Automobiles will become increasingly connected over the next decade, but that connectivity will come at a price in terms of dollars, security, and constantly changing technology.
Connectivity involves all parts of a vehicle. It includes everything from autonomous driving to in-cabin monitoring and connected infotainment. And it encompasses external sensors, IoT, V2X, over-the-air communication, remote control, and more. The problem is making all of this technology work together, which is made worse by different regional standards, an endless series of updates and new technology introductions, and a growing concern over security.
“Entertainment, convenience, and safety are all typical reasons for a car to be connected,” said Tom LeMense, systems applications engineer at Infineon Technologies. “The big challenge is keeping the vehicle current with ever-changing standards. Cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and USB all are driven by the consumer electronics industry. Also, the standards are constantly evolving to improve reliability, efficiency, and throughput. Vehicles are in the tough position of trying to keep abreast of evolving standards. A vehicle’s connectivity equipment undergoes a multi-year development cycle, and then a decade (or more) of service life. A case in point is the 2022 shutdown of the 3G cellular network. Vehicles that relied upon the 3G network lost much of their connectivity.”
Most vehicles contain the equipment to connect to cellular and wireless infrastructure, and to both wired and wireless devices. Most also have the means to connect to a wide variety and varying number of personal devices within the cabin.
The connected car vision
The electrification of vehicles, including software-defined vehicles (SDVs), and advances in wireless communications is forcing OEMs to envision what can be done with this technology. Among the options:
- Vehicle-to-everything (V2X), which can prevent accidents from happening in the first place, as well as improve traffic efficiency. Some of options include alerting drivers that vehicles are approaching on the wrong side of the road, and advance warning of accidents and traffic jams.
- New infotainment and concierge services, along with advanced navigation (Google Earth-enabled mapping system). Searching for places to visit and available parking will become easier and faster.
- Reduction of ownership cost with AI-based predictive maintenance. Vehicles will conduct self-diagnostics and alert the owner of any maintenance concerns, as well as connecting to roadside services.
- Apps-to-vehicle connections. Drivers will be able to use smart phones to communicate with the vehicle remotely. Some of these functions include warming up the engine in cold weather, controlling heating and air-conditioning systems, locking and unlocking the doors, and using a camera to inspect the vehicle’s interior and exterior.
- Using over-the-air (OTA) technology to provide software and firmware updates, enabling drivers to save time and avoid taking the vehicle to the dealership. Some of these updates will include new map data, new versions of infotainment software, and bug fixes.
- Ultimately, cloud-based 5G/6G will enable fully autonomous driving without human interaction. While this may be years away, it will provide the best route for avoiding traffic jams, as well as automated parking. By increasing safety through accident avoidance, it also will help reduce insurance costs.
A 2021 report from the World Economic Forum predicts the market for connected cars will reach $215 billion by 2027. Safety, increased comfort, and more sophisticated entertainment offer big opportunities for OEMs and the semiconductor supply chain.
How connected are vehicles today?
Big OEMs have various degrees of success with software-defined and connected vehicles. As shown in figure 1 (below), some of that connectivity includes emergency/roadside assistance, GPS, OTA updates, and remote access — including diagnostics, engine start, charging, and vehicle tracking. More features are expected to be added. A few new models will be offering V2V capability in the next 12 to 24 months.
“Most modern vehicles have some connectivity, either to help power the infotainment system, update map data, or to provide feedback from the vehicle to the cloud,” said Robert Day, director of automotive partnerships (North America) for Arm‘s Automotive Line of Business. “Many OEMs are looking to use this connectivity to provide extra services to the user, such as enabling new software functions, often via a subscription service. Connectivity will provide a key technology to enable the software defined vehicle.”
The BMW 7 Series is the most connected model BMW offers, and is one example of OEM work in this area. It includes 5G connectivity (dual-SIM, dual active) and cloud-based navigation. Additionally, it has integrated Amazon Fire TV, and YouTube. Rear-seat passengers are able to view and interact with its 31.3-inch touchscreen with 8K resolution. Future models will include mixed reality capability.
Other examples include vehicles from GM, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, and others.
GM, meanwhile, has connectivity to multiple models across all price points, from the Chevrolet Trax up to the forthcoming Cadillac CELESTIQ. It also supports Wi-Fi and 4G L, and is shifting toward SDVs to support OTA with its own Ultifi platform. It’s also improving its Super Cruise hands-free driving system.
The IONIQ 6, introduced in 2023, is the first Hyundai model to support OTA firmware updates. It has the vehicle-to-load (V2L) capability of charging other devices, including electric bicycles and scooters, serving as a charger on wheels.
Mercedes-Benz has developed its own Mercedes-Benz Operating System (MB.OS), a purpose-built chip-to-cloud architecture. It is also the first OEM to announce SAE Level 3 at speeds up to 80 mph. Mercedes-Benz also created apps that interact with the vehicle for traffic information, online map updates, and advanced speech recognition.
Toyota is working on projects including V2V, OTA support, and autonomous driving. Toyota Connected (a semi-independent software company) focuses on protecting customers and increasing convenience with telematics services. Safety Connect and Service Connect, for example, use acquired data to improve customers’ user interface experience and safety.
Automotive OEMs are looking more and more like software companies.
Fig. 1: More OEMs are offering more vehicle connectivity features. Source: Hyundai
Still, there are hurdles to overcome. The main challenge facing connected vehicle development is how to integrate all of these technologies so they can be interoperable in a practical manner. Currently, it is a free-for-all situation without no international standards or regulations keeping ecosystem players in line.
New challenges will arise as vehicles become more connected and software-defined, including how to future-proof vehicle and software architectures, cybersecurity, networking concerns, and other issues normally associated with computer systems.
Fig. 2: Vehicles will face additional challenges as they become more connected and more software defined. Source: Wards Intelligence
Before vehicles can be fully connected, OEMs have to overcome major obstacles, such as a lack of international standards, as well as data use considerations, the increasing vulnerability of vehicles to attacks, and shortcomings in AI and 5G.
International standard needed
Vehicles have different features, functions, and requirements based on their location. So vehicles in North America will have different compliance requirements than those in Europe and Asia. How this translates to vehicle connectivity isn’t entirely clear.
“Connected cars using vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication provide information to drivers and occupants beyond just going from Point A to Point B,” said David Fritz, vice president of hybrid and virtual systems at Siemens Digital Industries Software. “By communicating with other vehicles and/or infrastructure, an intelligent vehicle would know whether there’s an unseen accident ahead, a water line break, or an emergency vehicle. This will help occupants understand an autonomous vehicle’s decisions and lower occupant frustration. The vision of fully connected cars is great, but implementing that vision is where things begin to unravel.”
Initial challenges begin with choosing between competing standards such as DSRC (IEEE 802.11 standard) vs. C-V2X (3GPP standard). Fritz questions whether both will be necessary. “Standardizing on low-level protocols is difficult enough, but consider complex data packets’ payload format over the protocol,” he said. “A common example is while driving in Bavaria, you could cross over into Switzerland. A little later you’re in Austria. When you cross these country borders, how does your vehicle adapt to different representations of signage, local laws, animals, people, etc.? Handling this level of data object encoding requires a great international effort. Who will be responsible for the interoperability of various protocol standards? Standardization of this magnitude takes a great deal of time and is often decided by a battle of the titans. Who will emerge as the titans?”
Others agree. “Regulations are critical, especially in autonomy and the required security and safety, but they are regionally different,” Frank Schirrmeister, vice president of solutions and business development at Arteris IP. “In their context, developers must assess which aspects can rely on 5G and more advanced networks that are emerging. Which parts need to be handled locally within the car? And which V2X and V2V aspects rely on other technologies, like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi? While cost is an issue, it is part of the tiering in vehicle pricing.”
Data use consideration
Compared with other market segments, like consumer electronics, the connected vehicle arena does not discuss data use as frequently. When consumers sign up for LTE or 5G service on mobile phones, the carrier would most likely spell out how much data use will be allowed without paying extra. But when vehicles are fully connected with data going back and forth between vehicles, networks, and servers, the amount of data use will be jaw-dropping — on the order of multiple terabytes per vehicle. Can the existing network infrastructure handle the data traffic? OEMs eventually will need to figure out who will own the data, and how it should be managed and monetized.
“Internet connectivity and communication with other devices, networks, and infrastructure are vital technical characteristics of connected cars,” Schirrmeister noted. “For the user, the intended benefits include improved safety, enhanced entertainment, convenience features, and better fuel efficiency. For vendors along the value chain, data from connected cars represents a significant potential value during the car’s lifecycle. Critical challenges include data security, reliable network connectivity, balancing latency and bandwidth requirements, and managing enormous volumes of data. By some estimates, the amount of data can reach up to 300TB per year per car.”
Hackability of vehicles
An added concern is that connected vehicles are high-value targets for hackers. In March 2023, Ferrari CEO Benedetto Vigna sent a letter to a group of customers that a threat actor was able to access its systems. This is an indication of what is to come.
One successful hack may compromise functional safety, expose individuals’ identity, and shatter privacy. Ransomware attacks can disrupt both operations and the supply chain.
“Within the vehicle, great strides have been made to make the traditional automotive communication infrastructure more and more secure,” said Infineon’s LeMense. “However, once the connection involves a standard — e.g., Wi-Fi or Bluetooth — then the security is limited to what that standard provides, no more and no less. Fortunately, cybersecurity is a topic that is universally in focus, both for automotive and non-automotive applications.”
In any design, security consideration is always important. Both hardware and software should be hardened. This means component identification should be difficult, such as removing the print from the package, PCB wires are inaccessible, and debug interfaces are protected and/or disabled.
“Hardening software (bootloader, OS, applications) must include a secure configuration and crypto for updates and all network communication,” said Marc Witteman, CEO of Riscure. Ideally, communication between components and data at rest should also be encrypted. Also, never store global secret keys in software or hardware of the product. If global secret keys are exposed, the whole design/system may be compromised, making it impossible to recover from the breach.”
In a nutshell, all the building blocks inside a vehicle need to be secure.
Thierry Kouthon, technical product manager, Security IP at Rambus noted, “Security is structured in three prongs; data at rest, data in motion, and data in use. You need to secure data movement between point A to point B inside the vehicle, for example, from the sensors to the ECU as well as connection to the cloud. Data at rest include management of secure keys. You want to make sure when you start your car, are the software is genuine and have not been hacked. Additionally, the memory needs to be secured so no hackers can change the content. When the vehicle is in operation, that data is being used and need to be secured as well. Therefore, it is important to test the vehicle to make sure data in use is indeed secure before it is released to the public.”
In addition, while security can compromise safety, functional safety must be viewed separately from security.
“Cars and motorcycles generally ensure safety such that single-point failures do not cause catastrophe, and early warning can be provided for components showing signs of failing,” said Prakash Madhvapathy, director of product marketing for Tensilica audio/voice DSPs at Cadence. “These are termed functional safety (FuSa), and are essential for safe driving. FuSa is, however, distinct from security. Security is also important as it prevents a hacker from taking control of the car remotely, introducing denial of service attacks, or enabling features that the car OEM would like to charge for. There is precedence for some of this. Hence, it behooves carmakers to include some level of security.”
Some security is provided by requiring physical access to the vehicle. These functions are not exposed to OTA agents, and are available only to an authorized service center with physical access to the car.
“This prevents remote control over these functions,” Madhvapathy explained. “For other features that are accessible OTA, OEMs include hardware and software-based security that make it harder for a rogue application (remote or on-board) to access secret information, thereby keeping the hackers at bay. To achieve this, SoCs employed by the OEM would provide for architectural and software barriers between the trusted execution sandbox and feature rich execution environments. With over 400 million connected cars on the road today, there have been few reports of breaches, bearing testament to the effectiveness of vehicle security. However, as with all other spheres, it may be a matter of time before the hackers catch up, so security levels in cars need to be upgraded with each new model. OEMs can never be complacent with the state of the art in security. Further, driven by the inclination to monetize advanced features over time, OEMs have more incentive to enhance security to protect their revenue stream.”
Fully autonomous driving hurdles
Full autonomy remains a noble goal. Getting there is much more difficult than PowerPoint presentations suggested a decade ago. By many accounts, AI is still not intelligent enough, evidenced by an accident in March 2023 in which a Cruise robo-taxi rear-ended a bus in San Francisco. Fortunately, no passenger was inside. A year earlier, passengers were injured in a Cruise robotaxi accident resulting in a recall and an investigation by the NHTSA.
Another major hurdle is 5G network speed limitation. 5G has been touted as the superfast network meant to enable almost instant information transfer between vehicles and networks, with data traveling at the theoretical speed of 10Gb per second. This would enable autonomous driving. Today, however, the best 5G speed in North America is only a few hundred Mbps, a small fraction of what it should be. The peak 5G download speed achievable today is less than 1 Gbps, while the sustainable download speed is less than half of that. There are many reasons for this, including the requirements of short-range 5G towers needed to enable a line-of-sight communication. But 5G infrastructure investment is not a trivial matter.
“Cellular connectivity with 5G promises low-latency, high-bandwidth connections that can enable autonomous driving via the cloud,” Madhvapathy said. “Latency is very critical as a car going at typical highway speeds travels about a foot every 10ms. Two cars approaching each other would close the gap by two feet every 10ms. Latency in computing the position, predicting velocity, and taking appropriate action is critical to avoiding collisions. Sending such information quickly to a set of provisioned servers utilizes the cloud’s massive compute power to accurately predict the next safe state and receive real-time control information to navigate the automobile, obviating driver intervention.”
That’s the promise, at least. “Yet while sub-10ms latency is workable, the round-trip latency may be significantly larger with multiple hops, network congestion, and back-end processing delays,” he noted. “The unpredictable added latency gets in the way of real-time control of the vehicle, making this an unreliable proposition. Further, 5G is not yet ubiquitous, and its rollout is proceeding at a slower rate than initially anticipated. 6G promises to reduce the network latency further, which makes it more autonomous driving friendly. Its commercial deployment may be several years to a decade away.”
Additionally, John Heinlein, CMO at Sonatus pointed out the three obstacles facing fully connected vehicles.
- Software complexity. Because it all starts with infrastructure, modernizing vehicle architecture networks is key. The infrastructure comprises communication, protocols, services, how functions talk to one another and how data is moved from one place to another. Once you have this foundation, you can build the services on top of this. OEMs need to put effective software infrastructure in place. Once established, an effective software infrastructure can capitalize on highly concentrated real-time analytics. Software architecture has not historically been automotive OEMs’ strong point.
- Make vs buy. Deciding whether to make or buy the software technology enabling full connectivity is a challenge. OEMs try to make their own software, but it’s a time-consuming process, and they don’t always have the right talent or resources. Only by getting the infrastructure in the car right – and externally with 5G and edge – can we fully realize the potential of connected software-defined vehicles on the road.
- Trust and adoption. Ultimately consumers will be less likely to adopt electric vehicles if the products have software issues, so getting this right is important.
How long would it take before we can see fully connected vehicles, and ultimately fully autonomous vehicles without driver interaction?
Arteris’ Schirrmeister believes connected cars will evolve rapidly over the next five years. “I switched to auto leasing to enjoy new technology every couple of years,” he said. “A couple of key trends will enter the mainstream. Software updates and cloud services will be key in an era of software-defined vehicles. Connectivity is one pillar of autonomous driving, as cars must communicate with each other and their surroundings (V2X) to enable safe and efficient mobility. As the automotive industry transitions toward zonal architectures – some estimates see them in about 15% of cars produced in 2028 – architectures will become more diverse and modular, enabling different levels of connectivity and functionality depending on their use cases and customer preferences. We also will see enhanced customization and personalization with cars adapting to drivers’ needs and preferences and allowing them to customize their vehicles with new features and services.”
There are many benefits to fully connected vehicles but before the vision becomes a reality, the challenges of international standards, data use, cybersecurity, and the shortcomings of AI and 5G must be overcome. While all these sounds exciting, one big question remains: How much are consumers be willing to pay for the convenience and the benefits derived from these new technologies?