Google is battling fellow heavyweights Apple and Microsoft for domination of in-car entertainment and information systems – now it’s won a patent that moves it closer to dominating real roads with the self-drive Google Car.
The new patent enables a robot within the car to automatically read and interpret road signs and other oncoming obstacles. It will also enable the Google Car to follow any diversions, like those at road works.
Google’s NZ$1.5 billion acquisition last year of social mapping company Waze – the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app. – provides it with real-time traffic and accident information needed to take its Google Car to the next step. It says its fleet of self-drive cars has already traveled 500,000km without incident.
Major carmakers also have tested their own self-drive models. Volkswagen let its driverless Touareg loose in the Arizona desert. Volvo ran a fleet of driverless cars through Spain. In doing so the carmakers are lining up to support one or more of the big technological headliners. Most are either with Apple or Google; some are in both camps. Some include Microsoft in the mix.
Apple has just introduced its CarPlay system, an evolution of its previous hugely successful car connectivity, where music from iPods and iPhones could be played on car stereos. CarPlay allows far greater connectivity – it can run the car’s navigation system, place calls and read messages aloud as well as tell the car what to do via the Apple’s voice assistant SiriApple. The next step for Apple, say analysts, is driverless technology.
Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo were the first to announce that CarPlay would be fitted to new cars in 2014. BMW, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Land Rover, Kia, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Peugeot, Citroen, Subaru, Suzuki and Toyota, have all said they will integrate Apple’s CarPlay into vehicles.
Google in January launched its Open Automotive Alliance, aimed at bringing its Android platform to cars in a similar way to Apple’s CarPlay. Google says OAA will work with common software and allow more compatibility with different car models. Audi, GM, Honda and Hyundai have joined with OAA. Of those, Honda, Hyundai and GM are in both Google and Apple camps, meaning models compatible with Android and iPhone are likely from all three carmakers.
Microsoft has been linking mobile phones to cars since 1998, when it released AutoPC, a joint project with stereo company Clarion. Auto PC later became Windows CE for Automotive. These days its Windows Embedded Automotive (WEA) in 2010.
Microsoft powers three different carmakers’ in-car systems, including Ford’s Sync. Fiat’s Blue&Me in-car system is also powered by WEA. So was Kia’s until it switched to an Android-powered system. Both Ford and Kia have also signed up with Apple’s CarPlay
Will the in-car connectivity companies work together? For example, allowing carmakers to offer buyers the choice of Android or iPhone compatibility? It’s been suggested that some cars could default to Android but switch to iPhone connectivity when an iPhone is plugged into the system. For the moment, no one knows where things are going, only that it will be an exciting ride.