It’s a significant amount of time. 2,628,000 minutes to be exact. But being so precise when predicting the future is not so easy. Nevertheless, in this illuminating Q&A, we hear from the people charged with looking ahead at two global technology companies relentlessly innovating and moving forwards: McLaren F1 Technical Director James Key and Martin Bielesch, president of Arrow Electronics’ EMEA Components. They delve into the future of tech and provide an insight into a tangible future – the very premise of Arrow’s ‘Five Years Out’.
Innovation, what is it and why does it matter to McLaren and Arrow?
James Key: Innovation is original thinking, but in most cases it’s original thinking within a set of constraints which are budget, time, resource, facilities and regulations. When you take into consideration these constraints, you must be doubly innovative.
You’ve got to come up with a new, creative idea in the first place, but you’ve also got to deliver it within a framework of constraints. It’s one of the biggest challenges faced by an F1 team and it’s crucial to success because innovation is what drives competitive advantage – thinking of something competitors haven’t or understanding something better than them.
Martin Bielesch: Arrow’s value proposition is based on guiding innovation forward. Many people experience and benefit from the innovation undertaken by our customers, but they are usually not aware of the part that Arrow has played in reaching this point.
To our customers and suppliers, Arrow is like a sherpa to a climber on Mount Everest. We know the conditions and routes, dangers to be avoided, equipment to be deployed, and methods of use. After a successful ascent, the mountaineer receives the acclaim and, at their side but out of the spotlight, is their guide.
How do you drive innovation and stay ahead of what’s ahead in rapidly-evolving and highly-competitive environments?
JK: Staying ahead of what’s ahead is absolutely the right way of putting it. From the outside, particularly with a sport as technical and complex as F1, it’s very easy to say just look at the quickest car on the grid and do what that team is doing.
But if it was that simple, everyone would do it. It’s actually a very complex problem that you are trying to solve, and everything is connected. You can’t just look at your fastest rivals. You have to look beyond that to find performance that they haven’t.
MB: Arrow’s relationships with hundreds of suppliers around the world mean that we have visibility of their roadmaps and the new products that are planned well before these are introduced to the market. Added to this, our global footprint provides an insight into many different markets and the direction they are taking. We’re then able to take what we learn and share the knowledge and best practices everywhere we operate.
James, beyond the new regulations for 2021, how will F1 have changed in five years – what technological developments should we keep an eye out for?
JK: What’s important for F1, and I think this will inevitably happen, is that the sport continues to pursue the development of state-of-the-art powertrain technologies. We don’t talk about it enough, but there are some extraordinary technologies that have been built into the engines during the current V6 turbo-hybrid era.
They are the most efficient in the world, delivering more power using less fuel, and hence CO2, than any other car. And equally impressive, is how rapidly these technologies have been developed to deliver engine efficiencies we could never have imagined just five or six years ago.
Over the next five years it’s very important to continue down the road of getting to an increasingly environmentally friendly set of conditions, and that touches all aspects of the sport, from the way the cars are propelled to the materials we use. It’s a hugely important topic – one that Formula 1 and the FIA are embracing – and it’s been underlined by the recent announcement of Formula 1’s ambitious sustainability plan to have a net-zero carbon footprint by 2030.
And Martin, how will the tech industry have changed in five years – what technological innovations are on the horizon and how will they impact us?
MB: We exist in such a dynamic and creative environment that it would be a very brave person who can say exactly how the landscape will look in five years’ time. However, at Arrow we have made it our business to look this far out and anticipate the trends and markets of tomorrow. It’s in our DNA.
When it comes to “visible” innovations, 5G and AI will be at the heart of many.
To reduce signal latency – the time between sending a signal and receiving the response – computing resources will be deployed at the edge of the network, and Arrow is actively involved in the provision of edge computing systems that enable quicker responses to queries from mobile systems. The faster, higher bandwidth, lower latency mobile communications promised by 5G will also open up more applications for augmented, virtual and mixed reality systems.
Internet of things (IoT) is better established in the mainstream now, but it continues to evolve and, as it spreads into new areas, new opportunities emerge. The intersection of artificial intelligence and IoT – the so-called “AIoT” – will enable edge solutions to learn and mimic human behaviour and, ultimately, to derive more value from the system.
Fully driverless cars look to be some way off due to infrastructure and technical issues, but semi-autonomy – an area where Arrow has a strong pedigree and will continue to invest – will gather pace in the next few years. The application of AI to a camera monitoring a driver’s eyes will enable it to detect if he or she is becoming drowsy and prompt an alert.
AI also adds a new dimension, both in the possibilities it delivers to enhance security systems and the new threats posed by malicious users. A similar view can be taken of quantum computing, which will deliver an immense increase in processing capabilities and, at the same time, will render all our most popular current encryption algorithms useless.
JK: The odd thing is, for those of us in F1, although we recognise the opportunities that say 5G, AI or quantum computing present, we’re not constantly focused on these developments. Our job is to make the quickest car possible, so we will naturally seek out the best technologies and ideas out there to see if they can be exploited within the regulations to give us that extra little bit of performance.
For example, if 5G enables us to communicate better between the track and the McLaren Technology Centre or develop a communication system on the car which relies on less wiring, then we would adopt, develop and refine that technology for those purposes. And in that way, we would help the technology to grow.
The digital domain has always been central to what we do in F1, and processing power will continue to increase – as it has done for many years now. Additional processing power opens the door to doing things you couldn’t have done in the past, and it means that in five years’ time there will undoubtedly be ever more complex methods of data visualisation, communication, design and simulation.
MB: Ultimately, it’s the companies that embrace emerging technologies which will thrive, but those that stand still may not even exist in five years.
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