24 January, 2020 Webmaster

Uber ATG’s Strategy for Self-Driving Vehicles

What kind of new categories of vehicles being created in the future? And what sets Uber apart from the competitors in the area of new mobility concepts? During VECS 2020 we will have the pleasure of listening to a Keynote from Stephen Lesh, Head of Hardware Engineering and Vehicle Programs at Uber ATG. Stephen leads the team designing and developing Uber’s Self-Driving-Vehicle hardware systems, including integration of the technology into OEM-partner vehicle platforms. He is also involved in the development of future business models for mobility with various partners to design, build, and operate autonomous fleets. We got the opportunity to ask Stephen a few questions before the event and he was kind enough to share his insights as well as giving us a teaser of his presentation.

Your theme at VECS is “Developing Scalable Solutions for Self-Driving Vehicles”. Tell us about your presentation. Can you share a preview of what you will be discussing in your keynote?

During my presentation at VECS 2020, I’ll be discussing developing scalable solutions for Self-Driving vehicles.  I’ll cover what I see as the three key requirements for Scalable Solutions, providing details on how this can be achieved, and insights on where I see the greatest challenges for the overall industry.

  1. Business opportunity of sufficient scope to justify the upfront investment in technology
  2. Self-Driving vehicle hardware and base vehicles that have been designed for scale production and a way to manufacture this design
  3. Scaled way to deploy the technology to the business as it matures, and new software capabilities are added that expand the operational domain

In other interviews you have stated that “If a technology doesn’t exist, we design it. If a technology partially exists, we partner to develop it“. Could you elaborate this and give some examples of that strategy?

Self-driving requires a tremendous amount of sensor, computing and software technology.  It is one of the most difficult engineering challenges since the Apollo Program, and it will be solved by the companies that are able to successfully partner with other companies to bring all aspects of new technologies together in a single product.  Some of the technologies needed for self-driving still need to be developed, and Uber ATG has Research, Software and Hardware Engineering teams working to find solutions. Other technologies are already developed or can be better developed by partners.  For example, the base vehicle platform for self-driving requires new systems for fail-operational steering, braking and power executed at a high-level of functional safety. Developing vehicles is extremely difficult and requires tremendous expertise. Uber ATG’s strategy is to partner with world-leading OEMs such as Volvo Car Corporation and Toyota on base vehicle development.

You have also stated that “We work on both the hardware and the software as a single engineering team—and we think that’s one of the advantages that Uber has versus companies that are just doing software and then buying a hardware kit”.  When do you choose to make the development in-house and when do you choose to engage with partners to solve the engineering challenges?

Self-driving requirements are allocated across our in-house software and hardware teams to optimize the overall performance and safety of the system.  The engineering of the software is done in-house, and the hardware is either developed in-house or with partners to provide the greatest possible hardware solution set.

Looking at the mobility race, do you think the tech giants and new entrants will dominate the scene, or can the established OEMs and their suppliers take advantage and create a new position in the eco system?

Uber ATG believes that success will come to companies that can successfully partner and COMBINE strengths, rather than try to dominate on their own.  Our partners are a blend of OEMs, current automotive Tier 1s, and new technology companies.

Do you imagine new categories of vehicles being created in the future? Could you elaborate on that?

The design of today’s vehicles literally starts with the driver, their seating position, access to controls, sight-lines, etc.  The vehicles are optimized for personal use in their features, and even in the trade-offs between initial cost, maintenance and part life.  In the future we expect to see self-driving vehicles that are set-up around passengers (the computer is driving), and optimized for network fleet rather than personal use.

What sets Uber apart from the competitors in the area of new mobility concepts?

Uber looks at mobility as a network solution.  Self-Driving-vehicles will combine with human-driven ride-share vehicles, micro-mobility (electric bikes, scooters), air transportation modes like eVTOL, and connections to existing public transportation to provide an overall solution that lowers the cost and extends the access to transportation to help people unlock opportunities for employment, education or social growth.

What is your view on the three dimensions electrification, automation and a change in ownership? Will they all have the same impact, or do you foresee any differences, or is it a matter of time frames?

Uber ATG believes that the future of self-driving driving is tightly coupled with vehicle electrification.  Electrification is the right technology for the environment in cities of the future for a transportation network vehicle.

Stephen Lesh will give his keynote on “Developing Scalable Solutions for Autonomous Vehicles” on 5th May at VECS 2020. Later the same day he will also take part in a panel discussion on “Collaboration – a Way to Keep up With Rapid Speed of Change?”