The role of the car mechanic will evolve with autonomous vehicle technology.
The role of the car mechanic will evolve with autonomous vehicle technology.
( Source: Public Domain / Pexels)

AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES Car maintenance in the age of the autonomous vehicle

Author / Editor: Jamie Thomson / Florian Richert

Today’s connected cars already have a number of autonomous features like anti-lock braking systems, self-parking and cruise control. As automakers continue to develop ever more intelligent vehicles, it won’t be long until we’re able to take our hands of the wheel completely and simply enjoy the ride.

There’s much discussion about which manufacturer will be the first to bring self-driving cars to our roads. However, there’s much less discussion about how autonomous vehicles will be repaired once they do become a reality.
Today’s mechanics have had to evolve with advancing technology. It’s no longer enough to have mechanical engineering skills alone. Nowadays, there’s an increasing need for mechanics to have digital skills. As technology comes to play an increasing role in modern cars, the role of the mechanic will need to evolve even further.

Let’s take a close look at what car maintenance will look like in the future of autonomous vehicles:

A focus on technology

AVs of the future will use an abundance of technology that will require regular upkeep. For example, Google’s self-driving car Waymo features LiDAR technology that measures distance by illuminating a target using light and lasers. It uses sensors that continuously scan for objects around the vehicle, radars that enable cruise control, cameras for lane detection, ultrasound for assisted parking and satellite navigation to identify positioning and location.

Of course, the upkeep of all this technology will come at a cost. So, how will automakers ensure that car maintenance is made affordable? Tesla, for one, is considering including the cost of maintenance and insurance with the sale of its autonomous vehicles, so customers won’t need to pay for repairs. Perhaps we’ll see this idea rolled out in similar way to their current Full Self-Drive package?
Whereas some believe that technology will spell the end of the autorepair industry, others believe that these new technologies will create more jobs and opportunities. As artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) start to play an increasing role in AV development, there will certainly be a need for mechanics with digital skills to match their engineering experience.

The role of data in self-driving car maintenance

Data will play an essential role in the maintenance of autonomous vehicles. The sensors inside AVs will provide car manufacturers with performance information on individual components and alert them when a part needs replaced.

The ability to gather real-time data on a car’s performance will be critical to ensuring that any repairs or updates are made before components stop working. With performance data, technicians will be able to predict when a vehicle will require a service or an update, eliminating the need for owners to visit repair shops.

Data will also enable car manufacturers to schedule routine maintenance checks. For example, when a vehicle reaches a certain mileage, its performance can be automatically analysed. Maintenance can then be carried out remotely through software-over-the-air (SOTA) updates, which will also save manufacturers money.

Autonomous vehicle service technicians

As the demand for traditional vehicle repair skills declines, AVs will introduce a shift in the skillsets required by mechanics. In the near-future, a more fitting name for vehicle repairers could be ‘technicians’, given that much of their role will centre around technology.
Advanced computerisation will require technicians to be skilled in computer programming, data management and analytics. As such, today’s mechanics will need to undergo digital skills training in order to keep up with the demands of the industry.

Classroom learning will become more important as technicians will need to learn new skills that will essentially bridge skills gaps. Learning will need also need to be coupled with hands-on experience, working with new software and electrical components that will come as standard in autonomous vehicles.
For example, a current course at the Washtenaw Community College in Michigan has already started training mobility technicians in anticipation of AVs becoming mainstream. In the programme, students learn a range of skills including big data analytics, cloud computing and cybersecurity – all in relation to transportation.

Maintenance requirements of Mobility-as-a-service (MaaS)

Of course, private AV ownership won’t the only subsector that will require vehicle maintenance. Mobility-as-a-service companies like Uber will require autorepair services en masse to ensure that their fleets remain on the road.
Fleet maintenance will also include the repair of infotainment systems and other integrated services that will become part of the autonomous driving experience.

Contactless payment systems, for example will need regular testing and maintenance, as will HD mapping systems.

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