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Tech Incubator enables JLR to cultivate the future of mobility

First into JLR’s new Tech Incubator initiative: a baby monitor, a parking app and an innovative use of connectivity to bring electrification to emerging cities. By Martin Kahl

What do a baby monitor, a parking app and a vehicle electrification and connectivity start-up have in common? Answer: they could just be the future of mobility.

That, at least, is what Jaguar Land Rover believes, and what led the OEM to select these three innovations as the first three members of its new Technology Incubator initiative in Portland, Oregon.

“Over the last few years we’ve been rapidly growing our open software presence within Jaguar Land Rover, first in the UK, and then in Portland, Oregon, where we opened our Open Software Technology Centre,” explains Matt Jones, who since January 2016 has held JLR’s newly created title of Director of Future Technology in the OEM’s Infotainment, Electronic and Software Engineering division.

“For the last six months, we’ve been building a Technology Incubator here in Portland, Oregon,” says Jones, who also runs the Portland operation. “It’s a brand new facility that’s enabling Jaguar Land Rover to bring in companies to actively collaborate
with us.”

Collaboration with start-ups is not new to JLR. “Previously we’ve worked with outside start-ups like Vonsor and Eggcyte, as well as a host of other companies on different collaborations. However, the Tech Incubator will actively allow us to bring in small companies, accelerate them and work with them on a daily basis.”

The Portland team currently consists of around 60 developers and engineers. “We’re going to grow that to 80 by the end of March 2016, and we have plans for 110 later in 2016, the sole aim being to understand how we can rapidly integrate technology from these companies and how we can get active adoption, not just within Jaguar Land Rover, but make them healthy companies in the automotive ecosystem as a whole.”

The first three

At an event on the sidelines of CES 2016 in Las Vegas, JLR announced that BabyBit, ParkiT and were the first three start-ups to be welcomed into the Tech Incubator.

BabyBit, Jones concedes, is not a typical automotive technology. A wearable for infants, the device clips on to the baby’s clothing and monitors things like the child’s breathing rate, heartbeat and body position, delivering the information to the caregiver’s phone and to the parents. Jones grins in anticipation of the obvious next question: where might the interest lie for JLR?

“It sounds like it’s just an infant wearable, but if you think about it, it’s a wearables company which has a hardware element to it that interfaces to mobile devices and other wearables, and it’s also a Cloud computing platform that enables data collection.”

There may be many of those, accepts Jones, but he says this solves a real-world frustration. “It’s a cause of anxiety for many new mothers, and you can imagine that if you’ve got a child in the rear of the car, you’d want to tailor their environment to the exact temperature. Using this sensor, we would know the temperature of the infant in the car seat, and we could adjust the climate zone. Over the next six months, we’re going to be exploring that in active partnership with BabyBit to understand what the automotive use cases for this might be. Is it as simple as the head unit telling you where that baby is? Or is it as complex as actively monitoring their temperature and adjusting the cabin temperature? Or something in-between?”

One of the reasons for selecting the company is that JLR genuinely does not know how, or if, it could use the solution. “But we know the founders very well. They were selected as one of three from over 130 applicants, and we’re really excited to be working with them.”

Activities like the Tech Incubator can help OEMs tap into start-up ideas and technology, and work with them to avoid the automotive industry’s year-on-year latency

The second of the successful Incubator start-ups is a parking solution called ParkiT. It may not be alone in claiming to solve the problem of finding a parking space – an activity which reportedly accounts for a high percentage of city centre traffic and fuel consumption – but its approach sets it apart from the others. “Some of the other solutions that we’ve seen on the market rely heavily on infrastructure. That’s just not sustainable for the number of car parking spaces in North America alone. Individual parking bay sensors don’t work very well for outside lots, outside malls or anywhere else. ParkiT uses existing infrastructure and security cameras to identify which bays are full, which are vacant, and feeds that back to a data platform.” Jones, a keen proponent of open source platforms – he is currently President of the GENIVI Alliance – says one of the attractions of ParkiT is the developers’ enthusiasm to build on open-source platforms.

The ParkiT developers have identified opportunities in the existing infrastructure’s algorithms for recognising spaces and vehicles, and are keen to understand how this could be used with existing in-vehicle cameras and satnav data, or more accurate data for where different vehicles are at different points in time. ParkiT, developed by a small team of engineering students from Rice University in Houston, Texas, is already in use in car parks at that university, says Jones, “and we’re excited to work with them over the next six months to understand how we can move it forwards.”

Unlike ParkiT, the founders of are far more experienced. “One, Dr Wilfred Pinfold, is an ex-director of Intel Labs working very closely with their C level executives,” notes Jones. “Another is from a similar role within IBM, and the third is a White House Fellow.” What they have developed is a way to combine fleet management tools with low speed electric vehicles to create what Jones describes as a new and innovative option for urban transportation.

“These are influential people, and they set themselves the task of solving the problem of electrification, connected cities and connected vehicles without putting in huge amounts of infrastructure. And they’re also looking to fix this in a very open way. They’re not looking to build a proprietary solution and make billions by rolling it out across every city. They’re looking to use existing open source platforms and, effectively, reap their benefits through services and expertise later on.”

The twist, however, is that rather than electrifying Boston or Manhattan, is seeking to complete its first rollout with electric buses and electric infrastructure in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

According to, this will be ‘a proof of concept for other emerging cities worldwide’, and it ‘will supply affordable, sustainable and “connected” transportation for the movement of people around the city in a managed system. The system will improve efficiencies, decrease congestion and positively affect the lives of the passengers, drivers and owners.’

Put simply, believes that if this can be done in Ethiopia, it should be able to be replicated anywhere. “They’re looking to solve traffic problems in emerging cities before they occur,” says Jones. “We’re really pleased to work with them. And again, they will be moving in to Portland and they’re very interested in working with us on some of the open source projects, especially remote vehicle interactions.”

A winning formula?

The winners are awarded with a package worth US$250,000 or more, including as fully-equipped office space within JLR’s Incubator facility, and access to JLR staff. “We’re looking to build a healthy automotive ecosystem. Our success criteria is growing companies that can ultimately sell and are self-sufficient and support themselves. They move into Jaguar Land Rover and we give them a six person office and access to a dedicated Incubator team of nine individuals to support their business needs. We have a mentor network of over 100 individuals, made up of experts in their field, C-level executives from Silicon Valley, design directors of Jaguar Land Rover, and members from other automotive OEMs.

“On top of that, they get access to Jaguar Land Rover’s team that will be in excess of 80 developers in Portland, and beyond that, access through email to the combined automotive knowledge of 8,000 Jaguar Land Rover engineers worldwide. We fund their membership of the GENIVI Alliance, introduce them to our competition at other OEMs and anywhere else, and take a small equity stake of typically between 5% and 15% of that company. We want them to actively build and sell their technology, so we do not take IP rights. It is theirs and they can use it how they like going forward. We want them to actively build a market and share that with Toyota, with Ford, with Jaguar Land Rover, and with other OEMs going forward.”

By operating an activity like the Tech Incubator, JLR – and any other OEMs which might choose to follow this model – can tap into start-up ideas and technology, and by working with them, help to avoid the year-on-year latency that has so long been a feature of the automotive industry, and instead accelerate development and reduce time to market.

JLR says it will “on-board” between ten and 12 companies each year. The ‘incubation period’ lasts six months, and up to six companies are expected to be in the incubator at any one time. A parking app, a baby monitor and an EV infrastructure connectivity platform: whatever next?

This article appeared in the Q1 2016 issue of Automotive Megatrends Magazine. Follow this link to download the full issue.

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