Car Sharing - Easy On The Outside, Complex On The Inside
Never in its more than one hundred-year history has the car industry had to handle as much change as right now. Electrification and the emergence of the software-defined car are just two areas that are dramatically changing what cars can do and how they’re built. On top of that, the role of the car seems to be evolving. Some experts even predict that the era of the private car will soon be over.
One thing’s for certain: A growing group of primarily young customers is looking at the car in a different way 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 manufacturers are adding new dimensions to their business, in an effort to become digital mobility companies, offering their vehicles as one layer among many in new solutions tailored to the mobility landscape of the future.
Buying, Renting, Sharing
One of Europe’s biggest auto industry manufacturers 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 Akkodis Germany, was launched in 2019 and 2020 in two major European cities. 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 service is a free-floating car sharing service–that means there are no fixed parking places–users can leave the car anywhere within a specified area of the city once they have finished using it.
The service targets young urban people used to interacting with the world via their mobile phones, so the project’s main focus was developing a mobile application and a platform connecting to several backend 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 Akkodis Germany.
“Everything runs through the app,” Stumpf says. “To get started the customers register their driver’s license and 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 start it. When they’ve finished their trip, payment is taken automatically in the background via the app.”
Squeezing all these services into one app, and developing a user-friendly interface, requires a lot of technical know-how. “The project has been one of the most complex ones Akkodis in Germany has handled,” Stumpf says.
To make it as easy as possible for customers to sign up, Akkodis integrated a third-party service which automatically checks a user’s driver’s license for authenticity based on a mobile phone photo.
For basic car rental features such as starting and ending a rental and tracking the car, the team used a white-label backend developed by a car sharing service provider. Third-party services for parking are also integrated. As the service only offers electric vehicles, a charging service is built into the app as well. Finally, Akkodis 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. Adding to the complexity, the app offers different tariffs and discount options, and invoices are sent to the users immediately.
Scalability was a high priority and the platform is designed to scale easily both on the user and the vehicle side. The Akkodis Germany team assisted the customer’s own development team in building a platform architecture able to scale in a cloud environment. Backend and middleware development utilize cloud-native and serverless computing.
The platform also integrates business intelligence and data science tools that can make use of accumulated data to further develop and optimize the system.
The car sharing app’s native use of the cloud increases efficiency, explains Felix Rauchfuß, software developer at Akkodis Germany. 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 such as 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,” Rauchfuß says.
“We are deeply integrated into the cloud and that increases our operational efficiency. For example, infrastructure maintenance is reduced to a minimum, because the cloud providers take care of it and 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 Akkodis has contributed to refining the service, introducing dynamic pricing, based on the use of each individual vehicle. Operational data is also used to increase the efficiency of the service agents looking after the vehicles, cleaning them, relocating them and driving them to charging stations.
In future, Akkodis is preparing to support its customer in reaching the next level of interconnectedness in e-mobility.
“Our customer has ambitious plans,” Stumpf says. “And we are very much looking forward to contributing to that large-scale integration. It’s really exciting to be part of the transformation of a large company as it evolves from pure car manufacturer to a central provider of one overall mobility platform.