Software-Defined Car: Foundations For Future Vehicle Generations


The aim of the “SofDCar” project is to establish rules and processes for controlling all software updates and upgrades in the future, as well as a consistent functional and IT security methodology to which they should adhere. This will prevent individual programs from interfering with each other and ensure their proper functioning within the system without any errors. This will be the prerequisite for the accelerated development of new functions and their safe use by drivers.

“The SofDCar project is a perfect example of how digitalization is pushed in vehicle technology – by companies of various branches in close cooperation with partners from science,” says Baden-Württemberg Science Minister Theresia Bauer. “The Innovation Campus “Future Mobility” (ICM) at the University of Stuttgart and KIT and its focus “Software-defined Mobility” represent an ideal cooperation environment for SofDCar, as they closely interconnect excellent research, economically efficient implementation, and academic qualification. This close interconnection also is the goal of the State’s Strategy Dialog for the Automotive Sector in Baden-Württemberg.”

“We want to push the transformation process towards an environmentally compatible, networked, and automated mobility by innovative ideas. SofDCar will bring us a big step closer to this vision,” says Professor Thomas Hirth, KIT Vice-President for Innovation and International Affairs. “The Innovation Campus “Future Mobility” is an outstanding platform to conduct excellent, innovative, and interdisciplinary research.”

“Funding of the Software-Defined Car project by BMWi is a great success for the University of Stuttgart and KIT, as the consortium with FKFS, FZI, and strong industry partners was proposed by the Innovation Campus “Future Mobility.” Moreover, the project will ideally complement the new strategy field “Software-defined Mobility” of ICM,” says Professor Peter Middendorf, Vice Rector for Knowledge and Technology Transfer of the University of Stuttgart.

A New Digital Twin for the Vehicle Architecture of the Future

Part of the project involves developing an extended digital twin, a virtual image of the vehicle’s development and runtime data. In future, this twin will encompass the data distributed across the vehicle and in the cloud, from the time a vehicle is manufactured until it is scrapped. This goes far beyond what was previously meant by the term digital twin. For the first time, it now covers the entire lifecycle of a modern vehicle and includes the cloud domain, apps, backend systems, and development systems. The project will ensure a single, unbroken information flow of vehicle data and software versions through all databases and servers. This will make it easier and above all quicker to implement software updates and new digital functions and services at any time.

Security and Dependability of Vehicle Software

Within the framework of the SofDCar project, scientists of KIT will work on innovative development methods and quality assurance approaches for automotive industry, in particular with respect to IT security.

“Apart from our close collaboration with other research partners in the area of the IT reference architecture, we will focus on security and dependability,” says Professor Ralf Reussner from KASTEL – KIT’s Institute of Information Security and Dependability. “For instance, we will study how software functions can be updated easily, securely, and dependably after purchasing a vehicle, with various customer-specific vehicle models being considered.”

Moreover, KIT researchers want to improve information administration and security checks, develop data analysis algorithms and data protection analyses, and provide identity and access administration systems, update methods, and backup strategies.

5G Test Track on the Campus of the University of Stuttgart

At the University of Stuttgart, eight working groups from three departments are involved in the project under the direction of Professor Michael Weyrich from the Institute for Automation Technology and Software Systems. A major activity will be the setup of the hybrid demonstrator “Campus Vaihingen.” Using a real-time 5G test track on the ring road of the campus, it will be possible to test vehicles and setups of all partners on and off the road under close-to-reality conditions.

“At the University of Stuttgart, we will focus on an IT reference architecture for future vehicles together with our colleagues from Karlsruhe. In particular, we are interested in the use of software in the so-called edge backend, information nodes outside of the vehicles in the future IT infrastructure,” Weyrich explains. “Using the digital twin and the real-time 5G campus grid, we can design reference architectures for continuous, mutual data exchange for new functions in future vehicles.”

Evaluation on the Baden-Württemberg Test Area for Autonomous Driving

Scientists of the FZI Research Center for Information Technology, an innovation partner of KIT, will concentrate on the security, verification, and consistency of vehicle models. Particular attention will be paid to the recognition of limitations and weak points in the driving function, the evolution of both models and functionalities, and the administration of the resulting versions with the help of the digital twin. Identification and extraction of processes and further performance data will ensure quality-assured application processes beyond vehicle borders. FZI’s Competence Center for IT Security will additionally study applied IT security, such as securing vehicle components with methods of artificial intelligence and practical security checks of selected components.

“On the Baden-Württemberg Test Area for Autonomous Driving, we will jointly test various aspects of software-over-the-air, security, and enhancing robustness. For this purpose, we will also use our test vehicles,” says Professor Zöllner, Executive Director of FZI and Professor at KIT. “It is our goal to constantly improve the security of AI-based functionalities, also by means of the valuable evaluation options possible on the test area.”

Tests at the Driving Simulator in Stuttgart

Within the SofDCar project, FKFS will develop technologies to optimize the customer’s benefit from networked vehicles. At the driving simulator, the only one of this kind in Europe, test persons from the population will be invited to participate in experiments to study the impacts of online software updates on the driving experience. Examples are new functions to improve comfort and driving security of partly and fully autonomous vehicles.

“With intelligent functions in the cloud, we will study early detection and prevention of failures of components in electric vehicles,” says Professor Hans-Christian Reuss, Member of the Board of FKFS and Holder of the Chair for Vehicle Mechatronics at the University of Stuttgart. “This will help prevent a breakdown of the vehicle and positively affect the satisfaction of customers.”

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