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When Jaguar Land Rover announced 150 jobs in Shannon back in January, the engineering work at this this site turned out not to involve pistons and carburettors but devops and code. The news is a signpost of change happening right across the auto industry. Cars increasingly rely on software and connectivity, and in doing so, they’re fulfilling a forecast from a 2016 Harvard Business Review article: “every business will be a software business”. Last year, Marc Rogers of the security company CloudFlare, went further, telling the New York Times: “These are no longer cars… they are data centres on wheels”.
Intel forecasts the connected car business will be worth $7 trillion by 2050. Already, the market is jammed full of familiar names from the auto industry, all racing towards developing autonomous vehicles and care technology that promise improved road safety, fewer accidents and increased driver comfort.
In Ireland, Jaguar Land Rover joins an established global leader in the automotive technology market, located just 100km to the north. Valeo Vision Systems employs more than 1,000 people at its site in Tuam, Co Galway where it manufactures in-car camera systems and controller units, as well as carrying out product and process development. Originally Irish-owned before its acquisition in 2007, Valeo in Tuam is now part of a global French company with 90,000 employees and €18 billion in sales.
Valeo was one of the first companies in the world to put multicamera surround-view systems into cars and it has grown into a dominant position in the European and US car markets. The company is also growing its business with Asian automakers, says Fergus Moyles, product line director with global responsibility for Valeo vision systems.
Tuam is the headquarters for Valeo’s vision systems global product line. R&D is a key part of the Irish operation, where 400 of the team are the global product line centre of excellence. This group also provides support for a further global network of research activity at the company. Around 80 per cent of Valeo’s R&D group in Tuam work in software roles. “Within that, you have all the disciplines of software. That includes algorithm development because we’re taking digital information from our cameras, we’re feeding it into the ‘brain’ of the electronic control unit which provides data to the driver, or to the vehicle,” says Moyles.
As the auto industry drives en masse towards electric cars and ultimately, self-driving vehicles, Valeo’s multi-camera technology will play a key part. “A car needs to be fully aware of its environment if it’s to control how it progresses through that environment. That’s where the cameras come in. Our cameras help the car ‘see’ and our control units are the brains of the car to interpret what the cameras see,” says Moyles.
Among its cutting-edge products is technology that Valeo provides to Daimler that allows cars to identify a suitable parking space. The driver can then get out of the car and use their smartphone to direct the car to park itself.
The next destination for Valeo will be artificial intelligence. The company recently won a deal that Moyles describes as the next global benchmark automotive vision system. “We’re building an engineering team to build A.I. into the product. It’s an exciting step forward for us,” he says.
With 80 engineering roles currently open, you might expect Valeo to want the field all to itself. On the contrary, Moyles says that more car technology activity in Ireland will ultimately enlarge the pool of skilled software graduates. “We have assembled a group of very highly skilled people that drive the development of our product globally, and such a grouping is very hard to reproduce. We want to continue building on what we’ve assembled here. The good news is that Ireland is attracting similar types of companies, so what we should see is a further alignment of our universities’ direction and courses linked with the needs of a larger base of companies,” he contends.
Valeo also happens to sit at the crossroads that Moyles refers to, between university research and the commercial sector. It is collaborating with Lero, the software research group, on developing sensor technology for autonomous cars. As a result of the partnership, Lero is creating 10 new PhD positions and two doctoral researchers at its site on the NUI Galway campus.
Valeo and Lero’s work is another example of the strength of the research system in Ireland. it also shows how close proximity between industry and research teams can lead to partnerships that benefit both parties. Valeo gets to carry out field testing in tough driving conditions, while Lero can investigate potential wider applications for its research. Dr Edward Jones of the college of engineering and informatics at NUI Galway told the Irish Times: “We’re well placed to take a longer view and look at new approaches and new technologies to solve the problems that need to be solved, and this fits well within the broader R&D ecosystem of industry.”
Meanwhile moves are under way to look at the business opportunities for Ireland in this growing technology field through a steering group called CAV Ireland.
Dr Toby Sainsbury, technologist with IDA Ireland, explains that CAV – short for connected and autonomous vehicles – is a forum to help academic research and industry in Ireland work more closely together.
The group has the backing of IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, ITS Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland, the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport, LERO (The Irish Software Research Centre) and Insight (The Irish Data Analytics Research Centre). On May 2nd, CAV Ireland will host a research showcase in Killarney, ahead of the Electronomous Care Tech Summit in the same venue. For more information or to register for the event, visit this page.
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