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Volvo Innovation Portal Eases in-Car App Development

Volvo Cars (VCC) has launched an Innovation Portal for third-party developers to create apps for its vehicles. 

The portal provides resources and tools for the budding app maker, including an emulator for the Android Automotive Operating System and its associated Google apps. This enables users to recreate the car’s interface to design, develop, test and publish apps directly to the vehicle’s Google Play store. 

VCC is also making its Extended Vehicle API (Application Programming Interface) available to the public, enabling access to the dashboard data, such as state of charge, fuel levels and distance travelled. This allows third parties to build new services. 

Other resources include a LIDAR dataset released in collaboration with Luminar and Duke University. It is using Luminar’s LIDAR sensors that can scan for objects up to 250 metres away from the car. This dataset can help researchers develop long-range obstacle detection algorithms, which are crucial for safe autonomous driving capabilities. Moreover, a high-fidelity three-dimensional car model is developed in collaboration with Unity. Together with the supplied 3D environment, the model is suitable for visualization and virtual reality applications, cinematic experiences and car configurators. These resources will also be offered on Unity’s developer hub, which also provides tutorials on how to use the template. 

The Innovation Portal will grow over time, with the addition of a fully-featured 3D model with digital replications of the car’s physical sensors, allowing users to test data for research and education purposes; developers will also be able to use the model to build new functions and services.

Personal comment

The Innovation portal is most likely a smart move by Volvo Cars (VCC) to speed up the innovation pace by sharing data and providing the means to the public for developing apps and services. Similar open platform business strategies are well established, for example in the smartphone businesses. VCC’s Innovation portal could certainly attract people´s creativity, skills and willingness to contribute. 

However, considering that VCC is a relatively small actor on the global car market compared to, for example Volkswagen and Toyota, you might wonder if VCC offers a big enough user base to actually incentivise third party app developers. Digital ecosystems are strongly beholden to the network effect, where size and market share really counts. Even Microsoft struggled to attract app developers against Apple and Google's app stores because too few smart phones and devices ran on their operating system. But, if VCC were to succeed with their innovation portal as an early adopter it could provide them with a competitive advantage.  

The data and features in the innovation portal could also be useful for researchers in the UX, product-user interaction as well as in the AI areas. How privacy, intellectual property matters and in-app purchases will be handled are also interesting questions. It is definitely worth following how this will develop over time. 

Written by Mikael Söderman,
RISE Mobility & Systems (Människa-autonomi)

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