Insight, Opinion

Driverless world needs data centres on wheels, claims EMEA tech exec

Jean-Pierre Brulard, SVP and GM, EMEA, VMware
Jean-Pierre Brulard, SVP and GM, EMEA, VMware

VMware’s senior vice president and general manager for the Europe, Middle East, and Africa region, Jean-Pierre Brulard, gives his take on why driverless cars need the same levels of control and security as physical data centres.

The Middle East is at the forefront of the bold new world of autonomous transportation – with self-driving cars, buses, metros, and potentially even aerial taxis coming to life in the coming years. Dubai, as one of the world’s pioneering Smart Cities, is rapidly progressing on its Autonomous Transportation Strategy, which aims to have 25 percent of all trips delivered by autonomous means by 2030.

Worldwide, by 2020, there will be a staggering 250 million connected vehicles out on the roads. Self-driving cars are currently undergoing test pilots around the world, from Ocado’s delivery service in the UK to driverless Ubers in Pittsburgh. Elon Musk, a pioneer in the field and mastermind behind Tesla sees trial phases succeeding and progressing quickly, predicting that all new cars set to be fully autonomous in the next ten years.

There’s no denying it, we are edging towards a driverless future. But this future comes with apprehension. Just like the ATM, or the spinning Jenny before it, new technology that fundamentally changes our way of thinking is met with initial skepticism. In our own research of consumers across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, undertaken by Opinion Matters, we found that than more than half of UK respondents (52%) don’t yet fully trust autonomous vehicles, and over three quarters of French consumers (82%) don’t believe they will use such a vehicle in the future.

Taken as isolated statistics, these numbers aren’t surprising. Mainstream psychology research also shows that people mistrust those who make moral decisions by calculating costs and benefits – just like computers do. Yet much like anything new, it takes time and concerted education from businesses to convince the public that these new inventions can become part of our everyday lives and contribute towards a better future.

So, what does the automotive industry need to do? Nearly half (46%) of those surveyed in the UK believe one of the main benefits of an autonomous vehicle is that they can sit back and not have to deal with monotonous traffic jams or laborious long journeys. There’s insight here that there are plenty of benefits that excite the public when it comes to the future of driving – and that’s something to take note of.

That’s why the psychological barrier created by a car without human control needs to be addressed.

To overcome this, there needs to be a greater general understanding and awareness of how the cars will work, as well as the software and technology that will keep them safe. But the industry doesn’t have to look too far for where this has already been possible. Since its inception, aviation has been at the forefront of physical safety – you are nineteen times safer in a plane than in a car, yet millions of people sit in airplanes that are largely automated and where the passenger can’t physically see the pilot.

‘Data centres on wheels’

Network virtualisation, cloud computing, mobility, and security will be among the foundational technologies that will help autonomous vehicles to compute and store data, ensuring that the car and all its data remain secure and resilient, and sit within a robust IT platform. This IT platform can provide the levels of massive scalability, resiliency, and available infrastructure required – in effect making the autonomous vehicle of the future a data centre on wheels. As such, autonomous vehicles should be subject to the same kind of management, security, and operational systems that one would have with an enterprise data centre.

With the driverless future already in progress, it is up to businesses to demonstrate how they’re building security into the DNA of systems – from the data centre where vital data resides – all the way through to the car itself. Consumers will be reluctant to use driverless cars if they don’t feel reassured of the safety and security levels that technology can provide. Manufacturers must implement comprehensive IT security solutions that cover the car’s entire lifecycle.

As humans become more integrated with machines and artificial intelligence, we’ll be able to benefit from the best of both worlds; increased safety and accuracy with human insight and creativity. In doing so, we can work towards a better future, where driverless and driven cars can harmoniously coexist, providing us with greater freedom and choice to navigate our environment as we please.

Never before has the science fiction dream of autonomous transportation been closer to becoming a reality. Autonomous transportation can make a major impact across the Middle East in reducing traffic congestion and pollution, enhancing efficiency and creating new digital transport and logistics business models.

Across the Middle East, government regulators, visionary public sector organisations, private sector innovators, and academia need to accelerate their coming together to develop the technological infrastructure, rules and regulations, and digital roadmaps to make autonomous vehicles as commonplace as hailing a taxi.

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