Software-defined car takes shape

June 23, 2017 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
How will the car of the future look like? Normally, this is the topic of board meetings in the automotive industry. At NXP’s ‘FTF Connects’ conference in San Jose it was the keynote topic of developers in the software and semiconductor industry. The common denominator: It will be silicon and software that will determine the vehicle of the future, but the challenges are enormous.

Kurt Sievers, General Manager of NXPs Automotive business unit, said he is seeing an automotive industry that is moving at different speeds of innovation: There is the traditional automotive industry with evolutionary innovation steps. “Both approaches will coexist – and we will serve both”, Sievers said. In any case, chips and software play an increasing role in cars, up to the extent that some experts like Glen De Vos, Chief Technology Officer of automotive tier one Delphi, talk about the “software-defined car” – analogous to other software-defined systems in the area of technology, like software-defined radio or software-defined networks. De Vos left no doubt that change is in need for the car of the future. “We have to change the architecture to accommodate new technologies and applications,” De Vos said. “What we see right now is only the beginning.”

He sketched an image of cars with “more sensors, more actuators and more (software) content – and all at lower cost. By the same token, De Vos demanded to “centralize driver assistance systems” – they would morph to virtual software entities, running on multi-domain controllers. “This would reduce complexity and weight”, De Vos announced. His company already has experience in this sector – among others, it will produce the zFAS central computer for future Audis. At the same time, centralizing the electronic architecture of the cars will eventually support new advanced functions. Features of such a vehicle include centralized computer platforms with distributed sensors and actuation. These building blocks will be connected across high-speed data paths like HDBaseT. To support the electronic functions of (more or less) autonomous vehicles, fault-tolerant power distribution will also be a feature of such cars.

Hadi Nahari, CEO and founder of startup company Cognomotiv, got into more details about the software-defined car. From his point of view, conventional cyber security won’t be enough to make such a car a safe and secure one. In addition, the