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CU-ICAR CEO: Automakers close with driverless cars

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By Bill Poovey
bpoovey@scbiznews.com
Published Feb. 24, 2016

Instead of just imagining travel in a car that drives itself, the top executive at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research said get ready to ride in a “rolling iPhone.” Center CEO Fred Cartwright said most automobile manufacturers developing autonomous vehicles “are close to being there if they are not there already. It is a matter of the rest of the infrastructure being ready to do that.”

Cartwright, S.C. Automotive Council Executive Director Catherine Hayes and S.C. Technology and Aviation Center President and CEO Jody Bryson today discussed “Automotive Innovation in the Upstate” at a GSA Business Report event.

Fred Cartwright, Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research CEO (center), discussed automotive innovation in the Upstate, today, along with S.C. Technology and Aviation Center CEO Jody Bryson (left) and S.C. Automotive Council Executive Director Catherine Hayes. (Photo by Bill Poovey)

Fred Cartwright, Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research CEO (center), discussed automotive innovation in the Upstate, today, along with S.C. Technology and Aviation Center CEO Jody Bryson (left) and S.C. Automotive Council Executive Director Catherine Hayes. (Photo by Bill Poovey)

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“If the car of tomorrow is truly self-driving, then think about what that experience will be like inside your car,” Cartwright said. “You are just a passenger.”

Cartwright said Google is “far out ahead” in developing code and software for driverless vehicles and he predicted their technology will lead to one or more partnerships.

“I don’t believe they are going to be a car company,” Cartwright said. “They are going to partner with and license this immense amount of knowledge that they have — coupled with so many other things they are doing, the mapping and GPS and so on — and work with other various car companies to make this happen.”

Cartwright said automotive innovations are ahead of infrastructure changes needed to accommodate them.

“Cars are becoming increasingly connected and smart and self-driving,” Cartwright said. “That is happening. Nobody would have believed five years ago; we weren’t having this kind of discussion. Car companies and suppliers are moving forward with that, and the cities aren’t ready for it.”

He said President Barack Obama has proposed spending $4 billion over a decade on developing infrastructure for driverless cars to reduce traffic fatalities and congestion.

Cartwright said the state has an opportunity to attract research and development with the automotive industry “changing so much right now.” He said “you can try to capitalize on the opportunity and … create an ecosystem here that will attract new players in the automotive business, whether it is consumer electronics or other areas who now are seeing the market benefit, the financial benefit of being in the automotive business. So as this car business gets redefined and looks differently over the next 10 years we have a great opportunity in Greenville to attract some of the companies that have not been” in it to come.

Cartwright said CU-ICAR is also turning out innovative automotive engineers and technology. He said efforts are ongoing to make the region and state “a place where companies will come to do their research and do their product development.”

“We have faculty. We have students. We have others who are very interested in bringing new ideas,” Cartwright said. “And frankly the car industry is in desperate need of innovation. I mean it is just so competitive, and there are so many vehicle launches. It is the here and now. Gone are the days that car companies can rely on all of their innovation to come from within, and we hear that all the time. So we have a great opportunity to kind of build our own here, as well.”

Cartwright said CU-CAR research includes powertrain changes. He said the “powertrain of the vehicle is going more and more electric, even with gas prices going as low as they are. They won’t be there forever. For car companies to meet fuel economy requirements over the next 10 years, across the board there will be more and more electric. So that is one aspect of the powertrains that we are working on.”

He said there are innovations in vehicular electronics, connectivity between vehicles and with infrastructure.

“The car will be a rolling iPhone where 60% to 70% of the value of the car in time will be in its software, not so much in the hardware,” Cartwright said. He said CU-ICAR is also focused on lighter weight vehicle materials such as aluminum and carbon fiber.

He said one change in the industry is 3-D printing vehicles and funding new designs.

“It is completely changing the existing model for how the car industry works,” Cartwright said. “These are all areas that we are focused on as a university.”

Hayes, who is overseeing the S.C. Manufacturers Alliance-affiliated automotive council’s S.C. Auto Week and the 5th Annual S.C. Automotive Summit, told the audience that said the Upstate and state needs to further promote its reputation for research and development. She said automotive manufacturers, suppliers and entrepreneurs are involved and innovations “really are collaborative efforts.”

She said the summit activities include a matchmaker for suppliers and manufacturers and helps identify “gaps. What don’t we have here? And on the technology and innovation side that is an opportunity for targeted economic development.” She said there needs to be a fostering of an environment “where we are not just a state that makes things. We are a state that designs, develops and manufactures them.”

Bryson said the International Transportation Innovation Center, which he oversees, is adding assets as a test bed for wireless charging and other technology. He encouraged the 200 people in the audience to “help us raise awareness of the facility.”

“You’ve got to have a place to vet them, to test them,” Bryson said of the automotive innovations. “One of our goals at S.C. TAC is to be prepared and be on the leading edge of that by creating an open and collaborative test bed structure that can meet the needs of the automotive industry in terms of research and development in the Southeast.” He said the wireless-charging research is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the center is working with CU-ICAR, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Duke Energy, Toyota, Cisco and others on the technologies.

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