Do Carmakers Need Their Own Operating System?

Article By : Junko Yoshida

Recognizing that the automotive industry’s biggest challenge is software, carmakers have revealed efforts to develop their own OS platform -- just like Tesla...

Tesla envy courses through the ranks of traditional car OEMs and Tier Ones. Recognizing that the automotive industry’s biggest challenge is software, carmakers, ranging from Volkswagen to Hyundai, have revealed efforts to develop their own OS platform — just like Tesla.

This is a tall order, if not outright fantasy. To match Tesla, the issues auto companies face aren’t just about adding over-the-air software updates or finding unique UI software for a digital cockpit.

What they need is a full-fledged car OS.

Carmakers need a software platform that can address improved whole-car functions and safety, the bailiwick of companies like Tesla, born and bred in Silicon Valley.

Late last month, Elektrobit (Erlangen, Germany) unveiled “an industry first software platform” called EB xelor. Almost simultaneously, TTTechAuto (Vienna, Austria) announced a software platform for automakers.  Called MotionWise, TTTech describes it as “a series-proven safety software platform for automated driving.” TTTech Auto also announced the establishment of a new unit called “Car.OS,” meant to be an extension of MotionWise to help car OEMs develop a car operating system.

While there are some differences, both EB xelor and MotionWise platforms would serve to expedite carmaker’s development of next-generation software and vehicle architecture efficiently and safely.

Software Platform Empowers Next-Gen Vehicle Architecture

Elektrobit, a leading embedded software supplier for the automotive industry, noted that EB xelor consists of production-proven software from Elektrobit, in addition to open-source and third-party software.

TTTech Auto, which calls its platform “the safety mastermind for automated driving within a vehicle architecture,” explained that MotionWise enables platform and software re-use in multiple vehicle lines, its variants and in different models.

‘Orchestration’ needed
Egil Juliussen, a veteran automotive industry analyst, told EE Times that TTTech Auto and Elektrobit are working a similar angle. They’re aware that “OEMs, with limited software resources, need help.”

Consider the smartphone, or any computing system. “Usually, there is one CPU that controls a whole system,” observed Juliussen. In contrast, an operating system is particularly complicated for car OEMs because “every car model uses a lot of ECUs — one for different domain — on which different software runs. Taken a whole car, though, a variety of software running on different CPU must work together,” he stressed.

Evolving number of ECUs inside a car demand “service-oriented architecture with real-time guarantees.” (Source: TTTech Auto)

TTTech Auto calls the “orchestration” of different software within a system “necessary.”

In an email exchange with EE Times, Stefan Poledna, CTO of TTTech Auto, told us, “Currently, we see a clear trend in the software-defined car.” He added, “Moreover, the rapidly growing software complexity dramatically widens the gap between the industry’s need and capability to develop complex software.”

In Poledna’s view, this widening gap can be closed only by software re-use and adoption of car software platforms such as MotionWise.

Both Elektrobit and TTTech Auto are convinced that carmakers should leave the basic plumbing and development of undifferentiated foundational software to embedded software platform experts like themselves. “In the future, OEMs will differentiate in the functions they offer to their customers,” predicted Poledna. “These functions will tie up vast resources as they have to be deployed in increasingly fast iteration cycles and have to be safe and secure from the beginning.”

Time-aware MotionWise architecture (Source: TTTech Auto) Click the image above to enlarge.

Tesla’s OS
Tesla hasn’t talked of its home-grown car OS in great detail. But a team of analysts at Frost & Sullivan recently unpacked the OS. They noted that it was built from ground up, enabling Tesla to be more agile in software development. Tesla can distribute better performance and power functionality, and provide better protection of its vehicles from cybersecurity threats by exposing fewer access gateways, according to Sarwant Singh, managing partner in Frost & Sullivan,

He wrote recently in his contributed article in Forbes, “In fact all the domains are built-up on that one single OS, reflective of a drastically different approach.” Noting that this is something that only tech companies well versed in software can do, he noted: “It represents a significant advantage which allows Tesla to have a six to seven years tech advantage vs its nearest rival.”

Singh summed up: “Going forward, I see every car company trying to develop an OS platform in-house, just like VW is trying (and currently struggling) to do.”

What about RTOS in a vehicle?
TTTech Auto, for example, doesn’t anticipate a traditional real-time operating system (RTOS) such as QNX going away from vehicles.

Nonetheless, RTOS alone can’t offer the comprehensive software answer modern vehicles are looking for. Poledna pointed out, “We have seen a need for many additional services that are sitting on top of our middleware with a strong potential for re-use.”

TTTech Auto’s newly established Car.OS unit is tasked with a mission to develop “the best-in-class car operating system” for carmakers.

Poledna explained that TTTech Auto’s upcoming Car.OS system can run on top of QNX as well as with other real-time operating systems, and “we will continue to work with ecosystems and partnerships.” TTTech Auto is ready to offer programming service routines that will bring numerous benefits to the OEM, he noted.

Last month, Hyundai claimed in its press release that “partnership with Nvidia enables Hyundai to roll out the company’s new ccOS.” Hyundai said ccOS stands for “connected car operating system,” and claimed it was developed in-house.

When asked about Hyundai, Poledna declined to comment, noting that he can’t discuss any developments, currently underway at OEMs, of car operating systems. However, he stressed, “A major advantage of TTTech Auto’s Car.OS solution is that we are open to all OEMs and Tier One’s as a neutral software company.”

TTTech Auto notes that it’s not just offering a new operating system for carmakers. It claims a solution that enables “a strong re-use potential and synergies” and a platform flexible enough to “incorporate OEM-specific features,” Poledna added.

For instance, TTTech Auto’s platform will “enable testing in the cloud which corresponds 100% to behavior in the vehicle,” Poledna pointed out. “We will be able to ensure completely realistic testing for software-in-the-loop even in hyper real-time.”

Perhaps more significantly, the company is making it possible for such processes to run on “complex multi-SoC and multi SoC ECUs.”

Real-time guarantee
The most significant element of MotionWise, TTTech Auto’s flagship software platform designed for automated driving, might be its real-time guarantee. MotionWise delivers “globally available services with guaranteed latency, regardless of the system load,” the company explained.

Its key features include: “time-aware” platform architecture, end-to-end guarantees across a heterogeneous environment, safe, automated execution of the system and real-time processing with deterministic scheduling.

The MotionWise platform also offers “standardized interfaces for applications by introducing the AUTOSAR-compliant, multi-SoC platform,” while abstracting hardware and operating systems.

“Safety by design” is another facet. MotionWise ensures “constant availability and the highest levels of performance for mission-critical functions,” the company claimed. The platform “brings freedom from interference to any system in line with the highest safety standards.”

Whether Elektrobit or TTTech Auto, these software platform suppliers are hoping to enable car OEMs to develop their own software-defined cars.

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