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Smart Cars & Smartphones: The Evolution of the Software-Defined Vehicle

Alex Agizim

CTO, Automotive & Embedded, EPAM Germany
Blog
  • Automotive

As the automotive industry faces a connected, autonomous, shared and electric mobility services-dominated market, companies are beginning to truly understand that they must open vehicles to the shared economy in order to enable new concepts and capabilities. To accomplish this, they must think about how the vehicle interacts with other software and platforms.

One way to streamline this process is to model the industry’s evolution after that of the smartphone. Over the past 15 years, smartphones have developed into a platform where businesses can quickly implement services themselves that have exceptional user experiences and business value without relying on phone manufacturers. So for automotive, when the vehicle is software-defined, the service is always upgraded, always relevant and always controlled by the service producer without compromising the vehicle safety and security.

OEMs and tech giants are pioneering this emerging market by developing software specifically for vehicle dashboards. In fact, five years ago, Google launched Android Auto, the mode that mirrors the screen of an Android device to a vehicle’s compatible IVI head unit. Since then, Google has developed Android Automotive Embedded OS, an extended Android operating system for automotive that lives within the vehicle itself rather than just being projected on a display. 

While the names are almost exactly the same, each has a fundamentally different approach. With Android Auto, drivers can take their personalized infotainment experiences from vehicle to vehicle, which lends itself well to ride-sharing service users, for example. On the other hand, since Android Automotive Embedded OS operates in the vehicle, drivers have a more consistent and stable user experience. Because it’s a permanent fixture, it can be more easily optimized for specific vehicle requirements.

In February, Volvo’s premium brand Polestar announced the fully electric Polestar 2 complete with a first-of-its-kind Android Automotive Embedded OS infotainment system. Electric vehicles are inherently less mechanically-focused, making it the next logical step for OEMs to more easily implement the software-defined offerings that are steering automotive’s future.

The architecture of a fully connected vehicle needs to be built around connected services. This is a prime example of how OEMs are partnering with tech giants to combine superior equipment craftsmanship with decades of software development expertise to develop next-gen connected vehicles by leveraging the existing mobile applications and services ecosystem.

It’s not currently possible to open up the vehicle to different connected services or even Android Automotive Embedded OS due to safety and security regulations in the automotive industry. Straightforward solutions like providing dedicated on-board computers for different systems is expensive and difficult to maintain. The more efficient path is consolidation, running different systems on the same on-board computer and providing isolation by virtualization via hypervisors. Hypervisors are the software that creates and runs multiple virtual machines on one system. Now becoming mainstream for the automotive on-board system, a hypervisor is a well-known and trusted solution for data centers and cloud providers.

Another important consideration is automotive’s traditionally long development lifecycles. Using hypervisors can help accelerate business value for the industry, as automotive companies can isolate the safety functions that require long development and verification cycles from connected service functions that must be very agile and ensure short time-to-market.

While automotive is still in the very early stages of transformation, innovations like Google’s Automotive Android Embedded OS and Volvo’s Polestar are major steps toward enabling the vehicle as a platform, as well as empowering the Android developer’s community to create applications that can be effectively deployed in vehicles.

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