We recently had a chat with Vijay Ratnaparkhe, MD and president of Robert Bosch Engineering and Business Solutions Private Limited (RBEI). Here's what he has to say about technology, the Internet of Things (IoT) and data privacy.
Is engineering electronics for automobiles more complex?
In general, I would say, any of the automotive products has a bigger grind than, for example, if needs to get into, say a radio. If Mahindra is looking at another platform, let's take as an example. I think okay, the next year's version of the car is coming and, say, I need a little more space [for my gadget/technology]. This might mean there is a little modification on an existing piece of technology. But in the car there is vibration, there is heat, there are interferences. We have to do a whole lot of testing for this. Vibration testing, temperatures, if it raining... it is always humid in Mumbai... There is a whole lot of testing that has to be done, especially in automotive products. Therefore, it takes time. And although it [any small upgrade] might be on a similar platform, tiny changes always take time.
Microelectromechanical sensors or MEMs: how different is complexity of the micro-accelerometer in the IMU from the equivalents before it?
The sensing part itself is not different. The difference comes from whether it is an IP67 product or an IP33 product. It has to be completely waterproof. It should run after being in water for 1 hour. The sensor element is the same. You have to put a casing. You have to put waterproofing. Unfortunately, many times what I've seen is that it has not always been possible. Then [in time], I have an idea that is technically now possible. You think it is solved. But now I want to test and demonstrate that it really is waterproof. Then, even to have a testing possibility and a testing facility, especially when you are making it for the first time - all of this takes time.
Does the cost of manufacturing fall over time? IMUs haven't really reached affordable motorcycles yet...
The cost of a product versus its positioning are different things. I am talking from an engineer's perspective when I produce. So if we are making a fantastic motorcycle for the first time, it has a different structure or length... all the things are changing and it's your first platform for launch. Since you are doing all this for the first time, there is a heavy engineering cost. All the components are not optimised. You rush to meet the date and you cannot rationalise all the components. So you have the opportunity after the launching the product for a couple of years to keep on optimising the parts that will go into that product. So technically, the cost should come down. How it is positioned, however, is a different thing.
Cost comes down as scale grows and technology becomes more readily available?
You are also optimising. I source Part A because this was available from this place. For me, as of now, I have to buy it. I am not even looking at where is the best source. I use my standard sources and complete the task. Now, when volume increases, I have the opportunity to explore what happens if I change my sourcing. To see what happens if I change the part itself. If I fundamentally don't need this just because I used it in the previous vehicle, I can optimise even on that. These engineering 'tricks' - we call them ratio projects - a German way of saying it... These projects keep on happening for the next couple of years after we launch a product. That potentially gives you an engineering optimisation and therefore a manufacturing as well as sourcing and consequently a cost optimisation - that's how this happens. What has changed in the recent times is that by the time you get to the last part of the optimisation cycle, there comes a completely new product and you have to stop with this one and start with the new one - the cycles are faster nowadays.
You have systems that can beam information from the car to a central server for, say, insurance companies to see how well you're driving. There is a privacy issue here, yes?
That's a very difficult question. If you ask who owns the data, the answer is that country by country, we decide who owns it.
So each country has a legal infrastructure...
Yes. It will have to say clearly by law that you if you are driving, it is your data because you bought that car. And that it doesn't belong to the OEM. The OEM will want to say that they want to have a peek into the data from, say, a maintenance point of view. For planning the vehicle's future - the data can help understand how to design it better. There will be claims like this from different points of view. In computers, we have this. When it crashes, it asks if you want to send a report. And you can say no also. We will have to create these possibilities in the car. Your driving pattern could be your own private data but, for instance, the state of your filter could be made available because you are not personally tampering with that. So you will have to start segregating the types of data and this does not exist today. The legislature is not talking about all this, especially in India. We are very very far behind in this.
So when you talk about vehicle-repair based Internet of Things system. The cloud communicates with the vehicle and you can see patterns across thousands of the cars and report these back to the manufacturer.
Absolutely. It is a fundamental shift happening to the predictability of spare part requirements. If I am the OEM, if I can predict six months ahead that these parts will go off pattern from what I had thought of, I can at least make sure that the stocks are available. I can make sure that there is a possibility to replace, flash if it is a software... And this prediction is extremely important to the OEMs. That is why I was saying earlier that the OEMs will also want to have that data.
If this kind of data goes to the insurance company, it will be linked to your premium, right? How far away are we from that?
From technical possibility we are ready today. On-road diagnostics or Bluetooth connectivity to your phone, which tells the insurance company, tells the OEM... all this possibility exists today. When does the business model come in? I don't know. Some insurance company needs to take an interest in it. Some OEM needs to take an interest in it.