John Day

News and commentary on automotive EE trends and topics

25 November, 2014
IDTechEx chairman Dr Peter Harrop

IDTechEx Chairman Dr. Peter Harrop

A new report from IDTechEx  predicts that over $125 billion will be spent on range extenders for electric vehicles by 2025.

That’s for all kinds of electric vehicles. Pure electric vehicles – such as forklifts, golf carts, and mobility vehicles for the disabled – tend to be small and rarely need to travel long distances, but roughly half of the electric vehicle market value is in larger road vehicles, especially cars, and as IDTechEx sees it, range anxiety compels most people to buy hybrids if they go electric at all.

The research firm says that more than eight million hybrid cars will be made in 2025, and each will have a range extender, the additional power source that distinguishes them from pure electric cars.

“The next ten years will see many new technologies succeeding in this huge new market,” says Dr. Peter Harrop, IDTechEx chairman. “By far the biggest demand will be for land vehicles, notably cars, with outdoor forklifts and buses also significant in number. However, the money spent and the profits made will involve many other sectors such as military and construction vehicles.”

Harrop anticipates the introduction next year of hybrid electric vehicles with fuel cell range extenders from five automakers. “It is certainly not all about fuel cells taking over from piston engines,” he says. “There will be plenty of hybrid vehicles made in 2025 with simplified, tiny piston engines. Free-piston engines, stuck in the laboratory for decades do look interesting, generating electricity directly.

“Rotary combustion engines will probably have a place but not be dominant,” Harrop continues. “We see multi-fuel jet engines taking a minority share as efficiency and cost improve and some will be so small you will hold them in one hand. There will be many more range extenders sold as an optional extra, some being simply to get you home in an emergency and others for regular use.”

He concludes that there’ll be no clear leader in range extender technology by 2025, “but power output mainly in the 10-40kW range and a clear leader emerging after 2025.”

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20 November, 2014

Infiniti is turning 25, and it took the opportunity to look back on all it has accomplished in that time. What caught my eye was how many of those accomplishments – industry firsts – had to do with electrical/electronic systems:

Rear and Around View
Infiniti’s RearView Monitor, or backup camera, debuted on the 2002 Q45. The automaker first offered a 360-degree Around View® Monitor on the 2008 Infiniti EX35 and then enhanced the feature with Moving Object Detection.

Lane Departure Warning and Prevention; Blind Spot Intervention
Infiniti offered Lane Departure Warning on the 2005 Infiniti FX and Lane Departure Prevention on the 2008 Infiniti M. Prevention helps the driver bring the vehicle back into the proper lane. Blind Spot Intervention® (BSI) was introduced on the 2011 M.

Backup Collision Intervention™
Backup Collision Intervention™, introduced on the 2013 Infiniti JX, detects cross traffic and large stationary objects behind the vehicle and can warn the driver and momentarily engage the brakes if necessary to help avoid a collision.

Predictive Forward Collision Warning
Predictive Forward Collision Warning (PFCW) was introduced on the 2014 Infiniti Q50. It can sense the relative speed and distance of a car ahead and also of a car ahead of that, so it alerts the driver to traffic stopped up ahead.

Direct Adaptive Steering
Infiniti said that in 2013 it became the first automaker to introduce a “steer-by-wire” system in a production car. The 2014 Q50 offers Direct Adaptive Steering™, which transmits steering inputs electronically instead of mechanically for a faster and more precise response.

Steering a Safer Path

Active Lane Control
Besides Predictive Forward Collision Warning and Direct Adaptive Steering, the 2014 Q50 also offers Active Lane Control system, which senses unintended lane drift and can automatically make changes to tire angles and steering wheel torque.

Q80 Inspiration Concept
Infiniti says that many of these systems are now available on every Infiniti model (see for a list).

The Q80 Inspiration Concept unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show, leverages that active and passive safety technology experience. It includes a suite of cameras, lasers, sensors and artificial intelligence designed to provide an ongoing dialogue between the vehicle and driver via a Head-Up Display (HUD) projected on the windshield.

The concept car features a twin-turbo 3.0-liter hybrid electric V6 powering all four wheels. It’s able to produce as much as 560-hp and provide nearly 45 mpg.

Well worth watching.

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18 November, 2014

Prospective car buyers in California will have an opportunity next fall to own or lease a Toyota Mirai, the hydrogen-powered four-door, midsized sedan the company announced this week.

The Mirai (a Japanese word that means “the future”) uses no gasoline and emits nothing but water vapor. It refuels in about five minutes and can go up to 300 miles on a tankful. It will be available outside California depending upon the availability of a hydrogen refueling infrastructure.

That was my first question – how easy or difficult will a fuel cell vehicle (FCV) be to refuel.

According to Toyota, research at the University of California Irvine’s Advanced Power and Energy Program (APEP) concluded that 68 stations properly situated could handle at least 10,000 FCVs.

By the end of 2015, 3 of California’s 9 active hydrogen stations plus 17 newly-constructed stations are scheduled to be opened to the general public, with 28 additional stations expected by the end of 2016, for a total of 48 stations.
Nineteen of the 48 stations will be built by FirstElement Fuels, supported by a $7.3 million loan from Toyota. In 2016, Air Liquide, in collaboration with Toyota, is targeting construction of 12 stations in five states – New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

Next I wondered how much the Mirai will cost. It will list for $57,500 with potential state and federal incentives potentially trimming the tag to less than $45,000, or it will lease for $499 a month (36-month term with $3,649 due at signing).

Toyota plans to wrap the Mirai in a 360-degree Ownership Experience package that includes a 24/7 concierge service, with calls answered by a dedicated fuel cell representative; 24/7 enhanced roadside assistance, including towing, battery, flat tire assistance, trip interruption reimbursement, and loaner vehicle; three years of Toyota Care maintenance, and an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty on fuel cell components. Plus Entune and three years of complimentary Safety Connect, including a hydrogen station map app. And complimentary hydrogen fuel for up to three years.

There’s much more, as you might imagine: the Mirai’s fuel cell stack, which fits under the front driver and passenger seats, delivers a power output of 3.1 kW/L and a maximum output of 153hp, accelerating from 0-60 in 9.0 seconds and delivering a passing time of 3 seconds from 25-40 mph.

Standard safety technologies include vehicle pre-collision, blind spot monitor, lane departure alert, drive start control and automatic high beams.

The evolution of fuel cell vehicles appears to be a trend worth watching.

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14 November, 2014

There is a bit of a disconnect between automotive technology and our – or at least my – desire for immediate gratification. For example, the car I drive, as nice as it is, doesn’t have a rearview camera with or without cross-traffic alert.

Recently I had the opportunity to drive a 2015 Subaru Outback, which does have such a camera (more about that in a future post). It’s true that walking down to the end of the driveway and looking up and down the sidewalk for pedestrians or bicyclists is not all that big an imposition; nevertheless, it’s nice to be able to see what’s behind me before I back out.

(I would really like Cross Traffic Alert in my next car because, it seems, no matter where I park I’ll end up between two significantly larger vehicles.)

Safe driving crossed my mind when I saw Bosch’s announcement that its mid-range radar (MRR) sensor is in production for one of a European car manufacturer’s high-volume mid-sized vehicles. The MRR sensor for rear-end applications feeds information to a lane-changing assistant.

“The MMR rear means drivers are effectively looking over their shoulders all the time, because it reliably and accurately recognizes other road users in their vehicle’s blind spot,” says Gerhard Steiger, president of the Bosch Chassis Systems Control division.

The European car manufacturer is placing two sensors in the mid-sized vehicle’s rear bumper in order to make lane-changing safer. The two sensors, described as exceptionally compact, monitor the area alongside and behind the car. Software collates the sensor information, so there’ll be a warning, or a series of warnings, to a driver who wants to change lanes when he/she shouldn’t.

What’s more, Bosch’s MRR rear system contributes to the company’s cross-traffic alert system, which can do much more than just assist with lane-changing, however. These sensors also form part of Bosch’s cross-traffic alert system, which “supports drivers reversing out of perpendicular parking spaces when their rear view is obstructed.”

I’ve seen the future, and I want it, but patience, they say, is a virtue. What else might my next car have?

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30 October, 2014

Bosch noted this week with some justifiable pride that the electronic stability program (ESP) it pioneered becomes a standard in the European Union as of November 1.

From there on in the EU, all newly registered passenger cars and light commercial vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of up to 3.5 metric tons must be equipped with the anti-skid system. The regulation will take effect for all other vehicles a year later.

Since September 2011, ESP has been mandated for all vehicles in the United States and Canada with a gross vehicle weight up to 4.5 metric tons. Australia and Israel have also made ESP mandatory. Similar regulations are eventually expected to take effect in Japan, Korea, Russia, and Turkey.

According to Bosch, ESP has prevented 190,000 accidents and saved more than 6,000 lives across Europe since its launch in 1995. In the years since then, Bosch has manufactured approximately 100 million ESP systems.

“ESP saves lives,” says Gerhard Steiger, president of the Bosch Chassis Systems Control division. The company estimates that in 2011, ESP prevented more than 33,000 accidents involving injury and saved more than 1,000 lives in the EU member states (of which there were 25 at the time), even though ESP was only installed in an estimated 40 percent of vehicles. While 84 percent of all new vehicles in Europe were equipped with the anti-skid system in 2014, the figure for all new vehicles worldwide was only 59 percent.

Preventing up to 80 Percent of Skidding Accidents
Bosch suggests that ESP is the second most important vehicle safety system – behind the seat belt but ahead of the airbag. “ESP is an unparalleled success story that we hope to replicate outside Europe as well,” says Gerhard Steiger. According to independent studies, up to 80 percent of skidding accidents on the road could be prevented if all vehicles were equipped with the anti-skid system.

How ESP Works
Using smart sensors, ESP compares at the rate of 25 times per second whether the car is actually moving in the driver’s desired direction. If the measured values do not match, the anti-skid system intervenes and reduces engine torque. If that is not sufficient, it additionally brakes individual wheels, generating the counterforce needed to keep a vehicle on course.

Next Step Beyond ABS
ESP is the logical next step in the further development of the antilock braking system (ABS) that Bosch created in 1978. Today, Bosch says, ESP is much more than an anti-skid system. A number of value-added functions now account for most of its performance, including the ability to prevent a vehicle from rolling backwards during hill starts. It can also stabilize swerving trailers and reduce the rollover risk of sports utility and light commercial vehicles.

Obviously quite an invention.

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24 October, 2014

Ford said this week that it’s rolling out a driver-assist system that, at least in some cases, may be able to keep cars from running into pedestrians, or if they do, lessen the likelihood of death or serious injury.

That’s huge, in my opinion, but there’s more. The system, Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection, can also help drivers avoid all-too-common rear-end collisions.

Ford will launch the system as available technology on its 2015 Mondeo in Europe. From there the plan is to offer it on other Ford and Lincoln cars around the world.

The system has limitations including nighttime, low and harsh lighting conditions, vehicles moving in a different direction, and certain weather conditions – but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. In daylight and clear weather, Pedestrian Detection is designed to spot people in or near the road ahead, or crossing the vehicle’s path.

Full Braking Force

Ford’s system uses radar and camera technology to scan the roadway ahead, and if a collision risk with a vehicle or pedestrian is detected the system provides both an audible and a visual warning to the driver. If the driver does not respond in time, the system can automatically apply up to full braking force – reducing the gap between brake pads and discs – to help reduce the severity of or eliminate some collisions.

Pedestrian Detection works at lower speeds but Pre-Collision Assist works at all speeds.

The system processes information collected from a windshield-mounted camera and radar located near the bumper. It then checks the information against a database of pedestrian shapes to help distinguish people from typical roadside scenery and objects.

Ford engineers tested the system on closed test tracks using rigs fitted with manikins to replicate pedestrians. They then spent months refining the technology on roads around the world to test system reliability.

“This real-world testing was an important part of the development, because pedestrians in an urban setting can present a wide range of potential situations,” said Scott Lindstrom, Ford manager, Driver Assist Technologies. “We covered more than 300,000 miles on three continents that included a wide range of settings and situations.”

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21 October, 2014

Electrical Systems (ES) engineers at the Toyota Technical Center in Saline, Michigan, spent months engaged in customer research in the course of designing the 2015 Toyota Avalon premium midsize sedan that launched this week. The research included clinics, focus groups, surveys, and visits to dealers.

“A tremendous effort goes into designing a car that meets design goals,” says Avalon chief engineer Randy Stephens. “The (Avalon) powertrain was the same as that in the previous generation, and we had a really competitive powertrain, so what we wanted to do was change everything around it to have this vehicle match our vision.

“Design goals included reducing vehicle mass to make the car more nimble and give it a more powerful feeling, and improving aerodynamics to gain better fuel economy. We clearly wanted to be best-in-class by a wide range for fuel economy and were able to achieve that.”

One way the electronic system designers reduced vehicle mass was by reducing speaker wire gauge and reducing the size of amplifier mounting brackets.

“We were able to reduce the size of speaker wires because of the type of speakers we chose,” explains Charan Lota, manager of Electronic Systems. “We went to a more voltage-driven system from our supplier, JBL Harman/Green Edge, and that allowed for some efficiencies. There are speakers all over the vehicles, so with all the wire routing there was a significant saving in mass.”

“We’re always looking for the best places to put electrical features because that can reduce the number of ECUs you have, which helps the mass,” adds Nick Sitarski, whose responsibilities include development of body electronics. “We also look at trying to reduce power consumption components, which reduces the draw on the alternator and the draw on the engine. It also allows for smaller wire gauge sizes.”

Technology Near the Top
Stephens says technology consistently came up at or near the top of prospective customers’ wish lists. Among many other features, the 2015 Avalon offers a choice of three audio systems, introduces wireless charging, and places a variety of controls at a driver’s fingertips.

Considerable design efforts were focused on capacitive switches. Research was conducted to determine which functions were best controlled by switches versus more conventional knobs. Engineers used the V diagram and PDCA (plan-do-check-act) model to guide the development process.

“With capacitive switches and other accessible features, we were striving for ‘high-tech, low stress’,” says Lota. “Clinics revealed that some functions were better if they weren’t capacitive.”

“We had to be in tune with what customers can perceive in the car without causing them too much stress,” explains Earnée Gilling, who is responsible for leading the cockpit electronics design and development of the Avalon, Venza, and 2016MY Lexus ES.

“Shiny chrome, for example had to be placed carefully to avoid distraction from reflections. Buttons had to be placed based on what the customer expects. There was quite a bit of effort involved in designing the opening animation, which sweeps across the driver’s field of vision. We believe that’s important as a perception of quality – something that the customer doesn’t directly need, but when they see it they understand that the engineers go the extra mile with the details.

“Engineers with expertise in a number of areas all worked together to produce a vehicle that not only addresses the customers’ needs, but excites them, too.

“It’s a very thoughtful process, not unlike a symphony, where all of the pieces have to come together in a harmonious way.

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13 October, 2014

At the Paris Motor Show recently Elektrobit (EB) and Nuance announced that they’ve integrated voice with natural language understanding (NLU) as part of the virtual cockpit in Audi’s TT Roadster.
Audi TT Sportback concept
The virtual cockpit places infotainment as well as traditional dashboard information on a large screen directly in front of the driver. The point of integrating voice and NLU is to allow the driver to speak in a more natural conversational tone. Presuming it works, and I have no reason to think it won’t, it’s a potential step beyond the average vehicle interface.

With the technology, the firms said, drivers can engage in a more natural, conversational dialogue with the car’s infotainment and navigation systems, talking the same way they’d talk to a friend. I’m thinking about the way such a conversation might go and what it would take to build a system able to comprehend and respond appropriately.

But EB and Nuance provided some examples, like “Where is the next gas station on our way?” or “Could you please find the nearest restaurant?” There is still a difference between talking to a computer – or a car, in this case, and thinking out loud. That may come next.

Drivers and passengers can control the system menu, phone, tuner, media and navigation features through everyday speech, without having to stick to defined commands. There may be a difference between everyday speech and the way one might talk to a friend – or not.

EB and Nuance promise “an even more consistent, natural speech dialogue with incredibly accurate speech recognition and text-to-speech that has been optimized for the automotive environment.” That, in turn, has potential to create “a smarter, safer in-car experience that allows drivers to keep their eyes on the road, and hands on the wheel.”
EB integrated the NLU voice technology into the developer ecosystem, facilitating communication with the various applications (navigation, phone, organizer, etc.). GmbH, a company jointly owned by EB and Audi, did the application integration work.

Natural language understanding in the Audi TT will be available in German and English (UK) at first, with more languages to follow.

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7 October, 2014

Aftermarket in-dash infotainment system supplier Pioneer Electronics is moving rather aggressively to meet consumer demands for infotainment and smartphone connectivity. After all, it costs far less to upgrade a car’s in-dash system than it does to buy a new vehicle.

Last summer Pioneer launched an iPhone app called AppRadioLIVE to work with the company’s AppRadio in-dash receivers. It’s intended to aggregate content from various sources to provide personalized information without the customer having to open multiple apps.

A couple of months later Pioneer launched ten new receivers, all focused on “smartphone-centric” consumers. Myriad features include Bluetooth dual device connection, Bluetooth pairing via USB, and Bluetooth Music Library Browsing; Android Media Transfer Protocol; simple Pandora station creation, and Siri Eyes Free functionality.

“As more consumers consider the smartphone their primary source for entertainment and information in the car, Pioneer continues to refine our in-dash product offerings for seamless integration with these devices,” said Ted Cardenas, vice president of marketing for Pioneer Electronics USA’s Car Electronics Division.

Earlier this month Pioneer introduced an Apple CarPlay firmware update for five of its NEX in-dash multimedia receivers and simultaneously introduced a CarPlay-compatible new generation of AppRadio receivers.

Cardenas said provides a safer way to access iPhone features while driving. He added, “With Pioneer’s implementation, CarPlay can now be integrated into millions of vehicles already on the road.” With new-generation, CarPlay-compatible receivers, consumers with an iPhone 5 or newer can use Siri voice control to make and receive calls, compose and respond to text messages, access Apple Maps, or just listen to music.

Then this week Pioneer announced plans to integrate Abalta’s Weblink into its receivers. Customers will be able to connect their smartphones to Pioneer receivers via USB, then interact via a virtual apps screen. “With Weblink we eliminate the need for specialized cabling between the in-dash unit and the phone and simplify product set up,” said Yutaka Sato, general manager of Pioneer Corporation’s After Market Car Electronics Business Division.

Do you have the in-vehicle smartphone access you want? If so, how is it working for you? If not, how anxious are you to get it?

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29 September, 2014

Shortly after I began to write about automotive electronics, a decade or so ago, I attended the SAE Convergence conference. I had been to many electronics industry events in the course of my career but this was my first in-depth exposure to chips, circuits and software for cars.

The industry has changed dramatically between then and now and I’m looking forward to seeing the latest in Detroit (Cobo Center) October 21-22.

Among the sessions that look especially interesting is an Executive Visionaries Panel at 8am on Wednesday. It was organized by Tim Callard from Chrysler and will be moderated by John McElroy from Blue Sky Productions. The panelists include Alan Amici, Chrysler; James Buczkowski, Ford; Harald Kroeger, Daimler; Wayne Powell, Toyota, and Matthew Schroeder, General Motors. You may recognize some or all of those names.

At 10am on Tuesday, Dr. Steve Underwood, University of Michigan – Dearborn, will present a “Roadmap to Vehicle Automation” that includes findings from an ongoing forecast on connected, automated, and electric vehicles. Can technology spur creative uses of the legacy infrastructure in ways that strengthen communities, increase worker productivity, improve safety, and ensure sustainable mobility in the United States?

Another good session starts at 10am on Wednesday and will focus on the “Future of Technology Delivery” Organized by Anthony Cooprider, Ford, and moderated by Philip Ross, IEEE, the panel will address pervasive development problems and how engineers can be prepared to address them. Panel members include Bret Greenstein, IBM; Stefan Jockusch, Siemens PLM Software; Sharafat Khan, Deloitte Consulting, and Janaki Kumar, SAP America.

At 3:30pm on Wednesday Bill Mattingly, ESG Automotive, will speak on the challenge of automotive electronics in the U.S.A. His presentation will be followed by a panel ready to forecast the next 40 years. Panel members include Hans Adlkofer, Infineon; Nigel J. Francis, Michigan Economic Development Corporation; Partha P. Goswami, General Motors; Norimasa Kishi, Nissan; Monika Minarcin; Marc Rosenmayr, Hella, and James R. Sayer, UMTRI. Scott Craig from Infineon will serve as moderator.

There’s much more, as you might imagine, including exhibits and manifold networking opportunities. Perhaps I’ll see you there.

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