John Day

News and commentary on automotive EE trends and topics

30 January, 2015

snow_roadsBaron Services, Inc., the Huntsville, Alabama company that provides storm tracker service to TV stations and up-to-date information on weather and road conditions to drivers via SiriusXM, is currently marketing a Driver Safety Program to automakers and tier one suppliers.

Chris Carr, Baron’s director of business development, says the program’s objective is to make immediate, contextual information on weather and road conditions available to drivers as part of a comprehensive safety package configured by each automaker.

Baron provides the weather information to automakers via an API (application programming interface).

“In keeping with the trend toward the connected car, the idea is that all weather-related threats and road condition information relevant to a driver’s specific location will be available in a single product integrated by the automaker as a standard safety feature,” says Carr. “It’s more a service than it is an app, and as such it helps personalize the driving experience. It will be like having a meteorologist sitting next to you.”

car_gps_fog1Carr says Baron’s connected vehicle service goes well beyond traditional forecasting.

“We are now able to provide precise, personalized weather information to a driver, taking into account changing conditions relative to the driver’s travel time and their distance from a developing weather event. We take these millions of pieces of data, and we index them with real-time meteorological information to create a library of road surface conditions.”

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, in the U.S. there are more than 5.8 million vehicle crashes in the U.S. each year, of which an estimated that 23 percent are weather-related.

That’s approximately 1.3 million crashes – accounting for 6,250 deaths and 480,000 injuries – caused by adverse road conditions including rain, sleet, ice, snow, fog, severe crosswinds, and blowing snow, sand or debris.

Carr says Baron is currently working with automakers, suppliers, and insurance companies. “As the connected car takes off, with services increasing, we expect to see a reduction in accidents.”

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26 January, 2015

It makes perfect sense for automakers and tier one suppliers to set up facilities in Silicon Valley where there are, as you may know, a great many very well qualified technical people.

It’s one more sign – not that we needed one – of the increasing significance of electronics hardware/software/systems technology to competitive cars.

In the past year Elektrobit announced plans to open an automotive software lab, Continental said it was putting together an international team of IT and automotive innovators, and DENSO expanded its Silicon Valley office. Undoubtedly there were others.

The most recent announcement came from Ford, which is setting up a Research and Innovation Center in Stanford Research Park, Palo Alto. It said it’s growing its global research team and accelerating its innovation in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, customer experience and big data.

Three years ago Ford announced plans to open its first dedicated research lab in Silicon Valley, one focused on personal mobility research. Ford president and CEO Mark Fields said the new research center “shows Ford’s commitment to be part of the Silicon Valley innovation ecosystem – anticipating customers’ wants and needs, especially on connectivity, mobility and autonomous vehicles.”

Fields added that Ford wants to make new technologies “accessible to everyone, not just luxury customers.”
Ford said it expects to have one of the largest automotive manufacturer research centers in Silicon Valley by the end of the year, with 125 researchers, engineers and scientists.

Ford named Dragos Maciuca to head up the new research center. He joins Ford from Apple, and has experience in consumer electronics, semiconductor manufacturing, aerospace, and automotive.

In its announcement Ford outlined some projects for Silicon Valley team members. They’ll collaborate with folks at Carnegie Mellon University-Silicon Valley to improve speech recognition and support more natural language.

Team members will also work on “remote repositioning mobility.” Someone sitting in Palo Alto will be able to access real-time video streamed over existing 4G/LTE technology to drive golf carts on Georgia Tech’s campus in Atlanta. The research could lead to a new form of valet parking.

“We view ourselves as both a mobility and an auto company,” said Fields, “as we drive innovation in every part of our business.”

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21 January, 2015

ams_PP_AS721x_4cThis week ams AG, which is well-known for its sensor technology, introduced what it calls an Internet-of-Things (IoT)-Connected Smart Lighting Manager, or, a sensor-integrated chip-scale device that enables daylight harvesting.

It says its device (AS721x) is the first of its kind.

Picture a large office during daytime with the sun shining more or less through the office windows. Daylight harvesting systems have ways of using daylight to offset the amount of electric lighting otherwise needed, and less electricity means lower energy cost. The more daylight, the less electric lighting, and vice versa.

So ams will sell its lighting manager sensor to lighting manufacturers, to help them address what ams describes as the growing challenges of energy-saving lighting mandates.

It believes the challenges can be met more cost effectively by bringing the controls, connectivity (e.g. Bluetooth) and very precise sensing directly into the lights rather than into an external control system.

Lower Cost, Less Complexity

According to ams, its competition for daylight harvesting consists mainly of “build your own” devices that call for discrete components, including sensors, processors, memory, and I/O chips. Such systems require design, integration and programming of control and communications algorithms. Compare the time and cost of all that to what ams promises is a fully integrated solution. Lower cost; less complexity.

An Internet of Awareness

“The AS721X family of smart lighting silicon photonics sensor solutions creates a natural Internet of Things sensor hub within smart buildings, which results in an Internet of Awareness™ through the convergence of IoT-connected lighting and sensor fusion,” said Sajol Ghoshal, who is responsible for Emerging Sensor Strategies at ams.

He added that the new offering, which leverages ams’ sensor knowledge and connectivity from Broadcom’s WICED™ Smart Bluetooth and SmartBridge platform, “delivers a secure, plug-and-play connection to the IoT for big data aggregation and the anticipated wave of machine learning.”

What struck me about the introduction, since my world view remains dominated by light switches that turn on and off (at least as far as lighting is concerned), is the extent to which the world is changing thanks to innovations in technology – smartphones, tablets, social media, connected cars and, now, smart lighting systems.

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16 January, 2015

ibmDuring the Automotive News World Congress this week IBM shared the results of its most recent automotive industry survey, the Automotive 2025 Global Study.

IBM reached out to 175 industry executives in 21 countries. Their consensus is that the industry is “ripe for disruptive changes that are breaking down borders of the automotive ecosystem.”

“Cognitive vehicles” and “industry co-creation with consumers,” which amounts to a more personalized driving experience, will be common by 2025, according to survey respondents, but only 8% of the executives surveyed believe that fully autonomous driving will be common that soon.
Most (87%), though, expect partially automated driving, beyond today’s self-parking or lane change assist, will be common ten years out.

A New Industry Identity

The execs believe that a new industry identity is emerging–one that is more open, inclusive, and without borders. “Welcoming this transformation can result in benefits the likes of which haven’t been seen since the automated assembly line,” said Alexander Scheidt, Global Automotive Industry Leader, IBM Global Business Services.

“By 2025, Scheidt says, “the industry will not only recreate our highly personalized and digitized lives inside our cars, but also give consumers a bigger role in defining that experience, whether as a driver or passenger.”

According to the report, consumers not only want to drive cars but also want the opportunity to innovate and “co-create” them along with related services, such as infotainment. Sounds like the more personalization, the better.

Technology #1, Consumer Expectations #2

IBM suggests that addressing consumer expectations is a close second to technology in importance to the automotive industry.
The report also says that nearly two thirds (63%) of the executives surveyed saw mobility services or car/ride sharing as an area for greater collaboration with consumers. And more than half (59%) felt that product design, marketing campaigns (54%) and service/after-sales (52%) were areas in which the industry would benefit from working directly with consumers.

Connected Vehicles

By 2025, thanks largely to cognitive technologies, cars will be sophisticated enough to configure themselves to a driver and other occupants, and will be able to learn, heal, drive and socialize with other vehicles and their surrounding environment. Well over half the executives surveyed believe that vehicles will be able to share not only traffic or weather conditions but also information specific to a particular automaker, possibly for diagnostic purposes.

What the study refers to as “the rigid, self-contained industry of the past century” must transform itself quickly into an ecosystem that is expected to be open, collaborative and filled with new innovators. Most of the executives surveyed believe they will be able to adapt to the challenges, but only one in five feel they are prepared now.

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12 January, 2015

The easier that new technology is to use, the better, in my opinion. I noticed a couple of innovations in the past week that indicated others are thinking the same way.

Broadcom, for example, introduced an automotive-grade Near Field Communications (NFC) chip and touted its “tap to connect” technology. It said that drivers could pair a mobile device with their car’s head unit by simply tapping the device against the dashboard rather than having to navigate menus on two separate screens.

broadcom 52567_PR_IMG_BCM89095_NFC_Automotive_final
Integrating NFC in a car’s windshield allows an NFC-enabled digital key to exchange data, including authentication, a user’s profile, and vehicle information.

Integration of NFC in the windshield allows an NFC-enabled digital key to exchange data such as authentication, user profile and vehicle information. Keyless entry is a possibility, or entry into parking garages, or otherwise restricted buildings.

“The NFC market is experiencing explosive growth in a variety of end market segments and we anticipate this strong trajectory to continue,” said Dominique Bonte, ABI Research Vice President and Practice Director. “The automotive market in particular holds great promise for NFC.”

For further persuasion, Broadcom’s new NFC chip (BCM89095) is said to reduce power consumption by 60 percent, need 30 percent fewer components and take up 35 percent less board area than previous generation devices.

superMHL and the Reversible Connector

Another example? Maybe it’s just me, but I can seldom get my smartphone or other charging cord connected properly on the first try. The MHL Consortium (Nokia, Samsung, Silicon Image, Sony, and Toshiba) launched superMHL, the next generation of its MHL technology for consumer electronics and mobile devices. It’s quite an advance over the previous generation of MHL, but what caught my eye was their simultaneous introduction of a “consumer friendly” reversible connector.
There are many more reasons to appreciate superMHL than just the new connector, but reversible (plugs in right the first time) is nice.

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29 December, 2014

Visteon announced this week that it has upgraded its relationship with Rightware from a collaboration to a strategic partnership. The firms are focused on automotive user interface (UI) and human machine interaction (HMI) solutions that leverage high-definition 3D graphic rendering technologies to provide photorealistic graphics inside the vehicle.

Visteon said that its LightScape™ instrument cluster platform and its OpenAir™ in-vehicle-infotainment (IVI) products were both developed using Rightware’s Kanzi® UI solution. And Kanzi was the basis for a reconfigurable cluster program the companies recently developed for a North American automaker. Similar programs are currently underway for some unnamed European manufacturers.

“Visteon and Rightware share a common vision for the future of the automotive market, HMI development and the positive impact this can have on consumers’ life onboard the vehicle,” said Rightware CEO Jonas Geust.

But That’s Not All
Last June, QNX Software Systems Limited and Rightware announced that they had worked together to develop a fully digital, reconfigurable instrument cluster for the QNX® technology concept car – a specially modified Mercedes-Benz CLA45 – demonstrated at Telematics Detroit.

qnx_mercedes_cla_cluster_turn-by_turn_navigationRightware’s Kanzi paired up with the QNX® Neutrino® operating system to help transform the driving experience.

The instrument cluster integrates with the infotainment system to display real-time information.

Because it’s digital, the cluster can change views dynamically to highlight whatever information is most important at the moment, to help the driver process information more quickly.

Peter McCarthy, QNX’ director of global alliances, said the firms have collaborated on some production programs, including Audi’s virtual cockpit.

With at least two – and probably more – very strong partners, Rightware appears to be a company worth watching, and since it stresses design efficiency, which translates to faster time-to-market, it shouldn’t be too long before advanced UIs are visible in dealers’ showrooms.

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23 December, 2014

1418404932209.jpgFord says SYNC® 3, its new communications and entertainment system, features faster performance; more conversational voice recognition; a more intuitive, smartphone-like touch screen and an easier-to-understand graphical interface.

It promises seamless integration of AppLink™ to control smartphone apps, Siri Eyes-Free for iPhone users, over-the-air software updates and subscription-free emergency calling with 911 Assist®.

Then there’s more conversational voice recognition, a more smartphone-like touch screen and easy-to-read graphics.

SYNC 3 will debut on model year 2016 vehicles in 2015 and be fully deployed in North America by the end of calendar year 2016.

“SYNC 3 is another step forward in delivering connectivity features customers most want, and they tell us this kind of technology is an important part of their decision to buy our vehicles,” said Raj Nair, Ford chief technical officer and group vice president, Global Product Development.

The new system should benefit from some 22,000 customer comments and suggestions, plus insights from research clinics, market surveys and tech industry benchmarking.

Ford says a new touch screen for SYNC 3 provides an experience similar to a smartphone or tablet, though the system has been optimized for hands-free use. It’s said to respond more quickly to touch as well as to voice commands; also to gestures like pinch-to-zoom and swipe.

“We considered all the modern smartphones and mobile operating systems and created something familiar but unique,” said Parrish Hanna, Ford global director of Human Machine Interface.

Wow Factors
“While it carries with it some new features over its predecessor, SYNC 3 is not going to become a new benchmark for flashy wow-factors,” said Mark Boyadjis, Senior Analyst & Manager, Infotainment & HMI, IHS Automotive.

“This might not win over an Audi owner, but then again, Ford is most interested in taking share from Toyota, Honda, and Chevrolet. Those buyers are less impressed with glitzy name-brand chipsets and find more value in something they can understand the minute they take the keys from the dealer.”

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16 December, 2014

jlr 12-15-14This isn’t quite ready yet but it should be quite something to see when it is.

Jaguar Land Rover is conducting research the goal of which is (1) to make a car’s A, B and C pillars transparent to improve visibility and (2) to project an image of a vehicle in front of the driver’s car – a ghost car, as it were – for the driver to follow, turn-by-turn, until the desired destination is reached.

Pillar-wise, a screen would be embedded in the surface of each pillar inside the car and would take a live video feed from cameras covering the angles outside the car that otherwise are obscured in the blind spots created by the pillars.

The driver would then be able to see pedestrians, cyclists, other vehicles and what have you all around the car. Then, the automaker says, by combining the transparent pillars with a particularly good Heads-Up display, the movement of other road users could be highlighted to the driver with an on-screen halo moving across the car’s “360 Virtual Urban Windscreen.”

When the driver indicates a desire to change direction, or move their head to look over their shoulder during an overtake maneuver, or when the vehicle approaches an intersection, the system would automatically make the left or right side pillars transparent.

To gain the full effect, the virtual windscreen would be connected to the Cloud. And if the car were connected to roadside infrastructure and to businesses in proximity, the windscreen could present information on, say, gas prices, or parking spaces, saving the driver the hassle of finding those locations in some other way.

When the car were connected, drivers could be prompted to turn not just at such-and-such a street (where a street sign may or may not be visible), but at more visible landmarks – like a gas station.

Or, the navigation system could project an image of a car ahead of the driver’s car – a “ghost” car – that the driver could follow to their destination. That’s something I’d like to see.

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11 December, 2014

The past week or so has been relatively momentous for automotive Ethernet.

– The OPEN Alliance (One-Pair EtherNet) Special Interest Group (SIG) announced the formation of several new technical committees,

– the University of New Hampshire InterOperability Laboratory (UNH-IOL) announced expanded interoperability testing and support for 40 and 100 Gigabit Ethernet (40G/100G) including automotive Ethernet, and

– the AVnu Alliance, an enthusiastic supporter of automotive Ethernet, announced a new industrial market segment, which it estimates to be worth $150 billion or so per-year.

open alliance logoThe new OPEN Alliance technical committees will work to refine automotive xMII interfaces, enable Gigabit automotive Ethernet over Plastic Optical Fiber (POF), define tests for one-pair Ethernet Electronic Control Units (ECUs), and specify channel components for Gigabit copper Ethernet. More information can be found at

The Alliance says its membership has grown quite a lot in the past three years and it now includes nearly 250 automakers, tier ones and technology companies. It’s focused on establishing automotive Ethernet as the connectivity technology and network backbone of choice for the next generation of cars, at least for infotainment and safety.

Two years ago the Alliance endorsed the UNH-IOL as the first laboratory to test BroadR-Reach, a standard for 100Mbps Ethernet connectivity in automotive networking applications. Ian Riches, Strategy Analytics’ Director of Automotive Electronics, noted automated-driving assistance (ADA) and infotainment systems as the two leading growth areas for automotive Ethernet.

Frost & Sullivan estimates that by the end of the current decade there’ll be more than 100 automotive Ethernet nodes in luxury cars and 50 to 60 or so in mass market vehicles.

Jeff Lapak, UNH-IOL Senior Manager, Ethernet Technologies, said he anticipates automotive Ethernet announcements in the coming year. The advantages of automotive Ethernet include greater bandwidth and flexibility. A vendor can develop technology that can be used by many automakers. The UNH-IOL Automotive Ethernet Consortium is gaining momentum and is now open to car manufacturers and parts suppliers worldwide.

The AVnu Alliance noted the evolution of the Audio Video Bridging (AVB) standard into Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) and cited the benefits of TSN for industrial control applications. Earlier the Alliance announced support for TSN in automotive applications such as drive-by-wire and autonomous driving.

5 December, 2014

The more I learn about automotive electronics, the more excited I am about what’s coming in cars. I had the opportunity to see a bit of the future that’s available now when I tested the 2015 Subaru Outback, specifically, a 3.6R Limited with a 256-hp, 3.6 liter BOXER six-cylinder engine.

subaru 2015SubaruOutback-1__thumbThe 2015 Outback is said to have a more “up-market” interior, presumably compared to last year’s model, with extensive soft-touch materials used throughout. Subaru says the Limited model offers a higher level of luxury than any previous Outback.

It was indeed comfy, and perhaps because of quietening revisions such as an acoustic windshield and liquid-filled engine mounts it was easy to speak comfortably with a front-seat passenger (without me having to raise my voice).

As I was backing out of my driveway in the Outback for the first time I heard a warning sound and then, in the full-color rearview camera, saw a car passing behind me. Rearview cameras will be mandatory in North America, with the phase-in beginning in 2016. The sooner the better, in my opinion, and they should all include cross-traffic alert, since I’m probably not the only one who consistently parks between two much-larger vehicles, making it more difficult and a trifle dangerous to back out. Eventually I want forward collision warning, too, and that will come with birds-eye view cameras. Maybe next year?

Out on the highway, when I edged slightly over the center line I heard a signal reminding me to stay in my own lane. I should not have needed a reminder, but it was nice to know it’s there. The warning signals were loud enough to be heard but not loud enough to be frightening. I’m sure the same would be true of the car’s blind spot detection feature, but there are some things I am hesitant to test, and edging in front of a car to my rear is one of them. So is following a car in front of me closely enough for adaptive cruise control or pre-collision braking to kick in. I’m glad those features are there, and I’d use them. Just not test them. I’ll have to work on that.

What impressed me most was the navigation system telling me to turn right “just before the gas station.” There was, in fact, a gas station right where the navigation system said it was. Does every navigation system deliver that degree of detail now? Certainly all should, and presumably all will.

subaru2015SubaruOutback-51__thumbAnd navigation brings me to the car’s 7-inch color touchscreen display. I often hear that the typical car buyer today wants the same smartphone functionality inside the car that they have outside, or at least the closest approximation. I noticed that “MirrorLink” was grayed out on the screen, presumably because my phone isn’t MirrorLink enabled. If it had been, I can imagine that my familiar smartphone screen would have been replicated on the car’s display and I would be, as they say, good to go.

I was able to pair my phone with the Outback, make and receive calls, and play music stored on the phone through the car’s sound system (Harman/Kardon 576W equivalent audio system with 12 speakers). I wasn’t able to do much else, but that was due to limitations in my phone, not in the Outback. Smartphone/vehicle connectivity is real, and a big deal.

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