Many recognize that this is an extraordinary time in automotive, and industry leaders like GM CEO Mary Barra and Daimler chairman Dieter Zetsche have gone on record stating that the car business will change more in the next 5 to 10 years than it has in the last 50. Signs of this are everywhere: from the velocity of self-driving car development to AI startups being acquired for billions of dollars to a shift from individual car ownership to personal mobility solutions.
We’ve also never seen an era in automotive in which partnerships have become so plentiful and essential. While platform-sharing and technology alliances among OEMs weren’t uncommon in the past, for decades the automotive ecosystem was largely limited to tier-ones and smaller suppliers further down the food chain.
But the rapid and disruptive nature of technology, particularly around the development of autonomous vehicles, has changed this and we’re now seeing an unprecedented number of partnerships, especially among tier-one suppliers. For example, Intel recently teamed up with Delphi after acquiring Mobileye and previously partnering with BMW. More recently, suppliers Autoliv, Hella and ZF partnered with rising chipmaker Nvidia, which this year also simultaneously formed alliances with Here and Bosch.
Of all the tier-one suppliers, Bosch is perhaps best positioned to produce autonomous vehicle technology given its size and scope. “What makes Bosch unique is that we cover all aspects of autonomous driving, and mainly out of one division of the company,” Gerhard Steiger, president of the automotive supplier’s Chassis Systems Control Division, told me in an interview at the company’s Mobility Experience 2017 event last week at its test track in Boxberg, Germany.
“We have the sensors, the electronics, the system competencies and the testing and validation,” Steiger added. “We have all the necessary sensors except for lidar, and we are working on that. We have tons of electronics experience and capabilities.”
Even with all its in-house engineering, production and R&D prowess, Bosch has also been on a partnership binge in 2017. “It’s about competencies that complement each other,” Steiger explained. “Nobody so far has all the competencies in house. I would say we have the best automaker partners and the best technology providers, but that is not enough.”
Just since the beginning of the year, the German technology giant has teamed with Mercedes-Benz to develop self-driving cars for city applications, with Chinese search giant Baidu and two other companies in China for mapping software, with TomTom to develop a novel use for radar sensors, with Sony to develop new imaging technology and with Nvidia for computer processors.
“It’s extremely important to form these types of partnerships, especially if you talk about autonomous driving and urban mobility,” Steiger said. “We partnered with Daimler for two reasons. First, is being able to come earlier to the market. The second is having competencies that fit each other.”
On the partnership with the three Chinese map providers – Baidu, Navinfo and Autonavi – Steiger said that “everyone was surprised that we were able to bring all three of these to the table. But we did since there’s so much interest in automated driving.”
The partnership with TomTom can be viewed in part as a response to Mobileye’s Road Experience Management platform, which uses the company’s cameras in millions of cars to provide more detailed, real-world mapping data for self-driving cars. And helps Intel and Delphi fast-track autonomous vehicle technology.
Similarly, the Radar Road Signature platform developed by Bosch and TomTom captures billions of reflections created by radar signals bouncing off objects such as road signs and guard rails. “It uses radar sensors to always measure objects so you get a kind of fingerprint of the road,” Steiger said.
“Once you have that, you can upload the data into the cloud and it can be added to really localize your car,” he added. “We’ve been astonished at how accurate it is. Even in the first attempts we’ve achieved a 10 x 10-centimeter accuracy.”
Steiger acknowledged that this is a unique and pervasive time for partnerships in the automotive industry and stressed that “the level of technology required for automated driving is so high that you can’t do everything yourself.” But because of Bosch’s core competencies, he believes the company is poised to take advantage of the disruptions and opportunities that will come from automated vehicles over the next decade or so.
“Bosch is well positioned in all the main aspects of automated drive: safety, sensors, electronics, a systems approach,” he said. “That all comes from us.”
Originally published by Forbes.com