The advent of connected, software-defined vehicles (SDVs) will radically alter the auto industry for drivers, OEMs and auto suppliers alike. And just like any disruptive technology, such as electric vehicles, questions abound. What kinds of benefits will SDVs provide for both drivers and OEMs? Will they drive changes in both car manufacturing and the relationships between OEMs and suppliers? And how will they transform the ways consumers interact with their vehicles? For clarity, Automotive News turned to Robin Milavec, President, Chief Technology Officer and Chief Strategy Officer at Nexteer Automotive; and Eric Cesa, Vice President Americas at ETAS Inc.
Software-defined vehicles will transform auto industry
Q: Software-defined vehicles will encompass so many factors within vehicle design, development and end-use. From where you sit, what do you see as the biggest benefits?
Robin Milavec: For consumers, the biggest benefits from connected SDVs will be even greater safety, convenience and performance – and a driving experience that gets better over time. For OEMs, the biggest benefits will be the ability to differentiate their brand’s driving and ownership experience and leverage the software expertise from their supplier partners – like Nexteer – to help them overcome challenges in the SDV space.
Eric Cesa: The SDV has many benefits that will significantly advance mobility: Access to the latest safety, security, comfort and convenience features; over-the-air (OTA) updates; improved vehicle life-cycle management; vehicle reporting; and more. It aims to fundamentally change the vehicle-ownership experience, because the vehicle will be enhanced and gain more capabilities over its lifetime. This is completely opposite of today’s experience, where the vehicle is basically as good as it’s ever going to be when a consumer drives it off a dealer’s lot.
Q: What will the challenges be for the integration of these near-autonomous vehicles?
Cesa: First of all, the SDV will co-exist with the autonomous vehicle. While the autonomous vehicle needs what the SDV enables, the reverse isn’t true. We will have SDVs with or without autonomous vehicles. As a full-service solutions provider for the tools and middleware required to create SDVs, we immediately recognized the paradigm shift required for the industry to make them a reality. Instead of a set development cycle that’s aligned with model years, SDVs will develop continually, with software updates available over the life of the vehicle. This is just like a smartphone with one very critical difference – safety is not an issue with phone updates. Most interesting and valuable vehicle capabilities have an impact on safety – which is fundamentally different from a smartphone, which doesn’t put anyone’s life at risk if it fails to update. It is impossible to ensure safety without security; if you don’t know software hasn’t been modified, how can you guarantee safety?
This leads to another challenge within the development process: Complexity. The software itself is complex and development is done by multiple entities. In the world of SDVs, updates are expected in near real-time. This adds a tremendous amount of complexity to an already complex problem. Consolidating development tool chains to a single source, as we offer at ETAS, enables the speed, scale, safety and security required for OEMs to achieve their aggressive goals for vehicle software development and to empower the delivery of the SDV vision.
Milavec: The development of advanced safety and driver-assist features, as well as SDVs, is leading to a fast expansion of OEM requirements. To bring these new software-enabled technologies to market, Tier 1 suppliers will continue to play a key role in contributing to and co-innovating new features with OEMs.
As a global motion control expert, another challenge we see is the shift happening in steering various types of vehicles across the spectrum of traditional driving to autonomous people movers – and everything in between. This means integrated software and hardware solutions will play a safety-critical role in developing steering systems for this wide range of vehicles. We’re solving these challenges with advanced steering systems – like Steer-by-Wire (SbW), which provides “high availability” safety coverage by using software, algorithms, electronics and actuators to control steering instead of a mechanical steering connection.
Q: What will be the biggest difference between a software-defined vehicle in 2023 and a software-defined vehicle in 2030?
Milavec: In today’s vehicles, a driver’s experience is still primarily defined by hardware, but this is quickly shifting to software. With OTA updates, an SDV can stay in contact with its environment, the vehicle owner and the manufacturer to drive continual innovation over the vehicle’s lifetime. This means that introducing new content and features doesn’t have to stop at the end of the production line – they can be introduced to vehicles already on the road, helping automakers strengthen brand loyalty, enhance the driver experience and leverage real-world, anonymized data to improve quality.
In addition, the SDV opens the door for increased safety, performance and convenience for drivers. For example, today’s electric power steering (EPS) systems use software tuned for the “feel of the road” to give drivers road feedback through the steering wheel. Leveraging advanced steering software – such as our Road Surface Detection software with Tactile Mobility – can take this a step further by also enabling the vehicle itself to feel the road by converting road-surface information into data that it uses to adjust steering to road conditions (i.e., wet, icy, etc.).
Cesa: In 2023, we will not see a true software-defined vehicle. The industry has taken steps forward, but the transition will take time. In the next decade, it’s hard to focus in on one significant change because everything – features, functionality, security, operating systems, connectivity and communication – will evolve with technology, regulations, user experiences, etc. What we know today won’t necessarily be relevant in 2030. Looking just at communication, we talk about vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), vehicle-to-pedestrian (V2P), vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) and vehicle-to-network (V2N) communication. And that’s just today; each one of those can and will evolve over time.
And as mentioned earlier, we cannot guarantee safety without security. As we add more software and increase connectivity, we increase the number of potential points of exploitation that hackers can access.
Q: How will software-defined vehicles change the manufacturing process for OEMs?
Cesa: SDVs won’t necessarily change the vehicle manufacturing process significantly. However, they will certainly impact hardware optimization. As better and possibly less-expensive solutions become available, OEMs will have the ability to update existing designs. But the software “manufacturing” process will undergo an even more dramatic change, unrecognizable from what it is now.
Today, development of software for electronic control units (ECUs) is performed by a team working toward release for the start of production (SOP). While there will be interim deliveries on the way to SOP, effectively the software is working toward being in a “finished state,” ready for SOP. Shortly after SOP, the software project team typically disbands and moves on to the next ECU development project. In the future, this team will have to develop and maintain software over a lifetime. The software will need to be almost permanently in a “finished state” so it can be shipped out as remote software updates, adding new features and functions to vehicles. This means software teams will need to move to development methodologies more familiar in the IT software domain, with strong DevOps processes, allowing continual development, integration, testing and delivery – all without compromising on safety. Supporting and enabling this transition is the key focus for ETAS.
Milavec: Connectivity, OTA updates and software create new possibilities for OEMs to extend platform lifespans while also introducing more frequent technology “refreshes” that don’t have to wait for midcycle enhancements or new vehicle launches. For example, some current vehicle platforms are planned for more than 10-year life cycles, with upgrades throughout their lifespans. With shortened cycles, hardware lasts longer, and innovations largely come in the form of software updates – just like with smartphones.
OTA updates allow component manufacturers to continue to produce the same systems for longer, but with the added option of updating and upgrading features and functions through software.
Q: How will software-defined vehicles change the service schedule for customers and dealership service departments?
Milavec: The SDV will improve convenience of vehicle maintenance in three key ways. First, with OTA updates, OEMs can adjust or add features and functions throughout the vehicle’s lifespan – all without the vehicle owner making a trip to the dealership for service. Second, software can improve overall vehicle health management by providing drivers with new insights that enable proactive and convenient maintenance. For example, Nexteer software monitors tire tread depth and alerts the driver when it’s time for replacement – which enhances safety, performance and convenient maintenance scheduling. Third, connected vehicles enable anonymized, real-world data collection that will enhance quality and performance.
Cesa: More advanced software and connectivity will open the door for a predictive approach to maintenance, rather than today’s periodic/annual or repair-after-fail approach to service. It also will enhance the experience, as any parts needed during the hardware service can be ordered ahead of time and be available at the scheduled time of service, avoiding the need for repeated visits.
Q: How are all these developments changing the nature of the relationship between suppliers and automakers?
Cesa: As I mentioned before, everything is evolving, which means we need to learn to work differently – and together. For example, we need a standard software platform that provides a foundation with basic functionality and industry-recognized interfaces upon which future applications can be built. I’ll go back to the smartphone example – your phone runs on either the Android or iOS operating system. There’s not a different operating system for every brand of phone. The same thing will happen in the automotive industry, which will require all entities to work together to develop a solution that meets industry and consumer needs. Rather than working on individual solutions, we need one that works for everyone. This is the reason we support open-source software and are heavily involved in the Connected Vehicle Systems Alliance (COVESA) and the Eclipse SDV working group.
Milavec: Strategic partnerships between OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers are more important than ever as new software-driven business models evolve alongside new features and functions. With support from Tier 1 partners, OEMs will become more efficient at adding vehicle functions and features through OTA updates, rather than hardware replacements. This also will streamline suppliers’ engineering efforts in both hardware and software.
In addition, the ever-expanding software requirements are driving an evolution in electrical architectures, which in turn is driving hardware standardization and decoupling software.
In the future, OEMs will likely rely on more centralized software architectures coordinated across multiple actuators. For example, we are already seeing a single-domain control unit (DCU) covering all chassis functions, including steering, braking and suspension. Longer term, the industry could shift from DCUs to zonal approaches that are even more centralized. At Nexteer, we’re always anticipating and adapting so we can proactively solve software challenges as this frontier evolves.
Cybersecurity also becomes even more critical. With greater connectivity, vehicle architectures will need to evolve to allow OEMs to select the systems that are connected to the cloud – and those that are not – to protect critical vehicle systems.
Q: Looking ahead a few years, how do you think all of this will change how vehicles will be sold and how consumers interact with their vehicles?
Milavec: SDVs will allow consumers to update their vehicles in much the same way as they update their mobile phones. From a steering perspective, for instance, a driver could personalize his or her driving mode, such as adding a sport or luxury driving style and steering feel, or update ADAS functions like park assist, traffic-jam assist and more – all based on that driver’s preferences and needs. Software and vehicle connectivity will also enable features that are “invisible” to drivers, but that will increase safety for everyone on the road. For example, with V2X communications, vehicles can evaluate signals from their steering systems or other chassis subsystems to determine road conditions and identify potential hazards such as icy or wet roads. These signals can be communicated to trailing vehicles via the cloud to warn them of an upcoming hazard. Overall, the continual data streams flowing to and from connected SDVs will lead to more well-informed motion control systems – and safer roads for us all.
Cesa: Consumer response to subscription-based services offered in vehicles has been mixed, but that’s because the “virtuous cycle” is missing. It’s like what we experienced in the phone industry – when first offered, applications were expensive, so sales volumes were small. This changed when the iPhone introduced the App Store, and millions of low-cost apps quickly generated profits because of their mass appeal. The transition to SDVs has the potential to enable this virtuous cycle of adding high-volume, low-price functionality and capabilities to vehicles, based on consumer preferences. This has the potential to dramatically drive up the “take rates” of add-on features.
ABOUT THE PANELISTS
Robin Milavec – President, Chief Technology Officer, Chief Strategy Officer and Executive Board Director, Nexteer Automotive
Robin Milavec is responsible for spearheading the strategic direction of Nexteer and ensuring its technology roadmap aligns with industry megatrends to proactively capture growth opportunities. Nexteer is a global leader in motion control technology.
Eric Cesa – Vice President Americas, ETAS Inc.
Eric Cesa oversees the marketing and sales teams and directs development and implementation of market and consumer strategies for ETAS in the Americas. ETAS provides vehicle software, cybersecurity solutions, and end-to-end engineering and consulting services for the realization of software-defined vehicles.