Open standards can accelerate the autonomous car market

In the race to tap into the autonomous car market’s vast potential, car makers are growing their resources, investments and innovating at breakneck speed.

However, there is a long list of potential downsides to all of this: redundant investments, fragmented safety standards, and unsustainable business models.

Revisiting the Current Model
Software is at the heart of autonomous cars. The functionality, experience, and dynamics—from dashboard instruments, powertrain, safety systems and to in-vehicle infotainment (IVI)—are all defined by software. Intended or not, autonomous car OEMs are now in the software business, competing on software innovation and cycle times.

However, automakers are creating their own software models in isolation and this can be increasingly problematic. Each software element must be individually secured, made safe and compliant, then translated into a production-ready commercial product. In this one-off fashion, every company in the value chain ends up investing more money, hiring more people, and incurring longer delays than necessary. Inefficiencies would then be passed on to consumers, translating to excessively high prices and possibly slower adoption rates for autonomous cars, which in turn diminishes the market opportunity for OEMs, tier-1s, and service providers.

Additionally, autonomous car software complexity makes it all the more challenging for car makers to maintain scalability as they move from the lab and into production. Most automakers are relatively inexperienced in software-based business models and will have difficulty keeping pace with the accelerating rate of change. Scaling up and into production will be a daunting challenge without core software elements standardization.

Collaboration on Standards, Competition on Delivery
A more efficient model for creating and deploying autonomous vehicle software is in need. By looking to other mission critical industries such as aerospace and defense, players in the autonomous car market can learn from past successes. These other industries have taken an open standards software approach that includes two basic tenets:

• Core mission-critical elements of the software stack should be a given. They should be based on open standards that are accessible to all—so that innovation can focus on adding value.

• Competitive differentiation should derive from innovation around the open software standard and the development of commercial products based on the standard.

For example, rather than create a proprietary software framework, Boeing contracted Smiths Aerospace (now GE Aviation) to create the 787 Common Core System, based on the ARINC 653 specification, which enabled a diverse ecosystem of suppliers to deliver software that executed on this common virtualization platform. The new platform led to the creation of RTCA DO-297, a new standard that defined business roles—platform suppliers, applications suppliers, and systems integrators—as well as processes and workflow for those roles. This role-based business methodology evolved into the current, global standard for all large commercial aircraft development today.

It’s important to understand that open standards are not the same as open source. Open standards are guidelines that are publicly available and democratically controlled by a community. Open source is the software code itself that’s freely available, subject to the terms of a licensing agreement. Whether or not the software is open source is not the issue here. The core issue is the urgent need for industry-wide agreement on a set of open standards.

A more cooperative approach to open standards, particularly for mission-critical infrastructure elements such as operating systems and safety-related software, will accelerate opportunities in the autonomous car market. Open standards will drive innovation, lower costs, prevent software code volume inflation, ensure scalability, reduce safety risks, and make production practical.

The Road to Open Software Standards
In order to effectively advance the autonomous car market forward, we need industry leaders to drive the discussion around open software standards, engage all market players, and organize a standards body that can help determine:

• Which standards are needed
• How open standards will be defined, created, and regulated
• Which elements of intellectual property (IP) need to be standardized
• Which open standards have the highest potential for generating innovation
• Which open standards create the highest potential for risk, and how best to mitigate that risk

By defining and adhering to autonomous open standards, the auto industry can bridge the gap between the need for cost-efficient commercial differentiation and the imperative to protect consumers in an age of accelerating innovation. The time for a smarter and more collaborative approach is now.

SBD Insights

“One of the primary complaints we hear from our automotive customers is that they have to significantly re-engineer software components in the vehicle whenever offboard service providers change. A collaborative standards ecosystem for vehicle communication protocols will enable automotive manufacturers to reduce time to market and overall cost of providing commoditized services, while also providing a framework for deploying differentiating connected and autonomous services to their customers.”

– Alex Oyler, Head of Car IT at SBD Automotive

Source: Wind River Systems