Automotive Technology Trends Reshaping An Industry

It’s not just about self-driving cars: electrification and connectivity need equal air time.

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The automotive industry is being disrupted as never before in its history. Casual observers might think this disruption is only about the march toward self-driving cars, which has captured a majority share of the headlines and online chatter.

Autonomy is a huge development, to be sure, but two other major technology trends, electrification and connectivity, need equal air time. More than a year into our Mentor Automotive initiative, the most recent brand initiative for our company, here’s how we’re thinking about the biggest tech trends in the auto industry today.

Autonomous driving will be a major disruption to transportation industries, potentially eliminating one million jobs in the United States alone, but on the other hand, saving $180 billion in accident-related costs, providing mobility to millions, decreasing traffic congestion, increasing human productivity, and last but not least, maybe even eliminating the traffic cop.

The next wave of innovation is the development of real-time, multi-level sensor fusing, with optimized neural networks for machine learning at production cost targets for the mainstream. It just is not feasible to mount an $80K F-15 fighter’s LiDAR system on each vehicle or to simply equip a vehicle with an all-camera system, which would generally do a suboptimal job measuring things like range and relative speed. Stay tuned for a major Mentor announcement in this space soon.

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This super smart, constantly learning auto is only part of the disruption equation. Learning and reacting requires a connection, to its bigger brain (the cloud) for continual machine learning, and to its environment (V2V, V2X) for real-time adjustments while navigating the cityscape. The automobile will shortly become the most sophisticated mobile device ever produced. Adding your car to your data plan will become standard.

Look for a whole host of new cloud-based services a car can connect with that basically boost the capabilities of its evolving brain — retrieving the most pertinent data, calling aid if necessary, checking itself into the shop after a self-diagnostics scan if required, monitoring teen drivers, self-parking, and handling meeting updates, kid pick-ups/drop-offs, and dinner reservations with a personal valet.

Then, of course, there are connections to other smart autos for sharing location, speed, braking, route and parking plans — all days ahead and real-time adjusted, and all shared with the smart city infrastructure. The smart city will be the master of an intelligent traffic management system that saves lives and energy, increases productivity, and creates numerous new markets. New players will emerge, and some will become tomorrow’s GE or Apple of the smart city.

The other major technology disruption is vehicle electrification. The electric vehicle doesn’t just reduce our reliance upon fossil fuels. It also massively lowers the barriers to entry for new automobile companies while spurring established OEMs to maintain their market positions. Designing and manufacturing a combustion engine and drivetrain requiring thousands of precisely engineered parts is prohibitively expensive compared to an electric vehicle’s motors and gearbox, which tend to be much easier and cheaper to build.

But don’t count the traditional OEMs out just yet. Tesla just got beat by GM in the race for a long-range (200-mile), $30K automobile. “The first Bolts will roll off the production line at GM’s Orion Assembly facility in Michigan by the end of 2016,” according to Wired.

The bottom line is that super smart, sensor-fusing, communicating, electrified automobiles mean one thing for technical software companies that enable and accelerate innovation — huge opportunity.