Automotive Software Development Progress

June 28, 2021

Latest company news about Automotive Software Development Progress

Automotive electronics has increasingly become a software-defined system.


If you think back to the last 50 years, of all the products that have been mass-produced, the automobile has been the most complex, because it contains mechanical, electromechanical, and electronic systems. In recent years, the automotive electronic system has become more and more advanced, and has begun to replace the mechanical and electromechanical systems, and is still in continuous development.

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This means that, sooner or later, automotive electronics will become the most sophisticated mass-produced electronic device, a distinction it may already have earned. While aircraft components may be more complex, and supercomputers may have more sophisticated electronics, they are nowhere near the tens of millions produced annually.

In almost all cars, the amount of software content contained in electronic devices is increasing rapidly, just by a small amount. Many articles claim that an advanced car contains more than 100 million lines of software code. I haven't seen exactly what those 100 million lines of code contain, but if someone has that kind of data, it's very useful. There is no doubt that automotive electronics and software content will evolve rapidly as advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), connectivity, network security, autonomous driving, and other features continue to grow.


Little is said about the strategy, segmentation, key technologies and other important issues of automotive software. There is a big difference between hardware and software, which can affect the success of the entire car.

In the past two decades, automotive software has come a long way. In the 1990s cars were mainly embedded software, used to control driving electronics and simple entertainment systems. Despite increasing software complexity, embedded systems rarely reach a million lines of code. Automotive Oems and their tier 1 suppliers develop their own embedded systems.

That changed in the late 1990s. As the capabilities of infotainment and embedded navigation systems continue to grow, complex software needs to be managed by an operating system (OS). Operating systems bring high technology to automotive software, including QNX, Green Hills, Wind River, Microsoft and more. In the last decade, open source software such as Linux has also become increasingly important in automotive software.


"Build - make - market - use" concept

Figure 2 shows the difference between automotive hardware and software, with four phases applicable to any type of product or industry. "Establishment" is the development and design stage of the product; "Manufacturing" refers to the production stage of a product, including all component costs, manufacturing costs and supply chain; The third stage is "marketing" of the product, including advertising, sales and distribution channels. In essence, it refers to all activities and costs of providing the product to customers. The fourth stage is the "use" of the customer, which is quite long for the automotive industry.

The build-manufacturing-marketing concept I learned when I was at Texas Instruments (TI) because it was so widely used in the '70s and' 80s. During my time at IHS Markit, I added the "use" phase again. In many reports and demonstrations, I used my deep understanding of these four stages to analyze different automotive segments, including software, battery electric vehicles (BEV), 3D printing, and so on.


Hardware phase

The top of Figure 2 shows the key features of the car hardware in four different phases. The hardware "establishment" stage determines the functions of electronic devices, which play an increasingly prominent role. The chip industry provides the most important hardware components, and will continue to do so in large Numbers. The hardware ecosystem is becoming more and more important because it includes all the development systems and hardware design tools. Ecosystems associated with processor platforms in automotive electronics are also increasingly important. The "build up" phase of automotive hardware costs in the millions or tens of millions of dollars, but with hundreds of thousands of units produced, the cost per vehicle is relatively low.

The "manufacturing" phase is the most expensive, due to the cost of all the hardware electronic components, or BOM, and the cost of managing the hardware supply chain, manufacturing equipment, and personnel. Overall, electronic component hardware accounts for only a small part of the total cost of a car, and even as the cost of each electronic component falls, the cost of "manufacturing" continues to rise. All the electronic hardware systems in a car typically cost between $3,000 and $8,000, with luxury models costing even more.

The hardware "marketing" phase varies by component and system type. In most cases, the hardware "marketing" phase becomes part of the automotive electronics system through tier 1 suppliers.

Hardware functions have more and more influence on automobile sales. All functions that need to be realized by hardware functions will have indirect influence on sales. New features that will be widely used in the future include ADAS, network security hardware, upgradable hardware, and self-driving features.

The "use" phase of the car usually lasts 10 to 15 years, sometimes even longer. Such a long service life requires excellent hardware reliability to reduce OEM and supplier warranty and recall costs. It is in the "use" phase that suppliers to the parts market have the greatest opportunity, especially after the car has passed its warranty. The number of car accidents also brings business opportunities, as cars need to replace their electronic hardware systems.


Software phase

The "build up" phase is the most difficult part of the software and is usually the most costly in the software business. Large software projects have a long development cycle, which includes a difficult testing process and the need to fix bugs as cheaply as possible. All large software platforms have bugs, and new bugs are found throughout the software's life cycle. With increasing concern over network security, a new class of software bugs -- network security vulnerabilities -- have emerged in completed code that hackers could exploit to attack networks. Most car programmers are not experts in cybersecurity technology, and they don't know how to avoid code that is vulnerable to hacking.

The software "build" phase also requires a very strong ecosystem to develop new programs and test the software. The automotive ecosystem is well developed and can now be developed using open source software.

Software "manufacturing" is usually the cheapest phase, because most of the software running on hardware systems is free. While some software requires licensing fees, they typically account for only a small fraction of the cost of hardware components. Software "manufacturing" is essentially loading programs into the car's electronic system, and you can choose when and how to load software into the system.

The "marketing" phase of software varies by market segment and system type. In most cases, the software "marketing" phase also requires a tier 1 vendor to become part of the automotive electronics system.

Software features also have an increasing impact on car sales, and this indirect impact depends on how well the human-machine interface (HMI) or functionality is implemented. Software usability will affect a growing number of features, such as connected vehicle capabilities, OTA upgrades, functional upgrades, ADAS and future autonomous driving capabilities. If the software isn't practical, the car won't get good reviews from potential users, which could affect future sales. Negative reviews have always been an issue with advanced infotainment systems, and apple and Google have been successful in addressing this issue with their recently released infotainment/smartphone integrated system.

The "use" phase of a car usually lasts 10 to 15 years, sometimes longer in many countries. A large number of software bugs need to be fixed over such a long service life. To reduce warranty and recall costs for Oems and software vendors, low-cost in-flight download technology (OTA) is needed to fix bugs and update software versions.

In the "use" phase, software as a Service (SaaS) and cloud software businesses have great growth potential; The security system architecture based on SaaS has a good prospect. The main opportunity in the "use" phase is seen as fixing faulty OTAs and functional software updates; Infotainment content through SaaS is growing; Car accidents also create a lot of business opportunities because new hardware systems require new software.


In the future, with the development of high technology, more and more good software platforms will be used in the automobile industry.