Virtual ECU: Two major technologies and one Big Sight

Cloud computing and Virtualization are playing a major role in the ongoing software revolution of the automotive industry by decreasing the time to market of innovative, digital products. Another big role to the industry is played by the largest automotive exhibition in Japan - Tokyo's Automotive World event. This article summarizes the demonstration, exchange, and networking I had.
This is part 3 of the series "Expanding the Possibilities of Mobility".

At the event I had the chance to present and discuss in person with hundreds of visitors one of NTT DATA's exhibition topics. It is a concept in which we combine two major technologies: cloud, and virtualization, achieving a cloud based, virtual connected infotainment system.

Being able to shorten the time to market for our customers by improving development collaboration and speeding up the testing phase is an achievement. Discussing regarding results, challenges, and plans at the Tokyo Big Sight was an honor.

Before our journey to Japan

By knowing how digital products are being built and applying this knowledge to automotive we managed to implement and evaluate a concept, which two years ago was a drawing on the whiteboard. After dedicated research we came to the realization that being fast is what mostly matters to our clients, so we analyzed the product development areas for bottlenecks, and soon confirmed, that the end-to-end test and the quick UX design feedback are the key areas regarding time to market, which we can positively influence. We also focused on a specific domain – connected infotainment. In this domain we expect to experience the most user related innovations over the vehicle's lifecycle.

The idea was officially born by starting a customer PoC. We enabled our client's infotainment system to be executed in the cloud, followed by a process of full integration of the connected backend. In addition, testing frameworks and the possibility to select the needed variant, and control the HMI from a web browser have been added as features.

Thanks to NTT DATA's cloud integration capabilities, and automotive domain knowhow International teams are now accessing the virtual infotainment system in the cloud from everywhere, test systems are becoming independent from the hardware, and can scale while executing large number of tests - this was just the beginning of our customer collaboration.

Discussions on the SDV trend

Our discussions in Tokyo with OEMs, suppliers, and journalists confirmed what we already assumed: meanwhile the software defined vehicle gained even more on importance. It seems to us, that our industry raised the bet. There is an increase in investments, but there is also an increase in the gain expectation regarding SDV. The vision of established ecosystems, value streams, creative concepts, processes, methods and tools for what we call digital automotive products became clearer, experience in the software development has been gained. OEMs are committed to become what we in the past would identify as "software companies".

For now, this does not make a major impact on society, although some steps forward in the areas of mobility have been made. For example, car sharing, autonomous driving, electric powertrain. But the vehicle's ecosystem is not yet as flexible and successful as the one of a smartphone, and in my opinion, there is a reason for that: we use the vehicles only for let's say one hour each day, and when we do, we need to focus on (assisted) driving. This is a serious limitation for the acceptance of creative use cases. The long lifecycle of the vehicle, different models and configuration variants, complicated and partially old aftersales IT systems make everything even more challenging. Most of our conversation partners agreed with this opinion.

Common understanding during our discussions was that the key to success in terms of added value from society's point of view is in the seamless integration between multiple ecosystems, city and road infrastructures and technologies around the vehicle. New role outside of the driving context in terms of cars as an object for living, entertainment, and wellbeing while standing still or driving fully automated may be defined in the future. The bases for such an impact are currently being established. It is the future that will show which new business case will be the most successful.

Contributing to future society change with cloud based virtual ECU

Speeding up the product development with virtual ECU is one of many factors to successful digital products, which has only an indirect impact on society. But when we analyze the automotive customer journey, we see future possibilities for improving the experience all over the customer touchpoints by applying this same technology.

Early evaluation of the infotainment system by customers is a unique selling point for many of the OEMs who place focus on their own user experience concepts which differentiates them from the others. Making it available prior to the vehicle delivery, would be a new, attractive feature for customers. Even better experience would be a realistic virtual Infotainment System which can be used in the metaverse or in a web browser at the dealer's homepage. A better vehicle contact can be done immediately online for attracted future customers. At any time, the curious customer can virtually experience the Infotainment System, or other parts of the vehicle interior, combined with a realistic 3D model. Dealerships may start offering digital twins of their testing vehicles. Test drives can be performed online. The customers will be able to switch between digital and real vehicles seamlessly. Digital twins of the customer will exist in the virtual world, a digital twin of the vehicle can exist in the customers connected app. Generative AI can be enabled for even better experience, for example by generating playlists in the Infotainment System, AI assistance, or suggestions for car configuration. Prior to delivery, the customer can conveniently configure the vehicle by using the Infotainment System of the vehicle, she can log in, adjust personalization parameters, add favorite locations, synchronize her profile. While waiting for delivery, the exact digital copy of the vehicle can be seen again and "used". At delivery of the real vehicle customers will have a new experience being able to feel the real vehicle, which they already get attached to online. During the usage lifecycle support team can better follow up on questions or problems by simply virtually generating the same variant of the HMI while providing sustainable customer care, without to be necessary to drive to the dealership when a question cannot be answered or understood.

All this is realistic, because our society more than ever prefers the convenience of approximating real world's digital copies over the waiting times and costs for the interaction with the real ones. There are already areas of life in which digital is dominating over real life experience, like gaming, education and office work. Cloud based Virtual ECU can contribute to the seamless switch between real life objects and virtual, digital twins.


Japan is full of wisdom, politeness, and empathy. A country where impact on society matters to those who are developing future solutions. It is an ideal environment to exchange ideas on modern technologies and learn from different cultures.

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Dimitar Jotov

Dimitar Jotov
Senior Managing Consultant inCar, NTT DATA Germany


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Global Marketing & Communication Headquarters
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