Autonomous Vehicles: Redefining Safety in the Automotive Industry

Season 1 Episode 20
February 21, 2024

Episode Summary

Point B welcomes, Najib El Ajjani, ISO 26262 functional safety expert and Head of Safety and Cybersecurity at Cubonic GmbH, to discuss road safety and the role autonomous vehicles will play in improving it. Take a drive with us as Najib outlines challenges automakers have faced, particularly in the EV and AV sectors, why EVs are better designed to support autonomous vehicle operations, and how to cover all levels of safety through testing and certification, OEM responsibility, and thinking ahead of industry standards. Don’t miss out on all this and more in this exciting episode of Point B!

Key Highlights

1:14 CUBONIC’s mission and vehicles

2:45 CUBONIC’s safety-driven approach

5:45 Dealing with unavoidable accidents 

7:03 Measures for success

8:07 Autonomous operation of CUBONIC vehicles

13:23 Connectivity as an enabler of AVs

Meet Our Guests

Najib El Ajjani
Najib El Ajjani

Najib is the head of Safety and Cybersecurity at Cubonic GmbH, a startup based in Cologne, Germany with a mission to create the first integrated eLCV (electric Light Commercial Vehicle) enabling autonomous driving and connected ecosystems.

For the last 12 years, Najib has shaped his career working for automotive international OEMs and Tier1 suppliers. He started his mission within functional safety prior to the publication of the first safety standard release ISO 26262 in 2011. Eventually, he participated in the automotive industry’s preparation for the adoption of the new upcoming safety standard.

Throughout his career, he worked on challenging projects and advanced technologies creating safety concepts for cutting edge HW technologies and advanced SW platforms.

Najib has been actively contributing to the mobility transformation from its first applications of emission reduction solutions, e.g., stop and start, engine management systems, and post-treatment active regeneration for diesel and gasoline engines. Ultimately, accompanying the vehicle electrification from hybridization to full electrification.

During his career, Najib has always been passionate about actively contributing to shaping safe, secure, sustainable, and accessible mobility. During this path, he actively implemented multiple organizational changes to reach state-of-the-art safety compliance and organization awareness. This all, while working closely with board members and engineering teams. 

He also took part in the ISO technical committee working group for Automotive Cybersecurity which is responsible for the ISO/SAE 21434 Cybersecurity Engineering standard definition.

Najib holds a B.A. in Electrical Engineering and an M.A. in Quality and Dependability Engineering from Polytech Engineering School in France.

Steve Schwinke
Steve Schwinke

Steve Schwinke is Vice President of Customer Engagement at Sibros, working closely with OEMs and Tier One suppliers to accelerate their connected vehicle solutions. He is a pioneer in the industry having spent 22 years at General Motors as an original Executive member of the OnStar team designing their first 3-button system, developing and launching numerous industry-first connected vehicle products and services. He is a recognized expert in connected vehicle technology having served on the Executive Board of Directors for the Telecommunications Industry Association and has been awarded 34 patents involving telecommunications, telematics, and navigation. Steve holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan and a Master's of Science in Wireless Communication Systems from Santa Clara University.


Najib El Ajjani: If we just take that number of 1.3 million people dying each year in road traffic, that's equal to an airplane crashing every second day with 200 people, passengers, in each.

Announcer: Welcome back to another episode of Point B, a Sibros podcast, where we interview industry experts about the latest innovations and trends in automotive technology and the connected vehicle industry.

Steve Schwinke: Welcome to our Point B podcast, where we discuss the future of mobility and transportation products and services. My name is Steve Schwinke, Vice President of Customer Engagement at Sibros. In today's episode, we'll be talking with Najib El Ajjani from CUBONIC about safety and security for autonomous vehicles. First, let me introduce you to Najib, who is Head of Safety and Cybersecurity for CUBONIC, that is based in Cologne, Germany. Najib is leading CUBONIC's efforts to create the first integrated eLCV, or electric light commercial vehicle, enabling autonomous driving and connected ecosystems. Welcome, Najib, to Point B.

Najib El Ajjani: Hi, Steve. Great to be here.

Steve Schwinke: So let's jump in. Why don't you tell us more about what CUBONIC's mission is, and some of the first vehicles that you'll be bringing to market?

Najib El Ajjani: Our main drive and our mission is to deliver exceptional value to our customers and to contribute, ultimately, to a sustainable future. And yeah, this comes definitely through our modular architecture that's going to allow us to have customer customized last mile transportation solutions. And this definitely comes through our full electrical platform, our autonomous driving technology, and our high connectivity. We have two concepts. The first concept is the people mover and the second one is the cargo mover. And both, they are supposed to come with a level two or a level four autonomy levels. And, also, with high connectivity to enable a high efficient and sustainable, and also safer, last mile solution. The main value that we offer to the market, into the transportation system, is really the cost of ownership, and also the availability. One of the main things we're going to see is the reduction of the downtime and out of service time. Also, when we move from the internal combustion engine vehicles to the AV, we basically reduce drastically the engineering complexity and design complexity of power train.

Steve Schwinke: Let's talk a little bit about the safety driven approach that you're bringing with the design of your vehicles. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Najib El Ajjani: If we just look at the history, when we come from vehicles that are purely mechanic, for a century now, we have developing vehicles that were purely mechanics. And at some point, we started to introduce electricity and lighting and so on. Before, I have seen in a documentary, those old vehicles, they had a candle. But, now, we started to introduce lamps and electricity inside the vehicle. But up to, let's say, the '60s, '70s, it was really basic electricity. Starting from the '70s, we started to introduce electronic control units for basic functions in the combustion engine, like ignition timing, et cetera, et cetera, which also helps to bring down the mechanical complexity there. But, also, those new solutions brought some challenges. And the challenges was safety and quality for electronics developments and software. And from there, where the functional safety came up, and ISO 26262, basically, to control this new technologies' introduction into the market. Because we have seen a lot of issues with that, like unwanted accelerations with some specific vehicles, the pedal stack, et cetera. And functional safety came to solve those issues and to control them.

Today, if we talk about EV and electrical vehicles, that's the same thing. We're bringing a lot of solutions and a lot of advantages now to the market, to the environment. But we see a rise of new challenges. And the biggest challenge now we have with EV, electrical vehicles, is high voltage safety. And we have seen the rise of standards and regulations that controls and to mitigate those risks. And the first one, next to ISO 26262 for functional safety, it was the ISO 6469, which comes also to enhance electrical safety, and then the vehicles. There was the rise of legislations and homologations, like the UNECE R100. And also all the crash requirements around the vehicle. But also our internal engineering teams, we work together to cover the loopholes where the requirements, or the legal requirements, they are not extended to some points to cover all of the safety aspects. So, today, we have the front crash requirements, the R94, the side crash requirement, R95. But there are some aspects that are still not,

let's say, cover up, where our engineering teams does a lot of intensive work to be able to produce and manufacture.

Steve Schwinke: But crashes do occur. And you also have first responders. And so do you talk or do you work with the first responder community, meaning how do you deal with an accident scene when something does unavoidably happen?

Najib El Ajjani: With every vehicle, there comes a safety manual for the first responders, how to interact with the vehicle and which access... As part of the ISO Committee involvement, when we were working on those topics, so there was also local authorities or governmental authorities from each country works also together with the OEMs, and also the experts in the field, to drive some guidelines. And those guidelines are also going to be shared with the parties and first responders to be more aware, customized. But, also, ready for through trainings, they have the right equipment to intervene and how.

And there is something that the whole industry has to come to at some point is a homogeneous way of how to design the vehicle so the first responders, they don't have to be, let's say, trained on each vehicle. Or they have to check the manual for each vehicle of how to access, where's the high voltage, et cetera. Each vehicle has its own design, but I think there should be a common point where the whole industry would align to a way how to design vehicles so the first responders also will have an ease to access to that.

Steve Schwinke: How do you measure success? How do you look at this and go, "We are doing it the right way?"

Najib El Ajjani: There is different ways. And one of the first ways is our vehicles needs to be tested before the release for production and before being produced. And, also, during production, we make sure that we're doing some end of life testing, that the vehicle is conformed before going to the market, to open roads. There is legal requirements which are written in stone. They says, "This is what you have to do, this is what you have to comply with." And there is third parties that are going to come and they're going to assess those vehicles. So there is one way. And we also try to comply with international standards in the matter to make sure that we're following the trend and the safety, let's say, state of the art in a market. And, also, our internal engineering judgment and analysis, our overall safety analysis, et cetera, and expertise from the teams that would bring all together. And we make our metric and then we try to match this metric as high as we can.

Steve Schwinke: I'm going to bring you into telling us more about autonomous driving. You're doing level four autonomy. You mentioned level two. Can you give the listeners a little bit more insight as to what you're doing with regards to autonomous operation of the CUBONIC vehicles?

Najib El Ajjani: After talking about the electrical vehicle, as you mentioned, there is one parameter in the EVs that is a framework or, let's say, a platform for autonomous drive, which is less complexity. Less complexity means less diagnostics, means less breakdown time, and means more availability. So we give the space to the AV for more space for operation, I would say. When we look to the delivery market and the transport market, the public transport, we see a driver shortage. And, basically, in Europe, we see that the number of shortage we have now is going to double by the end of 2030. Basically, there is more drivers that are going to go to retirement than newcomers. And there were the significance of AD level four in the transportation coming up in the shell and the last mile delivery business.

But, also, we talk here about congestion reduction, shared mobility. That's a very, very important point when we look now at big cities and all the congestion during rush hours, et cetera. We'll also talk about energy saving, not only for fossil fuel here, but also electrical energy saving when we talk about shells and shared mobility that we're bringing with our people mover solution.

But there is something else which is very important to me personally, which is, again, safety. Today, if we look at the transportation on roadways, roadways has the highest number of life losses, roadways alone. And if we bring numbers into perspectives, today, we see there is approximately 1.3 million people dying each year as a result of road traffic crashes. And that's a number from the World Health Organization. And if we just take that number of 1.3 million people dying each year in road traffic, that's equal to an airplane crashing every second day with 200 people, passengers, in each. Honestly, if we bring that comparison, and we compare fatalities on roadway to aeronautics and aerospace, I think we

will not be producing airplanes anymore. Nobody's going to take an airplane anymore if we hear that there is an airplane which is crashing every second day. But still those numbers, we admit them and we accept them in roadways, which should not be the case, basically.

If you look to psychology, human behavior is something that is difficult to change. 90% of accidents today are caused by a human error. And the main contributor is inattention. And, also, if we look to the half of fatalities in accidents, the passengers did not wear a seatbelt on. So if we deep dive into that, we have speed, we have no seatbelt wearing. And the advantages of the AD technology is basically to offset the bad behaviors, and to compensate the human factor, to compensate the drowsiness, the fatigue, the distraction, being drunk. An AV, or an autonomous vehicle, will not drink and drive the autonomous vehicle, or the robots will not have an ego and have street racing. There is a lot of aspects we're going to eliminate with the ADAS, so Advanced Drive Assistance System, first. And, also, with the autonomous drive.

Just talking about the delivery business with high pressure on drivers, we start to see an increase of delivery van, also, fatalities and involved into crashes or pedestrians, et cetera. Also, we have a lot of misbehavior there and lack of attention. And, again, this is where we see also vehicle autonomy bringing an added value. And, also, driver assist with blind spot detection, 360 degrees view camera, collision warnings, active emergency braking systems, which became, actually, compulsory by law all over Europe. We also will have alcohol interlock, speed assays, and all of those features that can allow, compensate, or offset the misbehavior or lack of attention on roads.

Steve Schwinke: That's just amazing. And so these are big problems that you're tackling. Tell me how you're going about solving that, and how connectivity plays a role?

Najib El Ajjani: Connectivity is a big contributor into that. So definitely when we look to connectivity in an AV, it's an enabler. AV cannot perform isolated. Autonomous vehicles need connectivity. But, also, without connecting all the aspects together, the complete ecosystem together, we cannot reach the level of availability operation, and also sustainability, that we are looking for. Basically, when the supervisor is able to track the vehicle, to check the state of charge of the vehicle, to be capable to diagnose the vehicle remotely, and know what is the issue, where the fault, where the breakdown is coming from. And being able to locate the next service or workshop station. And, also, based on the breakdown or the failure that we have, we can prepare the spare part already in the workshop. So when the vehicle is at the workshop, basically, we have the troubleshooting, but also we have the parts, so we can quickly replace the parts and allow the vehicle to operate.

Steve Schwinke: Najib, thank you for joining me on our Point B podcast today. I found our discussion fascinating. There's a lot to unpack, a lot of big topics. You're solving some very big problems at CUBONIC. Again, thank you to Najib El Ajjani for being our guest today. And I'm sure we'll be talking more in the future about CUBONIC's success, and helping create a future that we all want to live in. So thanks, Najib.

Najib El Ajjani: Thanks, Steve.

Announcer: Thank you for tuning in to Point B. Join us next time for more autotech innovations and trends. Point B is brought to you by Sibros.