Powering the humanistic automobile

Technology is going to be increasingly devoted to human experience. According to Infosys’ Digital Radar 2022 research, organizations that integrate environmental, social, and governance aspects with their technology adoption journey achieve better business outcomes than those that don’t emphasize these humanistic factors.

The automotive industry is currently witnessing large-scale technology interventions, especially in the areas of artificial intelligence (AI), automation, legacy modernization, and cloud computing. Approximately 35% of the global automotive companies have already achieved scale at cloud adoption. Going forward, with the rise in 5G-enabled vehicles, cloud connectivity will become ubiquitous. Moreover, with powerful data processing capabilities at the edge (i.e., where the processing is done on the vehicle), cars will be able to continuously sense and process information from their surroundings to become more autonomous, immersive, entertaining, safer, and convenient. Further, these developments will drive hyperpersonalization of user experiences.

Under the hood, these cars will feature the latest hardware and software, which will mean the vehicles will constantly monitor their own health via the data they gather from sensors. These cars will be characterized by software-defined architectures, upgradable hardware, digital twins, and data-driven continuous learning. Based on high-performance systems-on-a-chip, a software-defined architecture will disassociate applications from the underlying hardware to allow more flexibility in design, and a wider range of updates over the vehicle’s lifecycle. Similarly, modular hardware architectures will facilitate easier upgrades, increasing the vehicle’s lifespan. Engineers will be able to use digital twins of cars to diagnose faults without having to take them apart. Lastly, analytics based on data from sensors across the vehicle’s chassis will drive continuous learning in aspects of diagnosis and software updates. If used in accordance with privacy concerns, such analytics could also help facilitate faster insurance claims.

Leading players, including automakers, semiconductor chip manufacturers, and telecom companies, are already taking big strides towards hyperpersonalization through technology and targeted strategic collaborations. That said, how well and effectively the personalized user experience is created and managed will be the key differentiator here.

The digital chassis

From hand-crafted controls and high-end multi-purpose touch screens, the industry is now expected to move towards much larger, pillar-to-pillar screens. These hyperscreens will automate button-operated processes and enhance infotainment features, such as controlling doors, lights, and entertainment features through touch or voice commands. Moreover, software updates, diagnosis, and fault resolutions will largely happen remotely, as automakers increasingly digitize their vehicle chassis.

For example, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Digital Chassis is a set of cloud-connected platforms for telematics, connectivity, digital cockpit, driver assistance, and autonomy that will also include SIM connectivity, content, applications, and services for the vehicle’s lifecycle management. This platform enables:

  • Zonal architecture: This maps the vehicle to help keep tabs on lighting, heating, cooling, seats, ingress/egress, and other aspects.
  • Connectivity: Includes in-car and cloud connectivity that supports 5G/Wi-Fi/Bluetooth communication and the car’s communication with other vehicles, roadside infrastructure, vulnerable road users (e.g., bicycles and pedestrians), charging stations, and navigation satellites.
  • Cockpit: Comprises audio/video displays, instrument cluster, navigation, passenger entertainment, and rear-seat entertainment through a suite of apps.
  • Advanced driver assistance system: Covers autonomous driving capabilities based on raw data from multiple sources — including cameras, radar, lidar, vehicle to everything (V2X) communication, and maps — processed at the edge or in a central server that runs intelligent drive policy and motion planning.
  • Car-to-cloud services: Include designing of platforms to account for new requirements, performance boosts, and mid lifecycle upgrades.

These capabilities mean cars can be continuously updated, much like smartphones and personal computers. Snapdragon Digital Chassis is already gaining traction. In February 2022, Ferrari and Qualcomm announced a strategic technology collaboration, under which Qualcomm will deliver advanced digital experiences and will play a part in designing, developing, and integrating Ferrari’s digital cockpits. In addition, it will provide safety updates throughout the lifetime of the cars. Soon, more such collaborative partnerships will come up, as automakers increasingly integrate more-than-ever semiconductor-powered features into their vehicles.

Immersive experiences through cloud-connected cars

Cloud and 5G connectivity within cars mean that automakers can provide additional subscription-based services, in partnership with telecom and/or cloud computing players. Toyota and KDDI have been building a global, roaming free communications platform for vehicles to communicate with cloud servers since 2016. This platform will not only connect people with their cars, but also with their entire digital ecosystem, comprising homes, civil services within towns, and security networks. In early 2022, the Toyota-KDDI partnership also roped in telecom company Ooredoo as an Internet of Things connectivity enabler for Toyota’s connected car services in Qatar.

Similarly, BMW and Vodafone have tied up to provide a mobile, eSIM-based 5G connection within the BMW iX model of cars for €5 per month. This will enable BMW owners to use data-based services for automated and assisted driving, entertainment and infotainment, and road safety, and use 5G hotspot for up to 10 devices in the car.

These cars will have large screens that act as multi-functional displays rather than having fixed consoles. For example, in its upcoming EQS EV, Mercedes has introduced a ~56-inch AI-powered display that blends multiple screens into a seemingly single pillar-to-pillar screen. As well as the standard information on the instrument cluster, navigation, mobile phone notifications, etc., this display also has an entertainment-oriented display on the passenger side. Its AI-based features include voice assistance and personalization of infotainment, comfort, and other functions, depending on who is driving the car.

Hyundai Motor has also partnered with 3D content development engine Unity to create a digital twin of its factory, along with a metaverse platform that will allow workers to solve issues at plants remotely and optimize operations through test runs. It will also create a platform that potential customers can use to try out features in cars they are thinking of buying.

Essentially, cars will become digital devices with their own apps and services. They will stay connected with other cars, devices, and facilities such as service centers or hospitals. They will operate entirely via software, which opens up innumerable possibilities. However, automakers must ensure that the longevity of cars doesn’t go down due to all the software integration and updates: consumers will not be happy if their cars have to be replaced as often as smartphones because they have stopped getting software updates.

What will it take to get there?

As more services and applications become available, carmakers will have to create competitive digital offerings to bundle with and sell alongside their vehicles. They will need strong partnerships and associations with media and technology players to deliver such digital services.

Another key factor will be how sustainably automakers transition into the electric vehicle space. Sustainability is a tricky aspect to master, and is often cloaked with buzz to pacify customers and stakeholders. Most plans to cut down the environmental effect of automobiles lack the actual impact. For example, mining of some of the key raw materials such as cobalt, lithium, and rare earth elements severely impacts the environment. Moreover, carbon offsets continue to be cheap, disincentivizing companies to make significant changes. Such aspects need more openness and integrity to bring a positive change. Notably, digital twins of supply chains and operations can help here by assessing scenarios with varying actions and predicting their impact on environmental factors.

At the end, what matters is how humanistic these companies can become. Technology without much consideration to what the employees and consumers want has little effect, Infosys’ Digital Radar found. A fine balance between technology adoption, its social and environmental impact, and its core utility, is hard to achieve, but those that succeed, do much better.