Shiva Ahardwaj examines the promises and challenges of moving to a software-defined connected car ecosystem
The vehicles are now dubbed “smartphones on wheels”. They have dozens of computers and hundreds of sensors controlled by millions of lines of code, all connected to the internet. The main difference between smartphones and vehicles is that safely transporting people and goods at high speeds requires strict regulations and manufacturing and design processes that drastically reduce innovation cycles. When software bugs can lead to death, it makes sense that automotive innovations take longer to get into the hands of consumers. The promise of a $400 billion connected vehicle market is a well-known concept, but implementation is taking longer than expected. A number of basic technological advances, features and challenges still need to be resolved.
As of 2022, the features a user experiences depends on the vehicle they drive and the region they live in, which can vary significantly. The promises and benefits can be divided into two categories: entertainment features and functionality.
The promise of a $400 billion connected vehicle market is a well-known concept, but implementation is taking longer than expected
Entertainment features are more common for the average consumer. Features found in today’s vehicles include the ability to play games, watch Netflix, implement IFTTT setups (e.g. open the garage when the car enters the driveway), game music and audio apps, and other fun (and unnecessary) stuff, like playing farts where passengers are seated.
The promise of entertainment would turn into convenience with features like purchasing food and drinks from a favorite restaurant right from the vehicle. There have been launches of embedded marketplaces, but so far none have really taken off.
The “functional” dives a bit deeper into the car, with features in vehicles on the road today that include the ability to have over-the-air updates, fix bugs or add new features wireless. These may also include advanced analytics and vehicle health monitoring, vehicle navigation, driver safety systems (ADAS), vehicle energy (charging) status and requirements, locking/ remote unlocking and remote start.
It is in this area of functionality that the promise seems endless and is a big part of the US$400 billion connected vehicle opportunity. The ability for a vehicle to know when it has a problem before a problem occurs and fix it would save on unnecessary breakdowns. The image of a world where the vehicle drives itself for service and even acts like an Uber when not in use by its owner is quite powerful.
The challenges of providing both categories of functionality are rooted in the historical culture built within the industry. Typically, automakers don’t operate with software-centric cultures, which is why many are lagging behind in offering a wider range of features and benefits. For example, there’s little to no comparison between the software built into a Tesla and a Ford, which is really a real contrast between promise and challenge. Just to clear up any confusion, the Ford Mach-E is a great electric vehicle but still lacks the software sophistication of a Tesla.
Remember that a vehicle is a 2,000 ton metal machine that carries people and goods, which makes it very different from the design of a smartphone. Security, advanced data analytics, and cybersecurity, among many other areas, must be developed properly because they can lead to accidental fatalities. This is ultimately why it will take time for the market to realize the promised land of a connected vehicle that drives and repairs itself.
It is clear that vehicles open up new opportunities that will completely change the way we know and experience transport. Like all major infrastructure changes, this transition will take time, but compared to the past 100 years, it is changing rapidly.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.
Shiva Bhardwaj is the CEO of Pitstop
The Automotive World Comment column is open to automotive industry decision makers and influencers. If you would like to contribute a commentary article, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org