Detroit eyes startups: Ford and GM announce deals to advance technology stacks

Modern automobiles have come a long way from the time Karl Benz invented Patent-Motorwagen in 1886, and the widely accessible mass cars 1908 Model T manufactured by the Ford Motor Company. Cars are now equipped with controls used for driving, passenger comfort and safety, and occasionally by voice on 2000s-era cars. These controls include a steering wheel, pedals for operating the brakes and controlling the car’s speed (and, in a manual transmission car, a clutch pedal), a shift lever or stick for changing gears, and a number of buttons and dials for turning on lights, ventilation and other functions.

Global Automotive companies are rushing forward as they evaluate new technologies that can advance their offerings.

image: -paradasos

This week GM announced (link) that it was acquiring Strobe, a three-year-old startup working on a specialized series of sensors called LIDAR that could enhance the navigation systems for autonomous vehicles.

NOAA describes the technology as “LIDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges (variable distances) to the Earth. These light pulses—combined with other data recorded by the airborne system— generate precise, three-dimensional information about the shape of the Earth and its surface characteristics. A LIDAR instrument principally consists of a laser, a scanner, and a specialized GPS receiver.”

Strobe is one of many startups that has been trying to develop re-designed LIDARs that are cheap and durable enough for mainstream commercial use. John Bowers, a professor in the electrical and computer engineering department at the University of California, Santa Barbara is on the board of Strobe. Bowers has been researching LIDAR technologies and sensor hardware.

According to GM (link):

LIDAR uses light to create high-resolution images that provide a more accurate view of the world than cameras or radar alone. As self-driving technology continues to evolve, LIDAR’s accuracy will play a critical role in its deployment.

“The successful deployment of self-driving vehicles will be highly dependent on the availability of LIDAR sensors,” said Julie Schoenfeld, Founder and CEO, Strobe, Inc. “Strobe’s deep engineering talent and technology backed by numerous patents will play a significant role in helping GM and Cruise bring these vehicles to market sooner than many think.”

GM’s competitor Ford is also eying promising startups.  Ford has begun to develop new transportation service applications using a software platform developed by Autonomic Inc., a small Silicon Valley startup. According to a report in the Verge,

Ford said it had made an investment in Palo Alto-based Autonomic Inc. to build a basis for future iterations of mobility services that will use Ford vehicles, such as its Chariot service that employs Transit vans, as part of the company’s plan to move people through cities in every way, according to CEO Jim Hackett.

“The platform would allow us to build services, as well as others, because the platform would be open to cities and other services,” Ford Smart Mobility communications manager Alan Hall told The Verge. “The layer that Autonomic provides is non-differentiated services.”

In another news, BlackBerry is reportedly working with two automakers on an anti-hacking tool. According to the reports, BlackBerry is teaming up with Aston Martin and Jaguar Land Rover on the effort. The goal is to create a service that can scan cars in search of viruses. The car scanning service from BlackBerry Ltd would be able to remotely determine if a car has been infected by a virus. It could also possibly advise drivers’ on actions to take to avoid a wireless hijacking or immediate threats from the viruses. The idea of protecting vehicles from hackers comes as computers take on larger roles in automobiles.

BlackBerry is also planning to partner with Auto supplier Delphi Automotive on a software operating system for self-driving cars, the companies recently announced. Glen De Vos, Delphi’s chief technology officer, said BlackBerry QNX would provide an operating system that was already certified to high levels of safety for Delphi’s CSLP system, which uses software developed by Delphi’s Ottomatika unit.

Here are a few links to earlier features on self-driving technologies:



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