Our world is changing; machinery matters less than software. Mazda R&D chief Kiyoshi Fujiwara told Car and Driver at the Detroit auto show this year that in the age of electric vehicles, the powertrain, that core technology that is so important to the identity of a car brand, will become just another purchased component. It is the software, the brains, that the company must own to call itself an automaker. Along those lines, Honda recently opened its R&D Center X to focus on robotics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. It also launched a software lab on the 27th floor of a Tokyo skyscraper that has all the beanbag accoutrements of a Silicon Valley computing mosh pit, the better to attract the keen young programming minds that are now in such high demand in virtually every other industry.
Stanford University artificial-intelligence expert and Honda consultant Edward Feigenbaum explained to Automotive News that Honda’s “current R&D leadership saw the need to move beyond the mechanical engineering of the past toward a digital future dominated by software, not mechanism.” Imagine Honda’s museum of the future, where little black boxes with blinking lights are displayed proudly next to examples of VTEC and CVCC.