COMPASS: AKKA introduces a lot of new technologies and ideas. How do you do it?
MAURICE RICCI: We have a research center called AKKA Research. We employ engineers with different backgrounds so know-how can move from one industry to another. This develops internal collaboration because engineers talk to each other. AKKA Research is something that is very, very rewarding in terms of innovative spirit.
What value does your cross-industry concentration deliver to your partners?
MR: If you take, for example, the technology on the Link & Go concepts, it is not derived from the automotive industry. It comes from aerospace. It also includes ideas from railway and public transport.
You mentioned Link & Go. Can you explain the concept?
MR: Our Link & Go concept is really the second generation of a train of thought that started many years ago with electric vehicles. Link & Go is now an autonomous vehicle using a digital map or a model of the environment where it is going to circulate – basically the town. Link & Go 2.0 predicts communication with smart infrastructures — traffic signs, signals, toll booths, and roads — and with smart phone apps. As part of an infrastructure, including all transport modalities functioning to create safe travel, costs may be lowered and carbon footprint minimized.
Link & Go 2.0 has revealed the enormous increases in data that autonomous vehicles will produce. How can we prepare?
MR: If one day cars and vehicles become connected objects, like our smartphones today, there will be too much data to absorb. Therefore, these vehicles will have to have some built-in data autonomy, their own decision making ability to ensure vehicle and data security and IT safety. But, the more safety you add, the greater the problem of data storage and access to data. Governments and their administrations have to understand that we have to work on the rules. The digital industry is working on the components, but we also have to change user mentality.
It appears that you have a core focus on looking beyond immediate and obvious challenges. Is this deliberate or organic?
MR: It is something in the DNA of our company and our group: Understanding and anticipating technical evolutions, the needs and challenges of our customers in order to be ready to meet those challenges.
How do you, as a supplier, deliver innovation as a routine value-add?
MR: I’ll give you an example: In 2013, we introduced a new concept for urban mobility with the Link & Go. It was no longer a car you own and drive yourself, but a rolling lounge where you could — as a passenger — make use of the transportation time any way you wanted. Now we see various adoptions of the lounge concept in autonomous vehicles, the most fascinating being presented by Mercedes-Benz with their concept car F015 Luxury in Motion. We show the way to something new and we discuss and live innovation every day.
How has engineering led the future of transportation and mobility?
MR: When we started our Link & Go concept in 2009, the majority of electric vehicles were really combustion-engine vehicles which had been electrified. Vehicle size and passenger capacity, along with range and passenger safety, are key issues Link & Go had to address with ingenuity. So, we addressed the passenger capacity challenges with drive-by-wire, a concept similar to the fly-by-wire used in aviation. And we invented energy absorption systems so that even small vehicles could resist collisions and be compatible with crash-tests.
How do you see transportation and mobility responding to innovation in the coming years?
MR: I think that if initiatives such as the ones being taken in California and in Germany, permitting testing on public roads, are followed by others, the process will speed up. It will provide a platform for politicians to start dealing with problems such as protection of the environment and how to circulate in towns with self-driving vehicles. If they find a sound basis, then the political world will start working on better and faster regulations.
How do you see adoption of these innovative vehicles occurring?
MR: Thirty years ago, young people would dream of buying a Ferrari. I’m not absolutely certain the same young people today would consider it a dream to drive a car that makes no noise, parks alone and is completely different. We have to give people time to change their mind about vehicles. It is no longer what we call a car. It is something else. It is another way to use mobility.