The automotive paradigm shift

16th March 2021
Joe Bush

Connectivity within the car is placing software at the core of automotive innovation, and in advancing the next level of autonomy. Speaking at the recent embedded world 2021 DIGITAL, Pedro Lopez Estepa, Automotive Director at RTI, addressed some of the issues. Joe Bush reports.

Over the next few years we are going to see a plethora of innovation within the automotive space, according to some prominent industry experts. “The automotive industry is poised for more change in the next five to ten years than it’s seen in the last 50,” said to Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors.

Herbert Deiss, CEO, VW Group has stated: “Software will account for 90% of future innovations in the car,” and no less than Tesla’s Elon Musk has said: “Tesla is open to licensing software and supplying powertrains and batteries. We’re just trying to accelerate sustainable energy, not crush competitors.”

Estepa highlighted that as the automotive industry is built on multi-tier suppliers, turning that innovation into a single component, like software, is not going to be easy. “Without co-development, a strong supply chain, and a way to share knowledge and development within the industry, it is going to be extremely hard, especially for new EV startups entering the market, to be profitable while at the same time innovating to the level of competitors.”

Therefore, unless we are able to accelerate that innovation by improving the automotive ecosystem, it is going to be an extremely bumpy road going forward. Estepa highlighted that RTI see three pillars around which the mobility technological revolution will be based - software architecture, telecommunication infrastructure, and supply chain.

“It is extremely important that when thinking about the vehicle and anything around mobility, that we see the complete picture. When we are developing new technology, even a software architecture, unless you understand how the infrastructure is going to affect you, and how you fit within this supply chain and business model that the complete industry is looking at, it’s going to be a failure.”

Pillar 1: Software architecture

We will begin to see L1-L2 ADAS solutions coming online this year. However, they will be based on a distributed architecture, which has its limitations. Estepa explained that the architecture will not be able to reach the level of cost required as the wiring is going to be extremely difficult, and the speed of the technology is not going to be there. There are however, new technologies like TSN that allows us to move from a distributed architecture, to a domain architecture, and then to a zonal architecture - which RTI is currently working closely on with many of its customers.

“This is a technology revolution which is derived from the excellent performance of the new cores that companies like Qualcomm, Nvidia, NXP and Renesas are bringing into the market but, without strong software that supports those capabilities, these architectures are not going to be defined. The components are there, but the definition of the architecture is going to be done by software,” Estepa added.

Pillar 2: Telecommunication infrastructure

The zonal areas of the vehicle are already starting to see functionality moving into domain controllers of the vehicle. And then some of that functionality is moving into the central CPU. New functionality is appearing, some of which is starting to move to the cloud - especially internal operations.

Estepa added: “When you’re defining a software component you need to see the whole picture, meaning, unless you are able to adapt to the needs of the market in a way that is transparent to the end user, and even to the hardware vendor, it’s going to be difficult to move forward.” Software technology is now connecting to the infrastructure of the vehicle, yet moving things around in the cloud and back will not be possible without this second infrastructure pillar.

A vehicle will soon be able to talk to another vehicle, be provided with information about roadside units and traffic elements, and even to pedestrians, and this will need to be taken into account when defining next generation software. So, we could be talking about a whole new use case.

“When you define your software connection you need to know that this is coming,” Estepa continued. “This is a massive investment within the vehicle’s architecture, and you need to be able to leverage. If you tell your tier one or tier two, or even an OEM, that they have to wait for you to adapt to the quality or safety expectations, then you are leaving half of the innovation out of your picture.”

Pillar 3: Supply chain

RTI believe that any framework, and any software architecture component, needs to be thought about carefully. With regards to new business models there are OEM differentiations across the automotive sector. And what needs to be understood is that there are a lot of new services and concepts coming into the vehicle.

Estepa explained that many of these devices will not be that easy to bring into the vehicle and so these pillars need to be leveraged and will not come without a sense of risk. The traditional supply chain is still adapting and while there are a number of innovative new technologies coming online, it has traditionally been quite a strict sector, thus creating a number of liabilities within the current infrastructure.

Estepa explained that OEMs are now working with tier ones, service providers, and a tonne of suppliers. Traditionally there is an OEM layer within the software framework, however, now what is desired is a co-designed system between everybody. And this comes with its own risk. Why? Because how the car has been built within the automotive space is not for supplier X to update. So, the software level expectation and co-development needs to be maintained at the same time as maintaining the traditional volume quality framework.

He added: “We’re not talking about a mobile phone that you can have 28 updates of the OS in a year. There’s a lot of functionality within a vehicle that needs to be taken care of, (I’m not even talking about safety at this stage), but making framework updates, continuous development, and taking into account quality expectations - this is a completely new concept.”

Consumers have a certain level of functionality expectation in their everyday devices that they are now also expecting within the vehicle. However, they are very different ecosystems and when you are working on vehicle mobility solutions, you’ll be working with tier ones, tier twos, OEMs etc. And, in such a development environment, who is the owner of the IP, and even more importantly, who owns the liabilities?

“Anybody who has been working in automotive knows that setting your development and legal framework is difficult. So, bringing software from a commercial arena into the automotive space is no small thing.

“There are liabilities and warranties that, unless everybody understands from day one, and they are tackled early on, are going to cause huge impediments. All of this development will need to happen concurrently, and OEMs are going to demand the same quality expectations that you have from your hardware vendor. It is going to be a massive problem for the software suppliers who are going to need to implement new automotive frameworks, at the same time that they are requested to innovate on daily basis.”

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