'Driving autonomous vehicles in India is the ultimate test'

As chief information officer of Daimler, Jan Brecht is in charge of IT innovation at the world's biggest commercial vehicle manufacturer and the parent of Mercedes-Benz.

On his first official visit to India, Germany-based Mr.Brecht arrived at the Bengaluru airport in the early hours of the morning probably to avoid the traffic congestion in the city.

In an interview with Peerzada Abrar, said the ride from airport to the city was “very good” but running autonomous vehicles in India would be a challenge and an ultimate test. Daimler would expand its talent team at Mercedes-Benz Research and Development India centre in Bengaluru and would also partner with start-ups, as this strategy would play a key role in the company's innovation, he said.

Edited excerpts:

You succeeded in making self-driving trucks and buses. Where is autonomous driving heading for?

I expect a very fast development in that area in the years to come.

How about emerging markets like India as developers and customers of autonomous vehicles?

There is huge potential in India, particularly with the IT and analytics skills that you have in the country to drive a big portion of the development of these services.

From a market perspective, from what I have seen in the last two days I think it is more challenging to have an autonomously driven vehicle here in India than in Europe or the U.S. But that is probably the ultimate test then to prove the technology. It is difficult for me to judge as we said before it is also a legal question…, Which country would legally define a framework to make autonomous driving happen?

You use 3D printing to make spare parts. What role is it going to play?

It is going to play a very key role. Whenever you have a small number of parts, 3D printing is probably the most efficient way of doing things,…. particularly in slow running spare parts, spare parts for vintage cars etc. I see a huge potential for that technology, particularly as we are now moving from printing plastic parts into printing metal parts too.

You recently bought car-leasing firm Athlon and a mapping company HERE. Are there any acquisition plans in India, which is becoming a start-up hub?

I wouldn't look at it from a merger and acquisition perspective necessarily, but what we definitely want to do is to acquire skills and knowledge, that is why we continue to grow the teams here. That is why as an analytics and IT hub India is so important for us. We will also look at companies and start-ups that might or might not be an acquisition, but the key is to get the knowledge and skills and get the intellectual property. M&A is one way of doing it, but organic growth is very important (including) partnerships.

You are gearing up with self-driving vehicles and even electric cars. Do you see Tesla CEO Elon Musk as a role model?

We certainly are respectful of Tesla and what they have done, I don't think we need a role model to shape the industry. We have been shaping the industry for the last 130 years. Technically it (autonomous vehicle technology) is very advanced in many companies. The legal question is important.

For example, if you look at what we launched in the media a couple of months ago, on the commercial side it might be more imminent. Take for example, Platooning, which means you have three trucks, two of them are coupled wirelessly and you only need one driver. From a technical as well as legal perspective probably it is much closer (to reality) than the fully autonomous passenger car.

While we are respectful of others and we have to disrupt ourselves and be faster, we also have quite a bit of knowledge in leading that field. For electric cars, the key element of Drivetrain is that in the future, we have a very elaborate schedule for growing the autonomous way of driving cars.

What are the innovation bets that you are making for the next decade and what role would India play in those bets?

I think it would be around services that surround the vehicle. Huge innovation would come in terms of maximising the uptime in the commercial vehicle sector. If we see urbanisation and e-commerce as two mega trends, there would be a huge innovation on the last mile of e-commerce, because it is difficult to deliver these parcels. For example, people are at home, while (delivery) vans get stuck in traffic.

In one pilot, what we have done is that one of our brand of microcar and sub-compact vehicles, 'Smart', in Europe, for example, gets the e-commerce parcel delivered to the trunk of your car. Which means two things, that are usually an obstacle for that business model.

At night there is no traffic, so the delivery guy can just once open the trunk with an app and put the parcel. You find the parcel when you wake up in the morning. You (also) don't have to be at home when the delivery occurs.

That is just one example of an innovation. I think we will see more of these. India has a very deep and wide talent pool particularly in the area of advanced analytics and we would certainly grow these capabilities also here in our team in Bangalore and make even more strategic use of that for the company.

We are roughly 3,000 people in Bengaluru, 1,300 of which are in IT. I believe in building a strategic foundation rather than move fast.

The analytics talent that we find here is probably difficult to find elsewhere. It is a key role in the context of today’s technologies.

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Printable version | Aug 8, 2020 6:25:07 AM |

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