Driving EV Innovation Through Connected Car Integration

Electric vehicles are reshaping the automotive ecosystem.

That’s at the very least the viewpoint expressed in the synopsis for the forthcoming conference, Autotech: Electrification, which will be held at the Detroit Marriott, Renaissance Center in Michigan USA between October 26-27, 2022. The cost-of-living crisis will also have an impact on how people view electric vehicle (EV) technology, and shape how the industry responds to consumers’ attitudes towards it – given the alarming reports about potential rises is energy costs, which could slow EV adoption.

Still, putting that challenge aside for the moment, the conference finds that “EV consumers are expecting a more connected, autonomous, and personalized experience; coupled with geopolitical and sustainability factors influencing the supply chain, the industry needs to evolve to predict, and prepare for, demand.” In fact, it’s essential to drive innovation to firmly establish an electric vehicle future through the integration of electrification, connectivity and infotainment.

It’s also thought that EV ownership will lead to drivers wanting more advanced features, requiring automakers to integrate progressive frameworks and platforms to enable over-the-air (OTA) capabilities and keep up with consumer demands. There will be other challenges too, including the perceived range anxiety and solutions to the lack of charging infrastructure, which are two of the key deterrents to EV ownership.

Ways of tackling any resistance to EV adoption include a strategy to make automated driving assistance systems (ADAS) and infotainment systems refinements in the hope of counteracting any negative perceptions about the vehicles, their range, and their technology. It’s possible that integrated, intelligent mapping will increase accuracy of vehicle range within the infotainment system. Automakers will also need to consider vehicle, powertrain and battery design, hydrogen advancements, business model innovation, and infrastructure developments in the push to increase the popularity of EVs.

Addressing range anxiety

Ahead of the conference, TU-Automotive is joined by Nathaniel Giraitis, design strategy principal at Futurice, a digital innovation company with offices in the UK and Europe; and Robert Camm, senior consultant – mobility at analyst and consultancy firm Frost and Sullivan. Giraitis begins the conversation by claiming that range anxiety is becoming less of a concern for consumers “now that manufacturers are launching and promoting new cars with greater range”.

He explains: “Ford, Tesla, Mercedes, BMW and VW, for example, have all launched models that can do over 300 miles. As for charging infrastructure, there’s no question that EV charging networks are becoming much more visible in markets such as the UK. I think much good work was done on this by cities during the various pandemic lockdowns, but a reduced feeling of anxiety doesn’t deny the fact that charging, and the new behaviors that must come with it, is still a reality people will have to face.”

To reduce range anxiety, it is possible to use mobile phone to anticipate behavioral changes that he says are necessary to maintain the charge for an essential battery powered device. This is because EV drivers can’t wait until their ‘tank’ is almost dry in the way they would with a petrol or diesel car. That’s a sure way to risk running out of charge and being left stranded. So, he believes EV drivers should get into the habit of “topping up whenever they have the chance, grabbing a few % of battery charge when it’s convenient” in the same way people do with their smartphones during the day and at overnight rather than waiting the tank red lines the following day. He adds: “Having said this, there are many creative innovative solutions emerging to bridge the gap. ZipCharge is an exciting startup that is proposing mobile battery packs to add flexibility. Essentially, it is a battery in the shape of carry-on luggage, which can be charged anywhere, put in a car boot, etc. It’s just like carrying a mobile power bank. This mobile metaphor is really important for EV rollout.”

Despite the optimistic comments of Giraitis about EVs, Camm points out that the cost of EVs has “typically been higher than ICE equivalent”. He, nevertheless, adds that this gap is closing but there “is still some way to go”. To overcome this cost differential, Camm says drivers will therefore expect to receive additional functionalities in their vehicles to support their investment in an electric vehicle. This, he argues has to go beyond powertrain and sustainability benefit.

Enabling OTA capabilities

So, how are automakers integrating progressive frameworks and platforms to enable OTA capabilities and keep up with consumer demands and what are progressive frameworks? Camm responds by suggesting that the ability for software-defined vehicles to update themselves OTA is critical for several reasons. They include the speed of software development to allow the development of new features or performance improvements, and the ability to deploy them remotely ensures that the software is not left outdated during the initial ownership period.

OTA is also a revenue opportunity for carmakers because it creates the ability to unlock new features via software updates. The trouble is that the business models for this are still being tested, and Camm points to BMW’s struggles with this proposition as a prime example. Other benefits of integrating progressive frameworks and OTA include adding safety features, the ability to deliver cyber-security updates and it provides an opportunity to make software bug fixes remotely.

The architecture of the vehicles is also changing. In the past it took a distributed approach with facets of the vehicles being developed by different suppliers to support different vehicle functions. They include the engine, the transmission, the radio and the seating. Camm explains how things have changed: “New vehicles have a more consolidated architecture, centralized architecture with less ECUs and more high-powered computers that can handle multiple functions, this centralized architecture is more in line with modern software development practices and is an enabler for OTA.”

Common operating systems

From a software platform perspective, he reveals that automakers are working to create common operating systems across their vehicle ranges with a view to making updates easier. This permits updates for all vehicles with the operating system as opposed to a software update for a specific model of car. This approach will allow broader OTA updates. He adds: “Vehicles are also now equipped with more advanced communications equipment which allows for the data transfer required for such updates, and automakers are required to develop or shift to new ways of working, such as agile development methods, which is challenging. As we have seen with VW CARIAD and software issues with new ID vehicles.”

Intelligent mapping

Carmakers and mapping companies also need to provide integrated and intelligent mapping within their EV digital experience, which is often access through their in-car infotainment systems. Integrated, intelligent mapping can increase accuracy of vehicle range within the infotainment system.

Giraitis explains: “Any effective EV digital experience will need accurate information about distance between an EV and charging points. At a basic level, this requires leading mapping companies to ensure their databases are up to date with the latest charge point installations, not just service station points but car parks, curbside and other destinations coming on stream. This would enable more useful judgements about when and where a car can recharge. An integrated approach to mapping would fuse data about charging points with bespoke data about the driver and vehicle. A motorway driver who likes to drive at 60mph in two hour stretches requires a different charging map from a driver who likes to travel at 70mph for three hours before taking a break. Similarly, an inner-city courier will have different charging needs to a rural driver whose typical journey is longer and more infrequent.”

He asks where there is a need to adopt a personalized approach to mapping and whether it is best delivered using as a proprietary system that is built into the car’s infotainment system, or whether it should be built on an open platform that leans into navigation and infotainment systems delivered by the likes of Apple, Microsoft, and Google. At present, he thinks these digital giants are winning in the short-term because of the predominant use of smartphones.

The trouble is that this approach hands over the entire brand experience and the opportunity for developers or automakers themselves to build a rich user profile. He suggests: “This is a gap that the new, digitally native EV brands and only the most nimble and ambitious OEMs will manage to conquer.”

Vehicle personalization

Camms concludes by adding that advanced connectivity and infotainment was brought on through the transition to EV. However, it is not necessarily exclusive to electric vehicles and an example of this is the Mercedes S-Class. He believes the functionality of advanced connectivity and infotainment systems is now closer to other digital devices, such as smartphones and this presents an opportunity to enhance the driver experience. Within this framework could be the personalization of the vehicle to suit the needs of a specific driver by offering specific layouts, apps and so on.

Much of this innovation, as well as that of EVs, depends on data collection to permit a better understanding of how each customer uses connectivity and digital features within a vehicle. It can also determine which features are the most or the least important. Data can also be used to better comprehend vehicle performance across regions and in different operating conditions, as well as providing a platform for addressing issues that are experience in the field – including the impact of driving and charging patterns, which Camm says can “feed into future product development, driving innovation from a larger set of real-world data”.

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