As Vehicles Become Smarter, Traditional Suppliers Ramp Up Focus on Driverless Tech

By James Amend

Automakers have a map to future  mobility, and the industry’s long roster of suppliers will play a major role in getting them there with a plethora of connected and autonomous vehicle technologies.

It is estimated that innovations from auto parts makers will account for 69 percent of value-added content in 2025, up from 30 percent in 2012. Delphi CEO Jeff Owens said his company examines the challenges confronting its customers and then composes a portfolio of solutions to choose from, either an à la carte or a system-wide option.

“We think about it in terms of what (OEMs)  need. What types of problems are they trying  to solve, and how can we be of value?” Owens said.

The approach led Delphi to recently acquire Ottomatika, a spinoff out of Carnegie Mellon University, to strengthen its advanced autonomous driving products. The automaker also bought Control-Tec, an expert in
telematics and cloud-hosted analytics to help OEMs find elusive quality bugs during late-stage vehicle testing.

Delphi is also working with MobilEye, an Israeli company focused on computer vision systems and mapping, on a fully autonomous technology package slated for commercialization in 2019-2020. The partnership underpins a large-scale, one-of-a-kind pilot program Delphi is conducting on the streets of Singapore.

But the United Kingdom-based supplier, which operates a sprawling R&D campus in Troy, continues to focus on more traditional customer demands, too. For example, it will begin offering a plug-and-play mild electrification option next year for an efficiency gain of up to 15 percent at a fraction of the cost of full-hybrid technology. Together with a next-generation cylinder deactivation technology under testing, fuel savings could rise to 25 percent.

Japan-based Denso, one of the world’s four largest automotive suppliers, is working on arguably the most critical element of autonomous vehicles: keeping the person behind the vehicle attentive, or “in the loop,” as its researchers say.

“Understanding attention is critical in  determining if the driver is in the loop. If we can sense when a driver is out of the loop, we can alert them to get back in the loop,” said Pat Bassett, vice president at Denso’s North American Engineering Center in Southfield.

Denso has established an entire laboratory dedicated to gaining a deeper understanding of driver attention levels and designing an interface that will safely disengage and reengage drivers during autonomous operation.

The company has also partnered with Detroit’s NextEnergy, a technology accelerator, to help the supplier scout out advanced mobility and smart city technologies still under development. The collaboration also will create networking, startup engagement and relationship-building opportunities with NextEnergy clients.

IAV Automotive Engineering, a Northville engineering house historically associated with engine development services, has its hands in the autonomous vehicle space through a partnership with Microsoft and its connected highly automated vehicle driving (CHAD).

CHAD combines Microsoft Azure and Windows 10 technologies for a forward thinking vehicle-to-infrastructure connection, where data can be gathered from connected vehicles, traffic-light sensors and wearable devices worn by pedestrians to enhance safety.

Andy Ridgway, president of IAV, said the technology will “pave the way for a safer, more intelligent vehicle of tomorrow.”

Other suppliers aggressively bent on filling future technology demands from automakers include American Axle & Manufacturing, BorgWarner, Brose North America, Magna International and Visteon.

A year ago, American Axle opened its Advanced Technology Development Center in Detroit. Now with more than 200 employees, the Center allows for greater synergy and collaboration in technology benchmarking, prototype development and advanced technology development in electrification and light-weighting.

“We are trying to drive mobility innovation here. We want to stay out in front of the competition and put our customers in the lead. We are deeply invested in Detroit, the mobility capital of the world. We never stopped believing that,” said Bill Smith, AAM executive director of government affairs and community relations.

The Brose product portfolio fulfills and anticipates current industry trends. The mechatronics specialist for doors, seats and drives continuously develops smarter and lighter versions of its solutions. Brose developed an expertise in its drives business division, supporting the electrification of drivetrain and demanding emission regulations. The company received a lot of interest when introducing its hands-free vehicle access solution since technologies related to autonomous driving require a combination of systems and sensors, as well.

BorgWarner of Auburn Hills has become a one-stop shop for automakers seeking vehicle efficiency gains. It offers a suite of advanced combustion technologies; hybrid vehicle systems spanning mild to full hybrid solutions; fully electric propulsion units; electrically operated turbochargers to boost efficiency; and all-wheel-drive systems that require less energy.

Canada-based Magna International, an industry leader in powertrains, safety systems and other big-ticket components, is developing a technology that monitors a driver’s heart rate to determine if they are becoming drowsy. The innovation, which relies on sensors embedded in the seat cushion and back rest, has not come to market yet, but is seen as an integral piece of safe autonomous driving.

Van Buren Township-based Visteon is redefining the driving experience with innovative instrument panel technologies such as SmartCore, which integrates advanced infotainment, instrument clusters, head-up displays and advanced driver assistance system domains.

The company’s dual organic light-emitting diode display technology saves automakers money by allowing them to retain existing human-machine interfaces — or the connection between the driver and the car — while adding the portable-device functionality drivers increasingly expect.

James Amend is a senior editor at WardsAuto in Southfield.

Accelerating Innovation: Tight-knit entrepreneurial ecosystem helping to boost state’s economy

By Melissa Anders

A large and growing network of incubators, accelerators, research facilities and startups is driving Michigan forward in its campaign to position itself as a leader in the next-generation technology and mobility race.

Business accelerators and incubators help startups get off the ground by providing guidance, services and resources they might not otherwise know how to access. While these organizations can offer access to capital, their main focus is on other types of assistance such as mentorship from experienced industry leaders, networking, market research, office space and general business support. Since so many startups fail, entrepreneurs turn to incubators and accelerators to help them beat the odds and grow into successful businesses.

These organizations are helping to bring new technology for automotive and the Internet of Things (IoT) to market while promoting Michigan as a forerunner in not only automotive, but also IT, data and advanced manufacturing.

“It really is an ecosystem of service providers, catalyst connectors and then corporate partners and investors who help these companies grow,” said NextEnergy president and CEO Jean Redfield.

NextEnergy offers a wide range of services, including R&D demonstration programs, labs, incubator space and business consulting.

Each year a cohort of eight to 15 companies or pre-startup research teams go through NextEnergy’s seven-week accelerator program called I-Corps Energy and Transportation. Participants learn the “lean startup” methodology and are sent into the field to conduct as many as 100 customer interviews in an effort to speed up the commercialization of their technologies.

NextEnergy provides participants with a network of about 100 industry advisors to help along the way. Upon completion, a number of participants have found their first customer or pilot opportunities and/or earned investment or government funding, Redfield said.

The Macomb-OU INCubator is a more traditional business incubator that is operated in conjunction with the city of Sterling Heights, Macomb County and Oakland University. Its incubator space is located in the Velocity building in the Technology Advancement SmartZone of Sterling Heights.

The incubator has assisted companies in a wide range of industries, such as cybersecurity business Blackbourne Worldwide and LogiCoul Solutions, which develops technology to improve lead acid and lithium ion batteries.

Velocity also is home to the Michigan Cyber Range, a space where companies can perform cybersecurity tests. This area has become increasingly important as automotive and defense companies deploy more connected and autonomous vehicles. Most small businesses can’t afford their own labs, so they can rent hours on the range, says Vicky Rad, Macomb County’s deputy director of planning and development.

The county offers guidance to companies in their early stages as well as once they are ready to mature and graduate by helping them find permanent office space and a talented workforce, Rad said.

“It’s kind of like the unspoken gem in the room as companies understand the value of having somebody to help guide them through the process,” she said. “Historically the companies that are here in Macomb County all started off as a startup at one point and they’re definitely our bread and butter, so we want to continue to see that growth.”

More than 9,300 people have attended events hosted by the Macomb-OU INCubator since 2012. It has helped create more than 220 high-tech jobs and retain about 360 jobs, according to its website.

Across the state, Seamless in Grand Rapids pairs IoT startups with major Michigan-based companies in the office, consumer product, retail, health care and transportation industries. Seamless provides a soft landing spot where startups can collaborate with these West Michiganbased enterprises to test and commercialize emerging technologies.

While other accelerators promote startups that strive to disrupt major industry players, Seamless bills itself as a commercialization program that intentionally builds collaboration between enterprises and startups, said Mike Morin, chief operating officer at Seamless and parent organization Start Garden.

Fourteen startups have been through the program in just more than a year. The intensive program compresses about 18 months of work into 12 weeks, saving the startups both time and money, Morin said. Upon completion, they can enter further development contracts, sourcing agreements, or technology licensing agreements. For example, Seamless connected AlSentis, a provider of innovative touch recognition technologies, with office furniture maker Steelcase and auto supplier Faurecia. The companies became investors in AlSentis and are working to deploy products utilizing its technology.

Melissa Anders is a metro Detroit native and freelance writer.