What part does Microsoft play in the future of mobility?

As the vision of connected, autonomous mobility comes ever closer to reality, automakers are having to transform the way they design, manufacture, sell and support their vehicles. The innovations that emerge may have the potential to change the fundamentals of how we move around

Alex Smith
By Alex Smith on 27 January 2020
What part does Microsoft play in the future of mobility?

The automotive industry is undergoing huge transformation, and it’s changing the very nature of what a vehicle is. Today’s vehicles are increasingly connected to the world around them, and the possibilities for the future are extensive.

While the change is mostly positive, it is profoundly disrupting the current state of the industry. “Automotive is facing disruption at an unprecedented pace, affecting virtually every aspect of the industry,” says Sanjay Ravi, general manager of automotive industry at Microsoft. “New innovations are altering industry fundamentals, changing the current value chain and radically altering how we will view transportation in the future.”

The industry is becoming digital, and the approach of automotive companies to the new reality will determine their success in this future. Facilitating this transition is where Microsoft sees itself playing an integral role. “We do not compete directly with automakers, and we do not try to monetise or own their data,” says Ravi. “We are focused on co-innovation and forging strategic partnerships to help automakers build their own digital platforms and mobility services.” 

One critical area of development will be the connected vehicle. With consumers always connected through their mobile devices, the relative isolation of the vehicle today seems old-fashioned. By bringing the car more cohesively into that connected environment, automakers will find themselves able to offer a multitude of services and experiences that they were never previously able to, which can be personalised for the consumer. 

“Changing the behaviour of the vehicle using software suits the concept of adaptive customisation,” says Mario Ortegon, head of system strategy and innovation management at DSA, a global organisation and Microsoft partner developing innovative and customer-specific communication solutions for vehicle electronics. “The monitoring of normal communications on the vehicle bus contains a trove of information regarding the characteristics of the driver. This information can then be matched against known driver profiles. The resulting data can then be used to provide additional vehicle options or ‘software as a service, such as an update for an enhanced ‘sport’ driving mode.”

These increased data capabilities will allow vehicle manufacturers to gain important insights into consumer demands, enabling them to develop more personalised services to attract consumers. This represents the beginnings of an evolution in the role of these organisations, going from simply selling vehicles to supporting them with services into the future. For example, analysts Frost and Sullivan predict that up to 65% of all cars sold in the US in 2020 will be enabled with an in-vehicle marketplace, allowing drivers to purchase anything from fuel to food and opening a brand-new stream of revenue for automotive companies.

“Many of the services, such as location-based services and entertainment and communication services can be fully implemented as part of a telematics or infotainment unit,” says Ortegon. “However, many powerful use cases require a large amount of integration with the diagnostics capabilities of the vehicle, such as over-the-air (OTA) reprogramming, in-vehicle diagnostics and predictive maintenance.”

Automotive companies will therefore face the challenge of developing a platform infrastructure that can enable them to build and deliver these innovative solutions, a time-intensive and costly project that requires a range of expertise. To help them overcome this hurdle, Microsoft has developed the Microsoft Connected Vehicle Platform (MCVP). “The MCVP is a platform for the automotive industry that enables the delivery of services like telemetry, command-and-control, and OTA updates to drive software-defined in-vehicle experiences, and leverages Azure’s global footprint to deliver a consistent platform with both scale and high availability.” said Tara Prakriya, partner program manager from Microsoft’s Azure IoT Mobility team. Partners like Cubic Telecom are helping to ensure that MCVP offers the best platform for connected vehicle services and solutions. “Cubic was chosen as the first licensed communication partner to enable global connectivity for a complete range of automotive assets,” said Ciaran Ryan, senior vice president of sales at Cubic Telecom. “Together with the MCVP team at Microsoft we enable automotive manufacturers to deliver a seamless connected vehicle experience to their customers.”

One of the most highly anticipated developments in automotive is the introduction of fully autonomous cars, and for good reason. When a car can drive itself with no attention from the driver, the mobility experience can be profoundly reimagined. The vehicle of the future could look very different to those we’re familiar with, taking advantage of the available time and space the driver will have. “The advent of autonomous driving is shaping up to be one of the most impactful and disruptive innovations to hit the automotive industry,” says Ravi. “There is an opportunity to completely re-architect vehicles in a way that delivers new experiences that turn the vehicle into a living room, or even an office, on wheels.”

However, despite the justified ambition and enthusiasm, Ravi emphasises that the road to autonomy is far from an easy one. “The complexity of autonomous vehicle development cannot be understated,” he says. “When you consider that a fleet of 100 test and development vehicles might produce one petabyte of data per day, then the scale of the problem becomes evident. We are working with autonomous vehicle development and simulation leaders to develop an open end-to-end toolchain for autonomous development that will address challenging problems such as multi-faceted data ingest, and the processing of large workloads needed to conduct autonomous development effectively.” 

To bring dramatic innovations such as autonomous vehicles to the market in a cost-effective way, automotive organisations will need to continue to invest in efficient, streamlined manufacturing and supply processes. Intelligent supply and manufacturing chains, built on the capabilities of the cloud, are already allowing companies to work more efficiently. “Being on Azure has helped us seamlessly integrate with our partners in the automotive industry,” said Prashant Raaghav, director of engineering at Acerta, a machine analytics company which provides predictive solutions for automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

Digital transformation will continue to change the way automotive manufacturers are working on the showroom floor. By making use of Microsoft technologies, automakers can help to connect their sales, marketing and service to improve their customers’ experience. Volvo, for example, has enhanced the process of buying a car with Microsoft HoloLens. Customers can explore a hologram of the car they are interested in, with access to the entire array of options available to them. As consumers come to demand a more personalised mobility experience, a holistic sales approach integrates multiple classes of data to tailor interactions and services to individual needs will be important for automotive companies to attract and retain their customers.

Further, we are seeing the beginnings of change to the traditional model of vehicle ownership. Currently, most vehicles are privately owned, meaning that they rarely carry their maximum number of passengers, and are rarely used more than one to one and a half hours a day. If the occupancy and usage of vehicles were to increase, the number of cars on the road would fall, ultimately reducing the levels of congestion and emissions that we currently experience. 

This is the future offered by the move towards mobility as a service (MaaS). Different forms of shared mobility, such as public transport, ridehailing, and taxi services, could be brought together to form a single mobility service which is available on-demand. When combined with autonomous vehicle technology, removing the need for a driver, MaaS can provide a more cost-effective, sustainable and convenient method of transportation than the private car. 

A pioneer of MaaS services is Moovit, an urban mobility service that plans the best route for a journey using public transportation. By making use of information from public transport providers and the huge amount of data generated by its user community, Moovit can map transit options available to its users. Moovit has now partnered with Microsoft to provide multi-modal transportation services for Azure Maps, the geospatial service available on the Microsoft Azure cloud. “Microsoft already works with a number of ride-hailing and car-sharing providers, and we provide our own first-party technologies which enable capabilities such as multi-modal transportation planning, last-mile logistics, and route-optimisation services,” says Ravi.

Once connected, autonomous, and shared vehicles hit the roads, the infrastructure surrounding vehicles will have to change to take full advantage of the new capabilities on offer. Smart city platforms, which make use of the cloud to bring together many kinds of data that are traditionally viewed separately, will transform urban transportation. Data on traffic flow through the city, for example, could be used to manage traffic light signals to favour vehicles that are running behind, and load-balance traffic around problem areas “We’re working to unite existing data from many departments and agencies with new, real-time data to find the hidden opportunities to improve people’s lives,” said Emily Silverman, smart city program manager for the City and County of Denver in a Microsoft press release.

With the wide range of areas that are undergoing transformation, the automotive industry is on the cusp of a revolution. While there’s still a huge amount of work to be done, the connected, self-driving vehicles that were once the preserve of science fiction are turning into a distinct reality. For Ravi, the key to achieving this vision is in collaboration. “Our digital future cannot be built in silos; it must be built with great partnerships,” he says. “We invite automakers, ecosystem partners and cities to join us as we pave the road to a better tomorrow.” 

This article was originally published in the Winter 2019 issue of The RecordSubscribe for FREE here to get the next issues delivered directly to your inbox.

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