Partnerships in Autonomous Vehicles: Strength In Numbers

By: James Raia

While it may have occurred begrudgingly at first, partnerships have expanded among OEMs to keep pace with newbies like Uber and Waymo, the self-driving division of Google. The latter quickly forged ahead, prompted longstanding OEMs to new relationships to maintain on pace. Collaboration is the new rule. Siloed companies have decreased.

Consider Ford and Volkswagen. The two companies in 2017 announced their combined version of strength in numbers and invested in the self-driving system of Argo AI. The collaboration will allow the manufacturers to independently integrate the company's self-driving system into their vehicles in Europe and the United States. Ford ended its relationship with Aurora, another self-driving vehicle technology-based start-up, to proceed with its new relationship with VW.

What the Ford-Volkswagen partnership means is traditional manufacturers have become more assertive seeking relationships with software companies. And technology-based companies have become more prominent in the collaborations.

Ford has also expanded its relationship with non-technology companies. It has partnered with Domino's Pizza, Postmates and most recently Walmart to introduce on-demand autonomous delivery. A pilot grocery delivery program with Walmart has launched in Florida.

Reasons for the shift to company partnerships are statistically astounding. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), autonomous patent applications have increased 20 times faster than other technologies. The increase within the autonomous sector increased 330 percent in recent years. Other industries combined have had only a 16 percent increase.

Consider some of top self-driving and other related patent applications by manufacturers as tabulated buy Cologne Institute for Economic Reason in Germany: Bosch (958), Audi (516), Continental (439), Ford (402), GM (380), Toyota (362), Volkswagen (343), Daimler (339) and Google (318). Bosch, Audi and Continental often register different versions of their hardware patents.

Bosch's heavy involved is succinctly summarized by Dr. Stephan Hönle, Senior Vice President of the global company's Automated Driving business unit. “We have to rethink urban transportation," he said. "Automated driving will help us complete the picture of future urban traffic.”

Hönle's opinion was echoed but also discussed with an even more forward-think perspective by Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors. “The key with autonomous is the whole ecosystem," she said. "One of the keys to having a truly fully autonomous is vehicles talking to each other.” 

With Daimler as its partner, Bosch also recently accomplished an industry first. German regulators gave the partners approval to operate their autonomous parking features without having a human safety driver behind the wheel. It's fully automated and is also good for daily use.

The collaboration between Bosch and Daimler dates to 2015, with the former reportedly employing 2,000 engineers working on driver-assistance systems. The two companies have also announced another project, a robotaxi service to debut in California within a few years.

Bosch also has recently expanded its relationship with Mercedes. The German manufacturer received its share of heavy criticism when it announced its 2017 E-Class as "self-driving." It was featured on a segment of 60 Minutes.

But Mercedes' system was actually Level 2 or a partially automated system. The two companies have since combined to develop Level 4 and Level 5 systems, respectively high automation and full automation vehicles. Mercedes has a two-year exclusivity on the co-developed feature and it can then available to competitors.

The Michigan Mobility Institute, the Detroit-based organization that works to accelerate to mobility workforce, and Boston Consulting Group, the international management firm, estimate the U.S. automotive industry will need an additional 70,000 industry trade workers and 45,000 mobility engineers in the next decade. The bounty of partnerships and takeovers could event prove the estimates for the necessary new workforce are low.

Apple acquired, the now-defunct autonomous technology company headquartered in Mountain View, Calif., in June. General Motors and Honda are invested in Cruise, the on-demand ride-hailing company in San Francisco.

Intel is often credited as a pioneer in the global not-so autonomous acquisition trend The multinational semiconductor manufacturing company based in Santa Clara, Calif., acquired Mobileye, the marker of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) that provides warnings for collision prevention and mitigation, in March 2017. The $15.3 billion takeover is the largest acquisition of an Israeli company to date.

Just like the autonomous industry at-large, the Intel-Mobileye transaction also provides an ideal example just how quickly the collaborative actions between autonomous companies are ever-changing and intense. It can occur as fast as the acceleration of some heady manufacturers' vehicles. 

Mobileye's technology — vision chips and software that interprets date from a camera to predict possible collisions with animals, cars, people and other obstacles — is utilized by Audi to GM and BMW to Ford. The company, based in Jerusalem, also had a strong relationship with Tesla until it didn't. It ended the association with Elon Musk-founded company in 2016. Within a few months, Mobileye was sold to Intel. Additionally, Continental, Samsung, Daimler and GM are building new facilities or investing in Israel. 

Partnerships will likely continue between OEMs and software companies at a rapid rate. Numerous manufacturers have made bold predictions when autonomous fleets will be available. But only one thing is certain: As the self-driving industry continues to grow, it will be a collaborative effort. It will be strength by numbers.

Interested in learning more? Check out this infographic: The AV Ecosystem: How Oems, Ride-Sharing Companies And Suppliers Are Connecting To Develop Autonomous Cars to learn more about these partnerships! 

You won't want to miss out on the panel discussion on Building Partnerships to Advance Infrastructure Development at Autonomous Vehicles Silicon Valley! Access the agenda to see the exciting speaker line-up, topics and sessions.