New company to integrate control software for autonomous driving
It is clear that autonomous driving is now the most important idea for driving investment and research activity in the automotive sector. Most automotive OEMs and their tier-1 suppliers are scrambling to announce their research efforts in this direction to make sure that they are not left out from the on-going technological shift. Most car manufacturers have already announced plans for their fully automated vehicles and the various partnerships, collaborations and acquisitions have created a buzz of investment activity around this sector.
While most of the current buzz is around the major autonomy drivers like the Artificial Intelligence-based software, advanced vision systems, HAD mapping or precise positioning, the traditional automotive technology like the braking, steering, power-train and control software for them has not been paid attention too much. But, it is inevitable that for fully functional autonomous cars, these technologies will also undergo some changes. Most of these products are supplied by automotive tier-1s and have been fairly standardized with only incremental innovations in the last 100 years. As the suppliers of these products want to be relevant in the rapidly changing automotive landscape, it is imperative that they develop technologies which would suit the consensus trend that is, autonomous, fully electric cars.
In an interesting announcement at the very end of 2018, four Japanese automotive tier-1 and tier-2 suppliers came together to announce a joint venture for developing integrated control software for autonomous vehicles. The four companies are – DENSO (65% stake), Aisin Seiki (25% stake), JTEKT and Advics (each with 5% stake) and the new company formed will be called J-Quad Dynamics. It will be established in April 2019. The initial capital for J-Quad Dynamics would be 50 million yen and it would be headquartered in Tokyo with around 170 employees initially. The background of co-operation was claimed to be the unprecedented competition and technological change which happens only in 100 years. The four companies want to take advantage of the expertise of each in automatic driving techniques and vehicle motion control and respond to the development of large-scale, complex control software.
All these companies are focused on steering, braking and (Electronic Control Units) ECUs for the same. ECUs are currently attached to sensors, steering and brakes and provide accurate signals based on the human input. There would be a great need of reliable integrated control ECU for highly coordinating sensors, steering and brakes necessary for running, bending and stopping an autonomous system. There was another JV announced as well which would focus on electric systems for the electrification needs of automotive OEMs.
This could prove as an important harbinger for the collaborations that could happen in future as various automotive suppliers scramble to stay relevant in the changing times. It is also important to note that innovation is not just in the levers of autonomy like vision systems and AI software, but also the systems that would be affected by the fundamental shift in the car as we know today. While J-Quad Dynamics would focus on integrated control software, other areas not directly related to autonomous driving like seating, interiors, steering wheels, brakes, vehicle body, windscreen and its protective elements all will undergo some innovative changes. Therefore, it is imperative to look at the periphery of the automotive supply chain as well for interesting opportunities in the era of autonomous cars.
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