Securing the future of autonomous technology
TTTech (Time-Triggered Technology) provides safety-critical systems for industries from aerospace and automotive to agriculture and energy. And in doing so, the group is adapting to a brave new future of AI and autonomous systems. It provides networks for NASA’s Artemis missions and the planned Lunar Gateway space station; its tech is also found in major American and European aircraft companies. By providing the safety control system for one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of wind turbines, it plays a hand in helping about 27 million households get their electricity.
Co-founder and CEO Georg Kopetz says TTTech is still a startup in spirit: “A 25-year-old modern startup.” The company emerged from the Vienna University of Technology in 1998 thanks to Kopetz’s father, Professor Hermann Kopetz, and former student, Stefan Poledna, with a view to bringing academic innovations to the market. The focus? Computer systems that enable machinery to function even when individual components fail. “We started with a slogan, ‘Aerospace safety at automotive cost’,” says Kopetz. “Because we wanted to show we could bridge the two markets – the certified safety of aerospace and the economies of scale of automotive.”
For a safety-critical computer system to be effective, it needs to be able to respond not just to the millisecond, but the microsecond. One of TTTech’s initial technologies was a proven safety communication protocol that remains prevalent in aeroplanes today, logging one billion flight hours and counting. From there, TTTech went from producing a patented technology to a product, when it began manufacturing chips to the highest possible safety standards. “It was an ambitious program to start with,” Kopetz explains.
Safety-critical systems have a particular prescience as we make the transition from automation to autonomy. Soon it will be commonplace for industries to lean on machinery that can not only perform pre-programmed processes, but to respond proactively to its environment; to ‘think’ for itself. In the decades since TTTech has been in operation, self-driving cars have gone from the stuff of sci-fi to a product expected to hit the consumer market within a decade. And there are already many vehicles on the roads that offer some degree of autonomy, such as hands-free driving, adaptive cruise control, and parking assistance.
Another area in which TTTech specialises is industrial machinery, in which AI can support safety-response systems that help humans handle dangerous machinery. As Kopetz says: “Humans only have two eyes, they can’t look to the back and they get tired. They can’t see in the dark… so a computer is helping a human become more alert, diligent and attentive in certain situations. It’s a path to more autonomous systems.”
Today, the TTTech Group has 2,300 employees and is targeting an annual revenue of about $300 million. The implications – and growth potential – of autonomous technologies is vast, but there are challenges for such a company. Research and development require significant time, expertise and funding, and as Kopetz says, it is a “winner-takes-most market” as well as a global one. “So, it’s very important we are seen as a technology leader, and stay competitive.”
TTTech is involved with many European research programs and invests a lot internally in new products. The skill, says Kopetz, is getting the timing right; to launch a new product at a moment when the global market is ready to adopt it. “We have to strike the balance of how much to focus on selling what we have, and how much to grow for the next generation,” he continues. And with each innovation, and as fully autonomous systems draw closer, the demand and expectations on safety have heightened. “So, the threshold for a computer system is not to be just as safe as a human, but to be safer than a human.”
To achieve this standard requires high-level collaboration. “We need the whole ecosystem to move with us,” he explains. TTTech Auto recently initiated The Autonomous, a community of global stakeholders in autonomous mobility collaborating to overcome the obstacles of safety – and trust – that accompany this technological leap. “With autonomous systems, it’s not that you have to be good in one single element and then it works,” says Kopetz. He points to the multiple factors that allow a car to drive itself; a complex interplay between sensors, cameras, lasers, software and cloud computing. “It’s like a melange, as we say in Austria, you know, a coffee to which you add milk. It’s a blending of different technology elements that need to come together in order to bring the innovation.”
The technological push for autonomous systems is moving at multiple speeds all at once; on a macro level it is racing forward, on a micro level, each update and improvement pushes things along in a miniscule way. “This field relies on lots of incremental innovations,” says Kopetz. “But there’s really a lot happening. You don’t see it as a consumer – and then suddenly this technology is available.”
Graduates with a degree in Law from the University of Vienna
Co-founds TTTech, along with his father, Professor Hermann Kopetz, and one of his father’s former students, Stefan Poledna
Becomes CEO of TTTech
Creates a global community, called The Autonomous, of leading players from the autonomous ecosystem
TTTech Auto receives €250 million in funding to advance its safety software platform for automated driving
Provides networks for NASA’s Artemis 1 mission and the forthcoming Lunar Gateway