Google is the first name which comes to mind when you think about self-driving cars, and it tries hard to be perceived as the main company for providing the software for autonomous cars. The company already has some rivals, but no big names so far.
But this could change in the next few years, as it seems that Google is about to get some serious competition from none other than BMW, one of the most important names in the car industry. Speaking to Reuters, BMW’s Head of Research and Development, Klaus Frohlich, said the following at the Geneva auto show.
“For me it is a core competence to have the most intelligent car. Our task is to preserve our business model without surrendering it to an internet player. Otherwise we will end up as the Foxconn for a company like Apple, delivering only the metal bodies for them.”
BMW believes its competitors in the future will include internet taxi service ‘Uber’ and sales website ‘Truecar’. As BMW approaches its 100th birthday, the quest to build the “ultimate driving machine” is alive now more than ever. The company, as Reuters puts it, is ‘preparing for a world in which its customers will be mere passengers, and the cars will do the driving themselves’. This, obviously, puts the company in direct competition with Google.
According to Frohlich, BMW is going to be a completely overhauled company, as they’re looking for half of the R&D staff to be computer programmers. Thus, the German automaker hopes it will be able to have enough brain-power to compete with Google, who has recently announced it will hire an additional 40 new automotive experts.
BMW’s head of R&D said they ‘have some catching up to do in the area of machine learning and artificial intelligence,” as software engineers make up just 20 percent of BMW’s 30,000 employees. Forhlich further added:
“If I need to get to a ratio of 50:50 within five years, I need to get manpower equivalent to another 15,000 to 20,000 people from partnerships with suppliers and elsewhere.”
BMW also takes into account licensing out technology produced by its own engineers and selling electric drivetrains. As software is going to play an increasingly more important role in the future of the automotive industry, BMW will be looking for partners is in cloud computing, and Nokia’s recently announced AirScale 5G could be one of the technologies that BMW might be interested in.