The growing role of complex software in a wide range of products provides increased functionality and value for consumers. From gadgets to cars to the power industry, we’re seeing more industries embrace software that tailors products to our individual needs.
This is especially true in the auto industry as cars grow more reliant upon software to manage everything from advanced drivetrains to elaborate infotainment systems. The Chevrolet Volt offers an excellent case in point: The plug-in hybrid relies upon 10 million lines of code, which is 2 million more than you’ll find in the F-35 fighter jet.
“This is having a huge impact on every traditional area, because all the functionalities you might have in electronics or mechanical (systems) are being shifted to software, ” Dominic Tavassoli, director of IBM Rational, said. His outfit helped assemble the code in the Volt. “There’s a lot of rethinking going on.”
Software is today the heart of many systems, and it will allow cars to do more than ever. Instead of being islands in a sea of traffic, cars will communicate with each other, with the road and even with the grid. Automakers realize this and are scrambling to develop unique systems that offer greater utility and convenience than their competitors.
“The competitive difference is today in the software, for cars just like for mobile phones, ” Tavassoli said. “The difference (among phones) is no longer in the screen, or the battery, or the antenna. It’s in what sort of apps I can put on it…. It is no longer about the car itself but it’s about possibilities like remotely opening and closing doors or start the engine with an app.”
The big automakers get this. They are embracing smartphones and developing apps that allow drivers to do everything from lock their doors to program exactly when their electric car starts drawing power from the grid.
Some electrics and plug-in hybrids like the Chevrolet Volt have smartphone apps (shown above) that allow owners to monitor how much energy they have and manage when and how their cars begin drawing power from the grid.
Toyota believes effective communication between utilities and automobiles is one way to ensure fast, efficient charging. It sees a day when our cars, our homes and our phones communicate with each other, with charging stations and with the grid.
Increasing functionality means increasing complexity, a challenge for automakers. Automakers have to ensure the software is 100 percent reliable — you don’t want a critical system failing at 65 mph. And they must ensure 100 percent security so your car can’t be hacked by some script kiddie.
Researchers at UC-San Diego and the University of Washington have identified a handful of ways to break into a car, including through the audio system. This security issue requires designing systems robust enough to prevent our cars from being stolen with a laptop.
“At IBM Rational we’re increasing the number of tools to analyze the vulnerabilities, because software is not enough, ” Tavassoli said. “It’s with system engineering that you’ll be able to track and control all the entry points and the interfaces.”
If German researchers can build a thought-controlled car and college students in Virginia can build a car the blind can drive, anything is possible.
Modern cars already feature hundreds of sensors and more are coming to make our cars, and our roads, smarter. We’re seeing the development of autonomous cars, predictive, personalized traffic forecasts and even roads that analyze traffic data and share that information with drivers.
We’ll soon go beyond that as the cloud comes to cars, opening up avenues we haven’t even thought of. If German researchers can build a thought-controlled car and college students in Virginia can build a car the blind can drive, anything is possible.
“There’s also a social aspect of driving, ” Tavassoli said. “What if your car could automatically inform you where is your favorite shop when arriving in a new city? Or connect to your social networking system and tell you where your friends are hanging out and provide driving directions to get there?”