Software-heavy cars create new challenges for vehicle engineering

James Scoltock

Stock image. Electronics and software will be key to the success of shared mobility solutions (Credit: Shutterstock)
Stock image. Electronics and software will be key to the success of shared mobility solutions (Credit: Shutterstock)

In the future no one owns a car. Everyone has an app on their smart device and when they need transport they simply hail it electronically. It arrives at their door, they get in, sit back and wait to be taken to their destination in a bubble of calm.

That’s the ideal, anyway. As OEMs and technology firms invest money and time into developing fully-autonomous electric vehicles the aim is to make the car part of the wider transport solution, becoming as much part of mass transit as the bus or train. Only more convenient.

But, if we assume the rapid adoption of autonomous EVs and their integration into the transport network, what will control them and what’s the benefit of being driven rather than driving yourself?

It’s complicated

Electronics and software will be key to the success of shared mobility solutions. It’s why firms are investing more heavily in this area than ever before. 

Last year Tier One supplier Bosch pooled its software and electronics expertise in one division encompassing 17,000 people. And it was for good reason.

While a car included roughly 10m lines of software code 10 years ago, the software of automated vehicles will include between 300m and 500m lines of code.

The growth means added complexity in vehicle engineering. Bosch’s new division is tasked with minimising this complexity through cross-domain software and electronics development. To achieve this, Bosch has assigned to the new unit software, electrical and electronics engineers from the areas of driver assistance, automated driving, car multimedia, powertrain and body electronics.

“Software will play a crucial part in determining a vehicle’s features and feel in the future. It will help make cars ever more intelligent, and provide drivers with a tangible benefit,” said Harald Kroeger, member of the board in Bosch’s Mobility Solutions business sector.

Are you not entertained?

If the complex electronic architecture is able to control the vehicle, it means the in-cabin experience could become very different from what we’re used to.

Harman is developing systems that could make journeys in shared mobility vehicles more engaging. That’s important when you consider that studies show that at least 60% of consumers expect their cars to deliver more than just transport, and nearly half look to their vehicles to help them safely multitask. And that’s in today’s vehicles, not a future self-driving version.

So Harman has created its Gaming Intense Max, Creator Studio and Drive-Live Concert concept technologies to show what could be possible in the vehicles of the future. Gaming Intense Max uses Harman’s Scalable Compute, 5G TCU and Ignite SDP to create an in-car gaming experience. The system allows two-way communication while in the vehicle and high-fidelity sound, integrated headrest speakers, advanced haptics and high-resolution OLED and QLED displays to create a fully immersive environment. 

And if gaming isn’t your thing perhaps you’re more in tune with a recording studio. Creator Studio leverages a variety of technologies and services so users have the ability to edit content via controls on the steering wheel as well as automatic background noise reduction to ensure that any audio is clear for the audience.

Finally Drive-Live Concert brings gigs to the vehicle’s cabin. The steering wheel retracts to open up more space to allow the driver to enjoy the show, while the main display extends to provide amazing visuals. At the same time, the headrests automatically move forwards, enabling incredible, immersive audio. In-vehicle lighting also synchronises with the music.

In all seriousness

To some people these technologies may seem frivolous in a vehicle, but shared mobility will require a readjustment of what vehicles are used for and how they’re interacted with. 

That could mean more companies shifting their focus, as Bosch has, to develop systems that will enable a range of functions once you’ve taken your seat in a shared, autonomous, perhaps electric, vehicle. That could be something fun or serious, but it won’t be anything to do with driving once your destination’s locked in.

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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