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How is Artificial Intelligence driving transformation in the automotive industry?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionising all industries. The automotive sector, already engaged in a race to innovate, is no exception to the phenomenon and is continuing its transformation at breakneck speed.  In areas ranging from advanced sensors to virtual assistants, from on-board software to autonomous vehicles, AI is leaning into a turn that is redefining vehicle safety, user experience, connectivity between vehicles and their relationship with the environment.

One car can hide another

Despite appearances, some of the vehicles on the streets of San Francisco, Phoenix in Arizona or even Beijing do not always have a driver at the wheel: these cities were among the first to authorise the use of robot taxis. These are autonomous vehicles that are fully automated and driver-less. Such vehicles have reached level 5, the highest level of autonomy (see insert), thanks to sensors and artificial intelligence that can detect the environment, combine the information obtained to analyse it, decide on an action and implement it

Used in automobiles, AI paves the way for the integration of learning, perception, navigation and planning modules capable of solving complex problems in record time, such as pedestrian detection or the aggregation and analysis of real-time data collected by the cameras, radars and lidars that map the road in 3D. This is the culmination of a change of direction that began in 2017, although it is still subject to a number of challenges. How can all this be integrated into a system that is reliable in all circumstances? There are many factors of uncertainty: weather, pedestrians, traffic, etc. Predicting their behaviour remains a challenge for AI. 

Market perspectives for Autonomous vehicles

The size of the market for autonomous cars - evaluated from level 1 or level 2, very partial autonomy, to level 5, complete autonomy -  is estimated at USD 41.10 billion in 2024 and is expected to reach USD 114.54 billion by 2029, with growth of 22.75% over the period 2024-2029. In 2023, the size of this market was estimated at USD 33.48 billion. 

Europe classifies its cars in five levels of autonomy.  

At levels 1 and 2, the on-board software brakes, accelerates or keeps the car in its lane, but it merely assists the driver, who remains solely responsible. 

True autonomy begins at level 3, where part of the responsibility is entrusted to the software (and therefore indirectly to the manufacturer), for overtaking a car on the motorway, for example. The driver must nevertheless be ready to regain control in the event of an alert from the vehicle, and this is always the case at level 4. At level 5, the driver is no longer needed and the car is fully autonomous. 

Honda is the first manufacturer to market a Level 3 partially autonomous driving system in Japan in 2021, followed by Mercedes-Benz in Germany in the same year, and in Nevada and California in 2023 - and soon BMW in Germany this year. 

what are the levels of autonomy ?  see the illustration

While several operators, such as Waymo (Google / Alphabet), Zoox (Amazon) and Nuro have taken the plunge, most carmakers are marketing level 1, 2 or even 3 autonomous vehicles using artificial intelligence. The benefits for the automotive industry and the user experience are already immense. Since September 2022, Germany, for example, has authorised Level 3 "autonomous driving vehicles", which can drive semi-autonomously on motorways, in traffic jams and in car parks. Following in the footsteps of Honda and its Legend Hybrid EX, authorised in Japan in 2011, Germany's Mercedes-Benz has been authorised to market its Level 3 models in Germany, China and California. 

At present, Level 2 and Level 3 partially autonomous cars are the most used on the market, while Levels 4 and 5 (as scaled by SAE International) are expected to become more widely accepted by 2030.   
(Source : mordorintelligence.com, autonomous-driverless-cars-market-potential-estimation)

AI for safety    

Thanks to artificial intelligence, connected vehicles, even if they are not 100% autonomous, can already significantly improve on-board safety. AI has a formidable capacity for absorbing and exploiting data from both inside and outside the vehicle. It provides permanent surveillance solutions, using sensors and cameras to assist the driver. And AI is at the heart of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS): automatic braking, collision warning, speed regulation, lane departure detection, etc. Most manufacturers have also introduced fatigue detectors in their vehicles, which analyse driving behaviour and warn the driver at the first sign of a loss of concentration.

Being able to anticipate what is happening in and around the vehicle, with techniques such as emergency braking, can significantly reduce accidents, which is what carmakers are looking for. All these technologies are increasingly being deployed, including in standard vehicles
Matthieu Soulé, Director of BNP Paribas C. Lab Americas

Optimised fleet management 

And that's not all. AI also plays an important role in predictive maintenance. Thanks to the real-time analysis of this on-board technology, AI can anticipate mechanical failures by detecting variations in temperature or pressure, for example, and suggest the replacement of certain components. By keeping the vehicle in optimum condition, AI helps to enhance on-board safety. 

Predictive maintenance is becoming an essential part of fleet management. AI makes it possible to process a multitude of data on vehicle components - and their potential obsolescence - but also on their general state (vehicle performance, efficiency or productivity).  "By processing millions of data items using AI fleet managers have a source for cost optimisation and useful information on consumption, usage, etc.", analyses Matthieu Soulé. 

BNP Paribas Arval, one of the leading operational leasing companies and a specialist in mobility solutions, has just passed the 100,000-mark for connected vehicles thanks to data received directly from vehicle manufacturers. These vehicles are among the 650,000 connected vehicles in Arval's fleet thanks to the Arval Connect solution. The BNP Paribas subsidiary aims to connect 80% of its fleet by 2025. This is a way of organising proactive maintenance operations and optimising fleet management by reducing downtime. 

The connected vehicle, a smartphone on wheels 

As vehicles are increasingly connected they are becoming highly personalised spaces, thanks once again to the collection and processing of a multitude of data. 

The Software Defined Vehicle (SDV),  takes the car into another dimension, one of data and ultra-personalisation. Cars are thus  evolving into a new space enriched with new functions and applications. 

Suggested errands, television programmes, shopping while driving... soon, getting into your car will also be a way of managing your time better. 

"Tomorrow, biometric sensors will be able to detect when you're tired at the wheel, suggest that you stop for a coffee nearby and pay for the coffee before you even arrive," says Guillaume Rio, Technology trends and partnerships manager BNP Paribas BCEF

Volkswagen has announced its ambition to spend more than 122 billion euros on electrification and digitalisation between 2023 and 2027; in 2023, Honda and Sony launched Afeela, a mobility brand with an ultra-connected zero-emissions prototype, equipped with 45 sensors - LiDARs (Light detection and ranging), cameras, etc. - distributed around the outside and inside the vehicle. Ultimately, the prototype offers a digital platform that provides driving aids, semi-autonomous piloting and connections to different networks (between vehicles, between vehicles and infrastructure, etc.) via 5G in particular.   

More recently, French carmaker Stellantis announced a partnership with Amazon to design the software for its "smart cockpit", an electronic platform that will be integrated into the vehicles of the group's 14 brands. This is an extension of the Stellantis software strategy set out in the Dare Forward 2030 plan, which aims to develop intelligent mobility products and enhance the customer experience through personalised functionalities.  

All carmakers are making massive investments in software, and partnerships between manufacturers and tech companies are now commonplace,"
Guillaume Rio, Technology trends and partnerships manager, BNP Paribas BCEF

AI from one end of the chain to the other, including payment 

Renault Group, for its part, is stepping up the transformation of its supply chain with artificial intelligence tools, drawing on the expertise of Cermics, the teaching and research centre of one of France's leading engineering poles: École des Ponts ParisTech. As for the German carmaker, its "BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant" has long been using artificial intelligence to process voice commands. 

Several manufacturers, such as Stellantis and Mercedes-Benz, have already integrated ChatGPT into their vehicles, while others, such as Hyundai and BMW, are creating their own. The aim is to allow passengers to have a more fluid exchange with their vehicle, to have a simple "travelling companion", with ChatGPT able to act as a tourist guide or tell the story of the region they are travelling through.  Mercedes-Benz, for its part, has teamed up with Mastercard to give its customers the option of using a fingerprint sensor in their car to make secure digital payments at more than 3,600 service stations in Germany

AI and sustainability: a long-term relationship? 

The impact of AI on the automobile goes beyond safety and convenience; it is also shaping the future of sustainable mobility. AI can be used to optimise journeys made by connected vehicles, helping to improve traffic flow, control the filling of autonomous vehicles, provide advice on eco-driving, parking and relaxation, etc. By dynamically adjusting parameters, on-board software measures and advises on how to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. 

From the driving experience to improving on-board safety and optimising journeys, AI is far from finished taking the automotive industry into new worlds. 

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