Thought Leadership

Powering the AV: Vehicle electrification and batteries – The Future Car Podcast – Transcript

By Conor Peick

In this blog you can read a transcript of our recent podcast on the integration of autonomous and electric vehicle technologies, including the impact of self-driving systems on drive range. You ca listen to the podcast here!

Conor Peick: In the automotive industry, a majority of sustainable development efforts have focused on vehicle electrification as a practical solution for replacing internal combustion engines and fossil fuels to reduce emissions coming from the transportation sector.

Today, EVs seemed to grow in popularity and capability almost monthly, especially as exciting new models are brought to market with the future of the automotive industry looking increasingly electric. Nand, our VP of Automotive and Transportation Industries, and I wanted to talk with an EV expert about EVs, battery technology, future development efforts, and how this trend will play into the autonomous vehicle revolution.

So, to that end, we would like to welcome Doctor Puneet Sinha to the show. Puneet is the senior director of battery industry vertical for Siemens Digital Industries software. In addition, Puneet holds a doctorate degree in mechanical engineering and brings 15 years of industry experience in the field of batteries, fuel cells and electric vehicles.

So welcome Puneet. Nanda and I are really excited to have you on the show just to start off. Could you give the listeners a brief summary of your experience in the field of vehicle electrification and batteries?

Puneet Sinha: Hey, Connor, I’m excited to be here on this podcast. Brief background from my side. I had almost 15 years of experience working in batteries, electric vehicles and fuel cells. I’ve worked for five years at General Motors where I was leading R&D team for fuel cells and battery development and supplier evaluations. I after that I had a roll as the VP of Business Development for a startup. I was scaling up their business where we are designing battery software to democratize battery engineering and also there, I was fortunate to invent a new type of battery, especially to address battery problems in cold temperatures. That battery made-up made it to the Beijing Winter Olympics, and after that I joined Mentor and through Mentor acquisitions, I’m here with Siemens. Excited to see my journey from the OEM side to a supplier and solution provider.

Conor Peick: Yeah. So, you clearly have experience in all aspects of the industry. You know, so to get started, I think it would be good to kind of set the stage for where electrification is at today. You know, from my perspective as more of a lay person, it, it really seems that EV technologies and you know that includes the batteries, but. It seems like they have taken really major leaps in just the last few years, so from your technical perspective, what kind of advancements have enabled the eve of today to become so capable in what feels like a really short time?

Puneet Sinha: You are absolutely right that batteries have taken major leaps. It seems like yesterday when back in 2010, I, along with my colleagues, were sitting and looking at batteries that, at that time, battery costs were around $10,000 per kWh. And it in last 10 to 12 years, the battery cost has come down more than 90%.

And in the same time frame, because of the technological advancement, the energy density of battery, that means how much energy you can pack in a KG of battery, has tripled. And that is tremendous. To put it in perspective, if somebody had to make 300-mile electric vehicles in 2010 it would have cost almost the cost of a small passenger car, almost $50,000 just for the battery.

And now? You know, and they said it has come down 90%. So that reduction of cost while tripling the energy density, that is the biggest reason that we are seeing EVs becoming mainstream in automotive industry and where there is a new startup or incumbent players, they all are very rapidly looking to electrify their complete vehicle portfolio.

Conor Peick: Yeah. So clearly, I mean lots of change recently and, Nand, presumably some of that comes down to maybe more of the business or the regulatory sort of environment. So, you know how is the market and the business environment evolved to support EVs? What has changed to help kind of spur that current growth?

Nand Kochhar: Yeah. Good morning, Connor and the listeners. There have been few major things at play that have helped facilitate overall vehicle electrification. The most important one comes to mind is the sustainability efforts which, in addition to regulatory requirements, I believe this is the right thing to do. As an industry, we need to reduce emissions and our impact on the environment. EVs are a big part of that effort now and in the future because of the consumer interest in making greener choices and because of the new regulations you touched on in many parts of the world that will end the sale of new combustion engine vehicles in near future.

Second most important thing is the range improvement and the charging time improvement for the batteries. A lot of consumers had a so-called range anxiety, which had them concerned for switching to electric vehicles. With the improving batteries as Puneet touched on and the energy management systems fast charging and so on, EV driving range and recharging has improved dramatically, so it’s not only the cost, but those two factors as well.

So that has led to this new product innovation. In addition to the technological advances Puneet mentioned automakers have found ways to make EV’s much more attractive for the consumer to designs, offering new features, functions and by continually improving the overall driving experience and the new electric vehicles. And now Puneet, as we look into the future, how does continued innovation of these electric vehicles support the development of autonomous vehicles. Are there any synergies there?

Puneet Sinha: Good question. If you look at automotive revolution, let’s call it automotive auto 2.0. But there is electrification where there is autonomous driving. They are all part of this auto 2.0 push. So, there is definitely a connection between electrifying the vehicle and then that that allow automotive industry to move towards 0 emissions.

But it’s not good enough just to limit the ambition of automotive in the C02 emission. It is also very critical to expand into zero crashes and expanding the access of mobility to the people who couldn’t access it for various reasons. And from taking into account all of these, autonomous vehicles and electric vehicles they are absolutely necessary to come together for the next wave of the automotive industry.

And it is very clear if you look at what is happening in the automotive industry, how the leaders in automotive industries are thinking about the two pieces of technology. They are seeing them as connected. Mary Barra, GM CEO, she has mentioned few years back that all autonomous vehicles will be electric vehicles.

And it’s not just because of combining the advancements to move towards 0 emissions 0 crashes, but also because an electric platform provides significant technological simplicities to build autonomous vehicle. There are less moving parts, there are multiple voltage voltages that are needed that easily available.

And as the countries around the world are imposing more regulation and coming with new regulations, it makes sense to put the vehicle electrification technology and autonomous driving technology on the same platform.

Nand Kochhar: Very good points. So as you said, the industry trends around connected, autonomous, shared mobility, and electrification, we’ve been talking about this quite a bit and you touched on a point from General Motors. And I remember my days at SAE International where we had the same theme of creating a world with zero crashes, 0 emissions and 0 congestion.

And that’s what led to the trends what we talked about on connected, autonomous shade and electrification. Now that’s all good. But now how about the challenges? How can automakers support the dozens of additional sensors, actuators, and computing devices in all electric platform? Because to deliver autonomy, you need a lot more of those sensing devices and decision making computing powers.

Puneet Sinha: Absolutely, absolutely. And that’s where, as people say, the rubber hits the road. It makes perfect sense to have an ambition to combine these new waves of technologies on a vehicle, electrification and autonomous driving and putting them under one platform. But doing so introduces various challenges. Let’s look at some of them. If we are talking about autonomous driving, let’s say level 5 autonomous driving, where vehicles can drive by themselves in any geographical regions. Vehicles will need 30 plus sensors, it will need a very, very intelligent computer to get all the data from sensors and makes decisions on what vehicle is supposed to do.

And these electronics consume power. And that power in electric vehicle has to come from battery. So now let’s put in perspective. Today where one of the biggest challenges to further adoption of electric vehicles is “range uncertainty”. I call it more of an uncertain uncertainty of range because in different weather conditions, in different driving profiles, electric vehicles range can change dramatically.

There’s already a lot of pressure on battery suppliers and automakers to improve their range, make it more certain. And now if you add these sensors and computers and some of these, especially the computers, they can be really power hungry.

These things can start adding more pressure on the range that a vehicle will get. If I look at the kind of autonomous-electric vehicles that are in the test phase on the roads right now, even some of the minimum consuming power in these systems are more than one kilowatt. And if you are fighting this one kilowatt of electronics power all the time, not to mention that you need to have redundancy in the systems, one can easily calculate that you are looking at somewhere between 15 to 25% reduction in range, just because you have to give power from batteries to these electronics.

And that’s where you see, one of the biggest challenges is. Is customer going to accept, or is a fleet operational team going to accept, 15-20% reduction in range so that the vehicle can drive autonomously? Because reduction in range comes with vehicles that have to go and get charged. And every minute an autonomous vehicle, especially in the connected shared autonomous electric vehicle ecosystem, is not running, it is losing money. So that is a big challenge.

And then, it’s not just about power. It [power] is one of the biggest challenge, but then when you have these various types of sensors and computers and extra electronics, and you have to connect it with the overall electrical system in the vehicle, this is starts adding tremendous complexities for the electrical electronic system (E/E) of a vehicle. It’s not just about more and more wires, which does add weight and complexity to the overall development, but also redundancy. Having the right redundancies, having the right network and communication, all of these elements which are critical even today becomes extra mission sensitive for autonomous electric vehicle development. So these are the things both from the battery electric powertrain but also overall electrical electronic systems. That needs to be accounted for while engineering these autonomous electric vehicles.

Nand Kochhar: Ohh, very exciting times. You’re absolutely right.

It’s not only the computer software and the computing power, and that’s why I think the industry has been saying the autonomous vehicles are becoming like computers on the wheel and the role of artificial intelligence in making all those decisions is humongous.

But let’s deep dive into some more details and power impact of AV systems. How do we, you know, expect that they will affect the driving range and the performance of an electric vehicle which you know the industry has been working hard to improve, but now you putting a lot more demand on that going forward with autonomous vehicles. So what are the some of the challenges in that?

Puneet Sinha: Absolutely. Another excellent question.

As I already mentioned just by adding extra electronics, especially power consuming computers that have to make decisions based on the data they are going to get from sensors, just a simple math tells it is going to consume a lot of power and that means it is going to impact the range of the vehicle.

But, this is an area I’m pretty sure every automaker is looking into. At this time, when these autonomous vehicles are being tested, perhaps these issues don’t matter that much, because the first thing is can your autonomous vehicle operates safely in all type of traffic and weather conditions? But then when you move to this stage, when you have to start looking into commercial readiness of these autonomous vehicles, this reduction in range becomes a serious point.

Having said that. It is very important to look at what else does the autonomous driving system does to an electric power train? By adding autonomous driving systems on electric power train, of course provides certain challenges, but at the same time it offers some unique opportunities if companies are looking to exploit them. By adding autonomous driving system, there are certain opportunities to be exploited.

And the way to look at it is to think of today’s electric cars as human-driven electric cars. And when companies have to design, size, whether its a battery or motor or power electronics or any other system in a in a car, they have to account for the 90th percentile driver which is very aggressive driving. And human driving is unpredictable. Everybody drives differently.

Then we move to autonomous electric vehicles, which are machine driven. There is certain predictability in how these vehicles will be driven. That means automakers don’t have to size or design for that 90th percentile driver, which is a very small minority of most of the human drivers, and this allow automakers to rethink how they need to size the battery, motor, power electronics and other systems.

And this opens up new trade-off and optimization opportunities so that even when there is a lot of demand on battery to power up this autonomous driving systems, the demand on batteries to move the vehicle can be optimized so that you don’t have to necessarily go and try to find a 15 to 25% bigger battery.

Nand Kochhar: I think you’re right. Lot of optimization, lot of fit-for-use based on the use cases that will continue to evolve the battery technologies. Let me come from another angle. I think another challenge we will see companies try to address will be the reliability of these vehicles as they operate more and more continuously, especially in shared mobility systems. A lot of the new business models are, since it’s autonomous, vehicles could be running 24 hours a day. Now what implications will this significant increase in usage have in vehicle batteries?

Puneet Sinha: For sure that the batteries powering autonomous vehicles, especially as you said, the one that will be deployed in ride sharing applications, they will have a very different usage profile than the cars that we drive.

When we drive, when humans drive, on an average, 90% of the time in our current user profile, the cars are parked. But what that means is from a batteries perspective, it will have to account for a different way of how they will be degraded. So, to put in perspective, batteries degrade or lose their capacity or power because of two reasons. One is when you take a battery and store it at a high state of charge for long period of time, that’s called shelf life. So it will, its power and capacity will decay slowly.

And the other mechanism that that decays a battery life or capacity is when you are using it, you’re discharging the battery, then you’re charging back again. And this this is called cycle life of battery.

And, today in a current usage, 90% of the time or around 95% of the time batteries are parked in a parking lot. Whereas when these batteries go in autonomous vehicle, the time they are spending driving around is a lot higher. As you said, one can envision 24 hour driving scenario and so in that case the mechanism, the first principal mechanisms that impact the life and durability and reliability of batteries shifts significantly. And these are the things that battery suppliers, as well as automakers, have to take into account when they are designing, validating and integrating these batteries in the end system.

Conor Peick: I was just thinking about one of the things that that I know I’ve heard talked about is thermal management, and you even mentioned it a little bit with batteries responding to environmental conditions. When you bring in all these additional electronics and computational devices and that stuff, does it add heat? Does that become a problem for you know increasing range and all those things for reliability like we were just talking about?

Puneet Sinha: That’s a good question, Conor. As everything else in life, there are multiple facets to this question. One is, of course, the thermal management.

All of these electronic devices, especially the central computer that is going to digest all the data coming sensor, is absolutely critical. Heat is the biggest enemy of any electronics. So it’s not just about powering these computers and sensors, but also to make sure they can be cooled correctly so that they last longer in a vehicle.

And the power to cool these electronic devices especially, there’s very power hungry computers has to come from battery again, so the power draw on battery is going to be power these electronic devices, but also to cool them. That adds extra complexity.

However, as I said, it is likely that in a time when a large portion of vehicles, if they’re autonomous they can be also connected. And how a vehicle is driven, its overall driving profile can be a lot smoother because, again we don’t have to design for the 90th percentile drive. To put in perspective, sometimes people, when their light turns green, they’re going to hit the accelerator and many times jam the brakes as once they reach you very close to the red light. And these things means you are asking a lot of power, especially when you’re accelerating. You’re asking a lot of power from battery in a very short period of time.

Anytime braking is delivered, that power is going to generate heat that needs to be removed from the battery to cool the battery, also from other parts of the electric power train, especially in motor inverter. So as the driving profile gets smoother, more predictable, it is possible that the thermal management load to cool the battery itself, to cool the motor, inverter may go down.

So that there is this potential balancing act. If automakers can appropriately design and optimize these systems in a cohesive way, this can only be achieved when companies are looking at all of these pieces together rather than trying to optimize one piece of equipment, be that battery or computer or electric motor inverter in siloes.

Conor Peick: Excellent. So you know so far we’ve been really covering I think the challenges of integrating these two technologies and also a bit on the opportunities. But you know to kind of move the conversation. You know how do you see digitalization playing into this equation? How does it help automakers integrate autonomous driving systems with batteries and electric motors and all that stuff? How does it help them integrate these two things in a way that maximizes drive range and performance and also delivers a really, you know, high quality passenger experience?

Puneet Sinha: So to engineer a commercial ready autonomous electric vehicle, and again I am putting spotlight on commercial autonomous electric vehicles, companies need to bring tighter integration among semiconductor electronics, materials, chemistry, electrical, mechanical and software domains.

This validation of engineering and manufacturing processes, especially from the conceptualization stage to validation, to the rollout of end product. If companies take that on, it will allow them to, as I said, evaluate potential trade-offs and also account for interactions across these domains from earliest design stages. And it will allow companies to bring seamless and actionable collaboration across domain experts. Not everybody can be experts in electronics, electrical material, software, mechanical domains, and many times, this expertise don’t even sit inside one company. So this collaboration piece is very critical.

A successful digitalization strategy, therefore, be it for automakers or the suppliers, is very critical and it must be pivoted on three things. It must be pivoted on a comprehensive and accurate digital twin so that engineers can make actionable decisions.

There should be adaptability of this digital twin process, this digitalization strategy to the customer process so that automakers and suppliers they can easily bring these best practices in their processes.

And last but not the least, this digitalization strategy also should have enough flexibility to support an open ecosystem, because companies, automakers and suppliers, they would like to work with different types of solutions.

To put in perspective, for instance, with the right digitalization framework, automakers and suppliers can virtually design, simulate, test and validate the batteries to make sure that they batteries they are going to integrate in the vehicle can meet the autonomous electric vehicle performance and usage requirements, accounting for how they will be used in the vehicle in the real world.

And by doing so, also ensure that the battery, which is very costly element right now for the electric vehicle because the biggest cost comes from batteries, still, to make sure that these batteries are still cost effective and the operation of these batteries in the real world remains safe.

And also make sure that the fast-charging expectations are met, which is a critical part of overall passenger experience.

And on top of that, I just one more thing I would like to add. Adopting this digital solution, this digitalization strategy helps companies build a digital thread across their processes and departments that allow them to connect battery design and engineering with other systems in the vehicle, be it motor and inverter, or even the electronic system or the mechanical design. And because all of these need to interact in a real system, which is important, as I said before, that when companies are designing or sizing or looking at the operation of the batteries, they don’t do it in a silo. They need to account for interdependencies, potential trade-offs of battery performance and reliability requirements and how it interacts with other systems in a vehicle. And these connections they’re looking at this, this vehicle in a holistic way it helps various departments and teams in a company to negotiate design challenges and make sure what they are going, what they’re going to produce is an optimized vehicle.

For instance, address the issues that come with how you take these big battery packs and integrate in the vehicle body. How it is going to impact the overall ride experience and durability.

In an electric autonomous vehicle, the battery, as I said before, will provide power for every vehicle system, including the infotainment and the in-cabin experience account for that. And make sure that the cabin design is also optimized so that there is not unnecessarily heavy pressure on batteries.

And very important, it’s not just about hardware of battery. The software, the battery management system should be robust enough that it can monitor the state of health, state of charge and behavior of every cell in the battery pack to make sure the operation is safe. And also the software for the overall vehicle to provide that experience that the new wave of passengers will be looking for, and to deliver this connected experience from their work and home to the vehicle.

Conor Peick: We are coming up right at the end of our time here, so I wanna leave a few minutes. Nand or Puneet, if you have any final thoughts or takeaways for our listeners today on anything we’ve talked about from, you know, challenges, opportunities and the potential benefits of a digitalization strategy for developing an electric and autonomous vehicle.

Nand Kochhar: Well let me start with, there is a transportation revolution going on, and these are the exciting times in the automotive and transportation industry. Innovation is at an all-time high, so as we look at the industry for the next hundred years, we see a lot of change. Whether it is at an OEM level or at the entire ecosystem.

We believe digital transformation is a key enabler and this is where we get excited, from a Siemens standpoint, so our Xcelerator platform, which is a portfolio of all our technologies and solutions combined with low code application development platform and the industry domain knowledge and expertise with services is the key enabler to help OEM’s and the entire ecosystem to adapt to this transformation.

Puneet Sinha: From my side, everything Nand said I fully agree with that. I will emphasize these are exciting times and disruptive times for overall automotive industry, not just for automakers, but for the whole supply chain. The challenge and the opportunity in these times are all centered on the same point. That is the days of siloed engineering are fading away.

In order to bring out a vehicle, whether it’s a human driven electric vehicle or, in near future, a machine-driven electric vehicles, companies need to design across domains from the very beginning. Electrical, electronics, mechanical, software, all of these needs to be designed and together needs to be thought through together. So rather than just thinking of these vehicles in silo, from Siemens perspective, one thing that we are advancing and fostering is this overall concept of chip to city wherein the vehicle sits.

And in order to bring out the autonomous electric vehicles that are commercially viable and are going to address to address the challenges of mobile society of the next century, digitalization is critical. This brings companies to work more cohesively and collaboratively.

And on behalf of overall teams of Siemens Digital Industries Software, we are excited to be part of the whole automotive ecosystem journey as they as they move towards 0 emission, 0 crash and 0 congestion.

Conor Peick: Awesome. Well, Puneet, thank you very much for joining Nand and I today to talk about these the synergies and challenges of integrating autonomous and electric vehicle platforms. You know, I I’ll speak for both of us. I think it was really awesome to get your expert point of view on this topic and I’m sure the listeners appreciate it as well. And speaking of thanks very much to our listeners for tuning in again and I hope you guys enjoyed this discussion on the future of mobility.

Nand and I will be back soon to talk more about how the automotive and transportation industries are changing tomorrow with the continued push for innovation and everything exciting going on right now, as Nand and Puneet just summarized. So thanks again for listening and we will hopefully talk to you again soon!

Siemens Xcelerator, the comprehensive and integrated portfolio of software and services from Siemens Digital Industries Software, helps companies of all sizes create and leverage a comprehensive digital twin that provides organizations with new insights, opportunities and levels of automation to drive innovation.

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