"Wow, soon there will be no steering wheel in cars … My personal guess is that autonomous cars will come into force at around 2025, with dedicated lanes by around 2021."
The changing face of transport technology is something that fascinates us here at SmartRail World, and it’s particularly interesting to see the influence that other forms of transport are having on rail. One area that used to require a good imagination but which is now very much on the horizon are autonomous and driverless cars – the technology from which are going to have an equally transformative effect. Explaining how is the transportation business development manager at Kontron, Val Scinteie, who splits his time between rail and developing the next-generation, autonomous transport.
Val joined SmartRail World two years ago to speak about the Internet of Things and the impact that it was having on rail and metro, so it’s great to have him back and see how things have progressed in that area. Speaking to Dave Songer, Val also shared the work he has done with Thalys and Alstom, where he sees autonomous travel in the near future and, of course, where in the world his dream rail journey is.
Dave Songer (DS): Hi Val, can we begin with a description about Kontron please?
Val Scinteie (VS): Well, it’s got an interesting history. It was founded by Hannes Niederhauser, a long time ago who sold it about 10 years ago, after which he founded another company called S&T. Last year, Hannes (the current S&T CEO) reacquired Kontron. It’s the story of a guy who liked the company so much that he bought it back! Today, Kontron has in the region of 3,900 employees based in around 25 countries, most of which (2,300) are engineers. Kontron is a global leader in IoT/embedded computing technology (ECT), headquartered in Augsburg, Germany. Next to subsidiaries in Europe and Asia, Kontron has offices in San Diego and Montreal. Revenues in 2017 were €882 million.
We operate in five vertical markets: industrial, telecommunications, avionics, transportation and defence and we produce embedded tech that can survive in rugged and harsh environments, including extended temperature ranges. Developments are numerous because every time there’s a new microprocessor architecture released by one of our partners – such as Intel – they can give rise to some of the new things we’re introducing, such as high-performance computing for driverless cars. We’re also very heavily involved in industry 4.0, the Internet of Things (IoT), aided by our SUSiEtec technology, time-sensitive networking (TSN) that allows the system to synchronise when they communicate so they have a reliable time clock. While in telecommunications we have Symkloud that deals with very advanced software-defined network function. The list goes on.
DS: What aspect of the rail industry do you most enjoy?
VS: I probably spend about 30-40% in rail-specific roles now because I spend a lot of time on driverless cars, but I’m still very much part of the rail industry. What I like most in undoubtedly the innovation. Rail is a very conservative industry and it takes a while to change, so I am motivated by introducing new technology, such as internet on trains that leads to connected trains, which translates to better passenger experiences and more efficient operations for the operators. New, tech is what drives me on; translating it into tangible benefits for operator and passengers.
Technology has changed so much. Before it was more proprietary that resulted in five or six systems that didn't share a common infrastructure such as communications and HMIs, but now it’s moved towards more of a network architecture that can connect to the wayside and to the control centre infrastructure – that was a huge advancement in the industry. Integrated communication systems, entertainment and Wi-access to passengers is another example of tech that is great, not just for passengers but also for those working on the maintenance of the train by providing analytics that enhance operations.
DS: What’s been your biggest career challenge?
VS: I would say introducing Wi-Fi and internet access onto trains – the technological and operational challenges have been quite amazing. I began on that particular area while working with Alstom and it took around 10 years before we got it to a level where it was acceptable for the operators and the industry to adopt it. My next challenge is how we will deploy IoT gateways into deep learning capabilities and how we can take these technologies which have success in adjacent industries and make them work on trains.
KBox A-203 –
The area of technology is moving along so fast. We had a project with Thalys for one of our latest gateway products which connects to wireless sensors on board the train. It enables data to be collected at a more cost-effective way, so it’s possible to deploy a system in months, not years. Another example is the work we’ve done with GE Transportation that ported their EdgeLINCTM edge-level computing and analytics software on our rugged KBox gateways, which does much the same thing as Thalys collaboration, processing data for analytics and improving operations: two real examples of IoT 4.0 in action in the rail industry.
DS: On the topic of autonomous and driverless vehicles, which forms a major part of role at Kontron, where do you see that heading in the future?
VS: Currently, Kontron’s EvoTRAC S1000 is deployed in around 100 autonomous cars and will be deployed in another 200 over the next 16 months. Wow, soon there will be no steering wheel in cars and the next phase will be much more intense employment – around 2021-2023 when we’ll probably be making 10,000 vehicles in a manageable context but they won’t be fully autonomous though, mainly because of insurance complication. All the major car manufacturers are investing billions and billions of dollars in this because it’s definitely going to shape the way we use our cars and public transport.
S2000 Development Platform for Autonomous Vehicle Applications
My personal guess is that autonomous cars will come into force at around 2025 – but before that I think we will see dedicated lanes by around 2021. Interestingly, a study's been carried out in Boston that indicates a total switch to autonomous would lead to more congestion on the roads because we would have more cars – so the only valued model will be a joint effort between public transport and autonomous vehicles to create travel that is safer and which also reduces congestion.
I think transport operators have to work with this paradigm shift. It will bring a change in how we use and pay for transport, just like how we buy phone contracts – with this many minutes and that many texts – so it will also be with transport… “I want to have access to this public transport and this autonomous car”. That’s where I see the industry evolving; you won’t actually need to own a car but instead subscribe to a service.
DS: That’s a fascinating prospect, but bringing it back to trains – what would you say is your favourite rail journey?
VS: Well, always using high speed trains in Europe – particularly in Germany or France – because they take away the hassle from air travel that make for a much more comfortable journey. Unfortunately, in North America we don’t have the infrastructure for such journeys. Away from high speed, my dream journey is on the Rocky Mountaineer, a stunningly beautiful route with super views and breathtaking scenes.
DS: Thanks very much for taking part, Val.