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Autonomy Answers: Meet Marcus McCarthy

Autonomy Answers - Marcus McCarthy
This ongoing interview series features professionals within and outside of Trimble to share their insights, experiences and opinions about Autonomy and its range of applications across a variety of industries.

Meet Marcus McCarthy - Director, Autonomous Navigation Systems, Trimble Autonomy

As a director within Trimble's Autonomous Navigation Systems, Marcus McCarthy is responsible for deploying Trimble's extensive technology portfolio to assist the automotive industry in achieving safe and reliable advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous driving (AD) systems. McCarthy joined Trimble in 2010, and has been part of Trimble’s On-Road autonomy division since 2018.

Questions for Trimble Autonomy Leaders:

How do you foresee the impact of autonomous solutions / technologies on consumer’s lives? 

I envision the greatest impact of autonomous solutions will be to make transportation safer for consumers. The expectation is that the autonomous car will be safer than existing vehicles because we will eliminate something that often fails to operate safely - the driver. According to the U.S. Dept of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the 2020 study of U.S. accidents continues to rank impaired and distracted driving as the leading causes of accidents.
Trimble Autonomy’s on-road division is on a journey that is initially implemented through advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). These systems will be complimented by vehicle-to-anything communications (V2X) and eventually by autonomous driving (AD).

ADAS systems are being realized today, while V2X and AD are in development. Over the next 2-3 years, V2X features will begin to be delivered, and fully autonomous driving will follow shortly afterwards.


What’s been your greatest professional accomplishment / what work are you most proud of? 

I am most proud of the progress we are making to enable precise absolute positioning as a safe, high performance, reliable solution for autonomous applications. Trimble is implementing a suite of solutions that are increasingly functionally safe (ISO 26262 certified) with significant new intellectual property in protection levels and integrity monitoring, increasingly cybersecure (ISO 21434), achieving decimeter level positioning precision in a moving vehicle in seconds and providing all of this service at an ISO20000 service level. I am proud to work for a company that doesn’t over-state its abilities and then fail to deliver. I am proud of our steady, methodical and reliable contribution to increasing safety on the road.   


Can you share a ‘breakthrough’ or ‘aha’ moment in your own journey of implementation of autonomous capabilities?

I am not sure about an ‘aha’ moment, but one of the things I have become aware of recently that I found interesting is that automating driving on freeways is not very different from automating trains. In Japan, 25% of trains run autonomously - vehicles on freeways have a limited number of places/lanes they can be, all traffic on their side of the median/concrete barrier is moving in the same direction, there are no pedestrians or other unpredictable external events on these roads, much like train tracks, as a result the number of variables is limited. However when you move from the divided freeway to two way streets with pedestrians and other unpredictable elements the complexity and the risk rises dramatically. We are a long way from being able to do autonomous driving on city streets safely.

For example, when something unpredictable happens on a freeway the train analogy breaks down, like an emergency vehicle stopped in the roadway, then for example, some autonomous driving systems have failed to react and crashed into the emergency vehicle. If the system cannot cope with that scenario of very limited unpredictability on a freeway, then it is far away from being able to safely navigate city streets.


What would you tell a business professional who’s eager to work on the development and integration of autonomous solutions? What should they study to be successful in understanding the potential and challenges of the field?

Ideally they will have two things: a multidisciplinary background and an inquisitive mind. These two qualities go hand in hand. In any individual project we get involved in detailed technical topics such as software integration, development methodologies, networked communications, cybersecurity, functional safety, radio frequency communications and interference, hardware electronics, vehicle dynamics as well as a wide range of business and support topics. A significant and deep interest in hardware and software technology, automotive mechanics and innovative business models is required. In addition, they will need to be a team player, bringing these solutions to market so quickly is at the cutting edge of industry capability and requires a large collaborative team effort.


Is there a favorite toy/game from your childhood that shaped your career path?

Commodore Vic 20 - bought in 1981 or ’82. I learned how to program in BASIC on the Vic 20,  my first computer. I remember the joy of storing the programs on magnetic tapes and the excitement of loading the source code from the tape. It fanned the flames of an interest in software and electronics. Even though I pursued a business career, in my education and work roles, I was always going to be involved in technology in some form or another.


In your opinion, what’s the closest thing to real magic?

Collision avoidance systems (obstacle detection + automatic emergency braking) are very cool - not magic but a real lifesaver. This is where the vehicle can detect that you are approaching an obstacle too quickly and the brakes apply automatically. When you experience it in action, as I have, you become truly grateful for ADAS systems.

Airbags that open in 50 milliseconds - not magic but the most important safety innovation for the automotive industry. Front airbags reduce fatalities in frontal crashes by 29 percent and side airbags reduce driver risk of death in driver side crashes by 32 percent in a car and 52 percent in an SUV. 

I guess I put quantum physics in the realm of magic because I don’t understand it, it looks like magic to me.