Navigant Research Blog

Could On-Demand Mobility Finally Pave the Way for Vehicle-to-Grid Integration?

— September 27, 2016

EV RefuelingA decade ago, when discussion of modern plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) was just getting ramped up again, one of the big potential selling points was the concept of vehicle-to-grid (V2G) integration. For a variety of reasons, it never quite caught on. However, as automakers, suppliers, and a variety of service providers have made a flurry of announcements about deploying autonomous vehicles into ride-hailing services in recent weeks, the time may also have arrived for V2G.

The idea behind V2G was to enable two-way communications and power delivery between PEVs and charging outlets. In addition to electricity flowing into the vehicles’ batteries to enable mobility, PEVs could also provide power back to the grid when needed to cover peak demand loads. A number of automakers have worked with utilities over the years to test out the concept, including Ford. When the automaker built a fleet of 20 prototype Escape plug-in hybrids for field testing in 2008, the cars were loaned out mostly to utilities to evaluate V2G.

Benefits of V2G

For customers, potential benefits of participating in a V2G system include possible rebates for contributing power back to the grid or discounts on charging during off-peak times. Utilities using V2G would have access to a buffer of power during load spikes that would reduce the need to build out extra generating capacity.

Unfortunately, sales of PEVs have turned out to be far lower than many projected a decade ago, with fewer than 120,000 sold in 2015. At the same time, there are more than 3,300 electric utilities in the United States, all with different (and incompatible) systems. With relatively few PEV owners, many with low-range battery EVs, there wasn’t a huge demand for V2G from consumers concerned about being left with insufficient range when they needed their vehicles.

Enter the era of autonomous on-demand mobility (AMOD). Navigant Research’s Transportation Outlook: 2025-2050 report projects that as the world becomes increasingly urbanized and crowded in the next 3 decades, there will be a push toward AMOD to solve the combined problems of air quality, safety, and urban congestion. Most if not all of the autonomous vehicles used to provide these services are also expected to be electric.

New Business Models

Large fleets of more standardized EVs should ease some of the technical issues involved with V2G and could provide the critical mass of fleet size needed to make the investment worthwhile for both utilities and fleet operators. By taking individual owners out of the equation, the fleet management system could cycle some percentage of these autonomous vehicles through V2G-enabled charging stations during the peak hours of electricity demand to provide the needed buffer.

In a world of dramatically reduced retail vehicle sales and the possibility of automakers running these mobility services, such a scheme could also be beneficial to today’s auto dealers. Those dealers could turn their focus to providing maintenance services for fleets, and while vehicles are onsite, they could participate in the V2G system. If utilities were to share part of the savings from not having to expand generation capacity with these mobility and service providers, it would contribute to a new revenue model. As the transportation ecosystem transforms in the coming decades, everyone in the supply chain will need to look at innovative approaches to building a sustainable business.

 

Using Urban Utility Poles To Geo-Locate Vehicles

— September 16, 2016

CarsharingAs engineers around the world work to make the self-driving car a practical reality, one of the biggest challenges still faced is how to precisely locate where those vehicles are in space at any moment in time. This is especially important in scenarios where the sensors can’t actually see the road—for example, when it is snowing. One potential approach to the problem would be to turn traffic signals, street lamps, and utility poles into beacons that could be used to more precisely triangulate position.

As outlined in Navigant Research’s Transportation Outlook: 2025-2050 report from 2Q 2016, a primary application of autonomous vehicles is likely to be providing autonomous mobility on-demand services in urban environments. As more of the world’s population moves into cities in the coming decades, those urban centers are likely to grow both out and up toward the sky. However, while skyscrapers allow more people to live in the same land mass, they also create problems for the satellite-based location systems such as the American GPS, Russian GLONASS, and European GALILEO.

As the low-power signals that are broadcast from satellite constellations bounce off buildings in urban canyons, errors are generated. Current generation systems only have about 5 meters of precision, which is fine for general navigation purposes, but inadequate for an autonomous vehicle that needs to make decisions about where it should be on a given road to make an upcoming turn.

Localized Systems

This is where a new localized position system could be beneficial. Go down the street in any developed city in the world and you will find poles sticking out of the ground every few hundred feet at most. These poles are owned and maintained by utilities, municipal lighting departments, telecommunications providers, and others that connect and power the modern world. Equipping these poles with wireless beacons could enable them to be used for much more precise geolocation than is currently possible.

In 2013, Apple introduced support for its iBeacon technology into the iPhone and iPad. Small beacons using Bluetooth low energy can be used to provide location indoors or out, enabling retailers to track where customers are lingering in stores and food vendors to deliver orders in crowded stadiums. Similar technology could be harnessed on the road to locate vehicles.

In early 2016, Ford conducted the first test of its autonomous Fusion prototypes on snow-covered roads at a Michigan test facility. The car was able to navigate by triangulating landmarks that had previously been mapped out using LIDAR. While this approach worked well enough when the test car was the only vehicle on the track, it could be problematic in a city where the same landmarks could be blocked from the LIDAR’s view by other vehicles or objects. An approach using location beacons would achieve a similar effect in combination with high definition maps while eliminating the line-of-sight problem.

Vehicle-to-Infrastructure

Equipping urban utility poles with beacons could provide the owners of these poles with the first step toward full vehicle-to-infrastructure communications and potentially a mechanism to deploy a variety of other revenue generating services. For example, vehicles equipped with cameras for either driver assist or autonomous systems could be used to gather data about available parking spaces. That could then be fed into a reservation system allowing drivers to find and pay for parking before arriving at the location. The data providers could then get a share of the revenue generated from that service.

The first deployments of these beacons could be done in the next few years as vehicle-to-external communications rolls out in new vehicles followed by 5G wireless systems in the early 2020s.

 

Cyber Security Is Imperative Before Deploying Autonomous Vehicles

— September 1, 2016

Connected VehiclesAugust 2016 brought a flurry of autonomous driving announcements from Delphi, nuTonomy, Ford, Velodyne, Volvo, Uber, Quanergy, and others. News about developments and deployment plans for self-driving vehicles came almost daily. A common thread was that the vehicles will be used as part of autonomous mobility on-demand (AMOD) services that require connectivity in addition to onboard sensing to function. However, something equally (if not more) important to implement before deploying any of these vehicles is beefing up the cyber security.

As the automotive world has raced over the last few years to transform itself into a mobility business, cyber security experts of both the white and black hat variety have also been advancing their own capabilities. In parallel with that, we’ve seen the launch of numerous startups focused on securing increasingly sophisticated vehicles from bad actors, including several based in Israel. Among them are Karamba Security, Argus Cyber Security, and TowerSec.

Hardened Telematics

With external connection points through telematics being the obvious starting point for any malicious attacker trying to infiltrate a vehicle, that’s also the first surface that needs to be hardened. “To provide protection, we have to think like hackers,” said David Barzilai, chairman and co-founder of Karamba. “There are two primary ways to hack a system like this, dropping malicious binary code into the electronic control unit [ECU] or in-memory attacks while the system is running.”

The so-called code-dropper approach involves rewriting some of the code that resides in the flash storage of an ECU with malicious code designed to do something never intended by the manufacturer. Karamba has devised an approach to prevent this that is very straightforward for the software engineers at an automaker to implement without having to change any of their own code.

When building binary files that ultimately get loaded into the ECU, the scripts include calls to the Karamba system to automatically include some of that company’s code. Karamba generates hashes (an encrypted alphanumeric string that uniquely represents the contents of a file) of all the factory binary files which are included. If someone tries to reprogram an ECU with a binary that doesn’t match the hash, it will be rejected.

In-Memory Attacks

Even if the original programming remains intact, in-memory attacks remain the most common attack vector. Control instructions and data get moved from the static flash storage to dynamic memory in order to run in real time. If an attacker manages to inject deliberately corrupted data into a memory address, it is possible to send the control flow off to an instruction never intended by the designers of the system. This is the sort of attack that can enable someone connecting through a vehicle’s telematics system to take control of safety-critical systems like the throttle, brakes, or steering.

Some security providers use heuristic analysis to look for anomalous behavior in real time and stop the activity. This approach creates rules with weighting and probability to detect anomalies based on previously unknown attacks and is utilized by most computer anti-malware programs. Since the in-vehicle electronics should never be running random unknown programs like a computer or smartphone, Karamba has taken a deterministic approach. During the software build, they analyze and map every possible instruction control flow. In the vehicle, any instruction call that doesn’t match the flow map immediately gets discarded, an approach that should not result in any false positives.

Navigant Research’s Autonomous Vehicles report projects that nearly 5 million autonomous vehicles will be sold in 2025, growing to more than 40 million in 2030. Harnessing the safety benefits of this technology requires every vehicle to be secure and resilient against cyber attacks.

 

Early Chevrolet Bolts in the Lyft Fleet Could Be Great Marketing Move

— August 16, 2016

Electric Vehicle 2For several months now, pre-production Chevrolet Bolt EVs have been rolling off General Motors’ (GM’s) Orion, Michigan assembly line, and the car is now only about 2 months from being ready for paying customers. However, many of the early Bolts won’t actually be going to retail customers. Instead, they will be offered up to Lyft drivers through the Express Drive rental program.

A Different Model

Given the way Tesla managed to rack up more than 373,000 pre-orders for its Model 3 at $1,000 each, one might wonder why GM isn’t taking a similar approach with the first affordable 200-mile electric car. Unlike the Silicon Valley upstart, GM cannot sell cars directly to consumers but must instead go through its franchised dealer network, so a similar pre-order process would be vastly more complicated, if not impossible.

Even if GM could execute such a program, it’s not at all clear it would work. Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk have built up a remarkable brand in less than a decade, and many of the pre-orders are coming from consumers that want to buy into that brand, just as they buy into Apple when they choose an iPhone over a comparable Android or Windows phone. For many very valid reasons, GM still isn’t taken seriously by many people when it comes to selling EVs, despite the positive reviews garnered by the Chevrolet Volt and Spark EVs.

GM does have a significant time advantage over Tesla and other automakers with the Bolt, and it appears to want to use that wisely with a different sort of marketing approach. Since modern plug-in EVs (PEVs) began hitting the streets 6 years ago, word of mouth and first-hand experience have proven to be very effective means of winning customers. When people actually experience a PEV, they are much more inclined to purchase one.

First-Hand Experience

Getting people to ride in Bolts with Lyft drivers has the potential to provide positive first-hand exposure without having to go to a dealer first. When a customer goes into a showroom having already decided they want to buy a Bolt, they are much more likely to get one. Unfortunately, up until now, many traditional car dealers have tended to steer customers away from EVs and toward more profitable vehicles that they understand better like utility vehicles and trucks. That’s exactly why Tesla insists on selling direct to consumers through company-owned stores, which is not an option for GM or other incumbent OEMs.

If GM can sell consumers on the Bolt before they ever get to the dealership, they may have a much better chance of early success. The mandates to sell zero-emissions vehicles in California and other states will start to ramp up significantly from 2018 onward and the competition will be getting much tougher with the debut of the Model 3; the next-generation Nissan LEAF; and 200-mile EVs from Ford, Hyundai, and others expected.

Navigant Research’s Electric Vehicle Market Forecasts projects global PEV sales of approximately 2.9 million in 2024 with 462,000 in the United States. Through the first 7 months of 2016, Americans have purchased almost 78,500 PEVs, an increase of 20% over the same period in 2015. While Tesla’s financial stability remains very much in question in the coming years as it rapidly scales its production volumes, the company has demonstrated that it is a force to be reckoned with among consumers. GM and the other incumbent OEMs will have to get creative with ideas like the Bolt/Lyft rental program if they are going to both comply with regulatory mandates and maintain or grow their overall sales.

 

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