What does the future hold for Robotaxis? We asked the expert! In Track 2 on the first day of VECS 2024 we will have the pleasure of listening to a Keynote from Andreas Reschka, Senior Director of Product, Systems, and Safety, Pony.ai. Mr. Reschka is a car enthusiast and experienced AV engineer and manager. He holds Computer Science degrees and a PhD in Electrical Engineering from German universities and worked on multiple AV projects over the past 14 years, focusing on safety concepts, verification, validation, and operations. Some of his achievements include developing the safety concept and safety driver takeover mechanism for the first Level 4 vehicle in a German city in 2009/2010, developing the safety concept for a truly driverless truck for the German Autobahn which sustained an audit from the German TUV from 2014-2016 and won the IAA Innovation award in 2018, developing the L5 roadmap and safety concept for Zoox Inc. from 2017 to 2020, and serving as technological leader of Systems and Safety Engineering at DiDi from 2020 to 2021. We got the opportunity to ask him 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.
Could you please introduce yourself and your work at Pony.ai?
I’m currently leading Pony.ai’s product definitions, our systems engineering, and our approach to safety in the USA for markets outside of China. My journey started as a car fan and computer scientist almost 15 years ago and took me through several research and industry positions resulting in quite a few interesting vehicle deployments in Europe and the USA, and in trucking and passenger transport.
What will you speak about at VECS 2024?
VECS is a great conference to go deep into technical aspects and safety, and also to talk about the ecosystem for automated vehicles. I hope that I can share my thoughts on safety with a focus on differences between China, the USA, and Europe. The safety case for deployments has effects on when technology is available. However, there are differences in the business models for AV technology in these regions and I hope that we can cover this as well.
What can you say about business models and partnerships in different markets?
The robotaxi application, in which taxis and small vehicles are operated without drivers, is the primary model in China and the USA at this point. However, for good reasons, European countries that already have established public transport and have too many privately owned cars on the road prefer to use the technology as an improvement to public transport. There are many interesting aspects to this difference like types of vehicles, ownership, value chain, operations and more. Lastly, we are also looking into fully automated vehicles for private customers in a few years.
What lessons have you learned from participating in projects such as the Stadtpilot project and the AFAS project?
One of the key takeaways is that companies developing automated vehicles need to balance the functional development, which mainly uses Artificial Intelligence these days, and the Systems Engineering and Safety aspects. In the Stadtpilot project, which focused on fully automated testing in an urban environment, we took the so-called safety case very seriously early on. It became clear that the development of the actual driving function and thinking about how we can make this safe need to be hand in hand. In the AFAS project this was the key focus. Let’s find a manageable driving function – hard shoulder, low speed of the Autobahn – and build the safety case around that. After working for many years in AV companies, they are very strong on the function development and AI, but most of them did not focus enough on the systems and safety engineering.
What does the future hold for Robotaxis?
Robotaxis will be ubiquitous in traffic, especially in dense urban environments and to connect remote locations to cities, e.g., airports. However, I think it is very similar to ride-hailing companies. In China and the USA it is relatively certain that taxis and ride-hailing vehicles will be automated sooner or later. In Europe I believe it will be different. The first step is public transport and then we may see privately owned vehicles with full automation.
What is the most important thing you would like to share in your presentation?
The one key thing for different markets is the challenge of generalizing a solution for the different markets. I believe that European safety standards will be the target for us and others in the future and it will be a key enabler to scaling globally. I would like to share my thoughts on this.
What are you most looking forward to by attending and speaking at the event?
The AV industry has been around for several years now and many companies are switching gears to filter and identify how the technology can be used in different markets. It is key to build relationships with all stakeholders globally. I believe that hearing back from the European community on my thoughts and connecting with the community excites me the most.