John Day

News and commentary on automotive EE trends and topics

20 September, 2014

The past few weeks have been busy ones for Renesas Electronics, a major supplier of chips for automotive and other applications.

The company introduced the R-Car V2H, its third-generation R-Car system-on-a-chip (SoC) and the first in the series optimized for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS); 40 nm RH850/C1x microcontrollers (MCUs) for hybrid and electric vehicle motor control applications, and 16-bit RL78/F13 and RL78/F14 microcontrollers (MCUs) along with new RL78 development kits and software tools from partners (SimuQuest and IAR Systems).

That all sounds nice, but what does it mean for an engineer responsible for designing an ADAS or a motor control system? Why Renesas as opposed to any other automotive chip supplier addressing the same applications?

I posed the question to Amrit Vivekanand, vice president of Renesas’ Automotive Marketing Unit. He told me the answer begins with the IP (intellectual property) in the chip. The R-Car series, for example, previously focused on infotainment. For the V2H, Renesas replaced the infotainment IP with image processing IP.

But it’s often the case that the high-level specs of one chip appear to be quite similar to the specs of chips from other suppliers. The challenge for chip makers is how best to make all of the technology surrounding the IP work effectively to maximize throughput and minimize power consumption.

And that’s where partners come in. Automotive applications are increasingly complex and, chances are, will only become more so. “Most of the challenge is in the integration, not just making the features work, but making them work together with all of the technology that’s needed to enable the system,” says Vivekanand, speaking specifically of SoCs.

Each chip maker has its own consortium of development partners, so engineers must determine not simply which chip will be most effective, but how effectively each chip is supported for a particular application. It’s not just the part; it’s the team that surrounds it.

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12 September, 2014

The Intelligent Transportation Society (ITS) World Congress in Detroit last week was quite an event, from Mary Barra’s keynote on Sunday evening, during which she announced GM’s entry into vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technology, to Bill Ford’s Monday morning look at the future of transportation, to the myriad demos on Belle Isle, and the array of exhibits and panel sessions in Cobo Center.

It was a lot to take in.

My overall impression is that we’re living in very exciting times for the automotive industry. Consider all that’s happened in, say, the last five years and look at how the pace of change is picking up: Navigation/infotainment screens are getting larger. We’re likely to see more head-up displays (HUD). There are many more connectivity choices. Safety features like blind spot detection and adaptive cruise control are increasingly common. Before long every new car will have a rear view camera. Automakers are launching hybrid and all-electric vehicles And V2V and V2I (V2X) is not a matter of if, but when.

Innovation is occurring a step at a time – a feature here, a new model there – but an event like the World Congress puts that innovation in perspective. It’s largely driven by advances in electronics hardware, software, and communications technology. Those advances benefit performance (better fuel economy and lower emissions, the driver/passenger experience (built-in and brought-in), and safety.

V2X demos during the World Congress, as well as exhibits and panel sessions, stressed the potential for much safer driving and the parallel need to make/keep connectivity secure. In that context it’s sad to read about so many vehicle recalls. Sad, but not surprising given the horrendous complexity of cars today. Rigorous testing and adherence to ISO 26262 and other relevant standards is critical. Time will tell which car makers are best able to overcome the obstacles.

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7 September, 2014

When Agero, best known for its roadside assistance services, introduced a smartphone-based telematics system for usage based insurance (UBI), I wondered about the benefit(s).

Agero said its system offered advantages over OBDII hardware solutions for assessing behind-the-wheel behavior, but those advantages weren’t immediately obvious, so I asked Jeff Blecher, Agero’s senior VP of strategy, about them.

He told me that the OBDII hardware puts insurance companies in the hardware/telecom business and suggested that it’s a bit of cost and complexity that the insurance companies don’t need or really want. Also, he said, the hardware only measures speed. In contrast, the smartphone-based telematics app provides all kinds of information on driving performance plus tips for drivers who want to improve their scores and earn lower insurance premiums.

Without some way to measure driver performance – speed, location, distance, time-of-day, abrupt braking, fast lane changes, etc. – the good (safe, careful, etc.) drivers effectively subsidize the not so good. When insurance companies can measure performance (vehicle usage) with precision – and do so with drivers’ privacy in mind – they can offer better drivers lower rates. The privacy issue isn’t quite settled, but as insurance commissioners give telematics technology the go-ahead, it’s likely to catch on quickly. Blecher said Agero’s system is currently undergoing pilot testing.

It won’t work if a driver forgets his/her phone, but Blecher reminded me that the vast majority of smartphone owners have their smartphones with them all the time, and smartphones pair nicely with more and more cars. Saving money on car insurance seems like a decent incentive.

Agero offers two apps: PolicyPal, which tracks driving habits in real-time, and Auto Crash Notification (ACN), which automatically notifies emergency services within moments of an accident occurring.

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29 August, 2014

This probably shouldn’t be a surprise, but it’s an observation supported by research: younger people are a lot more interested in automotive connectivity than older people are, and they are even more interested in mobile connectivity – smartphones and the like.

Lochbridge, formerly the Professional Services Division of Compuware, surveyed consumers ranging in age from 18 to 65 to assess their opinions on automotive connectivity, and the survey revealed a generation gap of sorts.

According to the survey “Automotive Connectivity and the Generational Divide,” a majority (53%) of consumers overall think smartphones, tablets and other mobile technology is more advanced than automotive technology.
But the millennial generation – people aged 18 to 35 – want more than just access to apps and entertainment. Eighty percent of respondents younger than 35 say they want cars that know them personally; had a better understanding of their preferences and could predict what they needed and guide them appropriately. They want their cars to know them in much the same way that their smartphones do.

“Millennials are always-on and always-connected,” said Bob Kennedy, Lochbridge Vice President, Automotive. They want access to more apps (60.7% of respondents under 45 versus 25% over 45), and they expect more options (75.8% to 48.7%). “If gaps exist between automotive and mobile technologies, millennials turn to their smartphones for in-vehicle information and application needs.”

Millennials want more while older generations want less. Kennedy describes an “adoption cliff” for automotive connectivity where the receptivity for in-vehicle technology falls sharply as folks grow older. While 61 percent of those under the age of 45 indicated that they want to safely and easily access applications and information while in a vehicle, only 25 percent of those over the age of 45 indicated the same preference.

One thing respondents could all agree on is safety. Sixty seven percent of respondents indicated that they were willing to pay more for in-vehicle technology that enhances their safety.

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25 August, 2014

I knew that the college football season is almost upon us but was unaware until quite recently that it must be acquisition season. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence or, more likely, the end of the calendar year is approaching, but four automotive electronics-related acquisitions in the past couple of weeks (at least five in the past couple of months) seems like a lot.

Infineon is acquiring International Rectifier (IR) for $40 per share in a deal valued at approximately $3 billion.

The firm’s said IR’s expertise in low-power, energy-efficient IGBTs and Intelligent Power Modules, Power MOSFETs and Digital Power Management ICs should blend well with Infineon’s offering in power devices and modules. IR brings expertise in GaN (gallium nitride on silicon) power semiconductors, a technology in which Infineon is already strong.

Sensata is acquiring the Schrader group of companies in a deal valued at $1 billion.

Schrader is huge – estimated 50% market share – in tire pressure monitoring systems. “The acquisition of Schrader extends Sensata’s leadership position in pressure sensing and provides further access to a rapidly growing $2 billion low pressure sensor market where the largest current opportunity is in TPMS,” said Sensata CEO Martha Sullivan. “Additionally, Schrader’s expertise in MEMS sensing, wireless communications and ASIC design will be highly complementary.”

Murata is acquiring Peregrine Semiconductor in a deal valued at more than $465 million.

Murata is a major supplier of RF modules and Peregrine is big in RF front end products for mobile and analog applications. Sounds like good synergy.

NNG acquired nfuzion for undisclosed terms.

Budapest-based NNG is the developer of iGO Navigation software. Nfuzion is an American HMI (human-machine interface) prototyping company. NNG said the acquisition will allow it to broaden its presence in automotive on-board systems, including infotainment and HMI.

And it was only last month that Mentor Graphics acquired XS Embedded GmbH (XSe), a creator of automotive system architectures and hardware reference platforms. “By combining Mentor’s Android, hypervisor, security, AUTOSAR & Nucleus solutions with XSe automotive-ready solutions, we are able to address the entire vehicle software infrastructure requirements of the most sophisticated vehicles in design today,” said XSe managing director Rainer Oder.

Who’s next?

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19 August, 2014

Mentor Graphics is sponsoring an automotive user conference from 8am to 5pm on Wednesday, September 10, at the Adoba Hotel in Dearborn, Michigan. User2User Automotive 2014 is free, and you can register or get more details here.

The day begins with back-to-back keynotes by Martin O’Brien, Mentor Graphics General Manager, IESD, and Paul Menig, CEO, Tech-I-M.

Martin’s topic is “The Death of ‘Island’ Mentalities.” He’ll explain how technology is enabling new levels of connected engineering and explain in some detail where solutions are headed next.

Winning the Race

Prior to starting Tech-I-M, Paul Menig led the Mechatronics Group at Daimler Trucks North America. He’ll speak on “Connecting the DOT’s Future — Department of Transportation.” Autonomous driving, drones, electrically powered transportation from skateboards to buses, alternatively fueled engines, and wearable computers are here today in low volumes, but will be mainstream in 10 years. Paul Menig says the future of public and private mobility will depend on faster advanced development that is more complex, yet ultra-reliable, and those that win the race will make use of every development tool possible.

Following the keynotes U2U attendees can hear talks and participate in discussions in five separate tracks with four presentations in each. The tracks are Embedded Software, PCB Flow, Model-Based System Design, Electrical Systems & Harness Engineering, and Thermal Design & Component Reliability.

Participating speakers represent Arynga, Delphi, Visteon, Rockwell Automation, Chrysler, IBM Rational, John Deere, Navistar, PACCAR, and Flextronics, in addition to Mentor Graphics. U2U Automotive is an opportunity to network with technology users, developers, and industry experts.

The pace of automotive electronics technology development is relentless. Mentor Graphics’ U2U Automotive conference promises to provide engineers with up-to-date information on the latest technology, and best practices. I hope to see you there.

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12 August, 2014

Yes, it’s true that June 7-11 2015 is almost a year away, but it’s not too early to mark your calendar and plan to attend the 52nd Design Automation Conference (DAC) at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

DAC is sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the Electronic Design Automation Consortium (EDA Consortium), and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). It’s the year’s most important event for engineers who design and develop electronic circuits and systems, and for electronic design automation (EDA) in general. Attendees represent more than 1,000 organizations.

This week the DAC planners named their Executive Committee, headed by Anne Cirkel, a senior director for technology marketing at Mentor Graphics, as General Chair. Anne is an eight-plus year veteran of the Executive Committee, which oversees the exhibition and trade show, plans the technical program, establishes new initiatives, and manages conference operations and publicity. Anne’s has a blog on DAC at https://dac.com/blog/52%20Weeks%20of%20DAC

Co-chairs of the DAC Automotive Track are Anthony Cooprider from Ford Motor Company and Samarjit Chakraborty from the Technical University of Munich. The Automotive Village was a first for DAC this year and automotive electronics design should be even more prominent next June.
Also on the Executive Committee are:

- Chuck Alpert, Cadence, Inc., Vice Chair
- Patrick Groeneveld, Synopsys, Inc., Finance Chair
- Sharon Hu, University of Notre Dame, and Robert Aitken, ARM, Inc., Technical Program Co-Chairs
- Valeria Bertacco, University of Michigan, Panel Chair
- Raymond Rodriguez, Intel Corp., Tutorial Chair
- Michael McNamara, Adapt IP. Inc., IP Track Chair
- Ramesh Karri, New York University, Security Track Chair
- Robert Oshana, Freescale, Inc., Embedded Systems and Software Chair
- Daniel Bourke, Cadence Design Systems, Inc., and Karam Chatha, Qualcomm, Inc., Designer Track Co-Chairs
- Rob van Blommstein, Consultant, Industry Advisory Chair
- Michelle Clancy, Cayenne Communication, LLC, Publicity/Marketing Chair
- Soha Hassoun, Tufts University, Past Chair
- Naehyuck Chang, Seoul National University, ACM SIGDA Representative
- Tiffany Sparks, ARM, Inc., EDA Consortium Representative
- Shishpal Rawat, Intel Corp., IEEE CEDA Representative

If you’re based in or around San Francisco, consider joining the Bay Area Local Committee to work with DAC and the people and companies in Silicon Valley. Call 303-530-4333 to learn more.

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6 August, 2014

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This week at the Management Briefing Seminar, sponsored by the Center for Automotive Research, Volkswagen of America (VW) described the “holistic” approach it plans to take with its 2015 e-Golf, the all-electric, zero tailpipe emissions vehicle scheduled to go on sale later this year at participating dealerships in select US states. I’m looking forward to seeing it.

Though it has the tailpipe covered, emissions-wise, Volkswagen knows there will still be greenhouse gas emissions associated with the e-Golf’s production and distribution, and with the production of energy. With that in mind, Volkswagen has partnered with 3Degrees® to purchase corresponding carbon offsets in California and elsewhere to cover the first 36,000 miles of e-Golf driving. 3Degrees provides renewable energy certificates and carbon offsets to organizations committed to sustainability.

Next, Volkswagen is working with solar system provider SunPower on a promotion enticing e-Golf customers to install a residential SunPower system. They can save on their annual electricity costs and power the car, thus reducing the overall cost of ownership. The SunPower energy storage system is not commercially available yet, so we’ll have to wait for details.

Bosch Automotive Service Solutions will serve as a charging station and installation services partner for the e-Golf. It will provide a 240-volt charging unit, the Power Max® charging station, and full-service installation.
Plus all that, ChargePoint® will provide authorized e-Golf dealerships with VW-branded charging stations and will give e-Golf drivers access to their network of public EV charging stations – 18,000 around the U.S. The ChargePoint mobile app will help drivers find their way to the nearest ChargePoint station and start charging sessions.

It looks like Volkswagen has thought a lot about electric vehicle ownership. Do you have an all-electric vehicle or are you thinking about buying one?

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30 July, 2014

I had no idea, until I spoke earlier this week with Ian Wright, founder and CEO of a small San Jose California company called Wrightspeed, that a sizable percentage of garbage trucks (solid waste collection vehicles) in California no longer meet California Air Resources Board (ARB) emission standards and must be replaced. With new trucks costing in the vicinity of $500,000, that could be an expensive proposition.

We want clean air, but we also want solid waste removed, and Wright’s company offers a solution that is attracting the attention of solid waste fleet owners: It has developed a plug-in electric powertrain that can be retrofitted on the trucks in question, allowing them to surpass ARB’s emissions standards by 1,000 percent.

Not only that, but the powertrain, known as Route HD, can also save fleet owners more than $35,000 in fuel costs and $10,000 in maintenance costs per-truck, per-year. According to Wright, that selling proposition is sufficiently attractive to present a potential $2 billion market opportunity for Wrightspeed.

The Route HD uses an onboard turbine generator to charge the battery as needed. It uses CNG, LNG, diesel or landfill gases. Wrightspeed is partnering with The Ratto Group to convert garbage and recycling vehicles in Sonoma and Marin counties from clean diesel to electric drive. “Wrightspeed’s very efficient and super clean powertrains are a great fit for our fleet,” says chief operating officer Lou Ratto.

Consider the alternatives: According to the ARB, engines in heavy vehicles (buses as well as trucks) built prior to 1994 must be replaced next year by model year 2010 or newer engines. Engines built in 1994 or 1995 must be replaced in 2016.

Engines built between 1996 and 1999 can get by with a PM (particulate matter) filter until 2020, after which they’ll need a 2010 or newer engine. Engines built between 2000 and 2004 can get by with a PM filter until 2021, those built in 2005 or 2006 are okay with a PM filter until 2022, and those built between 2007 and 2009 can go until 2023, but after that they all must be replaced. Beginning January 1, 2020, all trucks and buses operating in California will need to be upgraded to 2010 model year engines. The ARB estimates that its regulation applies to nearly one million diesel vehicles operating in California, so reducing pollution from heavy vehicles is a big deal.

And the ARB doesn’t stop there. A good number of medium-duty delivery trucks – the ones that drive a lot of miles each day – will also be able to benefit from Wrightspeed’s technology to avoid a premature demise. Earlier this year FedEx Express took delivery of Wrightspeed’s medium-duty product, the Route, which replaces a truck’s diesel engine, transmission, and differential and, like the Route HD, improves on fuel economy and maintenance costs and exceeds CARB’s emission standards by a factor of ten.

Wright says FedEx has already ordered more Routes. Counting both medium-duty and heavy trucks, Wright estimates his firm’s annual market opportunity at approximately $5 billion.

The company is ramping up as quickly as it can find qualified people. It bears watching.

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25 July, 2014

Those of a certain age may remember what it was like to wait impatiently to turn 16 and be able to drive (legally). There was an excitement about driving and eventual car ownership that’s not there anymore, or at least not there to the same degree. Kids these days have other options, as do adults, especially those who live in urban areas.

And that’s okay according to Scott Belcher, president and CEO of ITS America. “The world is connected, and that connectivity is changing transportation completely,” he told attendees at Drive Oregon’s EV Roadmap 7 in Portland. “We’re moving to a shared use mobility system; especially this newer generation. They have very different expectations of transportation than people of earlier generations do. They can go to their phones, access any of several apps, and get to their destination safely and economically.”

That’s not so bad, especially considering the automotive industry’s technology momentum. “This is the most exciting time to be involved in transportation since the interstate highway system,” Belcher says. “The automobile industry has been making great strides in terms of safety; adopting new technology and becoming more fuel efficient, including electric vehicles. We ought to embrace that movement. Software, lasers, radar, lidar and many more technologies are changing the way we drive, and they are also getting less expensive.”

Meanwhile, serious issues remain. Belcher notes that the United States is currently challenged in its ability to move goods and people. “We need smart solutions,” he warns, adding that solutions will be among the topics raised at the ITS World Congress in Detroit, September 7-11.

The ITS World Congress is the largest transportation technology event of 2014 and is expected to attract more than 10,000 international business, government, and research leaders. The event will showcase the latest transportation innovations and share ideas and strategies for advancing the development and deployment of intelligent transportation solutions to solve the world’s transportation challenges.

For more information on the event visit www.itsworldcongress.org.

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