One of the interesting stories that virtually no one is telling is how four huge vendors are quietly working together to bring connected autonomous cars to market. They really don’t even talk about each other much but, individually, none of them can go it alone, while—together—they have come up with something incredibly interesting. Even when they are presenting, they rarely mention each other yet together they are creating something rather amazing. The vendors are BlackBerry, Cisco, NVIDIA, and Qualcomm. Let’s chat how they are changing driving together.
With QNX, Blackberry effectively has an automotive operating system. Cars are becoming more and more like rolling computers, and—as a result—they need an OS. QNX was already the most common platform used in cars. As cars have evolved, so has QNX. Blackberry’s implementation creates secure barriers between the various components of the car so one does not corrupt the other. Given Intel’s security problems (companies are moving to alternatives) this month we have been reminded just how critical it is to develop products that are secure, and no one wants to experience what would happen if someone decided to hack into your self-driving car and take you for a last, likely short, ride.
At CES, BlackBerry showcased improvements in sound, greater personalization, and tracking. On this last, for those of us that track our car, the advancements in telemetry are arguably far better than what current race cars can use.
This was new to me, but Cisco is doing an amazing job with in-car networking. I do a lot of work on and with cars, and—right now—in-car networking sucks (and I’m being kind). There are multiple networks, virtually all of which are not only not high performance, but they interoperate poorly if at all, and they aren’t remotely secure. This makes working on the damn things a nightmare and raises the chance of failure unacceptably high. Well Cisco, is fixing that using their enterprise grade experience and the result is not only a faster more consistent solution for the car, it is massively more secure.
There is another advantage to consistency and that is cost. Right now, one of the big problems with autonomous cars is that they are not only wicked expensive to build, they are wicked expensive to fix. This is largely due to the massive amount of complexity in the solution due to the large number of sensors, antennas, and distributed components (like dash modules) in use. You used to say “better, faster, cheaper” pick any two. With Cisco, you apparently can pick all three.
NVIDIA Car Brains
At CES, NVDIA showcased again why they are massively ahead of everyone else regarding a working autonomous solution. Really, their only competition comes from the established company culture of car manufacturers. You see car companies really like to invent their own stuff, but I doubt that is sustainable in this space. Even the big manufacturers just don’t have enough economy of scale to reach price points they’ll need to make autonomous cars viable.
But when it comes to the car’s brain, NVIDIA stands alone, and their new Intelligent Co-Pilot system also addresses another huge industry problem, which is keeping people connected to and buying cars. Therefore, Volkswagen embraced their solution. (They designed a massively updated VW bus to showcase this alliance. A lot of us grew up with that thing and sure brought back memories to me.) There are also making advancements in the next generation cockpit, which Mercedes is jumping on. NVIDIA is also making advances in self-driving trucks potentially moving truck drivers from blue collar to white collar jobs.
Those first three companies all deal with the inside of the car but these cars must connect for updates, security alerts, traffic monitoring, entertainment, and to provide many of the advantages connected autonomous cars will become famous for. Most of us now argue that for fully-connected cars you need 5G. That part of the solution is being provided by Qualcomm who remains the leader in LTE connectivity. Qualcomm recently cut deals with Ford and Jaguar/Land Rover, and is aggressively moving to get us off 4G and onto far higher performance (particularly at the edges of wireless coverage) 5G technology. Originally the market was aggressively looking at vehicle-to-vehicle communication, but that has all died out due to a lack of inter-company cooperation and security concerns (malware could too easily spread from vehicle to vehicle). Now these vehicles must call home and any connection must be back to their main office.
But the result of this will be safer, more entertaining, and far more informed cars that should get you where you are going both more quickly and with only the right kind of excitement (from the media not from the driving).
Four companies are working together to make the coming generation of cars safer, more intelligent, more capable, and with far more capability to entertain you on the trip. It is this kind of collaboration that often defines successful new technology efforts and we see it is spades with self-driving cars. Now we can only hope this sort of cooperation also transitions to people-carrying drones, because having one of them fail would be problematic for anyone in or under one.