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Why “Unsupervised,” Autonomous Cars are Right Around the Corner

Why “Unsupervised,” Autonomous Cars are Right Around the Corner

Autonomous drive – cars and trucks that pilot themselves – is perhaps the most rapidly maturing areas of technology today. I know a senior IT executive at a major car company who, in the late 2000’s, served on a team dedicated to safety electronics like braking assist and lane monitoring for drowsiness detection. After moving to another department within the company, this executive returned to pay a visit to his old team just a couple years later and saw how the number of such point solutions had since multiplied and evolved into a unified web of analytics-driven capabilities that – together – made autonomous drive a reality.

Fast-Changing Capabilities

Algorithms are behind the complex AI systems that now let cars – properly equipped with sensors, navigation and connectivity features – to drive and make countless traffic decisions all by themselves. In real-world settings, like Uber’s driverless taxi experiment in Pittsburgh, today’s autonomous vehicles are already using advanced analytics to manage autonomous drive’s three key functions of perception, prediction and motion planning.

Perception involves understanding what the car sees (Is that another car; a traffic light; a pedestrian?). Prediction helps the car understand what will likely happen next (Will that other car change lanes; is that traffic light about to change; will that person enter the crosswalk?). And motion planning involves decisions and task execution (Should we change lanes; should we stop; should we make a turn?) Capabilities are evolving and changing by the day.

The “we” in autonomous driving, however, is one thing that hasn’t yet changed: The ultimate responsibility today still lies with the driver. Each of those Uber taxis, for instance, has someone behind the wheel who monitors the car’s performance. Neither technology, nor the law, has yet reached the point where an autonomous ride can truly be “unsupervised” – the gold standard of autonomous driving that means people on board the vehicle are no longer expected to have responsibility for what the car does. That’s the next major frontier, and analytics will get us there soon.

Volvo, in fact, predicts it’ll be selling its first “unsupervised autonomous vehicles” to the public by 2021. The embodiment of international standards for full automation in driving, unsupervised autonomous drive is a big threshold that will be crossed only with high levels of confidence in the underlying analytics and systems that all work together in concert.

Sentient Cars…and Companies

It’s worth mentioning that this data-driven autonomy in vehicles is analogous to what happens on a macro level for an entire organization in the advanced stages of the Sentient Enterprise capability maturity model I created with the Kellogg School of Management’s Mohan Sawhney.

Fueled by advanced analytics, a “sentient” enterprise is proactive and can predict and adapt to changing circumstances – able to sense micro trends and make many decisions without human intervention. Such a company reaches these advanced levels of awareness and autonomous decisioning through seamless integration of various different analytic processes and architectures within the organization.

In a similar way, this “system of systems” interplay of algorithms and analytic processes is what powers a self-driving car to the point where unsupervised autonomous drive is now within sight. I already mentioned systems for perception, prediction and motion planning. All those capabilities will continue to improve, along with the systems governing connectivity, processing power – and the sheer electrical power – that will be necessary to support unsupervised autonomous vehicle operation.

A lot of work still needs to happen to make unsupervised autonomous drive a reality, but I don’t think we’ll have to wait long for it. As I mentioned at the outset, the pace of progress to date has taken even some industry veterans by surprise. If recent history is any guide, we’ll reach the next frontier of “unsupervised” sooner than you might expect – and we’ll have analytics to thank for it.

Portrait of Oliver Ratzesberger

Oliver Ratzesberger

Mr. Ratzesberger has a proven track record in executive management, as well as 20+ years of experience in analytics, large data processing and software engineering.

Oliver’s journey started with Teradata as a customer, driving innovation on its scalable technology base. His vision of how the technology could be applied to solve complex business problems led to him joining the company. At Teradata, he has been the architect of the strategy and roadmap, aimed at transformation. Under Oliver’s leadership, the company has challenged itself to become a cloud enabled, subscription business with a new flagship product. Teradata’s integrated analytical platform is the fastest growing product in its history, achieving record adoption.

During Oliver’s tenure at Teradata he has held the roles of Chief Operating Officer and Chief Product Officer, overseeing various business units, including go-to-market, product, services and marketing. Prior to Teradata, Oliver worked for both Fortune 500 and early-stage companies, holding positions of increasing responsibility in technology and software development, including leading the expansion of analytics during the early days of eBay.

A pragmatic visionary, Oliver frequently speaks and writes about leveraging data and analytics to improve business outcomes. His book with co-author Professor Mohanbir Sawhney, “The Sentient Enterprise: The Evolution of Decision Making,” was published in 2017 and was named to the Wall Street Journal Best Seller List. Oliver’s vision of the Sentient Enterprise is recognized by customers, analysts and partners as a leading model for bringing agility and analytic power to enterprises operating in a digital world.

Oliver is a graduate of Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program and earned his engineering degree in Electronics and Telecommunications from HTL Steyr in Austria.

He lives in San Diego with his wife and two daughters. View all posts by Oliver Ratzesberger

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