Why “Software” is a Verb – Especially for Automotive
And why OTA is a foundational technology and one that will help OEMs caught between millennials (think Transportation as a Service) and aging baby boomers.
Movimento Group recently announced that its over the air (OTA) technology has been integrated with Mitsubishi Electric’s next gen head-unit architecture, FLEXConnect, which is built on an Android platform. Mahbubul Alam, Movimento CTO, spoke with EECatalog shortly after the announcement to share his insights.
EECatalog: How does the announcement that Movimento’s OTA technology will be part of Mitsubishi Electric’s next generation head-unit architecture, FLEXConnect, alter the automotive landscape?
Mahbubul Alam, Movimento Group: Typically when a vehicle is developed, the software gets frozen many months before the vehicle gets released. But look at the mobile and telecom industries, and how they perceive and treat software. “Software” is never a noun, it’s a verb, a continuous evolving process through the next release, the next update, and so on.
So the FLEXConnect’s addition of Movimento OTA capability makes it possible for Mitsubishi to innovate continuously.
The model has been: “Sell the car, and it’s done.” But today, a typical connected car can have more than 100 million lines of code. And when you have so many lines of code, you are bound to have a certain number of bugs. You need to be able to do proactive updates of your next release. Take Tesla. Tesla simultaneously announced a security gap in its Model S uncovered by researchers and the patch to fix it, using OTA technology to deliver the patch.
EECatalog: What’s key to successfully deploying patches, updates and the like over the air?
Alam, Movimento: Understanding the vehicle’s condition. This is something that sets Movimento apart. Before any update happens we collect the data from the vehicle—just before we update! We learn [for example], what condition the battery is in and whether the vehicle is moving. Our server software, using a resolver policy, determines whether the current situation warrants an OTA update.
EECatalog: Why the emphasis on understanding the vehicle’s condition?
Alam, Movimento: No two vehicles are the same. You might have the same model year and make that I do, but, unlike me, you might have had your car serviced at the dealership.
Even the hardware could be different—our cars could have the same architecture but be on different revisions because your vehicle came out of the manufacturer’s three months before mine did.
So it’s like a personalized vaccination. Before physicians administer a vaccination they would need to know the patient’s health history—about previous vaccinations and any allergies, for example. It’s for this very same reason that we collect data on the vehicle. Having that knowledge allows us to perform actions that many who are not from the automotive field cannot bring to the table, as they lack the domain expertise.
In a vehicle there are 80 to 100 microprocessors or ECUs, and interdependencies exist. Not every component should have the latest software because there is a certain combination of the software that has been tested and validated to be safe, so you have to provide that combination, recognizing the interdependencies between the modules.
EECatalog: You’ve noted elsewhere the advent of the software-defined car. Tell us more about how OTA technology plays a role.
Alam, Movimento: As vehicles take on more electronics and engage with machine learning, behavior learning, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and the like, such features will see continuous improvement in algorithms and software. Putting these improvements to use will require OTA, and automotive grade OTA is the foundation that [this practice] needs to survive.
Without OTA, there is no connected car, there is no autonomous car, there is no self-driving car, because if you cannot improve it [using OTA technology], you now have a situation where car owners must go to the dealer, and everybody will be out of sync.
And take, for example, recalls. A study found that around 25 percent of those who receive notice of a recall don’t get the repair done—so how do you make sure that vehicles comply with the latest government regs with regard to security, privacy, certification [of interoperability] and making sure they have the latest firmware/software? This requires a foundational technology like OTA.
EECatalog: Do you see some challenges coming over the next five to 10 years that it will be helpful to address with the strengths Linux (in whatever flavor) brings to the table, e.g., wide knowledge base, ease of collaboration?
Alam, Movimento: I do! You remember the mobile industry’s “walled gardens”? I had to go to an AT&T outlet to download the music phone that AT&T provided; I had to go to Verizon to download what Verizon provided. Then Apple came and unleashed the world of distributed innovation, [essentially] saying, “There is an app world, and everybody can contribute, and we will do thorough quality testing and certain gate keeper functionality.”
Today you have to make purpose-built services and apps for every different car manufacturer. Why? We’ve seen that when the PC industry had proprietary OS, the level of competition was not where it should have been. The automotive industry has to learn from that, and the competition level has to be at services and functionality differentiation rather than in the basics such as security.
Automotive can learn from the journeys the PC and telecom industries took, but accelerate their own journey so that we do not take as long to create a world where they compete on features and functionality and comfort and ease of service—not hardware, OS and security—it should be a collective effort, it should standardized. That [approach] will raise the bar so that you can have interoperability of services and functionality among OEMs.
EECatalog: And do you see Linux as being one key to not repeating some of the mistakes of the telecom and PC industries?
Alam, Movimento: Exactly. It is going to happen. GENIVI, for example, is trying to do this on the infotainment level, but this [effort] has to become broader—going to the architecture level, especially with regard to cyber security, which is something the automotive OEMs need to tackle collectively.
And [the expanding Linux knowledge base] means a large and growing amount of talent doing vulnerability testing, security testing and software code quality analysis.
EECatalog: What else do you anticipate for automotive over the next five to 10 years?
Alam, Movimento: We are building vehicles for millennials. And the data is showing us that they are not like older generations who emphasized possessing a vehicle. They want Transportation as a Service (TaaS) when they need it and the type of transportation they want.
Car sharing (like the Uber driver without having the driver) is going to be the mode more and more. And OEMs will need to maintain the car, upgrade the car, keep the car feature-rich and take on the insurance. The monetization model will change as the consumption model changes. So if we have common OSs, a common foundation, you as an individual would have a profile of preferred car settings, such as your infotainment settings and as you go from one car to another, your profile could be downloaded and your settings could be adjusted, because all cars would have these automatic car settings and all you would need to do is to get that profile to a different vehicle. In the world that we can create by having this kind of standardization, I’m predicting that the amount of car sales will go down but the amount of mileage will go up.
When I’m at my desk, my car won’t idly wait for me, it will be put to use for someone else—it won’t be “my” car anyway. When I need a car I’ll use a service that tells me there is one near me, I’ll drive it to my destination, and someone else will take it—so the utilization of the vehicle will increase, and the number of new vehicles will decrease.
If the automotive OEMs agree with me on this—and this is what the trends are showing the millennials want—then the automotive OEMs have to prepare to have much more portability. For example, there was a time when we did not have phone number portability. But now the number goes with you and the carriers compete on the packages and services they can offer consumers—this is the world automotive has to strive for, not the world of vendor locking.
It’s not just a single disruption OEMs must adapt to. It’s a disruption of connectivity coming from the Internet of Things (IoT) and the ability to collect data from numerous sensors at low cost. In addition, it’s the disruption stemming from the huge computing power of the cloud and the ability to offer real-time updates of navigation with solutions such as Waze. And it’s demographic. On the one end of the spectrum you have the millennials, for whom transportation is not about possession coming in. And, to cite just one example, you have the fact that one third of the population of Japan will be retirees by 2020—the aging baby boomers will want the independence self-driving cars can give them, and the development of such things as autonomous taxis is going to be very relevant to them.