Unveiling the Potential of Software-Defined Vehicles (SDVs): Reimagining Vehicle Functionality, Connectivity, and Safety

Software Defined Vehicle

The automotive industry is going under huge transformation as the focus has shifted to enhancing user experience along with automation and electrification. With advancements in ADAS systems, vehicle electrification, and connectivity, users are expecting more from automotive OEMs. Now vehicle owners are expecting the high level of flexibility and UI UX when they are using in-vehicle features and applications. And this is a paradigm shift as with the market demand there is a huge need for continuous software updates in-vehicle applications to make vehicle function seamlessly and provide an unparalleled user experience.

With so much of advancements in the automotive segment, cars are becoming more intelligent and connected and software is playing a pivotal role in this evolution. Hence this new term is coined: “Software Defined Vehicles” (SDV). Let’s deep dive into this topic and understand in detail Software Defined Vehicles.

Understanding Software Defined Vehicles

The Software Defined Vehicles (SDV) clearly indicates that a vehicle in which software plays an important role, so important that the value and volume of software become more prominent than the mechanical and electronic hardware of the vehicle. A software-defined vehicle is a self-evolving sustainable system, which upgrades vehicle applications, and features in real-time, and provides enhanced connectivity, navigation, and most importantly vehicle safety.

Software-defined vehicles are purely intelligent machines embedded with advanced hardware to support OTA updates throughout the lifecycle of the vehicle so that functions and values of the hardware can be gradually enhanced and activated.

The core of any smart vehicle is its architecture. The basic component of any hi-tech vehicle is identical, and it is essential to understand the software-oriented architecture to understand how a software-defined vehicle is able to provide personalized updates to applications, and ensure connected IVI systems. A strong and flexible architecture makes a vehicle to receive timely firmware updates, and vehicle software updates, ensures uninterrupted multichannel connectivity on 5G with Edge.

Software Defined Vehicle Architecture

The architecture of a software defined vehicle tend to be very complex. As there are hundreds of ECUs in a hi-tech vehicle, and multiple interconnected software platforms, while supporting these ECUs, software platforms are often comprised because of this complexity. Though automotive OEMs are trying to reduce the no. of ECUs, controlled by a strong central in-vehicle computer. Either way, architecture of a software defined vehicle can be divided into four layers:

  1. User Applications: User applications refer to software and services that directly interact with drivers and passengers. Some of the user applications are vehicle controls, and digital dashboards, HMI Systems, Infotainment systems, etc.
  • Instrumentation: This layer doesn’t receive direct intervention from the vehicle driver but this layer typically deals with vehicle functionality. ADAS systems and complex controllers are typically part of the Instrumentation layer.
  • Embedded OS: At the heart of the Software-Defined Vehicle is the embedded operating system (OS), which handles tasks like isolating important functions and managing everyday operations. These operating systems usually use a microkernel design, enabling easy addition or removal of software features and functions in separate modules.
  • Hardware: The hardware layer includes ECUs and the chip on which the embedded operating system is installed. The hardware of a vehicle also includes in-vehicle sensors, cameras, and devices attached to a vehicle.

Currently, Automotive OEMs tightly couple software to hardware in a vehicle and software in this case, is designed as monolithic architecture. This makes it difficult in a software-defined vehicle to update the software due to dependencies between the components. Also, in tight coupling, the cost of hardware is significantly high, as the complexity of hardware increases, and the system requires unique software for each hardware component.

To ensure seamless functioning of software-defined vehicle’s applications, it is necessary to do “loose coupling” between software as applications and hardware. In loosely coupled architecture, hardware abstraction layer is introduced between automotive hardware and independent software. In this setup, the software is developed as independent applications based on function or service. Here software can be easily updated due to the separation of functions by the application. Software is developed in microservices architecture and developed independently of specific hardware. 

So, the fundamental aspect of a Software Defined Vehicle is having a loose Coupling between software and hardware of the vehicle. And this transition from tight coupling to loose coupling is essential in this context.

Benefits of Software Defined Vehicles for End Users

  • New Feature updates in real-time

Software-defined vehicles will have access to the latest updated software which will improve user experience. SaaS model will be there for vehicle applications. New features in a vehicle application will be provided to users as services and they have to subscribe to the services they are using.

Hence, software-defined vehicles will be a great benefit to both users and OEMs. Users will get updated features and a great degree of automation in-vehicle functions and automotive OEMs will have new business models and revenue streams where business will expand from hardware sales to continuous software and service premiums.

  • Enhanced Safety

ADAS features will gain great benefits from continuous updates in software. V2V, V2X features will evolve exponentially. Object identification and detection with improved software will help mitigate on-road accidents and gradually optimize vehicle performance. A high level of automation is only possible with regular software updates in a vehicle.  Also, predictive maintenance is one of the features which will be improved in Software-defined vehicles. Security vulnerabilities can be addressed more promptly through software updates, reducing the risk of cyberattacks. These vehicles will communicate more with in-vehicle sensors and apps, and external environments to add additional safety for drivers and passengers.

  • Vehicle Data Collection and Analysis:

Software-defined vehicles generate a lot of data about vehicle performance, vehicle applications, sensors, and driver behavior. This data can be used to analyze all the vehicle features precisely, and how it is helping the driver. Insights collected from the vehicle and driver behavior can be used to improve the existing vehicle apps and build additional features according to user’s need and preferences.

Vehicle data analysis can also be used to improve vehicle performance. Software-defined vehicles can manage better fuel efficiency, engine performance, better power distribution as compared to conventional vehicle systems.

  • Communication and Entertainment

As infotainment systems are more advanced and connected with passengers’ smartphones, advanced software systems will offer their seamless integration. Mobile apps will get connected to vehicle applications and devices, and connectivity, communication, and navigation will become more personalized and easier to use and enhance user experience.

In a Nutshell

In coming future of software-defined vehicle, we can foresee improved safety and security functions, higher autonomous functions, more and improved OTA updates for in-vehicle software applications.

These vehicles will also possess a software foundation for connected services, including entertainment systems. Moreover, they will lead to innovative business models like theft prevention, instant emergency support, and personalized travel assistance. All in all, the software-defined vehicle will open doors to unforeseen opportunities for consumers and vehicle manufacturers, many of which are yet to be imagined.

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