How Bosch is connecting the hardware and software dots

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Robert Bosch is combining its automotive software and electronics activities into a new division, in an effort to reduce complexity and speed up development. The division, cross-domain computing solutions, draws employees from the supplier’s multimedia, powertrain solutions, chassis systems control and automotive electronics divisions.

Harald Kroeger, the Bosch management board member who responsible for the new division, spoke with Automotive News Europe News Editor Peter Sigal about how the technological demands of new-generation vehicles led to the formation of the unit. 

What is the rationale for creating the cross-domain computing solutions division?
Bosch has been in car electronics and software for a long time, starting with the first ECUs 50 years ago. Over time, software and electronics content has become bigger and bigger. We are creating a new center of gravity for the software-intensive products that Bosch has in all domains today. We are already supplying software for powertrain, for infotainment, for assistance systems. What is driving software development is that we see more and more connections, and we see software as being more flexible on the kind of control unit it’s running on. Historically it has been one box, one software, one function; that is not the optimal way to do it in the future if you have more and more complex functions.

How will having all these domains together change what you can offer to customers?
It will enable us to handle complexity much better. Automakers can find the best solution for the whole system, not just one component. That will enable innovation and make it more cost-efficient and more reliable.

Do you work with customers on a single-domain basis now?
Yes, exactly, but we are now seeing customers asking us to bridge those domains. For example, in the infortainment domain, we have a very powerful vehicle computer, and the customer asked us, “Could you imagine putting some parking assistance functions on that control unit running in parallel?” That’s an interesting task to combine a non-time-critical comfort function on one side and a safety critical function on the other side. Bundling this software on one box is demanding because you have to control the whole system, but it gives you a lot of efficiency too.

How will the market for software-intensive electronics systems grow?
The business for software-intense electronics systems — with hardware and software — in total is about 20 billion euros. We see it growing by a factor of four in the next 10 years. This is the market we are addressing, and we want to have our share of it. 

How will you differentiate yourself from competitors, both automotive and more tech-focused?
Bosch is pretty much the only supplier that has strong offerings in all the domains that matter in a car. That doesn’t mean that a customer needs to have an all-Bosch car, because a lot of automaker have preferred suppliers in specific domains. However, it’s much easier for us to integrate those domains with the right interface. That’s the big differentiator for us.

What is the content per vehicle for software-intensive electronics?
That’s very difficult to put a dollar or euro value on it because it really depends on the segment. In general, as cars get smarter, it means more software, more electronics and more powerful vehicle computers. If you compare today’s cars with those of 20 years ago it’s a huge difference. We are trying to make the electronics content of a car as cost-efficient as possible, while still being reliable. You don’t want to get an error message that your brakes have failed because something went wrong. 

Will the new division, which will employ 17,000 people, change your head count?
No, we’re bringing people from different divisions together. By the way, this isn’t a project done by or for board members. This is largely driven by the experts in those groups, who asked the question, “How should we organize to be an optimal position serving our customers?”

How would you describe the hardware/software domains in a car?
We see three super domains. First is the information domain, which is the infotainment, multimedia and display part. Second, there’s the body and motion domain, which is about how to speed up and slow down the vehicle as well as to provide comfort functions. The third domain is driver assistance and automated driving. How this is materialized in the car depends on the automaker: For a subcompact city car the perspective might be to combine infotainment functions with body and motion functions. Alternatively, you could think of combining a very strong driver assistance system with motion control, for example controlling the electric motor. We see interactions between those super domains. Every automaker has a different optimum when it comes to the question of where to integrate nomadic functions that might have different homes. The target of the new division is to help the customer find the optimum solutions for each project. 

What is the midterm or short-term challenge for electronics?
Every car will have some form of over the air updates. There are smart ways of managing electric vehicles. What we is see as the challenge is getting these functions more and more sophisticated and connecting the dots. Electronics have to be efficient. You can put a lot of horsepower in the ECU, but a key point will be whether it’s cost-efficient for customers. 

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