Constellation and the Automotive Industry- An interview with Sebastian Spitzer

Constellation Ambassador Sebastian Spitzer, focuses specifically on Mobility and IoT. In our interview, we discussed everything from where the mobility space stands today, to where it is headed, and how blockchain and Constellation fits into it all. Based out of Germany, Sebastian has worked for Daimler and REHAU, and has experience in the construction, pharmaceutical and automotive sectors. Today, he’s working as a Specialist of Digital Products and Services for Schaeffler.

Before we dive in, can you tell us a bit more about your background, and what led you into working in the mobility space?

 

My focus has been implementing innovation across a number of industries — from construction to pharmaceutical and electric appliances industries, and now in the automotive sector —  purely focused on the future of mobility and innovation. It was a natural fit for me to start looking into the IoT and blockchain sector because they are fields that are of immense opportunity and importance to the automotive space. So that is where I started out, looking at all of these trends professionally, but it also caught my personal interest because I’m a tech guy. I’m not a developer, but I like working in technology.

In a nutshell, you could say my goal is to actively shape the future of mobility and leave a mark there, whatever that means in the next 20 years. That is what drives me.

You said you want to shape the future of mobility, but before we get to the future, can you give me a layman’s overview of where the mobility space currently stands today?

 

There is actually one word that describes it all, and it covers different facets. Daimler has actually coined the term CASE, Connected, Autonomous, Shared and Electric.  Different car manufacturers use these terms in a different ways, but it’s it’s all the same. This is where the mobility sector is heading and where the future of the automotive sector lies. When putting IoT into perspective and mixing all of these emerging technologies into the equation, all of the  players are totally aware that a big change is going to come. Yet no one knows exactly when and how the change is going to affect everyone, but everyone is exploring and experimenting.

To me, the entire mobility ecosystem is currently a large proof of concept. Everyone is trying to see what they can do with new technologies, what kind of services and future business models will be the right ones, but no one is hedging their bets. So everyone is preparing  for multiple outcomes in order to cover their bases, and not to be the loser when the shakedown happens.

If you look at the major car manufacturers, they are all experimenting with new technologies and are all heavily invested into the startup space, trying to actually change their corporate culture to more of an open innovation system. In doing so, they can learn from smaller, newer companies and integrate new ideas that they are too slow to adapt to, and thus be prepared for whatever the future might hold for them.

As it stands today, how is IoT playing into the whole space, and what role does IoT have in shaping the future of mobility?

 

I think the term “IoT” pretty much describes the future of mobility. My personal view is that the future of mobility will be digital and it will be services, and IoT plays a major role in actually enabling this. If you look at “vehicle to x” communications – so everything that moves on roads, railways or even planes – they all have to be able to communicate with each other in a machine to machine environment where they have to exchange data in order to make any future infrastructure work. And we’re not talking necessarily about autonomous driving. That will definitely come, but were also talking about non-autonomous vehicles.

For example, let’s look at at Uber, which is a company that is already existing and providing a mobility service to people, even though they have normal drivers. IoT plays a big role in that because the car has to send the GPS signal, and it has to tell people where its location is. It has to tell people whether it’s available or not, and it has to connect the driver to the passenger that wants a ride. So the whole ride-hailing concept is a pretty practical example that is already existing today of how IoT kind of dives into the whole space and will actually help to shape it even further

In terms of CASE –  connected, autonomous, shared, electric – how far off do you feel like we are as a society from that becoming the norm? Is it in ten years, or is it sooner or longer off than that?

 

If I had a precise answer I’d have a Nobel Prize, yet I can only do the same thing that everyone does, and that is deliver an educated guess. Let’s look at autonomous driving first.

There are different levels of autonomous driving, and there’s actually a framework. It’s levels zero to five – five meaning that the car can do everything itself, fully autonomous. Right now, we are at level three, which means that the car can drive in specific situations and can perform maneuvers on its own. For example, it can trigger the emergency brake, or with the Tesla autopilot it can steer the car left or right, but there should always be a driver present in the car (and the driver should ideally be awake and always able to take control of the vehicle again). So in order to get to a fully autonomous scenario where the entire infrastructure doesn’t need any human intervention, we are at least 10 to 15 years away, minimum. It’s not only about technology, it’s about legal implications, political implications, and a huge infrastructure shift. It’s not only about equipping a car or a train to be fully autonomous, it’s about enabling and changing the entire infrastructure of a city or road system.

Governments tend to be relatively slow to adapt. We are really looking at a long-term development. I think the development will start in the microcosms of cities, specifically developed cities that have the funding capabilities. A new mode of operation that takes into account both private and public institutions is needed. We’re a few years out from that level of cooperation and collaboration.

Let’s focus on electric cars now. You need to have an electricity grid that is able to sustain the electricity requirement for the vehicles. That means you need electricity providers, you have to have traffic management in there – we’re talking about traffic signals, outside data on roads, road conditions and everything that connects the mobility sector. You need to coordinate all of these parties, and agree on standards. We’re very close from a technology standpoint.  The challenge now is the coordination of all the inputs, stakeholders and the need for a network that can handle the data. A network like Constellation

So how do you see blockchain fitting in to all of this?  What excites you for about the potential for blockchain to advance the mobility sector?

 

If we say that data is the new oil, and that digital services will be the main determinant for the future of mobility, it becomes apparent how blockchain can ties in. Blockchains forte is data integrity and ensuring data security, allowing different parties to exchange data in a peer-to-peer fashion without compromise. From that angle, blockchain will be a crucial pillar in shaping the future of mobility.

The big question is if we get there in 10 or 15 years, who owns that ecosystem? Who owns all the data? Is it the city that owns it? Is it a single manufacturer? Is it the communication provider? Blockchain or Bitcoin started off with this dream of reshaping the entire system of how people exchange value and how people transact, removing all of these middlemen and institutions. From a monetary standpoint, that dream kind of failed, at least for the moment. So we still need a trusted third party. But if you look at that industry, it becomes pretty apparent to me that there can’t be a single provider who is actually responsible for the entire network  — someone who would manage it and who gets all the money for providing that infrastructure, because there’s so many parties involved.

And that is exactly where I think that blockchain can provide an answer. And that’s also what fascinates me about Constellation. When I took my deep dive into Constellation, what really struck me was this idea of having networks within networks and allowing applications to be built upon a distributed ledger technology and allowing participants to easily integrate into that network. That is exactly what we need. Because if you look at a city, it is kind of a manifold of different networks — you have the energy provider, you have the car manufacturers, you have the electricity grid, and all of these networks need to stay intact within themselves. The electric provider has to have their own secluded and closed network to be able to efficiently manage their business, but they have to share certain data with others in order to actually make the entire ecosystem work. That is exactly where blockchain can come into play, allowing different networks to communicate while still allowing for a certain amount of individual control.

So you envision Constellation as kind of being that connective thread between all these disparate entities that don’t really want to talk to each other, don’t want to trust each other, show data and all that. But if you add in Constellation, suddenly it’s like “we could all play along together, and it’ll work.”

 

Exactly. It’s not about replacing the existing structure, but actually reinforcing it and opening up where it makes sense. For example, Audi wants to keep their own network of Audi cars to provide individual services to Audi customers. But in order for their autonomous vehicles to be safe and secure and to provide the best product possible, they will need to share data with other manufacturers and public services.

So let’s talk proof-of-concepts. It’s clear that the automotive industry is quite invested in emerging tech like DLT. What seems to be a common or popular proof-of-concept that you’re seeing in the industry?

 

The most common examples that I have seen are vehicle identity and vehicle history, meaning that you could have a digital documentation of a cars service history. The other one is a user usage-based insurance model, where you collect data from the car — like how many miles it has been driven, if it exceeded speed limits or if it has been driven recklessly, and basically exchange the data with your insurance provider. So you’d get a very individualized insurance calculation for your own driving style. And lastly, there is multiple proof of concepts for machine to machine payments using DLT.

Do you think there will be a time when we just stop owning personal cars?

 

You are perfectly spot on. What are the biggest problems in mobility right now? The biggest problems right now are pollution and congestion. If you look at New York, the average speed of traffic and in Manhattan is 4.7 miles per hour I mean, you can walk faster that! So that raises the question, why do you actually want to use a car? Why do you want to use public transportation if it’s actually slower than walking? Another problem is affordable living and the space that we have in cities. There’s more and more people, and population is increasing, but space is not. In order to solve these problems, we actively have to reduce the number of vehicles and cars.

And by vehicles, I mean everything — buses, taxis, Ubers, private vehicles. To free up some space for living, you’ll have to reduce the number of parking spaces, parking garages, so it all comes together. Fast forwarding 10 years, I do not think that it will be appealing to the majority of people to actually still own a car, at least in urban areas.

My car just stands around for eight to nine hours at work, and then I drive it again for 10 minutes home. Over the entire time frame of 24 hours a day, I only use my car for 20 minutes. How inefficient is that? If we want to actually solve urban problems we should move towards shared mobility. A privately owned vehicle will become a collector’s item.

You recently presented on behalf of Constellation at the Honda Blockchain Summit in Berlin. What was that experience like, and how was the presentation  perceived?

 

That definitely was a great experience. All of these mobility providers are in an exploration stage. They want to see what’s out there, they want to see what’s new, they want to draw their conclusions, and see how it can provide benefits to their the business. That was what I was trying to convey. I wanted to map out the future of mobility using Constellation as an example of a network and technology that will bring about massive change.


Also published on Medium.

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