Like a lot of large, long-standing companies, Bosch is seeing technology rapidly change its core business in areas ranging from automotive to automation. Consequently, Bosch is investing in emerging sectors such as mobility and IOT to grow the company, its product portfolio, consumer base and profits. Earlier this month, I sat down with Werner Struth, a member of the board of management of Robert Bosch GmbH, to discuss Bosch’s evolution from a traditional automotive supplier to a much broader mobility services and IOT provider, and to get his perspective on what’s down the road for the 130-year-old company.
C3 Report: Given its long history and wide-ranging technology capabilities, how do you see Bosch making an impact in the mobility space?
Werner Struth: If you look at our past, we have initiated major innovations in the automotive business: modern gasoline- and diesel-injection systems and ABS and [electronic stability control] systems, for example. Bosch has always set benchmarks and new trends. We think that is one of our strengths but also our intention for the future—not just to react to market trends, but to shape market trends and shape the future of the businesses we are in and the businesses of adjacent areas.
C3 Report: How does Bosch plan to position itself to take advantage of its legacy and strengths?
Struth: That’s one of the reasons we changed our name of one of our larger business areas from the Automotive division to Mobility Solutions division about two years ago. We are in the automotive business, but the larger shell of this business is mobility. That is the reason we are ready for mobility solutions now. We are also contributing to intra-modal mobility models, combining individual mobility by means of car or scooter or bike or whatever with public transportation systems in the city and beyond. This is what we will definitely further pursue in the future without forgetting what makes us strong, which is conventional automotive business. For us that is a very important paradigm shift: not only thinking in automotive but thinking in mobility solutions as well.
C3 Report: Bosch is involved in a lot of different businesses: automotive, industrial, consumer goods, household appliances. Do you think this gives Bosch an advantage in mobility?
Struth: I think the advantage of Bosch is that we have everything in-house. We know about consumer goods. We know about billing and energy management. We know about industrial technology. I refer to [this as] domain knowledge. Domain knowledge means we know about mobility solutions which, of course, is the focus of our automotive business. That is our four domains. That is what we think is pretty much unique.
C3 Report: A couple of years ago, Bosch opened an R&D center in Germany and heavily invested in hiring thousands of software developers and engineers and looked inward as a way of approaching innovation.
Struth: Bosch is well known as a software company. We have on a global basis more than 15,000 software engineers and close to one-third of those are working on IOT. And we are on an annual basis investing about 9% of our [annual revenue] in R&D in various areas of our business. The second area we are investing in is the transformation of propulsion systems from conventional internal combustion to electric mobility. Nobody knows when it will be exactly, but electric mobility will be the larger part of the automotive business. For example, in electric mobility we have invested around 500 billion euros.
C3 Report: A lot of companies in the mobility space are investing in and nurturing tech startups to complement their own capabilities. Is that something Bosch is doing?
Struth: We have, as a matter of fact, the Bosch Start-up platform and one of the most successful outcomes of the platform is Kuri the robot we unveiled at CES. We also have Bosch Venture Capital that invests in start-ups. And we have start-up communities within the rest of the Bosch group. The Automatic Production Assistant for IOT we also showed at CES [was developed by] a start-up organization in our larger machine-building organization, for example.
C3 Report: At CES you announced a smart parking solution that’s part of a larger smart cities initiative. What cities are you working with, and can the technology work independently of involvement by cities?
Struth: We started in Stuttgart with our pilot customer, Mercedes Benz. And now we are rolling out the system to other cities as well. And in 2018 or 2019, we’d like to introduce this to the U.S. It measures free space using a car’s ultrasonic sensors and a connectivity unit transfer the information to the cloud. The basic things we need to set up the system are existing, because it is a map of the city, which everyone uses for navigation, ultrasonic sensors and a connectivity unit. We don’t need cities [to participate]. But cities – especially mega cities like Beijing, Shanghai, New York and others – are desperately looking to get a higher efficiency in their mobility patterns and we are also in discussions on how to more efficiently organize mobility within a city.
C3 Report: How important is smart cities and IOT technology to Bosch’s future?
Struth: Our motto is Invented for Life. That means that we shall provide products and services to our customers, to our end-users, that will improve the quality of life. Searching for a parking spot is not a fun task. Having this technology, community-based parking, enables you to find a free parking spot so it’s a real solution provider. The cloud tells you where there’s a free parking spot. That is unthinkable without IOT.
Originally published by Forbes.com