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Five factors to keep in mind in Digital Cockpit design

Driver and passenger experience have come a long way – and they are evolving faster than ever.

Ari Aalto / June 18, 2019

Driver and passenger experience have come a long way – and they are evolving faster than ever. All digital cockpit development projects should encompass safety, connectivity, maintainability, user experience, and technology choices.

Remember the time when car dashboards consisted of an analogue speedometer, an RPM gauge, and an odometer? You kept an eye on the fuel gauge to see whether it is time to fill up and occasionally got alerted by blinking red lights indicating something was wrong. Back in those days, the infotainment equalled to a small 2-color led display on your car radio indicating the broadcasting frequency.

Now, a fast transformation from analogue car dashboards towards a multi-screen and multimodal digital experience for drivers and passengers is ongoing. The change is accelerated by the availability of high-performance computing platforms for automotive, and increasing demand for a great, digital user experience.

Most of us are used to acquiring new features and applications for tablets, laptops, smartphones, activity trackers, TVs, and set-top boxes. The same expectation will apply to cars as well. In the future, we will see automotive specific Application Stores that enable downloads of new driving experience features and services.

Differentiating with digital services

Digital Cockpits enable car manufacturers to differentiate and open new revenue generation opportunities by providing the driver and passengers with new, personalised services and applications.

Modern cars have several digital displays in different sizes and shapes for the instrument cluster gauges and meters, infotainment, see-through head-up displays, climatization control panels, per seat passenger displays – and even the car mirrors are being replaced with cameras and displays. The traditional input mechanisms - buttons and rotary dials - are being complemented or completely replaced with touch screens, joysticks, voice-controlled digital assistants and gesture recognition.

The cornerstones of digital cockpit design

As said, there are five cornerstones that should always be kept in mind in automotive software and digital cockpit development projects: safety, connectivity, maintainability, user experience and technology choices.

1. Safety first

The safety of the drivers, passengers, and pedestrians always comes first.

Driver distraction goes hand in hand with the increasing complexity of user interaction with the digital cockpit. Various governments have identified driver distraction as an issue that requires actions. Both in the EU and in the US new regulations are either under planning or the existing regulations are under investigation.

Functional safety requires a managed and integrated ecosystem. The automotive industry has embraced the ISO 26262 functional safety standard and expects OEMs and their suppliers to meet the required ASIL (Automotive Safety Integrity Level) requirements.

Security is critical to prevent hackers from intentionally risking safety. There are guidelines (SAE J3061) and work-in-progress standards (ISO/SAE 21434) to be considered when developing a secure software for automotive.

In Tieto we have extensive experience in building ISO 26262 compliant software for automotive safety projects. We have experience in e.g. using virtualization effectively to split safety conscious features from the infotainment features and create necessary security boundaries around safety features.

2. Connect to one integrated entity

The current generation of automotive processors is fast enough to bring cost savings by combining multiple, previously separate systems, into one integrated entity. The integrated systems have the capacity to run high definition graphics on multiple screens simultaneously. They can also achieve very low power consumption when not in use. As cars are often parked for longer periods, e.g. at airports, it is not an option to allow digital systems to drain the battery out.

Seamless co-operation of digital cockpit sub-systems results in improved user experience.

Some examples:

  • Digital map navigation visible both on the instrument cluster and infotainment displays
  • Media and phone information visible on the instrument cluster
  • Speed, RPM and trip data visible on infotainment displays
  • Media sharing for all passengers on their own displays
  • Parking camera view visible on rear mirror display, infotainment and instrument cluster

3. Frequent updates are a key part of maintainability and competitiveness

Complex service environments mandate connectivity and maintainability to keep up to user expectations on a continuous basis. The automotive sector needs to be way more forward-thinking than mobile or computer sectors in how software is made. The lifespan of a car is much longer than any phone or computer, for example, 15-25 years. A car’s performance needs to keep up in changing temperatures and constantly shaking conditions.

During the time a model is being sold, cheaper segments may get better hardware and software. Imagine having a worse digital experience in a premium model than a basic model. It surely decreases the value of the premium product in the eyes of the consumer. If the services of your new car are outdated after two years, the users will move to other platforms – such as phones – that allow them to be connected to their personal digital lifestyle.

Examples of bad user experiences are easy to find, for example, from Smart TV's, that have been left with non-functioning applications and obsolete services due to the lack of updates. Another sure-fire way to break the user experience is to force an update at an inopportune time as we've seen time to time with various PC OS updates.

Potential security issues will require fast updates. The constant update capability and connectivity is needed reliably without service recalls.

According to our experience, one maintenance lesson could be taken from cloud services, where the approach has been towards microservices using containers. Running only minimal, focused software and updating containers provides clear interfaces for manageable updates.

4. Users value immediate availability

Users expect a car to be ready to go immediately when they sit in the car or turn the key, just like it did in the past. This is quite different from the other areas in which these generic software platforms are being used.

Imagine walking to your car in the parking lot with lots of other cars. When you walk closer, your car identifies the right key approaching and begins to boot up the system early, while keeping the displays dark. Once you are seated and ready to start the car, the display is lit, presenting you with an immediately functioning system.

Optimising the boot time of the large, complex generic software platforms is difficult and resource-intensive. The optimisation should not be only about booting the system as fast as possible, but about fulfilling the user expectations in a wider perspective.

5. Select the right software technology combination

The ongoing transition to connected multi-function devices puts the selection of technologies at the centre. Various functions set different requirements in terms of security, safety and performance criteria. Still, they all need to run on the shared hardware.

The full Digital Cockpit software stack consists of several layers with multiple options, for example:

  • Virtualisation products
  • Base operating systems: Android Automotive OS, Automotive Grade Linux (AGL) or GENIVI platforms
  • Application framework: Android Ui, Qt, Kanzi
  • Automotive specific features on every layer: CANbus, diagnostics features, and many radio and audio features

Selecting the right combination is essential as it affects all parts of software product development; security, data ownership, performance, and maintenance. Things get even more challenging, as there are signs of consolidation to a few dominating platforms, but no clear winners yet.

According to our experience, this leads again to the importance of virtualisation in Digital Cockpit. A single software system trying to fit for all would become unnecessarily complicated and difficult to manage and maintain. With a virtualised system, the shared hardware can be efficiently used by multiple systems with the best fit for each purpose.

Successful automotive vendors, OEMs, and Tier-1 suppliers require these five cornerstones as built-in the development projects, processes and designs from the start to the end, following the existing and upcoming regulations and standards.

Read more about TietoEVRY's expertise in developing Digital Cockpits.


Markku Tamski, Lead Architect, Automotive, Tieto Product Development Services



Ari Aalto
VP, Automotive, Product Development Services

Ari has over 20 years of experience in international R&D management. He has earlier been working with Nokia, Accenture and smaller software technology companies - and now enthusiastically working with automotive and consumer electronics companies going through the digitalization journey.


Ari Aalto

VP, Automotive, Product Development Services

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