In my first two cars, the most advanced electronic component was the LCD clock. The car I drive today is a little under thirty years newer but every powertrain system is interconnected with another. The transmission and the engine hold regular committee meetings with representatives from the brakes, power steering, cooling, air conditioning and dashboard systems. If I try to drive aggressively, not only do the electronics stop any untoward behavior, but they also email my wife. Alright there’s no email but my point is that cars today are stuffed full of electronic systems. I don’t drive a modern car, it’s firmly from the last decade; more modern machines have even more electronics under that shiny body. And we’ve seen the auto-manufacturers and computer companies (hardware and software) build an awkward symbiosis. There are a few barriers to forming alliances, mostly on the standards perspective. Several traditional auto-manufacturers have warily watched as the computer companies look to develop self-driving technology but some have embraced the technology. When Google showed off the self-driving car last year, Daimler Chief Executive, Dieter Zetsche, said that Google’s objective was probably to better understand how cars are used rather than to try to become a manufacturer in its own right.
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Daimler own the Mercedes-Benz brand and Dieter warned that his business places great emphasis on safety, which does not stop at the car door but includes personal data. “To be able to provide that, we have to keep control, and we can’t do that when it is collected by Google.” This may be seen as a warning shot to Google, telling the upstart software company to back away from the grown up business of selling cars. At the recent Consumer Electronics Show, Las Vegas, Mercedes-Benz announced the F 015 Luxury in Motion concept car, pictured above. This is a self-driving, battery / fuel cell powered, four seat futuristic car. At the time, Dieter said, “Anyone who focuses solely on the technology has not yet grasped how autonomous driving will change our society. The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport and will ultimately become a mobile living space.”
I don’t believe Google are interested in selling cars. Instead, they might be interested in providing the electronics and systems to allow manufacturers to sell cars but this is where Mercedes-Benz have an issue: they want to retain control of the data. Perhaps Google can work with Mercedes, and of course other auto manufacturers, as technology consultants. Either this or we’ll be seeing a lot of self driving wheels being reinvented across the world if science fiction is to be believed. So far, manufacturers are warily watching Android Auto, but there are no signs that drivers will be able to use an open source way of even modifying their dashboard soon.