software development in cars

Why is software so useful in automotive?

What does the term “useful” mean? It refers to the things that are most important in terms of what we consider functional, bringing the highest value. And when we ask several people what is the most useful software in the automotive industry – we may get completely different answers, for example “safety”, “infotainment”, “comfort”. We will try to show you the automotive industry from many sides – so that you can choose the things that best fit your perception of the automotive industry! 


There are many types of software on board a car. Even in the 90’s, in cars with CAN bus on board you could find a lot of subsystems that determine whether you enjoy using the vehicle, how safe it is, and even how the air conditioning behaves. It’s all about the configuration of the car that was done – in those years at the factory (sometimes with limited “upgrade” capability). These days, updating a car’s on-board software is fabulously easy. As soon as the one has how to connect to the Internet – it is possible to make the update process. Sometimes new features appear then, or other features are improved. Therefore, in this article we will start from how useful is the software that guards… The update process. 


Today, it is even more difficult because updating the software in a car is a very sensitive point. One badly written line of code can determine whether or not the adaptive cruise control will work properly and whether or not we’ll get into someone’s trunk. You have to take into account many factors and make sure that the update process is always correct and does not cause errors. In addition, it is important to ensure that every update does not lead to possible problems that could put passengers and the driver at risk. 


Different modules are updated and this is a huge challenge for car manufacturers. IT companies that have always toiled over updates have better structured processes that are responsible for things like updates. With car manufacturers, on the other hand, it’s different: many companies have very young systems responsible for updates: both at the level of the car itself and the servers. Hence, this is a huge challenge – but at the same time an opportunity for many customers buying cars today. 

Why automotive in software is the future?

Nowadays, every vehicle contains a multitude of subsystems that determine various things. Of course, the most important is the safety of the driver and passengers. Hence, updates and their process must occur correctly – always. It’s a huge challenge for car manufacturers mainly because companies that have been providing programming for years – have their processes perfectly arranged in this regard. Companies in the automotive industry are just beginning to implement these processes. However, there has already been tremendous progress in this area. Today, thanks to car software development, the vehicle can be updated in the same way as it is done with other devices. All you have to do is connect to your home WiFi network or simply let the car run on its own – the on-board computer will make the necessary adjustments itself. 


Imagine how much easier this is for car manufacturers! In the past, a mistake in a single module, in a single line of code could cause a huge number of vehicles to report to authorized service centers. This, of course, generates costs and some customers may not want to come to the service for various reasons. Such places used to use specialized cables and tools to make one small change. In addition, the whole production process had to be adapted to new conditions, needs and it had to be “updated” as well. The cost of one mistake could be enormous. Today, you simply make those changes and run tests. If everything works well – the upgrade is released to OTA (over the air) servers. 

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Being able to make such changes is also a way to someday make cars work as a…. service – not just as a product. Imagine paying for a car the way you pay for Netflix or Spotify. Depending on your monthly spending, you have different feature sets. For X amount of dollars, you can have a package without heated seats, but if during the use of the vehicle you decide that you need them: you can buy them. The heaters, controller and software are in the vehicle all the time, but until you change your subscription – they are completely inactive. Of course, this makes room for people who have a lot of knowledge about cybersecurity and car software architecture – but this applies to a very small group. Any unauthorized access to the vehicle would also result in the vehicle simply ceasing to function properly and the contract being broken. 


Manufacturer control of the software – update subsystems that manage the vehicle at the level of functionality would result in standardized designs. Please believe that for an automaker, the fact that they are only able to produce one variant – which has all the amenities but is available on a subscription basis – will mean savings, despite the price of the components used. Why? It unifies the manufacturing process, and a unified production line is a huge benefit to the manufacturer, who can produce faster, more accurately, and more conveniently. This will drive, in our opinion, a process where subscription models will be readily available to users – because of the price. 

Software in automotive – vehicle communication methods – V2V, V2P and others

We are moving towards super-intelligent and eventually – also autonomous passenger cars. At this point the level of autonomy is high anyway, but we need to keep in mind that car manufacturers and legislative processes need to be ready for this revolution. We will wait at least one more decade for fully legal, widely available autonomous cars. But until then, all cars can start communicating with each other – and even with bicycles, pedestrians, and city infrastructures. Imagine a city’s traffic lights reacting to the flow of traffic and telling your car how fast to go through each intersection to get to all the green lights. You don’t have to slow down, start again and lose fuel or battery power in the process. It is when starting that energy losses are greatest, because of the need to overcome rolling resistance and resistance resulting from, among other things, the need to drive other moving parts of the vehicle (in internal combustion engines – also all the moving parts inside them). Such a car will also react to the fact that there is an ambulance in its vicinity, and at that moment it needs to quickly get to a patient who is fighting for life. Currently, the car can show you a notification about this, and in the future – it will choose another route or slow down: allowing the ambulance to pass quickly. 


So far, V2V systems work to inform drivers of hazards. A great example is the car’s ability to adjust suspension settings and safety modules to gently avoid a pothole or prepare for sudden icy road conditions. The main focus of V2V systems, however, is safety, and all automakers are thinking about these capabilities in very similar ways. 


Communication, the revolution associated with the Internet of Things and 5G connectivity only improves such inventions. 5G, among other things, is a technology that not only increases the speed of data transmission over a mobile network, but also increases its bandwidth and reduces latency (ping). This is useful for more than just gaming – vehicles of the future will respond to dangers in a “swarm” pattern that uses the same information shared by the rest. For now, V2V communication systems are mostly closed, limited to a single manufacturer. This makes a lot of sense for now: the technology is still very young and needs to be tested non-stop. Just as Volvo has improved one of its flagship systems from iteration to iteration: STC and its development: the DSTC (stability retention and traction control system / dynamic traction and stability control system), similarly, other manufacturers are developing their ways of interconnecting passenger cars all the time, and we will eventually reach a point where cars are able to communicate with each other – no matter what manufacturer created them. 

Software in automotive – autonomous and semi-autonomous systems


This is one of the more innovative software directions in passenger cars. Today, vehicles coming out of factories are saturated with sensors that control what happens above, in front of, behind and beside them. Mercedes’ flagship large models, when they detect an imminent side impact, are able to raise one side of the car so that the lower sill absorbs as much of the impact as possible – protecting all passengers, of course. What we are concerned with here, however, is not strictly safety systems, but the ability of production cars to drive themselves. 


Semi-autonomous systems allow the car to drive itself under the absolute assistance of the driver. The driver is still the only one responsible for safety from a legal point of view, and it is the driver who is obliged to take special care. In countries where there are no corresponding regulations for autonomous systems, the higher levels of autonomy are usually disabled. However, in countries where autonomous driving is already regulated, autonomous driving can be used in traffic jams, for example. A distinction is made here between autonomous starting and distance control and the same + lane control! 


Undoubtedly, however, autonomous cars will be the most important revolution that awaits drivers. Why is that? Among other reasons, because it will mean absolute safety not only for passengers, but also for other road users. Every year thousands of people die on the roads in the world. These lives could be saved if only we could eliminate the most important factor generating errors. It is… man. It is a human being who is the weakest link of every car in terms of safety, and as bad as it sounds – this fact we are not able to bypass. Sooner or later, humans will be replaced by machines in driving – first in goods transportation, then public transportation and probably at the very end – also in general. 

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Accidents involving trucks usually end tragically – not only for other road users, but also for the drivers of these large vehicles. Physics is an inexorable science and does not forgive mistakes. Huge overloads and forces acting on vehicles that come into contact with each other during traffic cause great damage: they become the cause of disability and death. If we could eliminate the most failing safety system in the car: the human being – it would be much better in this respect. Of course, this will mean the loss of jobs for many people, but it will be a process to prepare for. There may be fewer jobs for people who can drive large cars – but on the other hand, there will be demand for specialists who create autonomous transportation systems. 

Software in automotive – infotainment systems


However, let’s go back to the present. Today, infotainment, comfort systems are some of the most useful for people who own cars. A breath of pleasantly cool air, your favorite radio station or Spotify in the car, as well as adaptive air vents, low temperature detection and switching on, for example, heated seats or a back massage every now and then allow you to relax in a very easy way. If we did not at least mention this – we would make a huge mistake and this text would not be complete. At this point we can say with full knowledge of this fact: comfort and entertainment is something that in the eyes of some people beats most of the things mentioned here. 

The future of the software in automotive industry is happening today


It could be up to you and your company to determine what direction modern automotive will take. Are you working on a system for autos or about to start working on one? Contact us and tell us about your idea. We will tell you how it can be done – based on our vast experience. Contact us today

You may like to read:
Infotainment system in car – the future of the automotive market
Key features to be considered when developing a car rental app
Different approaches to building car apps
Car safety systems – caring about us every day
Connected cars – What will the car of the future look like?
Car infotainment systems – what’s inside your car’s “brain”?
Why should companies invest in car sharing apps?
Why automotive software development saves lives?

Jakub Szczęsny

PR / Marketing Specialist at Concise Software. Author of one of the largest technology websites in Poland - Antyweb

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