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Ahead of the Curve Auto Supplier Blog

January 09, 2015

This Year's CES Makes You Wonder: Who's driving the autonomous vehicle industry?

This week, it was the automaker’s turn to tread on tech turf at the Consumer Electronics Show. As recently as a few years ago, CES was completely off the automotive OEM radar, but that’s far from the case today. Ever since Ford’s Alan Mulally took the stage as a featured speaker at the 2010 CES, it’s been Katie bar the door! In the years since, several automakers made significant announcements at the show.

This year, many automakers were suggesting autonomous vehicles could be widely available in five years. Ford’s new CEO, Mark Fields, promised that Ford would be the first to mass produce while Mercedes suggested that a luxury autonomous car – complete with swivel seating for a living room effect – was in the works.

Meanwhile on the tech side, the “big three” of the tech world (Apple, Google and Microsoft) have all become active in the connected and autonomous vehicle spaces. The IP strategies of each of the new “big three” in the automotive markets provide hints as to their technological focus for autonomous vehicles. The Automotive Industry and IP groups at Warner Norcross & Judd recently presented on the “Geeks versus Gear Heads” IP strategies in the autonomous vehicles space. Both industries are pushing ahead and getting us closer and closer to the AV world. Round 1 was a unanimous win for Google and the “Geeks.” However, based upon the presence and technology offerings shown at CES, the “Gearheads” are off the ropes and ready to battle. Both come out swinging for the future Round 3.

Incidentally, the fact that autonomous vehicles are technologically achievable does not necessarily mean that the vehicles are anywhere close to becoming a commercial reality. First, consider the complexities and scope of product liabilities in today’s automotive market. Now add to that the multitude of questions and legalities posed by self-driving vehicles. Only four states currently have legislation to allow for even limited autonomous product testing on roadways. Finally, NHTSA is just now beginning to dip its toes into the autonomous vehicle regulation pool. Round 3 will be fought in both the regulatory and IP arenas, with each side attempting to claim superiority and market share. Industry experts and consumers will have a ringside seat to see if these distinct industries can find a middle ground to advance autonomous vehicle technology together or if the “Geeks” or “Gearheads” will land the knockout blow to control the AV landscape.

With each CES and each auto show, more technological developments will be unveiled and more questions will be raised as to which industry is leading the hunt. And with each passing year, more legislation and regulations will be expected. Tech and auto companies alike will need to make sure they’re staying ahead of the curve on the legal landscape as they forge ahead with their technological breakthroughs. Stay tuned!

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