Suppliers Building Self-Driving Cars for Google, Tesla, Maybe Apple | Re/code

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Roush, a boutique automotive supplier based in Michigan, assembled the car’s exterior. LG Chemical, a subsidiary of the Korean manufacturer, made the batteries. A handful of German specialists — Continental, Bosch, Frimo and ZFLS — were behind components like powertrain, brakes and steering wheels.These companies are not new to the automotive world. Continental and Bosch are multibillion-dollar businesses, supplying traditional and autonomous parts to a range of car companies. When it comes to self-driving, the German companies echo the carmakers: Autonomy is a process, starting with driver assistance features — like automatic lane braking and parking — and, as consumers adapt, progressing to full self-driving.Sales of Bosch’s Mobility Solutions unit, which sells smart-car features, grew at twice the industry pace last year, according to the company. (A month after Google announced its partners, Bosch acquired ZFLS.) By 2017, Continental projects that it will net $1.3 billion in revenue from systems that build autonomy into brakes, acceleration and steering. Enno Pigge, a Continental rep, said the company is providing some parts to Tesla, but would not say which ones. Frimo and Roush, Google’s other partners, declined to comment.Another force in the field is Magna International, a Canadian manufacturer. It’s a supplier, selling a range of semi-autonomous features to carmakers, but it also runs a vehicle-assembly subsidiary. That gives it an edge. Morgan Stanley wrote that Magna could do what “Foxconn does today for Apple,” for Google, Uber and the growing list of tech companies looking to build self-driving cars. Swamy Kotagiri, Magna’s chief technology officer, deflected the moniker, but said the company sees itself in a good market position. “The one differentiating factor is the breadth of automotive expertise,” he said. “We look at it more as a holistic view.”The EyesMore critical than having smart components inside, a self-driving car needs to see. There’s some dispute about how to do it best. The best option may be Lidar, a remote sensing technology that uses lasers to map out surroundings — in addition to cars, the tech is deployed in agriculture, geology and military defense. But Lidar is not cheap.VelodyneThe Velodyne “Puck” LidarVelodyne, a 32-year-old company that started in subwoofer technology, branched out into Lidar a decade ago and has become a market leader. It builds three different products: A powerful $80,000 sensor (used by some trucking companies); a $32,000 model; and, released last year, its palm-sized “Puck,” which costs $8,000.As autonomous tech spreads in the coming years, the company expects a surge in demand from carmakers for the cheaper two products, said Wolfgang Juchmann, sales director for Velodyne’s Lidar division. Google, which makes its owns Lidar, also buys from Velodyne, shelling out for the priciest model. (Velodyne would not comment on Apple, but its equipment has been spotted on Apple’s mapping vans.)Quanergy, a newcomer building Lidar, claims it will bring down the prize to $100 by 2018.For now, a thriftier alternative to Lidar are high-tech cameras. Mobileye, an Israel-based company with a market cap of around $10 billion, is emerging as the dominant supplier here. More than 90 percent of carmakers have partnered with Mobileye, the company said. Tesla buys its cameras, which are laced with Mobileye’s advanced software and chips. Earlier this month, GM said it was working with Mobileye to test self-driving features on the hybrid Chevy Volt.Mobileye’s full hardware and software package, which includes a 360-degree view around cars, can cost less than $1,000 for car companies, said chief communication officer and SVP Yonah Lloyd. “For the car industry, cost is a major consideration,” he added. Here is its perception system picking out pedestrians:Cameras are not only cheaper, but they often have better resolution, and can see certain elements on the roadways — lane markers, traffic lights — that Lidar misses. A few startups, like Nauto and Cruise, are deploying cameras coupled with smart computer-vision algorithms to retrofit cars with driver-assistance technology that set the stage for full autonomy.The BrainsOnce a car has the parts to drive alone and see, it still needs an obscene amount of processing power. Enter the chipmakers. Some familiar titans from the mobile world, like Qualcomm and Samsung, are moving into the car industry, providing the graphical interfaces behind the advanced vision systems requisite for autonomous driving.The company ahead of the curve, however, is Nvidia, which is primarily known for producing chips behind video games. It has shifted its attention to cars, starting in 2007 when its systems powered the integration of Google Earth inside an Audi. Nvidia said its automotive unit posted 85 percent annual growth in sales for the last fiscal year. Several luxury carmakers use its supercomputers, which can take the reams of data coming from

Source: Suppliers Building Self-Driving Cars for Google, Tesla, Maybe Apple | Re/code

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