John Day

News and commentary on automotive EE trends and topics

25 June, 2014

The entertainment bar is higher these days than it used to be in the pre-smartphone era. That’s true in general, of course, but I’m thinking specifically at the moment about kids on long car trips. Each may want his/her own entertainment, and with some new technology introduced this week by Mitsubishi Electric Automotive America, Inc., they’ll be able to have it in the relatively near future.

Mitsubishi introduced its FLEXConnect™ audio-video bridging system with an “Any Media on Any Screen” capability – multiple displays and multiple content streams.

Doug Ray, director, audio, video and communications, says FLEXConnect will “improve the overall experience for passengers who can now make individual choices about the entertainment and data they use, including media they bring into the vehicle.”

I suspect we’ll hear a lot more in the coming months about the automotive user (driver and passengers) experience.

“To keep pace with the consumer electronics market, infotainment system flexibility is crucial,” adds Gareth Williams, strategic technologies manager for audio, video and communications. “FLEXConnect takes advantage of the audio-video bridging architecture to ensure flexibility in the future. The current system enables several features that car manufacturers could implement in the near future, such as occupant recognition and distracted driving prevention.”

Current capabilities include an “any media on any screen” feature that allows sharing from one screen to another with a simple tap on the screen, and interactivity between screens, so passengers can play games or send photos back and forth.

Then there’ll be cameras installed above each rear seat so that someone in front, like a parent, can monitor rear seat occupants. They (the parent up front) will also be able to preview/override rear seat programming.

“The FLEXConnect infotainment system is perfect for families because it lets kids entertain themselves in rear seats, while parents have ultimate control of the kids’ entertainment,” says Ray. “It essentially eliminates the need to bring content into the vehicle on a disk. Passengers now control the content and the way it is displayed using paired devices and streaming.”

And then what? Mitsubishi is thinking about letting passengers choose a destination and send it to the vehicle’s navigation system. Also an occupant recognition capability that would allow each user to step into their own personal entertainment system with audio preferences, device defaults, and the like. And the ability to offload alerts from the head unit to a tablet that a front seat passenger can use to aid the driver, lessening the potential for distracted driving.

Life is becoming more sophisticated.

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19 June, 2014

Is your car connected? And if so, how, and to what extent? We have relatively simple Bluetooth smartphone connections on the one hand and comprehensive embedded systems on the other. Connected car technology is evolving quickly, and keeping up with it is non-trivial.

So I was interested to learn recently that tier one supplier Continental agreed to license Airbiquity’s Choreo connected car service platform and is focusing, initially, at least, on Choreo’s Driver Experience offering. Airbiquity describes it as a turnkey infotainment ecosystem and dynamic update capability.

Automakers – Continental’s customers – can configure content menus for specific vehicle makes and models by country. Drivers can make menu selections from their smartphone or PC to integrate their personal preferences among global and regional smartphone apps, cloud content, and support for basic and premium automotive services. Infotainment content is continuously updated from the cloud without driver involvement.

The better the connected vehicle system, the better the driving experience; especially if distraction is minimized. The firms say that controls have been designed within Choreo and integrated into Continental head units to ensure that speech recognition, text-to-voice, and app features allow drivers to keep their eyes on the road.

“There is a lot of interest in the tier one supplier head unit community in being able to offer customers the ability to bring in a pre-integrated infotainment delivery solution that provides for differentiation as well as for an extension of the automaker’s product offering,” says Scott Frank, Airbiquity’s vice president of marketing. Choreo is deployed in nearly five million cars globally, and the platform is nearing two billion vehicle transactions (calls between cars and the cloud).

“We look at the head unit as a computer that can connect and dynamically deliver content through the cloud using MNO (mobile network operator) bandwidth and integrating smartphones,” Frank says. “It’s super cool and super effective, and a higher order than what head units have been providing. We can extend and enhance our offering so it can really meet the digital lifestyle needs of today’s car buyers.”

For automakers and their suppliers, meeting those needs is increasingly important.

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13 June, 2014

We hadn’t heard a lot from Intel lately, but that changed this week. Seems it never rains but it pours. The company not only introduced Intel® In-Vehicle Solutions, which it described as a family of hardware and software products, but also announced automotive technology-related research projects, investments, and collaborations with several other automotive systems developers.

Intel® In-Vehicle Solutions includes hardware modules, operating system and middleware software, and development kits, all intended to make it easier and less costly for automakers to deliver the kind of in-vehicle experiences that consumers demand. Presumably those experiences include a lot of connectivity.

Intel said its Internet of Things Group achieved revenue of $482 million in the first quarter, up 32% year-over-year, thanks largely to strong demand for in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems. Technology that will power the future of driving is evolving quickly, and Intel believes that its combination of research, investments and new products will help bring future driving experiences to market faster.

“Our goal is to fuel the evolution from convenience features available in the car today to enhanced safety features of tomorrow and eventually self-driving capabilities,” said Doug Davis, corporate vice president, Internet of Things Group.

12 Months Sooner, 50 Percent Less
Specifically, Intel believes that its standardized platform approach can shorten infotainment development time by more than 12 months and reduce costs by up to 50 percent.

Research projects underway or planned include a “Personal Vehicle Experience” project to understand the joys and pain points that people experience when using their cars, and a “Secure My Connected Car” project to better understand the challenges and threat landscape of connected cars. The latter project involves memory protection for defending in-vehicle hardware and software, and McAfee whitelisting technology from Intel Security.

Other research projects are engaging ethnographers, anthropologists and engineers. Projects are aimed at making roads safer, and learning the most effective ways that drivers can interact with their cars.

In 2012, Intel established the $100 million Intel Capital Connected Car Fund to speed up the industry’s transition to seamless connectivity between cars and consumer devices, and to drive new technologies that will enable future autonomous driving capabilities. The latest investment from the Intel fund goes to ZMP, developers of an autonomous driving platform and vehicles connected with sensors, radars and cameras.

Other investments include CloudMade, provider of data aggregation and cloud connectivity for future IVI solutions; Mocana, which delivers security to the IVI platform with a mobile app-shielding solution, and Tobii Technology, which applies perceptual computing technology to advanced driver assistance applications.
Intel technology is currently used in BMW’s Navigation System Professional for all its vehicle models, the Infiniti InTouch infotainment system in the Infiniti Q50, and the Driver Information System in the all-new 2015 Hyundai Genesis. Ecosystem-wise, Intel’s collaborators include its Wind River subsidiary, Green Hills Software, Mobica, Symphony Teleca, QNX, and XSe.

We’ll keep an eye out for more Intel news.

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6 June, 2014

The 51st DAC (Design Automation Conference) ended this week and it was excellent, in my opinion, partly due to a strong automotive track and what I believe to have been a first-ever Automotive Village.

I suspect that those who visited the Village will be able to look back in years to come, when the Village is much larger, and “remember when.” Thanks to Mentor Graphics, Synopsys, Dassault, Wrightspeed, and the other pioneers.

DAC is fundamentally an EDA (electronic design automation) conference and the inaugural automotive track – numerous in-depth technical presentations, panel sessions and “Sky Talks” as well as the Village on the exhibit floor – recognized the importance of electronics to automotive application/system development.

Among the highlights of the conference for me were the Tuesday morning keynote that featured Ford’s Jim Buczkowski (a Henry Ford Technical Fellow and Director of Electrical and Electronics Systems Research and Advanced Engineering) and The MathWorks’ Jim Tung (a MathWorks Fellow). They said a lot and were very articulate and I came away with a deeper sense of the importance of Safety and Security to automotive electronics systems development.

I was also impressed with David Kleidermacher’s Sky Talk on Security. David is the chief technology officer at Green Hills Software, and his description of the Target security problem and how it could have been avoided was a bit chilling, as well as thought-provoking.

And I have so say a word or two about the panel session on “EV E/E Architectures – Evolutionary or Revolutionary” since I was part of it. Panel members took sides, and the final score was 3-2. Which side do you think won?

Big ideas, Safety and Security. I’ll tend from here on to look at product and corporate announcements in terms of the Big Ideas they incorporate or reflect: Does “whatever” make cars safer or more secure? Obviously not every product or collaboration will, so what else is important? Performance, for lack of a better word, is one. New products may help improve fuel economy and/or reduce emissions. And Connectivity, which ought to be more than just a buzzword. And Usability, which also relates to safety.

What am I overlooking? I’m sure there’s something, but my point is that there are a relatively small number of overarching themes or goals or categories to which all automotive electronics products and technologies should relate. Share your list, if you have one.

And if you attended the 51st DAC, what impressed you most?

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29 May, 2014

Volvo wants to study the potential for electric roads able to charge city buses.

Working with the Swedish Transport Administration and the City of Gothenburg it will propose building a 300- to 500-meter road section equipped with inductive wireless charge technology and developing vehicles that will automatically charge their batteries when passing the section. The potential benefit is quieter and more climate-smart public transport.

“Vehicles capable of being charged directly from the road during operation could become the next pioneering step in the development towards reduced environmental impact,” says Niklas Gustavsson, Volvo Group Executive Vice President, Corporate Sustainability & Public Affairs.

Three Volvo plug-in-hybrid buses are already in operation in Gothenburg. The buses charge their batteries at the end of the line. The next stage of development would be charging the batteries while in operation, thus increasing the distance the buses can run on pure electricity.

Electric roads are another important part of the puzzle in our aim of achieving transport solutions that will minimize the impact on the environment,” Gustavsson says.

Meanwhile, Ziff Davis Media’s Extreme Tech blog reports ( that an Idaho couple, Julie and Scott Brusaw, have raised more than $1.4 million through crowdfunding for their company, Solar Roadways ( Their plan is to replace asphalt and concrete surfaces with solar panels that can be driven on. They are close to finishing a prototype parking lot.

Parking lot east

“How about this for a long term advantage,” asks Scott Brusaw rhetorically: “an electric road allows all-electric vehicles to recharge anywhere: rest stops, parking lots, etc.

“They would then have the same range as a gasoline-powered vehicle. Internal combustion engines would become obsolete. Our dependency on oil would come to an abrupt end.”

Do you see potential for both approaches to electrified roadways, or will another solution surface?

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23 May, 2014

The research firm Strategy Analytics is out with a new study of the automotive sensor market and one of the key points they make is that “emerging markets are looking to reduce vehicle emissions and have plans to implement more stringent emission (including CO2) regulations.”

More regulation creates more need for sensors to measure and help reduce vehicle emissions.
The study, “Automotive Sensor Demand Forecast 2012 to 2021: Growth Driven by Safety and Electrification,” details growth in demand for automotive sensors, which is driven by growing demand for safe, fuel efficient and clean vehicles worldwide.

Strategy Analytics predicts that the market for automotive sensors will grow at a compound annual rate (CAGR) of 5.9%, expanding from $18.1 billion in 2013 to $24.1 billion in 2018. Planned vehicle safety, emission and fuel economy enhancements will drive automotive sensor shipments to over 5.7 billion units and be worth over $25.8 billion in 2021.

“Global automotive sales continue to rebound from economic downturn – especially in NAFTA and the emerging BRIC regions,” says Mark Fitzgerald, Associate Director, Automotive Practice, who wrote the study. “This, combined with vehicle makers increasing use of sophisticated electronic systems to create vehicles that are safer, fuel efficient and environmentally friendly, is creating a demand for a higher number of sensors per-vehicle.”

Though overall production numbers remain low throughout the forecast period, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and pure electric vehicles have very high sensor content for motor speed sensors as well as sensors to monitor the battery/electrical system.

Powertrain Sensor Demand
Fitzgerald said powertrain sensor demand continues to be driven by a combination of increasing vehicle production worldwide as well as the increased use of precise electronic control and the increasing use of sensors needed to meet current and future emissions regulations and fuel consumption targets.

The strong growth dual-clutch transmissions, often replacing manual transmission applications with minimal sensor content, is driving the demand for additional powertrain sensors such as clutch/shift fork position and input and output shaft speed sensors.

“In established markets, growth is more concentrated on high-technology solutions such as electric and hybrid-electric vehicles and advanced driver assist safety systems (ADAS),” said Ian Riches, Director of Strategy Analytics’ Global Automotive Practice. “Emerging market growth is fueled strongly by increasing vehicle production, as well as greater electronic content.”

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20 May, 2014

I appreciate Mentor Graphics inviting me to moderate a panel discussion at the Design Automation Conference (DAC). The topic: Electric Vehicle Electrical/Electronic Architectures – Evolutionary or Revolutionary. Based on first impressions it appears that the session will be lively. If you’re planning to attend, the session starts at 4:00 pm on Tuesday, June 3 in room 309.

The session topic is the degree to which the automotive electrical system architecture must either be altered (evolutionary) or fundamentally redesigned (revolutionary). Panel members will explore different opinions and discuss various implications.

Panel members scheduled to participate are:

Naehyuck Chang, Professor of Electrical Engineering in the CAD-X Laboratory at Seoul National University;

Aftab Khan, Vice President of Global Hybrid Engineering, Lear Corporation;

Ash Punater, software group leader, Delphi Electronics and Safety;

Sebastian Steinhorst, Research Fellow, RP3 – Embedded Systems, TUM CREATE Ltd., and

Ian Wright, founder and CEO, Wrightspeed, Inc.
Read the rest of this entry »

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13 May, 2014

Reliability is an increasingly critical factor in the automotive industry especially considering the proliferation of electronic features and systems in today’s and tomorrow’s cars. Alas, there are no reliable cars without reliable electronic components, which is to say devices and subsystems able to function as intended despite very hot or very cold environments.

For quite some time now, Mentor Graphics has been a market leader in hardware, software and systems for thermal simulation and analysis. This week the company launched a major new system, the MicReD Industrial Power Tester, for testing high power components.

The MicReD is based on Mentor’s T3Ster® (pronounced “trister”) thermal tester that is widely used for accurate thermal characterization of semiconductor device packages and LEDs.

Mentor says the new MicReD is the only commercially available thermal testing product that combines power cycling and thermal transient measurements with structure function analysis while also providing data for real-time failure-cause diagnostics.

The faster that power components can be tested, the better. Combining power cycling and thermal transient measurements on one system means that a technician or engineer doesn’t have to remove components from the test environment to shift from one mode to the other.

The MicReD can power modules through thousands or even millions of cycles while providing real-time failure-in-progress data for diagnostics. Operators can see a failure as it progresses and determine the exact time/cycle and cause. That reduces test and lab diagnosis time and eliminates the need for post-mortem or destructive failure analysis.

The system analyzes common thermally-induced mechanical failures such as die-attach wire bond separations, die and package stack-up delamination and cracks, and solder fatigue. It can perform power cycling tests of MOSFETs, IGBTs and power diodes.

Roland Feldhinkel, general manager of Mentor Graphics Mechanical Analysis Division, notes that the tester serves the growing demand for power electronics components that have to perform with high reliability under extreme conditions. “We’re leveraging our expertise in thermal characterization and testing to deliver a product for applications where we see great potential.”

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7 May, 2014

Have you registered yet for the 51st Design Automation Conference (June 1-5 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco)? If not, here’s a link:

And if you are going, don’t miss the Automotive Pavilion. Mentor Graphics has clearly put some effort into a program there that it’s calling “Connected Engineering™ for the Automotive Industry.”

Mentor offers products and solutions that help engineers overcome design challenges in board and chip design and the company notes that the automotive industry faces similar challenges. Consider for a moment, if you will, the pace at which new electrical/electronic features and systems are being introduced.

Mentor Graphics’ technology encompasses EE systems design, in-vehicle infotainment, system modeling, mechanical analysis, and embedded software – and probably more than that by next month. At DAC, they’re offering at least three presentations worthwhile for any automotive EE engineer:

Serge Leef, Mentor Graphics VP New Ventures, GM System-Level Engineering Division, will present a seminar on “Applying EDA Techniques to Analysis and Optimization to In-vehicle Distributed Systems.”
Serge notes that developing complex automotive hardware/software systems requires building accurate virtual prototypes and simulators for systems design and optimization, and for parallel software development. This session will feature different talks discussing various challenges and solutions in this domain.

Joachim Langenwalter, Mentor’s director for Automotive in Europe, will present a seminar, “Connected Engineering for Automotive EE Design.” He says that a well-managed process with seamless information flow from concept to design to verification to in-production updating is the “holy grail” for a fully enabled systems engineering process. The seminar will present three different views of systems engineering at various levels.

Finally, Wally Rhines, Mentor Graphics chairman and CEO, will preside at a Fireside Chat, “Automotive Engineers Love Design Automation.” Wally will be joined by Ford’s leading EE technologist, Jim Buczkowski, and the two will talk about designing cars of the future and the role of EGA. Come with questions.

Will I see you there?

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28 April, 2014

IHS Technology predicts that the market for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) semiconductor devices will quadruple from $643.8 million in 2010 to $2.6 billion in 2020 thanks to increasing demand for car and driver safety systems. The research firm expects that market for ADAS chips to grow by 20% this year.

Take image sensors, for example, used in front-view camera systems. They can analyze video content for lane-keeping assistance, lane-departure warning, traffic-sign recognition and high/low-beam headlight control. Those features are increasingly common on new vehicles and quickly growing in market awareness and acceptance.

Applications based on radar and LiDAR are also generating a lot of interest. Radar and LiDAR both use remote-sensing technology to help determine variables such as road conditions, objects surrounding the vehicle, or the speed of other nearby cars.

Akhilesh Kona, IHS analyst for automotive semiconductors, said revenue for semiconductors used in front-camera and LiDAR modules is expected to grow steadily, from $118 million in 2013 to $650 in 2020 for front-camera chips and from $236 million in 2013 to $653 million in 2020 for radar and LIDAR chips, which amounts to a compound annual growth rate of 16 percent.

Additional ADAS mechanisms could be present in the future to monitor both drivers and passengers within a car. Applications like a road-frustration index could help increase the safety quotient for autonomous driving—not only making the driving experience more enjoyable as a whole, but also helping prevent accidents on the road, IHS believes.

“IHS expects ADAS content in cars to grow steadily for many years, owing to an increasing number of features that will be implemented in the car, with an aim toward deploying increasingly autonomous vehicles,” said Luca DeAmbroggi, principal analyst for automotive demand at IHS.

“The market will also be helped by the implementation of data-fusion modules—extra hardware added to combine the input coming from two or more different sensors present in the car—because of the need for more sensing redundancy and for higher functional-safety requirements in vehicles.”

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