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Who doesn’t love the clean lines, the bold curves, the shiny finish of a new car? But just as exciting is what’s going on under the hood. The rise of EVs, cloud-connected technologies to help drivers avoid collisions, communications systems that become as integral to our lives as our phones—it’s all happening. Here. Now. Today.

So are cloud-based simulations that put autonomous vehicles on the road. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and business intelligence (BI) simplify the experience of buying and maintaining a vehicle. Machine learning assists the factories that build these amazing machines in becoming more efficient. Emerging smart cities give people choice in how they commute.

You’ll learn all about these topics on Microsoft’s The Inside Track podcast, hosted by me, Kerry Lebel. Each episode features an industry expert, insider, or analyst who has studied the long-term trends, evolving expectations of consumers, and effects of technology advancements on industry strategies.

In our first episode, “Factories, BI and AI—oh my,” you’ll hear from Trever White, Group Manager of Manufacturing Engineering Systems for Toyota in North America. He’s part of a group of visionaries reimagining the factory floor in a way that’s changing the industry through the use of data, AI, and business intelligence—in particular, because the big challenge in any factory is making sure that all of the many moving parts can create one smoothly working machine.

“We’ve been able to focus a lot of equipment data collection and visualize equipment downtime and understand which piece of equipment is having the biggest problem at a particular time and focus on that,” Trever says.Having those analytics makes equipment changeovers go much more smoothly and efficiently, Trever tells Kerry.

In episode two, “The impact of the connected vehicle,” Kerry chats with his old colleague Anupam “Pom” Molhatra, currently Audi of America’s Director of Connected Vehicles and Data. Today, more drivers see their cars as an extension of their digital lives—almost like their cellphone on wheels. Data and connectivity are bringing benefits like interactions with traffic infrastructure or a wider array of entertainment options right to our fingertips, for example.

“Having watched this industry, you see these moments where you think that there’s some kind of a seismic change that’s going on,” says Pom. “I think we’re in one of those.”

Pom shares that so many of the new technologies he discusses aren’t a vision of the future—they’re happening today. Onboard AI, for example, can stop a car faster than a driver can react, which could mean fewer accidents.

“Right now, any safety systems are primarily designed to be built into the vehicle and the vehicle is self-sufficient in order to provide a level of safety,” Pom says. “That’s state of the art with these systems.”

Sandeep Sovani, Director of ADAS and Autonomy at the industrial simulation company Ansys, stars in our third episode,Cloud simulations: The speed of innovation.”

In October 2021, teams from 40 universities around the world will converge upon the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with test vehicles that will race at speeds of nearly 200 miles per hour, all autonomously. As Sandeep explains, there’s no way these students could test these vehicles, in particular during a pandemic, without their not-so-secret weapon: simulations.

“Simulation is absolutely crucial for the development of autonomous vehicles to try out all the hundreds of thousands, millions of different scenarios that they would have to develop their software for,” says Sandeep. By using AI and the cloud to accelerate design, engineering, testing, and simulations, autonomous manufacturers can clock in billions of hours before their vehicles ever see the road, and at the same time utilize their high-powered computing scenarios only when they’re needed.

In episode four, “Customer experience—the new differentiator,” Kerry shares a pet peeve with our guest, Magnus Gusjonsson, Evangelist and Solutions Architect at Annata. He gets really frustrated when his customer experience doesn’t focus on the customer, like when he takes his vehicle in for service and has to explain what he needs, over and over again. According to Magnus, there’s a lot of opportunity in using the data that modern vehicles collect to raise that level of service.

“I think it all comes back to people, data, intelligent automation and somehow being able to just have natural engagements to customers,” Magnus tells Kerry.

Here’s a thought: what if, when you drove your new vehicle off the lot, it actually gained value? Or when you wanted a new feature on your vehicle, you could simply activate it from your console’s touchscreen? With the growing use of connectivity in our vehicles, automakers can monetize services through feature subscriptions. Or perhaps vehicle ownership will be just one piece of the full mobility experience.

“Most automakers in one form or another have higher ambitions, and those higher ambitions are really to become a mobility service provider,” says Jeffrey Hannah, North American Team Lead at SBD Automotive and our guest on Episode five, “We’ve only just begun.” Jeffrey uses his vast industry knowledge to explain how his clients are developing intelligent transportation infrastructures, creating seamless in-vehicle mobility experiences, and finding new revenue streams as they partner with world-class mobility technology companies.

We’re excited to share season one of The Inside Track with you and hope it gives you new insights into the ways that technologies like AI, the cloud, and connectivity are changing the entire mobility industry.