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The automotive industry is embracing change - and increasing pressure - from the number of technology companies interested in developing self-driving and connected car features.
Google, Sony, Apple, and other tech companies are interested in developing everything from their own vehicles down to software and hardware that can be used in next-generation cars. Google's public ambition to develop a self-driving vehicle has been noticed by automakers, interested in learning from the tech company's successes and failures.
"Google is pushing the theme of self-driving cars very strongly," said Volkmar Denner, CEO of Bosch, during a conference in Germany. "That's having a very positive effect for the entire automotive industry, because it enormously accelerates the pace of introducing drive-assist systems and semi-automatic functions."
Japanese electronics company Sony has invested more than $800,000 in ZMP, a Japanese startup company developing robotic cars, according to a report published by the Financial Times. ZMP will use the cash funds - and Sony's knowledge of image sensors - to help create autonomous vehicle solutions.
Sony has just a small share in automotive sensors, but hopes to use its CMOS sensor experience in smartphones and cameras to begin accelerating in the expanding market.
It will still take years of research, but self-driving vehicles are expected to become more commonplace by 2020 - and Sony wants to position itself as an industry leader when that time comes. Sony has found success with its PlayStation gaming unit, but has struggled declining revenue companywide, as other units lose steam to Korean and Chinese competitors.
It looks like Apple is not just working on its own autonomous vehicle, but it will be building the car, too. The rumors aren't coming from unreliable sources, either, with The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times and now Reuters all chiming in.
The new information on Apple's super-secret vehicle project has the company not only building its own software platform for the car, but building the actual autonomous car, too. According to Reuters' sources: "Apple is gathering advice on parts and production methods... adding that Apple appeared not to be interested in combustion engine technology or conventional manufacturing methods".
When it comes to the iCar (that's what we're calling it until it's officially named) we should expect it to be an electric vehicle, so think of the best world's between an autonomous car and Tesla Motors' various electric vehicles. The world of automobiles is about to get very exciting.
Apple is reportedly working on self-driving vehicle technology, shifting hundreds of employees to work on an Apple electric vehicle. The "Titan" project is a major initiative as senior executives and workers would focus on connected technology and electric vehicle developments.
"They don't appear to want a lot of help from carmakers," Reuters was told by an unnamed industry source. "Fully automated driving is an evolution. Carmakers will slowly build the market for autonomous cars by first releasing connected and partially automated cars."
It's possible Apple may not actually want to go to production with the electric vehicle - where it would compete with Tesla and other automakers - but could license any technology developments to others.
More than half of drivers are worried about safety concerns related to increased connected services in vehicles, with 56 percent worried about navigation, search and mapping, according to a survey conducted by the deCarta mapping software company.
To provide an accurate - and safe - solution, using location based service (LBS) apps inside of vehicles would give drivers everything they need to determine their location, where they want to go, and how to get there.
"The most important thing to improve safety is to minimize the amount of touch interaction the driver has with the system, or even the amount of time the driver has to look at the map," said J. Kim Fennell, president and CEO of deCarta, in a statement to eWeek. "This means the navigation system should have smarter, clearer voice commands that can guide the driver audibly rather than requiring constant viewing of the route."
An Apple employee has teased some exciting news with Business Insider, that the company is working on a new project that would "give Tesla a run for its money".
Business Insider reports: "After writing about how the van could be used for a self-driving car, we got an unsolicited email from an employee at Apple about "vehicle development" at the company. Apple's latest project is too exciting to pass up," the person said. "I think it will change the landscape and give Tesla a run for its money".
We know that Apple employees have been moving over to Tesla Motors in droves, but now it's being reported that Tesla employees are coming back to Apple for this mysterious project, which sounds like a stretch. If Apple were working a self-driving car, it could be a big deal, but a self-driving car consists of many technologies that need to work together perfectly, on its first shot. We'll continue to report on this as it breaks.
While Uber continues to dominate the industry, it is still facing a very uphill battle with its various lawsuits, bans, privacy issues, bad PR and reports of even sabotaging competitors. This hasn't stopped Google from reportedly developing a competitor to Uber.
Bloomberg is reporting that Google's Chief Legal Officer David Drummond has teased that the Mountain View-based search giant could be working on its own Uber alternative. Uber executives have reportedly seen screenshots of a new ride-sharing application that Google is working on, something that is currently in use by select Google employees.
What better way to compete with Uber than with its own self-driving autonomous cars, that you could book through your smartphone? This could be the future, but there will be various legal problems Google (and other companies) will need to sort out. But for now, Google could unveil an Uber-like service, eventually replacing it with a fleet of autonomous vehicles.
Shared on his Twitter page today, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has explained how the Tesla Model S P85D isn't just for clear-sky driving - showing it tackle snow conditions effectively through an in-cabin viewing experience.
With the assistance of Michelin XICE Xi3 snow tyres, this Tesla happily rolls past a four-wheel-drive SUV stuck in extremely chilly weather on what is claimed to be a 14-degree incline.
This capability is claimed to be thanks to the dual electric motors' capability to provide instantaneous and constant torque straight from 0 RPM - as shown through this demonstration. This means acceleration can be controlled precisely and the on-board computers will detect any wheel-spin, quickly regulating the issue.
Not only can the Tesla P85D travel from 0 to 60 mph on 3.4 seconds, it can also apparently tackle snow conditions quite well.
Connected cars will continue to help drive the Internet of Things (IoT) over the next five years, with a quarter billion connected vehicles on the road by 2020, the Gartner research group predicts. One-in-five vehicles driving on roads across the world will utilize some form of wireless network connection by 2020 - bringing enhanced infotainment and updated road reports into the vehicle.
"The connected car is already a reality, and in-vehicle wireless connectivity is rapidly expanding from luxury models and premium brands, to high-volume midmarket models," said James Hines, research director at the Gartner research group. "This increased consumption and creation of digital content within the vehicle will drive the need for more sophisticated infotainment systems, creating opportunities for application processors, graphics accelerators, displays and human-machine interface technologies."
Overall, IoT-connected "things" will increase from 4.9 billion in 2015 up to 25 billion by 2020, as casual consumers become more familiar with smart technology. Analysts predict connected devices in the household, office, and vehicles will boom in the coming years, despite security concerns and lack of a universal platform.
Ford recently opened a new 25,000-square-foot research center in Silicon Valley, with the aim of generating new innovation. The facility has 21 full-time engineers, scientists and app developers, and the company plans to expand staff levels up to 125 by the end of 2015.
"What I'm so struck by, the valley here is a marketplace of ideas," said Mark Fields, President and CEO, during the facility's grand opening. "When you're shopping for a house, it's all about location, location, location. Here, it's about being in the right neighborhood because of all the collection of companies. Our folks going to the coffee shops will run into folks form other companies and strike up conversation."
The company had a previous research center in the San Francisco Bay Area, but it only hosted eight employees - and with Ford's ambitions towards autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles and other tech-centric solutions, a larger staff was desired.