SAE International is a global association committed to be the ultimate knowledge source for the engineering profession. By engaging nearly 200,000 engineers, technical experts and volunteers each year, it drives knowledge and expertise across a broad spectrum of industries. It acts on two priorities: encouraging a lifetime of learning for mobility engineering professionals, and setting standards for aerospace, automotive and commercial vehicle industries. Recently T Murrali of AutoParts Asia caught up with Dr David Schutt, CEO, SAE International, to get to know how SAE International has been pursuing its mission to develop standards for the next generation mobility including connected vehicle and autonomous driving. Edited excerpts:
Q: Can you describe the initiatives taken by SAE for autonomous driving?
Schutt: We are approaching autonomous driving from a broad perspective covering the entire waterfront. The technology is developing and there are multiple paths to accomplish it. One of the most interesting things right now is the area of safety, enabling the industry to approach it in a pre-competitive way.
For example, the aerospace industry does not compete on safety or quality or the environment. The automotive industry is beginning to recognise that any bad-acting car is a problem for the whole system, so there has to be a common set of safety principles. The way they achieve it may vary but they should not be competing on safety. That is also one of the largest barriers right now for public acceptance of these vehicles. We are doing some public demonstrations on this where we take the public on test drives in these automated vehicles and look at the change in their experience before and after the drive. There are some surprising things we have learnt from it.
Q: How is this going to help SAE evolve and develop standards in this area?
Schutt: Standards come up when technology collaborates together. There are so many areas we are working on at present, from ADAS to the communication protocols to safety principles. We are also beginning to deal with the human-machine interface; how does the passenger know that the vehicle is being driven autonomously. We are used to making eye contact with the driver to tell him where to go, but how do you do that in a car without the driver. So we are looking at all these different facets, including cyber security. We have a whole set of standards in the automotive industry that build on the fundamental principles of a cyber-secured vehicle, which is being adopted across the industry right now. We have kept it simple so that a regular member of the public can read and understand the difference between Level-0 and Level-4. We are now looking at Level-4 and Level-5; in the US there is a debate on whether or not to skip Level-3 as it’s a complicated area. Europe and Japan are already working on Level-3. The US might have to reconsider skipping it.
Q: Is there any advantage in skipping Level-3?
Schutt: The desire to skip Level-3 was to pass over the very ambiguous high liability stage but technologically it has to be done. We will have to go through Level-3 for a phase of time.
Q: There is always a clash between the regulatory side and technology. In some cases technology is matured but regulatory systems are not confident enough to approve it, also vice-versa. In this scenario how would SAE propagate standards?
Schutt: SAE’s approach is not to define a specific technology but to describe a performance or requirement or expectation from it so that multiple technologies could deliver that same result, or if technology advances it could also be incorporated. There are regional differences. Europe often focuses on a specific technology; we are not opposed to that but are looking for a portfolio of solutions that would allow us to advance further. For example, with the movement from 4G to 5G, if you want a specific technology you have to be right with the standards or regulations while our standards encompass the regulatory framework which is performance-based. In the US, NHTSA (National Highways Traffic System Administration) is trying to find the best pathway for it in this very complex and new dynamics. We are working with them to helm the portfolio standards that would help ensure that the policy is accepted.
Q: Do you see this happening in developed markets five years from now?
Schutt: Certain cities are investing more quickly than others. They have public demonstration days; the state of Florida is fairly progressive, wanting to develop corridors for this. We are doing a number of public demonstration projects in Florida as the state legislation is open to us. The state has a number of retirees who sign up as they see this as an important step in which they want to participate. It’s quite interesting. Pittsburgh is another one; in certain cities the legislatures are making it more accessible. Google is in Pittsburgh doing a lot of testing on vehicles right now; they are slowly expanding in the downtown area with their own X-Y corridors.
Q: So do you see challenges with connected vehicles – vehicle to vehicle, vehicle to infrastructure – as all these are still evolving?
Schutt: They are evolving. The data that needs to be communicated between the two are all well understood to marry the technology that comes into it like 5G. We have developed a digital range of communications which is fast enough and the latency small enough to address communications across all protocols; and with 5G would allow greater connectivity to a more distributed network.
Q: But here comes the security challenge as the data transfer to different points, and vice-versa, would put the OEMs in a tricky situation as to who owns responsibility. What is SAE’s view on this?
Schutt: Where the liability falls would ultimately be on the lawyers and regulatory framework. We anticipate it would fall down to the components, the OEMs that assemble a whole range of them. Fleet purchasers would be able to customise which components go into the vehicle, much like in airplanes.
Q: What is the contribution of SAE in managing these emerging issues?
Schutt: We provide a platform for the technologies to be shared and tested to bring industry together on a pre-competitive basis to begin buying the safety principles they are working towards. In the long-run I can see us going into testing and validation. The Performance Review Institute does a whole quality certification programme across the globe. As the automotive industry begins to look at this and quality assurances, we could have some validation programmes in place. The other part is that we are doing some preliminary work in Block Chain, validating information flows. We are also developing standards for components that can self-diagnose and communicate to help awareness of the componentry. This is a multi-industry activity across the automotive and aerospace.
Q: Would these prognostics be built into the systems and modules that go into developing components?
Schutt: As the design of these gets more mature with the whole discipline of how awareness comes into place, self-awareness would get built into this componentry.
Q: Every vehicle whether bus, truck or passenger car has innumerable sensors. Their need to communicate puts an immense load on the ECU (Electronic control unit). If prognostics come into the systems and modules, will it not add to more complication in the vehicle architecture?
Schutt: It will, but it would begin to build in reliability. One of the things we see is that a lot of the protocols and approaches the automotive industry has taken are increasingly applicable in aerospace, and vice-versa. If you look at these really complex fighter jets, they really are extraordinarily fast computers. The techniques and technologies of that could now begin going into the vehicle. I am sure the cost of everything will come down over time.
Q: Block Chain technology can be applied to data transfer and the aftermarket. What is SAE’s role in this, using block chain for the aftermarket and OE?
Schutt: We are looking at developing methodologies of validating data protocols and transfers. When I walk into a garage all information on the components of the vehicle, and their health awareness, should be immediately available. In a fleet the block chain can be used to convey all information on requisite components to the OE, garage or anyone down the chain who requires it. Here we are looking at different risk registries and standards.
Q: The entire world is working on e-mobility, considering environmental regulations. New things are also coming in like fuel cells. Has SAE undertaken any specific work on fuel cells?
Schutt: I am not very familiar with our standards down at the fuel cell level but we do have different groups working on fuel cells and alternative power sources. Most of the work at present is being done in the US on standard levels for the electrification of batteries.
Q: The technologies coming into batteries today is similar to what is happening on cell phones; within a month it is obsolete. Fast changes are occurring in batteries.
Schutt: We have over 27 committees right now working on batteries, with one committee overseeing all. The complexity of the battery warrants adequate standardisation so they are trying to move quickly and efficiently through this; they multitask and spread it out.
Q: It appears to be endless; some development or the other seems to be always creeping in with people talking about cobalt, sodium and lithium. Where do you draw the line?
Schutt: That’s really a business decision, when you feel, as an OE, that the manufacturing process is good enough and reproducible. Technology will always keep coming in and developing. We have to keep up with it. SAE is not on the business side to define what the right answer is.
Q: Can you tell us about SAE’s upcoming collaborations with other organisations?
‘Schutt: All of the standardisation takes place on a global stage. We coordinate with many of the standards bodies around the world. We work a lot with China, with DIN in Germany; we do have some projects with ISO where we work with the WP-24. Wherever the work is being done and processed, we try to play our part in that process.
Q: Would you be looking at expanding SAE membership in different countries?
Schutt: Certainly. Membership to us is an important aspect but my main objective is to get a set of experts, wherever they are, to participate in the process. We engage almost 60,000 people every single year in our standards process; we have the best experts from around the world.
Q: What is the role of SAE India in supporting SAE International?
Schutt: I think it’s an extension of what we do here, as a partnership. Our pre-professional education programmes are localised to be effective and efficient all over India. We bring in the best talent to develop the paperwork. In the area of standards there has not been a lot of intentional work, at least that I am aware of. SAE is doing much work on student competitions; they follow the same rules, the same spirit.