Electric vehicles (EVs) are enjoying a growing popularity as a more eco-friendly and fuel-efficient alternative to fuel and diesel cars. It’s a broad category that includes vehicles that are either fully or partially powered by an electric engine. This article will talk about BEVs (Battery Electric Vehicles), that is, vehicles that are fully electric. But for the sake of simplicity, we’ll be using the term “EV” throughout.
More importantly, batteries aren’t all there is to EV development. The ongoing digital evolution has led to the emergence of the so-called “software-defined vehicle”, meaning an automobile whose functionality is primarily determined by its software system and the applications installed on it.
Today, software is a crucial part of any electric vehicle. From managing the battery to controlling the vehicle’s various systems, a lot hinges on the quality of the car’s digital structure. In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about electric EV software development, including the challenges, trends, and future of this rapidly-evolving field.
EV vs internal combustion cars: differences
The obvious difference between battery electric vehicles (BEV) and internal combustion engine (ICE) cars is their construction. The basic electric car is made up of:
- a battery;
- an electric engine;
- the motor controller;
- the drive system;
- the braking system.
In other words, EVs have fewer components than ICEs. This results in simpler maintenance. EVs also consume less energy thanks to regenerative braking systems, which store kinetic energy whenever the car brakes. Additionally, EV engines automatically turn off when the car is stationary.
And of course, EVs have the advantage of smaller environmental impact. Electric engines produce little to no emissions, earning them widespread government support. In February 2023, the European Parliament approved a new law banning the sale of ICE cars starting 2035.
That said, there are a lot of concerns regarding electric cars. Namely, their limited range and the lack of charging infrastructure. On average, modern EVs can travel 183 kilometres on a single charge. That capacity only gets worse with age. In contrast, ICEs can travel from 320 to 640 kms on a full tank. Though, it bears mentioning that certain BEV models can manage up to 600 km on a single charge.
Furthermore, the environmental benefits of EVs can be argued. The creation of lithium batteries that power them can cause as much, if not more emissions than the production and use of ICEs. Electric vehicle charging stations also produce emissions, though nowhere near the level of gas stations.
Still, the general industry consensus is optimistic. Despite the current drawbacks, EVs are a definite step in the right direction for preserving the natural environment.
What is electric vehicle software?
Electric vehicle software is the system that controls the essential functions of an electric vehicle. It’s usually developed by specialised electric vehicles software companies (or automotive software development companies in general) and distributed by the manufacturer.
EV software can be updated via special cables in a workshop or over-the-air (OTA). The latter has been gaining significant popularity, as OTAs are generally more convenient, safe, and easy to keep track of. This is especially relevant as the amount of software components in vehicles continues to increase.
Electric vehicle software types
Electric vehicles software can be narrowed down to six types.
As electric vehicles grow more advanced, they are essentially becoming their own computing systems. To keep up with this development, automakers are delivering computerised driving experiences with digital cockpit software.
The technology offers an all-digital dashboard that can display most of the vehicle’s metrics and manage various comfort functions (climate control, media, sear position, etc.) without the need for physical buttons.
At the same time, traditional components such as steering wheels and gearboxes can be replaced by autopilot technology. Feel free to have a look at our HMI design project for Rinspeed to see what this kind of system can achieve.
The driving experience can be enhanced with a variety of connected car mobility solutions. The car can plug into the city’s infrastructure to:
- receive alerts about traffic conditions;
- monitor road conditions;
- send emergency notifications;
- schedule maintenance;
- perform functions automatically;
Such features can come built into the vehicle by default or act on a SaaS model (as a monthly subscription platform, for example).
Self-driving cars software
Self-driving software is another important facet of EV systems. Lucid and Tesla are just the biggest examples of companies actively adding autonomous driving functionality to their vehicles. Still, there’s a fair amount of concern regarding the technology.
A lot of safety and legal challenges need to be addressed before autonomous cars can truly go mainstream. But while the tech is not yet perfect, you can expect to see far more self-driving vehicles on the roads in the coming years as these problems get ironed out.
Digital twins are virtual prototypes that simulate the complex interactions between software and electromechanical EV components. They allow engineers to develop and test EVs without the need for costly physical testing. This not only saves time and money, but also reduces the environmental impact of development by minimising waste and energy consumption.
EV fleet management software offers a range of features for companies leasing multiple electric vehicles (carsharing, transportation, delivery, etc.). These can include:
- safety monitoring;
- charge level monitoring;
- charging reports;
- cloud integrations;
- maintenance and support;
- and so on.
When used effectively, fleet management software can radically reduce operational costs while boosting customer satisfaction. For a real project example, check out Dispatcher, a fleet management system for autonomous electric shuttles.
Want to learn more about fleet management software development? This guide has you covered.
EV charging software
This type of software offers a simple way to monitor your electric vehicle’s charge level and activities. It comes with a map of the global electric grid, making it easy to locate the closest charging station wherever you are.
Current trends in electric vehicle software engineering
Despite all the economic and industrial disruptions, electric vehicle sales have reached another record high in 2022. According to IEA, EV sales exceeded 10 million last year, up 55% from 2021. This naturally means increased demand for EV software, too.
AI & Machine Learning
Software-defined vehicles that can be improved via OTA updates are quickly becoming the new industry standard. And they are constantly growing more advanced.
Today, the integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning is crucial to achieving higher levels of autonomous driving, customisation, real-time environmental analysis, and driver behaviour analysis. The technology can also be used for more efficient route planning and battery management, resulting in less emissions and spendings.
The analytics gathered by smart automotive systems can be used in a variety of different ways. To begin with, big data companies and governments can use it to improve driving conditions and infrastructure. On the other end, manufacturers will deliver more satisfying and personalised experiences to EV drivers.
Though, this is a contentious point for many. The Deloitte 2023 Global Automotive Consumer Study did show that most consumers would consent to sharing personal data to get access to updates, alerts, and the features mentioned above. But the industry needs to thread carefully, as data privacy concerns remain a prominent issue worldwide.
V2G (vehicle to grid) technology connects EVs to the power grid. This allows cars to charge their batteries from different signals, including those coming from energy consumption nearby. Cars can also give a share of their charge to the grid to keep it running.
This is a very effective way of conserving energy, since any unused electricity will continue to course through the grid, powering other nearby utilities. It’s a very environmentally-friendly practice that reduces operational costs for fleet owners and network operators. The latter can provide charging incentives for drivers to encourage the system’s growth.
V2G software can be employed to help administrators distribute electricity across the grid, make charging sessions more efficient, and suggest the best charging times to users.
Electric vehicle software development challenges
Electric vehicles software development is a naturally challenging process that is further complicated by a number of industry-specific issues. For one, it’s critical that the software is not just top quality, but also carefully managed.
“Software issues threaten to delay widespread EV adoption,” says Aimee Howard, the quality assessor at Aerospheres, a commercial aircraft and maintenance repair and overhaul company. “Moreover, continuous updating of software has already caused catastrophic faults while the EVs are on the road or even charging.”
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s have a look at what the most prominent problems are and how the industry is dealing with them.
Battery management system
The lack of interoperability among different EV battery management systems continues to be a significant challenge for car owners, especially those without off-street parking or access to journey planning. The issue arises due to varying protocols, which result in different levels of device management, transaction handling, security, and smart charging functionalities.
Thankfully, new protocols have been introduced to address this issue. These include the Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP) and communication standards such as ISO 15118. However, it will require ongoing collaboration among all stakeholders to enhance compatibility between different chargers and management systems.
The powertrain is the vehicle’s propulsion system. Unlike ICEs, EV powertrains produce no toxins. That said, they require more safety precautions, such as proper fixturing, handling, and high voltage training. The software controlling EV powertrains also needs to be carefully designed.
The thing is, reliable powertrain control systems need powerful heterogeneous multicore processors, especially as hardware becomes more complex. These are not always available. So more often than not, automotive developers need to deliver fast processing and scalability under harsh hardware limitations.
The issue can be mitigated by making the software itself more flexible. A versatile OS and adaptable software architecture can go a long way towards meeting modern industry demands for powertrain safety and effectiveness.
User interface and infotainment system
Designing the user interface and infotainment system for electric vehicles presents its own unique challenges. Firstly, one needs to consider safety. The interface cannot be too distracting or far away from the driver’s line of sight. This requires careful consideration of the placement and size of controls and displays. Designers can also add voice and gesture controls to reduce clutter.
Another challenge is making the system user-friendly and compliant with EV market standards. Not only does this require competent UI/UX designers, but also expert knowledge of the current guidelines in automotive design. No strange button placements or unique symbols will fly here.
Additionally, the integration of smart mobility solutions and connectivity with external devices such as smartphones, wearables, and home automation systems adds another layer of complexity to the design process.
As electric vehicles become more connected and autonomous, the need for strong cybersecurity measures also increases. The risk of cyber attacks grows the more software and sensors are integrated into an EV.
Melanie Musson, an EV expert of AutoInsurance, warns that entire cities could face gridlock in the event of an EV software attack. “[Attackers] could gain control of vehicles or disrupt communication between vehicles in an autonomous EV world,” she says. “Hackers are ingenious and resourceful, and it’s a constant challenge to stay one step ahead.”
Continuous monitoring and updating of security protocols is crucial to mitigate cybersecurity risks in EVs. A number of standards have been devised to ensure EV cybersecurity in various situations, such as ISO/SAE 21434 and UNECE WP.29 R155.
As was already mentioned, every part of automotive software, be it design or security protocols, must follow industry regulations. This includes such standards as:
- ISO 21434, which is responsible for cybersecurity;
- ISO 26262, which ensures functional safety;
- UL 4600, which regulates the safety and reliability of autonomous vehicles;
- AUTOSAR, which standardises embedded software functionality;
- MISRA, which ensures the security of C/C++ code in embedded solutions;
- and much more.
This long list of regulations means that EV software development requires deep expert involvement (i.e. consultants or teams with significant automotive experience).
Testing and validation importance
As the complexity of EV systems and software increases, so does the need for rigorous testing and validation to ensure safety and reliability. The testing process includes various levels of validation, from unit and integration testing to system and acceptance testing.
This can be quite difficult. More often than not using actual vehicles for every test will be extremely costly, so developers will turn to emulation. The latter can be troublesome, as certain vehicle hardware can be challenging to emulate and requires a lot of workarounds.
Our Software Engineer, Andrey Nerezko, told us about the team’s experience with emulation when developing the IVO app:
“We had to use a Raspberry Pi4 with a 10-inch display running AAOS 11. Installing the system on both devices took some work, but in the end, it was a success. Finally, to emulate a CAN-bus, the engineers have combined a Raspberry 3 tablet and a CAN board into a single system with some additional coding.”
When done correctly, testing and validation will ensure the software operates reliably under any conditions. Most importantly, it will prevent life-threatening safety hazards and costly recalls in the future.
Electric vehicle software future
With electric vehicle companies steadily increasing their market share, it’s good to have an idea of what to expect of the industry in the near future. So let’s have a look at some upcoming trends.
With the current boom of AI technologies, you can expect great advancements when it comes to driver assistance systems in the near future. AI environmental and behavioural analysis will also radically improve, granting drivers more awareness and safety than ever before.
We’ve already discussed vehicle-to-grid technologies, which are very likely to gain popularity in the coming years. Drivers will be able to minimise their energy consumption with the help of grid technology and V2G software solutions.
Connectivity opportunities in general will greatly expand, especially now that 5G is seeing widespread adoption. Cars connecting to the city infrastructure will soon become the norm. Likewise, full connectivity with portable devices and smart homes is something that will certainly see broader use.
Government regulations and standards
Governments will continue to incentivise electric vehicle adoption. For one, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a number of rules that would require EVs to account for 30-60% of all the new cars sold in the US by 2032.
This goes hand in hand with the adoption of tighter regulations on EV software security. Developers and automakers will have to account for new, constantly evolving cyber threats and be ready to regularly patch vulnerabilities in their software solutions.
Advancements in battery technology
The pursuit of better EV batteries has been compared to a modern-day gold rush. The industry strives to develop battery technologies that can improve EV range, charging speed, performance, reliability, and safety.
Some of these advancements include:
- fast-charging hybrid EV batteries, which use both conventional battery and ultracapacitor technologies;
- fireproof lithium-ion batteries;
- alternative battery constructions (e.g. IBM and Mercedes-Benz are collaborating to develop batteries built with seawater materials).
And the software components will have to keep up with these new developments. Developers will need to offer secure and reliable systems that make the most out of the improved hardware functionality.
Increased focus on cybersecurity
Once again, cyber threats continue to be a major point of concern in a world increasingly more digital. An average smart vehicle already produces hundreds of gigabytes of data, and that amount will only increase.
This massive amount of valuable information will naturally be tempting to hackers and other malicious entities. Automotive software developers will have to be increasingly aware of every possible vulnerability in their programming, delivering solutions that go far and beyond to secure personal information and vehicle controls.
With the advancement of technology and the growing demand for electric cars, EV software development has become more intricate than ever. The industry is witnessing new trends such as AI and ML, IoT, V2G connectivity, advanced data analysis, and digital cockpits that enhance the safety and quality of the driving experience.
However, there are also significant challenges to overcome, such as cybersecurity threats, hardware compatibility, and the need for rigorous testing and validation.
Despite that, the future of EV software development looks promising. Researchers and engineers continue to work towards developing better and more efficient EV batteries and software to meet modern demands.