Software, Computing Power Driving Innovations

Software, Computing Power Driving Innovations

Cover Story February 2020 Software Computing Power Driving Innovations
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Automotive industry is co-developing with large technology companies new products offering advanced features for safer, cleaner and more convenient forms of mobility

The world around us has been in a constant state of evolution. Just like cell phones are now capable of more than just making phone calls, automobiles can do much more than just transporting people and goods from one place to another. The automotive industry in the recent decade has worked hand-in-hand with major technology companies to develop new products that offer advanced features for safer, cleaner and more convenient forms of mobility.

Globally, several megatrends are leading to technological innovations. In more mature markets across the world, the automotive industry is offering fairly advanced products that boast of semi-autonomous functions such as autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, etc. Further, the future holds promise of bringing cleaner battery technologies, improved vehicle and human interface, augmented reality, among others. Trends such as mobility as a service (MaaS) are also spawning thoughts of developing vehicles that are optimised particularly to better serve the end consumer.

SOFTWARE & ELECTRONICS GAINING PROMINENCE

In order to adapt innovative new technology in the auto industry, OEMs have been increasingly relying on technology giants to help develop and integrate solutions that will provide a competitive edge to products. Technology giants as well are looking to stay relevant in the automotive industry. Apart from user experience and infotainment systems, companies are shifting their focus towards developing cyber security products for the automotive market in their bid to offer data protection for vehicles, as they become more connected as well as autonomous. An interesting example of this is when Microsoft recommitted itself to the automotive industry by announcing its decision to bring connected and autonomous vehicle offerings and accelerate its efforts towards smart mobility solutions. Even in India, we have seen companies such as MG Motor India partnering with multiple tech companies to roll out the country’s first internet-enabled car the Hector.

In the 20th century, the engine was at the core of automobile innovation, but these trends have evolved in recent years with more development in the areas of software, computing power and hardware such as sensors. To put things in perspective, the software lines of code used on a vehicle stood at roughly 10 mn in 2010. Within five years the average software lines of code used on vehicles expanded up to 150 mn. As the automotive industry transitions from hardware to software defined vehicles, the average software and electronics content on a vehicle is also set to increase. As per industry statistics, software represents around 10 % of the overall vehicle content today for a D-Segment vehicle and this is anticipated to grow at a compounded annual rate of 11 % and touch 30 % of the overall vehicle content by 2030.

Companies across the digital value chain are keen to take advantage of innovations that are enabled through software and electronics. These software firms and other digital technology players are now moving past their present Tier II and Tier III positions and are focussing on engaging with auto OEMs as Tier I suppliers. These companies are looking to expand their participation with automotive manufacturers by going beyond features and applications towards entire operating system solutions. Simultaneously, traditional Tier I electronics system players are working on feature and app-based technologies, while automotive OEMs are focussing on operating systems, hardware abstractions, and signal processing, all aimed at preserving the essence of their technological distinction and differentiation.

But there are some instances of tech giants choosing to go even further. For instance, Sony recently unveiled its Vision-S concept car. This first attempt of the technology giant towards developing a vehicle for the automotive sector is a result of its Vision-S initiative to develop an electric concept car. This prototype features Sony’s imaging and sensing tech and software that can regulate, update and evolve the vehicle features using the company’s AI, telecommunication and cloud technologies. The Sony concept car will get a total of 33 sensors that are fitted across the vehicle. This technology will be used to recognise both people and objects inside and outside the vehicle in order to offer advanced drive support. Further, the interiors have been given a futuristic look with a panoramic screen that offers a rich and diverse mix of content that can be explored through an intuitive user interface, empowered by Sony software.

EVs TO DOMINATE FUTURE AUTOMOTIVE INNOVATION

While software and electronics are gaining prominence, it is a fact that the automotive industry across the globe has switched gears and is bracing up to go electric. When we look at increasing global penetration of EVs, it must be noted that there has been a similar significant impact even in the Indian market. Major OEMs such as Tata Motors, Mahindra, Hyundai and Maruti Suzuki are all working towards developing and rolling out electric vehicles (EVs) for Indian consumers. The increase in software and electronics content on vehicles will also demand more energy-efficient systems on vehicles.

OEMs are now looking to optimise electronic drive systems, charging systems as well as battery systems on EVs. Nissan has recently developed a new dual motor all-wheel drive platform e-4ORCE to be used on its upcoming BEVs. Having dual motors, one for each axle, will increase the overall performance and deliver a balanced, predictable power and handling that is comparable to sports cars. It is also anticipated that OEMs such as Volkswagen are also working on similar solutions. Nissan’s engineers have worked on the e-4ORCE system to optimise EV power output and braking performance. The technology also aims to reduce vehicle pitch and dive, by employing regenerative braking through front and rear axles. Nissan has also claimed that the motor has been optimised to deliver ride comfort by minimising irregularities.

The field of charging too has seen many recent innovations. The development of bi-directional chargers that can be used to return energy to the grid is one such innovation. Other innovations in the charging space include wireless chargers, autonomous robot charging, 450 kW high speed charging and solar charging with companies such as Lightyear developing long range solar-powered EVs.

But not just charging systems, batteries and battery chemistry also offers an opportunity for innovation. Major OEMs such as Hyundai, Toyota, Tesla, etc have successfully optimised the lithium-ion technology to offer long range on their EVs. However, innovations such as metal air batteries will offer an even longer range to further enable EVs. Mercedes-Benz recently unveiled its Vision AVTR concept vehicle that features a graphene-based battery with organic cell chemistry. According to the company, this technology is clean of rare earths and metals. Further, it is compostable and can be completely recycled.

ROUND-UP

Connected devices are now not limited to personal devices; the role of connectivity in the automotive industry is set to increase and penetrate further into the sphere of personal mobility. There is huge potential for innovation in this space and this is a great example of companies being able to create more convenient, intelligent and personalised experiences. With OEMs bringing out next-generation smart products that offer integrated assistance capabilities, digital applications and features are expected to become mainstream in the near future.

(Inputs from TVS Motor Co, McKinsey)

TEXT: Joshua David Luther

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