Mitsubishi Electric aspires to be one-stop shop

TOKYO — Several suppliers sell GPS-based navigation systems for cars. But Mitsubishi Electric Corp. also has a laser mapping device that creates high-definition, 3-D street maps for navigation systems. It also makes the satellites that beam down the GPS coordinates, and the antennas sending and receiving the signals.

Its affiliate, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, builds the rockets that launch those satellites into space.

No range of products better encapsulates Mitsubishi Electric’s ambition to be a one-stop shop for integrated, high-tech automotive systems rather than a maker of piecemeal parts.

Its traditional auto business, which accounts for around 13 percent of revenue, still produces alternators, starters and electric power steering. But with the line blurring between cars and electronics, Mitsubishi Electric’s new CEO wants to leverage the supplier’s strength in everything from semiconductors to communications.

“We have decided to rethink our business models,” Takeshi Sugiyama, who took over April 1, said during a February news conference. “To create new growth drivers, we will introduce additional cross-function initiatives.”

Off the ground

Take Mitsubishi Electric’s suite of GPS technologies, a key to realizing tomorrow’s self-driving cars. The system got off the ground, literally, with last year’s launch of three satellites for a new Japan-only GPS system that is accurate down to the inch.

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The Quasi-Zenith Satellite System, using satellites made by Mitsubishi Electric, works with a vehicle’s existing GPS to fine-tune the positioning signal. The Japanese government is backing the initiative in a push to jump-start high-precision positioning for autonomous driving.

Ishikawa: “We have a big advantage with such a diversity of business units.”

“This is a perfect example of how we are working closely with other departments,” said Tatsuya Ishikawa, senior general manager of Mitsubishi Electric’s automotive division. “Not so many automotive suppliers have satellite technology itself. More and more synergies are coming together. We have a big advantage with such a diversity of business units.”

The satellite system is still in testing mode, but Japan plans to open its signals to the public in November. Japan will then launch three more satellites by March 31, 2024, giving it one of the world’s most accurate satellite navigation systems.

Mitsubishi Electric says it can pinpoint a moving car’s location to within 5 inches, vs. 6.5 feet for standard GPS.

Key to making it work in cars are high-precision, 3-D maps. Mitsubishi Electric is part of an alliance of Japanese companies, called Dynamic Map Platform Co., that aims to create superaccurate, updatable maps of Japan’s highways.

To generate the maps, Mitsubishi Electric has developed a mobile mapping device that sits atop a car’s roof.

It is developing a system to automatically update the maps, using a more compact, disc-shaped system, also attached to the roof, which it aims to introduce in 2019.

Mitsubishi Electric then taps its experience in artificial intelligence, developed for its industrial robots, to analyze the data. That makes its mapping process 10 times faster and much cheaper than the standard map creation methods currently used, the company says.

Mitsubishi Electric also aims to harness its communications technology for cars by tapping a next-generation 5G cellular service being developed by its Information and Communications Department.

First mover

For a new mirrorless driving system, Mitsubishi Electric fused AI with image processing to deliver high-performance camera vision. The system extends the range of object detection to 100 yards, vs. a traditional camera’s 30-yard range, and improves the detection accuracy rate to 81 percent from 14 percent, the company said.

Europe and Japan have adopted rules that allow automakers to replace rearview and sideview mirrors with camera monitoring systems. Such setups can improve aerodynamics and work best with high-performance, high-resolution cameras. The first mirrorless cars are expected in Japan as early as next year, Mitsubishi Electric said.

“Camera systems for mirrorless cars have already been announced, but our system is the first to implement object recognition,” Hidetoshi Mishima, general manager for smart information processing technology, wrote in an email. “We believe that we have a first-mover advantage.”

Said Ishikawa: “We are going to expand from individual components to systems. Just trying to strengthen individual components is not enough for our goals.”

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