May 19, 2023 by John Makin and Gregor Matenaer
The automotive industry is undergoing a paradigm shift as software-defined vehicles (SDVs) rapidly become the norm. With the increasing integration of software in modern vehicles, virtualization technology is transforming the way vehicles are designed, developed, tested and maintained. This technology is revolutionizing the development cycle and helping create more sophisticated, connected and autonomous vehicles. In this blog, we’ll deep dive into the ways virtualization is changing the game for the automotive industry.
In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of electronic control units (ECUs) and software lines in modern vehicles. This has given rise to software-defined vehicles, which rely heavily on software for their functionality. The growing demand for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), infotainment and autonomous driving capabilities has propelled the need for more efficient development, testing and architectural solutions, and virtualization has emerged as a potent enabler in this domain.
Virtualization allows for the creation of a simulated environment, wherein various components of a vehicle can be designed, developed and tested in parallel. Let’s take a look at the areas and ways that this technology has the potential to transform the automotive industry.
Streamlining the development cycle
Virtualization enables the simultaneous development of various vehicle components, thereby reducing the overall development time. Developers can work on different modules without waiting for the physical components to be available, leading to faster design iterations and improved time to market. Additionally, virtualization allows for better collaboration between multidisciplinary teams, further enhancing the development process.
Comprehensive testing and validation
Virtualization enables extensive testing and validation of the vehicle's software and hardware in a controlled environment. This includes simulations of various driving scenarios, fault injections and even cyberattacks. As a result, developers can identify and address potential issues earlier in the development cycle, ensuring robust and reliable vehicle performance.
Flexible and scalable architectures
Virtualization technology helps create modular and scalable architectures for software-defined vehicles; it allows for the consolidation of multiple ECUs into a centralized computing platform, reducing the complexity and cost of the overall system. This approach also simplifies software updates and maintenance, ensuring that vehicles stay up to date with the latest features and security enhancements.
As vehicles become more connected and reliant on software, cybersecurity becomes a critical concern. Virtualization enables the isolation of critical systems and data, ensuring that a potential breach in one part of the system doesn’t compromise the entire vehicle. Moreover, virtualization supports the implementation of security features such as intrusion detection systems, firewalls and secure boot mechanisms, further bolstering the vehicle's cybersecurity posture.
Virtualization is paving the way for advanced features and services in software-defined vehicles. For instance, it enables the development and testing of autonomous driving systems, vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication and remote software updates. Furthermore, virtualization supports the integration of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain, expanding the capabilities and services offered by modern vehicles. Several automakers and technology companies are already leveraging virtualization to develop cutting-edge solutions for software-defined vehicles, let’s look at some examples.
Virtual development platforms
Major automakers like BMW, Ford and Volkswagen have adopted virtual development platforms (vECUs/SILs) to design and test their vehicles' software and hardware components. These platforms enable engineers to collaborate across various disciplines, accelerating the development process and reducing time to market.
Digital twin technology
Digital twin technology, which involves creating a virtual replica of a physical system, is being widely adopted in the automotive industry. By leveraging digital twins, manufacturers can simulate, analyze and optimize vehicle performance, maintenance and service life. This technology not only enhances the overall vehicle design but also aids in the development of predictive maintenance strategies, thereby reducing operational costs and improving reliability.
Virtual reality for design and manufacturing
Virtual reality (VR) is increasingly being used in the design and manufacturing processes of vehicles. With VR tools — such as our first-class UX solution: LUVRE — designers and engineers can visualize and interact with 3D models of vehicle components, enabling better design decisions and reducing the need for physical prototypes. Moreover, VR can be used to train assembly line workers, providing them with an immersive, hands-on learning experience without the need for actual vehicle components.
Autonomous vehicle simulation
Virtualization plays a crucial role in the development and testing of autonomous driving systems. Companies like NVIDIA and Waymo are using virtual environments to simulate millions of miles of driving scenarios, enabling them to refine their self-driving algorithms and ensure their vehicles' safety and reliability. This approach significantly reduces the need for on-road testing and accelerates the development of autonomous vehicles.
While virtualization is revolutionizing the automotive industry, it also presents some challenges that need to be addressed.
Integration and standardization
The integration of virtualization technologies with existing automotive systems and processes can be complex. There is a need for standardization and harmonization of tools, platforms and data formats to ensure seamless interoperability between various components of the vehicle development ecosystem.
The widespread adoption of virtualization in the automotive industry necessitates a skilled workforce capable of designing, developing and maintaining software-defined vehicles. There is a pressing need for educational institutions and training programs to address this skills gap and prepare the workforce for the future.
Regulatory and legal framework
As virtualization transforms the automotive industry, regulators must develop new frameworks to address the unique challenges posed by software-defined vehicles. These include establishing safety and cybersecurity standards, ensuring data privacy and defining liability in cases of accidents involving autonomous vehicles.
Despite these challenges, the potential of virtualization in the automotive industry is enormous. As the technology continues to mature and adoption rates increase, we can expect to see more advanced, connected and autonomous vehicles on the roads, transforming the way we experience transportation.
Virtualization is undoubtedly transforming the automotive industry, driving innovation and enabling the development of software-defined vehicles. By streamlining the development cycle, enabling comprehensive testing and validation, and supporting advanced features and services, virtualization is shaping the future of transportation. As technology continues to evolve, virtualization will play a pivotal role in the design, development and deployment of next-generation vehicles that are safer, more efficient and more sustainable than ever before.