JAGUAR LAND ROVER'S NEW PORTLAND INCUBATOR
For decades, automakers rarely reached outside of their own in-house engineering and technical resources to foster innovation. And when they did, it was usually only to established suppliers or maybe in collaboration with renown research centers or universities. But the rapid pace of technology and its effect on automotive is causing car companies to seek advancements outside of their industry.
Ford and General Motors have opened their vehicle APIs to outside developers in an effort to create car-centric apps, while automotive suppliers such as AT&T to Bosch have hosted hackathons to encourage cross-pollination between cutting-edge software and automotive technology. Now Jaguar Land Rover is not only asking tech companies to collaborate with British brands to accelerate advancement, but is also inviting start-ups to take up residence at the company's recently opened Technology R&D Center in Portland, Oregon by creating an "Innovation Incubator."
Jaguar Land Rover said in a statement that the goal of the project is "to encourage, promote and support new software-based automotive technologies that are being developed by U.S. technology start-ups." According to Matt Jones, head of Future Infotainment for Jaguar Land Rover, the incubator will provide a base at the automaker's Portland facility where start-ups can develop and test their ideas as well as get technical and business support from the automaker and its partners.
Like other automakers, Jaguar Land Rover's tech strategy is being influenced by car buyers' expectations that in-car electronics should keep pace with portable devices such as smartphones and tablets, and also offer similar features such as apps.
"We're taking a really customer-centric view of what we should be delivering in cars to make sure we have the right features," Jones told PCMag.
But unlike other automakers' efforts, Jones said Jaguar Land Rover believes "it's not only about developing in-dash apps. What we're finding is there so many people out there that will help you with just another app—and what you end up with is just another app."
Jaguar Land Rover is hoping that helping start-ups and having them in close proximity in its Innovation Incubator will give it a leg up on the competition and could lead to breakthroughs in car technology. One example is a pilot with a start-up that leverages the appeal of user-generated social media on platforms such as Instagram and Vine. The start-up, Vonsor, developed a system that lets drivers "take live footage from cameras inside and outside the vehicle, edit them together on the vehicle's touch screens, and then share the footage on social media," the automaker said.
In Tune With the Social Media Generation
"This is completely in tune with the social media generation," said Vonsor's Justyn Baker. "People of all ages love to capture their experiences on their smartphones and share them. The Vonsor system allows you to save both your on and off-road driving adventures … collate all of that footage, edit it together, and post it all from the vehicle's touch screen—so everyone can share the experience. We met Jaguar Land Rover at a start-up pitch competition, and it has been great to get their support and insight. It has helped open my eyes to more possibilities than I had ever imagined."
Jones said that the incubator isn't "a one-way street. We end up in the symbiotic relationship where we bounced ideas off of each other. We want to work with them and say, 'Your technology is cool. I can see how it works on a tablet. But I can see how it also works in a vehicle.' They have some great ideas and are enthusiastic, but when it comes together we get a much better product in automotive."
The Jaguar Land Rover Innovation Incubator will officially kick off in May, and the automaker plans to eventually select around 120 start-ups that it will work with over the next 10 years. Jaguar is even building a second facility in Portland and hiring 50 engineers to help with the project.
"We will have at any one time up to six companies under incubation," said Jones. "They'll have all their own dedicated facilities for a period of time so that they can really have a home for their business."
He added that the start-ups will not only get mentoring from Jaguar Land Rover, but also from "a network of other partners that we're building up so that they're not just a technology company with fantastic products, but a well-rounded business that can go out in the world and survive and thrive. They'll have an understanding of finance and strategy and real estate and everything else they need to be really successful."
And by not just reaching out to outsiders but bringing them in-house, Jaguar Land Rover will have a better understanding of where the next great innovations in automotive technology may come from.