Technology companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft are leaving no stone unturned to establish their supremacy in the digital world. Having spread their presence from the computer and Internet web browsers, to hand held devices like Smart phones and tablets, it’s time to head for another consumer experience sector: the automobile industry. With 80 million new cars and light trucks sold each year, automobiles represent a significant new opportunity for Internet-based software and services.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that “Google and German auto maker Audi AG plan to announce that they are working together to develop in-car entertainment and information systems that are based on Google’s Android software”. Such announcements and ventures can be considered as Google’s response to the “iOS in Car” initiative launched last June by Apple to integrate iPhones and other devices running its iOS operating system with car makers’ dashboard control panels. Apple so far has the support of BMW AG, Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz division, General Motors Co. and Honda Motor Co. Google, on the other hand, has been providing its map technology to a range of auto makers since 2006, including Audi, Toyota Motor Corp. and Tesla Motors Inc. Ford attributes rising sales in the U.S. in part to the voice-activated Sync system it started offering in 2007, developed with help from Microsoft Corp.
A study conducted by Juniper Research reveals that 20% of consumer cars in Western Europe and North America will be app-connected by 2017. The report further highlights that “the incorporation of the Smart phone into consumer vehicles will become a standard on new models. It is expected that by 2016 there will be 92 million Internet-connected vehicles on the road. Through their embedded connectivity and Group telematics (fusion of telecoms and information technologies in vehicles), intelligent cars are supposed to create revenues of $14.4 billion by 2016”.
These findings suggest that the “car” is no more a means of transportation but a literal “digital hub” on wheels. While automobile manufacturers struggle to innovate and upgrade the vehicles in terms of driving experience, fuel efficiency and design, technology companies plan to equip the vehicle with digital applications to enable ultimate driving experience.
To protect and dominate the business, these technology companies are fencing their domains by acquiring patents related to the automobile domain. Not surprisingly, Smart phone manufacturers as well as processor and chip manufacturers are in close association with this fast-developing ecosystem. In a report prepared by EnvisionIP, a patent analysis firm based in New York, Google alone has 310 U.S. patents and 153 published applications relating to vehicle-based smart devices, navigation and route guidance. Apple has another 35 patents. Meanwhile, five other Smart phone players have a total of 617 additional U.S. patents with automotive implications. Scour through the U.S. patent filings of other leading Smart phone companies, and just about all of them are putting down markers for automotive sector, too, according to EnvisionIP. Other active filers include Samsung (234 patents), LG (161 patents), Sony (155 patents), Blackberry (108 patents) and Nokia (42 patents). Most of BlackBerry’s filings are assigned to QNX Software Systems, which was acquired in 2010.
An indication of this aggressive patent race can be obtained by reviewing patent filing trends of Google, Apple and Microsoft in the automobile domain (classified within US Class 701). US Class 701 is for electrical apparatus and corresponding methods for performing data processing operations in which there is a significant change in data or for performing calculation operations, wherein the electrical data processing system or calculating computer functions to indicate a condition of a vehicle, to regulate the movement of a vehicle, to monitor the operation of a vehicle, or to solve a diagnostic problem with the vehicle.
Here’s a classification of major technological development in this domain:
- Navigation – Real-time maps, direction advices
- Route planner
- Traffic information
- Parking assistance
- Vehicle Care:
- Service alerts and reminders
- Car diagnosis
- Car breakdown warning
- Automated emergency assistance in accidents
- Traffic violation and collision warning
- Theft alerts
- Remote door locking/unlocking
- Vehicle tracking
- Download and play music, videos, watch TV etc.
- Wi-Fi hotspot to connect mobile devices
- Social media apps
- Location based information
- Points of interest information
- Connectivity to smart homes
- e-commerce solutions
- Mobile banking apps
- Mobile health apps
- Mobile office
(Featured image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/xurble/244671618)