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Cars – the next big thing for the tech giants?


23rd Sep 2015

Google has been involved in the development of a wide range of technology since its inception as a search engine in 1998. Google has diversified into mobile communications, with the development of the popular Android operating system. The American tech giant has also turned its hand to wearable technology, with the somewhat controversial Google Glass. The company has even dabbled in robotics. Therefore, it should have come as no surprise when, in 2009, Google began its first foray into automotive design by starting the development of a self-driving car (commonly abbreviated to SDC). Since then they have filed hundreds of vehicle related patent applications, a large number of which are related to vehicle navigation and automation¹.

Google is not the only tech giant interested in this sector. As mentioned in an earlier post, both Apple and Microsoft are also looking to expand into cars. Apple is even rumoured to be developing its very own self driving car, which has been dubbed “Project Titan” in the media. Further, according to a recent article by Forbes Magazine, Samsung is actually leading the charge into this sector having filed the largest number of vehicle related patent applications of all the tech giants in the last 10 years. Although it is hard to draw any solid conclusions from this, an increase in a company’s patent activity in a given sector is often an indicator that they have a genuine interest in that market; perhaps these companies feel they can change the landscape of the automotive industry in much the same way as they revolutionised mobile phones.

Indeed, vehicle related patents from the likes of Google and Samsung are already starting to emerge that demonstrate the type of innovation that these technology powerhouses could bring to the industry.

For example, one of Google’s recently granted US patents is for a technology that can detect and gather data regarding potholes. As explained in the patent, Google’s system uses GPS to determine a vehicle’s location. The system then uses a variety of sensors fitted on the vehicle (for example on the vehicle’s shock absorbers) to generate a picture of the quality of the road. This data is then analysed and, together with the vehicle’s location, compiled into a report. The report is then transmitted to a central server where it can be stored with other reports from other vehicles.

Although this technology was probably envisaged to help Google’s driverless car navigate roads in poor condition, it could have implications that extend beyond the company’s SDC project. The data collected by the central server could be fed back to drivers via their on board computers or satnavs to help them plan their route to avoid particularly bad roads. The data could even be passed to highway agencies or local authorities to help them identify roads that need fixing.

As another example, Samsung filed a US patent application in July 2013 for a transparent display that could be put on a vehicle’s windscreen and operated by the driver’s phone. This would allow images and information to be displayed directly on the windscreen, rather than on a separate display.

Of course, there is no guarantee that any of these ideas will actually be developed and, if they are, they may be years away from commercial availability. However, these recent developments increasingly point to the possibility that the technological powerhouses of the world are shifting their attention, along with their almost limitless R&D budgets, to the automotive industry. Exactly what this shift will entail is still unclear, but the early indications are exciting.

  1. Source: LexisNexis, TotalPatent®

This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking before any action in reliance on it.

Author
Alex Cope
Associate
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