Tethered Architectures in Cyber-physical System Development: The Case of Tesla's Autopilot System

Antti Lyyra, Kari Koskinen, Carsten Sørensen, Tucker Marion

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearchpeer-review


Cyber-physical systems form a complex design challenge that requires learning through product use. A central design objective is a contextually and physically embedded behavioral model that controls situated interaction with respect to environmental variation. Environmental variety and systemic complexity, however, bounds developers’ capacity to foresee all eventualities, calling for a process and architecture that facilitate physically grounded experimentation and adaptation. Current theories do not provide an adequate architectural blueprint. Building on a longitudinal analysis of Tesla's Autopilot system, we propose the concept of a “tethered architecture.” A tethered architecture accommodates product hardware's slower, incremental iteration to be linked with faster software development and continual data- rich feedback loops. It foregrounds the circular flow of data and code between consumer-facing product instantiations and backend software operations. It also discloses the multifaceted informational and computational connectedness which permeates across product instantiations and through the development process. A tethered architecture combines programming, machine learning, data production, testing, and simulation – highlighting how functional interdependencies and interaction effects shape data collection, feature iteration, and learning. We argue that cyber-physical systems require a shift from an architectural language of separation to one that embraces high levels of systems interconnectedness between the software and its enabling hardware.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2022
Number of pages35
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes
EventThe Academy of Management Annual Meeting 2022: Creating a Better World Together - Seattle, United States
Duration: 5 Aug 20229 Aug 2022
Conference number: 82


ConferenceThe Academy of Management Annual Meeting 2022
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Cybernetics
  • Cyber-Physical Systems
  • Architecture
  • Product Modularity
  • Integrality
  • Tethered Architecture
  • New Product Development
  • Digital Innovation

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