Renault and Google Are Building a ‘Software-Defined Vehicle’, But What Does That Even Mean?

Renault and Google Are Building a ‘Software-Defined Vehicle’, But What Does That Even Mean?

Google and Renault are developing a “software-defined vehicle” together, as an extension of their partnership which started in 2018.

Renault, the French automaker best known for the Clio and the Megane, originally teamed up with Google to support their ‘move to cloud’ strategy, in which cloud processing would inform parts of their business operations.

“The automotive industry has innovation in its DNA, and there is immense potential for digital technology to have a significant impact on production,” said Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian back in 2020.

Now, the partnership has slipped into another gear, as the two companies work on a software-defined vehicle, a term that applies to vehicles built around their operating systems, rather than the other way around. This allows the manufacturer to apply a greater focus to the operating system and performance-improving software upgrades.

To compare it to another market, phones are software-designed devices where the hardware is designed around the features of the operating system. Though the hardware is usually upgraded as new models come out (like with cars), the software can be upgraded wirelessly, over the lifetime of the vehicle.

“The complexity of the electronic architecture of cars is increasing exponentially, driven by the sophistication of the functionalities and services expected by customers,” added Renault CEO Luca de Meo.

“Equipped with a shared IT platform, continuous over-the-air updates, and streamlined access to car data, the software-designed vehicle approach developed in partnership with Google will transform our vehicles to help serve future customers’ needs. This will increase residual value and after-sales retention, which are two key drivers of our financial performance, and help Renault to roll out our portfolio of new services.”

In most new cars, a greater emphasis on the software is visible through changes to the user interface. Newer cars tend to have much larger centre consoles and infotainment screens, with completely digitised stats (like current speed and RPM) behind the wheel.

When we consider electric vehicles, where software updates can impact the range, this focus on software becomes much more understandable: updating the way the car works means automakers can improve upon the original product.

“Our collaboration with Renault Group has improved comfort, safety, and connectivity on the road,” added Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

“Today’s announcement will help accelerate Renault Group’s digital transformation by bringing together our expertise in the cloud, AI, and Android to provide for a secure, highly-personalised experience that meets customers’ evolving expectations.”

So, when we look at it like this, the ‘software-defined vehicle’ is actually a vehicle platform, with optimisation provided by Google. This collaboration is expected to help Renault cut costs, improve efficiency, flexibility and the speed of vehicle developments, along with increasing the value of vehicles for users.

Additionally, the following features are being developed for the platform:

  • Predictive maintenance and better detection and rectification of failures
  • A personalised experience in the vehicle to adapt to driving behaviours and often-used destinations such as EV charging stations
  • and insurance models based on actual usage and driving behaviours.

Renault also plans to keep an eye on customer vehicle usage by collecting data online. The company says that it’ll be doing this ‘in compliance with the security and privacy norms that apply’.

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