Self-Driving Vehicles Will Require Unprecedented Reliability

google_car

Google’s self-driving car

Autonomous (driverless or self-driving) cars will require unprecedented software and hardware reliability. This need may require double or triple redundancies in some critical systems. Those of us in electronics assembly think first of the reliability issues with hardware, but software concerns may be even greater.  Almost every day we have to reboot one of our electronic devices to get it working, due to software issues, yet seldom have a hardware fail. So the equivalent of the “blue screen of death,” may be the greatest concern for this future technology.

Still, hardware reliability will be a critical issue. Therefore we can expect our colleagues in automotive electronics assembly to be the most demanding in history regarding reliability.

Just how far in the future is the autonomous automobile? Some may think it is already here after reading about the auto accident death of a man while his Tesla was doing the driving.  However, this accident was caused by an auto with only the L2 capability of automation. In L2 automation only speed and lane changing is performed by the auto and only in special circumstances. The human is still in control.

The industry has defined 5 levels of automation, as shown in Figure 1 below. Only L4 or L5 is true automation. In L5, the auto would likely not have a steering wheel, as the human does not take part in driving at all. Figure 1 came from a recent article in Scientific American by Steven Shladover. Shladover argues that L4 and L5 vehicles are decades away, at the earliest 2045. Informal discussions I have had with a leader in the industry, who does not want to be quoted, agrees with this perspective.

 

selfdrivingcars-1

Figure 1. Many technologists suggest that only L4 or L5 automation is practical.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many argue that it makes no sense to have L2 and L3 vehicles as the driver could lose focus while the auto is driven autonomously, and not be alert when needed. When the L4-/L5-era arises it will likely reduce the death toll from accidents significantly. When one considers that 100 people in the US are killed each day in auto accidents, this benefit will be welcome indeed.

Fully autonomous cars will be a major technology disruption. According to John Krafix, CEO of the Google Self-Driving Car Project, we use our cars only 4% of the time. In the era of driverless cars, why have the expense of owning one, when you can summon one for a much lower yearly cost?

It will be interesting to watch all of this unfold, and it will present new and rewarding challenges to those of us in electronics assembly. However, sadly, most of us working today will be well past retirement by the time it comes to full fruition.

 

Automakers ‘Dashing’ for 3d Party Platforms

The fight for the dashboard is heating up as reports surfaced this week that two major automakers will ditch their current embedded software systems in favor of alternatives from Google and Apple.

Ford, which has dabbled with Apple’s CarPlay for two years even while using Microsoft Windows Embedded for its infotainment systems, drop Microsoft and migrate to an Apple-compatible platform, reports indicate.

Likewise, Hyundai is going all in on CarPlay and a competing system from Google called Android Auto.

There’s big money at stake. Automakers generate substantial profits on infotainment and related on-board gear: Ford bundles Sync with Sirius radio and other options in a package, priced at $1,250, which is purportedly nearly $1,000 higher than the OEM’s costs.

While the tools not only control today’s dashboard displays, they could be even more significant down the road as self-driving cars start to populate the roads, freeing vehicle occupants to do tasks once considered unthinkable in moving cars, such as shopping online.

So while the prospect of moving toward more interactive onboard systems holds promise and profits for the automakers themselves, major OEMs like Apple and Google stand to benefit from a captive audience inside the vehicle.

In the future, “keep your eyes on the road” may be replaced with “keep your eyes on the dash.”

Change Coming to Jabil, But Where?

Jabil is cutting staff, but where?

The EMS company’s management this week acknowledged an ongoing restructuring — to the tune of $188 million in charges — but declined to address specific actions. “We intend to realign our manufacturing capacity and cost base to appropriately size our manufacturing footprint with current market conditions and our customers’ geographic needs. We have begun consultation with employees during the third fiscal quarter and out of respect for those employees, we shall not be providing details as to specific sites or locations under consideration at this time.”

Under repeated questioning from analysts on a conference call, CFO Forbes Alexandar did suggest that the restructuring would include plant closures. Discussing when the charges would hit, he said, “[I]t’s really to do with the timing of when we can, essentially, start closing sites or releasing employees and transferring business.”

Obviously, this information will come out, likely sooner rather than later. But it can’t help that while Jabil is trimming, Flextronics’ shuttering of several sites this year has been effectively drowned out by the announcement of a massive new operation outside of Dallas, where it will build the new Moto X smartphone. Jabil also does business with Google (which owns the former Motorola handset business), but my understanding is these tend to be prototypes, while Google performs the volume and final assembly in Fremont, CA.

 

 

 

Why France Publishers are Putting the Screws to Google

More than any other single factor, Google changed the model for publishing, and now some countries are fighting back.

France is threatening legislation that would force Google to pay publishers for indexing their stories on Google News. In response, Google said it would stop indexing stories from French publishers if such legislation is passed.

This is the latest in a string of volleys against the world’s largest search engine, which has long sought ways to leverage its advantage in one area (search) to also dominate another (advertising). In Brazil, for example, the nation’s publishers have decided to opt out of Google’s index, rationalizing that the dubious promise of higher traffic wasn’t worth the loss of a captive market.

Most anti-trust courts have found such behavior illegal; Google thus far has managed to skirt any real trouble, thanks in part to the presence of Yahoo and Microsoft’s Bing. But Google aggregates so much content, and circumvents so many paywalls, it’s difficult to prove that there’s fair value to a given participant.

This is something to watch as most publishers, including UP Media, have been batted around like a mouse in a cat’s clutches Google, and few of us will feel much empathy if the search giant were to be forced to play by the rules.

 

 

The Genius of Apple’s Supply Chain

A massive competitive advantage for Apple is its operations function. Specifically, its supply chain operations. Apple has a regimented core business vision — built around their supply chain.

“They have a very unified strategy, and every part of their business is aligned around that strategy,” said Matthew Davis, a supply-chain analyst with Gartner (IT), who has ranked Apple as the world’s best supply chain for the last four years, as quoted by Bloomberg/BusinessWeek in a recent story on same.

It’s well known that recently Google paid $12 billion for Motorola’s cultivated, global supply chain. That fact, combined with observations about the genius of Apple’s supply chain — genius which is apparently 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration, by the way — make it clearer why a supply line could be worth so much money.

This is the world of manufacturing, procurement, and logistics in which the new chief executive officer, Tim Cook, excelled, earning him the trust of Steve Jobs. According to more than a dozen interviews with former employees, executives at suppliers, and management experts familiar with the company’s operations, Apple has built a closed ecosystem where it exerts control over nearly every piece of the supply chain, from design to retail store. Because of its volume—and its occasional ruthlessness—Apple gets big discounts on parts, manufacturing capacity, and air freight. — Adam Satariano and Peter Burrows, reporters for Bloomberg

The bottom line, according to Satariano and Burrows, is that Apple plans to double spending on its supply chain, to $7.1 billion — continuing its focus on streamlining and controlling manufacturing.

Relative to Google’s $12 billion to procure part of a new one, once again it seems to make financial sense to invest in current accounts rather than invest in new.

Excellent article on Apple’s supply chain can be found here.

Served Up

The trend toward “do it yourself” servers among the major Internet and social media companies reinforces the end-customer’s position at the top of the electronics supply chain.

Google, Facebook and other major dot.com companies are migrating away from off-the-shelf equipment in favor of custom-designed and built machines that better meet their specific needs. While the trend — custom-built servers now make up 20% of the US server market, according to a recent report by research firm Gartner — isn’t completely new, it is now affecting the bottom lines of H-P, Dell and other OEMs that live in that space.

Moreover, Google and Facebook are employing large numbers of hardware designers, once again taking the top talent away from the manufacturing floor (the companies then outsource the actual product build). It could also change the services model: Will repair be performed by the major EMS companies, or by local or even internal specialists?

I suspect the major server makers will try to adapt their product lines, but the question remains whether the Googles of the world will let them far enough through the door to get a good feel for the technology needs, or whether the major dot.coms become mini-Apples in which paranoia trumps partnering.

Served Up

The trend toward “do it yourself” servers among the major Internet and social media companies reinforces the end-customer’s position at the top of the electronics supply chain.

Google, Facebook and other major dot.com companies are migrating away from off-the-shelf equipment in favor of custom-designed and built machines that better meet their specific needs. While the trend — custom-built servers now make up 20% of the US server market, according to a recent report by research firm Gartner — isn’t completely new, it is now affecting the bottom lines of H-P, Dell and other OEMs that live in that space.

Moreover, Google and Facebook are employing large numbers of hardware designers, once again taking the top talent away from the manufacturing floor (the companies then outsource the actual product build). It could also change the services model: Will repair be performed by the major EMS companies, or by local or even internal specialists?

I suspect the major server makers will try to adapt their product lines, but the question remains whether the Googles of the world will let them far enough through the door to get a good feel for the technology needs, or whether the major dot.coms become mini-Apples in which paranoia trumps partnering.

For $12B, Google Buys Motorola’s Insured Supply Chain

The Google-Motorola deal announced last week is about hardware manufacturing capability.  In other words, Google just paid $12.5 billion for a gadget supply chain with over 20,000 patents as the cherry on top.

As Chris Nowak put it in a recent article in Environmental Leader about quality management in a modern supply chain, “Today’s business problems include how to compete with a supply chain like Apple’s – a bristling hot pot of electronics suppliers and logistical hubs that delivers a customized, monogrammed electronic gadget in 3 days or a book you order today that’s delivered tomorrow, or the sneakers that you design to wear next week.

“Like it or not,” writes Nowak, “this is today’s competitive field.  All this speed still has to be cost-effective, innovative, compliant and risk-analyzed for whatever market it’s being made in and sold into.  Today’s global supply chain has blink-fast distribution demands.”

It couldn’t be more true.  What Motorola has is a hardware supply chain for gadgets comparable to Apple’s; now Google has one too.  That’s a large chunk of the $12 billion, and that chunk that was worth it.

The environmental compliance piece. What’s notable from our point of view is that Motorola has in recent years made significant efforts in its supply chain environmental compliance.  Their supply chain risk in terms of compliance vulnerabilities is low, low, low.

Motorola has for years been actively collecting supplier chemical information, fortifying compliance efforts with REACH, RoHS and other environmental regulations — imposed by both government and industry alike.

Did Google see that as part of the value?

Did Google acquisition executives see this material disclosure data as significant portfolio gold that may continue to return value?

As regulations tighten worldwide and the pressure mounts to know what’s happening at the chemical level in an electronics (or in any discrete manufacturing) supply chain, Google will know.  Their competitors?  Not so much..

Microsoft, Apple and Oracle have a new and sudden weak spot. While the term material disclosure has more than one meaning, some call it “supply chain insurance.”  Here’s how Motorola — in just a few years — has insured its supply chain.

“We require our suppliers to disclose an extensive list of Motorola Solutions’ banned, controlled and reportable substances as well as request recycled material content for each part supplied to Motorola Solutions,” says the company.  “We do this to fully understand and track the material content of our products, to comply with regulations, prepare for future regulations and control and improve the environmental profile of our products.”

This is not a partial approach.  It’s bold and thorough.

If you think about all the law suits that fire back and forth between the tech giants like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Oracle — the giants without material disclosure insurance seem suddenly keenly vulnerable in the environmental, sourcing, and quality assurance heel.

Motorola’s material disclosure advantage. Motorola Solutions — in its corporate documentation — discusses how its taken a proactive approach and compiled a list of 63 substances (or substance groups) targeted for exclusion, reduction or reporting during the design and manufacture of products. The list is divided into three sections:

  1. Banned substances which are not allowed for use in any Motorola Solutions product at any level
  2. Controlled substances which are limited for use in manufacturing processes or certain product applications (use limitations are typically defined by national or international environmental regulations)
  3. Reportable substances which are are not currently banned or controlled for use, but are likely to be in the future or the company has identified the need to understand their use as part of a environmentally conscious design process and/or for end-of-life management

Motorola has for years now required its suppliers to fully disclose information on the materials composition of parts and components, including information on substances of concern and recycled material content.  The company collects, stores and published information about internal efforts in researching alternative materials and stewardship regarding batteries and other end-of-life concerns.

Regulatory specifics. Motorola has been a leader in recognizing that many countries around the world have implemented regulatory restrictions on hazardous substances.

  1. European Union’s directive on the restriction of hazardous substances (RoHS):  Motorola Solutions complies with the European Union’s directive on the restriction of hazardous substances (RoHS) for electronic products sold in the EU. The company voluntarily extended compliance with the European Union’s restriction of the hazardous substances (RoHS) directive to cover all newly designed professional and public safety two-way radio products as well as mobile and wireless products for the enterprise, regardless of where they are sold worldwide.
  2. China Management Methods:  China’s Management Methods for Controlling Pollution from Electronic Information Products requires manufacturers to report and label usage of the same six hazardous substances listed in the EU RoHS Directive affective as of March 1, 2007. All Motorola, Inc. and Solutions products manufactured after March 1, 2007 and shipped into China comply with the labeling requirements of China Management Methods.  Motorola posts a direct phone line where you can call to get more information.
  3. REACH:  REACH, the European Union substances regulation that entered into the force of law on June 1, 2007, has notable phased deadlines to 2018. The broad regulation requires communication throughout the supply chain, and Motorola Solutions has been “actively sharing information to meet our obligations and help our customers meet theirs.”

The Wily Larry Page. Acquiring Motorola Mobility’s environmental compliance and collection of material disclosure information from suppliers may not be the final straw that flips the other turtles onto their backs.  But it may.  In the meantime, the value of the logistical aspects of Motorola Mobility’s logsitical supply chain is not to be overlooked.

Not everything Larry Page, Inc., also known as Google, has done in 2011 has been amazing, but this deal is a smart, wily, forward-thinking acquisition for a number of reasons — from risk management right down to the chemical level.

New Search

In a long overdue move, Google has changed its search algorithm, and those publishers that simply cut-and-paste other people’s stories (you know who you are) are going to see their rankings drop bigtime.
In Google’s words, among the four reasons for a ranking drop is this: “The content of the website has been copied from other sites.”

Since Google controls an estimate 67% of all searches performed, this is a big, big deal. Sure enough, PCD&F and other UP Media Group sites have seen a noticeable rise in traffic since Google’s move.
The Online Publishers Association, a group of content producers that includes some of the most highly trafficked sites in the world, estimates the update will shift $1 billion in annual revenue away from content aggregators back to content originators.
It’s about time.

New Search

In a long overdue move, Google has changed its search algorithm, and those publishers that simply cut-and-paste other people’s stories (you know who you are) are going to see their rankings drop bigtime.

In Google’s words, among the four reasons for a ranking drop is this: “The content of the website has been copied from other sites.”

Since Google controls an estimate 67% of all searches performed, this is a big, big deal. CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY and other UP Media Group sites have seen a noticeable rise in traffic since Google’s move.
The Online Publishers Association, a group of content producers that includes some of the most highly trafficked sites in the world, estimates the update will shift $1 billion in annual revenue away from content aggregators back to content originators.
It’s about time.