The right time and place for me and the automotive industry
By Serkan Arslan, VP of Sales and Business Development at Apex.AI
With alternative drive technologies, digitization, and changing mobility behavior, the automotive industry is in the midst of a radical transformation. This change demands enormous resources from OEMs and suppliers and brings powerful competitors, such as Tesla and Waymo, into the game. These innovators think about mobility differently than the traditional automakers; they not only know the new rules of the game: they are also redefining them. Their influence means that today, a car’s success in the market is not anymore defined by the power of its drivetrain and rather by the perfection of its user experience. Software-based features become peripheral. That's why the bar for success is set uncomfortably high for the automotive industry; building software means that the automotive industry is not playing on its home turf.
I have been an integral part of the automotive industry for more than 20 years, I have applied my know-how for the most important automotive OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers, and I have been able to accompany the development of telematics and infotainment from the very beginning. In my role as a tech-thrilled business manager, it was my job to provide developers with an understanding of customer needs and to build a bridge between technology and customers. Increasingly frustrated, I found that technological progress was taking place in ever-smaller steps, while development cycles remained the same. NVIDIA, the high-performance computing leader and AD expert, promised a much faster pace. Consequently, I spent five years there helping to shape the evolution of mobility towards autonomous vehicles and understanding the industry's strengths: I know its virtuosity with which it builds outstanding cars. However, I also see its weaknesses and the resulting challenges, which are becoming more significant as the importance of software in all car areas increases. In my search for a solution, I came across Apex.AI and became convinced that this company has the right answers to the most critical questions of the transportation industry.
At first glance, Apex.AI appears to be a typical start-up: based in Silicon Valley, highly motivated and highly trained developers working on software at great speed - everything from the start-up textbook. But Apex.AI is more than just one of the countless young software companies. Thanks to its founders Jan Becker and Dejan Pangercic, Apex.AI has a substantial automotive knowledge background, rare in the start-up universe. This is because the founders came from careers with OEMs and world-leading Tier 1 supplier. The combination of decades of industry experience and the start-up way of working, which they initiated at Apex.AI, is exceptional for a software start-up. Thanks to this, Apex.AI has created the link between digital technology and changing customer needs. Shortly after its founding, it attracted financial and strategic investors, mostly based in the automotive industry (more information: www.apex.ai/press).
Many experts agree that the industry will not be able to develop under its own steam with the speed needed to compete with the new digital native players. The development of a complete software stack for autonomous driving is far too complex and costly for most automotive companies to handle independently. According to many leaders, this will not help the industry absorb thousands of new employees into digital organizations; it will not turn them into spin-offs of Silicon Valley, and, ultimately, they will be less likely to deliver what they were set up for, even there renowned experts are certain (see german article). Also, the integration of software start-ups in large car companies or suppliers has not yet worked as expected. The cultures are too different, and the new subsidiaries are quickly worn out by the large corporations' traditional processes and structures.
However, I agree with many experts that there is a solution to this dilemma: Collaboration with external partners in areas in which the industry itself is inadequately positioned, especially in software. After all, we are more than ever on the way to the software-defined vehicle. Apex.OS* was developed as a safety framework and middleware for autonomous mobility systems precisely for this path.
A look at the IT and telecommunication industry shows what developments can be expected in the automotive industry. The multitude of operating systems that stood at the beginning of the mobile phone age has merged into two well-known systems. Too many proprietary software solutions have proven to be too expensive and not scalable after a short time. Android, on the other hand, based on the creative power of the open Linux community, turned out to be one of the golden solutions. Today's automotive industry is facing a very similar situation, but its pressure is even greater. This is because the necessary vehicle operating systems are more complex and expensive than those of telecommunications. This is especially true for autonomous mobility stacks, both in development and maintenance. Nevertheless, some OEMs want to develop their systems; cross-manufacturer standardization would be the better way. Apex.AI offers this with Apex.OS*.
Apex.OS* relies on the established open-source software ROS 2, which has been further developed to automotive-grade level. This evolution has led to a product to be certified by the TÜV Nord to the highest level of automotive functional safety and certifiable for other industries such as robotics, and avionics, or industrial vehicles. This distinguishes it from the original ROS 2 and other systems, and yet Apex.OS* remains API-compatible with ROS 2, allowing Apex.AI to use a framework and tools already used by over 200,000 developers worldwide. This allows access to the community's power: an opportunity that is denied to the automotive industry with its proprietary software solutions.
With Apex.OS*, Apex.AI has an offer that the traditional automotive world can now take advantage of. Either as "Software as a Product & Service" for niche manufacturers such as e-car start-ups or as a "white-label solution" that can be more closely adapted to the vehicle manufacturer's requirements. This frees up valuable resources to differentiate with application development instead of low-level operating systems. Apex.OS* can be used as middleware by any large company in the automotive industry because brand-specific features and applications can be built on top of it. Some of Apex.AI’s customers and partners are currently developing their first products based on Apex.OS*.
My role at Apex.AI as VP of Sales and Business Development will be to continue to take our company further out of the stealth mode shadow and help the team elevate to the Champions League. A challenge that I accept with enthusiasm as Apex.OS* provides the product we need to climb to the top. My vision is that Apex.OS* as a software framework and middleware will become a universal industry standard on which vehicle OEM and Tier1 can further develop their vehicle OS. With the Apex.AI based approach, we can define important game rules of transformation and relieve the traditional industry of reinventing itself to act more like a software company.
*As of January 2023 we renamed our products: Apex.Grace was formerly known as Apex.OS, and Apex.Ida was formerly known as Apex.Middleware.