The Battle for the Integrated Car

Tribrid_CarGoogle is expected to unveil a smart car operating system later this month at its upcoming developer’s conference. This follows upon an announcement at the beginning of this year of the creation of the Open Automotive Alliance which consists of Google, chipmaker Nvidia along with General Motors, Honda, Audi and Hyundai.

This system would be obviously Android based and would allow for the full integration between an android phone and your car. The car software would automatically recognize and integrate with your smart phone so that you could perform phone functions without having to look away from the dashboard.

This is direct competition with Apple’s CarPlay which is also supposed to be available sometime this year. Apple has said that their software for IoS phones would let your car do things like send and receive emails and texts and use GPS navigation from applications on the phone. Apple has allied with Ferrari, Honda, Mercedes Benz and Hyundai.

A lot of cars already have software that allows the same basic functions. For example, my wife’s Toyota has a Bluetooth system that lets her sync with her music or to sync with Siri and do all of the things Siri can do. And my Ford truck has something similar, although it has reset itself three times in six months and leaves a bit to be desired in terms of ease of use.

Today’s platforms are largely proprietary and both industry groups are trying to bring a standard platform to the industry, because the real end game and the big dollars come from the ability to develop and sell apps that can be used specifically for driving. For instance, today my wife can use her Siri for navigation, but she cannot activate a separate navigation app should she choose to use something different. For example, I can envision specialty navigation apps that might be used by vacationers, truckers or business travelers, all who have different travel goals.

So these two industry giants are going to battle it out, mostly with car manufacturers, to become the de facto smart phone integration platform. Google has the early lead, just due to having signed up General Motors, but the battle is far from over. And as can be seen by noticing that Honda and Hyundai are working with both groups, perhaps they both win and cars can come equipped with one or both systems.

This is very different than Google’s self-driving car project which is still moving steadily forward. Earlier this year Google described how they make this work, and it is a solution that only Google could pull off.

Today Google’s cars are driving successfully around Mountain View California. The company has put in hundreds of thousands of miles of driving on those City streets. I always thought that Google would make self-driving cars work by having them learn all of the little nuances of what it takes to drive a car. But as it turns out, that is going to require something very akin to self-aware artificial intelligence and nobody is very close yet to having achieved that.

Instead Google has done the brute force solution where they have thoroughly mapped every inch of Mountain View. Thus, the car already knows what to expect. The car is not completely dumb, of course and is very good at recognizing other cars, and bicyclists and pedestrians. But by taking away the need for it to understand the streets, Google has vastly reduced the computational need of the system.

So a Google car in Mountain View already knows every inch of the streets. If it comes across something unexpected, say construction, it will alert the driver to take over the driving task if it feels unable to navigate the unexpected phenomenon. This is a solution only Google could do, because to take this technology outside of Mountain View they will have to completely map other towns. And that doesn’t scare Google. They would look at the project of mapping all of the streets in major towns in the country as an opportunity to update their maps and to learn more about the world.

One can envision Google cars that are really good at getting back and forth to work, to the grocery store and to a friend’s house. But if you wanted to visit your mother in the country the car would hand the driving back to you. Google sees this as an economically feasible product up until the point one day when cars really can learn the streets on the fly.

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