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Everything in our lives is becoming smart and connected.

Smartphones, of course, have become central to our lives. We have smart assistants in our homes, we have smartwatches to tell time and track our runs, and we have smart TVs to help us find even more stuff to watch.

Cars, however, are lagging behind somewhat. But, Sonatus, a US-based software company is helping Genesis, and other automotive OEMs, to make their cars smarter and more connected.

Auto Futures has been speaking to Jeff Chou, the company’s CEO and founder to find out more.

Catching Up

Jeff Chou Sonatus
Sonatus’ Jeff Chou

“The CAN-bus based legacy E/R architecture used in most of today’s vehicles simple doesn’t enable comprehensive security for vehicles and is one of the top reasons why cars lag behind other consumer products in digital technology and time-to-market,” explains Chou.

“The answer is not to isolate the vehicle and perpetuate the problem, but rather to modernise vehicle architectures for a win-win of more connectivity and more security.”

If you think that Chou doesn’t sound like a typical car engineer, then you would be right. Chou founded the company in 2019 when he spotted that automakers needed to improve the way they collected and analysed the data gathered in their vehicles. Previously, he had worked in the IT and data centre space back in the late 90s and early 00s.

Hyundai came knocking and Chou helped them to develop a cloud system for its data before working with Sonatus to develop its in-car software. 

“Sonatus launched its first-generation solution in GV70, which was used by Hyundai to build out their existing capabilities with flexible vehicle data collection and monitoring, as well as with cloud-managed in-vehicle network management,” says Chou.

“The company launched its second-generation platform with the Genesis GV60, showcasing the power and importance of flexible real-time data collection and dynamic configuration, leading to more efficient usage of resources and controlled, faster updates.

“Currently, the Digital Dynamics Software-Defined Vehicle Platform is in production with both the GV60 and G90 vehicles and will be included in future models as well. Almost 20 Hyundai Motor Group global vehicle programs (Hyundai, Kia, and Genesis brands), including all powertrain variants, will adopt this innovation in the next couple of years.”

Of course, software can seem very abstract – particularly in relation to cars. However, as Chou explains, Sonatus can improve the way cars perform and function 

“As of right now, Sonatus offers its Digital Dynamics platform that forms the core for software-defined vehicles that can adapt and evolve in real-time throughout their lifecycle. It consists of three solutions that introduce essential technologies for vehicles to become software-defined: Dynamic Data Management, In-vehicle Infrastructure, and Vehicle Automation.”

“Dynamic data management simplifies tools for real-time data collection from virtually any in-vehicle source, accessing data, and supplying data to OEM and third-party applications. This empowers the entire organization to continuously learn and improve outcomes, unlock new revenue streams, and more.

“Sonatus’ in-vehicle infrastructure is a suite of network, connectivity, and cybersecurity products to ensure optimal performance across hybrid networks while allowing automakers to seamlessly manage network, connectivity, and security changes with code-less updates during development and throughout the vehicle lifetime.

“Finally, the Sonatus vehicle automation solution is first-of-its-kind and analyses a range of vehicle data and automatically triggers actions, empowering OEMs with broad capabilities such as adding new features, addressing defects, and controlling vehicle features without writing new software.”

Software-Defined Cars

The idea of a car being defined more by its software than its hardware might be anathema to old-school petrolheads. 

“There are quite a few ways you can think about software-defined,” explains Chou, “everyone has a different perspective.

“Companies are hiring more resources to develop software-integrated products powered by hundreds of millions of lines of code, while some believe the software defines the hardware architecture of the vehicle, and then people imagine software to be limited to over-the-air (OTA) updates. All of these definitions are somewhat valid, but here at Sonatus, we like to zoom out and get a bigger picture idea in order to be more precise and ambitious with our core definition of the new vehicles that are taking over the automotive industry.

“At a high level, software-defined vehicles are vehicles that employ sophisticated data-centric and cloud-empowered software architectures that define and orchestrate their functionality and allow for continuous evolution throughout their lifetime. Software-defined rose out of the data centre in the early 2000s, it is a different product in an equally different industry – but the forces driving this innovation are the same in automotive. But unlike the datacentre era, companies are realizing now the power of real-time updates and analytics. It’s not faster, it’s instantaneous – and human error only lags this process further. Automotive is the next industry transitioning to this real-time, digital framework. Companies need to get on board, otherwise, they will be left in the dust with lagging, outdated technology that could actually endanger consumers down the line.”

Being able to keep cars updated with the latest security software is essential. According to Chou, when it comes to cars, keeping them safe requires a lot of tech – not a little.

“Increased connectivity increases exposure to cyber threats, but when architected correctly, software-defined vehicles offer far more advanced and dynamic cybersecurity protection and consumer benefits than vehicles today. Further, diagnosing and resolving software issues today is becoming an increasingly prevalent problem for automakers,” he explains.

“More connectivity brings with it all the benefits of cloud-based services today’s consumers have come to expect, such as continually improving functionality, rolling out new features, increased personalization, and faster problem resolution. Finally, by modernizing the in-vehicle infrastructure, it can become aligned with the digital era and also leverage connectivity to respond to, or even prevent, cyberthreats in real-time.”

“The industry is advancing at a rapid rate, and this includes connectivity, beyond just automotive. Smart technology is here to help advance city infrastructure, build larger networks to help companies provide better solutions to pressing issues, and now automotive is coming into the picture as a new breadth of IT and complex technology. By infusing cars with connectivity, OEMs are able to receive real-time updates on vehicle function, driver safety, and security threats – and in turn, allow vehicle-to-vehicle communication that will only improve the driving experience.

“But, introducing this kind of technology has its risks, including an increase in cyber threats as we’ve seen over the past several months. Whenever new technologies and innovations come to market, there is a period of acceptance that needs to occur. Early adopters will jump on the chance to drive a software-defined vehicle, while some consumers may be wary. However, once industry leaders develop a way to standardize this technology and create secure processes, the software-defined era can bolster its defences against new cyber threats and digital challenges.”

A Digital Future

Car manufacturers are working hard to build software into their cars to help deliver entertainment, payment, navigation, and other services to drivers. But, for Chou, this is only the beginning.

“In the past year alone, we saw several major players in the automotive industry quickly rev up their technological innovations with major advancements across autonomous vehicles, real-time data analytics, and upgrades to in-vehicle software, so it’s safe to say we can expect some major changes to continue to take place throughout the next decade,” he explains.

However, that’s not all. In Chou’s mind, the next ten years will see a reshaping of the way that we use and think about our cars – they will become extensions of the wider connected world we live in.

“Connectivity is now more important to new-car consumers than ever before, which means the relationship between car companies and their customers is changing. Consumers now expect their cars to mimic the functionality of their smartphones, and with this shift in consumer demand, we can expect automakers to push out more advancements in user-facing applications, personalization features, in-vehicle subscription services, and more. 

“And as we have previously mentioned, by infusing cars with connectivity OEMs are able to receive real-time updates on vehicle function, driver safety, and security threats, which in turn will allow automakers to build vehicles that are safer, more personalized, and more up to date that will only improve the overall driving experience.”

It’s a bold, expansive vision for the future of driving but, with big companies already using Sonatus’ skills, it seems that Chou might be on the money.

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