"If you go into an entry-class car, you probably end up with 20 to 50 sensors that use semiconductors," Frank Findeis, vice president for automotive sensors at German semiconductor maker Infineon, told Automotive News in August, 2020. "If you go to a high-end car, you easily end up with 100."
"If you start looking into the car where the sensors are hidden it's amazing, really, the number of applications is going through the roof," Findeis added.
A recent study by consulting firm McKinsey estimated that the overall sensor market will grow by 8 percent a year into 2030, making it by far the fastest growing segment in automotive componentry. This despite the fact that the company says the market sensors for internal combustion engines will decline overall. It’s body, chassis, and most of all driving assistance sensors that are booming.
The upside is easy to see. The vast amounts of information those sensors produce presents the opportunity to build safer, better, and more functional vehicles as well as providing more amenities to drivers. ADAS systems, mobility use cases, and autonomous vehicles are the most obvious long-term trends enabled by sensor data.
The challenges, however, scale with the opportunities.
There are already industry coding standards and guidelines, but there’s no universal way of easily accessing sensor data or standardized interfaces for using it. Vehicle and sensor data is often in proprietary formats, and software applications can be specific to a single vehicle or brand, with little opportunity to spread development costs or create multi-use products.
Then, of course, there’s the security factor, which dominates the automotive software landscape.
“Security concerns are a longstanding hurdle,” says Brett Francis, a principal product solutions architect at Amazon Web Services (AWS). “Vehicle safety cannot be compromised, but not being able to access certain types of data is a real point of friction in trying to create the products automakers see ahead of them.”
The disparate systems and standards between automakers also make it difficult for third party innovators to develop automotive applications quickly and cheaply. They’re a high bar to clear even for internal OEM teams, Francis says. “Vehicles have thousands of different parts from different suppliers and thousands of different software components inside those parts, many of which are proprietary and specific per model.”
In wanting to overcome these difficulties, Francis says, “customers kept asking us how they could take the agility they have with our cloud computing solutions and apply it to in-vehicle software development,” Francis says, “Because that’s where the real challenges are in this new environment.”