John Day

News and commentary on automotive EE trends and topics

21 April, 2014

I’ve not experienced this particular problem – with one exception – but I can well imagine that others have: a driver’s rearward visibility is marred by cargo, tall passengers, inclement weather, or what have you. Not good.

Nissan is offering a solution – a Smart Rearview Mirror that combines a newly developed narrow-angle camera and a specially shaped LCD monitor.

The monitor has an aspect ratio of approximately 4:1, versus conventional monitors’ 4:3 or 16:9. Nissan said it couldn’t match a standard wide-angle camera lens to the monitor since the images from the camera were of insufficient resolution and image quality when adjusted to the special monitor size. So it developed a 1,300,000 pixel, narrow-angle camera able to provide the necessary image quality.

The monitor is integrated into a traditional rearview mirror, and with a control at the bottom of the mirror, a driver can switch between traditional and Smart. Compared with a standard mirror, the camera projects a wider and clearer view and, Nissan suggests, a more comfortable driving experience.

No Glare from Bright Headlights

The Smart Mirror can provide a clear image, with minimal glare, in all kinds of weather, and during sunrise or sunset or when the vehicle is being followed by a vehicle with bright headlights. That’s where my eyes light up: driving at night with headlights glaring in my rearview mirror is not a lot of fun.

“Smart Rearview Mirror will give our customers the best possible view no matter how tall the passengers in the back seat or how bad the road conditions,” said Nissan executive vice president and chief planning officer Andy Palmer.

“It also offers the possibility of new and exciting designs for our upcoming models, ensuring that appearance no longer has to be compromised for visibility and functionality. We’ll have the flexibility to create new shapes and to further improve aerodynamics for better driving dynamics and fuel efficiency.”

Nissan installed the monitor in a 2014 Rogue on display at the New York Auto Show. It’s planning to introduce the Smart Rearview Mirror to global markets over the next few years after an initial rollout to Japanese customers this spring.

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11 April, 2014

In my last post I noted the launch by Freescale and Broadcom of a single-chip automotive microcontroller (MCU) that supports compact video compression and fast transmission of video data throughout a vehicle over unshielded twisted pair cabling. The firms said cabling weight could be reduced by up to 30% and connectivity costs reduced by up to 80%.

But wait, there’s more. Cable weight in cars is quite a big deal, and this week Freescale and Maxim Integrated Products both announced products to support higher resolution displays for automotive infotainment and/or advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and simultaneously reduce cabling costs.

Freescale introduced a new family of ARM® Cortex®-based single-chip, triple-core MCUs, the MAC57D5xx. The devices support complex graphics, including heads-up displays that previously required multiple components, e.g., a main processor, graphics unit, external SRAM, and dedicated circuitry.

Freescale said the cost and complexity of all that restricted the benefits to premium cars but now head-up displays and the like should be affordable for mid- and economy-tier segments.

“With automotive system integration at an all-time high, OEMs and their suppliers are focused on consolidating large amounts of driver information and increasing the quality of graphics in dashboards, while keeping safety and security as the first concern,” said Ray Cornyn, vice president of Product Management and Global Marketing for Freescale’s Automotive MCU business.

Taking a different approach, Maxim introduced a family of Gigabit Multimedia Serial Link (GMSL) serializer/ deserializer (SerDes) chipsets that can be used either with shielded twisted pair (STP) or with lighter and less costly coax cabling for high-resolution ADAS or central and rear-seat displays. Maxim estimates that coax can cut cable weight and cost by up to 50%. The SerDes chipsets can drive 1920×720 pixel displays with 24-bit color, and can drive up to 15 meters of cable.

“Consumers are increasingly considering connectivity and infotainment capability in their automobile buying decisions,” said Nina Turner, Research Manager at IDC. “Automotive manufacturers will need to cost-effectively deliver high-resolution video to infotainment displays.”

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2 April, 2014

ABI Research predicts that the global ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) market will reach $261 billion by 2020, making it one of the fastest growing segments in the automotive sector.

ADAS includes applications like park assist and blind spot detection that benefit from surround view camera systems, but surround view is costly because of the heavy shielded cabling it needs; thus it’s more common in luxury than in mainstream vehicles.

Freescale Semiconductor and Broadcom Corp. hope to change that with a new microcontroller (MCU) they launched this week. The single-chip Freescale Qorivva MPC5606E integrates Broadcom’s BroadR-Reach Ethernet PHY.

Both firms are charter members of the Open (One Pair Ether Net) Alliance Automotive Special Interest Group (SIG), which encourages wide scale adoption of Ethernet-based networks as the future de facto standard in automotive networking applications.

Beyond a speed advantage Ethernet sharply reduces the weight and cost of cabling and connections. Freescale and Broadcom estimate that their new MCU has the potential to reduce cabling weight by up to 30 percent and connectivity costs by up to 80 percent.

They say the chip can also reduce the size of automotive camera modules by up to 50 percent. Automakers prefer peripheral cameras to be miniaturized and unobtrusive to maintain vehicle aesthetics. Smaller cameras can be more easily hidden within design features of the car, such as a front grill, bumper or wing mirror.

“Our collaboration with Freescale will enable the development of more optimized ADAS camera solutions and drive the proliferation of advanced features in a broader range of vehicles – beyond the luxury class,” says Dr. Ali Abaye, Broadcom Senior Director of Automotive.

Freescale is sampling the new device now and expects that will be available in production quantities by the end of 2014.

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28 March, 2014

We hear a lot about connected cars these days and clearly, if we’re going to have them, the cars need fast and reliable access to external data.

Hoping to help that along, Continental this week introduced a high-speed telematics module that offers up to 100 Mbps bandwidth wherever in the world the 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile network standard is available.

The module addresses cellular technologies including HSPA, EVDO, GSM, and CDMA, in addition to LTE. It supports national frequency variants in the US, Europe, Russia, China, Brazil, and many other countries. Consumer device connectivity options include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and USB, and automotive bus standards including MOST, CAN, LIN, Ethernet, USB, and Wi-Fi are supported. A compact (35x 40 mm) printed circuit board holds the full chipset – application IC plus RAM/FLASH.

“With our new LTE-capable telematics module, drivers around the globe can expand their capabilities with cloud services, lifestyle apps, and many more innovative features to make driving more comfortable, more efficient, and safer,” said Johann Hiebl, head of Continental’s Business Unit Infotainment & Connectivity.

Hiebl adds, “Our new high-speed Telematics module connects drivers to what matters.” The module will support in-vehicle features such as connecting a smartphone to the car; on- and off-board navigation; safety and security services such as automatic collision notification or remote diagnostics; premium assistance on the road; a Wi-Fi hot spot for rear seat entertainment and business productivity, and various apps.

Continental and others believe that being “Always on” is fast becoming a core requirement for new vehicles, since in the relatively near future, connected cars will be a part of the Internet of everything; communicating with other cars, and with the cloud. Continental’s telematics module is should be available for production in early 2016.

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24 March, 2014

Now that the snow is finally starting to melt, it seems that potholes are everywhere. It makes sense to drive slowly and avoid them wherever possible because they can do serious damage to cars – $5 billion per-year worth in the U.S., by some estimates; several hundred dollars per-year for the average vehicle owner.

“Drivers know immediately when they hit a pothole, but what they don’t know is if their vehicle has been damaged in the process,” says Rich White, executive director of the Car Care Council. “While tires and wheels can be visually checked, potholes can also cause considerable damage to the steering, suspension and alignment systems that you just can’t see.” Potholes are estimated to cause the average motorist several hundred dollars per-year.

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) explains that potholes occur when snow and ice melt as part of seasonal freeze-thaw cycles. The resulting water seeps beneath the pavement through cracks caused by the wear and tear of traffic. As temperatures cool to freezing at night, the water becomes ice and expands below the pavement, forcing the pavement to rise. As the weight of traffic continues to pound on the raised section – and the temperatures climb again above freezing – a shallow divot occurs under the surface and the pavement breaks, forming a pothole. A pothole is typically fixed by cleaning out the loose debris and filling it with hot and cold asphalt patch.

One way to mitigate pothole damage? Buy a Lincoln MKZ. Among its standard features is a continuously controlled damping (CCD) suspension said to provide some protection against jarring impact and costly wheel/tire repairs.

CCD has 12 sensors that can read nearly 50 inputs from road conditions in two milliseconds. In normal conditions, the CCD system provides real-time data to adjust the shocks quickly for an optimum blend of ride and handling.

Pothole Algorithm Software

When a pothole is detected and a wheel drops rapidly, specially developed pothole algorithm software applies additional damping to the shocks to keep the tire and wheel from dropping as deeply into the pothole. The result is a less-harsh reaction. Because the tire and wheel don’t drop as deeply into the pothole, the tire and wheel don’t strike the opposite side of the pothole as harshly, mitigating the effects of many events.

Meanwhile, keep an eye out, and slow down.

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19 March, 2014

We’re seeing more and more advanced automotive concepts, and one that caught our eye this week came from TRW Automotive Holdings. They have a new steering wheel concept that they showed recently on the Rinspeed XchangE showcar at the Geneva Auto Show.

What more can be done with a steering wheel, we wondered; it turns out, quite a lot.

The wheel’s multi-functional features include hands on/off detection to support the driver during semi-automated and automated driving situations. The driver can choose to drive the vehicle, pass control of the vehicle to the front passenger, or have the vehicle drive itself in automated mode.

A Drive Mode Manager (DMM) display, located at the top of the steering wheel, is set to “A” when the car is in automated mode. When the driver is ready to resume control and touches the wheel, the display changes to “M” (manual). “PTD” (Push to Drive) hands control back to the driver. Hands back off the wheel and the car returns to its automated mode.

TRW says certain controls can be eliminated or packaged into the steering wheel, which frees up space

in the car’s interior. In the XchangE vehicle they were able to remove the center console and integrate the gear shift into the steering wheel, plus the horn, and turn signals.

trw 9510-14 TRW Steering Wheel Concept_XchangE 2“Our steering wheel concept redefines the conventional role of the steering wheel as cars evolve and as a result can help to reduce some of the driving tasks and increase comfort,” said Guido Hirzmann, TRW group leader, new technology, Mechatronic.

It might take some getting used to, and there’s still something to be gained in stopping for coffee, at least, but we’re likely to see more of this kind of technology in the not too far distant future.

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12 March, 2014

It took me a minute to grasp what Volvo meant by “roam delivery” service to connected cars.

Say you’ve ordered something online and you’re not home when the product arrives. You have to make alternate plans in order to complete the transaction, and the delivery service incurs extra costs when it has to come by again – because they’re not going to enter your home when you’re not there.

But your car is different, or at least it could be.

volvo deliver to carVolvo Cars – the same Volvo Cars that demonstrated “autonomous parking” – is demonstrating the feasibility and advantages of roam delivery service to connected cars.

Its digital keys technology will allow consumers to choose their car as a delivery option when ordering goods online. The owner will be informed via a smartphone or tablet when a delivery requires dropping off or picking up from the car.

When a delivery has been accepted, a digital key is activated that tracks when the car is opened and then locked again. Once the delivery is completed, the digital key ceases to exist.

Volvo says the system is based on technology in its Volvo On Call telematics app, which also makes it possible to remotely heat or cool the car and see its position or fuel level via the mobile device.

According to research conducted for Volvo, some 60% of people who shopped online last year were not at home to receive what they ordered. Failed first-time deliveries cost delivery firms an estimated €1 billion from having to re-deliver.

Digital keys now make it possible to transform the car into a pickup and drop-off zone no matter where the vehicle owner may be at the time of delivery. A pilot program revealed that 92% of people found it more convenient to receive deliveries to their car than to their home.

“We are now further investigating the technology of digital keys and new consumer benefits linked to it,” says Klas Bendrik, Group CIO at Volvo Car Group.

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4 March, 2014

Good news from Apple this week for those with Lightning-enabled iPhones (iPhone 5s, 5c and 5) who are planning to buy a new car later this year.

The company says its CarPlay in-vehicle infotainment alternative “gives iPhone users an incredibly intuitive way to make calls, use Maps, listen to music and access messages with just a word or a touch.”

Automakers expected to offer CarPlay include BMW Group, Ferrari, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan, PSA Peugeot Citroën, Subaru, Suzuki, Toyota, and Volvo.

Apple says users can control CarPlay from their car’s native interface, or push-and-hold the voice control button on the steering wheel to activate Siri.® Once the phone is connected,  Siri can help a driver  access contacts, make calls, return missed calls, listen to voicemails, and record and send messages.

“iPhone users always want their content at their fingertips and CarPlay lets drivers use their iPhone in the car with minimized distraction,” says Greg Joswiak, Apple’s vice president of iPhone and iOS Product Marketing.

Frost & Sullivan analyst Krishna Jayaraman notes that Apple’s new offering competes directly with MirrorLink-type phone integration solution, though it’s focused on iPhones.

Earlier this year Audi, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai and NVIDIA formed the Open Automotive Alliance, a coalition dedicated to bringing the Android platform to cars. Apparently GM, Honda, and Hyundai see no conflict between Apple and Android and will make both interfaces available to their customers. Volvo says its own Volvo Cars content and Apple content will co-exist simultaneously on a Volvo’s portrait screen, thus eliminating the need to switch between a dedicated car screen and an iPhone screen.

I understand the automakers’ thinking: Prospective buyers want to be able to use their smartphones in their cars, so the automakers can either make it easy for owners to do so or drivers will use their phones anyway, potentially putting themselves and their passengers in danger. Most will be careful; some won’t. Dictating text messages requires some attention, but so does driving.

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25 February, 2014

More cars these days are equipped with display screens and sophisticated infotainment systems, but as the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC) points out, even the most advanced infotainment systems cannot match the breadth of functionality in even the most ordinary smartphones.

The CCC exists to promote MirrorLink™ (formerly known as Terminal Mode) as a safe way to allow drivers to use smartphones in cars. With a phone and a car that each support MirrorLink, drivers can use MirrorLink-certified apps on their smartphones about as easily as they can use their car radio or adjust the vehicle’s HVAC.

That has been easier said than done, but MirrorLink momentum appears to be building. This week MirrorLink technology developer RealVNC announced that Fujitsu launched six MirrorLink-certified Android mobile devices for use on Japanese networks.

“The release of these devices heralds the start of a flood of MirrorLink certified production-ready technology, particularly in Asia and the Far East,” said RealVNC vice president, mobile, Tom Blackie.

Shortly thereafter, the CCC announced that PSA Peugeot Citroën will present two new MirrorLink-enabled vehicles at the 2014 Geneva International Motor Show. The CCC said PSA Peugeot Citroën is among the world’s first automakers to deliver factory-installed, MirrorLink-enabled infotainment systems to the mass market.

CCC president and executive director Alan Ewing expressed optimism: “In the past four months, the CCC has witnessed a sea change in the availability and momentum of MirrorLink-enabled products,” he said. “These rollouts are key additions to more than 500 products already on the market – and represent the true next generation of car-smartphone connectivity. Most of all, vehicle line-fits confirm that MirrorLink is officially in the here and now.”

The CCC has more than 100 members that, according to the organization, represent more than 80 percent of the world’s auto market, more than 70 percent of the global smartphone market and a “who’s who” of aftermarket consumer electronics vendors.

Does your smartphone work with MirrorLink? How about your car? Is the technology something you’ll look for in your next purchase of either?

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21 February, 2014

Renesas Electronics announced this week that it has developed what it said is the industry’s first 28-nanometer (nm) flash memory intellectual property (IP) for microcontrollers (MCUs), using a 28 nm process technology. Automotive applications are among the technology’s targets.

Renesas’ current 40 nm process technology supports up to 8MB of on-chip flash memory for MCUs; however, Amrit Vivekanand, Vice President of Renesas Electronics America’s Automotive Marketing Unit, says that on-chip MCU flash memory modules as large as 10 MB will be required to support the increasing sophistication of the automotive control systems implemented with MCUs.

He said single-chip MCUs developed using the new 28 nm process technology will be able to support a maximum capacity of over 16MB flash memory on chip. In its prototype chip Renesas achieved a readout speed of 160 MHz (versus 120 MHz in its 40 nm process devices) from program storage flash memory – sufficient to implement complex real-time processing.

Moving to a finer process also enables about twice as many high-speed/low-power transistors to be included in the logic blocks compared with the 40 nm process. This makes it possible to develop MCUs with support for multiple CPU cores and multiple interface standards.

In ADAS (advanced driver assistance system), the increased memory capacity and performance can support the complex data processing needed for an application like 3D radar. For powertrains, the new technology will enable even finer-grained control of fuel injection and ignition through increases in the amount of mapping data used for fuel injection, and increased data processing capability. That translates to increased fuel efficiency, reduced emissions, and lower current consumption.

Renesas leveraged MONOS (Metal Oxide Nitride Oxide Silicon) structure flash memory, used previously in 150 nm process MCUs in 2004, 90 nm MCUs in 2007, and 40 nm MCUs in 2012. It expects to be first to market with 28 nm flash MCUs for automotive applications.

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