You love cars. You love technology. You love the planet.

You love driving, the sound of a powerful engine, sleek design elements & comfortable coachwork. You love talking about how fast it can go or how it can handle corners without spilling your latte. They’re awesome.

But you have learned a few things in your time on this planet, and you feel the twinge of guilt when you can’t deny the impact they make on the environment, the cost of fuel as displayed in baby dolphin sacrifices. I know. You dream of a day when you can drive a zero-impact vehicle the way you drive a Porsche 911.  You also dream of a day when you can text on your way to work while your AI car negotiates freeway traffic without careening into anyone and also steams you a perfectly hot latte. Keep dreaming for a while. It will happen.

People are working to supply the demand as it becomes increasingly clear that the future is all about cars and technology. After attending both SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) and AutomobilityLA this November, I came back with the answers to the question I pondered most.

Q. How do we get mechanical engineers to work with tech engineers to build the cars we want?

The simple answer is to recognize the common ground. Everyone wants new technology to make their lives easier and technologists wants to fill that request by making it accessible & easy to use for product designers.

Getting from point A to Point B is simply a matter of tech companies branching out into these auto conventions for just that purpose and for manufacturers and dealers to embrace them. For example, SEMA is an exclusive yearly event open only to the automotive industry. Even with this limited invitation, it draws more than 70,000 domestic and international buyers and covers over a million square feet of the Las Vegas convention Center.

When I arrived, the scene was dizzying with displays of flashing lights, smiling booth girls, and brightly colored ephemera. Once I got my bearings, I found the order among chaos and pieced together the overall atmosphere. There were restoration and performance tools, transmission installation kits, tire treatments, fasteners, assemblies & upholstery machines, just about everything you’d need to build a car or truck any way you’d want. Mostly things you don’t need to know as a mere car-driving mortal human.

What I was looking for however, was a bridge between the past and future of car building and I found it.  Technology had arrived, though quite subtly. The addition of a few tech booths offering newer technology tools was subtle but clear. I found what I was looking for, and wondered how they would be received and applied to the auto industry.

First, there were companies offering their 3D printers at attainable prices with the ability to print utilizing a variety of materials. When I enquired about their target usage for builders, I was told to consider a hard-to-machine, out of stock part needed for a restoration project. Instead of searching online to no end or having a designer spend days & weeks fashioning a one-off, you can now print one up, practically out of thin air. And why keep an enormous back-stock of parts you may need one day, when you can print on demand? It seems beyond logical that restorers will have these as a standard shop tool soon enough.

Moving toward in-house production is quickly becoming a money and time saving tool. The next items I noticed making waves in the fabrication department were plasma cutters and water jet systems. These were not cheap and some take up massive space, but their usefulness in custom metal part design is undeniable, and many come with inclusive guided training. They are quickly becoming a must-have for auto-body shops, and are surely leveling up the competition in other aspects of car design, as well.

The reaction from the attendees I interviewed about these tools was somewhat mixed, as I expected. There were some that couldn’t wait to fit their shop with these new elements to be able to accept projects that were previously too expensive and time-consuming to take on, or to open up the field for new and custom design work. While there were others that have no use for these tools when considering their purist belief in hand-built artistry of design and restoration detail. To these master restoration designers, there is no substitute for original parts, even as these rare parts become increasingly scarce.

After considering the ways these tools will be changing the design & restoration market, I get a sense that changing your car design will soon enough be as simple as changing your mind and next year, SEMA will have even more booths offering innovative tech tools with easy to use functionality and some lower cost-options as demand grows.

I was excited to get over to the LA Auto show press expo; AutomobilityLA this year, as well. I wanted to see how these entrepreneurs, luminaries, innovators and developers of engineering & design would present their vision of the future of transportation. I’ll skip the subject of alternative fuel / electric vehicles, and anything Elon Musk is doing as you can find plenty of information on that in other articles.

Here’s the surprising skinny on your future car. Most car manufacturers are already in the process of launching or have already launched a connected vehicle platform. By 2020, there will be 152 million connected cars on the world’s roads.

The number of IoT devices expected to be at play by 2020 is 20 to 30 billion. That’s just 2 teeny years away and is exclusive of smartphones, tablets & computers.

The major players in the consumer automobile market are eagerly seeking new ways to fill your car with the brightest technology. They are pursuing this by utilizing both small and large tech firms and creating their own internal teams.

The direction everyone is aiming is clearly automated vehicles, but to take this into perspective, we first need to realize that it’s a journey, not a destination. Imagine you’re in the middle of a rain-forest of decision trees looking for wild tacos. You’ve got a journey ahead of you, but with perseverance, you will eventually make tacos.

Some of the first steps automotive companies are taking is hiring teams of scientists already trained in their particular field, as educating internal employees to take on these major technological roles adds an extensive learning curve that would slow progress.

And while you may be thinking, cool, they’re programming my new car to seamless route me to the office. No, not exactly. It takes baby steps. Artificial Intelligence is still in its infancy, and these teams of data scientists are just now creating machine learning algorithms that can learn from vehicles and users. One company, Remoto AI from Bright Box, have been on the market for over 5 years and have amassed about 70 terabytes of raw binary data to date.

Let me back track here. To create your super AI car, you need connected vehicle and user data. If there’s no data, there’s no AI. Thus, the goal of creating connected car platforms is launched. 

There is a massive amount of data to process with each vehicle and user. These telematics devices collect approximately 6-20 megabytes of data per car, which is over a terabyte per year for 100k vehicles. That number is fairly conservative, considering this is a growing industry. Like mining Bitcoin, you need a lot of computing power to work with AI.

The vehicle data collected is mainly date, time, speed, acceleration, deceleration, cumulative mileage, fuel consumption and navigation. While the driver data taken via driver history and third-party services, preserves details such as expected ride duration, low fuel level, and navigational information such as if there is a gas station nearby. 

This data will eventually be used to create rule-generated algorithms that perfectly steam your latte by the time you step into your climate controlled automated pod car that knows how to get you to work by 9am. But again, we’re not there, yet.  We expect a lot from AI but these expectations aren’t based on successful business practices, but rather an idealization.

Conceptual learning will create the necessary decision trees, and is currently starting with the basics of monetizing sales and services. We know how much you dislike the idea of Google data mining (read: spying) on your online actions to tailor ads to you, but your attitudes on this will need to change if you want that AI car.

Imagine this scenario: You drive to work every day on the same route, at about the same speed and drop off your kids at school on the way. The data absorbed here would be time spent in the car, time spent at certain speeds, how many times and how long the back passenger-door was opened, and weather the trunk was opened and closed on that first stop, among 120 other details. It may seem creepy at first, but remember your end-goal of that magic AI car.

Now this information is analyzed and indicators utilized to make product and service recommendations directly to you such as when you might need maintenance, when you should stop for gas to make it to the office on time, or if you might be in need of a trunk harness.

All of your responses to these notices will be analyzed, as well as any changes in behavior so as not to inadvertently spam you with information you don’t want. It will also be used to recognize evolution in your lifestyle to offer new recommendations based on behavioral changes such as moving or growing your family.

That is one aspect of this data usage. The information will eventually be used by OEM, dealerships and equipment manufacturers to start thinking of new ways to communicate with customers on every detail of their car inside and out. Of course, the auto industry is already collecting data on you, but it’s mainly based on online data, not connected cars.

Information gathered via connected cars with solve issues and create solutions for sales of services, accessories, and vehicles to give you exactly what you need from your current car, to recommend a new one that might be more suited to your needs, and to help them redesign buttons and functions that aren’t useful to drivers, or maybe don’t function properly.

All of this information will expedite manufacturing, technology and design to develop cars that offer better functionality, comfort and ease of use to drivers. While we currently don’t know what changes in the market will come or what new opportunities will arise, it’s clear that information will be the power that drives the manufacture of new cars as they become steady communication devices between you and your dealership.

This technology will also effect the independent custom and restoration car markets as user data forms a clearer picture of what vehicles and consumers need. They may need to shift away from standard mechanical practices to focus on modern customer demands for cleaner fuels, onboard technology, cars that perform just as well or better than their mechanical predecessors and maybe eventually that perfect onboard latte, someday.

There is something to consider about supply and demand. Particularly Automated AI supply and the demand for speed and control. Perhaps the shift is consumers ready to relinquish control of their cars in favor of convenience and ultimately relinquishing car enthusiasm completely? I personally hope not, but perhaps the dream of flying cars has been replaced with the dream of grey auto-pods.

In either case, by understanding user needs, companies can modify their strategy to reach their target audience based on real user behavior. Considering that AI, IoT, 3D printers, VR and whatever else is yet to come, will be everything and everywhere in the future, how do you think it will affect your business, and are you prepared to move in that direction?


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