Technology and innovation pole-vaulting mobility

by Dr Arun Jaura, MD, Michelin India Tech Centre 11 May 2020


Innovation and technology are the first cousins in product development, continuous improvement, and providing smart solutions that enhance peoples’ lifestyles. These hallmarks have been changing the face of mobility for centuries by enabling socio-economic aspects for mankind.

Deployed carefully, they can be a boon for the safety and security of occupants, pedestrians, environment and energy balance. The quantum of resources is directly proportional to the value provided to the consumers and the stakes of the businesses.

Innovation is a necessity for mobility due to the changing scenario and business needs that need to cater to customer aspirations, different driving scenarios in different regions and for sustainability. Over the years, innovations and technologies from the aerospace industry have percolated steadily into the world of mobility, ensuring sustainability. Further, partnerships between like-minded OEMs and their partners could catalyse deployment, keep costs manageable and reduce time to market.

Globally, innovations and technologies in vehicle subsystems are around digitalisation, materials, electronics and communication networks, control strategies, and energy storage management. The focus has been on enhancing energy efficiency, autonomy, safety and to reduce emissions while meeting customer aspirations. From the perspectives of reducing time to market, virtual engineering tools, electronics, controls, Internet of Things, and embedded systems have been major drivers. Technologies and tools for digitalisation are becoming a hygiene for easing ‘data-on-the go’ capability, speed in communication and energy efficiency. Virtual engineering tools and process innovations have improved reliability, robustness, reduced test prototypes and eventually, optimised project management. With a focus on compactness, fuel efficiency, reduction of traffic congestion, the compact size of powertrains, electronics, better thermal management, layered displays, embedded architectures and communication protocols have transformed consumers’ lifestyles. Vehicle compactness enhances efficiency in city centres — parking, congestion, safety, maneuverability, ease of driving and reduces materials’ consumption.

Innovations in autonomous driving vehicles are due to ‘sum-total’ of technologies that have been integrated from conventional mobility, aerospace, advanced warfare and robotics. At the current juncture these combined solutions seem complex but smart and are yet to prove their robustness and reliability. They could be the future of mobility patterns, as standalone, in some regions of the world and could co-exist with other multiple mobility solutions in majority of the regions. The changing philosophy of today’s consumer to pay and use, variety of mobility options and lifestyle flexibility could be the few top drivers amongst others, of autonomous vehicles. Smart solutions through innovation and technology are flexible and quicker to adapt to consumer needs. The ability of smart solutions to multi-task through intelligent transportation is an advantage that can be leveraged easily. 

In quest of enhanced energy efficiency
Energy efficiency is the cornerstone of the mobility industry, and is built around one of the primary fundamentals of lightweighting. Material innovations and related manufacturing technologies of components have permeated in mobility for paradigm changes in styling, improving crash worthiness for higher safety, and formability. Garnering related innovations in material technologies have improved cost per kilometre, lowered operational hassles, improved end-of-life recyclability and reduced cost of ownership. Energy devices have significantly changed due to material innovations, providing better energy density and compact designs. The weight of batteries and form factors, fuel cell designs and their power output, and recyclability norms are invariably the common barriers to mass market deployment but are finding more avenues in affordable mobility through new innovations and technologies.

Additionally, the commonising of chassis platforms between vehicle types has warranted the need of weight optimisation of chassis while maintaining the same level of ride comfort and reliability. The variety of chassis configurations across vehicle segments with different powertrains has been conceivable due to material technologies and innovations in composites, structured materials, implanting nano-materials in carbon fibre and deploying pertinent manufacturing capabilities.

Skilling of resources is an important lever as innovations are opening avenues to deploy an array of technologies, which  have brought in new techniques for capability building in and outside of organisations. Virtual tools, collaborative platforms, digital and virtual communities are assisting the human capital and organisations to cope up and align with new-age business environment. The rate of building skill maturity of employees and being able to switch to the newer domains in fast-paced economies is an imperative and possible through new technologies.

Wheel of mobility
The world of mobility is founded on one of the oldest innovations of the human race — the wheel — it has connected everyone, helped build communities, grow employment and enabled trans-continental exchange of goods, people and services over centuries. From times immemorial, it has gone through innumerable evolutions due to innovation and technology that have made it lightweight, low drag resistance, operable on-road and off-road, integrate electric motors, integrate brakes and, of course, come in various sizes that range from about five inches to over five feet.

Integrated with the wheel are tyres that started from being solid rubber on rims more than a century ago, to the tyres with tubes as speeds of vehicles increased as well as ride comfort became important and this was followed by tube-less tyres to air-less tyres now. Companies have unveiled and run pilots as well as production runs of air-less tyres for mass-market on-road and off-road mobility. These are apt for autonomously driven vehicles since they will not leave passengers stranded, ensure peace of mind and safety of consumers. Self-sealing and connected tyres are already in many mobility platforms, seeking larger deployment. Innovations in connected tyres have transverse applications in-vehicle and off-vehicle, data centres and the like, through non-conventional technology platforms.

The mobility industry is steadily changing its course to adopt and adapt to the millennial’s needs but requires a faster pace by innovatively using technology solutions to pole vault. The mobility opportunity is being targeted by non-automotive giants that are testing and deploying pilot vehicles for consumers, loaded with features and technologies that are a natural part of their businesses and easily align with the current growing customer aspirations and lifestyles.

The consumer views technology and innovation from a different lens that is focused on experiences and comfort, and the OEMs and their partners view it through a larger gambit of providing multiple aspects that will keep these sustainable overall. The elusive overlap between the two lenses will be the focus of fusion for a successful mobility story.

The way forward for the mobility ecosystem to align with consumer aspirations is to pole-vault using technologies and innovations that are flexible and adaptable in the shortest time. Of course, the fundamentals of the mobility pentagon of safety, emissions, speed, energy and fuel efficiency are non-negotiable to maintain competitiveness and provide sustainable mobility solutions.