DETROIT – As cars become more technologically advanced it is becoming increasingly important for automakers to collaborate with the high-tech firms in Silicon Valley, industry experts at the 2014 SAE World Congress say.
But there are challenges in building a bridge between the Motor City and Silicon Valley. Chief among them are the dramatic differences between the two industries.
Jeff Owens, chief technical officer for supplier Delphi, notes some of the disparities, including short development times for tech firms compared with the lengthy schedules needed by automakers, as well as the need for auto companies to build products that last for decades, while consumer electronics have much shorter life expectancies.
“There are different perspectives so how do we successfully blend cultures?” he says. “The (auto industry) is risk-averse vs. risk-tolerant in Silicon Valley. But the convergence is speeding up and there is no going back.”
Owens says the penetration of computers in cars is increasing, with vehicles produced in the U.S. and Europe now containing 50 on average. Delphi, he says, ships more computers daily than Dell and Hewlett Packard combined.
“There’s no doubt the future of the industry is heavily dependent on building a bridge between Silicon Valley and the auto industry,” Owens says.
Takeshi Mitamura, general manager-Nissan Research Center, agrees there are substantial cultural differences between the two industries that must be overcome, but says there is much each can learn from one another.
Silicon Valley has developed practices that could be beneficial to the auto industry, such as rapid prototyping.
To leverage the talent in Silicon Valley, Nissan hosts group meetings every two months to foster new ideas from the roughly 450 attendees.
“The human network is the key component for this dynamic, and this also applies to building the bridge between the Motor City and Silicon Valley,” he says. “We believe the human aspects are an essential part to develop a working bridge between completely different worlds.”
John Suh, managing director-Hyundai Ventures, says there already is a bridge between the two industries, but there is a need to fortify it.
Technology moves at a rapid pace, evolving from desktop computing just over a decade ago to wearable devices like the new Google Glass. Suh says the auto industry would be wise to keep abreast of new developments and adopt them if they are a fit for vehicles.
“Change happens quickly,” he says. “If we take that as a given, what will it mean 10 years from now? The impact and differences will be bigger, and by being in Silicon Valley (automakers) can understand how to respond.”
Like Nissan, Suh says Hyundai fosters collaboration, calling it necessary to bridge the gaps between the two industries. The network there is “great (and) the ability to talk and share ideas is easy,” he says, adding “we’re not talking about sharing secrets.”
Rob Csongor, vice president and general manager of the automotive business at tech firm NVIDIA, foresees even greater integration between the automobile and advanced technology.
NVIDIA has long produced technology used in computer-aided design software and 3D modeling and now supplies infotainment components for Audi and other luxury brands.
But going forward he says NVIDIA will help turn cars into rolling supercomputers with advanced features.
“Tomorrow’s car computer is a virtual supercomputer, the most powerful any consumer will ever own,” Csongor says.
Features the new supercomputers will provide include high-fidelity navigation, augmented-reality head-up displays, natural-language processors, intelligent-driver assist technologies, photorealistic digital clusters and systems that interact seamlessly with humans.
To develop the technology affordably, NVIDIA has designed its systems to be upgradeable so consumers can update devices over the life of their vehicle.
“We build the base and can exchange modules and reduce cost of the architecture, and you leverage that investment that allows you to think forward,” he says.