Somewhat lost among the reams of juicy details—495 horses! Less than 60 grand! No manual?!?!—that gushed out recently about the all-new mid-engine 2020 Chevrolet Corvette was the fact the C8 uses what General Motors has referred to as its Global B electrical architecture.
GM officials on hand during the reveal of the new ’Vette, including the car’s chief engineer, Tadge Juechter, pointed to Global B as one of the key elements behind how Chevy was able to deliver what many thought would be a far more expensive car. It’s all about economies of scale, and Global B, announced earlier this year, will scale its way into almost every GM vehicle by 2023. Hence the company did not have to spend who knows how much to develop a bespoke system for the C8.
Today’s cars are essentially rolling computers as is, and tomorrow’s will be ever more sophisticated. Like your laptop or smartphone, cars of the near future will need even more processing power, faster data downloads, and the hottest software—and it all needs to be protected by the latest in cyber security. This is at the core of what Global B is about.
The volume of data cars generate is already massive, and massively important to vehicle operations. Techs use it to detect and diagnose issues, and various onboard systems analyze data generated to make decisions about everything from damper settings to throttle mapping to lane departure detection. Various systems also communicate and share data with one another to help synchronize vehicle operations. And it’s only going to get more complicated as autonomous features, battery-electric-powered vehicles, and enhanced connectivity options continue to proliferate.
To that end, Global B was developed to handle roughly five times the data flow as GM cars on the road today, as much as 4.5 terabytes of data processing power per hour, according to the automaker. That’s a lot of bytes to chew on, and even that might not be enough to handle what’s to come, especially when cars start communicating with other cars and the surrounding infrastructure.
Indeed, communication is also a huge part of the equation, and thanks to materially faster Ethernet connections and the infrastructure to handle the coming 5G revolution, GM cars will be better wired up to move all that data around the car and to and from the cloud. Although several automakers, including GM and most notably Tesla, have already used OTA (over the air) tech to upgrade software and diagnose vehicle issues, Global B will presumably ramp up OTA updates to include a much wider range of uses, some of which we hope will be some fun stuff.
Say, for example, you want to take your fancy new mid-engine Corvette to the track, someplace like the National Corvette Museum circuit in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Theoretically, you could have an OTA update download the car’s optimum suspension settings for the circuit. Then, after you do your hot laps, you could upload your times to a database where you could see how you did against the likes of other C8 owners who lapped there. Sort of like Gran Turismo in real life.
Turning the car into a communication device also opens the door to phase in software systems that might not be quite ready for prime time yet, such as advanced autonomous tech. Right now, we’re seeing thatwith Tesla and its Autopilot system, which according to the automaker will be upgraded through OTA updates. Presumably, GM’s Super Cruise system could undergo a similar evolution.
Then there’s the potential downside. Imagine your infotainment system being bombarded with coupons to your favorite restaurant or deals on new tires or ads for your local mega store that pop up as you drive by it. I can already see the advertisers and marketers salivating in the distance. Not to mention how automakers would envision using your data in other ways you might not like. The pitfalls are many.
This future connectivity is great and all, but without a hardened security system, your data and more could be at risk, another hazard of the New Automotive World Order. Hackers relish a challenge, and you can be assured automakers will need to be on guard against cyber attacks.
GM’s in-house team of electrical software and hardware engineers have reportedly baked in several measures designed to thwart the bad geeks. In addition, GM engaged cybersecurity communities and other like-minded organizations in order to keep abreast of and aid its efforts to limit future threats. (One thing we’d like to see hacked: a way to turn off GM’s stop/start system.)
GM is certainly not alone in developing an electrical vehicle infrastructure along the lines of Global B, but it’s the kind of effort that not only attempts to future-proof its cars but also helps keep the world’s most affordable supercar still affordable. And we’re down with that.