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Chicago charts a course in autonomous vehicles

The auto industry “is going through one of the most important changes in its history,” said Ogi Redzic, who leads a Nokia Corp. team working on connected car technology. Nokia and other companies are angling to provide the tech to automakers.

Chicago wants a slice of the action in self-driving cars.

In an office tower in the city's West Loop, Nokia Corp. has 300 people working on technology that will help cars talk to one another, as well as to traffic signs, smartphones and other devices.

Elsewhere in greater Chicago, more than 50 engineers are working on connecting vehicle entertainment and navigation systems to phones, tablets and the cloud at a new Harman International Industries Inc. research center.

Engineers at Littelfuse Inc.'s r&d center are working on developing sensors used in vehicles. Startup NuCurrent Inc. is developing a wireless charging system for phones and other devices to be used in automobiles.

All of these companies draw on Chicago's historic strengths in electronics design and manufacturing, wireless communications and mapping that position the city well for a key role in the development of the connected car.

Nokia's Connected Driving unit has 60 more jobs to fill, says Ogi Redzic, a vice president who oversees the unit, which is part of Nokia's Here division that includes the former mapping company Navteq.

Although fully automated driving is at least a decade away, Redzic's team has been working on a key component: real-time traffic data.

The world's largest mapping company relies on 66 billion probe points worldwide -- Internet-connected sensors in vehicles and on highway signs and other infrastructure. That's up from 12 billion at the end of 2012.

"The industry is going through one of the most important changes in its history," Redzic, a former Motorola Inc. engineer, told Crain's Chicago Business.

Companies such as Nokia, Harman and Littelfuse are angling to provide the technology platforms that automakers will rely upon to collect, process and share the massive amounts of data transmitted to and from vehicles.

For manufacturers such as Littelfuse, founded in 1927, it's an opportunity to redefine themselves. "Until 10 years ago, we only made fuses," says CEO Gordon Hunter.

Navigation is Chicago's strength, says Egil Juliussen, an analyst at IHS. "Mapping is the only segment where Chicago will have a primary role," he says. "In other areas, Chicago will contribute, but not in a major way."

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