Balancing robust build with flexibility is the challenge for carmakers

The automotive industry is paradoxical. Arguably at the forefront of technological advances when it comes to intelligent systems and prototyping automation, the industry remains hamstrung by traditional production processes and organisational roadblocks.

With so many new technological promises on the horizon, how do manufacturers get the latest, safest, most sophisticated technology in front of the customer when faced with standard production cycles? Will Cameron, Vodafone spokesman says: “The real challenge is getting the industry to recognise that connected cars are turning development and updates requirements into a new software-defined environment using simple modular designs.”

What this means for carmakers is that they cannot afford to be reinventing the wheel every time a new update or functionality comes online. “As connected cars become more common and become more about modular design and software the number of components and subassemblies will decrease and production cycles will naturally reduce.” Cameron adds. Bjorn Geissler explored the high speed and flexible approach which can be used in the overall development cycle from research and development to mass production at TU-Automotive’s Autonomous Vehicle and ADAS, Japanin May 2017. He acknowledges that carmaker’s reliance on doing everything in house is a costly process.

At Elektrobit his team is building software that can be plugged in to help carmakers build their own systems. It is an ecosystem approach that has been an uncommon approach to date but Geissler believes that moving towards open source will prove a cheaper and more efficient path to speeding up the production cycle of HAD vehicles.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Thilo Koslowski, CEO and managing director of Porsche Digital. Speaking to TU-Automotive, Koslowski said: “It’s about ecosystems and how we orchestrate the elements of technology to build a customer experience around driving. It’s not a question of when these technologies will be developed, they’re pretty much there already. Yes, there will continue to be improvements but it’s about how you use them to build an experience.”

The creation of Porsche Digital, he says, is fundamental to the company’s ability to integrate latest technologies quickly and stay ahead of innovation in an industry that already feels as though it’s spinning too many plates. Koslowski says: “There is a reason why the automotive industry has very long product cycles. Building a car is very complex. We decided to have a separate subsidiary to have a certain freedom to build capabilities and have flexibility that means we aren’t tied into the processes you have in the vehicle manufacturing environment but, being wholly owned by Porsche, also means we still have close ties to the mothership.”

Some such innovations are highlighted in the realm of connectivity by Vodafone’s Cameron who anticipates the following technological advances will be most notable in the near to mid-term. “Next generation devices support Ethernet, flexible clustered based architecture and security components. This enables low energy, high security, highly upgradable designs, some of the obvious areas for advances are:

  • Over-the-air devices to enable the increasing numbers of required car software update;
  • Co-development with automotive manufacturers of new hardware to access specific innovation;
  • Powerful computing platform to securely run Apps in the car, updatable over the mobile network, connecting all components of the car: engine, transmission, suspension, entertainment;
  • Backend to manage software configuration of every car, integrated in Vodafone’s cyber defence operation, essential for the car makers to up-sell new car functionality to the drivers.”

Cameron notes that relying on an ecosystem of providers is a challenge to carmakers but that eventually they will have to understand the partner network: “Collaboration, also on something as sensitive as security, does not necessarily come naturally but the automotive sector and its partners must work together to stay ahead of changing models and threats, sharing insights and formulating standards that simplify interoperability.”

Koslowski says: “I’m a bit worried that some OEMs are taking the wrong perspective by trying to catch up on technologies rather than using the tools that are already out there. Ecosystems will replace supply chains. It all comes back to the context of orchestration and it’s about creating something that doesn’t exist yet. It’s why we have this two line approach [Porsche and Porsche Digital].”

Cameron adds: “Different technology providers can provide a valuable source of independent advice, expertise, human resources, and facilities for development and testing of secure systems. At Vodafone we offer a full range of professional services to help customers develop IoT designs that are robust, practical and secure, and we also offer testing of applications and hardware on our networks.”

“The organisation we have created has all the assets and aspects needed under one roof but we can still be quick, dynamic and innovative when we need to. We don’t just want to define user experiences and strategies but be able to align ourselves with innovators in this new business model,” Koslowski explains.


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