June 21, 2022
Chris Crespi, CTO of the Cosworth Group was invited to take part in this year’s Financial Times – Future of the Car conference at The Brewery, London. The event was host to a large amount of high-profile industry professionals from automotive manufacturers to tier one suppliers, with an impressive line-up of keynote speakers. Chris was part of a panel to discuss the connected car and future of data on road vehicles. We interviewed Chris following the event to get his take on the trends that came up during the conference and where he thinks the industry is going. Here’s what he had to say:
“Participating in the Data Boom panel exposed quite a lot of the technological advancements and equally, hurdles that need to be overcome for the market to progress forward. Additionally, other considerations like security need to be addressed too, ensuring that all areas of data acquisition, analysis, storage and implementation remain safe. So, with all of the coming changes I think we should begin to develop some form of standardisation. It’s going to take a while to get there, as it does with all new technology, but it was great to be part of a realistic and open panel.
“Data driven services are only going to get more intelligent, as the technology improves, user experience will drastically enhance and become more refined. For example, over a journey you will no longer need to instruct the vehicle to show you things like where to park, where to eat, where to shop. These suggestions will automatically be prompted through the data gathered from locations visited and individual preferences. Enabling drivers to have more efficient and pleasant journeys.
“With this upscaled intelligence being shared by the car, we need to make it easier for drivers to interreact safely with it. As we all know, the main focus must remain on driving. As the intelligence level goes up, the amount of time and attention the driver has to put into it should go down, otherwise, drivers can become distracted, which is a big safety concern, and is a waste of the technology if it’s easy for the driver to manage journeys without it. User experience is the key and that was one of the buzz words of the conference, that kept coming up.
“200 fully autonomous, level five vehicles [which are coming in the future], generate and share the equivalent to every person in the UK using their phones at the same instance. So, when we arrive at that level of autonomy, we will quickly need to be able to determine what data is useful and what’s irrelevant. We will need to make this process that takes place on and off the car happen extremely fast. Receive it, analyse it, and act on it. The connected vehicle element of this technology is an extremely crucial part of autonomy.
“Going beyond the technology, we also need to factor in human nature. For example, most new cars have the ability to take voice commands, but a lot of people don’t use them. Why is that? It’s because people don’t trust them, or autonomy isn’t trusted enough. There are going to have to be periods where we enable people to build confidence in what they’re using. We can’t just put the technology out there and expect people to be happy using it right away. We must make the human interaction with the technology a positive easy experience. It is imperative to get the human machine interface (HMI) correct.
“Other topics that stuck out for me during the event included the world of electrification and battery manufacturing. What we need here, I think, is large scale realisation. You could see this happening when Elon Musk stated that buying a mining company is not out of the question so that he can get a hold of the commodities needed to build batteries. That statement was very interesting. It made me look back in time, to the birth of the mass manufacture of cars. Ford started rubber plantations down in South America to make sure they had a good, reliable source of rubber for tyres. Today, this kind of activity highlights the fact that we’re facing the same age-old challenges associated with acquiring commodities – scarcity and utility.
“It was really good to see a genuine, conscious effort to seriously look into sustainable solutions and understand that there isn’t just one solution. We are starting to look more at LCA (Lifecycle Analysis). So, not only are we looking at the batteries themselves, but also at the energy used to create and recycle them at the end of their life. The recycling issue is something we have to get on top of. One of Tesla’s co-founders, JB Straubel who was in attendance, has co-founded one of the world’s leading recycling companies. There was a big focus how we can come up with more legitimate solutions, rather than just pushing the problem to another part of the industry. I thought that this was an excellent part of the conference.
“Hydrogen was also an interesting topic. We know hydrogen is the most abundant resource in the universe. It’s hiding in everything on our planet and most obviously, in water. We’ve been talking about the electrolysis of water for a while now, and this is where Elon Musk made the point that this process is inefficient, but naturally we’re getting better at it as technology and science advance.
“The UK is turning up the dial on the creation of green hydrogen and when we get to a level of efficiency that’s sustainable, that’s when the hydrogen fuel cell will really start coming in to its own.
“The problem we have with hydrogen, is that there is always another problem. One of the current issues aside from obtaining it efficiently, is the storage. Currently, we have to store it under high pressure in tanks. There is a considerable amount of energy needed to store and transport hydrogen under such pressure, which brings us back to the LCA, we must take these energy taxing processes into account. Liquid hydrogen is another topic of debate, but it also has its drawbacks. It may be much more energy dense in a gaseous state, but to keep it as a liquid, astronomical cooling needs to take place and there is still an element of pressurisation that needs to take place to raise its boiling point to a reasonable temperature.
“Moving onto another really important topic, I’ve always used the line “the engine isn’t bad, it’s what goes in it and what comes out of it that’s the problem.”
“There are approximately 1.4 billion vehicles on the road right now and the vast majority of them are powered by the internal combustion engine. This is a problem that really needs to be addressed, because we can’t just pull all of these cars, busses and trucks off the road. Work needs to be done to produce conversion options to run on other types of fuel, like synthetics. We can’t convert every engine, but we can leverage this technical debt by converting as many as we can.
“Collaboration needs to improve too. If we can share IP for the benefit of the industry, we will make bigger strides. There are already companies doing this kind of work, such as Stellantis. We just need to start doing more. There will be some push back from a few brand-loyal customers, but really, it’s the job of marketing to get everyone onboard. Using the resources of two, three or four manufactures is clearly going to be more beneficial than one.
“One of the side discussions that I found fascinating was how do you maintain and increase diversity and I mean, diversity across everything, including not just people and cultures, but also ideas? How do we maintain this when it’s a real struggle to find engineers in the current climate? There were moments where business representatives would be begging for people to apply for jobs. The demand for skilled engineers is here, especially in this industry. Anyone wanting a career in engineering should jump on it now, that’s my opinion. You don’t have to be a perfect fit, you just need to want to be part of it and the industry will welcome you with open arms. This also means that the industry is starting to become more open to ideas that maybe wouldn’t have been accepted in the past. This doesn’t mean that the ideas are going to be right, but at least you can analyse and learn from them.
“So, to summarise, the conference was fantastic. Michaela Ridgeway, who is the editor I worked with for this event was phenomenal. People don’t see all the hard work that goes into a conference of this scale. A phenomenal Peter Campbell did well as the main host and all of the other hosts were great too.
“The dynamic of the conference, being a hybrid event was brilliant as it gave us a chance to be speak with people in person. I loved being able to have real interactions again. Even something as simple as giving out business cards brought a smile to my face. Of course, I was doing it electronically, but it was great all the same. The Times did a incredible job, the entire event was engaging, thought provoking and 100% enjoyable. I can’t overemphasise the energy that was created by the human interaction, I know it doesn’t sound like something to come from a CTO. But honestly, that was a big part of what made the conference for me.
“One final thing before signing off, I want to say something about Elon Musk. I had the great fortune of meeting David Packard when I worked at Hewlett Packard. I was a young, little engineer that was fortunate enough to talk to him, and I was amazed because I felt like he was really listening to me with his full attention. Elon has the same ability. He is highly engaging, with interacting and listening even though it was on a virtual screen. I was really amazed at how well he can connect with people. I grew up in Silicon Valley, and this is one of the key traits one I’ve noticed with the successful people that can change and are changing the world as we know it.”
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