“Software-defined vehicle” is a term that describes a vehicle whose features and functions are primarily enabled through software, a result of the ongoing transformation of the automobile from a product that is mainly hardware-based to a software-centric electronic device on wheels.
Premium vehicles today can already have up to 150 million lines of software code, distributed among as many as 100 electronic control units (ECUs) and a growing array of sensors, cameras, radar and light detection and ranging (lidar) devices. Mass-market vehicles are not far behind. Three powerful trends — electrification, automation and connectivity — are reshaping customer expectations and driving manufacturers to increasingly turn to software to address them.
In the past, vehicle manufacturers differentiated themselves with mechanical features such as horsepower and torque. Today, consumers are increasingly looking for features defined by software, such as driver assistance features, infotainment innovations and intelligent connectivity solutions. As driver-assistance features grow into more automated driving and toward fully autonomous driving, the need for more software also grows. As consumers expect richer content in their infotainment systems, that also increases the amount of digital content the vehicle must manage. And as vehicles become part of the internet of things (IoT), transmitting large amounts of data to and from the cloud, software will be required to process, manage and distribute all of that data.
Benefits of the ‘software-defined vehicle’
Beyond unlocking new safety, comfort and convenience features, the software-defined vehicle has a number of other advantages compared to its hardware-defined predecessor.
Today, software upgrades to vehicle infotainment, telematics or vehicle diagnostic systems require a trip to the dealership. With a software-defined vehicle, customers will be able to receive over-the-air (OTA) updates that cover security patches, infotainment improvements, plus monitoring and tuning of core functional capabilities of the vehicle, such as powertrain and vehicle dynamics.
ECUs will send and receive vast amounts of data to and from sensors and actuators, giving vehicle manufacturers insight into every aspect of a vehicle, its performance and its place in the connected ecosystem. This gives vehicle manufacturers the opportunity to improve life-cycle management and develop revenue-generating features they can offer to customers — all of which will result in deeper, more connected relationships with customers.
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