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A Match Made In Heaven For The Cloud And Autonomous Vehicles
Home » A Match Made In Heaven For The Cloud And Autonomous Vehicles

A Match Made In Heaven For The Cloud And Autonomous Vehicles

There continues to be avid and growing adoption of the cloud for those involved in autonomous vehicles and the coming transformation of mobility and transportation.

Why so?

Simply stated, the advent of autonomous vehicles is fueled by the use of the cloud.

The other side of that same coin is that the pace and viability of autonomous vehicles could be inadvertently dampened or hampered without utilizing cloud-based capabilities.

As readers of my column are aware, I’ve frequently covered various cloud-related facets in the arena of self-driving cars, a particular type of autonomous vehicle (see my coverage at this link here). In addition to self-driving cars, we will all be gradually witnessing the emergence of self-driving trucks, self-driving drones, self-driving planes, self-driving submersibles, self-driving surface ships, and so on.

That is a veritable boatload of self-driving vehicles and they all require gobs of online storage, tons of online computing power, and stridently need real-time accessibility at all times in all places.

The answer to providing that plethora of computing resources is found via harnessing the cloud.

Throughout my years as a global top executive and CIO/CTO, I’ve lived through the origins of cloud services and undertaken many enterprisewide conversions from internal and proprietary computing storage and computational processing cycles to embrace both public and private cloud facilities. At first, many companies suffered the pangs of a great hesitation to give up the perceived warmth of holding tightly onto their own purchased hardware and directly licensed software. This eventually gave way to the realization that the scalability of the cloud, and numerous other benefits, were hard to beat.

To clarify, don’t assume that migrating to the cloud is necessarily a breeze since there are a lot of organizational changes and technological adjustments that are needed. Akin to any large-scale systems effort, the shift to the cloud requires thinking strategically about the overall portfolio of systems and how to sensibly and seamlessly make the substantive transition. This requires close collaboration between all parts of the business and cannot be summarily handed-off as a background chore to the already harried technologists in your firm.

Interestingly, some companies that contain separate divisions or subunits devoted to autonomous vehicles are at times experiencing the so-called “odd man out” syndrome.

Here’s what that means.

Consider two somewhat comparably vexing scenarios:

1.      The rest of the company is on the cloud, but the AV units are not

2.      The AV units are in the cloud, but the rest of the company is not

Let’s unpack those conundrums.

AV Outside, Aiming To Be Inside

In some instances, the rest of the company other than the portion incorporating the AV units is already on the cloud and the autonomous vehicle units are not.

This phenomenon is often due to the belief that the AV groups are technologically proficient of their own accord and ought to be making whatever choices they need to make for the betterment of achieving the AV realization. Yes, this seems sensible at first glance, namely do not mess with the perceived gilded goose that can lay the golden egg.

Unfortunately, left to their own heads-down preferences, sometimes those in the AV arena are prone to not thinking ahead toward the bigger picture. They are so focused on the day-to-day scramble of trying to devise the AI-based systems for autonomous vehicles, their attention is diverted from considering the overarching down-the-road needs and scalability that will be required.

Essentially, if you are tasked with getting something up and running, you are tempted to take whatever shortcuts and technological trickery that you can get away with. Included in this bag of tricks are the lack of documenting what you are doing, shoving quality assurance and other cornerstone principles under the rug, and basically tossing wildly everything and the kitchen sink at the problems trying to be solved.

This all-out scramble to get a pilot or prototype achieved is certainly valiant, but the obligation of ultimately paying the piper is going to come due. An autonomous vehicle experimental pilot that can in an illusionary way showcase the autonomous features is potentially more misleading than it is constructive since the assumption by others will be that it can be supercharged and fielded, right away.

This is going to become a whale of a quandary when reality hits that the one-off cannot be ratcheted up readily.

In that sense, if the rest of the company is using the cloud, it is worthwhile to gently inspire the AV units to consider doing likewise. Notice the operative word there revolves around gently or gingerly doing so.

Hammering the autonomous vehicle developers with a cloud-haranguing is not particularly advisable. Some top execs attempt to utilize edicts from high above as a change agent, but this generally doesn’t work out very well. Merely dropping a discordant monkey-wrench into the painstaking work of the AV developers is bound to gum up their efforts, will likely slow down the AV progress, and altogether irk the AV members toward leaving or otherwise feeling deflated in their herculean efforts.

The prudent approach involves methodically stepping through how a cloud migration could be undertaken and do so while averting undercutting the ongoing progress of the AV efforts. Indeed, the chances are that the analysis underlying shifting to the cloud will reveal existing unmet needs that were on the back burner, and for which by getting into the cloud can be given refreshed priority and attention.

And there is the important and at times hidden consideration that there are lots of intersecting aspects between the AV units and the rest of the firm. The limelight goes accordingly to the AV development activities, but this is all done within the milieu of running a business, meaning that there is payroll to be generated, inventory to be tracked, and so on. If those business-oriented systems are already in the cloud, it makes synergistic sense to bring the AV units into the cloud, encompassing the intersecting elements and additionally those specialized elements that are specific to the technological realm of crafting self-driving vehicles.

Okay, that covers the instance or use case of the AV being the “odd man out” as it were and realizing that the synergy of bringing them into the cloud is worthwhile for pursuing.

AV Inside, Inspiring More Inside

Turning to the other commonly experienced situation, consider a scenario involving an AV unit that is cloud immersed, and meanwhile, the rest of the company has yet to make that same shift.

As might be obvious from the preceding variant scenario, it could be that there are intersecting business elements that are loose ends and could be appropriately connected by having the rest of the firm enter into the cloud too. In that sense, the AV units have done the pioneering work and perhaps set the stage for the rest of the firm to undertake a similar cloud-focused adoption.

Aha, some are prone to exhorting, the AV unit might have had an advantage in that they started with a blank slate and were able to get underway at the get-go with a cloud approach. Yes, this often is decidedly the case, namely that the AV area is a newer part of an already established company, either having been started anew organically or possibly purchased by grabbing up an AV startup.

When the AV unit first got off the ground, the founders selected the use of the cloud. Maybe they did so since they could not otherwise afford the purchase of their own hardware and systems, or perhaps they realized that if they wanted to accommodate their expected high-growth trajectory that the only viable path would be via using the cloud. Or they might have all grown-up using the cloud, coming from other firms that were cloud-based, and thus it was a natural choice.

No need to reinvent the wheel and might as well use what they know and had already been proven.

In short, sure, the AV units might have had an easier journey toward going with the cloud, though this does not somehow alter the reality that the cloud provides key advantages. Furthermore, there are lessons aplenty to be learned by closely looking at how the AV units are utilizing the cloud. Those tidbits of internal machinations are likely to offer stellar insights into how the rest of the firm can successfully adopt the cloud.

There is an intriguing twist on that point too.

Sometimes the rest of the firm looks at the AV units as the future, which makes sense since the nature of self-driving is a futuristic vision and one that will dramatically alter how we make our way throughout the world. You’ve likely seen me repeatedly emphasize the mobility-for-all mantra that it is hoped will arise via widespread AVs (see my analyses at this link here).

The point is that the rest of the firm can be enamored of what the AV units are accomplishing, and in that admiration are looking for how they too can somehow share in that future. This can be demonstratively empowering when trying to get the rest of the firm to adopt the cloud. In short, if the AV units are doing it, by gosh, the rest of us ought to be doing the same.

Do not undervalue that kind of inspirational aura.

When getting a firm to change from legacy approaches to modern ones, there is a tsunami of resistance usually encountered. Rather than trying to solely and ruthlessly push such changes into and across the organization, a wiser approach seeks to get the organization to seek out the change. For whatever goodwill that the AV units might have, it makes for a handy change catalyst to aid in motivating the rest of the firm to proceed with open arms.

Another somewhat unanticipated gain can also arise, perhaps surprisingly so.

First, realize that the AV units leverage the cloud for the advanced use of AI capabilities such as Machine Learning and Deep Learning (ML/DL), Natural Language Processing (NLP), and the like, and thus their cloud needs are presumed to be relatively unique and seemingly unlike the rest of the firm.

Using that logic, the belief is that it might have made sense for the AV developers to adopt the cloud, but the rest of the firm is another animal and ergo the uniqueness of the AV unit does not apply to any of the rest of the firm.

That undoubtedly seems like a compelling argument, until given additional scrutiny.

Assuredly, there is little doubt that the AV units and their likely uses of the cloud could be construed in many ways as specific to the nature of autonomous vehicles.

Consider these aspects:

·        Self-driving cars are going to need software patches and other updates that can be downloaded into the on-board vehicle systems, thus doing so from the cloud is abundantly pragmatic (using OTA or Over-The-Air updates).

·        The self-driving cars of a fleet are going to upload their collected data about the roadway travels, allowing the use of ML/DL to assess the performance of the AVs and crunch through the data to generate improved driving capacities that can be transmitted back down into the on-board processing. Once again, more OTA is involved, along with cloud storage and cloud-based computing.

·        Roadway infrastructure devices using edge computing are going to be put in place and allow for V2I (vehicle-to-infrastructure) electronic communications. The odds are that the V2I collected data will also be uploaded into the cloud of the AV units. This can be examined for patterns of roadway infrastructure issues and be included subsequently into the online navigational maps that are downloaded into the autonomous vehicles.

·        In my columns I’ve repeatedly mentioned that self-driving cars are going to have a “roving eye” capability, being able to for example indicate the status of real estate in a locality such as homes for sale (see my discussion at this link here). The AV unit can leverage the data being collected by their AVs and turn that into an additional form of monetization.

·        Etc.

If you mindfully ponder the future, you begin to realize that many of these same AI-infused advances are going to occur in other areas of industrial use too. The odds are pretty high that if you look at the rest of the firm, you’ll quickly notice that many of these kinds of AI-embracing efforts are going to inexorably occur in all facets of a business.

If a firm is primarily a manufacturer, the chances are that the manufacturing plants and the automation therein are going to gradually become “autonomous” and will require the same kinds of systems needs as those of the self-driving realm. They might not necessarily entail “vehicles” as in autonomous vehicles, but they will be machinery that is operating autonomously via AI infusion and they will have similar autonomous needs as those of AVs (thus requiring cloud access, cloud storage, cloud computing, and more).

Looking even wider, access to AI tools and capabilities via the cloud will be warranted for all parts of the business.

Indeed, in case you didn’t already notice, AI is being infused into conventional applications such as AI-empowered apps and chatbots within the functional areas of human resources, accounting, finance, marketing, and so on. Though ML/DL might seem only suited for the “extremes” such as autonomous vehicles, rest assured that the same technologies are going to be injected into all kinds of applications and be utilized throughout the enterprise.

It just so happens that autonomous vehicles are somewhat leading the charge.

This is admittedly a bit arguable because other areas are equally infusing autonomy into their wares, but they do not seem to get the same vaunted attention as those of the AV penchant. In any case, the point is that the AV side of the business, even if only looking at the specifics of the AV particulars, provides a visible and early-on heads-up of what the rest of the business will likely find themselves doing.

If you’ve been watching the news about AVs and the cloud, you’ve certainly noticed the ongoing announcements by Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google GCP, and others that are joining hand-in-hand with AV firms, encompassing the autonomous vehicle biggies and newbie startups alike.

AV entities realize they need the cloud.

Cloud providers realize they can provide needed capabilities to AVs, along with positioning for a future in which AVs will be a humongous business and will gradually become one of the most sizable cloud consumers imaginable. It is going to be an ample bonanza, and the time is ripe to get in when the nascent efforts are underway, planting the seeds for future growth.

There are additional compelling reasons for cloud providers to pursue the AV realm.

It is said by many experts that the aspirational attainment of truly autonomous vehicles is tantamount to a moonshot effort, akin in some respects to the first forays of having mankind step onto the moon. In that viewpoint, consider the pride amongst those within a cloud provider that had an integral role in achieving self-driving vehicles. Of the myriad of cloud services and clients that a provider might engage with, the notion of doing so with AVs and thus serving as a vital contributor to a mobility expansive future rings poignantly and can resoundingly motivate employees accordingly.

This same embrace for a stretch-goal of technological innovation in the sphere of autonomous vehicles can have an afterglow associated with the cloud provider too. If the cloud capabilities could aid toward the achievement of self-driving, this suggests that the use of the cloud can presumably shine in other avenues too.


Sometimes I get asked whether the cloud is the tail wagging the dog of autonomous vehicles, or whether autonomous vehicles are the tail wagging the cloud.

Sorry, but all this tail-wagging seems a bit confounding and misleading.

They are two peas in a pod (how’s that for an alternative metaphor).

The cloud provides benefits for the AV and all of its constituent parts, given the realization that the AV exists within the environment of a business and can leverage the cloud in particular for the AV and as a sustainable business operation.

Mutually beneficial is the watchword here.

In many respects, this might be likened to a match made in heaven, interlinking the intricacies of autonomous vehicles and the cloud. That being said, it still takes a lot of legwork, careful insight, and prudence to make sure that the heavenly match is a sound one.

It just goes to show, there isn’t a free lunch, even with especially well-suited matches.

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