A hand holds a virtual smartphone, with a steering wheel and dashboard in the background.

Auto Intelligence Requires in-Car Software

The automotive industry is focusing on software-driven functions in the car.

March 25 2020Markus Lorenz

In-car software in daily life

Ssssss, ssssss - maybe you’ll have heard this gentle hum? I’m not talking about engine noise or an insect that’s got inside the car. It’s the side windows in the rear where my sons have discovered how to make them go up and down. That’s until I can't stand the cold, roaring draft any longer and override my offspring's ability to control the power windows by pressing the driver master switch. Thank goodness for in-car software.

Established and accepted auto intelligence

A man in a car has a laptop on his lap and types with his right hand on the integrated car monitor.

Opinions differ about autonomous driving in the CASE era. Continental’s latest mobility study confirms this. Around two thirds of those surveyed expressed anxieties about automated driving. But drivers happily put other car functions into (tried-and-trusted) electric/electronic hands. Or when was the last time you saw the front passenger wiping the windows by hand when it was raining?  Or a gentleman chivalrously opening the front-passenger door for his female passenger? Pressing the button on the car key is the modern-day substitute for impeccable manners. 

Nowadays, software provides most of the functions in the car. And this undoubtedly makes driving more convenient and comfortable. This in-car software runs on various control units in quite different places in the car. On a luxury car you have over 100 different control units that combine to provide the functions in the five basic auto domains. These control units work together with sensors and actuators.

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Complex E/E architectures

Automakers created the foundation with the E/E (electrical/electronic) platforms on which the entire functionality can be implemented. Yet the CASE (connected, autonomous, shared, electrical) era poses a challenge for the existing E/E platforms. The decentralized structures with many control units running on proprietary hardware are difficult to reconcile with the CASE requirements due to their excessive complexity and lack of scalability. This complexity has a tangible impact on automotive development. In an industry where time-to-market is a key variable, this situation is a cause of concern for automakers. 

Two approaches to E/E architectures may well improve things: Consolidation and modernization using next-generation control units. This enables automakers to make the leap from microcontrollers to microprocessors. The control units can therefore be used for a broader range of applications and become more powerful. In essence, automobiles are following the same route our data centers took: The functions are separated from the hardware and then provided as applications on virtualized infrastructures. More functions can run on a control unit, dramatically reducing the number of units. And reducing complexity in the process. E/E platforms for the CASE era.

In-car software as the key to auto intelligence

A woman sits in a car and holds a large book in her hand, virtual graphics can be seen in front of the dashboard.

In this way, automakers lay the foundations for greater auto intelligence. But – the automobile’s intelligence lies in the software run on the platforms. The step toward more intelligence entails more software or more extensive software. McKinsey underlines this trend and forecasts in its “Automotive Software and Electronics” study average annual growth of around nine percent through 2030 for this segment. 

And here another challenge emerges that automakers and tier 1 suppliers will have to resolve: Where do you get all these in-car software developers from given the supply bottleneck in the market for developers? Some of the tasks can be performed through mergers & acquisitions and the establishment of nearshore and offshore competence centers. Yet you need to resort to external in-car software providers for the remainder. Their services must be incorporated optimally, i.e. they must interact seamlessly within the applicable framework such as E/E platform, development concepts and security/safety requirements. 

In this respect, skills that go beyond the project work and actual development, such as an end-to-end integration view or the provisioning of IT security capacity, may make all the difference.

About the author
Markus Lorenz

Markus Lorenz

Senior Business Development Manager in Sales Automotive & Manufacturing, T-Systems International GmbH

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