Cars have incorporated elements of computing for years, and recent models in particular have focused on cutting-edge infotainment features and smartphone integration as competitive differentiators. Software makers such as Microsoft are taking the role of embedded software in the car even further, though. The Redmond, Wash., computing giant recently announced a new initiative and marketing campaign centered around enticing automakers to design “intelligent cars” with Windows Embedded Automotive software. As the prospect of more software-equipped vehicles gains traction, however, industry experts are urging caution and highlighting a need for reliability.
Improving the intelligent car
Microsoft is no stranger to the automotive space, as its platforms have helped power infotainment systems encompassing music, navigation, messaging and more in vehicles from companies like Ford, Fiat and Kia for more than a decade, Automotive News noted. Now, the company plans to move toward software that would underlie almost every aspect of the car, playing a role in driving functions, telematics and more.
For instance, future platforms might draw on sensor data tracking driving habits to advise drivers on how to improve maintenance, to provide engineers with the tools to remotely adjust engine settings for improved fuel efficiency or to adapt preferences to a driver’s behavior patterns, the company suggested. Upgraded smartphone integration features might improve the customization of the driving experience by tuning into preferred radio stations based on the driver or automatically rescheduling meetings based on traffic delays.
“Whereas today consumers demand a car that’s more connected – to their phones, their music and their services – Windows Embedded Automotive is focused on designing intelligent cars that respond to the driver’s needs,” the company explained in a statement.
An industry-wide trend
In some ways, the era of software-enabled cars has already arrived. Speaking at a recent IBM conference, Vijay Sanakaran, director of application development for Ford, explained that the carmaker now considers itself as much a software company as an auto manufacturer. The most recent Ford Fusion, for instance, contained 16 million lines of code.
“If you think about who we are, we’re a 100-plus year-old automotive company,” Sanakaran said, according to ZDNet. “And we’ve really had to change our leadership from automotive engineering to a leadership around software engineering. That’s a pretty profound change for us. If you think about the overall ecosystem for the automobile, we really have to think about how we design build software inside the vehicle to the highest degree of quality.”
Given the centrality of software in today’s cars, Microsoft is not the only legacy tech company targeting the space, Automotive News reported. QNX Software Systems, a subsidiary of BlackBerry, is also focusing on software-enabled vehicle controls and has landed contracts with General Motors, BMW, Audi and Volkswagen. Google, too, is looking to expand its Android operating system into cars, while Apple has hinted at the idea of an iCar and introduced partnerships to equip cars from manufacturers such as Chevrolet and Ferrari with Apple tools such as Siri and iPad minis.
With more software in cars come additional concerns about software reliability, however. One of the potential advantages of legacy software makers entering the automotive space is their established dependability, Anna Buettner, an analyst for IHS Automotive, told Automotive News.
“The most important issue for having advanced software platforms in cars is that they have to be reliable,” she said. “It’s one thing for a software glitch to occur in your navigation system. It will be a more serious issue in the future if one occurs in your brakes. This is what some automakers are still afraid of: Can these software operating systems be completely reliable?”
One important feature of smarter embedded systems that may help with reliability is that they will enable future upgrades, Automotive News noted. While most consumer technology changes within two or three years, automotive technology tends to evolve at a slower pace. Cars remain in service much longer than devices such as smartphones, but software developers can create new features for both in short timeframes. The ability to provide cars with software updates is one of the primary features Microsoft is touting as a goal for Windows Embedded Automotive.
Regardless of how the industry evolves to enable faster change, software for cars continues to require high levels of reliability and compliance with requirements such as MISRA standards. To help eliminate errors and meet coding standards, automotive software developers can leverage tools such as static analysis software as they move toward creating more software-powered cars.
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