Automotive industry players are “stepping on the gas” to accelerate adoption of a new paradigm – one where the digital infrastructure of the vehicle becomes more critical to selling cars than the mechanical power plant itself. To hear it from Daimler R&D CIO Siegmar Haasis, “80 percent of product innovation and differentiation is now electrical, electronics and software .”1
This disruption to the century-old automotive design paradigm is unlocking new use cases for the automotive sector, as it pivots towards a software-centric strategy encompassing smart automotive solutions such as Automotive Cloud, CAR.OS and car subscription models.
The shift is already apparent in a visit to the virtual showroom, where shopping online for a new car is rapidly becoming an experience more akin to choosing a new laptop PC or cell phone. Connectivity, battery life, display quality, camera resolution and count all matter as much as the displacement of the engine and the mechanical design of the chassis. The auto company website feature lists start to look very much like those of smartphone manufacturers.
WHAT THE SOFTWARE-CENTRIC SHIFT ENABLES
Motoring with the Comforts of Home
Comfort and style have always been part of the car-buying experience, but the advancements in digital infrastructure are enabling a new comforts-of-home aspect that could not be catered-to previously in a cost-effective way. Just as a smart thermostat cools off the house before arrival, the smart car brings the car cabin to a comfortable temperature ahead of the driver’s entry. As the driver sits down, the car picks up the audio selection the driver was just listening to at home or on their phone. These are simple examples but serve to illustrate how the distinction between car and home is blurring.
With this in mind, consumers are moving away from considering their vehicle in terms of simple transportation, instead investing in it as their “third space” right behind home and workplace. They spend a lot of time in the car, and have decided that there is no reason it should not be an extension of home as well as a convenient way to catch up on office work.
A modern car shopper’s expectation of what a vehicle should offer goes beyond baseline functionality to a holistic, immersive in-car experience.
Leisure, Entertainment and Productivity on the Go
In the United States alone, Americans spend 70 billion hours in the car over the course of a year; world-wide the total is nearly 400 billion hours.2 Imagine reclaiming the hours spent behind the wheel, transforming them into opportunities for leisure, entertainment or productivity.
This vision is quickly becoming a reality as automakers race to capture the attention of younger buyers such as Gen Z, a generation that consumes over seven hours of video a day.3 In fact, some automotive giants are already thinking about this. For the gamer crowd, Tesla offers Steam; to keep the party crowd engaged between stops at clubs, they provide karaoke. For more business-oriented drivers, car maker VW CARIAD is bringing WebEx to Audi vehicles.4
Autonomous Driving and Advanced Driving Assistance
August 2023 marked a significant milestone for the autonomous driving industry as self-driving technology leaders Waymo and Cruise rolled out commercial robotaxi services with 24/7 access in San Francisco.5 The importance of the software-centric digital infrastructure to this application cannot be overstated.
While not everyone will want to hand over driving responsibilities to the car, many drivers appreciate the assistive technologies like hands-free parallel parking that comes by way of the same autonomous driving technology. From there, it is easy to understand how autonomous driving technology can reduce human error and enhance the safety of drivers and pedestrians. Studies have predicted that over 80% of accidents caused by humans could be less severe or completely avoided with autonomous driving.
Bridging the Accessibility Gap in Transportation with Technology
In the United States, 26% of Americans live with a disability and many say that transportation is one of the largest barriers in their daily lives.6 Innovations in autonomous driving will make travel easier for passengers of all abilities and promises a future of inclusivity, where mobility is not a privilege but a right that is accessible to all.
Enabling Technologies for the New Paradigm
Over-the-air (OTA) updates are used to improve the software running the vehicle (including bug fixes), as well as to add new features and performance. Tesla owners, for example, have long been delighted to start their car in the morning and find that an enhancement has been added.
However, security for providing these updates is a key concern. Secure and hack-proof delivery of OTA updates is provided by end-to-end security – requiring secure memory, secure storage, secure communication channels, secure bootstrap sequences, secure SoCs, etc. – as well as secure manufacturing and software release processes. Introduction of malware at any step in the system could immobilize an entire fleet of vehicles.
Today, OEMs are managing a loose confederation of over 150 software providers and their IPs, which is problematic for software-defined vehicles. According to VW CARIAD, the company aims to develop 60% of software in-house by 2025, and wants to be a full owner of key enablers, including big data, security and AI capabilities7. The ultimate solution to this problem will involve new vehicle digital architectures and hierarchies.
Vertically Integrated Architectures
The surge in hardware and software capabilities is revolutionizing vehicle design, providing more efficient, centralized architectures and replacing traditional distributed vehicle designs.
“Modern vehicles resemble a moving data center,” explains Rohit Bhola, Sr. Manager of Automotive Product Planning and Enabling at Samsung. “Instead of the complex network of a growing number of electronic control units (ECUs) and microcontrollers, a powerful server architecture provides all the electronic vehicle functions. Previously, almost every single task of functional area was integrated into the network with a dedicated ECU. This has led to a very heterogeneous and complex architecture of embedded systems, which is no longer suitable for further innovations such as the connection of the vehicle into the Internet of Things (IoT).”
With increasing amount of hardware modules and software capabilities loaded and enabled in cars, the distributed vehicle design will turn obsolete. Industry has reached the consensus that simply adding more ECU modules is not the answer. The older distributed layout will be replaced by more efficient zonal- and domain-centric designs (Figure 1).