Self-parking cars – and a lot of practical R&D going on
BCW18 Bosch’s Connected World conference opened with a demo of its automated valet technology. Though the firm’s chief exec, Volkmar Denner, drove the car up to its drop-off point, the self-parking mode failed to engage.
That hitch aside – clearly the backup plan of cutting to a prepared video had been well rehearsed*, and if you blinked you would have missed conference warm-up man and software business development chap Dirk Slama muttering “we’re in fallback mode” on stage – Denner delivered Bosch’s pitch for both connected vehicles and the Internet of Things.
Though the firm is openly aiming to become the biggest player in industrial IoT, complete with both private and public data-crunching cloud options (the latter being provided through Microsoft), Denner was clear: “No single company can build the Internet of Things itself. Partnership is a key part of the IoT journey.”
Bosch, which is also very keen to promote its advances as being quality-of-life improvements for consumers, sees connected and autonomous vehicles as a potential driver of safety improvements, with Denner’s slide deck during his speech asserting that a rollout of vehicle automation could lead to 260,000 fewer road accidents worldwide.
A major part of Bosch’s push into connected vehicles is a corporate re-organisation for the future, with the company creating a new Connected Mobility Services division comprising around 600 people worldwide. It has also bought a US startup, Splitting Fares, which offers ride-sharing services at the B2B level, targeting companies whose employees take the same route to their workplaces. Employees download the app once their employers have signed up to it and from then on it works like a taxi app, with people being able to hail taxis and automatically split the fare. The price of the Splitting Fares buyout was not disclosed by Bosch.
Denner was followed on stage by Dieter Zetsche, the chairman of the board of German car brand Daimler and head of Mercedes’ car division. Accompanied by his luxuriant snow-white moustache, Zetsche said: “Driving a car, especially a Mercedes, is a wonderful thing. But parking isn’t the most wonderful thing to do. Parking in cities can be as much fun as cleaning at home. It has to be done but nobody really enjoys it. Most people would appreciate a little help from their cars.”
This was Zetsche setting out the joint Daimler-Bosch stall for connected car technology integration. Though he didn’t mention the allegations about Daimler software and diesel emissions tests (and there was no suggestion that Bosch was involved), he did emphasise what Daimler calls its “CASE” strategy: namely, Connectivity, Automated driving, Shared mobility and Electric propulsion.
The two companies are partnering in order to get Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous vehicles on the roads by the next decade, he said, indicating that trials are well under way: “Hardware and software need to practise because once self-driving cars are on the roads they must know what they are doing under all circumstances. We have collected several terabytes of rich and unique data for our AI to chew on.”
This suggests Germany is at roughly the same stage that the UK is, in terms of driverless car technology R&D.
The robot boyfriend of the future
On the wider technology front, Bosch also showed a rather depressing video featuring its Mykie home assistant robot – or, as the voiceover informed us, “a new friend!” The video featured an obviously single woman talking to her Mykie, which tracked her round the room with its disturbingly Mysteron-esque eyes.
The woman started talking about dinner. Mykie piped up: “I’ve already pre-heated the oven!” A friend phoned to ask about cookery tips. “No worries, I can send her the recipe” chipped in the electronic surrogate boyfriend. The only thing missing was a squadron of cats roaming the show-home flat.
Naturally, we are being more than a little cynical here. The Mykie device does have clear applications. Perhaps it has a role to play in caring for the elderly, acting as a dedicated memory aid and personal assistant to improve quality of life. Or perhaps it will find its niche with hipsters who consider interacting with technology more important than human relationships.
“Say you wanna make a casserole but you don’t have bacon, you want to make it with lamb,” said Bosch’s Stefan Hartwig. “Mykie can adapt your recipe for you. It can set the oven to the right temperatures.” ®
*Such practical demonstrations of driving tech have an unfortunate habit of not going to plan, in your correspondent’s experience.