Delphi Automotive CTO Drives Company Forward at Silicon Valley Speeds
Delphi Automotive generated 2014 revenue of $17 billion and operates in 33 countries, but the leading developer of solutions that make vehicles safer, greener, and more connected relies on a Silicon Valley mentality and start-up's agility to continually innovate and create new products.
Sales of Delphi's advanced safety technology, which is often software-based, are predicted to grow 50 percent annually over the next several years from $160 million in 2013, according to Delphi's 2014 earnings conference call with analysts. These technologies include a collision mitigation system; integrated radar and camera system; adaptive cruise control; lane departure warning, and parking guidance system. While $160 million is only a small drop in a $17-billion pond, these solutions are increasingly important to Delphi and its auto-making customers.
"Software is becoming a bigger component of our product portfolio, without a doubt," said Kevin Clark, president and CEO of Delphi, during the earnings call.
While a lot of mainstream attention focuses on autonomous cars, many of Delphi's software-driven technologies eliminate error-prone or complex areas of driving, Jeff Owens, chief technology and executive vice president, told Enterprise Technology. Delphi's products are part of the 372.3 million Internet of Things (IoT) devices installed in the automotive industry this year, according to Gartner; by 2020, there will be 3,511.1 billion IoT devices within the car business, the research firm estimated.
"I think [automakers'] plan is to back into self-driving cars by adding safety features. You drive, but it parks and brakes on icy roads and controls your speeds on the highway," said Bruce Daley, principal analyst at Tractica and author of the recently released report, "Artificial Intelligence for Enterprise Applications."
Delphi demonstrated many of its advanced safety technologies earlier this year when it set off on a multi-vehicle coast-to-coast test drive of its self-driving car solutions. The nine-day trip covered almost 3,400 miles and 15 states, and gathered 3 terabytes of data, said Owens. Delphi tricked out the Audi SQ5 with its active safety systems and autonomous vehicle technology, solutions it sells to automakers.
"We've always had a history where our products are built on software, silicon, and systems. We've got great relations with the silicon providers. Not everyone wants to make their products silicon grade," said Owens. "I'm a firm believer that the digital curve is what's enabled the car of today and the car of tomorrow."
Technologies included 20 sensors, such as six lidar sensors that measured distance, supported by six radar sensors used for monitoring weather. Multiple high-definition cameras tracked the road and the driver's level of alertness. Sensors were small and undetectable, making them more attractive than Google's large rooftop laser scanners to both care manufacturers and consumers, said Owens.
"We tried to style it in so the car looked like a normal car. We had one person say it looked 'remarkably unremarkable.' I can point them out to you but you can't see a lot of them. Some are behind the fascia," he said. "It's one thing to have a development project. It's another to have something to show. The really cool thing for me was you open the trunk and you can put your luggage in. Most development cars I've been associated with have a trunk full of power supplies and batteries. This trunk looked like a regular trunk."
Pop open the hatch of Delphi's IT department and you'll see some fairly recent structural changes designed to streamline and encourage collaboration, said Owens. Soon after taking on the top technology position, Owens brought IT under CTO management and physically relocated the team so it was close to the company's engineers. Previously, IT fell under Delphi's back-office or business services group, he said.
"Clearly the IT group serves the whole enterprise. It's a key enabler. About half the salaried workforce is engineers; there's a lot of affinity to the technical team. There's a really, really nice relationship in having IT next to engineering," said Owens.
In addition to physically locating engineering and IT closer together within local offices, Delphi bought a number of applications to promote collaboration across the two departments and, indeed, across the entire organization, said Owens. After all, Delphi professionals are spread across the world and the company wants professionals to learn from each other, regardless of location or specialty.
"We’ve made some significant investments in collaborative tools, where at the technical level it's easy to share, it's easy to be additive at multiple levels, multiple pipelines, and at multiple languages. There are really some nice toolsets out there that promote the collaborative environment," he said. "We've also invested quite a lot in our ability to videoconference in high-definition. Wherever I'm at any day out of the week – and I'm 70 percent out of position, guaranteed – I can collaborate. If it can save a trip, save a timeline in decision-making or just bouncing thoughts off each other, than email or just a phone call, it's invaluable. I love the energy and ability to move at a faster clock speed than we've had the ability to move in the past. We like to think we move at the clock speed of the technology sector or Silicon Valley."
Like other enterprises – in Silicon Valley and elsewhere – Delphi increasingly relies on the cloud. In March, it unveiled Delphi Connect, an add-on solution that allows drivers to remotely monitor and control their cars via Microsoft Azure. Using Delphi Connect, drivers can transform their smartphones into a key fob; track fuel and battery levels; receive engine alerts and trip histories, and know if their teenager is driving recklessly, for example. The device plugs directly in to the OBD-II connector port, immediately changing a car into a 4GE LTE with Mobile WiFi hotspot.
By leveraging the cloud, Delphi cut development costs by almost one-third, compared with traditional on-premise development, said Owens. The company pushed out those savings to consumers, allowing it to drop the suggested retail price to about $100 or $200 with a small monthly service charge through U.S. Cellular or Verizon Wireless.
"Our market is tens of millions of cars without factory-built telematics systems," said Victor Canseco, managing director for Software and Services, Delphi Electronics and Safety at Delphi, in a statement. "Because Azure datacenters are globally dispersed, we can support our product anywhere with a single architecture, and we can scale different parts of the architecture on demand anywhere in the world —without thinking about it. With Microsoft taking care of maintaining the infrastructure, we can focus on creating great connected-car features and providing exceptional support for customers everywhere."
Increasingly, those features will include more car-to-cloud connectivity; embedded systems, and infotainment platforms with built-in connectivity. Security – which typically involves encryption, authentication, and gateways – is moving toward standards, Owens said.