How software is reshaping the car industry

Car firms are becoming more tech savvy, but connected cars open up a whole new set of challenges

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Computer Weekly: The future of connected cars

Connected car technology will create opportunities for car manufacturers to generate post-sale profits by offering additional services and feature upgrades, as well as enhance brand loyalty through a more personalised customer experience, according to analyst Gartner.

The production of new automobiles equipped with data connectivity, either through a built-in communications module or by a tether to a mobile device, is forecast to reach 12.4 million in 2016 and increase to 61 million by 2020.

James Hines, Gartner research director, said: “Connected vehicles will continue to generate new product and service innovations, create new companies, enable new value propositions and business models, and introduce the new era of smart mobility, in which the focus of the automotive industry shifts from individual car ownership to a more service-centric view of personal mobility.”

Gartner estimated that as cars become more connected they will also become more autonomous, which will see a rise in embedded in-car processing power. Automated driving functions, such as adaptive cruise control, collision avoidance and lane departure warning systems, necessitate real-time camera and sensor data processing and pattern recognition, the analysis company said.

BMW recently announced in would be an early adopter of a new Atom-based platform called Joule, which uses Intel RealSense depth-sensing camera technology.

The processing power needed to control an autonomous vehicle would be equivalent to a supercomputer in a car, Elmar Frickenstein, senior vice-president for automated driving at BMW, told delegates at the Intel Developer Forum in August.

“Outside the car, you need a high performance cloud system to help with things such as swarm intelligence and route planning, plus a 5G network to enable exchange of data between cloud and car,” he said.

At Ignite, the annual Microsoft developer’s event in Atlanta, car-maker Renault-Nissan announced a partnership with the software firm in which Azure will be used to power its connected car strategy.

“A car is becoming increasingly connected, intelligent and personal,” said Ogi Redzic, Renault-Nissan Alliance senior vice-president, connected vehicles and mobility services.

IT is already an integrated part of Volvo, according to Peter Lorentzon, the manufacturer’s vice-president of consumer IT services, speaking at a recent EMC event in Sweden. “We are at the forefront together with the business to drive change.” He said the company is focused on making the lives of consumers easier. “We don’t develop products just for the sake of technology.”

Like many car companies, Volvo sees a need to move away from just selling cars. Lorentzon said: “We could just deliver hardware. But we need to spice up the car with other services.” He said Volvo was an early adopter of connected car technology. “Adding private services is something we are now focusing on.”

As Computer Weekly has previously reported, Volvo has pioneered the delivery of Amazon purchases directly into a vehicle boot.

The challenge for connected cars is how digital services remain relevant as the car gets older. Volvo Cars’ director of business development and strategy for consumer IT, Jonas Rönnkvist, said: “The car industry takes three to four years to develop a car, and it will be operational for 20 years.”

Read more about connected cars

IT has always tried to align with the business, but for Klas Bendrik, group CIO at Volvo Cars, it seems business has aligned with IT.

At its recent investor day, Ford announced its strategy for the Internet of Things and how the company plans to make its mark in the connected car industry.

He compared it to the launch 20 years ago of Microsoft Windows 95.

“In the digital world you cannot imagine working on a Windows 95 computer,” he said. But among the big challenges the connected car industry faces is the longevity of a connected car.

“It is difficult for us to predict what will be the next digital service in three years’ time.” Given that some digital services will have ended long before the car’s useful life is over, Rönnkvist said: “Digital services and infotainment is a challenge given the time frames of a car.”

But, for the near-term, he expects cars to become part of a consumer’s integrated connected digital experience. He said: “Today people use more cloud-based services on many devices. So in the future you will use your music service at home, on your computer and in the car.” The challenge the car industry faces is how to make the experience seamless across all these devices.

And in the connected world Rönnkvist believes car firms are at a disadvantage, because they cannot dictate standards and interoperability. He said: “We face Google and Apple and startups and we are not top of the food chain.”

The connected car pushes IT to the forefront of the automobile business. Along with advancements in technology, car makers are also having to rethink how they work with digital suppliers. And as the car becomes more connected, the car maker is also having to support it and the software and digital services it runs.

Rönnkvist said it makes car companies into IT operators. “Our core systems are supporting customers 24/7,” he said.

Read more on IT strategy