At this year's New York International Auto Show, in-car apps and entertainment, efficient charging stations and over-the-air updates grabbed as much attention as oversize tires and third-row seats. The show sent a clear signal that the industry is committed to an electrified, software-defined future.
The software experience will become automotive's great leveling force between companies that are still new to making cars but are good at software (Tesla) and companies that have made great cars for years (BMW) but are new to building software. If established carmakers begin to make strides — whether through internal efforts or partnerships — on the software architecture side, they can quickly close the gap as they roll out an improved infrastructure to millions of vehicles.
The foundation for this next evolution will be built on edge computing, an emerging model that places computing power at or near where the data originates. In contrast to centralized processing, where data is sent to a data center or to the cloud for processing, edge computing processes and analyzes data closer to where it's being generated for greater speed and volume. For the automotive industry, that happens both in the vehicle and through rapidly expanding 5G mobile networks. Some examples are commonly thought of, such as artificial intelligence and autonomous driving, but edge computing is also necessary to maintain all the software and electric control units within the vehicle in real time. This involves activities such as analyzing logs, error messages and the state of the complex software stack within the vehicle. Traditional car software or over-the-air concepts no longer work within this software-defined environment.
Some estimates say edge computing in the automotive market is expected to grow 27.5 percent per year. And while it's not uncommon to think that a software-defined future for the automotive industry is mainly related to the software within vehicles, it is actually broader than that. Some of the changes will be driven by regulations, while others will create new business models, but every step of the automotive supply chain, from manufacturing to dealerships to service and maintenance, stands to be transformed.