As most economies around the world, including that of India, drive toward their sustainable development goals – tomorrow’s mobility technologies have to be greener, more connected, more innovative and more eco-friendly.
A rapid transformation has been taking place in next-generation vehicles, which are becoming increasingly autonomous, digital and electric. Simultaneously, new revenue models such as ‘pay as you use’ for certain mobility services, features and even for entire vehicles are emerging in the transportation market.
How these new passenger cars operate, how new digital features make customer usage easier and how revenue models change in recent years will finally lead to the concept of the car of the future. Today, the automotive industry is re-imagining and re-designing the in-car experience of new vehicles with features built around automotive OS, advanced IoT technologies and digital cockpits.
What are digital cockpits?
Imagine your car’s vital information, including road maps and driver assistance features – all right before you. In simple words, the digital cockpit is an all-digital, software-defined, in-vehicle dashboard system to help drivers as well as passengers commute safely and perform crucial driving functions.
Digital cockpit platforms are flexible and scalable, and automotive players are building customised solutions around these platforms to create unique experiences for users. To do this, features and functions are being improved with software via the car-to-cloud connection. In this regard, cloud-connect, smartphones, technology-driven companies, you name it, are all in this together.
The global automotive digital cockpit market size, valued at USD 19.8 billion in 2020, is expected to expand at a CAGR of 8.8 per cent over 2021–2028.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the overall automotive industry, resetting its growth trajectory by a couple of years. Newer compliance requirements and semiconductor crisis are added roadblocks.
However, the increased adoption of in-vehicle telematics, infotainment systems, safety and pollution sensors, navigation and IoT are prominent factors that are driving the demand for automotive, digital cockpit solutions.
Further, the growing demand for improved comfort, safety, and convenience in vehicles, especially in emerging and developed economies, is set to boost market growth, going forward.
Some automobile brands call it the ‘Active Info Display’ and others call it the ‘Digital Cockpit’. Many other car manufacturers have also developed their own systems – you can get a digital instrument cluster in various passenger car models today.
Major technology companies are also heavily invested in the creation of digital cockpit platforms or as a supplier or integrator of a major component of the solutions. Many of them are gearing up to bring their OS, extensive application ecosystems and content assets into the cockpit.
In keeping with these market trends, several smartphone makers are evaluating the automotive opportunity as well. Some of them are set to launch their own electric vehicles (EVs). Some are already influencing the in-car connectivity technologies while others are partnering with automotive companies.
The smartphone can already be used as a digital key or for remote vehicle parking. From an app, drivers can manage the vehicle’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) controls, check the EV’s battery status, and so on. In-vehicle flash charging and wireless charging are also becoming increasingly possible today.
In short, the demand for connected infotainment solutions and digital cockpits is increasing in the automotive market.
As per estimates, over 90 per cent of passenger cars on the road will be connected to the internet with the help of 3G/4G connectivity by the end of 2022.
There are four mega trends that are going to shape the future of the automotive world: (i.) Connected, (ii.) Autonomous driving, (iii.) Shared mobility, and (iv.) Electrification – or CASE, as it is popularly known. A common guiding principle across these four trends is going to be the “user experience”.
Within CASE, electrification is the current buzz and several OEMs have outlined ambitious targets to electrify their fleets. Electrification will further shift the focus from powertrains (RPM) to in-cabin experiences, as the differentiation factor for OEMs will no longer be the engine or performance.
Natural language user interface, bigger and crisper displays, augmented reality, content in cars, etc., are some of the consumer experiences from Smart devices that will rapidly transcend into the automotive domain.
We can also expect multi-modal user interfaces (touch, gesture, haptics, voice, audio-sensory) as well as safe driving assistance for drivers and passengers through driver and occupant monitoring systems.
In addition, Government regulations will drive further feature additions such as Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA), Acoustic Vehicle Alert Systems (AVAS) and other safety and security features.
What factors then should we keep in mind while designing the smart cockpit system?
Personal assistance and safety: The personal assistant car function is set to undergo rapid improvements in the times to come. Leading brands are already working on a plethora of functions that are going to redefine developments in passenger car technology, such as voice recognition, artificial intelligence, internet capabilities, and driver stress detection. In terms of safety, functional safety requires a managed and integrated ecosystem. The automotive industry has embraced the ISO 26262 functional safety standard and expects OEMs and their suppliers to meet the required Automotive Safety Integrity Level (ASIL) requirements.
One integrated entity: The current generation of automotive processors is fast enough to bring cost savings by combining multiple, previously separate systems, into one integrated entity. The integrated systems have the capacity to run high-definition graphics on multiple screens simultaneously. It appears that in the not-so-distant future, cars will be able to communicate with their surroundings at lightning-fast speed due to being powered with more autonomous capability. In that connection, the TFT-LCD display segment dominated the market for the largest automotive digital cockpit market share and accounted for the largest revenue share of over 55 per cent in 2020.
Frequent updates: Frequent updates are a key part of maintainability and competitiveness. The automotive sector needs to be way more forward-thinking than mobile or computer sectors in how software is made. The lifespan of a car is much longer than any phone or computer, for example, 10-15 years. A car’s performance needs to keep up with changing temperatures and constantly shaking conditions.
Value for users: Optimising the boot time of the large, complex generic software platforms is difficult and resource intensive. The optimisation should not only be about booting the system as fast as possible but about speedy fulfilling of the user expectations.
Biometrics: As mainstream security continues to get more and more personalised, a change in this regard can be expected in the sphere of car technology too. Soon, using biometrics, we may have cars that are able to recognize gestures, heartbeats, retina scans, brain waves, stress, fatigue and even eyelid movements.
The right software–tech combo: The ongoing transition to connected multi-function devices puts the selection of technologies at the centre. Various functions set different requirements in terms of security, safety and performance criteria. Still, they all need to run on shared hardware. Selecting the right combination is essential as it affects all parts of software product development; security, data ownership, performance, and maintenance.
Customers tomorrow will have access to multiple features and functionalities that can be enabled with minimum to no physical intervention, and they can pay as they use these. The automotive sector is among the most robust drivers of change, but one often wonders what’s next down the road as far as car technology goes.
From analogue car dashboards to a multi-screen, multi-modal digital experience – it is a fast, ongoing journey. This change is being accelerated by high-performance computing platforms for automotive as well as the growing demand for a digital user experience.