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Smart Digital Cockpits—Enabled

Written by Miao Luo
  • What are the smart digital cockpits of the future?
  • What role do embedded systems play in car cockpits?
  • What are software solutions to chip shortages?
  • Smart digital cockpits

Digital cockpits are changing the landscape of the automotive industry, paving the way for manufacturers to improve user experience (UX), and ultimately boost sales. Rapid digitization within the automotive industry and the introduction of the Internet of Things (IoT) means that vehicles can now communicate with the outside world. This has led automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to realize the potential for connected vehicle interiors, or digital cockpits, to deliver an immersive digital experience.

A recent projection by Grand View Research reveals the automotive digital cockpit market is set to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.8% from 2021 to 2028, reaching $36.1 billion [1]. This has encouraged automotive industry professionals to transform their research and development approach, and to adopt emerging technology in order to get ahead of the curve. Autonomous, connected, and electric vehicles are influencing the design of car cockpits, driving a distinctive rise across two product categories—the infotainment system, and the cockpit dashboard (the instrument cluster).

Luxury car manufacturers, such as Mercedes-Benz [2], Audi [3], and most notably, Tesla [4], have deployed digitized cockpits, replacing the analog hardware with a human-machine-interface (HMI) comprised of touchscreens and heads-up displays. And with artificial intelligence (AI), edge computing, and 5G influencing the automotive industry, digital cockpits of the future should leverage these technologies via a unified, simple access point for the end user. This means over time cars will become more and more like our mobile phones—devices that offer us services and great user experiences when and where we need them.

HOW SOFTWARE HYBRIDS ARE CHANGING THE GAME

As more automotive OEMs explore the most efficient ways to build out the entire digital cockpit, they face considerable software complexities. In designing and developing their digital cockpits, OEMs must weigh competing goals—when the cockpit is being developed, a delicate balance needs to be struck between design, performance, and cost. The task for OEMs is to deliver a consistent, immersive user experience in as little development time as possible. At the same time, the aim is to keep costs as low as possible throughout every step of the process, all while considering functional safety. Instrument clusters are safety-critical systems, and as such they need functionally safe software that complies with automotive industry standards.

To meet these standards and run an automotive-grade operating system for functions such as the vehicle’s speedometer and infotainment systems, automakers need regular access to chips [5]. These enable the software and hardware to communicate, and many automakers are reliant on one specific chip supplier due to legacy software that has been in place across many vehicle generations [6].

Across connected device industries, a shortage in chips has prevented manufacturers from being able to produce products. This has had a significant impact in the automotive sphere, because of course chips are required for everything—from airbags to infotainment. But one automaker, Tesla, has successfully navigated this shortage with an in-house “software-first” approach to vehicle development [7]. By ensuring their source code can be re-written in a short space of time to meet compatibility requirements of different, newer chipsets as they become available, Tesla ensures chip shortages do not have a significant impact on their product delivery.

REUSABLE CODE DELIVERS MORE FOR LESS

This isn’t the only way that Tesla has made use of software to ensure its vehicles contain advanced interior features. In many vehicles today, a single system-on-a-chip (SoC) hosts multiple domains, including the instrument cluster, and the infotainment screens. The SoC integrates a wide variety of elements including base operating systems, application development frameworks, virtualization technologies, and automotive-specific features such as audio and diagnostic. Tesla has developed its own software stack, meaning its source code can be re-written in-house, as required, enabling access to a broader range of chipsets and hardware components when compared to other automakers that are locked into one chip supplier.

Features can be upgraded easily as newer chipsets become available—ensuring that the end user can take advantage of the most up-to-date upgrades, and from a software supplier perspective, that continued delivery of excellent UX is possible. And by designing with software upgrades in mind, manufacturers can build out an entire digital cockpit with efficiency, safe in the knowledge that additional elements can be added to the vehicle without long lead-in times.

On top of the operating software, where we have the HMI, commonly known as the dashboard or heads-up display, the whole UX has been reimagined. Digital, immersive in-vehicle experiences are set to become more of a commodity over the next five to ten years. Manufacturers recognize how important the UX will be for consumers. They are prioritizing the driver during the development process, and making the car safer to use.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR CUSTOMERS: A SLEEKER, SAFER HMI

Designing a more aesthetically appealing, sleek interior is just as much about creating a safer environment for everyone on the road, as it is about creating a luxurious in-vehicle experience for drivers and passengers. The Occupational Road Safety Alliance (ORSA), shows that up to 94% of collisions made on UK roads can be directly linked to human error [8]. And heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) components have been proven to distract drivers, contributing to this high percentage.

A digital cockpit will enable drivers to operate HVAC without needing to take their eyes off the road. The technology can be operated by speech commands, or via a heads-up display that presents both safety-critical and non-safety-critical information. The digitization of HVAC means that drivers will be able to focus on the most important part of operating a car—driving—while still enjoying a luxurious experience.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE FUTURE OF COCKPIT DESIGN?

The digital cockpit of the future will enable OEMs to increase productivity and shorten the time-to-market through continued investment in software frameworks that allow them to scale and reuse code across vehicle makes and generations. There’s a lot of excitement in the automotive industry around 3D graphics, and how they can be used to enhance the visual appeal within the car and build a superior user experience. At the same time, manufacturers need to balance other aspects of the driver experience and the overall car software development lifecycle, to ensure that driving is safe and intuitive and that the car software is easily updatable. 

REFERENCES
[1] Precedence Research on the wearable technology market: https://www.precedenceresearch.com/wearable-technology-market[2] Travelers Insurance: How Companies can help reduce risk from Wearables – https://www.travelers.com/resources/business-industries/technology/how-companies-can-help-reduce-risk-from-wearables[3] Fear of Wearables: “Between Fear and Astonishment: The Rhetorics of Wearable Technology” https://wac.colostate.edu/docs/proceedings/cw2016/tham.pdf

SOURCES
Wearable Tech: https://www.wearabletechnology-news.com/news/2016/sep/16/cutting-through-hype-and-noise-whats-real-deal-wearables/

Science Direct: Wearable Technology – https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/wearable-technology

Wearable Technology Applications: https://www.uc.edu/content/dam/refresh/cont-ed-62/olli/newtech1.pdf

Smart Clothing Framework for Health Monitoring Applications: https://www.mdpi.com/2624-6120/3/1/9

RESOURCES
Abilify Mycite | abilifymycitehcp.com
McLear | mclear.com
Neosensory | neosensory.com
Ouraring | ouraring.com
SmartSole | gpssmartsole.com
Softmatter | softmatter.io
Upright | uprightpose.com

PUBLISHED IN CIRCUIT CELLAR MAGAZINE • MAY 2023 #394 – Get a PDF of the issue

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Miao Luo works at The Qt Company, where he serves as a Director in Product Management, overseeing the automotive business and managing product strategies among HMI design tools, graphics, and functional safety product lines. Before The Qt company, he worked in various positions ranging from product management and sales to software engineering for more than 15 years. He also co-founded a successful startup in the flight simulation market.

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Smart Digital Cockpits—Enabled

by Miao Luo time to read: 5 min