With its processor cores installed in practically every automotive chip used in vision SoCs, sensor fusion ICs and secure microcontrollers, ARM has not only witnessed the automotive industry’s evolution, but has become an integral part of the story.

Advancements in electrification and automation in driving technology have brought fundamental changes to the automotive industry. ARM sees these as prelude to even bigger challenges awaiting automakers and tier ones.

In an interview with EE Times during the Consumer Electronics Show, Richard York, vice president of Embedded Marketing at ARM, noted that the next big solutions will involve open vehicle platforms, software-defined cars, security and built-in connectivity for over-the-air software updates.

At this year’s CES, ARM brought Renault’s Twizy to its booth, typically full of mobile devices.

Calling Twizy “the world’s first OEM open-source vehicle,” York explained that Renault is already seeing in action a wave of open-source hardware and software developments.

“Some of our customers have been already customising Twizy for their own specific needs,” said Pierre Delaigue, innovation project manager at Renault Innovation Silicon Valley. “This was happening in the dark, without getting us involved.”

ARM Renault Twizy 01 (cr) Figure 1: Renault's Pierre Delaigue inside Twizy at ARM's booth

Rather than preventing customers from tinkering with their vehicles–which would have been the traditional car OEMs’ first instinct, “We decided to get ahead of them,” Delague said. Renault saw the value in creating new opportunities by enabling customers to develop their own electric vehicles or their own new applications.

ARM helped Renault open Twizy software and hardware architecture to build new features and interoperability with ARM connected devices. “We wanted our customers to do this in a proper, safe way,” said Delaigue.

Specifically, ARM helped Renault open the interface to Renault’s vehicle data so that Twizy customers can make adjustments in vehicle’s speed, pre-defined routes, etc.–according to the way they want to manage their Twizy fleets. Some people, for instance, may want to customise Twizy for pizza delivery.

Meanwhile, Renault opened the hardware platform, allowing customers access to engineering drawings and to necessary parts and suppliers so that they could, for example, change Twizy from a one-seater to two-seater or add LED lights whose colours match their logos.

Describing the joint effort as organic and spontaneous, York said the initiative took off just over the last few months without the two companies signing any formal partnership agreement. “If we had to go through such a formal process today, we would be still discussing when to make a public announcement,” said York.

Asked if the open-source platform will be the way of the future for other vehicles as well, Renault’s Delaigue only said, “It’s a good question.” The fact that Twizy is an EV, small and simple, made its modifications easy, he explained.

OSVehicle is another company helping to build open-source momentum.

OSVehicle’s mission is to enable businesses and start-ups to design, prototype, and build custom electric vehicles and transportation services. Tin Hang Liu, founder and CEO, who has seen the Open Source Hardware (OSH) movement take hold, told us, “Our idea was to provide an open framework as a chassis to build vehicles.”

OSVehicle is experienced in the OSH area. The company already sells a ready-to-use platform called Tabby EVO, for EV projects. It’s completely modular, open source, available to everyone, the company said.

Agendas for automakers

As the open-source movement takes the automotive industry into uncharted territory, what other changes might it herald?

Without missing a beat, York said, “Security.” He said, “The automotive industry must start taking security seriously.” While carmakers are growing more aware of security issues, York said, they have to take more effective measures. “My advice to carmakers is to learn from what other industries have already learned and developed.”

Citing the mobile industry, York asked, “Have you heard in recent years of any serious cases in which smartphones got hacked?”

Not really, he answered himself. He said that over the last 10 years, operators and software companies have focused on security issues. “Solutions do exist today. It’s time for carmakers to learn from other industries.”

Second, connectivity is another big change the automotive industry must embrace. Carmakers need to make connectivity a priority so that they can offer over-the-air bug fixes and software updates.

However, carmakers need to sort out connectivity arrangements, so that getting connected isn’t a financial burden for vehicle owners. Connectivity, provided free of charge, should be viewed by car OEMs an opportunity to build a relationship with their customers, York said.

Third, OEMs and tier ones must start thinking of a new feature as something that they can provide via software. Every new function in a car should not require another box. “Think system,” said York.

York observed that some car OEMs and tier ones have now begun to design systems with “spare hardware capacity” to power new features later in the life of the car. Only a few years ago, that's something that would have never happened.

This article first appeared on EE Times U.S.