In the past 20 years, digitalization has influenced, disrupted, altered or, at least, touched upon, every aspect of human life. Communication, social interaction, organization, nutrition, habitation, and, of course, transportation. For most of us, the latter became more and more eminent with the increasing ease of access to digital navigation, first enabled through handy GPS systems and later through smartphones. Navigating through a foreign country with the help of a map your passenger would try to decipher for you became obsolete and we welcomed the harsh robotic voices of our cellphone’s digital assistants into our vehicles.
But, of course, navigation was only the beginning of in-car digital services. As we integrated these systems, more and more things became digitized. Moreover, today, as with many other devices such as telephones, sound systems, heaters, refrigerators and washing machines, more and more vehicles are connected to the internet to enable easier access to data; do over-the-air software maintenance; or track the conditions of hardware components. Infotainment systems are now enthroned above, or, are integrated into, cars’ cockpits, providing information about speed limits, distances, or, simply, the next podcast coming up on your playlist.
Being quite a unique and innovative vehicle, the Sion, of course, also has such functions. These not only help to make maintenance and updating software easier, but they also tell us a lot about how to further improve our vehicle’s design. Of course, always provided the car’s owner is willing to share this data with us for such purposes. However, to make sure we offer reliable, efficient, and safe services we need a skilled and experienced partner. In the Californian software company Sibros we have found exactly that. Today, my colleague from Sono Digital Johannes Bückle and I had the chance to chat with the company’s CEO and co-founder Hemant Sikaria about our partnership, goals and next steps.
Julius: Hi Hemant, hi Johannes! Thank you for taking the time to chat. Founded in 2018, Sibros is a relatively young company. What was the initial motivation for you guys to start the company?
Hemant: Hi Julius! Sibros was born out of the frustration from software related recalls. In 2017, my personal vehicle was recalled three times in the same year for software related issues. In my family we had five different vehicles from this same manufacturer, so in total we brought our cars into dealerships for software problems over a dozen times, which was an incredibly time consuming and stressful experience. At that time, I had been an early engineer at Tesla, helping build its software update systems where such issues would have been resolved through over-the-air (OTA) software updates.
Upon further research, I was indeed surprised to discover that most automakers outside of Tesla actually did not have vehicle-wide software update capabilities to remotely fix such problems. While Sibros started out as a commercial platform for full vehicle OTA software updates, today we’ve evolved into much more as an automotive software and data management system.
Julius: That is similar to our founder’s motivation. They were frustrated with the lack of alternatives on the market for sustainable mobility solutions. What would you consider to be your company’s overall goal?
Hemant: Sibros’ mission is to power the connected vehicle ecosystem. Robust software and data management is the key to powering this unique ecosystem, whereby many new advanced applications and offerings will be built upon, benefiting both end customers and automakers. This can include the ability to fix software bugs or circumvent hardware recalls with deep software updates, to leveraging telematics data for usage-based insurance, as well as improving future product quality and design.
To accomplish this, vehicles must have three core pillars for connected success: one, software updates sent from the cloud to every available component. Two, high quality data collected from the vehicle and sent to the cloud, and, three, remote user or diagnostic commands sent to the vehicle on-demand. Sibros has built the end-to-end platform to make all of this and more a reality for automakers such as Sono Motors and their customers.
Julius: What is your take on this Johannes? What are the biggest advantages of working with Sibros?
Johannes: Well, we strongly believe that there is mutual benefit in this collaboration. As a new OEM, we at Sono Motors have a lot of design freedom and can benefit from Sibros’ know-how, as they have already seen many cars and know exactly what is needed to get it right. We, on the other hand, can bring in our know-how for modern digital mobility services from both our past experiences and our ongoing pilots.
A good example is the need for offline interaction using bluetooth low energy. In our pilots, we already have had many cases where network connectivity prevented us from providing a truly reliable mobility experience. Sibros was happy to include that into their product roadmap when we brought it up. So, in a way, both parties evolve together, improving their product collaboratively. Furthermore, we at Sono Motors can continue to focus on our customers' problems, whilst Sibros provides secure and reliable solutions.
Regardless of this, Sono and Sibros have a strong culture fit. That reflects in the way we communicate and which tools we use, but also how we make use of technology to solve real customer problems. I can recall when we first connected how we left the call and were like: working with them would be great!
Julius: How did you get in touch in the first place?
Hemant: Sono Motors was introduced to Sibros by my former colleagues from Tesla, Georg-Friedrich Graf and Stefan Goede. They now run the German-based company Munich Electrification. I deeply respect the engineering talent and team at Munich Electrification, hence when we first got introduced to Sono Motors as a highly recommended company to work with, we took it seriously and were very excited with the opportunity to do so.
Julius: Interesting! What does this partnership mean for Sono Digital’s product development?
Johannes: Our purpose is to build a seamless digital experience, both inside and outside the car. That entails Car Sharing, Ride Pooling and Power Sharing, plus the entire digital experience of Sion owners. Since our inception, we have been piloting our sharing services with people in the Sono Community to validate our approach and build up our product with real customers. In the last series-intent prototype, we wanted to build everything by ourselves to learn as much as we can.
That has put us in the great position that we now know exactly what we need and how we can achieve it.
Going full steam into series development, we were looking for a strong partner, especially since software updates are heavily regulated. As a young company, we are excited that we have found a partner who has an extensive track record in enabling and updating connected cars. To give our customers a strong product, we need three things. First, real time data to provide Sion owners with meaningful information about their car. Second, commands to help our customers interact with the car – online and offline. Lastly, remote updates which minimize maintenance and service costs for Sion owners.
As Hemant already mentioned, Sibros is able to provide us with exactly that: reliable and secure connectivity as well as OTA updates. Their holistic approach is really beneficial for the complexity of the system. This allows us to concentrate on what matters most to us: solving customer problems. That is what we will continue to do.
Hemant: Exactly. You see, when dealing with connected cars, many companies offer only one piece of the puzzle. That’s where we are different. By building a complete system from the ground up that handles every aspect of OTA software and data management, we are able to provide a highly configurable product that can be rapidly deployed, as opposed to other service-based solutions that require multiple vendors with heavy integration and customization.
Then there is the area of ECU (Engine Control Unit) and vehicle coverage. Many alternate solutions claim vehicle-wide updatability and data collection, however in reality only address the main infotainment and telematics units or a small handful of ECUs. At Sibros, we’ve architected our system to truly work with every in-vehicle ECU. This means together with Sono Motors we can deliver software updates to fix or re-calibrate any component, as well as collect high quality data based on selective rules or events from any sensor in the Sion.
This allows Sono Motors to collect only the most relevant data that can improve future product design. It can also unlock new valuable services for customers while reducing the need to bring all data to the cloud. We thereby reduce cloud consumption and cellular bandwidth costs. It’s important to note that all software updates and data collection activities are only done so with customer consent and in full compliance with all safety, cybersecurity and data privacy regulations required.
Julius: A truly holistic concept and ecosystem for the digital dimension of our vehicle, I really like that. Now that we have teamed up – Johannes, please share some insights about the current status of development and the next steps.
Johannes: Oh, where do I start here? We have two so-called ‘scrum teams’ working on different experiences and services. Sion Owner experience and Sion Mobility service. In these teams we work cross-functionally with product managers, and UX and software engineering folk.
In the Sion Owner team, there is a lot of stuff that we can do already. You have probably seen the realtime information on solar power generation or the Power Sharing control in the Sono App. Right now, we concentrate on hitting our upcoming vehicle design release milestone. That means we work very closely with the vehicle engineering team on the hardware, but also take in all the learnings and improvements from the series-intent prototype car which is currently on a test-drive tour. After the vehicle design release, all requirements are frozen. Even if we, as a digital team, are still able to do many changes after that, the car’s architecture and most electronic control units will be unable to accommodate new functional requirements after. To deliver Power Sharing and an exceptional digital experience for Sion owners we are working heavily on incorporating the feedback and the missing bits for series.
For infotainment, we are currently implementing the latest version of Android onto our system. We want to make the experience between the mobile app and the infotainment system as seamless as possible. Then there is connectivity. We have selected the hardware to run the Sibros stack upon and are now doing the firmware integration to have the Sibros products running in our lab car. The lab car is a local environment, outside the real vehicle which includes all series components and simulates the final car architecture.
In the Mobility team the focus is different. We are adding scheduled bookings for car sharing. Thanks to these, people will be able to book their Sion for specific time slots. We have seen huge interest in them and believe they can help us to increase efficient utilization of the car. For the same purpose, we are strongly looking into how we can offer this for more cars than just the Sion. We believe that a lot of cars out there could be shared more frequently if there were a good service owners could use.
So, there is quite a lot going on. Our daily work is very multi-faceted. I hope the context helps people from the outside understand where we currently stand and where we are making progress.
Julius: That was a pretty neat overview of what’s going on at Sono Digital, thank you! What are the next steps in the cooperation process between Sono and Sibros?
Hemant: We are deploying the end-to-end solution that began with the integration of the Sibros OTA Deep Logger to provide Sono Motors with real time, relevant and actionable vehicle data. Next, we are deploying the Sibros OTA Deep Updater for deep, safe and secure software updates, as well as the OTA Command Manager for remote diagnostic commands. This full deployment will be completed quickly within the coming months. We’re thrilled with this collaboration and to support Sono Motors in their pursuit of building the most exceptional digital experience for their customers, while keeping maintenance and service costs low.
Johannes: The developments Hemant mentioned will support us in our overall goal at Sono for this year: delivering the Sion and staying on track on our timeline.
Julius: Right. What can we expect from Sono Digital for the rest of this year?
Johannes: For the Sion Owner team, we recently moved a lot of development capacity in-house as a learning from the last prototype. By the end of 2021 we want to serve all digital customer interfaces, including infotainment and the mobile app, from within Sono Motors, taking in all the feedback we already received.
We have also given ourselves a clear goal to extend the reach of our mobility services before the end of the year and are currently working on all the small bits and pieces we need in order to achieve this.
Like the rest of the company, Sono Digital is continuously growing and adding new team members. We are on a quest this year to reach a size that helps deliver all our features by the start of production.
Julius: Isn’t that a good closing statement? Hemant, Johannes – thank you very much for your time and your engagement!