How do you build a premium product feature in India, and not just take something that works in California and make it cheaper to sell to Indian customers? That was the question Ather Energy co-founder Tarun Mehta asked himself when trying to build what went on to become a pioneering touchscreen dashboard for electric scooters.

“We wanted a lot of compute power on a scooter in India for the first time, and it was quite a big deal because the only automotive grade solutions available, just for the dashboard, cost between Rs 30,000-50,000,” he says.

Building a touchscreen dashboard from scratch meant Ather had to overcome a host of issues. The first was thermal. This is a visible display, unlike a car display. Which means the sun is on it all the time. Taking that much heat out from a display and keeping the processor cool was the number one challenge.

Then there’s vibration, given India’s infamous pothole-strewn roads. If the scooter goes into a really bad pothole, you can’t have the display crack or disconnect. It needed to be as reliable as the motor, it needed the ability to absorb road vibrations and shocks.

Mehta says to overcome the thermal and vibration issues, Ather’s engineering team had to have a fundamental understanding of chips so that they could engineer, from the ground up, a PCB (printed circuit board) design that could withstand the rigorous requirements. “It took thousands of hours of in-house testing,” he says.

The software was another huge challenge. Every part of the vehicle – charger, motor, controller, even the lights and brakes – was connected to the central processor on the dashboard, and was sending data. “Managing all this incoming data was the hardest problem in the end to solve,” says Mehta.

“The onboard computer is collecting several gigabytes of data. You want to be able to reliably, safely and quickly upload all of this data so that when somebody opens the mobile app, they can track everything about the vehicle in real-time – where the vehicle is, what the vehicle is operating at, even limit its operating ranges,” Mehta says.

For all of that to happen, the entire data pipeline had to be built. At first Mehta and his team thought they were faced with a simple problem. Until they realised that everyone in the industry relies on WiFi. “Making it work on a 4G sim card and putting all of this directly to the cloud, caching it, and making a two-way communication from the cloud and setting up the entire cloud infrastructure, those were huge problems,” he says. Ather had to design an advanced three-layered vehicle software architecture which comprised real-time, edge, and cloud computing, with strict error checking and redundancy.

Ather had 100 of their engineers just working on this one problem statement alone. “The kind of data that our engineering teams are dealing with rivals many e-commerce companies in India today,” Mehta says.

  • Published On Oct 30, 2022 at 06:01 PM IST

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