One of the autonomous driving parties just got bigger. Delphi has been added to the consortium of an automaker (BMW), a chipmaker (Intel), and a developer of sensor systems (Mobileye), all working to bring self-driving cars to market by 2021.
They’re working together to develop Level 4 and Level 5 self-driving solutions (the highest levels), up to and including capabilities where the car is so good at it, it doesn’t need a steering wheel. It’s possible others may join the BMW-etcetera consortium in the near future.
Why Delphi: expertise in integrating complex systems
Delphi is one of the world’s largest suppliers of components. It has sold off the powertrain part of its business and concentrates now on electronic and software solutions, including self-driving technologies.
Delphi also has expertise in integrating components from multiple vendors into a packaged solution an automaker can stick in a car with less of its own testing before going to market. One recent example of Delphi’s integration skills is a project to stitch together a 48-volt system, a strengthened starter motor (a motor generator), lithium-ion battery packs, a DC-to-DV converter, and automated cylinder shutdown. The result, says Mary Gustanski, Delphi vice president of engineering and program management, is a mild hybrid that can improve fuel economy by as much as 20 percent at a cost of $ 1,500 to $ 2,000.
Even before the four-way partnership announced this week, Delphi has worked since 2016 on autonomous driving with Mobileye, and then also with Intel, without BMW (in a separate partnership). In addition, Delphi and Mobileye worked with Audi on autonomous driving. A test in their car in December 2016 showed a car comfortable on urban streets, albeit one making only right turns. (Lots of early-stage autonomous vehicles don’t turn left into oncoming traffic, at least not when editors are on board.) That was the same time (December 2016) that Intel joined the Delphi-Mobileye cooperative effort
BMW, too, has worked with Intel and Mobileye since 2016 (apart from Delphi), and plans to start testing a prototype fleet of 40 autonomous cars later this year. Meanwhile, the mapping consortium HERE (evolved from Navteq) that is owned by Audi, BMW, and Daimler (Mercedes) now has Intel taking a 15 percent stake.
While BMW, Delphi, Intel and Mobileye are working together, they can also work apart, or bring more partners into make an even larger consortium. That’s part of the consortium agreement. They are all getting access to each others’ test data, suitably anonymized.
At the announcement Wednesday, Glen DeVos, CTO of Delphi, said, “We recognize how complex these systems are, and when you’re talking about automated driving where the vehicle is in control, you have to have the most robust, best technology at every link in the chain of that platform … You’re going to see a number of companies that are trying to do everything on their own or in a very closed system are going to really struggle.”
Klaus Fröhlich, BMW board member, said in a statement, “From the very beginning we designed our cooperation on a non-exclusive platform for this technology of the future. With the onboarding of Delphi we significantly strengthen our development of the automated driving and do a future step in spreading this technology across the industry.”
The more companies involved, the more the cost — probably hundreds of billions — can be shared over more companies. Also, when everybody has a stake, there may be fewer patent infringement issues. If there are, a company setting out to sue might be naming itself as a co-defendant.
Anti-trust issues? Fuggedabout
If this sounds like an anti-trust issue, the answer is a) probably not under the current, pro-business administration, and b) probably not ever, especially when it’s for a common function. GM and Ford in 2013 agreed to jointly develop a 10-speed automatic transmission debuting in the 2017 Ford Raptor pickup and 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Each will use unique control software for the radically different vehicles. This, by the way, is the kind of transmission that can handle 500 hp and may be one more nail in the coffin of manual gearboxes.
GM and Ford partnered before on six-speed automatics. GM and Chrysler in 2004, with BMW added in 2005, developed a two-mode automatic for hybrids. BMW and Toyota are jointly developing a sports car that will be the next Z4 (BMW) and Supra (Toyota). Production starts in 2018 on neutral ground, at the Magna Steyr factory in Austria.
When companies aren’t jointly developing components, they may use the same components from a third party. Aisin of Japan and Getrag of Germany each sell transmissions to a wide variety of automakers, again with software tweaking the transmission to best support the mission of the vehicle it’s in: quiet and unobtrusive in a family sedan, quick and possibly noticeable shifts in a sports car. In the case of self-driving, the software might be massaged to provide gentler braking to avoid startling the passengers, or it might allow for shorter (still legal) following distances and more aggressive braking. Otherwise, the car would leave too much following distance, and another self-driving car might cut in front.