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How Software Strategies Will Dominate Auto Industry

A carmaker needs a solid software strategy. The growing amount of software functionality in every new car model will require increased competency, and yet, it’s one thing that’s in short supply in the auto industry…

Software expertise and experience are becoming crucial core competency that is in short supply in the auto industry. The growing amount of software functionality that are embedded in every new car model will require increased competency by OEMs, Tier 1 and software suppliers. Software platforms are a required strategy to be able to keep up with the software explosion that are coming from customer’s demand for connected cars and apps-centric infotainment systems and the many ADAS functions.

In this article, I will complete my summary on challenges and options facing the automotive industry, by exploring automotive software platforms, market and technology trends. This is a third in the series of columns I posted last month, focused on software platforms (see below).

First, let me sum up in the following table the status of key software platforms used in the automotive industry.

The first seven entries in the table were already described in the previous column. The remaining software platforms are summarized below in this table, and they are marked in red in the first column.

Note: AUTOSAR=AUTomotive Open System ARchitecture; AGL=Automotive Grade Linux; C-S=Cybersecurity; ECU=Electronic Control Unit; NCAP=New Car Assessment Program; SoC=System on Chip; SW=Software; TSP-Telematics Service Provider; UN=United Nations;

OTA Software Platforms
Over-the-Air (OTA) software update technology was developed in the high-tech industry, but OTA products are becoming integral to the automotive software business. This makes it more important for the auto industry to manage or control the key OTA software platforms—with the Tier 1 suppliers taking the lead.

Harman is the leading supplier of OTA software update solutions due to acquisition of Red Bend and Symphony-Teleca in 2015. Aptiv has also entered the automotive OTA segment with an acquisition of Movimento in 2017. Several other Tier 1 suppliers are also providing OTA capabilities via acquisition or cooperation with high-tech OTA suppliers. GM, Ford, BMW and Tesla are in this category with likely additional OEMs doing so in the future. Tesla software updates are based on Harman’s OTA platform. Tesla leads in OTA and are currently doing over 10 major software updates per year for its ECUs—excluding many additional updates for its AutoPilot system.

Some auto OEMs are developing their own OTA platforms, usually by combining their own effort and available technology from established OTA platforms. Harman’s Redbend OTA software platform is considered the leader in automotive remote software updates.

New OTA technology is emerging that position OTA as software life-cycle management with focus on the create and use phases. This means the OTA software functionality is integrated with the software development platforms and as part of their maintenance activities. Aurora Labs is an example of an OTA company following this approach. The strategy is to position the OTA platform as software-prognostics tool to help identify and fix software bugs. This trend also shifts OTA platforms into a service business.

Cybersecurity Platforms
Cybersecurity software need to protect multiple systems in the car. The connected gateway is prevalent in connected cars and needs a cybersecurity software client and usually built-in cybersecurity hardware too. The gateway may also have cybersecurity software to protect communication via the car’s bus network. The most important ECUs also need their own built-in cybersecurity software clients. There are many cybersecurity companies that focus on the auto industry with many being recent startups. Examples are Argus (acquired by Continental), GuardKnox, Karamba, Iredeto, Regulus Cyber, SafeRide Technologies and Trillium Secure.

Argus is considered the automotive cybersecurity leader. Regulus Cyber includes protection from GPS spoofing, which is a growing problem. SafeRide includes protection for automotive Ethernet networks.

Just as important as cybersecurity software clients is a cloud-based SaaS platform for cybersecurity, usually called a cybersecurity operation center (SOC). The cloud-based SaaS cybersecurity platform can be used without in-car cybersecurity software client for vehicle fleets. Upstream Security is one of the leading companies with such service in the auto industry. Some of the companies offering cybersecurity software clients also offer SaaS platforms that interact with their in-car software clients and/or cybersecurity hardware.

Cockpit Domain ECU Platform
A cockpit domain ECU integrates the cockpit display functions and infotainment functions into a single system. The cockpit domain ECU may include multiple displays such cockpit display, center-stack display, rear view mirror display and head-up display. The infotainment system includes multiple systems such as audio components, a variety of user interfaces (knobs, touch, speech) and smartphone app integration. Telematics systems are likely to be included in high-end versions.

This integration requires more powerful software platforms and is built on high-performance SoC hardware platforms. The integration advantage comes from eliminating multiple ECUs and subsystems, which creates hardware cost savings, fewer parts and suppliers, weight and space savings.

The cockpit domain ECU software platforms are primarily based on the infotainment software platforms such as the operating systems, OTA, cybersecurity, Virtual Personal Assistant (VPA), smartphone apps integration and others. The OS by definition has to serve safety critical systems, which requires ISO 26262 certification. If Linux versions are used, it will require a hypervisor plus another certified OS.

The cockpit domain ECU is in the early growth phase since volume production started in 2017. The potential for software platform growth and SoC chips are significant and could reach tens of millions of units after 2025.

Visteon has been the early leader in supplying cockpit domain ECUs with Aptiv as another leader as they entered the market first. Many of the other leading Tier 1 suppliers such as Bosch, Continental, Harman, Marelli and Panasonic, are also ready with products and volume production.

ADAS Software Platforms
Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS) include many functions that help the driver. ADAS include four levels of SAE’s six autonomous driving levels—Level 0, Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3. L0 has no automation and consist of warning functions such as park assist, blind spots, lane departure warning (LDW), collision warning and driver monitoring. L0 functions are available on most autos sold in many countries.

L1 provide driver assist functions with limited control of the car. The three main functions are adaptive cruise control (ACC), lane centering and semi-automated parking. L2 provide partial automation, but the driver must always monitor the driving. L2 examples are traffic jam assist and limited autopilot. L3 primarily consists of advanced autopilots for specific environments such as highways, low-speed urban areas and self-parking. The driver can disengage from the driving functions but must be prepared to re-engage within a few seconds when requested by the L3 system.

All ADAS functions are defined by software that are receiving data from camera, radar and ultrasonic sensors. Low-cost lidars are emerging for L2 and L3 functions.

Regulation is an important factor in ADAS growth as UN has approved extensive safety standards, which are being implemented by many region-specific NCAP organizations. European NCAP are on an aggressive schedule.

ADAS domain ECUs are emerging with L0-L1 ADAS integration appearing first. The main focus is on ADAS domain ECUs for L2-L3 functions which have multiple SoCs and extensive software platforms.

If you need detailed information on ADAS deployment, IHS Markit has historical and forecast data by OEM brand and models for all ADAS functions including sensors, apps and suppliers for most vehicles.

Autonomous Vehicle software Platforms
The autonomous vehicle software platforms will have many functions and will be quite complex. The virtual driver software will probably be the most complex platform with a large code space. Many companies are developing AV software platforms. To get an overview of the many participants the, linked article has a picture of key companies and their connections. This picture is from early May 2020 and already several changes have taken place. An update will be done later this fall.

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