Are Software-Defined Vehicles the Future of Driving?

Are Software-Defined Vehicles the Future of Driving?

In a fast-changing car world, Software-Defined Vehicles are leading the charge into a new future. Unlike traditional cars that rely heavily on hardware, these new vehicles use clever software to run, do cool things, and bring out new features. This change isn't just about tech – it means safer rides, comfier trips, and super-connectivity like never before. Imagine cars that get better over time, just like your favorite app updates. It's a revolution where cars grow with us, opening up endless possibilities on the road ahead.

The Rise of Software-Defined Vehicles


The next of the automotive sector is no longer solely determined by traditional mechanical engineering practices. Analysts observe a growing intertwining of digital technology trends, such as generative artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing, and semiconductor advancements, with both passenger and commercial mobility. This transformation aligns with a cultural shift in how automakers conduct their business.

Historically, automotive firms have focused on hardware, leaving software expertise largely to tech companies. However, in the changing scenery, major car manufacturers face an essential decision: whether to play a leading role in the emerging automotive software ecosystem. To accomplish this, they must select through the noise of the current market turbulence surrounding Software-Defined Vehicles (SDV), locate sincerely important business models, craft a well-defined transformation strategy to shift from the current tumultuous phase to a productive one, and above all, embark on their transformation journey without delay.

Sai Sridhar, Associate Director - Elektrobit India Pvt. Ltd says, "The software-defined vehicle trend is centered around speeding up time to market for software innovation".

A Paradigm Shift in Mobility

The impact of software-defined vehicles cannot be overstated. They have the potential to benefit both individuals and society as a whole, leading to significant changes in the automotive industry. With autonomous driving (AD) functions, SDVs could prevent up to 90% of traffic-related deaths and offer newfound independence to disabled individuals who can now travel by car on their own. As AD takes over driving tasks, commuters can use their time for other activities like meal preparation, vacation planning, or catching up on sports highlights. Unlike traditional vehicles, SDVs will receive regular software updates, allowing for continuous management, maintenance, and improvement. This means that innovation will be ongoing, eliminating the need to wait for a new car purchase to access new features.

The Layers of Software-Defined Vehicles

The software and hardware setup of a Software-Defined Vehicle is highly intricate, often consisting of numerous interconnected software systems spread across up to a hundred electronic control units (ECUs). While some manufacturers aim to simplify this by reducing the number of ECUs and relying on a central, powerful computer, the architecture of these vehicles can generally be divided into four main layers:

  • User Applications: User applications encompass software and services that directly engage with drivers and passengers. These can range from entertainment systems to vehicle controls and digital dashboards.
  • Instrumentation: The instrumentation layer pertains to systems concerning a vehicle's functionality that typically operate without direct input from the driver. Examples include Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and intricate controllers.
  • Embedded OS: At the heart of the Software-Defined Vehicle lies the embedded operating system, responsible for managing critical functions and facilitating general operations. Built on microkernel architecture, these systems allow for modular addition or removal of software capabilities.
  • Hardware: The hardware layer encompasses components such as the engine control unit and the chip housing the embedded operating system. All physical elements of the vehicle, including cameras and sensors, fall within this category.

The main challenge currently faced by Software-Defined Vehicles is the tight coupling of software to hardware by many automotive manufacturers. To overcome this obstacle, manufacturers must adopt agile, modular development practices. They should aim to develop applications and ecosystems that operate independently of hardware, potentially utilizing more virtualization to maintain separation between functions and underlying hardware. This approach offers the added benefit of improved performance, allowing manufacturers to focus on optimizing hardware without compatibility concerns.

Setting the Path for Next-Generation Vehicles


Recently, NXP Semiconductors introduced a groundbreaking advancement in software-defined vehicle (SDV) development through the introduction of its cutting-edge platform, 'S32 CoreRide'. This innovative software platform is designed to streamline the complex process of vehicle architecture development, while simultaneously driving down costs for both automotive manufacturers and tier-1 suppliers.

The 'S32 CoreRide' platform seamlessly integrates NXP's comprehensive hardware portfolio with software solutions sourced from prominent automotive experts across a wide-ranging ecosystem. Notable collaborators include Accenture ESR Labs, ArcherMind, BlackBerry QNX, Elektrobit, ETAS, Green Hills Software, Sonatus, Synopsys, TTTech Auto, Vector Informatik GmbH, Wind River, as well as tier-1 suppliers such as Valeo.

NXP envisions that production vehicles utilizing the capabilities of the 'S32 CoreRide' platform are currently under development, with the initial wave of production vehicles expected to hit the market by 2027. This endeavor marks a substantial advancement in automotive technology, presenting the potential for enhanced effectiveness and performance in the creation of future vehicle models.

Henri Ardevol, EVP and general manager of automotive embedded systems at NXP, emphasized the significance of tight integration between silicon and software in achieving faster innovation cycles and improved performance at reduced costs. He highlighted the potential for radical transformation in SDV development through the adoption of a faster, more open approach enabled by the 'S32 CoreRide' platform.

Semiconductors: Vehicle Revolution

The semiconductor industry is crucial in this context because software always operates on hardware. Similar to the process of developing efficient car software, established methods are applied for hardware and chip architecture. The fundamental requirements for software-defined vehicles largely stem from advancements in the semiconductor sector. A modern electric vehicle utilizes several thousand chips, contrasting with the roughly 60 highly specialized chips in an Apple iPhone. Although there is potential to reduce the number of control units to approximately a fifth, this would require a greater integration of customized chips. In the upcoming years, the automotive industry is awaited to initiative the fastest development within the semiconductor part.


The upcoming of transport centers on the combination of software and hardware growths, reshaping our interactions with vehicles. The current expansion of Software-Defined Vehicles (SDVs) is poised to change mobility, offering opportunities for improved safety, efficiency, and connectivity in transportation networks.