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A platform strategy for the connected car

Wind River believes it has developed a scalable underpinning for the connected car. Freddie Holmes speaks to the Californian software developer to find out more.

Connected cars are already central to the growth strategy of many vehicle manufacturers, and as with any component or system, cost efficiency is an important factor. With the rise of global platforms and expanding model lines, OEMs are looking to their suppliers for connected solutions that are scalable.

In 2009, Intel acquired Wind River for the better part of US$884m, significantly expanding Wind River’s pool of resources for technology development. Headquartered in Alameda, California, the software developer believes it can simplify the development of connected cars. Just as a rolling metal chassis is now commonly shared across various vehicles in a brand’s portfolio, the supplier believes it can deliver a similar strategy through its Helix platform.
The term ‘chassis’ has been adopted “because it mirrors a strategy that OEMs use internally when it comes to building the overall vehicle,” Marques McCammon, General Manager of Wind River, explains to Megatrends. “Many vehicle manufacturers try to find ways to reuse common components between vehicles so that they can maximise their cost efficiency and speed up their time to market, and then focus differentiation on places that drive the most direct value to the consumer.”

For example, an OEM may build a compact car and use the same chassis for its compact SUV model. This allows common components to be reused, meaning additional investments are only made when absolutely necessary. “We have been able to prove that we can do the same thing with software,” says McCammon.

Building the software ‘stack’ up or down describes the addition or subtraction of features, and can help OEMs tailor individual connected car strategies depending on the vehicle in question. “If we develop the core elements that need to be reused frequently and create easy interfaces for that core software, we can provide that same kind of flexibility and speed to market,” he says.

Differentiate to penetrate the market
The parallels between new vehicles and electronic consumer devices are becoming increasingly clear as new connectivity features continue to find their way into the car. In fact, consumers no longer view the car as a connectivity blackspot, and have developed an expectation for continued access to the Internet, navigation and entertainment inside the vehicle. As McCammon observes: “The centre console on the car is becoming a hub of communication and entertainment.”

Just as OEMs set themselves apart in terms of engine performance and exterior design, connectivity is also becoming an important differentiator for many brands. As much as 60% of the value of a luxury car may stem from the inclusion of “unique connected features,” says McCammon. He believes that this is a wake up call for OEMs to invest where necessary.

“I would really like to see OEMs spend the majority of their money on the features that are going to make them feel most differentiated from their competition, or enhance their relationship with their consumer,” says McCammon. Helix Chassis allows an OEM to do just that, as opposed to redeveloping the skeletal parts of the connected system for each model.

As the consumer looks to become more engaged with media on a continuous basis, the notion of interfacing with the automotive experience is logical

Add in the promise of autonomous driving, and the value proposition of connected technology becomes even sweeter. As more driving scenarios become automated, the opportunity for the driver to disengage from the task of controlling the vehicle and monitoring the road increases. The car is expected to eventually become an additional living space, allowing all passengers the freedom to carry out tasks safe in the knowledge that the driverless system is in control of the vehicle. McCammon muses that this will open up a wealth of new opportunities inside the car.

Vehicle manufacturers try to find ways to reuse common components to maximise their cost efficiency. We can do the same thing with software

“I foresee an instance where I have a screen where I could potentially make notes; I can draft professional communications, catch up on texts and emails, and maybe for the children there will be more entertainment interfaces,” he suggests. “I also see passengers being able to catch up on the news in multimedia as opposed to purely audio today. Those experiences coming into the cabin will become much more commonplace.”

Who wants to get connected?
To the casual observer, the conversation around connected cars has exploded in recent years. These vehicles are no longer a concept, and consumers can already purchase highly connected vehicles in most dealerships. However, what has remained slightly ambiguous is why connected cars have come to the fore.

McCammon explains that a convergence of megatrends has created the perfect storm for both consumers and the automotive industry. “It’s not uncommon for a single individual boarding an aeroplane to have their mobile phone, a smart watch, a tablet and a laptop. The consumer trend is about finding more ways of media engagement. As the consumer looks to become more engaged with media and communications on a continuous basis, the notion of interfacing with the automotive experience is logical,” he says.

“OEMs are looking at the way consumers act – such as the fact that there’s a rise of texting while driving and more often than not consumers are either connected or on a phone,” he adds. “We’re looking to try to satisfy the behaviours that we see in the consumer, so the drive is a convergence of consumer behaviour and the OEMs’ desire to make the experience of the car more desirable.”

In a future where every device, machine and building is harnessing and producing data, the connected car may be one of the strongest examples of the Internet of Things (IoT). Enabling the car to interact with all the other aspects of a consumer’s connected lifestyle is not simply a logical step, but a natural progression, concludes McCammon: “Most people won’t ever come into contact with a robot at an assembly plant or interact with a logistics system, but they do get into their car at home and move through traffic to another location to perform some function – grocery shopping or picking up the dry cleaning – and then go to work. Think of all the benefits you could have if those things all knew each other.”


This article appeared in the Q3 2016 issue of Automotive Megatrends Magazine. Follow this link to download the full issue.