Movimento: From Connected Cars To “Software Enabled Cars”

“It’s all about the Journey of Software in the car, rather than the ‘connected’ or ‘smart’ or ‘autonomous’ car,” Mahbubul Alam, CTO of Movimento, told us in a recent interview.

Consulting firm McKinsey has written, “Today’s car has the computing power of 20 personal computers, features about 100 million lines of programming code, and processes up to 25 gigabytes of data an hour.” (“What’s driving the connected car” McKinsey Journal 9/14.)

Alam explains that this means that the big bridge for the auto OEMs to cross is that their historical model is that they sold a car and it was a done deal. But with software, Alam states, “It’s never totally done, it’s always being updated.”

The issue that Movimento – a company highly experienced in “reflashing,” or updating, vehicle systems – is addressing for the automotive industry is: With increasing penetration of multiple software systems in vehicles, how do you keep them up-to-date with changes in the software?

The Platform: Infotainment And More

The key point that Alam underlines is that you must have a software “platform” approach that unifies the ability to update software across the full range of automotive systems. Otherwise, he states, “you will just be applying bandaids for specific fixes.”

The Movimento approach was illustrated by the recent announcement of a deal with Mitsubishi Electric. Mitsubishi supplies, among other things, head-unit architecture (head units control the infotainment system). Mitsubishi stated that they are “integrating Movimento OTA technology into its next-generation to provide customers with over-the-air (OTA) update capabilities.”

Tesla is another company that has pioneered OTA updating. Driving this demand for OTA updating is the fact that as software systems proliferate within cars, it becomes more and more difficult to expect owners to go back to dealers for every change.

Complexity – A Differentiator

A number of points jumped out at us in speaking with Alam about the differentiators for his company. For one, he emphasizes the complexity in dealing with a large number of vehicles through an OTA interface.

He points out that even with autos that are of the same vintage year and model type, there may be numerous differences in the actual software, as well as hardware, within specific vehicles. Thus there is need to recognize the actual software variations within the car. Movimento’s policy manager must recognize the validated designs for updates to that precise category of vehicle.

In addition, to do OTA updates, the software platform must recognize the status of the vehicle at that time – what he refers to as “condition based updating.” Is the vehicle moving, is the battery dead? These are critical factors in determining when it can be updated, and are especially critical if the update is to firmware, as opposed to just software.

Comprehensiveness – A Differentiator

In addition to Movimento’s ability to deal with the complexity of the vehicle environment, Alam emphasizes the comprehensiveness of their platform as a key differentiating point. As Mitsubishi acknowledged in its recent announcement, “By incorporating Movimento OTA technology, our customers will be able to shorten software deployment times, roll out new features, and instantly issue security patches throughout the vehicle, not just in the infotainment system.” (Emphasis added.)

Thus patches and updates can be performed on vehicle systems such as the power train, even if the vehicle was not originally designed as a software controlled vehicle.

Alam also sees the trend of less car buying among millenials as a factor that will highlight the need for constant updating of software. He believes that while absolute numbers of vehicles sold may decline in advanced economies, the mileage put on the average car will increase. With the car “as a service” it is imperative for the OEM or other owner to keep systems up to date.

“The Next Big Thing” – Vehicle Data And The Mobile Cloud

Alam underlines that the future of vehicles as mobile communicating platforms will be intimately associated with cloud computing. He describes the key to the automotive future as Car/Cloud Cooperation. He believes that the cloud will enable myriad new features.

For example, he describes an avatar that can set the individual’s preferences for music, navigation, etc., when the person enters the vehicle. He cites other aspects of personalization, such as the vehicle system presenting someone with critical information if they are going to a new city or area – this could include parking locations and rates, restaurants, lodging places and such.

This underlines that, in addition to supporting the mission critical aspects of automotive data – e.g., safety, vehicle performance – Movimento is also heavily involved in identifying the “transactional value of data.” As Alam has written, “We’re consumed with turning data into usable, profitable outcomes.”

He asserts that the massive collection of data about vehicle system performance will lead to enormous opportunities for value creation. He states, “We will be the next Nest – collecting data from cars, as they have from the home.” He refers to data collection from vehicles as “the next big thing.”

Automotive Security

Security is an especially important factor in automotive systems. Alam explains with respect to the in-vehicle security, which covers messages “going to through the canvas to the ECU,” the company relies on its own security system. For security that is external to the vehicle, i.e., vehicle-to cloud, they marry their system with off-the-shelf products.

The OTA platform must be able to detect any unauthorized attempts to reflash the vehicle systems. It must be able to detect and stop any hacks on the car’s systems – which Movimento claims they can do in “10 microseconds.”

Infotainment’s Important Role

While many may associate the infotainment system simply with in-car media, Alam states that it is critical and “it is important to help educate the industry.” The infotainment head unit actually controls how the consumer interacts with the car’s navigation, HVAC, communications, as well as media.

Thus it has a critical role in safety, which will only increase as cars move more and more to semi-autonomous navigation systems.

Company Positioning – Outlook

The company, founded in 2003, started out with reflashing of ECUs (“engine control units” which monitor various sensors and control engine performance by adjusting fuel to air ratio, variable valve timing, etc.) Reflashing involves supplying updates to the programmable chips in the ECU.

The company has since moved on to provide the ability to “manage vehicle software from R&D through production to post sales.” Movimento states that they have been “successfully reflashing over three million vehicles each year.” This includes vehicle and module updates for the likes of: Bosch, Continental, Denso, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Ford, GM, Magna, Panasonic, Visteon, Volvo, and ZF. Alam confirms that based on this business volume they are EBITDA positive.

Alam occupies the unusual position of being not only Movimento’s CTO, but also its acting CMO. In the latter role, he has moved to simplify the company’s branding strategy. He eliminated the use of distinctive product names, such as Altero, Premio, Ventura, and Nuvolo, which each described a functional area of the system and placed the emphasis on the Movimento name. “We don’t want to be a ‘house of brands’; we want to be a ‘branded house’”, he explains.

MobileCloudEra has previously written about how software is increasingly taking over the command structure of cars. (“Apple Titan: Are Cars The Ultimate Mobile Cloud Devices?” mobilecloudera, 10/11/15.) There is clearly powerful logic behind the view that OTA updating of car systems will become increasingly prevalent, and, in fact, a necessity. This positions Movimento very strongly. Their recognition of the back end commercial opportunity for big data from autos adds a further potential to the company.

We are ever mindful (and so is Alam) of the possibilities of the mobile/Internet monsters, Google and Apple, extending their foothold into controlling systems in autos. The attractiveness of a Movimento as an acquisition candidate is quite intriguing.

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