The Collaborative Journey to Software-Defined Vehicles

The future software-defined steering system and steer-by-wire technology presents an opportunity to further standardize hardware.

Robin Milavec

June 21, 2024

4 Min Read
OEMs adopting software-focused business strategies, expanding collaboration.

Increasing demand for advanced safety, performance and convenience features enabled by software-defined vehicles (SDVs) is challenging the automotive industry to transform the way it approaches vehicle development.

While each OEM has its own unique methods for addressing this change, one constant across the industry is an increasing level of collaboration between OEMs and their supplier networks.

Companies are partnering in new ways and building upon each other’s strengths and resources to bring new technologies and software-driven benefits to their customers. From decoupled software and hardware for more centralized vehicle architectures to the development, testing, validation and integration of safety-critical software solutions, suppliers and OEMs are leveraging resources and working together more closely than ever to bring SDVs to market faster.

A Shift Toward Centralized Control

One of the core elements of SDVs is a more centralized vehicle architecture in which multiple components or subsystems are overseen by a smaller number of control units. In this shift, components that once had their own individual electronic control units (ECUs) are now grouped together in operating zones with middleware acting as a universal communicator between hardware, software and central operating systems. For example, in the future we may see a single domain control unit (DCU) covering all chassis functions, from steering to braking, for full motion control.

This new approach creates a need for standardization in software that can reside within centralized DCUs for more efficient system-to-system integration between components.   

As a result of standardization, OEMs are also seeking increased ownership of the software that is core to their brands, such as steering functions – which in turn is creating a need for more open and transparent collaboration in software development between OEMs and suppliers.

Standardization and collaboration between OEMs and suppliers open new possibilities for efficiency in software engineering by maintaining common software systems across vehicle platforms. Not only does this enable consistency in the software experience across a brand’s vehicle lineup, but it also provides flexibility to support OEMs’ brand diversification needs.

New Features, On-demand

The trend toward collaboration has benefits that extend far beyond standardization and increased efficiencies. OEMs and suppliers are also collaborating on new advanced safety, performance and convenience features that can be delivered to SDVs on the road via over-the-air (OTA) updates.

This means that introducing new content and features doesn’t have to stop at the end of the production line – they can be introduced throughout the vehicle lifecycle, helping OEMs strengthen brand loyalty, enhance the driver experience and leverage real-world, anonymized data to improve quality over time. With this ability to customize and update throughout the vehicle lifecycle, hardware will remain relevant longer, enabling critical cost-savings through hardware standardization.

Looking at steering systems as an example, we foresee the future software-defined steering system and steer-by-wire technology as an opportunity to further standardize hardware. Adding to the opportunity for collaboration, automakers and suppliers have the ability to tune and tailor steering experiences through software to match the driver, environment and OEMs’ branded steering feel.

Even in cases where the same steering hardware is used, software can be used to create a custom steering feel for a particular brand to help differentiate their vehicles among competitors.

Overcoming Software Engineering Constraints

Another primary driver of OEM/supplier collaboration is a need to meet the demand for software engineering talent within the automotive industry. While not every OEM has access to in-house engineering bandwidth or system integration expertise, partners with highly specialized teams and agile development processes can help drive efficiencies in software design, development and testing.

In an industry with tight timelines and rigorous safety and cybersecurity requirements that vary internationally, this joint agility is a key driver of software innovation and bringing SDVs to market for drivers around the world.

In some cases, supplier engineers can act as an extension of the OEM’s software teams – working together throughout the product development lifecycle to support the accelerated development and integration of safety-critical software. In this co-development ecosystem, software and technology also play a role, supporting more efficient processes through virtual engineering, simulation and other virtual tools to reduce costs and resources required for design.

At a time when automotive transformation is driving new challenges, opportunities and innovations, the industry’s increasingly collaborative mindset will be a key factor in the software-defined future of mobility.

About the Author(s)

Robin Milavec

Robin Milavec is president, chief technology officer, chief strategy officer and executive board director of Nexteer Automotive.

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