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      How Software Develops Modern Cars into High-performance Computers

      • Growing data volumes, improved functions and technical innovations: today’s vehicles have more and more software on board
      • Computer programs control dedicated vehicle functions
      • Software ensures more comfort and safety in the car

      Hanover, April, 2021. Revolution on wheels: While car engines had to be cranked before, the push of a button suffices today. And people who perhaps still use maps on the passenger seat are certainly no longer up-to-date, and are endangering themselves and others due to distraction. Digital technology has long become commonplace in many areas of life and work – and, of course, also in mobility. On the roads and behind the wheel, highly intelligent computers with specialized software are increasingly taking over tasks that make driving easier, increase comfort and improve safety.

      Software enables improved human-machine dialog

      While in earlier times vehicles were predominantly a comfortable means of transportation, an ostentatious status symbol with horsepower and cubic capacity, or part of individual freedom, they are undergoing constant change in these times of digitalization and connectivity. Software enables improved dialog between people and machines. It arranges and structures information quickly and transparently. At the same time, it uses a wide range of functions that are embedded in complex systems to take the driving situation and the driver’s state into consideration. Users receive reliable feedback on their actions. Their trust in the vehicle’s individual functions is increased. Qualities other than horsepower and vehicle dynamics are growing in importance for drivers and passengers. For example: how seamlessly can the car be integrated into an existing digital ecosystem?

      At the same time, drivers may become irritated if they can no longer understand what is happening in their vehicles. On top of that, there are software errors and recalls. Are today’s vehicles too complex, or is the software still in its infancy? “Neither,” says Karsten Michels, software expert at Continental. “We just have to change the way we think.” Up to now, the architecture of vehicle electronics tended to grow along with development. “Each new function required a new control unit,” explains Michels. However, the vehicles were not designed for today’s digital functional diversity. “The result is a highly complex system that is only minimally controlled,” says the expert from Continental.

      In today’s vehicles, it is not unusual to find more than 100 control units that each fulfill a very specific function – from the vehicle access system or the infotainment system through to connectivity, adaptive cruise control and the lane departure warning system. On top of this, there is specific software that communicates with itself and with the cloud. The average new car contains around 100 million lines of code. Error prevention is therefore essential. In addition, software must be involved in ensuring that new features in the car are also easy to use and therefore remain user-friendly.

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