Today’s cars have been characterized as a data center on wheels and, from a consumer viewpoint, an extension of the driver’s smartphone. Look deep under the hood of high-end vehicles, and you’ll find a digital platform made of 150 million lines of software code distributed among 80 or more electronic control units (ECUs), as well as in sensors, cameras, radar, and LiDAR devices which generate massive amounts of data. All of which culiminates in a change to what drivers expect from their cars due to the dramatic convergence of electrification, connectivity, and automation.
Automakers are continuing to adjust and adapt to a new way of designing and developing their vehicles. At the moment, it’s not uncommon to find processes on the distributed side with various vehicle subsystems somehow coming together late in the game, which isn’t an ideal way to work with all the considerations around increased levels of system interactions and safety. To keep them future-proof (like many of our electronic devices), modern cars must be designed to be upgraded over time through over-the-air (OTA) updates. Their processing capabilities and memory need to allow room for growth and change. And key components must be designed to adhere to functional safety standards.
Many OEMs are starting to recognize that new skill sets are needed in this new automotive digital platform environment. Often, teams are being tasked to create, from scratch, complex and robust software infrastructures that span multiple disciplines. They are also evaluating the best ways to manage their software components over time. For example, consider a software update that increases the battery range of an electric vehicle. Have you considered the impact on long-term battery storage and life? Just because you can does not mean you should make software changes. Who controls these changes? Is it only the OEM, Tier 1s, or possibly even the end user?
It’s not just cool new automotive features that are driven by software. Vehicle tracking and monitoring is another aspect. For example, fleet vehicles equipped with software tools can share performance updates with fleet managers, enabling them to become aware of issues early on, and allowing fleet owners the opportunity to make adjustments that may extend the life of components or enhance vehicle performance.
For personal vehicles, traditionally, drivers would take them to the auto repair shop for maintenance. Today’s cars can provide real-time snapshots as the vehicles are being driven. This, together with OTA capabilities, totally changes how vehicles can be maintained and calls for a new way of thinking by those in the auto industry and consumers alike.
There will also be new opportunities to partner with third parties to enhance the in-vehicle experience. For example, consider a coffee house chain that develops an in-vehicle app that tracks the vehicle’s location and suggests a drink order as the car nears one of the chain’s locations. While these kinds of opportunities can be enriching for drivers and passengers, automakers will have to ensure that the apps meet their standards for quality, safety, and security—something that, until now, hasn’t required consideration.