Shift from hardware- to software-defined vehicles is a journey, Sonatus says

Peng Chen, DIGITIMES Asia, Taipei 0

John Heinlein, CMO of Sonatus, delivered a keynote speech at 2023 US Taiwan High-tech Forum.

As cars become electrified and more intelligent, the automotive industry has put more effort into developing software. John Heinlein, chief marketing officer of US-based Sonatus, said the shift from hardware- to software-defined vehicles will not happen overnight. The transformation is a journey.

Heinlein gave a keynote speech at the recent 2023 US Taiwan High-tech Forum in Silicon Valley organized by the North America Taiwanese Engineering Association (NATEA) and DIGITIMES.

Sonatus is a Silicon Valley-based software-defined vehicle technology company backed by Foxconn, Kia, and other investors.

Heinlein said most cars on the road are hardware-defined vehicles with about 150 single-function electronic control units (ECU), gaining vehicles' weight. These cars are unlikely to do software upgrades. In contrast, software-defined vehicles (SDV) can be updated and enhanced throughout the lifecycle.

As the automotive industry shifts its focus to software, many new opportunities have been created.

According to Heinlein, four key attributes necessary for the shift to SDV are consolidated hardware with software coexistence, flexibility and upgradability, data-driven, and connectivity.

He explained that consolidated hardware can reduce the number of ECUs in a car. In addition, SDVs have to use modern hardware processors to allow workload isolation as smartphones or laptops do. These consumer electronics can run multiple applications simultaneously and do not conflict with each other.

Heinlein said the processors must be implemented into silicon solutions designed for the automotive environment, which has specific temperature and reliability requirements. Moreover, mixed criticality has to be adopted in the vehicle system. For instance, safety-critical systems like the brake must have priority over non-safety-critical systems like a music streaming app.

Opportunities and threats brought by data-rich SDVs

As cars become more competent, they consume and produce data for navigation, web browsing, and other services. Heinlein said the sensors and electronics in an SDV can create 25GB of data per hour and close to 600GB per day, resulting in a huge opportunity and challenge for the industry.

More data generated by a car means more information about how the vehicle is working would be available, Heinlein said. The situation can improve maintenance and fleet management, and avoid more recalls.

He acknowledged that SDVs will face more potential cybersecurity threats. Securing network links, using IP protocols and authentication, and other measures can help mitigate the threats, he added.

The CMO also said the shift from hardware to software will occur over time. Every car OEM is at a different level of aggressiveness on that journey. For example, he said every company is moving toward domain controller for vehicle architecture, the first step of shifting to SDVs. However, only companies with the leading edge are going further to do the zonal architecture, viewed as step two.

Heinlein said Sonatus is working with OEMs and tier-1 and tier-2 suppliers to show what is possible and the opportunities where they can do better consolidation.