Software-Defined Cars are Changing the Automotive Industry’s Technology

Word of Apple’s electric car project has reminded people that the car of the future is a computer on wheels. Perhaps it’s apt to say that the best car of the future will be an iPhone on wheel. Comments like these highlight that cars are increasingly software-driven. As Egil Juliussen of EET Asia argues, software driven cars have dramatically changed automotive software technology

Cars have progressed from being purely mechanical contraptions to vehicles in which it often seems the mechanics of the car are secondary to the software. At first, this had no tangible impact on the automotive industry’s technology. Yet, as software has come to define cars, software-defined cars have begun to change the automotive industry’s business models, technology and structure. 

For over 120 years, cars were simply a way to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. The car was an isolated entity, which only ever connected to anything at the fuel pump or through the car radio. Progressively, this has changed. Cars have become increasingly connected and they are no longer just a means to an end. The car of the future will not just be a computer on wheels, it will be permanently connected to the world around it. 

Automotive innovations have centered around electronics. Increasingly, software has been the engine of innovation. The software-defined car is a system within a macro-system, a part of the Internet of Things (IoT). 

In 2011, venture capitalist and Netscape founder, Marc Andreessen said “software is eating the world”.  Since then, software has disrupted many industries to the point where his point seems quaint now.  Yet, the nature of cars meant that the automotive industry largely avoided being “eaten” by software. No longer. Software is eating the automotive industry. 

Juliussen argues that software-defined cars, that is, cars whose functionality is largely mediated through software, have become the gold standard of cars. Functionality in these cars is carried out through software running on memory, processors and sensors. The functionality is largely defined by the quality of the software implemented human-machine interface. As software-defined cars evolve, we will get more capabilities out of software, especially in terms of advanced ADAS and self-driving vehicles. Software-defined cars will require systems connecting cars and remotely updating software, data collection, the provision of cybersecurity features, and on-board entertainment for passengers. 

Software-defined cars rely on and will continue to rely on two categories of software: software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms, and embedded software clients. Currently, embedded client systems are the dominant category in the automotive industry. This dominance is easing as SaaS platforms become more important. 

The vast changes undergoing in the automotive industry will have dramatic consequences for the automotive industry. This is a world that will be dominated by cloud computing and software developers, SaaS providers, providers of cloud infrastructure and platforms, Tier 1 suppliers, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and car dealers. It’s a world very different from that of the decades before. 
It will certainly be quite the experience getting the best mobile car detail in a computer on wheels, with all its amazing features. As Juliussen shows, the changes within the industry are profound and will have long-lasting effects on the industry, His piece is certainly worth a read.