Are you a car company? You make cars?
Actually not. We’re a software company for cars. We have a completely different approach than the established auto industry: We separate the software from the hardware and we use a very modern programming language called
Rust to allow carmakers to program their vehicles at any time - during development, prototyping, or even while they’re already in customer hands. We make them tick and give this magic power to our customers who can then keep their vehicles up to date through software.
Rust? I know Python and C++. Why go through the effort of using a less widely used language like Rust?
Well, there are two methods of how to build a safe product. The one that has been used so far throughout history, is to write code and make sure it’s tested a lot to get a good feeling that it is actually doing what it’s supposed to do. The other way, until recently quite academic and philosophical, is to make the humans who write the code less likely to produce errors. And Rust is the best language know today, that has such a deep understanding of what it’s doing that it results in much cleaner code, hence much more maintainable code and ultimately in statistically less bugs. For a very simple reason: Our brain is less overwhelmed with easier to understand constructs. Rust has some nice safety and security properties, and it’s also really fast. This actually also gives us a commercial advantage: After investing a lot of time and money in the basics, the operating system of the car that we wrote from scratch in Rust, we now develop much faster than any competition - all because of this solid foundation that keeps extensible even if the complexity increases.
You say that you’ll be able to make a car do all kinds of things using your software. What’s to stop me or anyone from making like it’s GTA and doing crazy or violent things?
Interesting question, and insightful of human nature. Well, we aren’t dealing with end customers who can reprogram their car. Right now, we’re Business to Business – or B2B. That means we sell our software to companies and car manufacturers. They know what they’re doing (hopefully). But also, we have implemented means to control the functional safety during writing of code, meaning it’s difficult to write unsafe code. And last but not least: all code running in a production car must actually follow some safety standards, ranging from QM (that’s quality management) over Failure Mode Effect Analysis (FMEA) to quite elaborate proofs about Advanced Safety Integrity Levels, or ASIL, for short.
Do you have the certification to be road-legal?
Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as
being certified according to one standard - and that’s it
Bringing a car to the market can generally be done in two different ways:
- First is type-approval. Type-approval is when car makers can show that their production methods allow to produce the same car again and again. If you think about it, that’s necessary to proof only one car fulfils certain rules and all others will also be identical copies. This approval comes from government institutions and is based on the fact that each car part has in turn type approval before they assemble it.
- The second method is called single-vehicle certification. This is when you have a one-off vehicle or prototype or so on, and you go to a license authority which can give you a certification for it – but only for this specific single vehicle. We have neither for the cars we built so far! They are just prototypes for internal testing and we drive them on closed circuits. To get type approval is difficult, but that’s also not our business – our customers are typically car makers and they get either type approval or single-vehicle certification.
You keep talking about the future of Elexir and future benefits? What benefit is there currently?
Our product vision is certainly longterm. But with our technology of controlling existing car components, many customers benefit from the achieved independence: They can suddenly program their own cars, or quite simply replace underlying components with a different one and all you need a new ELEXIR driver software - the rest stays unmodified. A huge time saver! And these customers solve what is called a Single Sourcing Problem. With the pandemic, we all learned that this is a huge issue: If a supplier fails or there’s a supply chain issue, it’s almost always not possible to simply replace that components with a similar one from a competitor as they don’t speak the same language. That used to entail an enormous financial overhead or was just technically impossible. We make those components talk. With our software, it’s like a smartphone app: Your app doesn’t care if you have a 12 Megapixel camera from Sony or say Huawei camera with 20 MP, it just gets a picture and does something with it. We treat a car pretty much in the same way: A brake is brake and a windshield wiper is a wiper. It doesn’t matter which technical language they talk or how fast they go, we just control them so that our customers can program them and ultimately breathe life into their car by making it do something.
I’ve heard that other companies like Android and Apple have car software. What makes Elexir different?
Well, not to be confused at all: Android Auto and also Apple Car Play are just a glorified HDMI cable. They extend the screen of your phone to your car – which is super useful, don’t get me wrong. But Elexir is more than that, it’s really the brain and soul of the car. It’s used to program what the car does, how it behaves, which features it has and so on. And yes, it also has a graphical user interface like Android Auto or Apple Car Play. But that’s where the similarities end. As a matter of fact, our infotainment supports Android Auto, which means you can mirror your phone’s screen.
You did stuff at Greentech. Does Elexir technology lead to sustainability?
Sustainability is the concept of using resources of our planet in a more thoughtful way, usually by using simply less, to achieve a goal. Our technology allows our customers to build cars with less hassle, in less time which already saves on precious resources. But the biggest impact of our modular architecture is how many types of different vehicles (buses, trucks, passenger cars, micro vessels) can be built using identical building blocks. This is really cool. We’re basically making cars compatible with the future, we allow car makers to provide life-long updates. That means that bits and bytes can completely change the functionality of a vehicle – meaning you can use that same vehicle in different ways with just an update, giving it a new life. No need to throw away the old when you can update it. Last but not least, the ability to assign characteristics of how the car works to a cloud-based user profile, so, how it looks, how it behaves, which seat and mirror position and so on. Imagine accessing your profile from a different car – sure the car isn’t yours, but all your settings are! This enables the necessary transition from ownership (read: ‘my car sits unused in a parking lot for 90% of the day’) to usage (read: ‘I just go from point A to point B without caring how and if I own that device’).
So if you’re B2B, why should I, a non-business human, care?
Well, the future is digital, and the future of mobility is that we all become more involved in digital consumption. Helping supply chain issues and creating opportunities for more efficient cars can help with changing modes of transportation in an evolving world, and we would love, as a European company, to be a global influence in that way.