This is a part of the EV Innovation Intelligence series

While our EVNext team was researching the various innovations from EV OEMs, Tesla of course naturally kept popping up frequently.

Like everyone else, we also were intrigued about Tesla’s sky high valuation. While there are many theories on this, a couple of interesting analyses argued how Tesla has been able to get into a completely different valuation league because they were not building electric cars, but were essentially building software.

In fact, there is so much discussion and excitement about electric vehicles in the IT and software industry that one can indeed mistake electric vehicles to be a software offering in some form.

Except they are not. EVs take us from one place to another – that is their core value. Software provides valuable support to this core value proposition, but it is still support.

While that is the theory, in practice, and in business, software is likely to punch far above its weight in e-mobility. Why is this so?

One reason is of course simply that software does provide excellent value in some aspects of electric vehicles such as telematics, helping locate charging stations, helping make more efficient and safer batteries, and also helping EV makers build better vehicles through the use of design and simulation software etc.

But I suspect that the larger-than-actual value of software in e-mobility may have more to do with aspects that are less tangible. Here are some:

1. Electric vehicles are starting to grow at the same time that three other dimensions in transport are making a mark – connected, shared and autonomous vehicles. All these three dimensions rely heavily on software. While all these three are not specific to electric vehicles (any vehicle can use it), the timelines of electric vehicles growth is so well aligned to the growth of these dimensions that they almost appear to be made for electric vehicles!

2. Growth of distributed renewable energy, especially solar power – Solar power has been growing in leaps and bounds. By 2030, estimates suggest that it contribute be much higher to global electricity than the 2% that it did in 2020. But solar has an Achilles Heel – its storage! Storing power through is costly. But what if EV batteries could store this (especially from rooftop solar power plants) and supply it to the consumer or to the grid. Sounds wonderful doesn’t it. This is not fanciful. Called the Vehicle 2 Grid technology, it is already happening in parts of the world. But for this to work well, a lot of software needs to do their work properly.

3. Unlike conventional vehicles that every user if highly familiar with, electric vehicles are new. The range anxiety will hover for sometime. So will anxieties about battery safety etc. This is one another domain where software adds good value. By digging into battery and mileage data (and also smartly using data about charging station locations etc), analytics can provide vehicle users rich intelligence and inputs that can make them have better control over their riding experience.

The three above aspects are quite different from each other, but together, they make software a far more critical component in electric vehicles than they are for conventional vehicles.

Software for locating charging stations – With range anxiety likely to be a challenge for a while, software that can let vehicles riders know about the location and proximity of charging stations will be of high value.

Software for a connected vehicle – Connectedness is more important for EVs than for conventional vehicles, at least in the initial stages when users are concerned with range anxiety.

Software for telematics – Telematics can play an important role in electric vehicles. It can be used to monitor energy generation and consumption, constantly monitor battery’s state of charge and update the user, and also help in locating charging stations nearby.

Software to make batteries more safe and efficient – Through their use in battery management systems, software plays a critical role in both the performance and safety of EV batteries.

Software for fast charging – With DC fast charging becoming more commonplace, at least in the developed nations, embedded software is needed in charge controllers and the BMS that ensure that the entire charging process is safe and efficient.

Software for V2G – With the rise of vehicle to grid technologies in which the battery in an EV can act as the distributed electricity storage unit for the grid or for other distributed energy sources such as rooftop solar power plants, there’s a clear need for relevant software to make these happen seamlessly by synchronizing various components in the ecosystem.

Software for analytics, esp. for battery use – Beyond the basic analytics, today’s electric vehicles provide significant amounts of data and analytics to the users.

Software for design, testing, simulation – With a large part of the innovation in electric vehicle and component manufacturing yet to come, there is a clear need for software that can enable simulation during design of these components, which can both cut down production costs and bring the vehicles faster to the market. Once the prototypes or the first set of vehicles, batteries, motors or other components are produced, a similar need exists for software to comprehensively test their performance and safety.

Here are factoids and updates on how software and digital are playing a valuable role in e-mobility

  • Blockchain – Blockchain technology can prevent the age-old problem of mileage fraud through establishing a transparent, anonymous and manipulation-proof database for mileage.
    • Blockchain is solving problems and increasing transparency within supply chain processes, including the mobility sector. The vehicle manufacturing process involves an incredible number of components, stakeholders, companies and processes.
    • Blockchain technology enables the transparent and immutable logging of a vehicle’s sensor data in a decentralized network. Smart contracts allow this data to be processed and implemented into an insurance plan.
    • Volvo will become the first carmaker to implement global traceability of cobalt used in its batteries by applying blockchain technology. Traceability of raw materials used in the production of lithium ion batteries, such as cobalt, is one of the main sustainability challenges faced by car makers.
  • Cloud – Bosch announced in June, 2019, the development of a new service called Battery in the Cloud that it claims can help extend the life of electric car batteries by as much as 20%. Batteries connected to Bosch’s cloud system are constantly monitored and analyzed based on how much stress the battery is under due to driving style, environmental factors. That information is then used to not only forecast a battery’s remaining run time, but to optimize the charging process and deliver tips on how to conserve battery power to drivers through a dashboard display.
  • AI/ML – A new AI technology which has been created by automation company Comau is designed for industrial-scale EV manufacturing to optimise the construction and assembly of batteries. The AI technology automatically assesses the surface defects and the electrical resistance of each joint before final assembly, therefore saving the manufacturers time and costs while also ensuring the safety of the battery.
  • The battery sector is turning to artificial intelligence for clues on how to improve recharging rates without increasing the degradation of lithium-ion batteries.
    • The researchers wrote a program that predicted how batteries would respond to different charging approaches and was able to cut the testing process from almost two years to 16 days.
  • IBM has also been exploring alternatives to nickel and cobalt in a bid to find more sustainable materials and reduce costs. The job of evaluating the 20,000 possible compounds to use as the electrolyte would have taken some five years without AI. IBM was able to employ machine learning to get the job done in nine days.
  • Simulation tools – Process simulation with tools such as Siemens Process Simulate allow manufacturing engineers to design the assembly operation sequences, validate reachability and process cycle times, and generate work instructions from the operator’s point of view. Process simulation also supports flexible workcell design, robotics programming and workcell control and automation for complex processes that are unsuitable or unsafe for manual execution. With these capabilities, companies can realize efficient ramp-up to production and lower implementation risks.
  • Monitoring & IoT – Over the air updates – Tesla started rolling out a new software update for its vehicles that will precondition the battery as it reaches a charger – Tesla-branded or otherwise. That means the vehicle will warm up the battery, enabling it to reach higher charging speeds, when the driver has inputted a charger as a destination
  • Automakers can use monitoring software to collect data from the BMS. Analyzing the data gives automakers insights into which lithium ion battery packs or cells are performing better than others and safety information about the condition and performance of the battery under different pressures.
  • Big Data/Analytics – Big Data Analytics helps integrate EVs in a wide variety of ways like optimized charging, efficient battery management, EV status tracking, etc. While convenience, cost-effectiveness, etc., are important for efficient EV adoption, the analytics derived from the Big Data can help directly in improving these levels by providing insights on EV charging stations
    • Charging station selection – where the entire locality gets scanned to analyze and identify individual potential charging stations
    • Spread awareness among the people – by identifying the highly visible activity centers for chargers that boost maximum exposure so that it encourages people to opt EVs.
    • Right-sizing and optimization of grid load – by analyzing the number of chargers required, installation costs, the load on the grid, and the cost associated with charging
  • Navigation software – Electric car navigation based on the location of charging points can be a real solution to the problem of charging. Integrated with the car head unit, applications can help you find the closest station and battery management systems can inform you beforehand when charging or maintenance is necessary.
  • EV fleet management software – Fleet management is the management of a group of commercial vehicles over a large geographical area. It includes the handling of vehicle maintenance, financing, tracking, replacement, navigation, and routing.
    • Fleet management software refers to an application that helps business enterprises coordinate and manage work vehicles in a central information system for the smooth functioning of the entire organization. The software thus helps the enterprise to reduce costs and enhances performance according to government regulations.
    • It uses a basic combination of Big Data Analytics and GPS to track, analyze, store information and make predictions.

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This is a part of the EV Innovation Intelligence series

Posts in the series

Tesla’s Valuation | EV’s in different countries | Purpose built EVs | Mainstream Fuel Cells | IT in Emobility EVs versus ICEs Advent of China in Emobility | Charging vs Swapping | Micromobility & EVs | Electric Aviation Li-ion alternatives | Million Mile Battery Battery Startups versus Giants Sales & Financing Models | Ultrafast Charging a Norm | Heavy Electric Vehicles | Material Sciences in Emobility | Lithium Scarcity | Solar Power in EV Ecosystem | EV Manufacturing Paradigm | Innovations in Motors EV Startups – a speciality Oil Companies’ Strategies EV Adoption Paths Covid-19 affect on the EV Industry |