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Massimo Brunamonti

Artificial Intelligence and the evolution of garage equipment

 That fact the evolution of automotive technologies results in the development of new workshop equipment is as obvious as it may seem. Nevertheless, the fact that the current scenario of profound changes, both technological and socio/behavioural, finds auto equipment manufacturers not only ready but also, in their own words, precursors of change, is strikingly positive. This was noted by Prof. Silvano Guelfi, of the Department of Management and Production Engineering at the Politecnico di Torino, during a workshop dedicated to artificial intelligence applied to the automotive sector that took place at Futurmotive at Autopromotec on December 10. The workshop, which saw the participation of some of the most popular garage equipment manufacturers, focused on the impact AI is having on the sector in general and on car equipment in particular. Prof. Guelfi himself described the potential of this new technology as a tool designed to make a better use of resources, on the condition that some of the major issues related to it such as ethics and legal implications are solved first.

The participants focused on the technological innovations that future equipment will bring. The huge amount of data processed in modern cars, says Domenico Ferrara of Hella Gutmann, requires new algorithms, and manufacturers are hard at work in implementing these on their equipment in an effort to offer more efficient services.

In addition to equipment, car repairers will also have to deal with a new business model: customers are making a transition from car owner to mere car users, therefore, traditional assistance is being transformed into behavioural simulation; all this, points out Luciano Marton of Texa, requires native digital equipment. Added to this is the fact that as cars transition from assets to pure mobility tools, as Carlo Rocchi of Mahle points out, traditional vehicle assistance will go from maintenance and repair to fault prevention, or planned maintenance, and this requires, in addition to a new way of designing equipment, the complete availability of maintenance and repair information from car manufacturers.

Access to vehicle data and technical information: an age-old problem for the entire industry, which has long been dealing with a proliferation of different and incompatible formats, data, protocols and communication standards. Artificial intelligence, with its machine learning technologies, might lend a hand in this, says Roberto Nicolini of Nexion, helping the development of connected equipment. The interconnection between equipment, workshop, car, customer and manufacturer, also in the opinion of Marco Codeluppi of Beissbarth, is the cornerstone of future and more efficient car repair services in a scenario of free competition.

All participants agreed on the importance of road safety: given the rapidly evolving technological scenario, new inspection tests for electronic safety systems must be introduced as a matter of urgency. Unfortunately, the legislators are lagging behind in this area. The results of studies and experiments on new tests based on existing technologies are already available in Europe, but in order to ensure that these new-generation tests are adopted, political awareness and renewed cooperation on the part of car manufacturers are required.

The emerging scenario, as Prof. Guelfi concludes, is that of an extremely reactive industry made up of companies that seem to be able to anticipate the future. However, a great deal of work remains to be done on common standards and rules to protect free competition and safety for both professionals and citizens.



The European Commission's strategy for sustainable mobility - what role will car repair play.


It was back in 2002 when, to the surprise of many, the European Union adopted Regulation 1400/2002 (known as the "Ber - Block Exemption Regulation"). "In order to meet our climate targets, emissions from the transport sector must have a downward trend," said Vice-President Frans Timmermans in presenting the European Commission's multi-year strategic plan for mobility capable of contributing to the European "Green Deal" which aims to reduce emissions by 90% by 2050.

Adina Valean, Commissioner for Transport, added that, "as a backbone connecting European citizens and businesses, transport is important for all of us. We have no time to waste in making it fit for the future." The Commission's goal is to define a path for "green" investments to create an irreversible path to zero-emission mobility.

The strategic plan, defined by its authors as a "fundamental transformation of transport" articulated on intermediate goals, is based on sustainability, intelligence and resilience, identifying some essential key points. First and foremost, sustainable means of transport and infrastructures obtained through either new technologies and power units or modulation of operating costs. Furthermore, "digital" innovations, such as connected cars and artificial intelligence are bound to play a vital role in intelligent and intermodal mobility. Finally, creating a stronger unified market, along with cheaper and safer transport standards, will generate a more resilient ecosystem.

One might think that the moment couldn't be worse. The spread of the coronavirus is focusing everyone’s attention towards the all-important health issues we are all facing, rather than to the future of our society. However, as it often happens, in moments of great distress, opportunities for great initiatives arise; if, on the one hand, declarations may seem a bit bombastic and ambitious, we must bear in mind that the issues at stake are real game changers and the European Union seems to have embraced a project aimed at harmonizing a broad spectrum of activities previously dealt with individually. An example for all: Euro 7 (see Autoattrezzati, Pneurama n.5/2020), born as a logical continuation of the path started in the 90s, can become one of the pillars for sustainable mobility.

A similar argument could be made for vehicle MOT tests, which could contribute to a new sustainable mobility. In fact, the EU working document mentions improved road safety as one of its cornerstones; in fact, let us not forget that for some time now the EU has also set itself the ambitious "Vision Zero" plan, which aims at zero mortality on roads by 2050. The two initiatives would thus become linked in achieving the two goals.

However, we are witnessing an incomprehensible, though not entirely unforeseeable, stalemate on MOT tests.

Directive 2014/45, the mother of all standards in this field, is designed to achieve the primary objectives of harmonisation and mutual recognition of inspections in the EU, to be fully implemented by 1 January 2023. It is quite recent but still based on outdated techniques; anyone in the industry is well aware that brakes or headlights are no longer the only elements that guarantee safety; an assisted or autonomous car needs a properly functioning and reliable "automated systems”. However, this reliability should be periodically verified by testing the on-board electronic systems, and in this case, the technology is already known and applicable. We would expect the Commission to push for the adoption of these new tests, to be added as ADAS become mandatory. As things stand, we are inadequate and if we hesitate any longer, in 2023, when the Directive is fully implemented, MOT tests centres will be unprepared to deal with new vehicle technologies.

The entire auto repair supply chain, which is vital for the functionality of the "backbone" of which Commissioner Valean speaks deserve a final consideration. It is easy to foresee the need for a powerful technological upgrade, but the sector has already demonstrated its propensity for this in the past. What is new and perhaps more challenging to deal with, is the change in demand. It's hard to imagine that customers in the future will continue to turn to their trusted service simply to change brake pads or engine oil; more likely the customer, whoever he/she is, will look for assurance that their vehicle will not stop. Downtime costs are becoming increasingly significant for all categories of users and this will greatly affect the industry. Similarly to what already happens in aviation, we are moving towards what is called, preventive maintenance, which, besides improving consumer satisfaction, constitutes, together with overhauls and inspection tests the best policy on behalf of safety and sustainability.

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