Everything seemed fine until the GMC Hummer EV entered the turning lane. That's when the electric vehicle's software crashed, leaving its driver and passenger stranded in a potentially dangerous situation until a police car fortuitously arrived to provide assistance. A YouTube video of the incident has generated over a million views.
The incident illustrates in a dramatic way an issue that has so far failed to gather much attention: the challenge of developing reliable EV software. According to Consumer Reports, electric vehicles are among the least reliable cars and trucks in the automotive industry.
Essential Element: Software’s Got to Work
Accessible, smart, and dynamic software plays an essential role in the automotive industry's ongoing transition to EVs. “Consumers will be less likely to adopt electric vehicles if the products have software issues,” says Jeff Chou, CEO and co-founder of Sonatus, a developer of software-defined vehicle technology. Without intelligent data, and an easy-to-use access platform, many consumers, fleet managers, and drivers will not feel confident enough to make the transition to EVs, he notes. “They want a vehicle that makes their lives easier with technology that works for them and evolves with their needs.”
Software issues threaten to delay widespread of EV adoption, warns Aimee Howard, quality assessor at Aerospheres, a commercial aircraft and maintenance repair and overhaul firm. Most EV software platforms are created using different approaches and standards, complicating both development and updates. “Moreover, continuous updating of software has already caused catastrophic faults while the EVs are on the road or even charging,” she says.
Cybersecurity also weighs heavily on EV software developer’ minds. “[Attackers] could gain control of vehicles or disrupt communication between vehicles in an autonomous EV world,” says Melanie Musson, an EV expert with insurance policy advisory firm AutoInsurance.org. She claims that entire cities could face gridlock in an EV software attack. “Hackers are ingenious and resourceful, and it’s a constant challenge to stay one step ahead.”
Charging software is another area that needs improvement, Musson says. “Charging station availability is already one of the major hindrances to EV adoption, and software challenges can make finding a compatible charging station even more difficult,” she notes.
Key obstacles EV software developers face include software development complexity and the rapid pace of technology evolution, says Mathew Desmond, automotive industry solutions architect at business advisory firm Capgemini Americas. Other challenges include the pressure to continually provide new features to meet customer expectations and the need for enhanced vehicle safety requirements despite an accelerated development pace.
Alex Oyler, a director with SBD Automotive, a global research and consulting firm, believes that EV software developers face two primary challenges: dual-track development and immature tools. “Many software developers are trying to develop software for both combustion engine and EV platforms at the same time, essentially doubling the complexity of their software stack,” he explains.
Meanwhile, the sophisticated high-performance computers powering many modern EVs require multiple advanced development tools and skillsets. “Most of these tools are immature, with many companies developing tools and skills as they develop their cars.” Oyler says.
Turning to AI, ML Tools
As EV software becomes increasingly complex, vehicle manufacturers are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) tools to automate testing and simulate specific operating environments. “These technologies also assist in identifying bugs in different scenarios so that they can be fixed prior to release,” Desmond says. However, depending on the features being developed, real-world testing is also usually required to finalize a release bundle, he adds.
As the EV market grows and matures, consumer demand for new software-powered functions is expanding and evolving. “Customers desire more features faster than ever, similar to the pace of a smartphone operating system release,” Desmond explains. “New capabilities range from battery efficiency improvements to new uses for vehicle cameras to fully automated, self-driving vehicles and automated parking.”
Outlook for Electric Vehicles
A growing number of EV manufacturers are now using their vehicles' software as a lure to differentiate themselves and surprise and delight customers. “From large touchscreens to immersive graphics approaching video game quality, EV software pulls customers in for a truly engaging and fun mobility experience,” Desmond says.
Desmond believes that drivers venturing into the EV world are likely to become hooked on new and powerful software-delivered features. “Instantaneous access to vehicle data and the ability to regularly receive updates -- some free, some for a fee -- bring an exciting aspect to mobility and driving a ‘smartphone on wheels’.”
EV owners, like all car and truck drivers, want to feel pleased while driving their vehicles. “They don't want to worry about software,” Sonatus's Chou says. To meet this need, EV makers are working hard to improve software performance, deliver rapid vehicle software updates, and automate and create an overall improved driving experience.
As consumers shift toward EVs, they're looking for a more modern experience, similar to what they see with their smartphones, Chou says. “This shift is a natural opportunity for the in-vehicle software experience to improve,” he notes. “That includes not only the user experience itself, but also the ability to upgrade the vehicle after purchase to keep the vehicle exciting and to address issues that may arise or improvements that are needed.”