Impressions from AEK 2022

The feedback regarding the 26th Automobil-Elektronik Kongress (AEK) was awesome, and 650 visitors as well as more than 50 supporters (exhibitors and sponsors) were all very happy with this unique event. (Bild: Alfred Vollmer / Redaktion all-electronics.de)

The transformation from simple vehicle manufacturers to mobility providers is currently keeping the automotive industry on its toes. The Automobil-Elektronik Kongress (often refered to as "the AEK") reflected this wide-ranging topic; thought leaders and top performers from the automotive and electronics industries kept the large audience of experts in suspense and gave them food for thought.

Fuel and orientation for the transformation of the automotive industry

The fact that the car as such, as a pure means of transport with more or less horsepower under the hood and more or less comfort in the passenger compartment, is no longer sufficient to hold on its own in global competition, is surely clear to anyone involved in the development of these products. Ricky Hudi, a veteran of the industry and a tireless reminder to think outside the box, summed up two of the most important development drivers. First, "customers want their digital lives integrated into the car," Hudi said in his keynote. And second, "we need to think globally." Thinking globally is something the German auto industry is already used to, so in that respect it's nothing new. But Hudi aimed higher: global thinking must not stop at building and marketing vehicles but must also encompass the digital ecosystem – and likewise, in view of the acerbating situation in the market for skilled workers, the "war on talents." The current environment–semiconductor shortages, geopolitical tensions, the war in Ukraine and, last but not least, the rising cost of capital – are added complicating factors.

Ricky Hudi at the Automobil-Elektronik Kongress 2022: "Customers want their digital lives in their cars, too."
Ricky Hudi: "Customers want their digital lives in their cars, too." (Bild: Matthias Baumgärtner)

Getting closer to the software-defined car

A core element of the upcoming transformation is the software-defined car – the car whose functions can be updated and expanded even after it has been handed over to the customer, the device which provides the necessary data for better traffic concepts and for understanding the customer's needs ever better. To get closer to this goal, however, developers will have to break new ground. As things stand today, software is still oriented toward manufacturer-specific hardware systems, specifically the SoCs that form the core of cars' high-performance computers. In his presentation, Mathias Pilin from Bosch pointed out the need to break this link. The Bosch expert is convinced that functions defined by software must be able to run on any hardware. This separation is "highly non-trivial, but feasible," Pilin said.

Mathias Pilin (Bosch) at Automobil-Elektronik Kongress 2022: Developers will have to break new ground.
Mathias Pilin (Bosch): Developers will have to break new ground. (Bild: Matthias Baumgärtner)

Save the date: 27. Automobil-Elektronik Kongress

On June 27 - 28, 2023 the International Automobil-Elektronik Kongress in Ludwigsburg will take place for the 27th time. For many years, this networking conference has already been the meeting place for the top decision makers in the electrical/electronics sector; now it additionally brings together the automotive executives and the relevant high-level managers of the tech industry in order to jointly enable the holistic customer experience which is needed for the vehicles of the future. Despite this heavily increasing internationalisation, the Automobil-Elektronik Kongress is still characterized by the attendees to be a kind of “automotive family reunion”.

Grab your Conference Ticket(s) for the 27th Automobil-Elektronik Kongress (AEK) in 2023!

Business cases for the software-defined car

His competing colleague Dirk Walliser (he works for Bosch's competitor ZF) drew attention to another aspect: "Software and the software-defined vehicle are a question of business cases," said Walliser: "In subscription models with their higher take rates, the additional costs for software-supported functions are much easier for the customer to bear. That would allow OEMs to add hardware to match. "And suddenly we have a new use case," Walliser explained.

The role of high-performance computers in cars can hardly be underestimated, according to ZF's Dirk Walliser: They are enabling entirely new business models for OEMs
The role of high-performance computers in cars can hardly be underestimated, according to ZF's Dirk Walliser: They are enabling entirely new business models for OEMs. (Bild: Matthias Baumgärtner)

The conceptual environment of the software-defined vehicle

Christoph Hartung from Bosch’s subsidiary ETAS addressed the conceptual environment of the software-defined vehicle. These days, he said, customers expect "their" car to be fully integrated into their digital lives – with continuous updates over the air and new functions upon the push of an (update) button. To get closer to this goal, Hartung calls for the creation of an ecosystem of a network of companies that work together, but with distributed competencies, to orchestrate this effort. To do that, Hartung says, the industry needs to agree on its common goals.

Christoph Hartung (ETAS) at the Automobil-Elektronik Kongress 2022 about the software-defined car: The industry needs to agree on its common goals.
Christoph Hartung (ETAS): The industry needs to agree on its common goals. (Bild: Matthias Baumgärtner)

Do not talk about the “software-defined car”!

And they should stop talking about the "software-defined car," suggested Christian Sobottka of Harman International. After all, this technology-heavy term doesn't do anything for the customer – that is, the person who is then supposed to buy or share the car. Instead, the industry should listen to the wishes of its potential clientele – and highlight the bottom-line benefits for the customer. Which brings us back to their digital lifestyles: "What they had on their smartphones yesterday, they want in their cars today," says Sobottka.

Christian Sobottka (Harman) at the Automobil-Elektronik Kongress 2022 about the software-defined car: "What they had on their smartphones yesterday, they want in their cars today,"
Christian Sobottka (Harman): "What they had on their smartphones yesterday, they want in their cars today," (Bild: Matthias Baumgärtner)

Ready to deliver the promises of the software-defined car?

Christof Horn from Accenture's umlaut business unit addressed the deficits in the upcoming major transformation of the automotive industry. As of today, he said, the industry is not yet in a position to deliver on the three major promises of the software-defined car. These include, first, the ability of OEMs to offer open platforms and digital ecosystems; second, scalability of offerings and business models; and third, the development of digital revenue channels. The first point, the ability to build open platforms, Horn does not yet see in the industry. Number, two, scalability, is only partially being achieved, he says, with the help of the big tech players, because the vehicle-side counterparts to digital platforms are only just emerging. And number three, establishing digital revenue streams, is also still up in the air, he said.

Christof Horn of umlaut/Accenture identified the need for action by automakers to build digital ecosystems at the Automobil-Elektronik Kongress 2022 about the software-defined car.
Christof Horn of umlaut/Accenture identified the need for action by automakers to build digital ecosystems. (Bild: Matthias Baumgärtner)

In order to be able to master the necessary transformation, Horn gave the congress visitors a rather detailed catalog of seven measures. His recipe book is not simple – the proposed measures range from redesigning the architecture paradigm in the direction of a horizontally layered, scalable model to converting the waterfall development model to continuous delivery. Horn placed a special emphasis on the aspect of prioritizing user experience over the technology-driven aspects and mindsets that prevail among vehicle manufacturers today.

The panel discussion at the AEK 2022 about the software-defined car also put an end to quite a few myths around semiconductors and cars. The participants were (from left to right) Alfred Vollmer (AUTOMOBIL-ELEKTRONIK, moderator), Magnus Östberg (Mercedes-Benz), Dipti Vachani (ARM), Calista Redmond (RISC-V), Lars Reger (NXP) and Jens Fabrowsky (Bosch).
The panel discussion at the AEK 2022 also put an end to quite a few myths around semiconductors and cars. The participants were (from left to right) Alfred Vollmer (AUTOMOBIL-ELEKTRONIK, moderator), Magnus Östberg (Mercedes-Benz), Dipti Vachani (ARM), Calista Redmond (RISC-V), Lars Reger (NXP) and Jens Fabrowsky (Bosch). (Bild: Matthias Baumgärtner)

Panel discussion: semiconductors for the software-defined car

A special highlight of the event was the panel discussion on "Semiconductors: The Base of the Software-defined Car". The panel's line-up alone – Lars Reger from NXP, Dipti Vachani from ARM, Jens Fabrowsky from Bosch, Magnus Östberg from Mercedes-Benz and Calista Redmond from RISC-V International – led us to expect a lively and stimulating discussion. And so it was. Vachani dispelled the notion that pandemic has had any negative impact on innovation in the industry. "Covid has not slowed anyone down. The industry is moving like never before," Vachani said. Still, recent adversity, which includes the pandemic, has taken a toll on the auto industry. "We need to become much more professional when it comes to managing risk," Östberg recognized in light of this. RISC-V's Calista Redmond countered concerns about an open processor architecture by drawing a comparison to Linux. "When IBM adopted Linux into its program – did that cannibalize their own business? Not at all!" And Reger shed light on the industry myth that Tesla builds all of its own chips. Almost the exact opposite is true: "Tesla gets 99% of its chips from companies like us," Reger said. "They (Tesla) have only developed one AI accelerator. We see that in a number of automotive OEMs as well. For everyone else: Scaling is the order of the day."

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