With electronics increasingly taking control of vehicular functions, software has become a critical part of the automotive industry. Almost every stage of vehicle development in present times involves software in some way and so does the vehicle's operation. to understand the role software would play in vehicles of tomorrow, we spoke to Vijay Ratnaparkhe, President & Managing Director, Robert Bosch Engineering and Business Solutions Limited (RBEI). He gave us a peek into the incredible revolution that software can bring about in the automotive industry.
Vijay Ratnaparkhe joined Bosch as Senior VP, RBEI in 2006, performing the role of a COO. In 2008, he was posted in a global role at Diesel Gasoline Systems – Electronic Controls, Robert Bosch, and was responsible for quality, process and innovation. In his current role, Ratnaparkhe has been instrumental in increasing the growth of RBEI by two-folds in about three years. His past experience includes key roles in companies such as Larsen & Toubro, Tata Consultancy Services and Infosys. He is also the chairman of NASSCOM Engineering council (2013-15). He holds a Master of Technology from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Mumbai and a Bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering from Bombay University (UDCT). He is married, and has a daughter. His areas of interest include philosophy and hobbies include fitness and travel.
ATR _ The advent of electronics has been a game changer in the automotive industry. From the RBEI's perspective, help us understand the role software can play in the coming years.
Vijay Ratnaparkhe _ In the past couple of decades or so, vehicles have definitely adopted more electronics, which in turn have shown an increasing dependence on software. Simple actions such as pressing the accelerator were earlier dependent on a mechanical arrangement of various components, designed to work in a particular sequence and manner. This is not the case today as this function is controlled by a sensor. It's this sensor that determines the need for more power and torque based on the pedal movement and other parameters, also known as drive-by-wire.
With more functions becoming software-driven, how important and challenging is it to create an ecosystem for many such systems?
In present vehicles, there's an inter-vehicle network comprising of multiple smart sensors, controllers and chips, which may amount to as many as 150 to 170 units in a single vehicle. All of these systems need to be connected to each other. Hence, just like the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) in the outside world, we have protocols inside the car for real time connectivity.
Could you mention some examples of these?
Active headlamps are one such example, wherein the projected beam lights up the upcoming area before the vehicle body actually makes a turn. This happens through a sensor in the steering, which communicates with the sensors in the head lamps, instructing them to take the necessary action. Such an action is software based and depends on a computer-to-computer communication in general terms. Other examples include rain sensors and Bosch's anti-pinch functionality.
The anti-pinch system, for example, can prevent some painful injuries and its safe operation depends on the algorithm coded within. Similarly, rain wipers should not operate in tunnels as visibility in tunnels is already restricted. Any wiper operation can further hamper visibility, increasing the risk for the vehicle and its occupants. All such functionalities are purely driven by implementation of software.
In terms of value, where would you put electronics in a modern car?
Many things in a modern vehicle are getting replaced by a combination of software and electronics. One might be paying up to about 30 % of the vehicle's value for these systems in a typical high-end car today. Hardware will get standardised in years to come, as there are already huge installed capacities globally for parts such as semiconductors. This could potentially lead to further standardisation of hardware to make it as basic as possible. The complexities could then move to software, opening up a new world of possibilities.
What possibilities are we looking at?
One advantage of migrating complexities to software is that there is scope for late customisation. Even after having bought a car, customers can be offered by OEMs addition or removal of certain features, all through software. To give you an example, a customer can buy a car with an engine similar to a car from a lower segment. Now if the customer wants additional power at a later stage, the OEM can do that through the software alone, although up to a certain extent.
The greatest benefit herein for the OEMs would be the cost-saving due to having one engine for various models rather than having a family of various engines, involving higher cost. This is a classic example of standardisation of hardware with additional features being dependent on software. Standardisation of hardware can open up many possibilities in areas such as maintenance and exchangeability and many more.
Hence, sophistication of software becomes even more important. Software at this stage has already transformed into extremely complex mathematical algorithms. It's possible to do this today since micro controllers are extremely powerful, memories are strong and that's where car engineers become capable of doing use case-based software. This differentiator creation through software is the topic of discussion right now and also the reason why RBEI has about 13,000 employees, most of them being largely inclined towards developments in software.
So a massive software factory is what you're operating right now!
You could say that! For embedded software alone, we have about 7,000 people working on it and this big change is what is driving the industry right now in a broad sense. There is connectivity inside the car and then there's the role of the car serving as the node of internet, which is another dimension in itself. Increased use of software is also beneficial for designers and engineers as it allows them to simulate the car and its operational environment on their desk, leading to lower development cost and shorter development cycles.
Smartphones are gaining increasing importance in relation to seamless connectivity with vehicles. Help us understand the developments and trends in this area.
Android users can already download a free application known as fun2drive from Bosch. If a user has a vehicle equipped with on-board diagnostics (OBD), he/she just needs to connect a dongle, which could cost anything between ' 500 and ' 1,300. Thereafter, the smartphone will be able to display all the driving parameters such as speed, torque and horsepower usage, etc. The system can also notify the user about proactive maintenance parameters such as condition of engine oil and tyre pressure, if tyre pressure monitoring system is installed in the car. All this data is transmitted by the dongle to the phone via Bluetooth connectivity.
Now this is about receiving information but you could also send commands to the system. It is possible to think of a scenario, wherein you could send a message to the car to not speed beyond a certain limit. The flip side is that once sending commands to the vehicle becomes possible, there is a risk of it being controlled by an unauthorised person for unwanted reasons. Another thing is augmented reality, wherein details such as the street names and many other details can be displayed on the windshield.
The potential to advance this is such that a mechanic could be wearing goggles, which are capable of showing the required work/ defective parts in a vehicle as it drives into a workshop. This is possible due to the OBD being connected to the cloud, which transmits vehicle data onto the goggles. And these are not fantasies since we've already done such experiments in our company. The mechanic would also be able to tell you before fixing up an appointment if any of the required parts aren't available. All this is an indicator of the world of possibilities that software can open up.
So the future of the car will increasingly depend on software?
Absolutely! The future is outside the car. In the end, future mobility depends on software since autonomous driving is essentially software-based. Automatic parking is one such feature, which is gaining increased popularity and its operation depends on software.
We can also have data analytics inside the car, so when one drives the car, the OBD unit can store data related to the driving in a similar way that black boxes work in airplanes. This data can then be used by an insurance company to monitor the driving habits of a particular driver. Presently, there is a debate on whether this data will be of the OEM, the user or would it be privacy locked. So technically all of this is possible today but legislations will determine the market introduction of such systems.
To give you a general idea, whatever word you come across in the IT world, it's likely to find an automotive application of the same. An interesting case could be the possibility of the user being able to lock the vehicle using the smartphone. The possibilities are endless as is the imagination, when software comes into play.
Most of the technologies we've talked about are yet to be implemented commercially. Tell us about some production technologies, more specific to India.
One of them is the 360 o camera, which is being looked upon for low-cost possibilities. This system makes use of cameras on each side and the user gets a top view of the vehicle, which is made by stitching of multiple images. The trick in this system is to efficiently stitch the image, and that can be managed by software. The camera cost can be controlled since better software will allow for usage of inexpensive cameras. There are systems being developed, wherein standard cameras are being used. This might not be specifically for India right now but is an important requirement from a safety perspective. Beyond this, there are many more of such developments taking place in the area of security and safety.
Another example would be the tank air purge for two-wheelers, which has been made possible through a combination of software and electronics at a fairly low-cost. Also, the Nano's engine control unit was from us and has a few million lines of code.
What is the broad trend we can expect in the years to come on the software front?
Anything that has electronics has a lot of software and going forward will only see more addition of it in order to standardise the hardware. Possibilities in the future are immense and we'll soon witness software creating a paradigm shift in the area of mobility.
Interview: Arpit Mahendra
Photo: Bharat Bhushan upadhyay