The Brain of the Autonomous Vehicle - Mobility Engineers - Chapter 13

Autonomous Vehicle | Mobility Engineer 2030
Autonomous Vehicle | Mobility Engineer 2030

Autonomous Vehicle | Mobility Engineer 2030 | Electric Mobility - Chapter 12

செய்திகளை உடனுக்குடன் தெரிந்துகொள்ள... இங்கே க்ளிக் செய்து இன்றே விகடன் ஆப் இன்ஸ்டால் செய்யுங்கள்!

Risk mitigation for the ideation process

Pavan and Kavya conducted a very fruitful divergent thinking ideation workshop. Multiple people shared very diverse perspectives to the same challenge statement and both Pavan and Kavya were absolutely thrilled by seeing the application of the brainswarming process. Then they explained the convergent thinking process to the participants. Initially the participants struggled a bit to understand how can a solution solve a problem but still remain less user desirable. Kavya explained to them the difference between user and customer and how it impacts the desirability factor.

Pavan and Kavya in a meeting room with participants
Pavan and Kavya in a meeting room with participants

A user is someone who uses the product or experiences the service. It is not always necessary that the user buys the product or the service. Someone else may buy for them and thus become the customer of the offering. Let us take an example – a small child is unwell. A doctor gave a medicine which is a perfect cure to the illness. The parents who will be paying the doctor finds the solution (the medicine) to solve the problem (the illness). But the child does not want to take the medicine because it is bitter. In this case though the solution actually solves the problem, it is low on user desirability.

The convergent technique helped the ideation group to identify their top idea. Kavya and Pavan are elated with the results of the ideation process. They were eager to have a review with Prof. Murugan as soon as possible. Prof. Murugan listened to how they conducted the ideation process. He asked all minute details of the process they followed. Pavan realised there is something that Prof. Murugan wanted to understand about their ideation process but had no clue what that is. Kavya presented the top idea that the team selected post the ideation technique.

Prof. Murugan asked, “Do you have any second and third best idea or this is the only one?”

Pavan was a bit puzzled. “You mentioned that when we prototype, we take one idea at a time. Then why are you asking for the second and third best ideas?” he asked

Prof. Murugan explained that during the ideation process, most teams generate ideas based on a lot of assumptions. It is difficult to identify those assumptions during the ideation process. Before moving on to the next phase, it is important to identify all the assumptions on which the ideas were formed. Ideally a team should select the top three ideas and find out the number of assumptions made for each of those. To identify the assumptions, the team should assume the role of a Devil's Advocate (one who finds flaws and weaknesses in an idea to provoke debate and analyse its strength) and find out all possible factors of the ideas which are assumed and cannot be backed by facts or data. It is advisable to carry on with the idea having the least assumptions.

Prof. Murugan told Pavan and Kavya that once they are done identifying the assumptions in the top three ideas, they may go ahead into the prototyping phase. Kavya asked, "So what about the assumptions? Do we not test them before making the prototype of the solution?"

Prof. Murugan appreciated Kavya's thought process. He said that they need to create prototypes to test out the assumptions. He explained the complete process of Assumption Testing. Prof. Murugan asked Pavan and Kavya to use the Assumption Mapper technique and identify what among the assumptions they had identified should be the first one to be tested (Figure 2). He asked them to rate the assumptions based on two parameters -

i) Importance of the assumption in implementing the idea

ii) The difficulty in testing it out

He explained that Pavan and Kavya should go ahead designing a prototype suitable for the experiment that proves or disproves the assumption which scores high on the first parameter and low on the second.

Assumption mapper to prioritize prototype testing
Assumption mapper to prioritize prototype testing

Human-centered design process

Coming back to users of products and focus on them while designing products, Prof. Murugan brought up a popular example of human-centered design, practiced by IDEO, a pioneer in design thinking. Infact, the term ‘design thinking’ became popular, thanks to IDEO. David Kelly, founder and CEO at IDEO, was a Stanford Professor. Once while talking to his colleague Tim Brown, another guru, on this topic, he mentioned how he started inserting the word ‘thinking’ every time someone went to him to ask about design. The term ‘design thinking’ stuck.

David Kelly does not consider IDEO employees to be experts in any specific industry or vertical. He says they are experts in the process of design. Empathy towards users of the products is their main tenet behind design thinking. According to IDEO, they key to finding what users really want is two aspects, which Prof. Murugan had insisted upon to Pavan and Kavya before:

  • Observing user behaviour, to understand how they do their work,

  • Putting oneself in the shoes of the user, to understand how best they would use a product if designed for their use.

The following are the six stages in the design process followed by IDEO [1]:

  • Observation – This is one o the key aspects explained above. It is important to understand patterns of end user behaviour for a product, their pain points, and empathize with them. The baby warmer example covered previously is another example.

  • Ideation – Different styles of ideation such as divergent and convergent approaches, brainswarming and crowdsourcing were covered before.

  • Rapid prototyping – Rapid prototyping (RPT) quickly provides a tangible sample of the intended product which the designers and users can touch and feel. It helps test the product for its ergonomics or relationship with end users and also for testing purposes. Additive manufacturing or 3D printing is an emerging technology which supports RPT. A 3D model of the product or its parts can be created quickly using CAD (computer aided design) and made using plastic or metallic RPT. Traditional manufacturing takes a raw material in the form of a bar or a casting or forging and brings it to final shape by machining, or material removal. Additive manufacturing on the contrary adds material according to the geometry of a part, layer by layer.

  • User feedback – Early customer feedback ensures that there are no surprises at later stages of the product design. The prototype is one way to get feedback. The cost of doing rework increases with each passing stage of a product design. It is important to get user feedback as early as possible and to incorporate their feedback as changes to the initial design.

  • Iteration – Iteration helps make changes to incorporate customer feedback and any changes from the product testing cycle.

  • Implementation – After all necessary sign-offs from stake holders, the iteration can be completed to go for the large scale implementation. Strick adherence to the first five phases ensures a high probability of success for the final implementation.

IDEO has designed a wide range of products across industries. One interesting product they designed is the first mouse for Apple, during the early stages of the firm.

IDEO’s design of Apple’s first mouse

In 1980, when Apple was not yet so popular, IDEO was given a challenge to design a cost effective and reliable mouse. [2] Earlier versions of it developed by organizations like Xerox at its famous research center were expensive. This mouse was targeted for use with Apple’s new upcoming computer Lisa. Apple wanted a new navigational device that was at 10% of the cost of other versions available in the market those days, but more reliable than them. The IDEO team designed a basic structure that would hold together the components. A ball with a rubberized coating was made and tested. The buttons with a click were made. The device was tested for several days to ensure its reliability. When the mouse was eventually used for Apple’s popular Macintosh computer, it needed only slight modifications. It met its objectives on both the cost and performance aspects. The basic design that IDEO came up with is used till today in mechanically operated mouses.

The diverse range of designs that IDEO has done so far proves their hypothesis that more than domain knowledge, mastery of the design process IDEO has followed is more than if not equally important.

Understanding the Eyes and the Brain of the Autonomous Vehicle

Bharath had his experience and challenge in applying these design principles for the EV he was targeted to build and the facility to make EVs on a large scale. He firmly believed in the convergence of the three technologies – electric, connected and autonomous vehicles. His plan was to introduce smart connected features and driver assistance features (Level 1) in the electric car that his team was building (Motor Vikatan readers are familiar with SAE’s taxonomy for automated and autonomous driving in article #8 in this series [3]. SAE’s six levels are - Level 0: No automation, Level 1: Driver assistance, Level 2: Partial automation, Level 3: Conditional automation, Level 4: High automation and Level 5: Full automation).

Bharath directed Kavya to Ryan Duffy’s comprehensive overview of autonomous vehicle technology published recently in the Morning Brew [4].

Eyes of the Autonomous Vehicle - the typical perception stack involves cameras, radars, and light detection and ranging sensors. The latter, more commonly known as lidar, uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges and map environments. There are at least five publicly traded lidar companies: Innoviz, Aeva, Ouster, Velodyne, and Luminar. Lidar catches environmental details that cameras and radars might miss. The cost of Lidar has dropped by orders of magnitude already. Velodyne, used to sell its rooftop spinning lidar set for $75,000 (2012). Now it hopes to make an auto-grade unit with a sub-$500 price tag (2021). Velodyne has recently (August 2021) started an Indian R&D center in Bangalore.

Bharath suggested to Kavya the popular course on autonomous vehicle technology “self-driving car engineer” offered by Udacity. [5] David Silver, of Udacity, describes autonomous vehicle technology by using four subsystems - sensors, perception, planning and control [6].

Autonomous Vehicle Technology [6]
Autonomous Vehicle Technology [6]

Brain of the Autonomous Vehicle

AVs rely on software to perceive, predict, and plan. Data must be generated, annotated, cleaned and continuously updated so that it stays machine-readable and relevant. We will need sophisticated computer vision. We will need sensor fusion to stitch together the sensory data from different sources) to meld all the inputs and create a high-fidelity model of the car’s surroundings. AVs run on millions of lines of code and typically produce terabytes of data daily.

AVs need to know their exact location for path planning and prediction. While the Global Positioning System (GPS) can be off by a meter or more, the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) is much more precise, on the order of centimeters. AVs rely on highly-detailed (HD) maps for their performance. “Memory” of recent maps can be stored locally on the vehicle and used if the vehicle loses its LTE or 5G connection. The maps can be continuously updated through over-the-air software updates and cloud-based databases. [7]

Waymo Distinguished Scientist Drago Anguelov predicts that “simulation at scale” is the biggest development obstacle for AI over the next five years - “There’s never been a more exciting time to be in autonomous driving, but over the next five years, the biggest challenge will be to continue evolving these systems to handle an ever-broader range of scenarios—which is a prerequisite for deployment at scale.”

The primary value of self-driving technology is that it improves safety. Human error causes 94% of all crashes. The four D’s—distraction, drowsiness, drunkenness, and driver error—can provoke dangerous situations on any road. Across the U.S., a variety of AV laws and regulations have emerged state by state. Nevada, Florida, Texas, and California, to name a few, have passed AV legislation. California also requires companies to report autonomous miles logged and “disengagements,” which is when a system hands back control to a safety driver. China recently passed a new law which would allow the testing of autonomous vehicles on highways for the first time. Japan recently passed a law to allow Level 3 cars on highways (a world first). [4]

Bharath was thinking of these technologies on his way back home. He and Prof. Murugan had been talking about catching up. But both had been so busy to even plan for a get together, being in the same city. Bharath made a mental note to make sure he calls up his buddy and fixes a time for a lunch or dinner. Unless planned, these things don’t happen, as Bharath had seen from his experience. It would be a good idea to invite Pavan and Kavya too.

Bharath on the steering wheel driving back home
Bharath on the steering wheel driving back home

Note: All opinions and points-of-view expressed above are those of the authors and do not represent that of any other individual or organization.


  1. IDEO's human centered design process: How to make things people love, December 04, 2018,

  2. Creating the first usable mouse, IDEO case study

  3. Electric Mobility: Automotive Programming - The language of cars | Chapter 8, July 31, 2021, Motor Vikatan

  4. Your guide to autonomous vehicles, April 13, 2021, Ryan Duffy, Morning Brew

  5. Self driving car engineer, Nanodegree program, Udacity

  6. How the Udacity Self-Driving Car Works, David Silver, September 06, 2017, Udacity

  7. The Waymo Driver Handbook: How our highly-detailed maps help unlock new locations for autonomous driving, The Waymo Team, September 21, 2020

Connect with Authors on LinkedIn:

Dr Shankar Venugopal | Ramachandran S | Sayantan Mukherjee

தெளிவான புரிதல்கள் | விரிவான அலசல்கள் | சுவாரஸ்யமான படைப்புகள்Support Our Journalism
அடுத்த கட்டுரைக்கு