Automakers Need Robust Simplicity to Exploit Connected Cars

With software taking the lead role in the modern connected car, the need for robust on-board systems has never been greater.

We’ve already seen concerns raised by the J.D. Power 2022 U.S. Tech Experience Index (TXI) Study, revealing how technology issues are being blamed for many after-sales problems experienced by vehicle owners. So TU-Automotive sought some answers from connected vehicle software specialist Sibros’s co-founder and president, Mayank Sikaria.

We asked what automakers can do to ensure that all this new technology going into their vehicles can be robust enough to survive in everyday transport. Sikaria pointed to the issues of complexity in building computing systems that have to handle a variety of platforms that can link with owners’ mobile devices. He said: “It takes something like three years to develop the software for an infotainment system and around 60% of that time is taken up addressing all the bugs that come up. Putting Apple CarPlay and Android Auto together in a system becomes very buggy and it has to be fixed.”

However, he said automakers are responding to this challenge by putting barriers between different software applications depending on their mission-critical nature. Sikaria explained: “I am seeing a lot of automakers leaning towards clear isolation roles and how software interacts. You can have applications running in isolation. So, imagine you have self-parking as a feature in an autonomous high processing computer hardware on the vehicle, you are now able to perform a downstream ECU update using an over-the-air framework and you are able to perform a [Linux] ‘container’ update that either updates the application of the autonomous driving set and to update an Android application set that could be the instrument cluster.

“So, you can clearly have a demarcation of what’s and what’s non-safety related and within that you can have different feature codes. For example, if you are driving a Jaguar and want to download a certain feature, it can impact three different ECUs as a non-safety critical feature, allowing you to achieve those advantages.”

Revenue potential

There are huge financial advantages for automakers to get this relationship between their software and hardware up to meeting the opportunities of a rapidly expanding connected car market. Sikaria said: “It is predicted that 76M vehicles are going to be connected cars by the end of 2023 so there’s a huge potential with a market for $35Bn and there’s a market for saving in just software updates if we are able to connect with 76M vehicles. One of the reasons that is possible because you are able to provide services that didn’t exist before, such as BMW’s heated seat.

“That’s a bad example as it should come with the car anyway but I’m using it because it’s the mindset that if you download it on a smartphone and pay, say, $1 a month, you suddenly have a new application that you are using on a daily basis. The car can now accept the same model and automakers should install a high processing computer that allows them to update software over time because otherwise the hardware will become the bottleneck and you will not be able to enable the feature.”

Sikaria believes complexity is the current biggest enemy of the automaker who wants to capitalize on the potential earning powers of the connected car. He explained: “The other thing is don’t make the system too complex. If you look at Tesla, you sit in it and it is so minimal with a dashboard and a steering wheel and that’s it. You don’t have a whole lot of clusters or other things. Software is similar – if you look at all these OEMs, there are legacy components and old traditional way of putting things in silos which has led to differing variations and you end up with a complex network of ECU vendors and systems which means a car that is manufactured in the US has thousands of different configurations that are possible. Do customers really care about those configurations? I don’t think so and I think it could be simplified and make the OTA system more robust.”

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