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7 promising car tech companies

Posted: 23 Dec 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:electric vehicle  wearable  automotive industry  lidar 

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next month will focus, surprisingly, on cars and not on the usual devices featured in past years such as smartphone, UHDTVs and wearables.

Big brand-name car OEMs aren't the only ones competing for attention. A bandwagon spilling over with wannabes from the high-tech sector will show off their software and hardware—deemed fundamental to the rejuvenation of the big-steel auto industry.

Poised to launch the revolution are electric vehicles, autonomous cars, computer vision, over-the-air upgrades, deep learning/artificial intelligence, human-machine interface, real-time 3D mapping, radar, lidar, more wireless connectivity and new automotive business models like "the car as a service."

"The automotive industry used to be protected from the high-tech industry," said Egil Juliussen, research director and principal analyst at IHS Automotive. Not anymore. "You will be on the front seat at CES" staring down the highway to the future, he said.

"The automotive industry has been stable for so long," Danny Shapiro, at Nvidia told us. The status quo was a set of large players deeply anchored in the traditional market. "That," he said, "is about to go through a radical transformation."

Of course, it's still not easy for a tech company, especially among start-ups, to break into automotive. A long gestation period of testing and qualifying new technologies for the automotive market isn't fundamentally compatible with the usual start-up business model, said Jeff Bier, founder of the Embedded Vision Alliance.

Consider computer vision algorithms that must work under all conditions, Bier said. Apply the same algorithms to video gaming and "the technology working at 99 per cent or even 95 per cent of the time might be acceptable." But, used for self-parking applications, "it has to work at 99.999999 pe rcent of the time, if not 100 per cent," he stressed.

"For start-ups, that level of perfection is freaking hard," said Bier.

Nevertheless, start-ups are gunning for the automotive market. In 2015, it seemed as though we were bumping into an automotive start-up on a monthly basis, if not every week.

Part of the reason is the electrification of automobiles. As Tesla has proven, Google cars have demonstrated and Apple is about to show us, it's now possible for non-traditional carmakers to crack the market. Along with the electrification come application-rich, software-centric, electronics-packed cars. Many automotive tech start-ups now have a whole new roster of carmakers they can serve—beyond Detroit.

In the following pages, EE Times has put together a list of automotive tech companies to watch for at CES and/or 2016.

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