How TCS Has Joined The Quest To Build The Car Of The Future
After over a century of business as usual, the auto industry is at an inflection point in terms of technology and product.
Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. is seeking a slice of the pie that is the experience economy. And it sees cars as a way to get there.
At the recent Hyderabad leg of Formula E, Jaguar TCS Racing ran two state-of-the-art electric cars against the likes of Porsche, McLaren, Maserati, Nissan, and Mahindra. While the race was won by American auto racing team DS Penske, the outing was largely forgettable for Jaguar TCS—their cars, piloted by Mitch Evans and Sam Bird, rammed into each other.
Still, there were lessons for India's largest IT services firm.
"There's a tremendous amount of data that needs to be processed in the shortest (period of) time," Regu Ayyaswamy, senior vice president of IoT at TCS, told BQ Prime in an interaction ahead of the 2023 Hyderabad E-Prix. "And there is a lot of algorithmic or computational power that is required for accomplishing it."
Horsepower To Computing Power
After more than a century of business as usual, the auto industry is at an inflection point, both in terms of technology and the product itself—so much so that a car is increasingly built around a computer and not the other way around.
The future of mobility, then, is CASE: Connected, Autonomous, Shared, and Electric. Cars will become part of a mobility-services ecosystem—digitally enabled experience platforms where data and time can be monetised. The number of vehicles with CASE features will multiply over the next decade, completely changing the automotive landscape.
, a group of automotive executives, analysts, and industry insiders, by 2030:
96% of new vehicles will have built-in connectivity.
79% of new vehicles will have Level-2 autonomy or higher.
24% of new cars sold globally will be electric vehicles.
While connectivity brings the cloud into the car—increasing the scope of personalisation by utilising data—autonomy brings in computation for a safer drive. Shared mobility will lead to higher car utilisation and less car ownership, even as electric powertrains make driving cleaner.
"There is a convergence of software, and the software really decides many things in the vehicle," Ayyaswamy said. "The car of today, not unlike the telephone, is a digital product now."
Still, there are some teething troubles, primarily the lack of infrastructure. The lack of charging or battery-swapping stations and a well-defined policy is thwarting the electric drive, even as the product finds more takers every day.
TCS has had a thriving automotive and engineering business for decades now, where they have worked with the likes of General Motors Co. in the US and Nissan Motor Co. in Japan on both the mechanical and software aspects of building a car from the ground up.
"We get involved in the early stages of a car's life cycle, after the trim and contours are in place," Ayyaswamy said.
On the mechanical side, after the clay model is in place, TCS steps in at the detailing stage to give its input on chassis and powertrain design, as well as "body in white"—a stage in automobile manufacturing where the car's frame is put together before the motor, chassis sub-assemblies, and trim are integrated into the structure.
"Our ability is to simulate the entire structural behaviour of a car," said Ayyaswamy. "I can model the entire car in 3D to decide what material to use where."
"Then, I can simulate a crash test on the computer to gauge exactly how the car will crumple on impact and at what speed. So, when the physical crash test finally happens, the car will pass the test on the first try."
Then comes the software and electronics. Here, TCS gets involved in the requirement stage to define what goes into the vehicle and at what level of autonomy. In India, cars are at the rudimentary stage of Level 2 Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, or ADAS, which includes driver aids like rain-sensing wipers, night vision, driver alertness, and adaptive cruise control.
In September last year, the company unveiled the TCS Mobility Cloud Suite, a toolbox of cloud-enabled software to help original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs, adapt to rapid changes in their industry and accelerate the expansion of their ecosystems.
To be sure, TCS isn't the only Indian IT services firm that's developed a standalone automotive business.
Wipro Ltd. has built in-house capabilities and a "cloud car" ecosystem to bridge the gap for traditional manufacturers whose hardware-focused culture doesn't align with a software-centric world.
Infosys Ltd. and Daimler AG are in partnership to drive cloud-powered innovation and IT infrastructure transformation in the auto industry. The company has a subsidiary in Stuttgart, Germany, for its automotive business.
Renault AG has brought on board KPIT Technologies Ltd. as a strategic technology partner for its software-defined vehicle programme.
Tech Mahindra has partnered with Mahindra Racing in Formula E to bring learnings from the race track to the road. Its analytics platform makes sense of the data generated by the EV well as the driver.
TCS first built an electric powertrain for a Japanese OEM almost a decade ago. Today, it has a dedicated lab in its Pune facility for EVs, as well as a self-driving car that runs a test course on campus. Core to TCS’ EV work is the software it has built for the battery management system as well as a charging protocol.
In EVs, battery modules are laid out in clusters in the floor bed of the car. The Mumbai-based IT services firm has developed an algorithm that controls the charging and discharging functions of each cell so that they are synchronised for maximum output as well as heat dissipation.
As for the charging protocol, the company has developed DC converters and inverters as well as subscription-based charging stations deployed at Tata Power outlets. An "EV to Home" protocol—that sends power back to the grid—is also in play, as is a wireless charging module. An electric car gets charged when parked over sensors embedded in the floor.
The business does not include IT solutions that TCS provides to OEMs such as General Motors, Chrysler Corp., and Stellantis NV. A total of 7,000–8,000 engineers are employed in this vertical in India and abroad.
But does this translate into revenue? How much does TCS’ automotive business contribute to the company’s overall revenue?
Ayyaswamy was non-committal, not even offering a ballpark figure.
"It is very significant. It’s a growing segment for us," he said. "We have made the right investments, trained engineers in AI and ML (artificial intelligence and machine learning), and brought to them the tech wherewithal. We are very positive about this growing space."