• Tesla
  • Electric Vehicles
  • Automakers
  • Automobile Industry
  • Cybersecurity

High Performance Computing Comes to the Road

Sam Abuelsamid
Oct 22, 2020

Guidehouse Insights

Over the past 14 years, Tesla has arguably had a bigger influence on the way vehicles are designed than any automaker since the early days of Ford and Cadillac in the early 20th century. Much of that influence is finally coming to fruition in 2020 and 2021, including the adoption of in-vehicle high performance computing (HPC).

In 1908, Cadillac founder Henry Leland demonstrated the benefits of standardized interchangeable parts, a crucial enabler for cost-effective mass production. By 1913, Ford was cranking out Model Ts on a moving assembly line that changed the world forever.

While Tesla has struggled at executing the basics of mass production, it has nonetheless triggered fundamental changes in vehicle architecture. In 2006, the Roadster demonstrated the appeal of high performance EVs that could get average people excited about going green. But the Model S that was introduced 6 years later is turning out to be far more impactful with the introduction of HPC.

Tesla’s Compute Platforms Inspire Other OEMs

Vehicles have been incorporating computer controls since the 1970s. Until now, it was done in an ad hoc manner that has resulted in vehicles with upward of 100 discrete computing devices on board along with the associated wiring and software complexity. Without a legacy platform to evolve, Tesla took advantage of the latest silicon, software, and networking capabilities to create a small cluster of much more powerful compute platforms.

Rather than individual microcontrollers running each function such as seats, climate control, slip control, and lights, Tesla combined multiple applications running on one computer, just as we do with our laptops and smartphones. This consolidation has made it easier to enable capabilities like over-the-air software updates for all systems in the vehicle, which in turn reduces warranty costs and improves the customer experience.

This year multiple automakers and suppliers are rolling out similar electronic architectures. Tier One supplier Aptiv is promoting its smart vehicle architecture based around three centralized HPCs and a handful of zone controllers that provide power and signal processing to sensors and actuators around the vehicle. Ford is also deploying a similar networked vehicle architecture starting with the 2021 F-150 pickup and Mustang Mach-E electric crossover.

Volkswagen has the new modular electric drive matrix (MEB) architecture that launched this year with the ID.3 and ID.4 and is planned to underpin 75 nameplates across its nine vehicle brands in the next 5 years. Volkswagen hopes to sell 25 million MEB-based vehicles by the end of this decade.

HPC Server Provides the Proper Platform but Extra Security Is Needed

A key component of managing these vehicles is a Continental-supplied HPC server that acts as a gateway to the whole vehicle with multiple applications running in a virtualized environment. This server includes the body domain that manages systems such as climate control and critical safety systems such as advanced driver assist and automation.

While running all of these disparate functions in virtual machines on a single computer can simplify processes like software updates, it poses potential security risks if not implemented properly. Recognizing this, Continental acquired several software companies in recent years that specialize in cybersecurity (including Elektrobit, Redbend, and TowerSec) to ensure its systems are as resilient as possible against attacks. Most of the rest of the industry is following a similar path, and most new vehicles should feature Tesla-inspired modern electronic architectures in the next few years.