WCX 2024: Come for the AI, Stay for the Optimism

AI top of mind at SAE’s annual technical mobility conference

Qualcomm’s efforts with AI starts with the reality that vehicles are now computing platforms. (Qualcomm)

The never-ending task of wrapping one’s head around the auto industry continues at SAE’s annual WCX technical mobility event in Detroit in April. A series of keynotes will discuss the growing impact of generative AI on the auto industry, why automotive workers have reason to see the upside of working alongside AI and how drivers will interact with AI in their next-gen vehicles.

A designer tests the new AI technique at XD: Toyota North America’s Experimental Design Studio. (Toyota)

Jeremiah Golston, senior vice president and head of Automotive Engineering at Qualcomm, said he foresees heavy interest in generative artificial intelligence at WCX 2024.

“The new era of AI is here, and edge-based generative AI will play a critical role in transforming the cabin to deliver powerful, efficient, private, safer and more personalized experiences to drivers and passengers,” Golston told SAE Media. “Specific challenges I expect to be discussed include scaling and extending GenAI across the cloud, edge and device.”

Golston said his keynote presentation will address the rapid expansion of both the amount of data a car collects and the compute power required to process all that information in the car. Qualcomm’s solution, he said, is to embrace the AI era and collaboration opportunities with OEMs and other “ecosystem partners” to get generative AI applications into production vehicles using the Snapdragon Digital Chassis.

“Vehicles are now computing platforms powered by scalable and upgradeable cloud-connected hardware and software platforms, with generative artificial intelligence being one of the most exciting innovations we’re seeing come to life in the car today,” he said. “I hope attendees leave my keynote with a better understanding of the critical role of central compute architectures, cloud-native development, and GenAI, along with a vision for how these elements will continue to come to life in the future vehicle cockpit.”

Toyota Research Institute’s positive outlook

The senior director of the Human Interactive Driving division at the Toyota Research Institute (TRI), Avinash Balachandran, will give another of the main keynotes at WCX this year. The TRI’s HID division works on creating AI-driven capabilities and tools that will let people interact “more effectively and naturally” with their increasingly automated vehicles.

Balachandran identified two main challenges with AI that he plans to address in his presentation, one focused on the workforce interactions with AI and the other on the IP, ethical, and regulatory concerns that come about when working with AI.

“TRI believes that AI has the power to amplify rather than replace people,” Balachandran told SAE Media. “This is rooted in the core Toyota philosophy of ‘Jidoka ’or human-centered automation. The research examples I will present from TRI are focused on amplifying human capabilities and allowing people to focus on high-value-added work that they can do for themselves and for society.

“In particular, the audience will learn about how core Toyota philosophies like jidoka and the concept of muda continue to be relevant as we think about how best to incorporate AI into our work.” Muda, which means “waste” or “uselessness” in Japanese, is a keyword Toyota uses to remind workers to minimize things like excess production and inefficient transportation methods.

“Muda is what we call non-value-added work, work that doesn't move the needle,” Balachandran said. “I think AI is going to be a tool that’s going to help us focus on value-added work and reduce muda over time, on having tools that help people really focus on the things in their life that add value, things that can add value in society. And I think AI could help us focus on those things and create this happier environment for everyone.”

Balachandran said he can fit AI opportunities into four “big buckets” where AI will disrupt how the industry builds and sells cars. AI will impact the design and engineering of vehicles, manufacturing those vehicles, the vehicle experience itself and, finally, the bringing those vehicles to market, including sales and marketing policy.

Toyota released this vehicle design sketch that incorporates results from TRI’s new generative AI + optimization technique. (XD : Experimental Design Studio of Toyota)

“AI is going to be hugely disruptive in all these areas,” he said. “In my talk, I'll actually give specific examples of how we can think about using AI for the designing and engineering of cars to make that process a lot smoother and also, how we can use AI to help in manufacturing to help workers focus on the parts of their job that they enjoy while reducing muda. Even in the vehicle experience, [we have to] rethink the way that people and vehicles work together in order to help you achieve your goals.”

Doug Field, Ford’s chief EV, digital and design officer, will give a third keynote that will also address these and related topics. Field was not able to preview his presentation in time for publication, but it will look at similar topics. Field worked as a development engineer at Ford from 1987 to 1993 and then left to work at Apple, Segway and Tesla, where he was involved in launching the Model 3. Field returned to Ford in 2021 and heads a team that works on “scalable technology platforms to be deployed across Ford global products” including electric vehicles, digital platforms and software “at startup speed” inside of Ford.

WCX runs from April 16 through 18  at the Huntington Place in downtown Detroit. A connected event, the GAMIC Innovation Finals Competition, will take place on the 15th. General Motors will host a Hydrotec fuel cell event at WCX on the 17th. Technical session topics SDVs, low-carbon solutions, and safety and UX technologies.