When you think of car manufacturers, your natural instinct is to probably think of … well, cars. Valid. But does the word “innovation” ever pop into your mind? If not, it probably should, because if future predictions are any indication, many companies in this industry are thinking more outside the box then ever before. Electric cars, autonomous cars, heck even flying cars are most certainly the things we can expect from the top car manufacturers in the coming years. General Motors is certainly no exception. In fact, one of the oldest car manufacturers on Earth, they opened a brand new innovation lab in Kitchener-Waterloo’s Communitech Hub earlier this year, the first automotive company leading their innovation platform out of this space.
Recently, Lindsay Farlow, the Innovation hub’s only permanent employee, visited us at Miovision to share what’s been happening since they opened back in February. “(GM) had a whole list of objections and reasons for opening this hub. (Among other things), a lot of companies that have interesting opportunities for collaboration and partnership are here, so they wanted to plant us right in the middle of it to engage with those opportunities,” said Farlow on GM’s reasoning for picking Kitchener-Waterloo to launch the hub. When asked about why they launched an Innovation hub with more of a focus on an agile approach (vs. a waterfall approach on a broader scale), Lindsay shared how important it was to continue to focus on the waterfall approach when it came to manufacturing the vehicles themselves, but that the agile approach would be important in gathering intel and coming up with the strategy. “This is kind of a way for us to hedge our bets and it’s definitely something that they want to introduce to the rest of the company.”
She also talked about some of GM’s recent investments and acquisitions with Lyft, Cruise Automation and Sidecar. And of course, their most recent announcement that they’re hiring 700 new engineers in Canada to focus on autonomous vehicle research – always a hot topic of interest here at Miovision! Some of the things that Furlow and team may look at doing, specifically around autonomous cars, is exploring the HMI for these vehicles. “(We would do the research around) what people would want to see while they’re driving autonomous vehicles, what the display should show and, given that you don’t need the steering wheel or the same controls, what the right mix of controls (is while still) making people feel in control, comfortable.”
GM hasn’t specifically made any promises around autonomous, but they’re making exploration investments into all the buzzwords that you frequently hear around the topic, such as electric, connected and shared. In fact, they are hoping to launch a new car share program called Maven at Communitech in the Fall, which will give GM an edge as a manufacturer, being able to access the data directly. “Data is only as good as the context that you have it in, so (although) we have a lot of data from the vehicle itself, it’s so much more powerful when it’s in conjunction with the other things that are going on around it. Especially with autonomous driving,” Furlow stated. We tend to agree! Who knows, maybe one day in the near future, GM’s autonomous cars will be working seamlessly with Miovision’s smart traffic intersections.
Although they’ve only been operating since February and there haven’t been that many projects as of yet, things that they have worked on have moved to the next level. Like one of their inaugural projects around wearable technology and how they will be able to leverage devices that people are wearing to make the driving experience better. Or helping their customer service team solve the problem of their customer’s going to a third party vendor when their warranty expires. They were able to come up with many innovative ideas on how they can help retrain these customers.
If Lindsay’s insights were any indication, we’re very excited to see what the future holds for GM Innovation labs. They are a natural and welcome fit to our flourishing tech community and we look forward to all of the great things that will emerge from them!