Publication in AutoTech Review – India’s First and Only Automotive Magazine that Speaks the Language of Technology
Originally published here.
Tesla and Apple
Tesla founder Elon Musk recently confirmed that he believes Apple is working on producing a car, during an interview with the BBC. So when Elon, who commands greatest authority in electric car industry confirms that technology giant like Apple is working towards building a car, it seems likely that we might see innovative vehicles strapped with Apple logos running on roads in near future.
Elon’s predictions may not be true, but one cannot ignore the possibility of path-breaking innovations revamping the automobile industry in coming years. We have already experienced testing of driverless cars by Google. However, autonomous cars becoming mainstream is still a distant reality due to various challenges. At the same time, present day innovations are providing excellent solutions relating to in-car entertainment and communication technologies.
Technology trends and predictions are best analyzed by reviewing the patents filed by companies across the globe. Patent offices worldwide usually publish the patent applications after filing (pre-grant publications) and subsequently after the patents are granted. This can provide insights regarding future technology trends as filing patents is essential to ensure that R&D activities are duly protected from being copied and innovators get appropriate royalties for their research and development efforts.
In automobile sector, vehicle infotainment and digital dashboards are generating enormous revenues due to the constant need of people to feel connected. Innovations implemented within the interiors of car make people feel connected with their vehicles. A leading example of such innovation is justDrive by Jaguar Land Rover, which turns apps and services from smartphone into a voice-activated experience. This allows the driver to bypass the struggle of searching through multiple apps as justDrive can seamlessly search the apps, and perform other tasks such as sending a text or tweet through natural speech, or playing a desired song.
Jaguar has filed a patent with the US patent office (USPTO) titled “Touch System And Method” that describes a multi-user touch system and a method of controlling a touch system. A general analysis of international patents filed in the classification pertaining to touch panels meant for vehicles reveals some of the major players as illustrated in the chart. This list is not exhaustive but provides an overview of companies who have been actively filing patents in this space.
It is common for major companies to cross-license their respective patents and technology to each other, which allows each of them to use other’s patents at reasonable terms. Cross-licensing of patents is common in other sectors as well. For example, in case of smartphones, Apple and Microsoft executed patent cross license agreements that allowed both companies to benefit from their combined research and development efforts. Similar agreement was executed between Google and Samsung.
Apple and Google
Digital innovations by the likes of Apple (CarPlay) and Google (Android Auto) are yet to gain traction but once that happens, smartphones will act as bridging tools to revolutionize automobiles. Moreover, subsequent innovations could potentially eliminate the need of smartphones considering the need of users to expect better capabilities from the dashboard.
Considering Apple’s strong position as technology leader in market, interesting applications and devices are expected from Apple in addition to CarPlay. In 2015, Apple was granted a patent by the USPTO pertaining to “Accessing A Vehicle Using Portable Devices”, which discloses a primary portable device that can access a vehicle by transmitting an activation message including a vehicle access credential to the vehicle. As disclosed therein, the primary portable device can additionally enable a secondary portable device to access the vehicle by transmitting the vehicle access credential to the secondary portable device. In use, the connections between the primary portable device, secondary portable device, and vehicle can be based on a short-range wireless protocol, such as Bluetooth or Bluetooth LE.
Further reading of this patent reveals that a wide variety of portable devices can embody this technology, as the portable devices include a wireless interface, such as a laptop computer, a tablet device, a key fob, a car key, an access card, a multi-function device, a mobile phone, a portable gaming device, a portable multimedia player, a portable music player, a personal digital assistant (PDA), a household device, and/or any portable or non-portable electronic or electro-mechanical device and/or the like. Apple further specifies that exemplary portable devices can be an iPod®, iPhone®, or iPad® device available from Apple Inc. of Cupertino, Calif.
Technology Integration and Product Lifecycle
One potential challenge that automakers and technology companies can face is to integrate technology with product lifecycle and consumer’s buying cycle. For example, in-vehicle entertainment will require constant addition to new content, and such new content will need regular software updates for seamless user experience. Bugs can spoil the consumer’s interest and hence automakers would need to be more proactive in recalling faulty vehicles or providing software improvements. To achieve this, companies will further need strong back-office operations and optimization of supply chain, so that novel driving centric services can be rolled out in a timely manner, thereby providing better monetization schemes for the companies.
To ensure that the connected cars match the needs of all users, companies are aggressively integrating design, research and manufacturing efforts with customer experience, branding and marketing. Dealer network is also in integral component of overall experience that has to be taken in the loop to provide better experience to the consumers.
With the ever-increasing smartphone penetration, consumer behavior has undergone rapid changes and it is not just about buying a vehicle anymore. Consumers foresee car buying as an experience and companies are quick to adapt to changing trends. In past, interaction of potential buyers with vehicles was limited to test drives, which now begins months or sometimes years in advance.
Consumers begin the car-buying process by doing online research and speaking to dealers, which gets a boost through technologies such as augmented and virtual reality. This can provide consumers with a real life look and feel of the entire experience of owning a vehicle of their choice. With more consumer devices such as smart-watch, wearable gadgets and virtual reality gears, this trend will become mainstream globally. Consequently, automakers who used to focus on B2B aspects by catering to the needs of the dealers, will divert their attention to B2C aspects as well because the consumer is at the forefront of new age car-buying experience.
Internet of Things (IoT)
Internet of things (IoT) is a term that is used to refer to everyday consumer devices and how these devices communicate with each other and the users via the Internet. Future automobile cockpits will be designed using technology and IoT landscape as communication will become primary requirement of the consumers.
Innovations in IoT will provide significant push to automobile sector as connected cars possessing multiple features are expected to contribute majorly to upcoming technology trends. Such innovations will include consumer-oriented embedded devices such as infotainment, telematics, and digital cluster systems, along with safety and navigation features. Automakers have realized that IoT is capable of pushing automotive systems to become more connected within and outside of the car through the use of software.
In addition to the above, it would be correct to predict that innovations in automobile sector will drive research and development in other sectors, such as aerospace and defense, and vice versa. Innovations across embedded software combined with rich technology expertise will showcase an intersection of these diverse industries, each of which may be driven to extreme heights due to IoT transformation.
An ideal cockpit of a future automobile exploiting IoT innovations would be packaged with essential elements including, an integrated connectivity framework for extending user experience to the IoT devices and landscape, including the cloud; firmware and software management modules that are capable of managing and updating software in real-time; a flexible platform to allow functioning of various services; and, long term support to allow for extensibility over time with evolving IoT developments. It would be needless to state that such systems will have inbuilt security for safe data handling throughout the entire process beginning from the boot up.
Another trend that would be commonly observed will be the convergence of other technology areas with cars. For example, users who are savvy about new age innovations in the field of home automation and health wearables would prefer cars with similar capabilities. This would mean connected cars will have data processing capabilities so as to provide a coherent experience to users by connecting smoothly with such gadgets, thereby improving overall IoT landscape. In near future, consumers will expect much more from their vehicles once driverless vehicles are offered to them, including more focus on car safety, creating a more personalized experience behind the wheel, and in-vehicle productivity. Yes, eventually consumers will take work on the road, as a realistically viable option once there exists logical and practical partnerships between connected cars and the automotive, consumer, and enterprise markets.
To concluded, it wouldn’t be wrong to state that cars will be evolved sooner that expected and users would be able to communicate with cars uniformly via wearable devices, smartphones, mobile apps, and the like. It would be normal routine for a user to set navigation, lock doors, turn on the heat, flash the lights, or sound the horn through the wearable or the smartphone and its compatible app.
Rahul Dev, Partner at the law firm of Tech Corp Legal LLP, is a patent attorney and international technology business lawyer. Dev’s corporate law practice is aimed at integrating patents, technology laws, intellectual property rights, regulatory and security laws to provide services to Tech companies.
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