American robotics wizard James Kuffner leads Toyota’s software drive
October 11, 2020
Woven envisions a slew of products. The one with the greatest potential may be Arene, an open automotive operating system that will allow for “programmable cars.”
Kuffner says this system will be as groundbreaking as Microsoft Windows and Apple iOS were for personal computers and smartphones, ushering in a new era for automobiles.
Arene’s advantage is that it will allow a vehicle’s software to be developed in parallel with its hardware, slashing overall development time.
“I think half the time is achievable,” Kuffner said.
The old way of developing a vehicle involves choosing the hardware first, integrating all the software running each component and then testing the system. Under Arene, engineers will create an overarching software architecture that runs everything in the vehicle, then choose the hardware.
That allows engineers to separate software and hardware development and do both in parallel, saving time and making it easier to update vehicles with the latest technology. Rollout also is faster because software can be developed and tested the same day, thanks to cloud computing.
“It is not so uncommon to have a brand-new car where the software looks 5 years old,” Kuffner said. “What Arene provides is forward and backward compatibility. I can develop a software feature today that will run on future vehicles and future hardware. And current hardware of today will be able to run future software and future features.”
The inspiration for Arene came when he was at Google working on the tech company’s autonomous driving program, Kuffner said. The test cars were Prius hybrids, and Kuffner found reprogramming the car’s software systems laborious.
“I was thinking, there must be an easier way to develop and deploy new software on a Toyota car,” he said.
Thanks to Kuffner, Toyota now has a shot at a better way.
His team has deployed Arene in a fleet of test vehicles over the past year and has provided it to partner companies for evaluation.
Kuffner didn’t say specifically when Arene will be commercialized but said two years is a reasonable timeline in the high-tech field. Success, he added, hinges on quality and reliability because safety is paramount in the auto industry, with zero tolerance for software glitches.
Arene is being developed by Woven Alpha, which Kuffner predicted will expand rapidly and eventually sell its software toolbox to other companies.
“Alpha is meant to be the engine for hypergrowth in our company,” he said. “We are having these new initiatives under Woven Alpha which I expect to be much more high-growth areas that have huge impact and disruptive potential.