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Workflow Recipes Add Software-Defined Vehicle Features Without Coding

Oct. 16, 2023
To be competitive at the time of sale and beyond, OEMs must accelerate innovation while maximizing ROI. With the rise of SDVs, one approach is to deploy lightweight workflow recipes, rather than new code, to carry out a series of actions.

What you’ll learn:

  • The market pressures that are driving the necessity of a lightweight, low-code approach rather than new code to deliver more flexible vehicle development and updating.
  • How “workflow recipes” can be used throughout the lifecycle of a software-defined vehicle.

The automotive industry is headed for an agility crisis. Vehicle platforms take years to bring to market and months to update, while consumers expect new or updated products at a much faster pace. To provide competitive features and customer experiences at the time of sale and beyond, OEMs need to accelerate innovation while maximizing return on investment.

Software-defined vehicles (SDVs) have laid the groundwork for more flexible vehicle development and updating. SDV architectures consolidate software from small, specialized electronic control units (ECUs) to larger, centralized computing platforms that can host multiple functions. In addition, over-the-air (OTA) software updates enable OEMs to deploy fixes and features to vehicles after sale without a trip to the dealer.

However, adding or modifying features on SDV platforms still requires full-scale application development, testing, and integration. OTA updates are time-consuming, bandwidth-hungry events that must be prepared and scheduled well in advance. As a result, it may take three months to code and test a new feature and another three months to install it in a vehicle.

The need to develop and deploy all new features as code poses time and cost barriers, even with new development methods such as DevOps and continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD). OEMs require tools that enable fast, low-cost, low-risk feature development throughout the product lifecycle. 

Getting More Agile with Workflow Recipes

One approach to achieving this agility is to deploy lightweight workflow recipes, rather than new code, to carry out a series of actions. These recipes can be sent from the cloud to an agent in the vehicle that autonomously orchestrates multiple parallel or sequential functions for the desired result.

Each recipe contains instructions to string together a series of actions, one leading to the next, when meeting certain internal or external conditions. This becomes the new behavior of the vehicle, implemented without remote control and without changing any underlying code.

The recipes are just kilobytes in size and have minimal bandwidth and computing requirements. They can be created in minutes on a dashboard with an intuitive user interface, enabling product planners, test engineers, fleet managers, and others to innovate.

Recipes can incorporate or be triggered by parameters from both inside and outside a vehicle, such as time, location, weather data, sensor readings, and API calls from other applications. They may be deployed just to vehicles with specific characteristics and activated only when a vehicle encounters a specific set of conditions. Remote analytics tools can monitor the execution of recipes in individual vehicles or an entire fleet.

Recipe Use Cases: From Prototyping to Fleet Management

Workflow recipes offer a more efficient, less expensive approach to software-defined mobility that fulfills its promise of flexibility and ongoing innovation. They also significantly expand the range of static features and functions that can be made dynamic. This has major implications for a wide range of possible use cases, including the following:

Prototyping and testing

The development cycle for vehicles continues to accelerate, and OEMs often want to bring in new features and functionalities, even very late in the development cycle. Traditionally, this would require an engineering change order, which takes a long time to do and can be costly. Recipes make it easier to try out potential features and refine them through rapid iteration and A/B testing before committing them to code.

Testing is a very important part of the production process—every vehicle needs to leave the factory fully functional and safe. Automated self-testing recipes enable end-of-line testing at much larger scale because engineers needn’t observe outcomes firsthand. If a problem is found, remote testing can be deployed to all vehicles in a parking lot awaiting delivery, and the engineers are able to be notified to take appropriate corrective actions.

Feature updates during production

If product planners learn about a problem from customer feedback, they can quickly apply a fix to vehicles under production before a permanent solution is integrated into code.

Rapid upgrades

Workflow recipes enable new capabilities on vehicles after sale in just minutes, letting OEMs quickly match competitors' offerings before developing final code and rolling it out in an OTA update.

Field diagnostics

OEMs want to understand how their vehicles are performing and want to be able to catch problems early. Recalls can be very costly—running into the billions of dollars—so the ability to find and fix issues through software is compelling. Workflow recipes can activate automated self-tests of vehicles after sale to detect conditions that require urgent attention. The OEM could then notify affected owners and remotely deploy a software solution or schedule a hardware repair.

From a consumer perspective, software has the potential to really improve service. It would provide a better understanding of how the vehicle is behaving and even tie in with parts management. Therefore, when the vehicle is brought into the repair shop, the parts are already available, and maintenance can be done right away.

Fleet management

Fleet owners can quickly carry out large-scale actions, such as locking all vehicles, or individual actions such as having a specific vehicle report its location. One example is a rental car company. Car rental managers could push out a recipe to their fleet to notify when renters violate a contract term and automate a text warning. Or after a rental session, they can see how the vehicle was used, whether the vehicle requires maintenance, and so on. Visibility into usage can help rental car companies manage their fleet more efficiently and cost-effectively.

Connected-car services

OEMs are bringing lots of innovation into the user experience area. Recipes can enable a service that lets vehicle owners configure their own workflows, such as having a vehicle initiate smart-home settings—turning on lights or opening gates—as it approaches. Owners could also set special conditions for different drivers, or even a maximum speed limit for a new driver.

Sonatus recently shared details of a new platform for configuring workflow recipes of all kinds and deploying them to vehicles before, during, and after assembly (see video below). Tools like these will significantly advance the industry's quest for greater agility to meet evolving customer needs.

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