Welcome to Life in the Software-Defined Fast Lane

The All-Star panel at the October 2022 Detroit Auto Show discusses the impact of software-defined vehicle innovations. Left to right – John Wall, BlackBerry; Scott Miller, General Motors; Mamatha Chmarthy, Stellantis; and Ed Luo, MotorTrend.

Love it or hate it, electricity is coming to a car near you, and soon. But there’s another, bigger change happening at the same time—a change that goes beyond the kind of power your car uses. This shift is even more significant, affecting how we define our cars, and how automakers offer features that set one make and model apart.

The age of defining cars by their hardware attributes — engine, body style, and even performance metrics like RPM and MPG — is fading. Welcome to Era Software defined vehicle.

Software-defined vehicles and the future

The Software Defined Vehicle (SDV) is the basic building block for the future of electrified, computerized and cloud-connected personal transportation. A recent panel of auto industry executives made it clear that the path to automotive innovation — and market success — is paved with software.

“This is the most transformative time I’ve seen in the auto industry,” says Scott Miller, vice president of software-defined vehicle and operating system at General Motors. Miller was speaking during a recent session at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, hosted by MotorTrend editor-in-chief Ed Loh. “The shift of the entire group to electric and software-defined vehicles is only accelerating.”

Fellow panelist John Wall, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, BlackBerry QNX, provided validation to the vendor community. “What we’re seeing is adherence to the next-generation software architecture inside the vehicle.” Walnut also has a front row seat to this transformation, as BlackBerry® technology powers more than 215 million vehicles on the road today.

The evolution of cars into SUVs

Throughout more than a century of automotive history, automakers have built their cars from the best individual components available at the time of manufacture. Each component did its job – the engine, the braking system, the suspension – and it was up to the car manufacturer to make the “all” work well together. A software-defined vehicle takes this component coordination to a new level, because the whole can be so much more than the sum of its parts. It can also adapt and improve over the life of a vehicle, rather than being “set in stone” the moment a vehicle leaves the production line.

The SDV approach makes the car’s most important functions much better, too. Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) can be enhanced with input from all sensors deployed in a modern vehicle. Cars can now be equipped with multiple cameras, radar, ultrasound, and even LiDAR, that are notified by hundreds or thousands of other sensors that monitor every aspect of safety and performance throughout the vehicle. A robust, sophisticated, and centralized software platform is essential to harnessing and realizing the potential offered by all of these sensors.

Stellantis SDV Developments

SDVs can also enable the integration of third-party digital services within the vehicle, as well as allow the vehicle to provide data to external services, such as road tolling or fuel payment. Stellantis is working on its software platform to align with its grand electrification strategy, with initial details announced at Software Day in December 2021.

“We’ve done a lot with our commitments since the day of software,” says Mamatha Chamarthy, Head of Software Business and Product Management at Stellantis. Chamarthi was referring to December 7, 2021, when the auto giant shared its comprehensive software-defined vision with the world. “We’re working in partnership with Amazon across the three technology platforms we announced: STLA Brain, STLA SmartCockpit, and STLA AutoDrive. We’re bringing all of these technology products to the Jeep Recon, which is the Wrangler’s sister and equally exciting.”

The Jeep Recon is an all-electric vehicle from the brand that will arrive alongside the all-electric Wagoneer. At the Paris Motor Show in October 2022, Stellantis has reinforced its commitment to electric vehicles by unveiling a smaller electric SUV called the Jeep Avenger, designed primarily for the European market.

Central to Stellantis’ software-defined future are the STLA Brain, SmartCockPit, and AutoDrive. STLA Brain is Stellantis’ automotive end-to-end solution that will connect the vehicle to embedded electronic control units (ECUs) and cloud-based services, while STLA SmartCockPit brings vehicle functionality to the driver. STLA AutoDrive will enable Levels 2, 2+ and 3 self-driving capabilities. Level 2 provides semi-automatic lane change, while Level 3 can take over more driving functions, albeit still supervised by a human driver.

Developed by GM SDV

“The car has become so much more than an ‘A-to-B’ mode of transportation,” says Miller of General Motors. It will be your digital assistant. You will get all your information. It will lead you where you need to go (alone). Putting it all together is a massive effort – to build a team, build the technology infrastructure, get software expertise, tools, and processes. “

GM is already rolling out these SDV capabilities in its latest electric vehicles — and that’s just the beginning. “We’re launching it now in the Cadillac LYRIQ, and our Hummer is already out. We’re about to launch a major offensive in every area.”

The Ultifi platform, announced in 2021, will be a key component of GM’s SDV strategy. This is intended to build on the company’s vehicle intelligence platform, which already delivers over-the-air updates so that software features can be dynamically enhanced and augmented. Ultifi adds a central layer consisting of the main software, enabling rapid deployment of applications and software updates. “We have work on our vehicles right now, and we’ll be launching them very soon,” said Miller. “The cars are just going to get better and better with time. When you leave the dealership, it’s just the beginning of the relationship.”

BlackBerry SDV developments

Even huge companies like General Motors and Stelantis can implement major software development projects like this faster, more powerful, and with richer features by partnering with experienced third parties. The BlackBerry® QNX® platform is dedicated to providing an enterprise-class, safety-certified real-time driver (RTOS) platform that many OEMs and their Tier 1 suppliers use to work software-defined automotive magic. The addition of BlackBerry IVY™, co-developed with Amazon Web Services, enhances those efforts with additional capabilities such as cloud connectivity and scalability, simplified and “normal” aggregation and internal computation of sensor and ECU data, and security.

“We like to think of our company as the secure foundation of the vehicle that allows the General Motors and the Stellantises of this world to be able to imagine what’s possible, and implement it in a safe and secure way,” BlackBerry’s Wall says. Wall says there is a great need for these services, too. “We’re growing our business. We’ll probably increase our engineering staff by about a third, so we can keep up with demand.”

SDVs and self-driving

The most important and complex component of the emerging SDV is autonomous driving. An increasing number of cars now offer Level 2 capabilities, with Level 3 beginning to arrive. There is still a lot of work to be done in this area, though, moving forward towards building Level 4 and 5 self-driving models that are safe to use with The endlessly changing driving conditions that vehicles face on every journey. But most car owners will continue to drive themselves for the foreseeable future, the benefit of making a car take some or all of the effort—particularly on long, mundane trips—has enormous appeal, and it’s a market waiting to be realized.

“The future is about opening up vehicles as a platform,” says Ed Law, editor-in-chief at MotorTrend, who moderated the panel for the Detroit Auto Show.

SDV represents the essential building block for making this automotive future unfold. But it is also a catalyst, a major disruptive force that is changing the way cars are made, and the roles they play in our daily lives.

“We are in an era when customers expect new features and capabilities,” concludes General Motors’ Miller. “It’s about the speed of innovation. You can keep making the car ‘new’ and you can add new capabilities to it. Software-defined vehicles will unlock the speed of innovation.”

Software Defined Vehicle Innovator Awards

MotorTrend also announced at the Detroit Show that it has launched a new awards series to honor and recognize the pioneers and innovators at the heart of the global SDV transformation. The Automotive Media division of Warner Bros. Discovery announced a multi-year partnership with BlackBerry to establish the annual SDV Innovator Awards, taking its place alongside MotorTrend’s iconic awards programs for Car of the Year, Truck of the Year, and SUV of the Year.

Most of the leaders in the field have worked quietly behind the scenes, Luo says, creating a new vehicle class that ignites the imaginations of today’s drivers and passengers. These individuals are changing more than the cars we drive today, and the ones that may drive us in the not too distant future. These pioneering engineers and executives are also remaking the industry itself – one car, one company, and one database at a time.

To focus attention on the fundamental importance of Software Defined Vehicles to the future of the automotive industry, and the contributions of visionary individuals, MotorTrend Studios has produced an exclusive 22-minute documentary. The film’s online release is among the many editorial activities taking place this fall, leading up to the scheduled SDV Innovator Awards during the 2023 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next January.

James Morris

About James Morris

James Morris He is a technology writer and editor at Which EV, a regular contributor on electric vehicles to Forbes.com, and Pathway Director of MA Interactive Journalism at City, University of London.

Steve Kofsky

About Steve Kofsky

Steve Kofsky He is the managing editor at BlackBerry.

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