A car is the most complex software-driven gadget

The automotive industry needs deep software competence.

December 5, 2020 10:57 AM


Earlier this year, at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2020, many automotive OEMs, tier-1s and technology giants across industries unveiled various concepts and solutions that have the potential to transform mobility. Autonomous pods, digital cockpits, voice assistant integration and many new use cases that integrate personal mobility with shopping, entertainment, financial transactions and more were on display. The CES has become a bigger arena than auto shows for automotive majors to dream and visualise the future of mobility. This highlights the transformation automobiles are undergoing every day and have now become predominantly software-driven gadgets.

This is further emphasised in a study by Deloitte, which states that the electronics cost per car as a percentage of the total car cost has steadily increased from 27% in 2010 to 40% in 2020, and is expected to reach 45-50% by 2030.
It would not be an exaggeration to say the automobile is the most complex, software-driven gadget that we own today. Electronics in the form of ECUs, sensors and advanced chipsets work with millions of lines of code and play a differentiating role in the automotive industry. They enable newer business models and disrupt technology across CASE (Connected, Autonomous, Shared, Electric) domains. However, as the role of software and data grows, so does its complexity, thus making it necessary for the automotive industry to build deep software competence.
Let’s look at the evolving business models and technology trends to understand why deep software competence is needed.

Evolving business models
—The monetisation of features introduced over the life of a vehicle: There’s a visible trend of consumers moving away from buying new cars frequently to using their cars for a longer period of time. They are willing to pay extra for features and software updates, thus providing an opportunity for carmakers to consider over-the-air updates to keep the vehicles up to date in terms of features, safety, drivability and user experience.
—The monetisation of user data to provide contextual updates: With the automobile becoming a key part of the user’s lifestyle, it generates a lot of data about the user and the many V2X (vehicle-to-everything) scenarios. This enormous amount of vehicle-generated and user-specific data can be harnessed and monetised. A study by McKinsey estimates the overall revenue pool from car data monetisation to be $450-750 billion by 2030 on a global scale.

Emerging technology trends

The growing trend of CASE has software at its heart:
—Connected mobility: A digital cockpit is taking various forms and shapes from sophisticated infotainment systems for entertainment to maps and other meaningful information for drivers and passengers. Automobiles are starting to talk to each other and other sources while on the road—enabling varied use cases for diagnostics, over-the-air updates, payments and more. A study by ABI Research suggests that software issues cost carmakers $17 billion a year, which can be reduced with connected vehicle technologies. Connected mobility will continue to be a key node in a seamless lifestyle.

—Autonomous vehicles: In emerging markets, advanced driver assistance features are becoming differentiators. Driven by regulation and consumer demand, features like reverse park assist, blind spot detection, drowsiness detection and several other features are becoming commonplace. Each of these features is powered by software to avert accidents and keep the occupants safe. In mature markets with standardised infrastructure, advancements towards fully autonomous driving have picked up pace in the last few years.

—Shared mobility: People are moving away from buying a car citing the hassles in maintenance and driving. This has resulted in an increased focus on shared mobility and the tremendous growth of on-demand services like Ola, Uber and Lyft, to name a few. An analysis by Morgan Stanley estimates that, by 2030, shared car services will constitute 26% of all global miles travelled. This growth in the mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) sector is bound to have an impact on how the automotive industry focuses on software competency and collaborations to deliver more reliable and meaningful consumer experiences.

—Electric vehicles: Growing environmental consciousness and regulations are catalysing the development of a portfolio of EVs with more efficient electric powertrains, higher driving range and best-in-class safety. These EVs have sophisticated software for battery management, inverters and varied charging standards across the globe. Software is at the forefront here, too.

As business models and technology trends disrupt the automotive space, it is software that will play a major role in tackling these situations. Thus, the key aspects to consider are:
—Pay attention to skills we are infusing into the industry;
—Talented individuals from diverse industries are coming to the automotive industry, bringing diverse competencies and problem-solving abilities;
—Software and hardware disaggregation will bring more power to software developers. We need to adopt more standardisation and open source;
—Custom-built software applications for mobility use cases in app stores will further empower developers;
—Most importantly, the power of software integration is what will determine whether ideas will go from prototype to production.

After reading all this, will we still usage the adage “It’s not rocket science?” or move to saying “It’s not the software in an autonomous car!”

Author: Kishor Patil
The author is co-founder & CEO, KPIT Technologies

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