Talking autonomous driving and industrial automation

 

We’re excited to share an interview by our co-founder and CTO Oliver with you, conducted and guest-authored by Mohammed Brückner. Mohammed is a technologist and an expert in CRM and E-Commerce. He’s also really, really into cloud computing and loves to talk about platform economies. Enjoy the read!

Talking autonomous driving and industrial automation

If you haven’t spent the last few years under a rock, you’ve certainly heard a lot about IOT, autonomous driving, and industrial automation generally. Xapix is a startup born in San Francisco with offices there and Berlin. They have interesting projects in the automotive space and are, understandably, obsessed with all three domains. I was lucky enough to meet Xapix recently in Berlin and listen in on the event that they hosted: “IOT and Automotive: Services of the Future.”

Today, I am even luckier to ask some half-witted questions and get ridiculously elaborate and sophisticated responses. Without further ado, what‘s your name and why do you do what you do?

Hi, I am Oliver Thamm, an API enthusiast and senior software developer. Back in 2015 my Xapix co-founder and I met at a hackathon in Berlin. We started a longer discussion about how to simplify access to public APIs. I coded an MVP, we tested that on hackathon participants, and iterated. In 2017, during our Techstars IoT program (New York), we decided to fully focus on enterprise customers such as Bosch, Daimler Fleetboard, and BMW because their internal API orchestration challenges connecting old and new IT systems are massive! Our Xapix data transformation and orchestration software, accessible to the average Excel user, clearly offered a powerful solution. These days I focus on product management, customer success, and typical founder tasks.

It’s safe to say that there is no lack of data generated by cars today and, with increasingly connected cars, in the future. Although the transport format of that data may not be the most colorful topic, it is crucial. Since it is not standardized, it requires significant translation. From your point of view, is there a realistic chance that we will get to standardized transport formats, and would that even be as helpful as we, a bunch of techies, imagine it would be?

The huge amount of old and new data sources and their diversity will challenge the entire industry. Smart city, connected cars, electric vehicles, fleet operations and self driving vehicles are technologies certain to come. The IT systems of each automotive manufacturer in these markets will need to talk to each other and with their existing legacy IT systems. A massive challenge!

Introducing standards is an interesting approach to solve this mess. At Xapix we’re partnering with organizations such as the German Ministry for Transport, and standards bodies like Genivi, and FIWARE. Historically company politics and costs of implementation have caused large hurdles. They slow down progress, which often results in poor adoption, multiple versions, and bad quality of such standards.

I do not believe the industry will agree to standard specifications on its own. Legislators will have to lead the initiative, especially for self driving cars and smart cities. Reducing the technical costs of implementation and maintenance of standards is another challenge--one of the many challenges that our Xapix product helps solve.

Data privacy was a dominant theme at the event I mentioned before. As far as data privacy and IT security goes, everything is clearly pointing into the direction of consumers and governing bodies becoming  more demanding. The connected car scenarios, however, deal with even more data than ever, which raises concerns. Will all the different players involved in offering joint services live up to their responsibility? These players include  suppliers and services that deal with components like entertainment systems or vehicle telematics. How can we stay on top and in control?

I am a strong believer in transparency and data governance, and GDPR is major progress in that direction. But the effort required to track which sets of personal data is stored where and exchanged with which partners grows exponentially as partner networks grow. Today’s practice of handcrafting poorly documented individual code bases is certainly not sustainable. The way we approach this at Xapix is to let users flag sensitive data and scopes themselves in our UI and ensure full traceability of each data flow through logging, analytics, etc. Companies will need a solid toolchain to be able to fully and deeply remove all traces of personal user data across own IT systems and partner networks upon user request.

While it‘s human nature to focus on risks, let’s look at the possible gains. One example brought up during the event was smarter fleet management with massive potential to save on fuel and reduce the risks of accidents. Would you mind summarizing for us what‘s in it for the industry, looking at connected cars and autonomous driving?

I think smart vehicle companies (e.g. Fleet managers) will have all the ecosystem data available and switching providers of services (e.g. charging providers) will take only  a matter of hours. This would fuel competition and facilitate business decisions beneficial to all stakeholders. Today, the huge cost and effort required to switch providers in IT-heavy partnerships locks in many businesses. IT-Managers considering to integrate a shiny new startup product that would economise  resources often give up when calculating integration costs with their legacy CRMs and ERP systems.

Everyone looks at companies like Google,UBER, and Tesla when it comes to putting intelligence into transportation and logistics.Looking into the crystal ball, who do you think will be the major transformation drivers and why?

Industry rumors say that the German OEM’s R&D departments are actually ahead of Silicon Valley in many of those fields. We cannot really know since they keep their results confidential. Allow me some local patriotism and bet on my fellow domestic engineers.

With these technological advances, do you foresee any exciting business models that have not already been discussed a million times, e.g. taxis that deliver pizzas or groceries along with passengers rather than  driving empty at times (which would, of course, also work with manned cars)?

Networking in the Berlin startup scene means diving into an amazing wealth of fantastic ideas, especially in mobility. But I personally think flying point-to-point taxi drones are under-hyped.

Do you think the automotive industry needs to forge partnerships with entities that have the potential to disrupt their business, or should it stay away from those kind of pacts and ally only with each other, as is already happening between Daimler and BMW?

I am really not an expert on corporate strategy, but it seems to have made more sense to do these partnerships between individual sub companies to keep things small and simple. This broad pact BMW and Daimler forged appears to be very complex and thus risky. I am excited to see this fully unfold, though, and would love to be proven wrong.

Now, on a technical level: what kind of (open) API/Integration strategy do you pursue and what trends do you foresee dealing with data in all velocity and variety? Do you see any advantages with the established cloud computing players? If so, why? Speaking of which, how are your solutions cut, high-level?

API Integration or data flows in general need to become manageable by non-developers. Otherwise the exploding demand for integrations cannot be satisfied because software developers are a rare and expensive resource. We at Xapix deliver one particularly important puzzle piece getting there: orchestrating and transforming data with drag and drop and Excel formulas at top level performance and security. Other API products like Apigee or Mulesoft are being used seamlessly alongside with Xapix for their respective core competencies. We can be hosted on any cloud provider or on-premise, that’s up to the customer. Furthermore we are happy to provide service packages for our product all the way down to consulting solution architects on particular use cases. All upon customer request and as needed.

Let‘s round things up with a rather open-ended and philosophical question. If autonomous vehicles hurt people, who is to blame? And how can we make sure resolving this question for good does not block us from taking the next logical steps for the better of humanity?

The black boxes in autonomous vehicles will record everything once they are actual reality, so my boring guess is that insurances will look into the data and conclude if it’s a bug in the car, false smart city data, or the injured person’s own fault. Probably some incidents will be taken to court in the same way that it happens today.

Thank you very much! What is the best way for folks to get in touch with you and follow your great work?

Find Xapix on LinkedIn, Twitter or at www.xapix.io. Reach out to me or our team anytime at partners@xapix.io. We’re frequently present at automotive industry events in the USA and Europe, and we are always excited for an exchange!