Creating a Silicon Valley In-house

DENSO’s Challenge to Think about the Future of Mobility and Development Organization

Oct. 16, 2019 Innovation Events

DENSO Tech Links Tokyo #2, a meetup event organized by DENSO Corporation, was held on March 19, 2019. DENSO is known as the largest automotive component manufacturer in the world, and today it is also investing resources in software development in addition to manufacturing automotive components. Three DENSO employees appeared after the presentation by Mr. Takuya Oikawa and talked about their efforts in respective fields and the story behind DENSO’s engineering.

DENSO’s efforts toward the era of MaaS

Ms. Makiko Tauchi (“Tauchi”): Good evening. Today, I’d like to talk about the development of MaaS.

At DENSO, a relatively large proportion of employees who are engaged in MaaS were recruited mid-career. I have been working for DENSO from the beginning of my career, having joined the company in 2005. The development of MaaS started three years ago. We focus mainly on basic technologies to provide mobility services via the cloud, namely, development of the cloud, which is rare within DENSO.

The development of in-vehicle technologies and mobility services is different from that of cars in terms of quality,cost, and delivery (QCD). For example, new cars are launched every four years, whereas services are updated every two to three months. A popular service is immediately scaled up for global use.

Earlier, Mr. Takuya Oikawa mentioned “fusion with IT.” In-vehicle technologies and IT technologies come from completely different cultures. We are developing new technologies by fusing these technologies to offer value to users of mobility services.

We are undergoing a once-in-a-century transformation. DENSO has been developing technologies to “offer free mobility to all people.”

I will explain the actual process at the MaaS R&D Div.

Conventionally, DENSO develops products based on the specifications received from customers. In MaaS, the first step is to formulate a social hypothesis in the upstream area. Our personnel determine the system requirements and practice Proof of Concept (PoC).

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Specifically, our personnel in charge of the upstream process visit centers of innovation and talk with various experts to formulate a social hypothesis. Based on these activities, we formulate the development requirements for the next-generation system, practice PoC, and propose a system to customers. Such development is already underway.

In fact, I visit centers of innovation periodically to observe the changes and trend.

The target areas include San Francisco on the West Coast. We focus on Seattle for IT, New York for technology, and also conduct fixed-point observations in London because mobility services and society there have been changing significantly.

Trend in mobility outside Japan

Tauchi: In terms of social trends, New York has become increasingly urbanized and traffic congestion is a big problem. Various cities have introduced regulations to separate the lanes for buses and bicycles to minimize congestion.

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In London, new rules came into effect this April. Drivers driving their own private cars into the city must pay charges during certain time periods. We visit these places to observe and experience how specific measures are implemented.

Regarding the value of mobility, users are keen to share cars rather than own them.

Cities face issues such as congestion and insufficient parking lots. In New York, it costs 3,000 to 5,000 yen to park a car for 30 minutes on weekends. Parking for two hours can cost as much as 10,000 yen, making it impractical to use private cars for casual mobility.

New York City urges people to use ride-sharing services such as Uber. Our fixed-point observations have revealed that people’s mobility has been changing.

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Due to worsening urbanization, consumers’ attitudes have been shifting from purchase to use, and the industry has been working hard to respond to the trend. Mobility services will increase rapidly in the future.

We predict that the market will expand in North America and China in the near future. IT players such as Amazon and Google have started to enter the industry.

Thus, our hypothesis is that a business shift and collaboration have been accelerating at OEMs.

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(While pointing to the slide) This blue part shows the mobility service business, which is projected to increase almost eight-fold from the current level by around 2030.

Service providers who use cars will increase.

Tauchi: The mobility business does not necessarily mean that the fleet will be entirely replaced by service cars in the near future, or that a city will be immediately transformed into a smart city by using IT. Two types of business will coexist in the market: conventional businesses that sell cars and new businesses that use cars as a service (while pointing to CaaS on the slide).

In-car delivery is a new service that uses cars as delivery boxes. A parcel is delivered to one’s own car while it is parked at the company parking lot instead of one’s home while there is no one there to receive it.

MaaS refers to a service in which cars are used as a means of urban mobility. This business will also emerge in the market.

Regarding the business structure of the services, business with third parties who utilize cars will increase (while pointing to the slide). The growth of this business is the major reason why the overall business will increase eight-fold as I mentioned earlier.

From the viewpoint of technology, the key to business expansion is how to involve third parties and effectively use cars. Technologies related to data disclosure and access to cars will become important, so we focus mainly on developing these technologies.

We have created some examples of using services in the immediate future and listed up the functions and data (while pointing to the slide). This serves as the basis to consider technologies required for the cloud and cars.

DENSO will provide technologies to customers who wish to offer mobility services or become platformers. DENSO has been developing a digital twin as cloud technology and an ECU called “Mobility IoT Core” as car technology. We are developing technologies that connect mobility with services.

The digital twin

Tauchi: Next, I will talk about our digital twin.

Mr. Oikawa mentioned “digital shadow” in his presentation. Location and time data related to mobility are accurately mapped on the cloud and can be accessed by service companies. The digital shadow enables service companies to access information in real time.

Real-time mapping makes it possible to use the data for various analyses and services. We are developing cloud technologies for these purposes.

Regarding car technologies, we are developing ECUs for controlling cars and collecting data safely. These ECUs are called “Mobility IoT Cores.”

We are currently building a system for connecting real cars with services by coordinating the digital twin and Mobility IoT Cores.

At present, DENSO offers Mobility IoT Cores and cloud SDKs to OEMs and service providers for development and other purposes. We started to explain this to customers at CES this year, and wish to help customers create new value.

This is an image of evaluating an actual car.

This is a prototype Mobility IoT Core.

A Lexus RX is used to collect vehicle data. We are testing various control patterns for evaluation, including direct control from a smartphone via BLE and evaluating the practical feasibility of the in-car delivery service in examples of use.

(While pointing to the slide) This is how control is performed via the cloud. As I mentioned earlier, there are growing needs to analyze image data or use image data on the cloud. We have started evaluations on taking videos in real time or uploading image data to the cloud for analysis.

On a final note, we mostly develop technologies in Kariya (Aichi Prefecture), but we have proposed that development be carried out in Seattle or somewhere else. A laboratory has been set up in Seattle, at the initiative of our supervisor (smile).

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The laboratory is located behind Amazon’s headquarters in downtown Seattle. I invite prospective partners to work together in the development in Seattle.

That’s all. Thank you very much.

(Applause from the audience)

Role of the Cockpit Systems R&D Div.

Moderator: Ms. Tauchi has explained MaaS. Now, Mr. Yamashita of the Cockpit Systems R&D Div. will give explanations based on an exhibit at CES.

Mr. Shingo Yamashita (“Yamashita”): Good evening. There has been a lot of input from Mr. Oikawa and Ms. Tauchi, and I guess you’re getting tired. I will talk about something that is intuitively understandable.

I work for the Cockpit Systems R&D Div. I am involved with a team which is developing equipment around the driver’s seat such as instrument clusters and center console display devices. I work as an experience designer, and my role is to propose experiences that can be achieved by our technology.

Today, I will talk about the concept of a cockpit exhibited at CES in 2019.

It may be difficult to picture just by explaining the details, so I will show a video first.

An exhibit using VR

Yamashita: When we present a future cockpit, we do not create a physical mock-up. Instead, we show the “experience” that our solution may provide based on various assumptions including technologies or preconditions that do not exist at present. We exhibited a future experience using super-real VR.

By using the VR we wanted to ask society, “Is this future acceptable?” Please watch the video.

(The video starts.)

(While pointing to the image) Here is a small car. Visitors experienced the VR in this car, which was very interesting. Various visitors experienced the VR, and we received much positive feedback. I will explain it later.

This is the actual VR image. Visitors experienced the future of mobility with other occupants. Some key technologies were used in the mobility experience. This VR exhibit enabled visitors to experience a story.

“Mobility. An epic story.”

Yamashita: Now that you’ve got the general idea, let’s get back to the slides. This flashy car was placed in the large and lively venue and was moved for the VR experience.

Our message was simple: “Mobility. An epic story.” This was the conceptual message of our proposal.

This project originated from a hardware device. I was asked to design a future cockpit that the device made possible. The request for help led to the start of the project.

When a car is considered as a means of mobility, it travels from Point A to Point B through many areas. Mobility is considered as continuous changes in location. Mobility will become more efficient and convenient and offer much value. Thus, most cars in society will turn into services.

This is the future that will definitely come true. However, I wonder whether we have missed an important consideration: “Will cars become only convenient?” Simply put, this is the key point.

I really like cars. In my childhood, I enjoyed making small discoveries when my father took me skiing. I found houses between tunnels in a mountainous region and saw laundry drying outside. It was surprising to find that people lived in such places, which aroused my imagination about the residents and their lives. When I went out with someone, it was also fun to think about visiting the place again or bringing someone else next time.

The project members believe that mobility creates new stories.

What next after cars become more convenient?

Yamashita: Cars will definitely become more convenient. When we considered how to make cars fun, we started to think as follows. “Mobility enables people to make new discoveries and creates new stories. What about presenting the value of mobility using future technologies?”

The conceptual video that we watched earlier featured mobility in summer. “I’ve heard that cherry blossoms bloom in spring around here. What do they look like?” Cherry blossoms are projected on the windows by AR. “If the cherry blossoms are so beautiful, I should bring my whole family here next spring.”

The video featured a starry sky at the end. The car informed the driver, “In winter, you can see the stars very clearly around here, and can enjoy a beautiful starry sky in the clear air.” The driver asks, “What does the starry sky look like?” The car responds by projecting an image, “It’s so beautiful.” The driver says, “I will bring my children next time.” This is just one example of enjoying mobility, seeking out the attractive features of each location. This message is included in “Mobility. An epic story.”

This video visualizes the concept.

(The video continues.)

“Driving Reimagined” is the title of the slide. It also appeared in the video, and is the title of the exhibit. It conveys the message, “What will emerge when mobility is reimagined?”

This slide shows the general idea in words.

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As has been discussed, DENSO is a technology company, so in-house discussions inevitably focus on technology and rarely use poetic messages.

This poetic expression also represents engineers’ wish: “When we develop technologies, we wish to consider who will use our technologies and what our technologies will offer. We also want to imagine whose emotions and bodies our technologies will move and how our technologies will change society.” This project consists of highly enthusiastic members.

There are a lot of things you don’t know until you travel. Mobility is synonymous with meeting something or experiencing with the five senses. DENSO will offer solutions that make mobility a special story for each person when driving to a new place. This is what we propose.

This may be called a concept story, fantasy, or imagination. It is necessary to explain how DENSO’s technologies will be used.

Focal points of the VR story

Yamashita: I will explain an overview of the VR story.

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There is a scene of choosing the destination in the VR at the outset. It assumes that automated driving already exists. An automated-driving car does not start driving until the destination is specified. Will it be necessary to specify a destination?

An activity, person, or emotion may replace a destination. Obviously, AI or a conversation agent will be used to guide the conversation such as “I want to let my children enjoy playing.” or “I want to make up with my wife.”

This will be organized as a trip. The VR includes a scene in which a trip is arranged by eliciting an emotion from the driver or occupants. It also features relevant technologies.

When you go out, information is available everywhere, whether information about the place or about the people. The next theme is how to connect the information.

Three persons appear in the concept story: the driver and two other occupants. There is a scene that reminds them of a past driving experience when they visited the place previously.

Technology for presenting information should be improved to offer information experience. The VR depicts a scene that raises an issue: “How to ensure coordination so that information with a certain meaning is provided to those who want to receive it?”

Finally, this is the point that I have focused on. (While pointing to the slide) A starry sky will be presented like this, though this conveys only the rough idea. We are designing encounters through mobility as new experiences and valuable opportunities for occupants.

Commitment to reality to convey experience

Yamashita: With this in mind, we created a story and exhibited the VR. A user does not simply wear goggles. Earlier, I showed this small car running. This is an electric vehicle named COMS manufactured by Toyota Auto Body.

This car moves in synchronization with the VR. This is the view from the driver’s seat. When the car starts to move, the user can feel the gravitational force, the wind generated by a fan, and aroma from an odor generator. The seat and steering wheel also vibrate. It is called VR-CAR, and you can check it on the web.

The VR is highly realistic. We were anxious because the concept was merely a fantasy and idea of our own making. We thought that the VR should be as realistic as possible to involve users in our imagination.

The point was to enable users to feel reality in an unreal setting. The exhibit is based on this theme. Users became the main character in our VR, and felt the experience through their eyes, ears, nose, and back. We made great effort to convey the concept through this exhibit.

This exhibit was made possible with the help of engineers different from those of the cockpit development team.

Role of design at DENSO

Yamashita: I joined DENSO about two and a half years ago. Previously, I was responsible for designing the experience of electric home appliances. In my career, I worked the longest time on smartphones. I was asked by engineers to come up with ideas using available solutions. I made proposals and worked on various products including home controllers. I also looked at the possibility of new mobile devices.

I have talked about my background because it gave me the experience that laid the foundation to work as a designer with engineers.

I believe it is important to work with a technology development team because the field of design is weak, but designers can demonstrate very strong capabilities when they team up with engineers.

I promote collaboration between designers and engineers, and made various arrangements to ensure collaboration in the CES project by involving the development team, VR-CAR production team, PR team, and external personnel. The project was largely inspired by the external collaboration.

We have many talented people in-house. DENSO also has powerful external partners who work closely with DENSO. This is a unique company. That’s all for my presentation. Thank you very much.

(Applause from the audience)

Creating a Silicon Valley in-house

Moderator: The final presenter is Mr. Ishida who is affiliated with the Digital Innovation Dept., MaaS R&D Div.

Mr. Shinya Ishida (“Ishida”): Good evening, I am Shinya Ishida. Thank you for inviting me.

(While pointing to the slide) This is Qiita’s advertising article. I am also featured. I hope you will read it if you have not already done so.

There are four persons (in the photo). I am the second from the left.

(Laughter from the audience)

As Mr. Oikawa mentioned, automakers will no longer be able to survive only by manufacturing cars.

DENSO has been manufacturing components for automakers. Recently, the concept of services has emerged. Service providers have the greatest strength here (middle row on the slide). The value of services is created here.

To properly deliver services to users, data is collected, analyzed, and personalized. Smartphones are used as the interface, and feedback is given to the real world through applications to offer various experiences to users.

With the advent of services, competitors who were not in the auto industry previously have been emerging. We must learn their ways. Work is underway to create a Silicon Valley in-house.

Learn and practice the Silicon Valley way

Ishida: The objective is not to literally create a Silicon Valley but to learn, practice, and acquire how they do business. DENSO became independent as a component manufacturer with the help of a technology licensing agreement with Bosch. We must start by learning from the market leaders. This also applies to software and services.

It is not enough to collect the same tools; we must be able to use them as our own tools. We will use these tools for practice and create our own culture. This is the essence of this project.

The Digital Innovation Dept. decided to take the initiative for this project. I am affiliated with the department, which is based in Shin-Yokohama.

The project was launched in April 2017 with two persons including current MaaS R&D Div. Director Narisako. They were uncertain about the objective. The number of personnel increased to about five in the following month. At that point, the first team was organized.

The Digital Innovation Dept. uses an agile development technique called “scrum” when developing services. One scrum team was formed, and started to work on a project. The number of personnel and projects increased gradually. This is the current situation.

On this graph, a green bar appeared suddenly in April 2018 when another big project was launched. The operations have been expanding into two directions. The current organization is a little more complicated, but I will not explain the details.

My mission after joining DENSO

Ishida: I joined DENSO in January 2018. At first, I worked as a developer in the scrum development team. I was assigned to another project about three months later, and I am still working on the same project.

The two presenters before me focused mainly on the vision. As I started my career as an infrastructure engineer, I would like to talk from the front-line perspective as long as time allows.

In January 2018, I started to create this service (while pointing to the slide).

As Mr. Oikawa mentioned, I spent about one year creating the service and then released it commercially. I will not go into the details.

This is a so-called IoT service. This in-vehicle device is connected to cameras and sensors. The data is collected and processed. We developed a system as shown in the previous slide. This is a front-end server. The data is then displayed on the smartphone screen. The application is implemented using Rails on AWS and is run using a container. It is deployed using various tools including Terraform.

The details were explained at the Developers Summit the other day. The slides used at the summit may serve as a useful reference.

Using advanced technologies

Ishida: DENSO is an automotive component manufacturer and operates many plants. There has been a general trend to introduce the IoT to plant operations, and so DENSO too has been making efforts to introduce the IoT. This requires an IoT platform as mentioned earlier, so I joined a project indicated by the green bar on the previous graph to offer support.

I am working on the so-called automation and optimization of (production) lines. There are many other potential projects, including a project to capture the data of valuable skills and expertise of experienced engineers who are approaching retirement age and pass it on to young employees.

DENSO’s plants mass-produce high-quality hardware including automotive components. We hope to develop high-quality software as well.

Software engineers must be familiar with these logos. We strive to stay ahead of the times by introducing tools, OSS, and cloud services that have not been widely used in the manufacturing industry for actual applications.

We are pioneers in introducing these tools and services, aiming to establish our position in-house and in the auto industry or manufacturing industry in Japan to cultivate engineers who can develop advanced software and create new services.

DENSO has various technical advisors including Mr. Oikawa. Mr. Masaya Aoyama, who wrote “Complete Guide to Kubernetes,” has been appointed technical advisor this week.

While learning from expert advisors, we hope to achieve growth as a software factory, as I mentioned earlier. Please join us if you want to work with Mr. Aoyama.

Product development at a “secret base”

Ishida: I have talked mainly about tools. Scrum is a framework, so it is also regarded as a tool. An amusing initiative is underway in terms of culture, which I mentioned at the outset. I call it a “secret base.” Specifically, we create our working environment to develop services and software by using the tools that I introduced earlier.

This does not mean we are working on a secret project unknown by supervisors. A secret base is something that we used to create in our childhood on a local hill or park when we found somewhere to hide with friends. We created walls using corrugated cardboard. The concept is to create our own environment where we can enjoy working and making products.

(While pointing to the slide) This is our office. We call it “MVP.” In general, MVP is an abbreviation for Minimum Viable Product. Our MVP stands for Minimum Viable Project Room.

The room has only lights, electrical outlets, and a Wi-Fi router. There are no desks or chairs. Every member is given a laptop PC. They sit on the floor and work with the laptop on their laps.

This is the starting point. We buy items that are really necessary from Amazon and Askul to create an environment where it is easy to work.

This photo was taken a while ago, and the style was used temporarily. The members were studying through a demonstration. All the chairs and desks were movable. When “It’s time for a workshop!” was called out, the members sat in formation to watch the large screen and study. When the workshop was over, the members returned to the work formation.

The cable that hangs from the ceiling is a power cable. As the members work on laptop PCs, they cannot live without electricity. Electrical outlets are usually on a wall. As the length of the power cable is fixed, engineers can live only within a circle whose radius is determined by the cable length.

(Laughter from the audience)

So, a rail was installed on the ceiling from which to hang the power cable.

The members have been changed during the course of the project, and the team organization has been changed slightly. We change the layout to flexibly cope with such changes.

Ishida: Our model is based on this book titled “Joy, Inc. How We Build a Workplace People Love,” which some of you may have read. We learn from the book and do what we can to create our own working environment or our own culture through our unique workstyle.

Collaboration with in-house personnel

Our secret base is located in Akihabara. It was established for a Factory IoT project, and it is nicely arranged. The members can relax and enjoy it. The secret base is also popular with visitors.

Based on positive feedback, we have created two other secret bases for two different purposes, namely for company-wide projects rather than a single project as discussed earlier.

The two secret bases have something in common. They aim to solicit in-house personnel to create communities and promote activities. These logos were created by a DENSO employee.

This eliminates the need to look for external partners or seek opportunities for chance encounters such as WeWork.

DENSO has many employees who have rare talents. This activity aims to facilitate collaboration with such personnel to create services and products. If you join DENSO, I hope you will enthusiastically become involved in our activities.

Thank you.