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AUTOMOTIVE Software-defined futuristic vehicles

Dec 14, 2022

Immersive, in-cabin technology has truly transitioned from a nice-to-have to a must-have. In fact, in one study, a vast majority (70%) of millennials considered technology and infotainment as the primary factors when purchasing an automobile. - Andy McLean, Vice President, Automotive Cabin Experience, Analog Devices

The concept of the software-defined vehicle — which is roughly defined as a vehicle that manages much of its operation through software — targets this shift in consumer expectations. But while the software remains at the forefront of this transformation, hardware will continue to serve as the backbone to enable this software-defined future. The next 100 years of the automobile will be defined by a more human-centric and experiential approach to vehicle design, one that puts immersive and personalised, in-cabin experiences in the driver’s seat for vehicle purchase considerations.

Software-defined vehicles: A new way forward

  • ~ 150M – Avg amount of lines of software code in premium vehicles (~50M = latest PC)

  • ~ 18 days/year – Avg amount of time Americans spends in their car

  • ~ 50% – wished their car had more tech features

Beyond this, consumers expect technology to stay modern and upgradable throughout the lifetime of the vehicle — which requires the ability to upgrade software in a similar, seamless fashion as we upgrade mobile electronics and PCs.

The paradigm shift currently underway is centred around a vehicle that adapts to user preferences. How this transition moves forward in the form of in-cabin technology will hinge on manufacturers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) embracing these new technologies — and partnering with leading technologists. All of this will incorporate the complicated ecosystem of audio, video, display, voice, etc to bring about this new expectation for automobiles.

Above all, safety must be paramount when discussing any vehicle software feature, especially voice recognition technology, where we must approach near 100% accuracy. Also, safety-critical applications must be processed at the edge, not the cloud, while non-safety-critical applications (music) could be processed in the cloud.

Ota updates: Safe, immersive, personalised

Much like in the old days of home computers, where you would add memory chips, motherboards, or even batteries to an ageing laptop to run parallel with software advancements, software-defined vehicles will need to have a solid hardware foundation that’s flexible enough to be upgradable.

Today’s vehicles are already leveraging software advancements for safety (ADAS) and simplicity (voice-controlled navigation). But also, software upgrades of these technologies have expanded to vehicle infotainment, and diagnostics —all without needing to visit a dealership, thanks to over-the-air (OTA) updates, similar to your phone.

Value of software-defined vehicles: Advantages


No in-person dealer recall is necessary. Simply enable OTA updates in your vehicle and wait for updates to occur, usually overnight.

Save labour costs

The dealer saves in labour costs due to resources not being tied up with recalls that can be fixed OTA (of course, mechanical updates will still need to be done on location).

Future proof

Updated vehicles are better equipped as they age, resulting in a slower rate of depreciation, possibly increasing car value.


Vehicles can quickly address changes in compliance or safety rules and standards to always stay updated.



Fewer visits to dealers or mechanics mean fewer inspections and fewer opportunities to recommend routine or necessary maintenance.


A high level of security is needed for OTA updates to protect your personal information and defend against any cybersecurity threats.

Hardware requirements

Manufacturers will need to decide whether to build only top-of-the-line vehicles (hardware) to enable software enhancements. All premium hardware vehicles are sold as basic, with upgradeability for premium features.

The car itself adapts the person driving it

There’s an old saying—a well-fitting suit—used to describe two or more things that work seamlessly together as if they were meant for each other. The same could be said about software and personalisation in automobiles today.

Normally people experience the initial moments when they get into a rental car, having to adjust seats, mirrors, heating or air-conditioning, and of course, setting the pre-sets on the radio or touchscreen. With future technological advancements, including AI, voice and facial recognition, this exercise to manually adjust the car to your personal preferences, will seem so archaic.

While the possibilities are intriguing, none of these features will be possible without a robust hardware infrastructure that can help scale the software platform. The conundrum facing many OEMs and manufacturers is, what happens when the software capability surpasses the hardware support level? Much like today’s personal computers, which can live on with minor hardware updates, so too must the software-defined vehicle.

Balancing a golden opportunity

The industry has a golden opportunity to capitalize on new business models and revenue streams resulting in post-vehicle sales, including location-based advertising, add-on software-enabled features, etc. But they will also need to balance the desire for continuous software upgrades in the vehicle with the costly overdesigning of hardware needed to support these upgrades.

As the amount of data and compute requirements grow exponentially, there will be a need for a new era in vehicle construction by standardising, simplifying, and streamlining vehicle architectures, further reducing wire complexity and weight, leading to scalable platforms deployed across a complete vehicle fleet.

All these generational changes drive a need for new system-level and semiconductor solutions, bringing intelligence at the edge and delivering high bandwidth sensor data to compute units while reducing cable weight and wiring complexity. Although software will provide for easy upgradability of vehicle features, hardware will certainly serve as the backbone that enables scaling of software deployments.

A hacker’s dream, a driver’s nightmare?

As is the case in anything software-related, cybersecurity must be incorporated into any implementation plan.

With the software ecosystem growing exponentially, a number of defence-hardened strategies could be deployed to protect a vehicle from attack. Foremost, before any OTA updates take place, authentication of the correct driver must be confirmed. Identity access management including facial recognition could help immensely in this area and is standard practice in the ultra-security-minded financial industry. There’s also isolation-through-virtualisation techniques and two-step verification using a cell phone or an email — both proven effective methods to help restrict access.

While OTA updates offer a powerful, convenient feature, and help drivers keep their cars much longer, they also require auto manufacturers to deploy what security tech experts call an assume harm approach to keep hackers at bay.

Adi’s role in the software-defined vehicle

Perhaps the ultimate example of a software-defined vehicle may very well be an autonomous driving vehicle. But until that vehicle arrives, the days of immersive, personalised, truly customisable vehicles are here today — and ADI is playing a key role in engineering the design and implementation of this transformative era, including:

  • Developing software that works together with a hardware in a way that enables flexibility to adapt to any operating system that the OEMs deploy. In addition, the comprehensive suite of tools addresses customer needs throughout their whole journey — from selection, through simulation, and eventually production line debugging. Combined, this helps ease OEMs’ concerns around a shifting software landscape and accelerates time to market.

  • The application-focused, algorithm development addresses customer challenges including active noise cancelling (ANC), road noise cancelling (RNC), and in-car communications (ICC). Being hardware independent supports OEMs in their pursuit of a software solution that can be easily ported across platforms.

As the software-defined vehicle continues its expansive growth with immersive, customisable in-cabin technologies, ADI will be at the ready, increasingly adding software capabilities to address the market, while cocreating with tier ones and OEMs to see these goals to fruition.

Image Gallery

  • Andy McLean
Vice President - Automotive Cabin Experience
Analog Devices

    Andy McLean

    Vice President - Automotive Cabin Experience

    Analog Devices

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