Weekly Brief: Google and Ford to form self-driving car super team

Talk about starting 2016 off with a bang: Google and Ford are expected to announce a new partnership to build self-driving cars at this week’s International Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The deal, as reported by Yahoo! Autos, would mark a wholesale shift in Google’s approach to autonomous car tech. Until now, the company has fashioned itself as a solo crusader of sorts, with the first (and most) test cars on the road in California and Texas and a fully realised prototype, The Google Car. Late last year Google’s parent company, Alphabet, created a stand-alone business dedicated to putting fleets of self-driving cars and shuttles on the road.

But Google still lacks the manufacturing expertise of, say, a Ford and could profit in terms of time saved and billions of research dollars spent (not to mention headaches avoided with federal regulations) by bringing a seasoned carmaker on board. Ford, in turn, gets a big software boost for self-driving cars. The company pops up on every list of carmakers experimenting with autonomous tech yet is only set to get its first test cars on the road this year. Google’s deal with Ford is expected to be non-exclusive. We’ll see how it all shakes out in Las Vegas.

Speaking of which, a raft of companies released press releases about forthcoming plans for CES. We’ll refrain from a full break-down now in favour of a recap next week but if you’re headed to Vegas here’s a few teasers to keep your eye out for:

A “car of the future” from Bosch that’s fitted with electronic display screens across the dashboard, around the side panels and down the centre console. The car does everything from pinpoint pedestrians to switch into autonomous mode to monitor changes in a driver’s smart home.

A DENSO booth with augmented reality and virtual reality displays to showcase the company’s latest V2V and V2X technology; also a Wellness Monitoring System in case the ‘Strip’ has your heart rate or blood pressure spiking.

A Vesteon vehicle with a state-of-the-art 3-D gesture recognition system (it can differentiate between one, two, and three fingers and perform different commands accordingly); the company will also showcase a heads-up display that stretches across the entire windshield.

In other news, TomTom completed the move to its next-generation “transactional” map platform. The platform continually refreshes user’s maps based on crowdsourced information; a change can pass through the system, be fully quality assured in real-time, and end up in a customer’s map in a matter of minutes. This applies to TomTom maps across automotive, mobile and location-based online applications.

Valeo, a leader in on-board electronics and V2V and V2X technology, acquired peiker, a German supplier of on-board telematics and mobile connectivity solutions. The two plan to offer automakers new telematics systems equipped with high-speed connectivity and cybersecurity features. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed but peiker reported sales of around €310M (£228M) in 2015, so it’s a significant move for Valeo, and one that should result in some exciting new solutions for fleets.

Finally, OnStar continued a six-year tradition of tracking Santa Clause’s whereabouts the night before Christmas. Drivers who pressed the blue OnStar button anytime between daybreak on the 24th and dawn on the 25th were treated to a GPS beacon signal from Santa’s sleigh, courtesy of data from the North American Aerospace Defense Command. Audiobooks also provided OnStar users with free access to the classic The Night Before Christmas.

It begs the question as we move into 2016, is stuff like this pure gimmick or actually a value-add? And if the answer is gimmick for some and value-add for others, how do companies and carmakers find a way to home in on their target customers and personalise the experience in potentially profitable ways? CES, we imagine, will offer plenty of food for thought.

Hope to see you there, and Happy 2016!

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU-Automotive analysis with information from industry press releases.

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