Software-Defined Vehicle Momentum Grows

Challenges are massive and multi-faceted, but the auto industry recognizes the whole ecosystem needs to shift direction to remain viable.


Experts at the Table: The automotive ecosystem is undergoing a transformation toward software-defined vehicles, spurring new architectures with more software. Semiconductor Engineering sat down to discuss the impact of these changes with Suraj Gajendra, vice president of products and solutions in Arm‘s automotive line of business; Chuck Alpert, R&D automotive fellow at Cadence; Steve Spadoni, zone controller and power distribution application manager at Infineon; Rebeca Delgado, chief technology officer and principal AI engineer at Intel Automotive; Cyril Clocher, senior director in the automotive product line for high-performance computing at Renesas; David Fritz, vice president, hybrid and virtual systems at Siemens EDA; and Marc Serughetti, senior director, systems design group at Synopsys. What follows are excerpts of that discussion.

L-R: Arm’s Gajendra, Cadence’s Alpert, Infineon’s Spadoni, Intel’s Delgado, Renesas’ Clocher, Siemens’ Fritz, Synopsys’ Serughetti.

L-R: Arm’s Gajendra, Cadence’s Alpert, Infineon’s Spadoni, Intel’s Delgado, Renesas’ Clocher, Siemens’ Fritz, Synopsys’ Serughetti.

SE: The automotive ecosystem is undergoing a technology evolution the likes of which has not been seen, including the move to software-defined vehicles. To set a baseline for this discussion, what is your definition of an SDV?

Gajendra: A software-defined vehicle is a concept, a trend, an idea, where the whole ecosystem can drive new capabilities and new user experiences into the car, even after it rolls out of the showroom or dealership. It’s a pretty loaded concept. There’s a lot of infrastructure that needs to come together, such as software development in the cloud, seamless deployment of that software development onto the car, the whole deployment of over-the-air updates, and the connectivity. In short, the concept of a software-defined vehicle is expecting a world where we can drive new experiences, new capabilities, and new features into the car throughout its lifetime.

Alpert: In thinking about what SDV means, one example is the battery — especially in an EV. I’m not talking about the technology of the battery that’s evolved, but rather the idea that in the past when you wanted to charge your car in your garage and you were worried about starting a fire, you’d think, ‘No, don’t do that because your whole house could burn down.’ The idea is that in the past, maybe we might put a temperature sensor on the battery, but now we actually have software that can monitor it. It might even have AI to predict if the battery is reaching some state that might cause a fire in the future. You also might have something that connects to the power grid and learns when is a good time to charge, because it’s a low-usage period so it’s cheaper. This is just one part of the car, but you can imagine a whole bunch of software that you want to put on top of it in order to connect to the universe. You need a software-defined vehicle platform in order for this, or in all the other parts of your car, to communicate with the world and provide the best user experience.

Spadoni: Infineon’s definition of a software-defined vehicle is a redefining of architecture — specifically, electrical and electronic architecture, feature allocation, and the entire topology of the vehicle, from power generation and storage to power distribution and high compute. It really means new electrical architectures, and it has consequences for the business model of every OEM and Tier 1 involved. It’s a major change to previous methodologies in the last 30 years.

Delgado: Software-defined vehicle is not just over-the-air updates. It’s truly a new methodology and a new philosophy for how to architect every ingredient of the vehicle to continue to deliver value over time, in which the value is very tightly attached to the software that delivers the user experience. Ultimately, this architecture must enable the different practices on how to deliver this new value over time. What’s very interesting is that these practices of moving to software-defined architecture has been done by many other industries already. Intel has a ton of heritage, and actually helped those industries transform. That transformation is truly what we’re observing here. It’s an incredible opportunity, and possibly a crisis if not done right.

Clocher: To apply an analogy here, the car is the new smartphone. But for us, it’s more than that. I’ve heard about the platform, yes, and it’s the major architecture evolution that we’ll see in the next decade. For us at Renesas, it will be a journey that will take time to enhance the user experience, to generate new revenue streams for the industry as it moves from decentralized to centralized classic compute with zonal architecture. We can apply all those buzzwords to a software-defined vehicle. Those platform will need big computers and heavy complex hardware solutions and this will generate evolutions, upgrades to the car during its entire lifetime, but underneath we know — at least at Renesas, and certainly at some other players and silicon vendors — that this will need a huge amount of hardware resources to manage what we have in mind to deploy this platform.

Fritz: I see software-defined vehicles a bit differently than what’s been mentioned so far. For many years, you’d have the hardware team doing their design, and the software team doing their design, and it all needs to come together. There’s an English natural language discussion about what needs to happen, and as we all know, that never really goes terribly well. In automotive that becomes an integration storm, and it is a nightmare. With the new compute requirements that have been mentioned already, that just compounds the issue. So the way I see this is that we tend, as people who have an engineering background, to dive into how we’re going to do things. We hear ‘software-defined vehicle,’ we immediately think about how to do that. There’s not a lot of thought about why it needs to be done, and what needs to happen. We jump into the ‘how’ too early, and a lot of the discussion here is exemplary of that kind of approach. When I’m looking at software-defined vehicles, I’m looking at why it’s important that the software needs to run effectively on a piece of hardware. And for that hardware, why is it important for it to actually operate properly on the software? Then you can decide how to put together a new methodology that’s going to bring those things together. In the past, it’s been called hardware/software co-design. There have been attempts many times, and as has been mentioned, other industries have made this transition. What’s unique about automotive is that it’s not just one transition that needs to happen. It’s hundreds or thousands of transitions. The ecosystem needs to be turned upside down, which we’re seeing happen right now, and you need to bring all that together. It really is a methodology where you need the tooling, you need the processes, you need the thinking, you need the organizations to change so that they can make this transition in a realistic way. SDV is a huge transition. It is a way for the automotive industry to morph into something that has longevity and can meet customer expectations, which it really hasn’t met for some time now.

Serughetti: At the end of the day, if we look starting at the top from our perspective, SDV is a means to bring and enhance the car experience for the customer. That’s the end result that the OEMs look at, but they look at it from the perspective of how that improves the OEM efficiencies, and how that creates new business opportunities. The way we look at it, and what’s important, is the impact it has on the industry, the impact on the processes, on the methodologies, on the people, on the ecosystem, on the technology. It’s really a transformation of the automotive market that is going to fundamentally change how the industry moves forward and bring the OEM into a world in which they are really looking at how they become efficient in delivering cars, how they bring new features, but at the same time, how they evolve their business as well.

SE: As you’ve all described, SDV requires many inter-dependencies, and the entire ecosystem has to have an understanding of the ‘why,’ which should then lead back to laying out the plan for how to get there. Where does the ecosystem stand today in terms of realizing SDV?

Fritz: OEMs have decided in the last few years that they’ve got to take control of their own destiny. They cannot simply take what the suppliers provide. They need a methodology — like this whole SDV concept, and any tooling necessary to provide that — to push down into their suppliers, such that, ‘Here’s what I need. If you can’t do this for me, I will go find someone that will.’ This is not the old ecosystem that bubbled up from the IP to the Tier 2s, to the Tier 1s, and then to the OEMs, which gave them limited choices to go from. So when I say, “Turn the ecosystem upside down,” that’s what is happening. But every OEM has their own ecosystem, and they’re not all in the same place. Even region-to-region, they can be very different.

Delgado: This is a critical discussion, and effectively where the industry has to eventually settle. The magnitude of the transformation of the ecosystem includes roles in the technology evolution. The silicon content is expected to quadruple over the next few years in the vehicle for defining the in-cabin experience of the end user. At the end of the day, the complexity of the transition of roles is of such magnitude that the proprietary, fragmented, and broken approaches that David articulated are really not going to enable the industry to transform at the speed it requires to deliver and meet the experiences. But more than anything, they are not going to address the actual technology changes necessary to implement and allow for this value delivery mechanism. At the end of the day, this is where Intel really believes collaboration is key, and anybody who wants to participate in this ecosystem must provide scalability — also known as top-to-bottom support of the different product lines that our OEMs and Tier 1s are having to support, versus a broken-up approach on these ever-evolving higher performance and higher performance compute needs. It has to be future-proof, because you’re going to launch the vehicle eventually. So certain hardware has to be future-proofed to a certain affordability envelope, and there has to be a strategy around that. And then the ecosystem and that collaboration must be able to deliver that aggregation. It has to be done with certain anchoring technology that will allow us to deliver that performance. Collaboration is key in the sense that these technologies cannot be single-handedly owned, developed, let alone owned, defined, developed, and integrated by OEMs in silos with a proprietary end-to-end architecture definition. There obviously will be differentiations on the actual implementation, but the technologies at large have to have a sense of reuse, particularly from other verticals that have already done software-defined transformations and then tuned in the right ways toward the automotive requirements.

Spadoni: There are probably a wide variety of implementations. At Infineon, we partner with OEMs and Tier 1s and we see different approaches. For example, General Motors has more of a modular approach that emulates what happened in in the mobile phone space. It seems that Ford has a more pragmatic approach, along with Stellantis, but all of them are facing very similar challenges in that affordability has become a big problem. There are multiple generations of implementations that are going to occur, and you’ll see a striving toward how to pay for this extra hardware. It leads to tradeoffs in implementations of other systems that have to have savings in order for them to afford these vehicles. No one ever goes into a dealership and says, ‘Give me a software-defined vehicle.’ Everyone’s looking for value, and you can see it now with volumes going down. There’s a saturation of people buying at the high level. The OEMs want to get more sales, which means they’ll have to go to the lower-cost-value vehicles, and that’s going to affect the electrical and electronic architectures and the software-defined vehicle.

Clocher: What we’re seeing I would summarize as the impact on the ecosystem. We’re moving to an OEM-centric ecosystem. One size does not fit all, meaning OEMs will have their different tastes, their different definitions of levels of integration they want to have in their software-defined vehicle — especially given more complex tasks that we all have to do, rather than the challenge we have to solve, because we’re not talking about a common umbrella of software-defined vehicle. But it really does mean different implementations and different meanings for OEM A from OEM B. I would fully agree with David and Steve that we are far from having a common understanding of, at least, the market itself. And that’s fine, because this will bring differentiation, and ultimately that’s why a customer will go to Dealership A versus Dealership B. This is what the industry wants to see — continue to differentiate, continue to add value to the ultimate product, which is the car.

Serughetti: The important point in all this is, of course, you’re breaking the model that exists today. That’s one of the big challenges. We used to have Tier 1s that were building boxes, and delivering software. This was a complete black box. When it would go to integration, there were all sorts of problems. And now you’re going to break this? The challenge for the OEM is how they do this. They want to control software, but are they equipped to do this today? We see the problems today that some of the legacy OEMs have in setting up their software organizations, the challenges of CARIAD and all such organizations that are trying to do this. It’s not easy to change those companies. Of course, the new entrants don’t have this problem because they are coming from a brand new design versus the ones that deal with legacy. So for the OEM, it’s about how to take control of the software. What does that mean in terms of the processes, in terms of agile development, digital twins, and all of these technologies everybody’s talking about? The other side is, ‘It’s all nice, this software,’ but this software runs on all the companies that are delivering hardware, and that becomes essential to it. You can have the best software, but if your hardware is not there to support performance, power, and all of those aspects, you’re not going to be successful. So the ecosystem is evolving how hardware, software, and all of this comes together. The OEM wants to be the central point. That’s what we’re talking about in terms of the process methodology aspects that are making this transition evolve.

Gajendra: Where are we in this journey? How far have we come? And where are we going? Going back to the point that David mentioned earlier about supply chain evolving and the supply chain turned upside down, five years ago, if we sat here in this sort of a panel and discussed software-defined vehicles, the conversation would have been entirely different. It would have been stuck with the traditional supply chain that we’ve seen for the last 35 or 40 years in the automotive industry. There are fundamentally two aspects here. The supply chain is evolving, and the infrastructure that we, as a community — this team, for example, and many others in the community — are trying to enable is going to be key to making our EDA partners happy. The use of virtual platforms today in the cloud to try and shift left and develop and validate some of these technologies and software wasn’t even there five years ago, so we’ve come a long way. We’ve made a lot of progress together as an industry. Yes, we have a long way to go until we actually have a truly software-defined vehicle. We can go and ask for a software-defined vehicle in the dealership. But the changes we are seeing in terms of all sorts of technology providers trying to make sure that the technology that we eventually will have in the hardware is provided in some sort of virtual form, be it fast models or whatever it is in the cloud, for the vast majority of software ecosystem in automotive this is a big change. I was at Embedded World, and the amount of virtual platforms and the demos that people were actually showing — silicon partners like we have here, Intel, Renesas, Infineon, EDA companies — pointed to a strong movement of, ‘Let’s build the infrastructure that we can build, and then provide that infrastructure to the OEMs to take it from there.’ There is a lot of work going on. Together we will make the infrastructure across the board, be it virtual platform or others, richer and more capable.

Alpert: For sure, OEMs have to control their own destiny. In the past, they would do it by differentiating maybe because they had better engine performance, or some other feature. But going forward, the differentiation is going to be their software. Whoever can make software that will provide additional value, and brand it, that’s going to be the differentiator and that’s the trend. In terms of how you get there, a shared ecosystem is important. SOAFEE is a potential way that, together with virtual platforms, you can provide a shared ecosystem for development, but still allow everyone to differentiate and plug-and-play. That’s one reason we’re working closely with Arm on trying to have a reference design specifically for this purpose. But again, we’re not saying, ‘This is the design you use. This is how you do it.’ That’s not it. The point is, let’s start somewhere, and then people can start swapping out pieces and doing different things. As long as OEMs can plug-and-play, then they can still differentiate. But they don’t have to invent everything themselves, which would be too costly.

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