McLaren Group embraces IoT and edge computing

The car manufacturer is in the middle of a 'connected car' strategy across business units as it looks to speed up feature development for its vehicles

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McLaren Group

Sports car manufacturer McLaren Group is pushing forward with a connected vehicle strategy which focuses on the use of IoT sensors, edge computing and simulation technology to speed up the rate at which new features can make their way into its cars.

“Not only are we using that connectedness to be able to change the way in which we develop a product and the rate at which we develop the product, we’re using it to be able to execute in a very narrow margin of performance,” Jonathan Neale, COO at McLaren Group told Computerworld UK at the IoT Solutions World Congress in Barcelona last week.

The firm, which boasts of 53 years in Formula One racing, has three business units in racing, automotive and applied technologies. The racing function leads the design and development of Formula One race cars, while automotive – the largest part of the business – manufactures sports cars.

Launched in 2014, applied technologies is the newest part of the business, which looks to take the racing team’s data science expertise in burgeoning areas like IoT and machine learning to external customers in adjacent industries such as aviation, healthcare and manufacturing.

Read next: How McLaren Group is changing to attract young tech talent

Moving to the edge

The next step in this drive to connectedness for McLaren is investigating edge computing, which focuses on processing data at the edge of the network and therefore closer to the vehicle. This would give McLaren better access to real-time data, rather than waiting for it to be processed centrally and fed back out to end users.

Neale uses a racing analogy to exhibit the benefits this increased data velocity could bring to the whole McLaren group.

“To execute a Grand Prix weekend and to really run something well, we need that information running through models in real-time at the edge, so our edge computing requirement has gone up and up with a hunger for data from the engineers,” he explained.

He is clearly aware that this will require rethinking the way its cars are designed and manufactured however.

“The future takes us into electrification and the technologies of that, so that’s batteries, motors and safety-critical software,” he said.

“This includes domain controllers and a vehicle architecture of the future as we look to move more of the compute at the edge into the vehicles. That means the models and all the heavy data processing has to be done at the edge, because we want to be shipping vast amounts of stuff.”

Technology partner Dell has since become a critical part of McLaren’s ‘connected everything’ strategy, with McLaren adopting Dell’s VxRack FLEX high-performance compute platform with flash storage for its more demanding workloads.

It has also been deploying wheel sensors and established secure data distribution using Isilon, another technology from Dell which provides the ability to tier data to public cloud providers.

Driver simulation

McLaren Group has also long been experimenting with various simulation technologies to guide its vehicle design processes. One project is around vehicle-to-vehicle simulation, which enables engineers to test vehicle designs in multiple scenarios through a virtual environment in order to quickly spot the impact on suspension, steering and pedal systems.

Another priority is what the company calls ‘driver-in-loop simulation’, which allows McLaren to take feedback from drivers during a simulated driving experience as part of the development of its car chassis systems.

McLaren has been working with simulation technology since 2000, and Neale says advances in computing and sensor capabilities “gave us the ability to then properly model the environment… by the mid-2000s we had very capable driver-in-loop simulators,” he added.

Industry standards

Neale also talked about the need for industry-wide IoT standards to be worked out, but placed the onus on technology vendors and not the carmakers.

“Who better to be working out those standards than the industry infrastructure players and not the individual users?” he asked, citing potential conflicts between the various carmakers if left to design their own standards.

This is particularly pertinent as vehicle-to-vehicle communication continues to gain momentum and with the increased development of complex advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).

“It’s better that the industry heavy lifters work out those standards and that enables us to really focus on the data layer and software, and the things that define the uniqueness of the McLaren proposition,” he said.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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