An Interview with Dr. Florian Petit

Read this article in German.

I see mobility as a basic human right.

With Blickfeld, you can ensure that autonomous cars can recognize and distinguish their surroundings from distance perception to analyzing objects on the road and making that data available to the car. What are the biggest challenges in making your products operational on a broader scale? What role do digital infrastructure and sufficient social acceptance play in this?

For autonomous vehicles to be able to navigate safely, they have to perceive their environment. Our technology makes that possible: safe and reliable environment sensing. But in order to bring autonomous driving functions to the masses, a number of criteria are crucial: the end customer must have a clear benefit from the application and it must be economically attractive for the manufacturer and supplier in the automotive industry to develop this application and install it into the vehicles. Clear use cases must therefore be defined that reconcile benefits, technical feasibility, and commercial aspects. Use cases we have identified that meet these criteria include highway driving by trucks and cars, traffic jam assistants, or autonomous vehicles in controlled environments such as on company premises. We are enabling autonomous driving to evolve from these use cases and reach more mainstream applications.

Currently, the Autonomous Driving Act is being developed at the federal level, which will provide a regulatory framework for Level 4 and 5 autonomous driving in the future. The Federal Ministry of Transport (BMVI) assumes that this will enable Germany to play a pioneering role. Do you agree with this and what are points that need to be taken into account for this in the new law?

Technically, Germany still has a pioneering role in the automotive market. To strengthen this, a law of this kind is absolutely necessary and also long overdue. I see it as the core task of the legislator to create the framework conditions to further promote Germany’s role as a center of technology and innovation.

In the U.S., autonomous driving is already more advanced and more widely recognized, particularly due to different regulatory circumstances. Many technologies and products that contribute to autonomous driving come from the U.S. and thus also meet the standards there. In what format and at what point should there be an exchange on common standards to enable autonomous mobility across borders?

I would sign off on the fact that autonomous driving is more recognized in the U.S., where there is a clear open-mindedness toward the new type of mobility. However, I would take a more differentiated view of the development status of autonomous driving functions. Due to the strong representation of internet companies in Silicon Valley, one can certainly say that the development of software is very advanced, but as far as the hardware is concerned, one sees very strong developments from Europe and especially Germany. Of course, exchange and cooperation between the individual hubs is important and already takes place to a large extent. For example, U.S. companies obtain sensor technology from Europe and vice versa. Over time, it will become clear what common standards will have to look like in order to satisfy everyone.

One area in which your products are used is the smart city sector. One of the challenges here is to sufficiently expand and digitize the infrastructure in cities. To this end, among other things, the so-called “DigiNetz Act” was passed in 2016 to promote the expansion of fiber optic cables and equip Germany with better infrastructure and faster networks. Do you see the success of such initiatives? Are they contributing to a smart city-compatible infrastructure?

As already mentioned, I see it as an important task of the state to create framework conditions so that industry and society can flourish. This includes a legal framework as well as an expansion of the infrastructure. Building on this, technologies can be advanced and entire areas, such as mobility, can be modernized and revolutionized - but without these foundations, it will be difficult. We therefore very much welcome initiatives such as the “DigiNetz Act” and see that they are driving smart city concepts forward. However, there is still potential for improvement in the area of infrastructure.

If you could implement your ideal mobility concept right now, what would it look like and what are the first necessary steps to achieve it?

In the medium term, the focus in mobility should be on making cities more livable again. Currently, vehicles are used very inefficiently and fill our actual living space in the city with traffic jams and parked-up areas. Here, smart city solutions can improve traffic control enormously and autonomous sharing services can ensure more efficient vehicle use so that cities once again put people at the center and no longer the car.

In the long term, I see enormous added value from autonomous driving, as it will make the roads much safer on the one hand and give everyone access to mobility on the other. I see mobility as a basic human right, and autonomous vehicles give senior citizens and children just as much access to this basic right as people in rural regions.

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