It is becoming apparent that in future domain or central computers will control cars instead of numerous monothematic ECUs. It is also clear that these computers will be real-time capable and that they will map the various ECUs as software tasks. A virtualisation layer is absolutely necessary for this, which safely separates the individual tasks from each other. This allows several operating systems to run independently of each other on a domain or central computer. And such operating systems are already available – QNX, Green Hills Integrity or PikeOS are just a few examples. Google is building a bridge to professional IT systems with its “Car” operating system – and has already found OEMs with General Motors, Polestar and Volvo who intend to use it.
Why some car manufacturers nevertheless do not shy away from the huge effort to develop their own operating system becomes clear in an interview that Christoph Grote, head of BMW’s Digital Car unit, conducted with the “Handelsblatt” paper. Daimler and Volkswagen are much more cagey about their goals and technologies, but Grote’s views are probably not dissimilar to those of his competitors.
BMW is currently working on a new operating system to replace the currently installed Lunix-based collection of routines and interfaces, called BMW OS7, next year. The new system software is to be installed for the first time in the iX electric-powered SUV, which will be launched in 2021. Important features of the new software are primarily a new, more intuitive operating concept and support for 5G mobile communication.
Low-latency, high-bandwidth communication is of central importance. It enables many functions of automated driving, such as extended V2X functions that go beyond pure short-range communication between the participants: They make it possible to tap into the virtually unlimited data stores and information sources of the cloud infrastructure virtually without delay. The cars thus “know” not only what is going on in their immediate vicinity, but also where a traffic jam is building up a little further away on their travel route. Likewise, 5G enables access to numerous customisable data services ranging from the display of point-of-interests to music streaming – and above all to services that do not even exist today. Thus, cars are becoming more future-proof.
One central aspect of this is the ability to update software and functions over the air (OTA). This not only serves to repair any software errors, but also enables new business models – for example, the temporary activation of additional performance reserves for a fee. Here, too, most imaginable functions are not even on the horizon.
BMW is already able to update appropriately equipped cars via OTA; an update campaign is currently running for 750,000 vehicles. With 5G and the new operating system, such updates will be much faster and agile (more like what we are used from our smartphones), and BMW also wants to make many more functions updateable in the future. This means a paradigm shift not only for BMW, but also for other manufacturers: while today cars are designed around the hardware and thus their range of functions is fixed once and for all, in the future cars will be able to adapt their character, their behaviour, to a large extent to the user’s wishes even after production by being able to be equipped with new functions. The OEMs are mainly driven by Tesla, whose cars already have all these capabilities – natively, by design.
An important competitor for the German car industry is also Google, which is hunting for customers with its own Android Auto operating system. However, many car manufacturers – by no means only BMW – fear that they could lose part of their business to Google. However, no one talks openly about it, not even BMW’s Christoph Grote. Instead, Grote cites data protection and privacy as reasons. “Privacy is very important,” says Grote. According to BMW’s data protection philosophy, vehicle and user data must never be passed on without customer consent.
However, BMW cannot do without Google entirely: as with other OEMs, customers can mirror the user interface of their Android smartphone to the vehicle and thus use many smartphone apps in the infotainment and navigation screen of the car (with Apple’s iOS, of course, this also works). But, according to BMW’s Grote, Google is only to come on board as a “guest”; the Bavarians do not intend to use Google Automotive Services at all. The reason: the operating system, like all the software, should define the brand. The software thus becomes part of the indispensable brand core.
It’s the same at Daimler and Volkswagen, by the way.