Hände halten ein Smartphone, das gerade ein Foto macht

Smartphones are everywhere, including at the 26th Automobil-Elektronik Kongress. Their type of operating system could be a model for the automotive industry. (Bild: Matthias Baumgartner)

The digitalization of mobility is accompanied by the transformation of business models, while the mobile phone with its countless software features serves as a the role model. There are serious reasons why analysts and journalists like to refer to the fully digitized car as a "smartphone on wheels", since the industry wants it to use software to adapt its characteristics to user wishes and open up new revenue opportunities. But the car has still a long way to drive until it will be as advanced as the smartphone. While only two operating systems essentially dominate the market for phones thus enabling the greatest possible standardization of the platforms on offer, while the automotive industry is still trapped in a thicket of proprietary solutions – this was clearly shown at the 26th Automobil-Elektronik Kongress: A relatively giant number of 60 different operating system approaches are currently circulating in the industry, Ricky Hudi, CEO of FMT, stated in his opening speech at this yearly gathering of the decision makers in the automotive electronics business.

Ricky Hudi auf dem AEK
Ricky Hudi (FMT): Around 60 different operating system approaches are currently circulating in the industry. (Bild: Matthias Baumgartner)

With this, the expert with an excellent network within the automotive electronics industry drew attention to the pink elephant in the room: the lack of a uniform operating system or at least the reduction of software diversity to a few standard system platforms. After all, industry observers agree that a common software base is an important prerequisite for market success in a digital world. A key concept here is scalability.

Reviewing the 26th Automobil-Elektronik Kongress (AEK) 2022

What the automotive industry needs to watch out for in operating systems

After all, several presentations showed that people in the automotive industry are well aware of this problem. Stephan Durach, SVP at BMW Group, for example, dedicated his presentation at the industry gathering in Ludwigsburg/Germany to the topic of user experience. The exact title of the talk, “Experience first – the car as the ultimate mobile device,” already provided a hint at the systemic parallels between cars and smartphones. “It's always about the scale factor (with smart services),” the BMW executive said, and further, alluding to application software "if it doesn't scale, no one will maintain and develop it.”

Stephan Durach (BMW)
Stephan Durach (BMW) about Software: "If it doesn't scale, no one will maintain and develop it.” (Bild: Matthias Baumgartner)

Also recalling the scalability factor was Christof Horn of the management consulting firm Accenture. The expert referred to what he sees as the serious technical and organizational lag of the automotive industry compared to the smartphone ecosystem. In contrast to the automotive industry, the smartphone ecosystem is very mature. When it comes to middleware and operating systems, OEMs are not yet ready – they are still faced with the task of sorting out their historically evolved priorities.

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”.

Secure your Conference Ticket(s) for the 27th Automobil-Elektronik Kongress (AEK) in 2023! Remember that the event has always been sold out for many years. Also, follow AEK's LinkedIn and check out #AEK_live.

As far as possible, the speakers sought to avoid a commitment to a specific operating system platform even though this is regarded as one of the prerequisites for true scalability. Magnus Östberg, Chief Software Executive of Mercedes-Benz, committed himself to MB.OS, the operating system of the car brand with the three-pointed star. In his presentation, Östberg emphasized the strategic importance of this system for his company. The areas of responsibility of MB.OS include automated driving at SAE level 3, comfort and body functions, the (electric) powertrain along with charging functions, and of course the infotainment domain. One of the most important tasks of this operating system, he said, is to separate hardware and software.

Magnus Östberg (Mercedes-Benz)
Magnus Östberg (Mercedes-Benz): about MB.OS: “It is a central brain and nervous system of our future vehicles.” (Bild: Matthias Baumgartner)

What will future operating systems in the car have to do?

Östberg also hinted at an important pillar of future functionality: This system software will enable the vehicle to learn throughout its life, making the car increasingly intelligent – a reference to the ability to update functions via radio download (OTA). Meanwhile, Östberg avoided any rhetorical commitment to existing platforms. “Are we building a new Linux?” the Mercedes CSO asked rhetorically. “No! MB.OS is the name for something we call chip-to-cloud architecture, it's much more than infotainment,” Östberg said. When asked, Östberg reiterated that it is not “a copy or a new version of Linux…It is a central brain and nervous system of our future vehicles,” he explained.

Read also: The role of the cloud as a data platform and integrator in/for the car

Riclef Schmidt-Clausen, responsible for Intelligent Cockpit & Body at Volkswagen's software company Cariad, was somewhat more explicit: “Google and Apple show us how you can leave legacy behind and become successful. They show what you can get rid of,” Schmidt-Clausen said in reference to his company's software strategy. At the same time, the software manager acknowledged his support for Android, albeit only in terms of cockpit functionality. “Android and open source are the basis for our infotainment strategy,” explained Schmidt-Clausen. However, this commitment was no longer a sensation at this point, because about a week earlier, Cariad had announced its membership in the Eclipse Foundation, an association of companies promoting open source software.

Riclef Schmidt-Clausen (Cariad)
Riclef Schmidt-Clausen (Cariad) about Apple and Google/Android: “These companies are showing us how to do it better. That's where the challenge is.” (Bild: Matthias Baumgartner)

In all of this, Schmidt-Clausen's remarks focused on the aspect of user experience. Here, too, Cariad wants to be guided by the principles of the smartphone industry. “The user experience (UX) of Apple and Android are not that different,” Schmidt-Clausen said. “These companies are showing us how to do it better. That's where the challenge is.”

Then, on this occasion, the software manager did wrestle his way to an announcement: “We're going to introduce a really simplified UX, and very soon.”

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