Fleck: The share of individuals who use ride-hailing services has been increasing dramatically. These service providers will need to be on the forefront of autonomous vehicle adoption. Dataspeed has recently established several new partnerships with mobility-as-a-service (MAAS) companies who are already testing and gathering data on public roads. As MAAS providers incorporate autonomy as part of their business plans, a larger percentage of automakers’ sales will be B2B.

Q: How will the auto parts business change going from internal combustion-powered vehicles to electric vehicles?

Fleck: Traditional Tier-1 and Tier-2 suppliers in the powertrain industry will need to rethink their core business offerings to align with the reduction in IC engines. The AV industry is keen to build on forward-focused engines with preference to hybrid and electric models, so auto parts businesses will need to adapt to this development preference.

Q: If you were a parts supplier for current market vehicles, how would you modify your business growth plans to survive and grow in the AV era?

Fleck: The autonomous vehicle industry is a tight-knit community. It’s critical for players in the space to collaborate and support other developments. It is advantageous for OEMs to partner with technology companies to allow access to certain vehicle design components for further AV development. In turn, OEMs can gain invaluable data about their component’s operational characteristics during this AV research and development phase.

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