Metzler meets Fraunhofer
The cars on Germany’s roads will most likely soon be equipped with an automatic traffic jam and highway pilot. A completely self-driving car appears to be in the not-too-distant future. This will leave its mark in various fields such as infrastructure, law, IT security and data protection. The auto industry seems to already be facing upheaval, as newcomers from other fields like Google or IT companies have pushed into the market for car development and are competing with established manufacturers.
During a joint event “Metzler meets Fraunhofer“ in January of 2016, Professor Uwe Clausen (Managing Director of Transport and Logistics at the University of Dortmund, Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics, and Chairman of Fraunhofer Traffic Alliance) and Dr. Johannes Reich (personally liable partner of Metzler Bank and responsible for Metzler’s Corporate Finance and IT divisions) spoke on the topic of automated driving.
Can “automated driving“ be defined briefly? Is it different from “autonomous driving”, a term often used synonymously in the media?
Clausen: “Automated driving“ can be clearly defined and distinguished from “autonomous driving”. Automated driving is when systems take over control of the car in certain situations, but a driver is on board and can or must intervene where appropriate. Autonomous driving is when all vehicle movements are consistently system-controlled, eliminating the urgent need for a driver or any driver intervention.
Reich: In autonomous driving, both the vehicle and the driver are actually the opposite of autonomous. They become permanently controlled data units and thus part of a more or less completely optimized, remote-controlled, very large conglomeration of real-time-traffic-flow data, environmental data and simulation data.
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Uwe Clausen is director of the Institute for Transport Logistics at TU Dortmund University and director of Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML as well as Head of Fraunhofer Transport Alliance. He studied computer sciences at the University of Karlsruhe (TH) and received his doctorate from TU Dortmund University with a thesis on optimization of transport networks. From July 2002 to July 2005, he was dean of the faculty of mechanical engineering at TU Dortmund University. At present, he serves on several boards including the scientific advisory board of the Global Supply Chain Network (Bundesvereinigung Logistik; BVL), the board of Association of German Transport Companies (Verbands Deutscher Verkehrsunternehmen; VDV), and the board of the European Conference of Transport Research Institutes (ECTRI).
Dr. Johannes Reich is personally liable partner of the bank B. Metzler seel. Sohn & Co. KGaA and a member of the Partners’ Committee B. Metzler seel. Sohn & Co. Holding AG. He is responsible for the business area Corporate Finance and for the departments Corporate Communications, Legal and Information Technology. He started his banking career with M.M. Warburg & Co. in Hamburg. Later he worked for Morgan Stanley in London and Frankfurt/Main. Dr. Reich graduated from Karlsruhe University with a master’s degree in business administration and engineering and received his doctorate from Bamberg University. He worked as a scientific assistant at Bamberg University and RWTH Aachen University.
The technological hurdles along the path to a self-driving car seem to be considered surmountable in popular debate. For example, the German government sees obstacles mainly in infrastructure, law, IT security and data protection. What do you see as the greatest challenge to be overcome before the reality of automated driving can be tested in Germany?
Clausen: At the moment, I see an evolutionary trend towards driver assistance systems and ever-increasing automation. Taking the leap to autonomous cars will involve some technological and legal hurdles. Sensors, communication systems and algorithms will need to be developed further for certain situations and infrastructures. In my opinion, this will include scientific monitoring of the effects on traffic in real-life pilot projects. As far as legal issues are concerned, the aim will be to refine the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, which obligates all UN member states to abide by common rules and standards. It was last updated in 2014 to allow legal registration of vehicles with automated systems designed to take control of the car in certain situations. However, it is currently still necessary that the driver have control over the car at all times and be able to intervene on short notice by “overruling the systems”.
Reich: I don’t see any real hurdles for automated driving in Germany; it already takes place in many cases. However, completely autonomous driving, when fully understood, will trigger debate in Germany centered on various legal and data protection issues as well as the right to informational self-determination.
Clausen: For truly autonomous systems, it will probably be necessary at first to override the requirements for certain infrastructures or specific test runs by obtaining special permits, thus creating a legal framework.
Reich: I also believe that in the context of transnational standardization, national lobbyists will experience a considerable positioning struggle that could turn out to be a major obstacle.
Critical voices from the auto industry on the subject of autonomous driving are seldom, but in May of 2015 Matthias Müller, head of Porsche at the time, characterized automated driving as “hype for which there is no justification”. What do you make of this statement?
Clausen: I disagree. I expect automated driving to be a mega trend for the next 20 years.
Reich: Hype? Yes. Unjustified? No. The vision of fully autonomous driving literally “electrifies” politicians of all persuasions, city planners, environmental lobbyists and share economists as well as logistics specialists, energy suppliers, automobile companies and software giants.
Clausen: And automated driving doesn’t mean that cars for which drivers play a vital and actively driving role will no longer be produced. This seems to be an important selling point at Porsche. However, because comfort and safety are important for driving a car and the technologies required for partially or fully automated systems are already available, these two arguments together provide substantial market potential. Market suppliers have long recognized this and are exploiting market opportunities by launching new assistance systems.
Reich: The trend can no longer be stopped. At most, some of the current euphoria may be lost to a bit of disillusionment in the course of the debate on the advantages and disadvantages of this new form of mobility.
More and more, cars are becoming high-performance computers on wheels with brakes and a steering wheel (so far). Therefore, concerns have been voiced that the auto industry could have the ground cut from under its feet by the IT industry. Do you think this is a cliché?
Reich: Maybe the ground won’t be cut from under its feet, but the supremacy of a key industry could be withdrawn from the auto industry in the very near future.
Clausen: In my opinion, it’s not a cliché but a realistic option. However, IT competence alone is not sufficient either. I suspect we’re likely to see competition across multiple industries and completely different vehicle design concepts as well.
One auto producer advertises with the slogan “Carmakers must understand people”. Development of automated driving is being pushed forward with great vigor – for more road safety and less stress for the driver, who will become a passenger in future. However, not everything that is technologically possible is also desirable. Do you think the Germans are ready to accept self-driving cars?
Clausen: That’s an interesting question with no clear answer as yet. On the one hand, the general public, particularly in Germany, tends to be rather risk averse when it comes to technological innovations. On the other hand, the acceptance level is nevertheless quite high because advances in driver assistance systems have paved the way.
Reich: Unlike several areas of innovation that are traditionally met with great skepticism in Germany (known as “German angst”), I have the impression that automated driving and even completely autonomous driving have not met such a high level of resistance. So far, I have only seen signs of the opposite here in Germany. The relevant opportunities and chances are unanimously put on a nearly romantic pedestal by the campaign-loving German media, the German companies competing for contracts and subsidies, the political parties quarreling at round tables about correct interpretations, jobs or trend topics, as well as environmentally “inspired” consumers. The associated risks are hardly ever discussed in detail. A modern lesson in both zeitgeist and mainstream self-referentiality.
Clausen: If there were no cars on the roads and we wanted to invent them now, I’m not sure they would be socially accepted in Germany. But because cars have existed for over a hundred years, the debate about safety can be conducted as a comparison to status quo. The level of acceptance will, of course, vary from person to person. Many consider comfort and time savings to be strong arguments and will promote these issues. Others see mobility costs and personal driving pleasure as more important, whereby premium manufacturers in southern Germany position themselves to combine both of these. In addition, I believe that the field of commercial transport, i.e. buses and trucks, offers many opportunities.
As automated and self-driving cars are introduced, vehicles controlled by humans will not abruptly disappear from the roads. Is the coexistence of these two different automobile concepts on the same roads actually conceivable?
Clausen: Yes, not only conceivable but inevitable. More than 40 million motor vehicles on Germany’s roads are not going to disappear very fast and we are situated in the middle of Europe. Production structures in the auto industry will also be adapted step by step and not over night. This represents a major challenge. Moreover, further research on the interaction between technological systems and individual behavior patterns is needed.
Reich: I can envisage the coexistence of self-driving and conventional vehicles on the same roads. However, development of the associated legal matters could get interesting. Arguments brought up in favor of mobility concepts focused solely on “autonomous” vehicles are likely to become less convincing when this mobility concept must compete in the real world with non-fully integrated vehicle forms. According to pure theory of model planning, a puristic mobility concept always works better than a realistic one in an imperfect world, for example in mega-cities like Mexico City, Karachi or Kinshasa. Here in Germany, even comparatively simple logistical, data collection and IT problems in connection with the introduction of a truck toll system operated by Toll Collect were not sufficiently tackled or resolved for a long time.
According to survey data, the desire to own a car is subsiding in some buyer groups in Western European metropolitan areas. Alongside public transportation, car sharing is coming more into the spotlight as a viable alternative to owning a vehicle – a trend that could pick up additional tailwind from self-driving cars. Is the fusion of public transportation and automated driving conceivable for large cities and cosmopolitan areas?
Clausen: In the last decade, we have indeed begun to see significantly curbed demand for car ownership amongst young people in Western Europe, especially in the cities. In the long run, car sharing schemes and the public transportation system will be augmented by a new form of mobility – namely the autonomous vehicle that can bring you from A to B. I suspect that as far as service offered is concerned, this option will be classified among the conventional shared taxis and the buses. We are currently looking into this. A taxi-like model is also conceivable – this would be the more expensive and comfortable option. We intend to keep a close eye on developments in the metropolitan cities of Asia and North America because parking there is generally not as cheap as in large German cities and this will be a driver of mobility innovation.
Reich: Car sharing, promotion of electric vehicles, restrictions on private transport in urban environmental zones, bans on vehicles with conventional combustion engines due to lower thresholds for fine-particle and ozone layer pollution, large-scale expansion of 30 km/h zones, city tolls, increased no-stopping zones – all these issues will accelerate the shift away from private transportation in large German cities. A complete takeover of private transportation and all traffic and mobility data by centralized and centrally monitored software control systems is a dream currently dreamt by many, just like the dream of phasing out hard cash completely. We must be careful it doesn’t turn into a nightmare.