|The car of the future
If the IPB automotive team is successful, aircraft and automobiles soon will have a lot more in common
BY GLEN GOLIGHTLY
The car of the future might have a lot in common with today's aircraft and spacecraft, and Boeing has a lot to contribute. Notwithstanding the popular vision of turning wheels into wings, tomorrow's automobile is likely to borrow aerospace technology for improved safety, efficiency, passenger features and comfort on the road.
To leverage Boeing innovations and technology better, the Boeing Intellectual Property Business has established a program to create licensing partnerships with automotive manufacturers and suppliers.
"Until now, aerospace technology has usually found its way into automobiles by chance and without payment to the owner," said William Yates III, IPB automotive program manager. "Our program goal is to effect a more deliberate technology transfer and to receive proper payment when Boeing ideas and innovations are used to improve cars, racing vehicles, trucks and marine products."
Some of the advanced ideas for future cars include sensors monitoring vehicle health, poor-weather-vision enhancement, aerodynamic devices to reduce drag, open-systems software to simplify computer control systems, advanced fabrication and mold systems, and software programsall created at Boeing. The automotive program licenses know-how, software, designs, technology and patents that the Boeing-wide Intellectual Property Council has cleared for external release.
IPB formed the automotive program in early 2003 and is in partnership with Phantom Works to exploit technology already in use and also to bring inside the company certain automotive technologies for Boeing use. Boeing Ventures is also involved as a key partner that looks to develop spinoff companies and encourage innovation among employees.
Yates said he has found the automotive industry receptive to Boeing ideas and technology. Indeed, the Society of Automotive Engineers predicts convergence of enabling technology needs of the aerospace and automotive industry in the not-so-distant future.
"The automotive industry is currently in a crunch with tight margins, but they are willing to pay for significant technologies that enable them to cut costs or charge more for features that are important to customers," Yates said. "Naturally, the best technologies come from areas where Boeing's research and development focus differs from that of the auto industry."
Developed and proven aerospace technology can be put to use rapidly by automotive manufacturers at low cost, while Boeing receives royalty payments as additional profit on internal research and development investments.
The automotive industry even is seeking solutions from Boeing to improve current products. Yates pointed to the case of Magna Steyr, a leading contract developer and manufacturer of automobiles based in Austria, which is looking for new friction materials from Boeing for clutch packs.
To support these types of requests, the Chairman's Innovation Initiative Web site hosts a list of automotive industry needs on the Boeing intranet (http://cii.boeing.com/private/automotive/index.cfm). Boeing Ventures administers CII, a program designed to encourage employee innovation and entrepreneurship at Boeing.
The key to finding good solutions, Yates says, is not so much knowing about a Boeing technology itself, but finding smart people familiar with successful implementation. "We're looking for ideas from the people who work with these technologies," he said. "Our program acts as the industry link between automotive and aerospace, but we need input and creativity from Boeing employees to make it work."
Ideas generated by an exercise in May at the Boeing Leadership Center could lead to future development. There, Yates worked with a class of 27 managers from around Boeing on a month-long project to explore automotive-industry challenges and how Boeing could provide its technology for financial benefit.
One key automotive technology program already under way is IntelliBus, a Boeing-developed high-bandwidth "bus" architecture with in-vehicle network applications. Because it minimizes the amount of wiring, connectors and electronic control units, it dramatically reduces weight, cost and complexity while increasing functionality, reliability and performance.
The IntelliBus program is partially funded by the CII, several Boeing programs, and outside companies that have plans to use the IntelliBus network solution in their products.
Some of the program's recent successes include delivery of a working Intelli-Bus prototype system to automotive supplier Visteon Corp., and active involvement in the Joint Unmanned Combat Air System X-45C program, F-15 training devices and other Boeing programs for in-vehicle network applications.
However, the real test of the IPB automotive team, or where the "rubber meets the road," is the group's success at closing licensing deals. "We are thrilled to have closed three deals after only nine months of operation," Yates said. The automotive program staff is currently negotiating additional deals with automotive and aerospace companies for more revenue-bearing licenses of the IntelliBus technology.
"Boeing is already defining the future of aerospace," Yates said. "And through our automotive program, we could also play a key role in defining the car of the future."
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