John Absmeier oversees Delphi’s advanced vehicle development activities, including the cultivation of Delphi Automotive’s relationships with Silicon Valley-based thought leaders, identifying investment opportunities and accelerating the commercialization of advanced connected car technologies. John’s technology development team focuses on infotainment and collision avoidance, two fast-growing product sectors Delphi hopes to exploit. John is also in charge of developing Delphi’s automated driving programs.
Previously, John was Delphi’s Business Director, Electronic Controls Asia-Pacific, where he was responsible for Delphi’s Safety Electronics, Body & Security Electronics and Electrification product lines. John holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University, a Master’s of Science degree from the University of California Berkeley and a Master’s from the Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley.
In September 2013, John opened Delphi Labs @ Silicon Valley to work with the company’s suppliers and customers in the development of autonomous vehicles and related technologies. Working among Silicon Valley’s best and brightest innovators, John expresses the urgency of speed in the overall development of the connected car.
“All of these technologies have been coming together piece by piece over time, but the forces of the market are really demanding that it come quicker now,” he said. “And with this connectivity demand from the consumer, we have to deliver the safety solutions that allow them to intuitively use connected features and services in the car.”
Looking at the contrast in technology development cycles within Detroit, Germany, Tokyo and other automotive centers, John reiterates the rapidity of innovation in Silicon Valley. “One big advantage of Silicon Valley is that it works at a much faster pace,” he said. “I sometimes say our [product development] times are moving from months to minutes.”
John also evaluates technology startups for Delphi to invest in such companies. “Delphi is ready to invest in nascent technology and is not ruling out acquisitions of smaller companies that have already proven their technologies in the auto sector,” he said.
As an example of the collaborative environment that John manages, Delphi worked with Panasonic and Silicon Valley firms NVIDIA and CloudCar to develop an infotainment system powered by a smartphone. Delphi unveiled this technology at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in January. Would this program have developed as quickly without a strong tech presence? “The automotive industry traditionally has not had a good relationship with tech companies,” John observes. “Being next door to them gives us a lot more credibility and an environment to collaborate.”
The autonomous vehicle is becoming a race to see whether a tech giant like Google or the auto industry will create the operational platform first, and as a result sensor and processing technologies have taken big innovative leaps. “We’ve now moved to more advanced radar and vision systems that encompass the entire vehicle and enable features such as collision-mitigating braking, pedestrian detection and reduced-speed automated driving,” John notes.
John believes consumer market adaptation of the autonomous vehicle will be a challenge. “ABS took 17 years to achieve 5 percent penetration among automakers,” John said. “ESC took a similar time to reach the same penetration, and I think the autonomous vehicle will face a comparable trial.
“Safety, security and convenience will help to mitigate the expected slow growth curve,” he added. “However, the concept of full automation, where the driver is fully out-of-the-loop, is years out from being a production application. In the near-future, though, there will be limited-use cases such as low-speed traffic jams or expressway driving at highway speeds. So it will be important to develop technology that will help transition control back to the driver and make sure that the driver takes control of the vehicle.”
To help with this, Delphi’s prototype driver-state-sensing system captures vehicle data as well as information about the driver’s behaviors. “The automated vehicle is really an extension of driver-assistance technologies,” John says. “There are algorithms that take into consideration steering, throttle and brake inputs as well as cameras that look at the driver’s head position, eye gaze and eye closure in order to make a decision as to whether the driver is distracted drowsy or even intoxicated.”
When considering whether technology can successfully bring the autonomous vehicle to market in ways that consumers will embrace, John is quick to point out that “systems have to adapt to the way that people like to drive or people won’t adopt them. This includes identifying the correct technology transition between manual, semi-autonomous and fully-autonomous driving,” he says. “You really need technology experts to lead the way here. Otherwise you run the risk of developing vehicles that are obsolete, un-marketable or both.”