We had a chat with David Green, Chief Digital Officer at Lynk & Co, where he is responsible for overseeing the digital transformation for the company’s car products and future mobility solutions. The connected car and the ecosystem around it, is a primary focus of his work at Lynk & Co. Before that, David was responsible for e-commerce, urban mobility concepts for connected and autonomous vehicles, future retail and business innovation at Volvo Cars.
Mr. Green, you are a self-confessed ‘tech geek’ and digital innovator and at Lynk & Co you have the opportunity of living a time where the worlds of automotive and consumer electronics are coming together. “Yes, I was lured by an insatiable quest to challenge the norm and change how the world perceives and uses mobility and so I found my footing at Lynk & Co. Before this, I was at Volvo Cars and some of my achievements at Volvo include a patented digital key solution, the introduction of the ‘In-Car Delivery’ service, a ‘Peer to Peer’ car sharing concept and the strategic partnership with Microsoft, which led to a number of ‘firsts’ such as the HoloLens Augmented Reality Retail Experience”.
Fully automated cars
Everybody is expecting that, at some point in the near future, self-driving cars are going to be something common, but the question is how far are we actually from really self-driving cars on a real street, surrounded by real people and other drivers? And we mean real Level 5 cars (fully automated, with no human intervention whatsoever). “Well, the technology is viable today. But, as I said before, it is contextual. Having Level 5 cars in all scenarios and conditions… not yet. And possibly not for a long time. Anyway, those types of cars for limited areas and in limited conditions…is something possible. The technology is already there”.
Yes, but, what about the decision mechanisms you have to implement in the cars, to react to the outside world? Are they advanced enough, in case of an accident, to make the proper decisions when life and death are on the line? “I (controversially) suspect that the decision scenario is a red herring. The real objective is probably to be fail safe. Not to aim to build in value judgement. A “car” made out of light materials, foam rubber, limited to 20 Km/h and only operational in good weather might be expected only to cause injury in exceptional circumstances. Presumably it is not possible to prevent all fatalities, but getting to “nearly” is a truly massive improvement”.
Self-driving cars without Machine Learning are not going to happen
Many car companies, like Mercedes and VAG, are pushing the “Connected Car” paradigm forwards. Is this actually absolutely necessary to increase the overall “intelligence” of the individual cars? “I believe connectivity is a supporting feature… but the systems cannot rely on it for live processing for a very long time to come. There is always a chance of latency or failure”. Talking of that, how will 5G mobile technology affect self-driving cars, if at all? “Well, 5G will improve efficiency, speed up the time to market and open up enhanced features for the cars”.
Ok, so which are the technologies that need the most enhancement to get a really self-driving car? “I would say sensors and processors but, primarily, advanced Machine Learning”. And what is the exact role of Machine Learning in self-driving cars then? “It is critical. We cannot create an algorithm for a task as complex as driving in the real world without having the systems learning on their own”.
So who is showing the way nowadays regarding technology? Maybe Tesla? Or possibly Google? “It is a close race. I am not sure anyone knows who is in the lead on any one day. It may come down to who can gather the most data and there may be a radical innovative breakthrough. But they also are not the only teams in the game”.
The way to the future
Imagine a couple of years from now. What could the economic impact of hordes of self-driving cars be? “Actually huge. They could radically change multiple industries and individuals as effects knock on. For example in manufacturing capacity, the service and maintenance, aftermarket, parking, petrochemical, and insurance, not to forget the professional drivers“. Do you see the self-driving technologies ending up in other types of vehicles? “This seems something inevitable…potentially before cars. Some examples could be farm and construction machinery, the logistics sector, public transport, or even haulage”.
Let’s imagine the following scenario: Transportation 2030. Please take a guess… “After a rapid transformation starting in China, many major cities around the world exclude wet-tech vehicles and instead provide citizens and visitors with integrated, efficient, green mobility solutions. Urban congestion and road deaths are a thing of the past replaced by frustration with occasional service outages. Urban spaces given to parking are now repurposed. Whilst people inevitably complain about rising charges, the total cost of mobility has dramatically reduced for everyone and therefore the standard of living in multiple ways has significantly improved. Environment, mobility, sustainability, economic growth and personal wealth have all improved for anyone not still impacted by the collapse of multiple seemingly well-established industries”.
Innovation is the driver
If safety is the synonym for Volvo what would be that synonym be for Lynk & Co and why? “Sustainable Mobility. That is our mission”. You are doing some quite revolutionary things when it comes to the auto industry. How does business technology contribute to your mission of changing the mobility landscape? “It is our foundation and framework, it supports everything we do and drives our capability to effect change. What we call “technology” changes over time. Once upon a time, a stick was high tech, then it became a spear and then a bow. Innovation drives change and the pace of change is increasing exponentially. We are not focused on creating new technology, we instead focus on gaining advantage from proven capabilities innovating and iterating. However, most importantly we try to ensure that we always put the customer first and not the technology”.