Why the car is fast becoming a computer on four wheels
Marius Mihailovici, Managing Director of Porsche Engineering Romania explores the future of automotive development
"Even today, cars are very much rolling computers. They contain a network of between 70 and 100 ECUs to do such jobs as controlling fuel injection, regulating braking behaviour, and monitoring the air conditioning. A modern car has in the region of 100 million lines of code, driving such complex systems as entertainment and navigation, smartphones connectivity and active safety. By way of context, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner has a meagre 14 million lines of code.
"But there is more to come. The next step will be HCPs (High Performance Computing Platforms), which will enable significantly more computing power to be integrated into an ECU, necessary to meet the increasing complexity of the functions of tomorrow’s cars. Software is taking over more and more important tasks in the car, including data exchange with other road users and the road infrastructure, updating vehicles from the cloud, and eventually even autonomous driving.
"All this has turned the development of automotive software into a rather tricky balancing act. Both safety regulations and customer requirements need to be met, requiring fast and flexible work. Targets are often set at short notice and change quickly. In Cluj, Romania, our software developers use suitably agile methods, with small development steps whose results are checked in daily rounds of feedback. Individual teams have a great deal of freedom and support each other with their respective capabilities.
Marius Mihailovici, Managing Director of Porsche Engineering Romania
"Developments outside the automotive industry will also force us to rethink things, as cars are increasingly integrated into the digital lives of their drivers. For example, the smartphone automatically connects to the vehicle when getting in. Media use, navigation, and communication merge seamlessly. It is use scenarios like these that will change the content of our software developers’ work¬ – for the simple reason that the boundaries between pure ‘automotive software’ and other applications are becoming blurred. Incidentally, this also requires a certain mindset on the part of our developers: we employ people who live the digital lifestyle themselves. They not only know what our clients demand, but also what vehicle users expect from their cars.
"New ECU architectures are also changing the way automotive software is developed. I assume that in the car of the future there will be a few central, very powerful computers of the HCP type, which, together with subordinate, simpler units, will control the entire vehicle. These central computers with a real operating system truly turn the car into a PC on four wheels. For developers, this means that the methods of their work do not change that much. What changes are the systems they are dealing with: they are more hierarchical, have fewer components, and are controlled by one overall software. And this—like any software—will receive regular updates. So the software of a car is not developed and installed once, but is constantly being further developed, even when the car is already in the customer’s hands."