The fast pace of innovation in personal technologies has been phenomenally great for consumers. It has not only helped them to have earlier than expected access to cutting-edge technologies but has also made the technically advanced products available at ever-low prices. The global automotive industry is going through the similar phase as a number of buyers are opening up to embrace sophisticated features in cars.

Smart cars offer a slightly different and advanced feature than connected cars though, the differentiating line is really thin; mainly due to the common underline technologies. It is estimated that 381 million connected cars will be on road by 2020, generating $8.1 trillion revenue between 2015 and 2020.

The size of opportunity window has triggered a race among automakers. These future ready smart cars that offer infotainment, advancement in connectivity and a fleet of eye-popping features have opened up new avenues of revenue for auto makers. Smart cars offer a slightly different and advanced feature than connected cars, the differentiation line is really thin.

But, besides offering opportunities the trend is also carrying many challenges and concerns. To devel deep into it, we reached out to Mr Ram Ramaseshan, Senior VP and Head, Automotive and Industrials Business Units, Sasken Technologies Limited. In an exclusive thought-provoking discussion, Mr. Ramaseshan explained why automakers are really gung ho about the smart cars, the underlying opportunities, the unforeseen challenges and the future of automobile industry in India and globally.

Q: Why are smart cars seen as the future of transportation?

Let’s draw a parallel to the evolution of telematics to how smart cars will continue to evolve. If we were to look at GM/OnStar as a pioneer, then the main business driver with which OnStar came into being was security (eCall features, etc.) Since then, based on consumer demands concierge services and user-experience started to drive how the next gen of telematics and connected cars would look like.

The evolution of smart car would, in our view, go through the same trajectory. Advances in autonomy are being driven to reduce accidents, driver/passenger safety, etc. This will then lend itself to user-experiences as newer business models evolve when more and more content gets into the vehicle (for e.g. retail/digital-shopping experiences merging with the connected car).

Finally, smart mobility will have a huge play here. In order to have a seamless experience inside/outside the car in terms of interacting with mobile devices, V2X paving way for smarter ways to interact with infrastructure outside the car, etc., like smart city will further define the evolution of the smart car as the future of transportation.

Q: How will smart cars make travelling experience more safe and personalized?

According to a report by the US Department of Transportation, 94% of all accidents have been traced to human error. Therefore, the motivation to remove the driver from the loop has been very strong. Google reported as few as 12 minor ‘fender-bender’ mishaps in over 1.8 million miles of autonomous driving clocked and in each case the autonomous car was not to blame. Recent studies conducted by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) show that autonomous vehicles clock about half as many accidents per million miles than manually driven vehicles.

In order to achieve vehicle autonomy, ADAS features which were standalone features and product differentiators are now becoming mainstay and imperative. The evolution of technology such as HMI, haptic to voice and gesture integration is addressing the need to reduce driver distraction substantially. With mobile devices being a reflection of personalization, the seamless integration of built-in and brought-in devices is a key element. Secondly, as business models evolve, personalization is only going to increase.

Q: How is the new wave of smart car technology helping other industries, i.e. in-car infotainment intelligent navigation, voice computing, grow by multi folds?

In order for smart car technology or connected car to evolve and mature all these disparate solutions such as infotainment, navigation, telematics, voice integration, active-passive systems will come together into a unified and seamless solution such as a multi-domain controller. The morphing of these ‘silo-like’ systems into an integrated cockpit experience will allow for reduction in BOM (bill of materials) costs and allow for multiple operating systems to co-exist.

Q: It is estimated that, globally, 381 million smart cars would be on road by 2020. Are we truly equipped with the infrastructure required at the global level?

No. Matter of fact, it is far from it. While technology inside the car has been evolving at a very rapid pace, it’s the infrastructure that is proving to be a deterrent in realizing V2X, smart city integration, autonomous vehicles etc., sooner. Therefore, the edge that places like Singapore, Dubai, and China have will enable smart vehicle/autonomous vehicles to evolve in these markets sooner than in traditionally mature markets like the US or Europe.

DSRC (dedicated short-range communications) have the advantage of leveraging the Wi-Fi ecosystem, being ready and field-proven, and having active standardization efforts ongoing. Their disadvantages are limited bandwidth, reduced range, and requiring deployment of RSU infrastructure. Cellular V2X has the advantage of enabling more use-cases (vehicle-to-pedestrian, vehicle-to-device, etc.), longer range, higher message throughput, existing network infrastructure but the disadvantages of being an evolving standard. DSRC got a leg-up recently when USA’s Department of Telecommunication mentioned the use of DSRC in its proposed rule to advance the mandatory deployment of V2X in cars.

Q: Where does India stand amid to this evolution of vehicle industry?

India is a key growth market, particularly for the mid- and small-car segment. The large millennial population and growing middle class are driving demand for smart/technology-rich features in cars. India’s vehicle manufacturing industry is going to continue to grow with companies investing in engineering and manufacturing small/mid segment cars in India for global supply. Smart City initiatives of the Government of India, should provide impetus for infrastructure development to support increased adoption and supply of smart cars.

Q: Companies and Solution providers have already started talking about Driverless cars in India, a country which tops the chart of countries with maximum number of deaths due to cars accidents. Aren’t we trying to run too fast without learning how to crawl properly?

As a matter of fact therein (maximum number of deaths due to cars accidents) lays the opportunity for adoption of driverless cars, as driverless cars would/should make driving safer. Recent studies conducted by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) show that autonomous vehicles clock about half as many accidents per million miles than manually driven vehicles. We would also make the case that the popular saying of crawling before walking may not necessarily hold true here. It’s an opportunity for India to disrupt and get ahead of the curve in the product development lifecycle of smart cars. Leap forward and run, instead of having to crawl and walk first. Of course, there needs to be a vision, an intent, and alignment among all stakeholders (government, regulatory bodies, infrastructure development, connectivity providers, technology enablers, etc.) to make this happen.

Q: Driverless cars: Boon for people but bane for drivers?

We believe this is a function of consumer demand and business opportunities. Safety, user experience, consumer demand, will drive growth and adoption. Such disruptions will always make certain jobs and careers redundant and people have always found ways to re-skill and make themselves relevant. This is going to be no different.

Q: In the current scenario, what do you see as the biggest challenge for smart/connected cars industry in India?

One challenge I see is providing a uniform ‘smart car’ experience to a consumer, no matter which part of the country one is in – infrastructure development, connectivity, etc. vary greatly from urban to rural settings in India. It is also an extremely cost-conscious market. Huge investments will be required to subsidize technology introduction. Populist politics are likely to force regulatory inclination against technologies like self-driving cars that are seen as killing blue-collar jobs. In addition, there are some unique technological challenges to ADAS solutions in India: regulatory restrictions in the use of radar, inconsistent and chaotic traffic infrastructure across the nation, undisciplined road users, etc.