Autonomy Focuses on Component Level Upgrades

CES 2021 took to the digital stage with the pandemic forcing a virtual walk through one of the biggest events showcasing technology disruptions in both Consumer Electronics (CE) and Mobility worlds. COVID-19, for obvious reasons, was still a topic of discussion but it was very evident that the auto industry was finally beginning to look at near-term autonomous, connected and electric vehicle (EV) solutions that lend a hand in the monetization game.

A clear message that resonated from the mobility industry was the need to create experiential services keeping the customer as the central focal point. On the other hand, it was also very evident that policymakers have to quickly regulate self-driving technology while gaining consumer trust for autonomy to become a viable business case. The U.S. DOT’s VOICES project could be one of the many steps to assessing how the public, private and academic establishments can work collaboratively to address challenges.

Among some non-exhaustive observations/themes/learnings from CES 2021 which can be expected to shape the future of mobility:

  • New IVI design philosophy – Screen real estate didn’t just grow in size but became compute-intensive

Displays seem to have taken a top priority amongst automakers as they are more of a front-facing technology that can influence user experience and purchase decisions.  Mercedes-Benz revealed its MBUX Hyper screen (for the EQS) display where three separate screens are housed beneath a 56-inch glass surface with 12 actuators for haptic feedback.  Almost every function has been handed over to the touchscreen UI to provide pertinent information to the driver, i.e., zero layer concept. This capability is an underlying architecture supplied by Nvidia’s hardware and software platform. BMW unveiled its long-overdue next-generation iDrive for its new iX e-SUV (2022) with a 12.3-inch instrument cluster and a 14.9-inch central display. Both these displays will be housed in a new magnesium design enclosure with anti-reflective glass. More intelligence to iDrive means additional cloud-based services/use cases, V2X, further sensor perception; contextual intelligent assistant fused with real-time data and intelligence from their Car Data platform. GM continues to revolutionize its IVI, especially on the UX side by partnering with video game studios. Cadillac Lyriq’s 33-inch LED display is outstanding but the scene-stealer is the driver experience it is creating by marrying engineering with art through its partnership with creative design studios, Territory Studio and Rightpoint. This is much like the Hummer EV which has leveraged Unreal Engine for GUI development.  Samsung too unveiled its futuristic 49-inch digital cockpit showcasing a clear trend towards on-demand screens.

Standouts amongst these showcases are the improvements to the GUI and user experience where the goal is to create more AI-centric contextual and personalized experiences. In addition, there seems to be a migration towards a more button less approach that these automakers are envisioning, much like a Tesla. While we will continue to witness revolutionary large screen designs, they are likely to only be applicable across premium vehicle lineups and EV specific models as ECU consolidation materializes (e.g., Bosch information domain computer). The more practical volume cars will continue seeing 10-inch central displays or an integrated cluster (i.e., fused instrument cluster and central displays).

  • A virtual show stopper – General Motors’ extensive plans might not be out of the realm of possibility

GM was the only automaker that made sure to touch upon all aspects of mobility by showcasing near, mid and long term visions. Beginning with its logo change prior to the mega event, GM made it clear that the EV took precedence over all other technology pillars. The automaker is expected to launch 30 new models by 2025, including the Bolt EUV, Lyriq, and Celestiq (ultra-luxury EV for 2025). It also plans to update its existing companion app to accommodate more EV specific services. Late last year GM also showcased its Ultifi, a customer experience platform as part of this ecosystem. The Ultifi platform will provide a unique digital I.D. Frost & Sullivan expects this customer ID to be a sales platform that will deploy unique and personalized experiences for customers while creating the brand loyalty hook. In addition, Celestiq also showcased a very unique smart glass concept with a four-quadrant glass roof allowing each of the four occupants to set the level of transparency. Powered by the Ultium platform, GM unveiled an electrified and connected delivery ecosystem, Brightdrop, that consists of EV delivery vans and palettes monitored by mobile and asset management platforms.

While we predicted a practical approach to autonomy (L2+) as the way forward for the ownership model, GM highlighted confirmatory answers by endorsing its plans of launching Supercruise on 22 models by 2023. On the lines of autonomy, the Cadillac halo concept gave top billing to a use case of a personal autonomous shuttle reflective of its vision of recreating a designer living space. Reminiscent of announcements by other automakers in prior CES editions, GM also showcased its path towards urban air mobility with its Cadillac branded e-VTOL concept.

Taking a deeper look at the revelations, it is clear that GM’s vision is to have an opportunity to make further inroads into the customer trust factor and look at an ecosystem beyond mobility. The bigger picture could be a foray into becoming a transportation company catering to urban-suburban and rural areas, globally.

  • Electric vehicles take priority as new efficiency platform emerges

Amidst the barrage of announcements from OEMs about their upcoming EV lineups, Magna and LG  have partnered to capitalize on the EV market by manufacturing e-motors, inverters and onboard chargers and, for certain automakers, related e-drive systems to support the growing global shift toward vehicle electrification. LG’s expertise lies in components such as e-motors and inverters, while Magna brings into play its fundamental automotive system capabilities. Magna’s approach is centered on total vehicle efficiency without comprising on the attributes on which the consumer is focused. They are able to deploy the technology in steel, aluminum or in composite materials, depending on the applications and trade-off based on the vehicle OEM or a specific supplier, and tailor the battery to fit into the vehicle. They are also able to target efficiency improvements through an aerodynamic product suite that minimizes vehicle drag and extends the battery range while improving fuel efficiency. Magna is also working with Fisker to engineer the Magna EV platform and produce Fisker for production. The company highlighted its building block, partnership-based approach to its EV infrastructure that enables faster time to market. Magna also supplies electric powertrains to Jaguar Land Rover, Sony for its S Vision, and Chinese EV specialist ARCFOX.

  • On-demand lifestyle cockpits – Multimodal, immersive and graphic-intensive in-vehicle experiences

As infotainment platforms and intelligent cockpits will be the key to deeper integration with the mobility ecosystem, the superior use of AI and multi-modal HMI will help prioritize functions for the driver and vehicle occupants. Samsung’s digital cockpit was not only about the size of the screen but also about delivering supreme immersive on-demand entertainment, coupled with both passenger and pedestrian safety.  Leveraging Harman’s competence in the infotainment space, the duo brought together the best of the brand partnerships into a single unified experience. Harman also spotlighted three unique concepts for a multi-modal and consumer-centric mobility experience using its ExP technology suite platform on a separate virtual show prior to the CES week. LG Display continued its trend of reimagining the future of its OLED screens with improved transparency (~40%) compared to its current generation of 10%. This highlights opportunities in a shared mobility ecosystem, with customer-centric zones/cocoon for on-demand content and prioritization. Another interesting display came from start-up Sensel which utilizes a platform of high-resolution sensor arrays that are flexible/foldable enabling multi-level haptic feedback with customizable trigger points.

As an update to MBUX, Mercedes-Benz presented VPA integration through its new Mercedes Travel knowledge which adds greater contextual information for the driver on nearby points of interest (POIs). Voice continues to play an important role in customer stickiness and HMI rendering, apart from flaunting its latest Uconnect 5 system built on the Google Android OS, FCA has also taken another step to implementing Amazon’s Alexa Custom Assistant to stay relevant. Built directly into the Uconnect system,  this integration provides a unique blend of dual-assistant capability where FCA’s intelligent assistant will focus on vehicle-related features, while Alexa will help the customer with retail, weather, smart home controls, and others. We can expect global demand for AR-HUD due to the need to showcase pertinent safety-critical information in the line of sight of the driver. Panasonic shared its latest evolution in augmented reality HUDs along with partners Phiar and Envisics. Supported with advanced optical design and packed with features such as eye-tracking, 3D overlays, the HUDs have an expanded field-of-view (FOV) of 10 meters or more. Pedestrians and objects can also be detected through enhanced low light and night-time views which mean greater accuracy and safety. Raythink also displayed its wide-angle spatial imaging AR HUD. Xperi demonstrated how it delivers DTS Autostage as a direct-from-source radio metadata (Tivo merger) solution, providing rich content with minimal data consumption.

Our take? Connected technologies and HMI are redefining the in-car and shared experiences for consumers while creating new monetization opportunities. Customer-centric UX, on-demand screens, content streaming, and immersive entertainment showcase immediate and real-world use cases around AV shared mobility and on-demand connected lifestyle.

  • Software-defined vehicles – Plug-n-play component and architectural facelifts for robustness and redundancy 

It was a welcome sign to see the deployment of higher levels of autonomy in the form of Caterpillar and Deere. A key takeaway is here is that application-specific autonomy, i.e., very niche use cases will support the overall value proposition and justification for technology investment.  Witnessing similar niche uses cases within the mobility industry will be crucial for the health of investments.

One of the main highlights of the show was Mobileye’s meticulous plans for AVs. The company highlighted two distinct products across Lidar and radar aimed at bringing down the cost of AV systems. A Lidar SOC that promises faster time to market due to special assembly lines is what gives them a distinct edge. They are expected to deploy in their fleets by 2025. The other unveil came in the form of a software-defined imaging radar system. Magna has announced plans to introduce a single-chip radar imaging solution with startup Uhnder for  Fisker Ocean SUV (2022).  Magna and Fisker will work on developing unique ADAS features and a suite of software packages powered by scalable domain controller architecture. There were similar announcements from Foresight Automotive, Vayyar, and Sense Photonics, among others.

Aptiv did not exhibit at CES this year but continued to impress with its own Innovation in Motion online event, underscoring its evolution across next-generation ADAS platforms and vehicle architecture. Bosch won plaudits for its zone-oriented E/E architecture with the goal of achieving redundancy, while reducing costs. Prior to CES, ZF also showcased its middleware platform to support integration between the software applications and the OS layer. ZF offers a modular approach with either a full platform solution or a single module that can be integrated into the OEMs software platform. At the recent Nio day event, Nio revealed its new partnership with Nvidia and Qualcomm for its ET7 sedan. The ET7 will not only rely on Nvidia’s Orin SoCs but also on Qualcomm Snapdragon Automotive Cockpit and 5G platforms. In addition, Sony announced that it is working with AImotive to advance the L2/L2+ ADAS stack for its VISION-S Prototype which it unveiled in CES 2020. Sony’s VISION-S also uses Elektrobit’s (EB) GUIDE’s plug-and-play HMI toolkit to render a unique HMI design for an immersive user experience. This year Elektrobit’s EB xelor platform showcased how its open-source and third-party software aims to kick start automakers’ new vehicle process, while significantly reducing engineering costs.

Frost & Sullivan expects automakers to take a two-pronged approach to evaluate consolidation of E/E architectures: centralizing data and decision-making into domain controllers and vehicle zone-based data and decision-making. As the industry traverses from a vehicle-centric to a service-centric path, we expect OEMs to be forced to sell these solutions at a loss to reach market scale. Deployment of software updates and services such as features on demand is expected to help recoup costs at a later stage.

  • The evolution of in-car commerce continues with contactless delivery and seamless payment services

In-vehicle marketplaces continue to expand with monetization opportunities as Gentex works with PayByCar to enable contactless in-vehicle payment of services like gas and parking. FCA and Grubhub have joined forces to deliver in-vehicle contactless ordering capabilities via Uconnect Market, powered by Xevo. Cerence has also partnered with Xevo to deliver Cerence Pay, a conversational AI-powered contactless payment capability into vehicles via the Xevo Market commerce.

Frost & Sullivan’s Voice of Customer study also highlights that at least 50% of drivers prefer using in-car marketplaces in the US with higher use cases centered on fueling / EV charging and restaurant reservations.

  • In-vehicle health, wellness & wellbeing (HWW) features propel driver and in-cabin monitoring

Frost & Sullivan has always focused on health, wellness, and wellbeing as a mega trend. The pandemic created the required stimulus for the auto industry to push this agenda. While both mass-market and luxury car manufacturers have been looking at HWW features for a while, they have been slow in terms of implementation. At CES this year, we witnessed advances around this theme with driver and occupant monitoring taking precedence.  Samsung, as part of their digital cockpit strategy, showcased a health service that notes the driver’s stress levels (eyelid movement and sleep patterns) to make the necessary adjustments to the ambient lighting, scent or music. Phasya Software, Eyeris Technologies and Smart Eye AB demonstrated similar approaches for monitoring physiological and cognitive states that impact human performance, wellbeing and safety. Inhalio released its scent-as-a-service solutions that sanitize airborne viruses, eliminates bad odors, relieve motion sickness, and improves the mood of passengers by diffusing scents.  Gentex on the other hand exhibited a slick dashcam functionality built into the rearview mirror with a built-in DVR. DTS AutoSense from Xperi continued to showcase its occupant monitoring solution which provides high accuracy detection, classification and analytics of all the passengers inside the vehicle enabling a more personalized customer journey.

We expect HWW to be offered at three layers, i.e., built-in, brought-in and beamed in. Frost & Sullivan continues to predict driver monitoring to be a crucial component not only with health & wellness but also for L2+ deployments as it will help gauge the state of the driver’s attention for handoff scenarios and for liability purposes. Associated use cases and implementations using driver monitoring are clear market opportunities in the near term. Frost & Sullivan is in the process of completing a Voice of Customer study centered on customer’s willingness to pay for these features.

Despite numerous automakers and suppliers missing from the show, there was non-stop action. Bicycles got more connected with V2X technologies. Connected bikes received a fresh outlook with Bosch’s mySPIN that aids in the integration of the rider’s smartphone. Suppliers like HERE, Continental and Leia Inc. partnered to develop 3D navigation for cockpits. In addition, HERE also unveiled a new EV routing platform to tackle range anxiety and mapping-as-a-service to productize their maps. Major suppliers like Bosch not only highlighted mobility centric solutions but took a refreshing route centered on sustainability and connected living that merged three major themes: data, artificial intelligence, and the internet of things.

5G is expected to continue to be a key focus area with Verizon announcing a partnership with Microsoft and AWS to deploy multi-access edge (MEC) computing capabilities in Verizon’s 5G network. This is a prime example of how the cloud will host the processing power allowing the development of smart cities. On the other hand, spotlighted a software-based connectivity platform for teleoperation of autonomous vehicles. Until regulatory approval, teleoperation represents a very good valet parking or extreme last-mile transportation option. Cerence, in a distinct flagship event called Cerence In Motion, launched several services bridging the digital and connected lifestyle of consumers across mobility and transportation ecosystems. It has taken a hybrid yet native cloud approach fusing an AI-based scalable software stack. LeddarTech reinforced its belief in the power of an ecosystem and highlighted the same through its partnership with Canada’s Trade Commission Service and Investissement Québec to share its vision of ADAS and AD technology

There were several non-automotive CE showcases that could potentially lend themselves to automotive use cases such as rear-seat entertainment (RSE), occupant monitoring, and graphic-intensive clusters. which Frost & Sullivan will cover extensively in its forthcoming report on CES 2021.

A 2025 deployment time frame may be a tad bit ambitious for some of the above observations. Overall, 2021 is expected to be a year of consolidation where the automotive industry might concur that the time has arrived to showcase real-world use cases to justify investments.

This article was authored with support from the Frost & Sullivan CES team. Frost & Sullivan will soon be publishing an exhaustive report capturing the key trends and showcases emerging from CES 2021.
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