A vehicle that can program its temperature to be optimised ahead of charging? Or help their drivers plan the best possible routes? That's software-defined vehicles for you. Image Credit: Shutterstock

The UAE is already home to some of the world’s most advanced smart cities.

Its urban centres in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi connect transport and infrastructure to the people through technology, boosting efficiency and productivity on the country’s route to reducing its reliance on oil. The 'Smart Dubai' initiative, launched 10 years ago, continues to play a pivotal role in this journey.

The great news for consumers? The latest phones, TVs, cars and other gadgets that we’re buying for their innovative features and cool experiences can also help us make the most of our burgeoning smart cities.

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Let’s look more closely at cars – or, as many are calling them, ‘smartphones on wheels’. Far more complex than phones, and with an intricate network of systems and technologies, the appeal of a new car is no longer about how it looks or how powerful it is. Here’s how car-buyers and owners in the UAE can unlock the very best of our smart cities.

Rise of software-defined vehicles (SDVs)

The integration of computerization and software controls in various car systems has given rise to SDVs, bringing multiple advantages to those adopting electric vehicles (EVs) in the UAE.

For instance, having a satellite navigation system that communicates with an EV battery can enable the navigation screen to display the predicted remaining capacity when the driver reaches their intended destination.

Another benefit is a temperature-preconditioned battery.

This means if the driver sets a destination known to have a charging station, the EV can make adjustments so that upon arrival, the battery’s temperature is optimised to get a maximum charge.

As the UAE is working towards developing the smartest cities in the world, the SDV will become even more important as a dynamic node in this system. In the smart city, data and IT are leveraged to improve operational efficiency, share services with public citizens, and enable a wide range of enhanced government initiatives.

This includes helping traffic flow more smoothly, imposing environmental regulations, managing parking more effectively, and reducing energy usage where possible.

The SDV can become fully integrated into this ecosystem, because it connects its own local Edge computing systems to the cloud. Technologies such as 4G, 5G and their successors allow the SDV to share the data it is collecting with smart infrastructure, and in turn receive data back.

For example, the SDV can send its average speed and location — even weather or road conditions it is encountering — to the cloud, to enhance traffic intelligence, which other vehicles can then use to optimise their routes.

Tolls can be charged automatically based on vehicle location, without the need for physical barriers or license plate recognition. In the future, data from the vehicle’s cameras and other sensors could be used to enhance public information services, or to provide additional information for ensuring physical security. The car itself can even be integrated more directly into the energy flow of the urban environment.

How SDVs fit into smart cities

Recently, Abu Dhabi approved a plan to establish a special cluster to develop smart and autonomous vehicles across land, sea and air. The complex is expected to contribute Dh90 billion to Dh120 billion to the UAE economy.

Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) and self-driving technology company Cruise recently launched a trial featuring autonomous vehicles (AVs) based on the Chevrolet Bolt. Dubai’s ambition is to convert 25 per cent of the city’s trips to autonomy by 2030.

SDVs are also set to be a major part of the operations of EVs in the UAE. As the UAE aims for 50 per cent electric vehicles on roads by 2050, the country is deploying a nationwide network of EV charging stations.

In line with this, Dubai plans to expand its network of public charging stations for electric vehicles by 170 per cent by 2025. Each charging station, and each vehicle that connects to it, is part of the IoT, including the mobile devices that control much of the charging activity and billing.

Challenges and opportunities

With the ongoing shift towards the SDV within the automotive sector – where operations, functionality and features are entirely software-powered – new challenges continue to emerge. Cars will become ubiquitously connected to their environments, in-car experiences will be personalised and integrated, with more data than ever created by sensors and applications.

More connectivity, data and integrated technologies mean a greater target for hackers. With more than 100 million lines of code in modern cars, it’s critical to secure them.

As the UAE’s cities continue to grow and develop, the initiatives to connect their infrastructure for a greener, smarter way of life has cars at its center.

The power of today’s cars to help drivers make better decisions at every turn means automakers must make advanced SDVs available to all, if the UAE is to take the fastest route towards the cities of the future.