As automotive technology, like ADAS and electric vehicles, evolves at what feels like an unprecedented rate, it can be scary, but it’s also an opportunity to dream big.

That was the message in CEICA’s latest webinar June 29, “The Future Digital Landscape: Embracing Blue Sky Thinking,” with Chuck Olsen of AirPro Diagnostics.

“Blue sky thinking” is open-minded brainstorming---developing ideas and possible solutions that might seem untethered to reality at first, but could spark something that can be put into practice.

“Blue sky is much more than just an executive management buzzword,” Olsen said. “A lot of cool stuff happens.

“Genuine blue sky thinking needs to be open to any avenues of thinking,” Olsen added. “It needs to break free from any limitations, to solve problems and how we can move forward.”

It can be done individually or in a group---the point is that ideas beget more ideas.

“You don’t want to rule out any solutions, no matter how infeasible it might seem,” Olsen said. “One person might come up with a blue sky idea that’s completely impossible, but it might inspire another. That’s where innovation takes place.

“Every idea is a good idea in your head---you need to say it out loud to get others’ feedback,” he said. “It might be a bad idea after all, but it could lead to another better idea.”

Olsen said the main drivers of innovation in any industry are safety, performance, economics and convenience.

In the automotive industry, those drivers have led to innovations like new sheet metals, adaptive headlights, electronic fuel injection, air bags, seat belts, electric steering, remote start and cruise control.

Within the last few years, more ADAS features, electric and hydrogen power propulsion, and autonomous driving have been introduced or explored.

“All these [new] systems are dependent on things that happened before,” Olsen said. “As new ideas come into play, old ideas have to be accounted for, so we continue to build on them.

“Looking at those things and how we got there is important, so we can make solid decisions as we go forward,” he said.

The blue sky brainstorming stage is only the beginning, Olsen said.

The next step is bringing down an idea from the blue sky to the “green line,” where you start looking at how the idea might work---or not---with existing rules and regulations.

“This is where economics come in---is it feasible,” Olsen said. “As you bring [the idea] down to earth, you have to consider other factors.”

If the idea doesn’t work with current rules, Olsen said that isn’t necessarily a roadblock.

“It might be a chance to change some rules,” he said. “The only consistency in a business is continued change. Same thing with technology.”

The third and final step is bringing the idea down to the “brown ground.”

“The brown ground is where things are happening,” Olsen said. “When it comes down to it, sometimes you don’t have permission to do what you want to do. Those limitations are discovered on the ground.”

As a recent example, Olsen said Tesla overcame the microchip shortage that began in 2020 by reprogramming firmware in its vehicles.

“I’m sure there were several meetings to come up with the ideas to make that happen,” he said.

Companies are developing advanced lidar, Level 5 autonomous driving technology, new air bags and holographic displays.

“These are things of scientific fiction but they’re coming into reality,” Olsen said. “We have to figure out how are we going to embrace this, as they will affect what happens in our shops, in claims and writing estimates.”

To watch a full replay of the webinar, visit the website.

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