Race to the Data Cloud

In the future, will cars come from the cloud? The huge volume of data in production and operations require new solutions for data management. Internet giants like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google are standing at the ready with their services. Car manufacturers are racing to find the best positions in the data cloud.

Scenarios for cloud-based systems assume that vehicles network and exchange data both with each other and the infrastructure while driving. Photo: Shutterstock – metamorworks

Experienced IT experts agree that the car will sooner or later come from the cloud. Of course, they’re not thinking in terms of physical components, such as the powertrain, chassis, and body – the hardware will continue to be produced on assembly lines. However, even perfectly timed production does not a finished car make – its special capabilities and functions only come to life with the installation and activation of the corresponding software. Typical scenarios for cloud-based systems assume that vehicles network and exchange data both with each other and the infrastructure while driving – for example, about road and weather conditions, traffic flow, or the parking situation in the neighborhood. From this data, each car within the network can then derive advice, recommended actions, or hazard alerts for drivers and passengers. The cloud is also involved when car manufacturers upload updates for their vehicles’ software via the internet or when they receive online diagnostic data about driver behavior and vehicle performance.

Artificial Intelligence in the Cloud Will Make Batteries Last Longer

Automotive supplier Bosch, for example, recently developed a system for battery management in electric cars under the label “Battery in the Cloud”, which transmits data to the cloud, such as a battery’s state of charge and ambient temperature. Artificial intelligence can then use this data to detect impending defects at an early stage and initiate predictive maintenance. But what does this development mean for manufacturers and suppliers? This question is also the focus of a research report on the upheaval in the automotive industry, presented in June 2021 by the Institute for Social Science Research (ISF) Munich. The researchers conclude that it’s not a new drive technology that is shaping the upheaval, but digitization. According to the report, the industry needs to rebuild its competencies in a changed world – away from the classic car company toward the modern tech company.

Only One Solution for the Incredible Amounts of Data in Car Production

The vehicle for this journey is information technology, or more precisely: cloud computing. In an analysis published in mid-February, market research company Forrester already identified a race to the cloud between car manufacturers. However, cloud computing isn’t new territory for brands such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi – after all, they already integrated the internet into the car with the first digital services around 20 years ago and have since built up their own IT resources. Today, a large part of the data is located in their own clouds – the so-called private clouds. In principle, these clouds are well-organized toolboxes for processing large volumes of data. On the other hand, the automotive industry is only scratching the surface of the potential with its IT resources. The volume of data circulating has long since exceeded all expectation – from the planning of a production line to the manufacture, sale, and operation of a vehicle alone, unbelievable amounts of data are generated that have to be stored, analyzed, and utilized. But where will the skills, know-how, and technologies come from to make the best use of this data? For most players in the automotive industry, these challenges are currently out of their league.

The Industry’s Digital Transformation Is Taking Place in the Public Cloud

If you take a closer look at the strategies in the industry, it quickly becomes clear how the digital transformation is meant to succeed. Public systems (public clouds) draw manufacturers and suppliers with their highly developed services for infrastructure, platforms, and software. Amazon, Microsoft, and Google with their respective cloud services are first choices as cooperation partners. Amazon, for example, is a force to be reckoned with in the infrastructure-as-a-service segment, while Microsoft leads the market for software-as-a-service, and Google scores in the artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) segments. Incidentally, most automakers rely on combined services from several providers – in this multi-cloud, a single tech company is responsible for a specific task area.

Our overview shows the current cloud projects in the automotive industry:

Volkswagen Adopts a Two-pronged Approach – VW Automotive-Cloud and VW Industrial Cloud

The “VW Automotive Cloud” is based on a cooperation with Microsoft Azure, installed three years ago, which will play a central role in the development of automated driving functions. In future, all the manufacturer’s digital services and mobility offerings will be bundled in the Volkswagen Automotive Cloud. For the “VW Industrial Cloud”, the Wolfsburg-based company has been working with Amazon Web Services (AWS) since the beginning of 2019. This cloud is intended to bring together data from the machines, plants, and systems of the Volkswagen Group’s factories. In the long term, the carmaker’s global supply chain with all partner and supplier locations will be integrated into the cloud. 

BMW Is Counting on Cooperation with Several Cloud Providers

BMW has been cooperating with Amazon Web Services (AWS) for a year to develop cloud-based software solutions for optimizing corporate processes. The Bavarian carmaker also uses AWS technologies in the further development of its own “Cloud Data Hub” for managing corporate data. In contrast, BMW teamed up with Microsoft two years ago for the Open Manufacturing Platform (OMP). OMP is an open manufacturing platform designed to accelerate the development of Industry 4.0 solutions in the automotive and manufacturing industries. A few months ago, BMW launched a cloud project with Nvidia Corporation, which specializes in microelectronics and information technology, which will enable factories to be planned and operated virtually before they’re actually built. The Omniverse platform will enable a new approach to planning complex manufacturing systems.

Renault, Nissan, and Mitsubishi Cooperate with Microsoft and Google

The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi automotive alliance is collaborating with Microsoft on the “Alliance Intelligent Cloud”. This integrates artificial intelligence (AI), cloud, and Internet-of-Things technology and is designed for large volumes of data from connected vehicles. Among other things, the focus lies on the development of autonomous driving functions and security of data streams in future generations of vehicles. When it comes to digitization of production and supply chains, the alliance is relying on a partnership with Google Cloud. In addition, infotainment systems in the vehicles will be able to access Google apps and services via the Android operating system.

Mercedes-Benz Is Counting on the Hybrid Cloud

Mercedes-Benz favors the “Hybrid Cloud” – a combination of services from private and public clouds. For the operation of the external big data platform, the Swabians have been cooperating with Microsoft Azure for three years. The system is called eXtollo and is designed to help roll out analytics and artificial intelligence applications globally. The company’s own cloud is also used in the manufacturer’s connected vehicles for car-to-x communication.

Ford Prefers Google’s Services

US company Ford has been relying on Google as its preferred cloud provider since the beginning of the year. As a result, the manufacturer benefits from the internet company’s expertise when it comes to data, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML). The collaboration is set to run for six years. From 2023, Ford plans to make Google Maps and Google Voice Assistant available in its vehicles as standard.

Catena-X – The Automotive Cloud for the Entire Supply Chain

At the end of 2020, the German automotive industry launched automotive cloud “Catena-X”, which will enable participants to exchange data in a standardized way across the entire supply chain. Among others, the car manufacturers BMW, Mercedes, and Volkswagen are on board, as well as industry giants such as SAP, Robert Bosch, ZF, Siemens, and Schaeffler. Catena-X is designed as an open network with work areas that include quality management, logistics, maintenance, supply chain management, and sustainability. The technological basis for Catena-X is provided by European cloud data infrastructure GAIA-X, presented at the Dortmund Digital Summit of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy in 2019.

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