Never in its 100+ year history has the car industry had to handle as much change as right now. Electrification for one thing, together with the emergence of the software-defined car, is dramatically changing what cars can do and how they’re built. On top of that, the role of the car seems to be changing. Some experts even predict that the era of the private car will soon be over.
At least, a growing group of primarily young customers are looking at the car in different ways than their parents, and the car industry is reacting accordingly. The industry is beginning to think of itself as more than just a manufacturer of vehicles. Auto OEMs are adding new dimensions to their business, in an effort to become digital mobility companies, and to offer their vehicles as one layer among many in new multi-layer solutions tailored to the mobility landscape of the future.
Buying, renting, sharing
For instance, one of Europe’s biggest auto industry OEMs recently bought a car rental company, invested millions of euros in a car sharing app, launched a ride-hailing service, and is developing automated valet parking software.
The car sharing app, developed in cooperation with Data Respons subsidiary IT SONIX, was launched in 2019 and 2020 in two major European cities. Currently, it includes 2,300 electric vehicles and hundreds of thousands of customers, and there are plans to launch it in other large cities in Europe. Due to a confidentiality agreement, we are not allowed to mention the name of the company.
Young and urban
The car sharing service is targeting young urban people used to interacting with the world via their mobile phones. Therefore, the main focus of the project was developing a mobile application and a platform connecting to several back-end services. The platform was designed to facilitate easy and highly automated user registration, app-driven locking and unlocking of cars and automated billing.
– We have developed an Android and an iOS version, and with these apps the customer is able to do everything, says Frank Stumpf, software engineer at IT SONIX.
– The industry term for this concept is free-floating car sharing. There are no fixed stations where you pick up your car. Cars can be parked everywhere within a specified business area in a city. And you can leave the car everywhere within the city’s business area.
– Everything runs through the app. To get started the customers register their driver’s license and their billing information. Then they can look for a car nearby, book it, find where it’s parked, and when they’ve found it, unlock it, and turn it on. When they’ve finished their trip, Payment is done automatically in the background via the app. The same goes for purchasing parking tickets.
To squeeze all these services into one app, and developing a user-friendly interface, requires a lot of technical know-how, and according to Frank Stumpf, the project has been one of the most complex ones IT SONIX has handled.
For instance, to make it as easy as possible for customers to sign up to the service, IT SONIX integrated a 3rd party service allowing users to take a picture of their driver’s license with their mobile phone. The service then automatically checks its authenticity.
For the basic car rental features, like starting and ending a rental and tracking the car, IT SONIX used a white-label backend developed by a car sharing service provider. 3rd party services for parking are also integrated. And, as the service only offers electric vehicles, a charging service is built into the app as well. Finally, IT SONIX provided the app with a billing solution. That was no easy task, as there are numerous ways to invoice customers, and many different payment service providers as well. Adding to the complexity, the app offers different tariffs and discount options, and invoices are sent to the users immediately.
Also, scalability has been a high priority. Both on the user and on the vehicle side, the platform is designed to scale easily. The IT SONIX team assisted the customer’s own development team in building a platform architecture able to scale in a cloud environment. Back-end and middleware development utilize cloud-native computing and serverless computing.
On top of that the platform integrates business intelligence and data science tools, for using the accumulated data to further develop and optimize the system.
Looking at the tech side of things, Felix Rauchfuß, software developer at IT SONIX, emphasizes that the car sharing app uses the cloud natively. In fact, he and his colleagues have followed a multi-cloud strategy, running the system in Google Cloud as well as Azure.
– Being cloud native means, that we don’t set up virtual machines or Kubernetes clusters to deploy our microservice infrastructure. We use cloud native services like serverless functions. These are tiny microservices or nanoservices, which are a central serverless offering of most of the cloud providers today. We also use serverless databases, message brokers and API gateways.
– We are deeply integrated into the cloud and that increases our operational efficiency. For example, maintenance of the infrastructure is reduced to a minimum, because the cloud providers will take care of it. They are also responsible for scaling. If we double our customer number in two weeks, that’s no problem because the cloud providers will do the scaling for us.
Reaching the next level
Since the launch of the car sharing service IT SONIX has contributed to refining the service, for instance introducing dynamic pricing, based on the use of each individual vehicle. Also, operational data is used to increase the efficiency of the service agents looking after the vehicles, cleaning them, relocating them and driving them to charging stations.
Looking into the future, IT SONIX is preparing to support its customer in reaching the next level of interconnectedness in e-mobility.
– Our customer has ambitious plans, Frank Stumpf explains.
– And we are very much looking forward to contributing to that large-scale integration as well. It is really exciting to be part of the transformation of a large company from pure car manufacturer to a central provider of one overall mobility platform.