Almost everyone that is asked will regard 2021 as a disruptive year. The reality is that for the automotive industry, disruption has been going on for some time, with the primary ones being:
- A shift from human control towards autonomous platforms
- A shift from petrol and diesel driven engines over to electric
- A shift from value being added in hardware to value being added through software
In addition to this there are all sorts of disruption in the supply chain from political influences such as the tensions between China and America and the increased rate of acquisitions across the software and hardware industry. It is hard to predict which of the myriad of semiconductor startups focused on silicon supporting artificial intelligence will survive and indeed thrive.
In the face of this highly creative, but chaotic environment, how is the automotive industry to retain control of its value chain? Some companies such as Tesla have started to create their own system-on-chip components in a bid to exercise some form of increased control over their value chain and I expect a few others to follow suit. Not everyone can afford the investment. In this article, I will look at the lessons the automotive industry can learn from developers of military systems and go on to look at technologies like virtualization that can greatly simplify system design.
The value of a platform approach
The reality is that creating system-on-chip components is an incredibly expensive investment and needs capabilities that most automotive manufacturers lack. Outsourcing chip development to a specialist design house can help but the reality is that the automotive OEM must know enough to define the system architecture comprehensively that is compelling for the here and now and as well as for the useful life of the vehicle; and drive enough volume to justify the expense. Many companies that are creating lower volume products such as autonomous ride sharing platforms (busses) and trucks will need to harness off-the-shelf platforms so the priority becomes creating a strategy so that the company isn’t tied into a specific vendor. Toyota’s recent adoption of apex.os is, I believe, partly based on a desire to migrate away from proprietary technology towards a product whose heritage is open source (Robot operating systems, ROS). Abstracting this to higher levels, the clear desire from customers is to support a platform that has a consistent, well defined and supported API that enables the programmer to create applications without any need to worry about low level system minutia.
The automotive industry as starting a journey that developers of military systems have been on for some time – and that they can usefully draw on some of the lessons learned before moving on with solutions addressing the specific challenges that they face.