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Ahead of the Curve Auto Supplier Blog

August 07, 2014

Geeks v. Gearheads - The Emergence of a "New Big Three?"

There was a time when a flip-open “communicator” with a wireless device seemed entirely futuristic.  Now cell phones in our pockets and Bluetooth devices in our ears and cars are simply run-of-the-mill.  Not to mention that their abilities go well beyond what was imagined in the old days of Star Trek.

There was also a time when cartoons imagined self-driving cars that would allow their passengers to socialize while the cars navigated busy thoroughfares filled with similarly autonomous vehicles.  Now we are on the precipice of the next big leap in our lives being altered by technology.

On the doorstep of this new paradigm is the tension between what some have affectionately termed “geeks” versus “gearheads.”  The “geeks” are the major technology companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Apple.  The “gearheads” are the OEMs and auto suppliers.  Both sides are aggressively pursuing technology aimed at autonomous vehicle development.  Google has already put hundreds of thousands of miles of testing on fully autonomous vehicles and is currently manufacturing a fully autonomous vehicle.  The geeks’ aggressive approach towards the technology has raised the question of whether we might be witnessing the emergence of a “New Big Three.”  But OEMs are not far behind.  Nissan, for example, has publicly stated that it expects to produce autonomous vehicles by 2020.  And, of course, some lower levels of autonomous operations have been available and are becoming more commonplace on vehicles already on the road.

As we head down this road towards a more autonomous drive home (which some companies claim will be free of traffic jams with use of autonomous vehicles), a review of the geeks’ and gearheads’ patent filings gives us a glimpse of what’s ahead.  OEMs and auto suppliers are focusing more on lower levels of automation (levels based on NHTSA’s statement of policy) and vehicle-to-vehicle communication that provide for evolutionary steps towards fully autonomous vehicles.  Geeks, on the other hand, are focusing on fully autonomous technology that would provide for a revolutionary leap towards autonomous vehicles.  This difference in approach is highlighted by the urban legend about barbs between Bill Gates and General Motors about how each industry approaches development of technology.  But there is no question that both sides are heading in the same direction even if through different paths.

Recently, Warner Norcross and Judd attorneys Greg DeGrazia and Matt Mowers presented a webinar discussing this geeks versus gearheads approach to autonomous vehicles and where the technology is headed.  In September, the Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress, being held in Detroit, will address the current state of autonomous vehicles, the future of such technology, and all of the various other issues that surround autonomous vehicles.  On Wednesday, September 10 at 3:30, Warner Norcross is privileged to present a panel discussion at the ITS World Congress on the legislative and legal issues on the horizon for autonomous vehicles.  We hope to see you there.

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