The Future Of Vehicles As Software-Defined Data Centers

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Ideas like V2X and autonomy revolve around the vehicle functioning as a sophisticated, mobile data center capable of near-real-time (nanoseconds) responses to new data, signals, and requests. If the future of the automotive industry is to become software-defined, the underlying network, raw processing power, and AI become integral requirements. Software alone cannot achieve this without the support of silicon, and NXP stands as one of the world’s leading innovators in the automotive sector, with a workforce spanning approximately 31,000 employees across more than 30 countries.

In 2030, it’s projected that 45% of automotive costs will be attributed to chips. This software-centric design paradigm is set to take hold. One in four automotive company leaders informed Forbes that they anticipate a complete shift toward software-centered design processes within the next five years.

Electrification is democratizing automotive performance. By 2027, research by Cambia Research suggests that 67% of consumers will primarily consider electric vehicles. Many EVs now boast performance levels comparable to exotic sports cars, prompting a shift in focus from performance to the consumer experience. The increasing emphasis on customization, new experiences, and value creation through sensors, big data, and concepts like V2X necessitates a substantial enhancement in the automotive’s chip’s ability to share, network, and coordinate data.

This wave of customization and big data will inevitably reshape the interior architecture of cars. New data functionalities in vehicles will give rise to fresh values and business models, similar to how the basic camera on the original iPhone evolved to replace traditional cameras and introduce features like medical monitoring.

We should start viewing cars as “sensor hubs.” Imagine residing in a city with icy roads during the winter. Vehicles can transmit data about temperature, road surface traction, sensor reactions to road bumps, and share this information with other vehicles (akin to Waze) and local government infrastructure to prioritize necessary repairs. The network within the vehicle is crucial in this context. Some modern cars already incorporate over 40 sensors; the number is expected to grow significantly by 2033.

While vehicles may become more expensive, the capabilities and experiences they offer will be exponentially diverse. The capacity to configure and reconfigure a vehicle through software will be a fundamental component in delivering added value.

Notably, concepts like digital twins in the cloud will play a vital role in simulating the vastly expanded range of activities that future vehicles will undertake. This extends to automating basic tasks and conducting extensive simulation scenarios, reducing the need for extensive real-world testing.

Automobiles will generate terabytes of data, akin to commercial aircraft today. An evolving ecosystem of data blocks will emerge, and the vehicle data revolution is already underway. With more vehicles becoming connected and some already incorporating upwards of 40 sensors, autonomous vehicles are poised to produce up to four terabytes of data per hour. This massive influx of data presents both opportunities and challenges for automakers, particularly regarding data privacy and cybersecurity.

Tesla has demonstrated strategic foresight in designing and delivering the entire automotive experience for its customers. Other automakers are making strides in this direction. The combination of processing power, chip intelligence, and software-centered design will serve as the bridge to a transformed business model and enhanced consumer relevance.

Ray Cornyn is the VP and General Manager of Vehicle Control and Networking Solutions at NXP. NXP Semiconductors N.V. is a Dutch semiconductor designer and manufacturer headquartered in Eindhoven, Netherlands, with a workforce of approximately 31,000 employees in over 30 countries. NXP reported revenue of $11.06 billion in 2021.

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