Technological advancements raise the prospect that long-range batteries, hydrogen-powered fuel cells and high-output electric motors eventually will replace internal-combustion engines as the primary propulsion system in the world’s automobiles.
The $64 million question the industry wants to answer is, when?
For Robert Bosch, a German supplier whose history and fortunes have been tied directly to combustion engines from the very beginning of the auto industry, executives say the development of alternatives is to be embraced, rather than feared, as the company pivots toward more research and investment in fuel cells and electric-vehicle technology.
Mike Mansuetti, president of Bosch in North America, says during this week’s CES 2021 that consumers ultimately will decide how quickly electrified powertrains become dominant, and he notes their growing popularity, likely referring to Tesla but without naming the California EV producer.
Mansuetti says there will be plenty of news about EV charging at this week’s virtual CES. “People can charge at home, but there are a lot of charging solutions that are needed in cities and in other areas,” he says during Monday’s CES media Q&A. “The infrastructure will have a big impact on how long the internal-combustion engine lasts.”
Consumer demand is arguably the most important factor in the growth of BEVs, but Michael Bolle, a member of Bosch’s board of management, says government mandates globally to limit carbon-dioxide tailpipe emissions from vehicles must be met.
“We support this,” Bolle says during the CES Q&A. “To achieve those targets, we must be completely open to technology, including development of synthetic fuels produced from renewable-energy sources and continuing to reduce emissions with current vehicle technologies.
“It’s what we call tech neutrality, and we have all the components available to support the transition,” he says.
This year at CES, Bosch is pitching a “battery in the cloud” solution (pictured below) to prevent premature battery aging and maximize its lifespan by using smart software functions in the cloud to continuously analyze the battery status and take appropriate action to prolong cell life as much as 20%.
On the hydrogen front, Mansuetti says the commercial-vehicle sector in Europe and the U.S. is seeing significant activity in fuel-cell applications and testing, “and we can see fuel cells also in the passenger-car sector as well.”
Bosch is working on all elements of fuel cells, from the stack and components to the overall system and software, he says.
Autonomous-vehicle technology remains a priority at Bosch as well, and Bolle says the industry has made good progress in developing and testing technologies up to Level 3 as defined by SAE, requiring a driver to take the wheel when necessary.
Those technologies “will be commercialized very soon,” he says.
But the next steps to fully automated driving (Levels 4 and 5), such as robotaxis, have been delayed and will take place first in commercial vehicles, Bolle says.
The industry has realized that unleashing robotaxis in dense urban areas “is significantly more complex than we imagined” several years ago, he says. “We think fully autonomous vehicles will not be visible in the first half of this (decade), maybe in the second half with robotaxis.”
But progress is being made. Last year, Bosch teamed up with Ford and real-estate developer Bedrock to demonstrate fully automated parking in Detroit. It was the first U.S. infrastructure-based solution for automated valet parking inside a parking garage.
In Germany, Bosch is working with partners to provide the world’s first commercial automated valet parking service at an airport parking garage.
The combination of electrified and automated driving – along with personalized and connected services – means non-automated vehicles today can require up to 100 million lines of software code, up from 10 million lines a decade ago. Tomorrow’s automated cars will require up to 500 million, Bosch says.
Today, the supplier is pooling all of its software and automotive electronics expertise in a new division called Cross-Domain Computing Solutions. The division is home to 17,000 Bosch associates globally – nearly half of them software engineers.
The goal is to reduce complexity, with a particular focus on powerful vehicle computers.
Also on the staffing front, Bosch launches an IoT apprenticeship in the U.S., in which the company has recruited non-engineers to be trained in system architecture, design and coding as applied to the Internet of Things.
Bosch hopes to hire these apprentices after the 12-month program is complete. The first group in the program includes a former chef, a shop technician and a personal banking manager. Mansuetti says Bosch launched the AI apprenticeship program with a simple call for applications.
The program began with 12 apprentices in the first round. Response was overwhelming, and Mansuetti says it was difficult making the final selections. “We were looking for passion in the individual, a curiosity,” he says. “We could teach them the rest.”
Complicating the process was the need to onboard the apprentices during a pandemic, which caused a few problems. Mansuetti says he hopes the program can be expanded to include more apprentices. “We’re looking for good people. We’re happy to have a program to build the solutions of the future.”