Google Will Not Remain the Only Non-Automotive Participant in the Market for Driverless Cars For Long


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LONDON--Oct. 3, 2013: The European legislation - and the various disparate versions from each member state - has not taken a call yet on what sort of automated vehicles can be permitted on public roads for personal use. Although the purpose of the automated driving initiative is supposed to take road safety to the next level, the current legislative vacuum is hindering automakers from launching their automated vehicles they have in store. BMW and Mercedes-Benz have already developed production-ready automated vehicles, which are capable of commuting on a driverless mode. They have chosen however, to disable the functionality due to legislative and real-world imperatives, restricting it to merely assist in traffic jam situations and parking manoeuvres.

At the same time Google is making an impressive step forward with its self-driving vehicle project. For a non-automotive participant, this creates sufficient attention for a participant such as Google moving outside its core competence. While traditional automakers such as BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors, and others are yet to make a firm statement on the confirmed launch of vehicles with highly- and fully-automated modes at a decided price, Google is going all out to create vehicles that do not need a driver inside. It remains to be seen, if consumers will trust the likes of a Google in any manoeuvre other than navigation, app-based POI information, etc.

"Contrary to popular belief, Google's self-driving vehicle project is not going to disrupt the way vehicles are made," says Frost & Sullivan Team Leader Automotive & Transportation, Prana T. Natarajan. "Just as automakers have started adding a socket for an aux-cable or a USB slot, they will ensure that their vehicles are Google-X ready. For that matter, Google may not even be the only non-automotive participant in the space for too long."

Legislation and the efforts of traditional automakers aim at ensuring that potentially self-driving vehicles reduce the probability of road-crashes. Google, on the other hand, is looking at the same as a potential business opportunity to leverage technology to ensure that driver distraction does not result in dangerous situations, as the vehicle drives itself. "For Google, it is clearly about connecting the dots. Their solution portfolio covers a plethora of commuting-related services such as connected navigation, Location-based Services either through Google Now or using a pair of Google glasses," Mr. Natarajan continues. "They have the ability to liaise with channel partners to put internet into the cars and ensure that the occupants spend more time using some sort of a Google application or the other; one potential application while outside of such a Google-vehicle is to bring you one, say, as an automated taxi, should you need help in case of a breakdown. So, all it takes for them is a vehicle that can drive itself so that people maximise their time using Google's solutions."

In the United Kingdom however, wearing Google glasses while driving is a punishable offense. Google is, therefore, trying to shift the driving responsibility from the driver to an automated driving module, so that the human driver is downgraded to an occupant of the vehicle, free to use Google glasses, legally so.

A strategic action point for Google to consider would be to cooperate with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) which do not have an action plan to launch an automated driving vehicle in the near future; even more so, with OEMs that do not have the best of ADAS and connectivity systems in their portfolio. Google's solution could be a packaged bundle that takes a two-pronged approach of both active safety and in-vehicle connectivity. A possible proposition is to fit an optional Google-X add-on to a capable vehicle model, on the condition that the OEM would avail of an infotainment package from Google. The much ado about Software-over-the-air and Firmware-over-the-air need not result in nothing, if this proposition is a reality. Thus, the idea would be one of Google making Android-like automated driving modules, compatible with a specific list of cars.

"In the future we will see a set of OEMs who offer proprietary automated cars and the likes of Google fitting certain other cars with an automation module and a Google-powered infotainment unit, lest the occupants be bored to death," Mr. Natarajan says. "One should not be surprised to see Apple entering this space, considering the popularity of the iPhone in markets where automated cars are likely to be launched first. Another prospect is, of course, Microsoft. Today Microsoft possesses the right mix of business solutions that are needed to enter this space. It could just be a matter of time."

Apple has also established an automated vehicle research arm. Google and Apple are the two big names that have revolutionised digital media: in your pocket as a phone, on your desk as a tablet or a computer, in the living room as a television; and now, both giants are likely to provide the customer with an infotaining environment on the move as you are seated in a vehicle. In the automated driving space, much like their electronic advent, one could expect Google to be hardware-agnostic, creating adaptable platforms (perhaps even opensource), whereas Apple could be looking to leverage its technical prowess in sleek hardware development and purpose-built software for the same.

What one can expect in the next five years is a vehicle that is capable of driving itself but still holds the driver responsible for the driving task; some cars make driving decisions more often than others, which is referred to as the divide between semi- and highly-autonomous cars. Fully-autonomous cars do not require a human to be present inside to drive the vehicle. As a consequence, such a vehicle will not need the same architecture as a vehicle of the present day: steering wheel, brake-pedal, throttle, gear-shift, parking brake, etc., could all be removed and the vehicle would have more space for comfort, convenience, and infotainment features throughout. If such a vehicle would not need a driver inside, this is likely to pave way for a whole new business model, named driving-as-a-service, which - similar to software-as-a-service - works on a thin-client mode, whereby the hardware at the remote site needs to be compatible only with the interface rather than being capable of running the background codes, and vehicles of the future may only need to provide inputs to a driver seated outside of the vehicle.

Such a scenario however, requires road-operators, infrastructure providers (smart-grid, V2X, among others), telecom operators, telematics service providers, insurance companies, and also fleet operators as stakeholders. "If these entities come together and help legislation formulate the most practical and most appropriate set of regulations, we then have cars that drive themselves, under someone's monitoring," Mr. Natarajan concludes. "Even in tunnels, such vehicles can follow non-automated manually driven vehicles, if concerns exist about connectivity losses. But whatever be the case, there need to be multiple redundancies such as duplicate telematics boxes, dual connectivity modules, V2X on top of telematics & ADAS, to name a few."

This press release is based on a market insight, entitled Who Should Drive Your Vehicle, if You are Not - Automakers or Google?, which is part of Frost & Sullivan's Automotive & Transportation (Frost Automotive) Growth Partnership Service program. Frost & Sullivan is currently studying the market for Automated Vehicles in Europe and North America and will be publishing the same, in the coming months.

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