Cars are becoming more like smartphones every day. But is that necessarily a good thing? And what does it mean for the engineers who want to make a career out of automotive engineering? The days of the combustion engine seem to be coming to an end. The desire of tech companies and vehicle manufacturers is now to create fully autonomous, environment-friendly vehicles that takes individuals from point A to point B.

Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors is a good example of where the electric/smart vehicle market is going - customers seem to respond well to what is seemingly the future of mobility. However, it has been a rocky road for Tesla and its software-driven vehicles.

In 2016, a man lost his life in a Tesla car, after the Autopilot hardware and software inside the Tesla vehicle failed to recognize a trailer in the middle of the freeway.

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A year before that, Fiat Chrysler had to recall 7,810 Jeep Renegades with automated systems that could be exploited by hackers; a danger that they could be ‘remotely manipulated’. In response the company released USB sticks that would remedy the vulnerabilities and uploaded a safety update to the vehicles - it turned out that 1.4 million needed the update.

It follows then that as vehicles become more and more like computers they will need constant security upgrades.


Green-lighting OTA

On-the-fly software updates to the firmware inside vehicles are increasing rapidly. General Motors is the latest company to join the fray of vehicle manufacturers that are securing over-the-air (OTA) upgrades to their cars via a remote network. They can upgrade their network of vehicles with a click of a button, delivering specifically engineered code to their fleet of vehicles simultaneously

Software updates to a vehicle are becoming as easy as installing an app on a smartphone. According to ABI Research, 180 million new vehicles shipping between 2016 and 2022 will see the adoption of automotive over-the-air software updates.

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“Three factors changed the course of the automotive industry and paved the way for the future of OTA: recall cost, Tesla’s success as the foundation of autonomous driving, and security risks based on software complexities,” said senior research analyst at ABI Research, Susan Beardslee. “It is a welcome transformation, as OTA is the only way to accomplish secure management of all connected car’s software in a seamless, comprehensive, and fully integrated manner.”


However, cybersecurity is a common concern among those critical of OTA updates. But with faster communication to the entire fleet of vehicles with OTA, the chances of blocking hackers’ attempts on vehicles could be more efficient than having to prevent hacking on individual vehicles as  the need arises.


It is clear that the need for cybersecurity engineers in automotive engineering will grow and will need agile higher education institutions to step up.


Engineers interested in cars today can either work with the tech companies (like Apple, who are designing a fully autonomous car) or stick with the tried-and-tested vehicle manufacturers. The market is becoming more multi-faceted and interesting; a broader range of skills are required in the automotive engineering space than ever before.

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Battery similarities

Automotive engineering companies are investing in the smartphone-vehicle-likeness by making vehicles battery powered. Lithium-ion batteries are found in our phones and will power your next car, but obviously on a grander scale.

After an emissions scandal, Volkswagen have pledged that they will invest up to $24 billion into zero-emissions vehicles by 2030 to try and challenge the already blossoming Tesla Motors. Volkswagen said that they will be manufacturing 80 new vehicles across its group by 2025. The company also wants to offer its other 300 group models in electric versions by 2030, Reuters confirms.

It seems there is no turning back for the unprecedented change the automotive engineering market is undergoing with the combustion engine heading into retirement? China has just announced that they will ban combustion engines within vehicles by 2040. Future engineers will become increasingly involved in e-mobility era in automotive engineering.


Works Cited

"ABI Research Anticipates Accelerated Adoption of Automotive Software Over-the-Air Updates with Nearly 180 Million New SOTA-Enabled Cars Shipping Between 2016 and 2022." ABI Research. Web. 11 Sept. 2017.

"As Your Car Becomes More like an IPhone, Get Ready to Update Its Software Regularly." - News and Articles on Science and Technology. Web. 11 Sept. 2017.

Cremer, Andreas. "Volkswagen Spends Billions More on Electric Cars in Search for Mass Market." Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 11 Sept. 2017. Web. 11 Sept. 2017.