An interview with Carla Gohin, Senior Vice President, Research & Innovation, Groupe PSA
Carla Gohin is the head of innovation at Groupe PSA. She and her team develop technologies that are paving the way for tomorrow’s mobility.
Mobility has become a major concern for today’s societies. We travel more, in order to go further and faster. The ways we get around seem to be poised for radical change.
We’re at a point in history where modes of transport will change more over the next 10 years than they have during the last 30. And meeting the demands of tomorrow’s customers means taking into account the major transformations that are happening today. First and foremost among these is the energy transition. Reducing the environmental footprint is the main driver behind the development of future technologies. Next is the paradigm shift, or the transition from the current vehicle-ownership model to mobility as a service. Tomorrow, people will demand mobility solutions aligned with specific needs, whether this means on-demand service, autonomous mobility, shared mobility or something else.
What’s going to change with the shift from ownership to usership?
We’ll go from being a car manufacturer to a designer and provider of mobility experiences. The services proposed alongside the user’s journey will be of central importance.
To give you an example, to satisfy the needs of car-sharing users, we need to develop vehicle-identification, unlock and start-up functions that are ultra-simple, reliable and safe. This will require implementing facial recognition and other biometric technologies.
Even if we offer a host of innovative services, if they aren’t intuitive or easy to use, we haven’t met our objective, which is to add value to the customer experience. Simplicity and intuitive use have become the main criteria in this new market environment.
Digital technology is a key enabler of this transformation. How do you integrate it?
The challenge is to ensure the continuity of our customers’ digital lives. Smartphones have become an extension of ourselves, with applications that simplify our lives. In the future, when we get into a car, we should be able to replicate our digital environment, without having to re-download everything. This kind of connectivity concerns vehicles as well, not just passengers. Cars are becoming connected objects capable of communicating with what’s around them, including other vehicles and roadside infrastructure.
The auto industry is on the brink of another revolution – the autonomous car. How are you preparing for it?
Because safety is our main concern, our approach to automation is incremental. Our Autonomous Vehicle for All (AVA) programme will begin introducing self-driving functions after 2022, first for traffic jam situations, then for motorway conditions. Besides providing technological assistance, our autonomous driving functions must also offer a new in-vehicle mobility experience, by freeing up space in the cockpit for example so that drivers can use their spare time to engage in non-driving activities, while the car operates by itself.
In addition to this step-by-step approach, we are experimenting with an autonomous shuttle designed to provide shared, driverless transportation in safe, well-defined urban settings. Our aim is short-term, with potential applications launching around 2025.
Which technologies make it possible to create a smart vehicle, i.e., one that’s connected and autonomous?
Artificial intelligence is obviously one of the core technologies. We tend to talk about it as if it were a brand new concept, but the first algorithms date back to the fifties. So artificial intelligence isn’t new. Its rapid rise can be explained by advances in processing power and the exponential growth in the volume of available data. The more data there is, the better these neural networks can predict behaviour and recognise/process scores of images in a large number of vehicle situations.
What’s the role of artificial intelligence in autonomous driving?
Autonomous driving requires deploying a vast array of sensors to capture real-time data, images, positioning data and other information. The aggregated data is then used to create algorithms. This is what enables the vehicle to detect obstacles and get a clear picture of its surroundings. With the help of data fusion and AI-based techniques, the car will be able to perceive its environment and make the right decisions.
How can technology help shrink the environmental footprint?
Stepping up electrification is currently the best way of reducing the environmental footprint. The Group has implemented R&D programmes to ensure that 100% of the car range will be electrified by 2025. The models will be available in fully electric or rechargeable plug-in petrol hybrid versions to satisfy a broad range of needs, depending on the segment and type of use. The next models will be rolled out in 2019.
What’s the next step in mitigating environmental damage?
Increasing battery energy density so we can achieve the best compromise between driving range and cost and increasing recharge capacity to improve the prospects for electrification. In France and the rest of Europe, we’re focusing on large-scale electric development. But as a global carmaker, Groupe PSA needs to pave the way for the energy transition in all regions where it operates.
We’re therefore also working on zero-emission technologies like hydrogen and biofuels. Biofuels are at the centre of our strategy to reduce CO2 emissions from combustion engines in Latin America. By 2025, these technologies will be an integral part of our portfolio of technological solutions.
Does that mean hydrogen is a serious field of study?
For electric as for hydrogen, one of the core issues is clean energy. If we want to step up the development of hydrogen as a fuel source, we will need to tackle the challenges of making hydrogen production via Electrolysis of water, an emissions-free process.
In other words, there’s no miracle solution?
Let’s just say there’s no one-size-fits-all solution capable of meeting every need in every part of the world. Instead, what we will have is a range of mobility solutions suited to specific situations – commuting to work, going on holiday, moving house – that cater to city and country dwellers alike.