Automakers No Longer the Neanderthals of Tech

January 21, 2015  - By
Start of the 550 mile piloted drive from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas: Ricky Hudi, Executive Vice President Electric/Electronic Development, (left) and Ewald Gössmann, Excecutive Director Electronic Research Lab California (ERL), (third from right) drop the flag for the Audi A7 piloted driving concept car.  Photo: Audi

Start of the 550 mile piloted drive from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas: Ricky Hudi, Executive Vice President Electric/Electronic Development, (left) and Ewald Gössmann, Excecutive Director Electronic Research Lab California (ERL), (third from right) drop the flag for the Audi A7 piloted driving concept car. Photo: Audi

In the wake of CES and the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, it’s clear that times are a-changing. Self-driving concept cars filled three football-field-sized areas to show off what lies ahead. Verizon and Ford did a cosmic switcheroo, with Verizon morphing into the auto space and Ford starting a transformation into a mobility company. Automated reality/augmented reality isn’t as big as would be expected, and is suffering from a lack of content. Wearables continue to do remarkable things, notably in the health and fitness sector, and smart watches will become more exciting with interaction to vehicles and home.

Janice Partyka

Janice Partyka

When Mark Field, current CEO of Ford, announced the Ford Sync from the CES stage in 2007, attendees found the presence of an auto company at CES to be out of place. The auto industry was considered Neanderthals of tech. Today, the most exciting mobile technology is vehicle related, and more exciting developments from the auto industry were seen in Las Vegas, rather than Detroit.

Field was back at CES with a visionary perspective that Ford isn’t going to be just about cars and trucks. He is broadening Ford’s focus to mobility in preparation of the changes in transportation that will occur in response to global megatrends of urbanization, growth of the middle class, air-quality issues and evolving consumer attitudes. To test out new ideas of flexible user-ship and collaborative transportation, Ford is operating 25 experiments around the world to test out solutions for specific mobility challenges. Ford is looking to be a leader and enabler of a market where people may be sharing or swapping vehicles or relying on crowd-based transportation. It is refreshing to see out-of-the-box thinking from Detroit.

Ford Mobility Experiment in London — driving-on-demand with Ford fleet. Photo: Ford

Ford Mobility Experiment in London — driving-on-demand with Ford fleet. Photo: Ford

Far from its beginnings in 2007, Ford announced SYNC 3, an updated version of its in-vehicle communication and information system. SYNC technology is already in 10 million vehicles on the road. SYNC 3 will be released in new car models this year and will include more conversational speech recognition, a more smartphone-like experience with a touch screen and easier-to-read graphics. In addition, AppLink 3.0 will roll out and give drivers the ability to access their navigation app — much as they do on a smartphone — on in-vehicle touch screens.

Ford SYNC 3. Photo: Ford

SYNC 3 has been designed to keep the drivers eyes on the road and hands on the wheel, even when controlling their favorite phone apps. Photo: Ford

You may recall that GM had announced OnStar would be dropping Verizon for AT&T communications staring in 2015. The announcement of Verizon Vehicle, a new connected vehicle service that duplicates some of the features of OnStar, must be the impetus. The subscription-based service will be compatible with all vehicle models sold in the U.S. since 1996. The service will include GPS-directed roadside assistance, crash notification, emergency assistance with a live agent, a hotline to connect with mechanics on vehicle issues, maintenance alerts, and stolen vehicle location assistance. Notably, the offering doesn’t include navigation, a mainstay of OnStar, but readily available on smartphones. The service uses an OBD II dongle and a head unit that can attach to a visor and contains a Bluetooth speaker and call buttons.

Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW all showed advances in self-driving vehicles. Mercedes-Benz demoed the F015 Luxury in Motion concept car, which is fully autonomous and completely powered by a battery and fuel cell. Audi impressed by having its own concept vehicle drive itself from Palo Alto, California, to Las Vegas. BMW offered demonstrations of its i3 electric car, with ActiveAssist technology, able to prevent collisions at speeds up to 15 mph.

Delphi and Valeo technology suggest that current adaptive cruise-control systems may soon add self-steering. Drivers could allow the car to take over in stop-and-go traffic and on long highway segments. Although unlikely to see production in the short term, Delphi showed the full capabilities of its self-driving technology in an urban environment.

The next big feature to be commercialized during our wait for automated driving is self-parking. As demonstrated by BMW, the driver arrives at a parking garage entrance, gets out of the car, and sends it to find a parking place. When ready to depart, the driver summons the car, which drives itself to a special pickup zone in front of a parking garage. BMW says it will be offering self-parking cars in one to two years.

The Sony Walkman, now $1,100. Photo: Sony

The Sony Walkman, now $1,100. Photo: Sony

Unfortunately, augmented reality hasn’t quite lived up to the hype, but Hyundai is showcasing a production-ready augmented reality heads-up display concept. It’s an easy-to-understand system with animated information and warnings to describe road conditions ahead. For instance, it provides warnings when another car is about to unexpectedly enter the car’s lane, and shows arrows leading to exit ramps, highlighted street signs and one-way street markings. Hyundai has linked the augmented heads-up display to a wearable band that will vibrate with warnings. The band includes a heart-rate monitor that can notify 911 if a driver’s heart rate changes rapidly.

I don’t want to neglect the things in life that don’t change. It is comforting to know that Palm Pilots, record players and Walkmans are back at CES. The new Sony Walkman will set you back $1,100. So things do change.

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About the Author: Janice Partyka

Janice Partyka is principal of JGP Services,, a consulting practice that helps companies with marketing strategy, including investigating new markets, ensuring product roadmaps match market needs, and creating marketing campaigns. Janice develops websites, social media, public relations and overall marketing communication. She also works as an expert witness for the mobile industry and conducts prior art searches for patent cases. Janice has served in leadership capacities in the wireless industry, leading marketing, business development, media and government relations, including serving as vice president of external affairs for TechnoCom Corporation. She briefed the Obama transition team on broadband issues. Janice was a twice-elected member of the board of directors of the E9-1-1 Institute, which supports the work of the U.S. Congressional E9-1-1 Caucus to ensure implementation of wireless E9-1-1, and she was telecom liaison to the Intelligent Transportation Society's World Congress. Janice is a frequent speaker at mobile and location industry events. Her webinars on mobile applications and technologies draw audiences from more than 40 countries. Janice Partyka is also the founder of, a web service that helps college students find the right major that will lead to a satisfying career. Contact: Janice Partyka at, Free subscriptions to Wireless LBS Insider are available at