John Day

News and commentary on automotive EE trends and topics

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

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21 July, 2014

Voice recognition in connected cars is great as far as it goes, but there are times (at least in my experience) when it doesn’t go quite far enough, and in those times it would be nice to hear a friendly greeting from a competent human being.

“We focus on the smooth, elegant transition from technology-based service to live assistance, and there is a lot of opportunity in that space between the call center and the technological front-end, be it voice recognition, artificial intelligence, or what have you,” says Jim Flavell, executive vice president of MyAssist, a connected vehicle concierge service owned since January by a unit of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. MyAssist counts Ford and Mercedes-Benz among its automotive clients.

“Voice recognition is great for limited things, but in the complexities of daily life it can be frustrating, because it doesn’t always work,” Flavell continues. “Wouldn’t it be nice if the system recognized that it doesn’t know the answer, or have the information, and an agent who may be monitoring a dozen or more conversations hears an issue, or sees it on their screen, then connects the dots and provides what the customer needs without the customer even knowing that a human was involved.”

Sometimes, based on an emergency or a higher level of complexity, an agent has to step in; perhaps referring the issue to a specialist; a travel expert, for example.

“Suppose you’ve missed your flight and want to know if a seat is available on another airline,” Flavell says. “Wouldn’t it be amazing if someone came on the line who knows your name and what flight you’re on and says ‘I can help you with that’?”

That level of service is not available today, Flavell concedes, but he suggests that over the next decade or so “there’s a great market in the artful combination of front end technology and integration to a human back end for the times when technology realizes it’s not going to give the right answer and you need to connect to a high-touch person.

“We believe there is a tremendous opportunity to really elevate the level of service if the handoff between the technology front end and the human operator goes smoothly. It’s making the customer feel special, and at the end of the day, isn’t it all about the customer? Our mission is to combine this great technology that’s evolving before us with live assistance to create that perfect mix, which doesn’t quite exist yet, but we’re working hard on it.”

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15 July, 2014

The EV (Electric Vehicle) Roadmap 7 conference is coming up next Thursday and Friday (July 24-25) at the World Trade Center in Portland, Oregon.

If you’re in the area, or can get there, visit to register. Mentor Graphics is an enthusiastic supporter of the conference, so use the promotional code MENTOR0214 and get $50 off the regular registration price.

EV Roadmap 7 is organized by Drive Oregon ( in collaboration with Portland General Electric and Portland State University. It’s billed as the premier electric vehicle gathering in the Pacific Northwest and one of the leading electric vehicle conferences in the U.S.

Drive Oregon describes the conference as a “graduate course” in electric vehicle deployment that brings Oregon-based early adopters together with industry, government, and utility representatives share best practices and emerging trends. Ford, General Motors, BMW, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Jaguar Land Rover, Mitsubishi, ITS America, the IEEE Intelligent Transportation Systems Society, and Mentor Graphics are among those representing the auto industry.

The theme for this year’s conference, “Making Connections,” refers to both the collaboration necessary to make electric vehicles succeed and to the increasing connections between those vehicles, the infrastructure, the power grid, and all else.

At 1:00p.m. on Thursday I’ll moderate a panel session, “Operating Systems for Cars.” Panel members scheduled to participate are:

• Toshiro Muramatsu, Director, Vehicle Information Technology Division Silicon Valley, Nissan Motor Company
• Walton Fehr, Transportation Specialist, US Department of Transportation
• Matt Jones, Senior Technical Specialist – Infotainment, Jaguar Land Rover
• Pat Shelly, Solutions Architect, Embedded Systems Division – Mentor Graphics

Cars are increasingly coming to resemble computers with wheels. The panel will discuss emerging trends and products, infotainment systems, the driving experience, and new apps we’re likely to see in the relatively near future.

A preview event on Wednesday morning will feature some of those same panel members. The session, “Vehicle Operating Systems,” will focus on the business opportunities created by increased demand for vehicle connectivity.

I hope to see you at the conference.

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8 July, 2014

This week Mentor Graphics acquired XS Embedded GmbH (XSe), described as a technology leader in creating automotive system architectures and hardware reference platforms. Its forte is accelerating system design and verification by providing automotive-grade hardware and software to reduce the time to start of production (SOP). The faster the better.

“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 XS Embedded managing director Rainer Oder.

Oder and Glenn Perry, general manager of Mentor’s Embedded Systems Division, emphasized the comprehensive nature of the company’s automotive electronics design portfolio. The industry and its technology are constantly evolving, and it’s likely that something else will be needed in the future, but for now, they say, this is it.

It was back in 2005 that Mentor acquired Volcano Communications Technologies AB (VCT), including design tools, embedded software and test and validation tools for all major automotive networks. The acquisition added real-time communications to Mentor’s existing cabling and harness, embedded software and system modeling offerings.

Fast forward to February, 2013, when Mentor expanded its automotive business unit by purchasing certain assets from MontaVista. The company said then that the purchase established it as the number one commercial provider of Linux®-based automotive in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) solutions. It combined the MontaVista Automotive Technology Platform (ATP), the Mentor® Embedded Infotainment Base Platform, and development tools such as Sourcery™ CodeBench and Sourcery Analyzer.

Last October Mentor added a Type 1 Embedded Hypervisor for IVI, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), instrument clusters and intelligent connected devices, and in January of this year (2014), Mentor purchased the Mecel Picea AUTOSAR Development Suite from Mecel AB.

Announcing the XSe acquisition, Mentor noted that automotive electronics design challenges “are tremendous with millions of lines of code per vehicle, cross-domain function consolidation, mixed safety criticality, security, and the use of heterogeneous multi-core SOCs. These challenges are exacerbated by extraordinary cost pressures and a traditional development lifecycle for systems that is measured in years while automotive consumer expectations require the latest in technology to be ever present.”

A dwindling number of companies are up to the challenge. Clearly Mentor Graphics plans to be one of them.

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30 June, 2014

Don’t you hate it when your car won’t start and you need to call for help? Even worse is when your car breaks down at whatever hour, somewhere along the way to your destination.

What happens between the time you call for service and the time your car is fixed is likely to influence your degree of satisfaction with the car you bought and the dealer who repaired it. How well were you treated by the call center, the tow truck driver, the service writer, and anyone else involved?

Agero CEO Dave Ferrick sees a car owner’s call for help as an opportunity for an automaker and a dealer to deliver the best possible customer experience. Yes, my car wouldn’t start, but –

*The call center operator knew where I was and what I needed.

*The tow truck driver was able to fix the problem or bring me to someone who could.

*The dealer was aware and involved, and made sure I was able to reach my destination.

*The automaker ensured that the car was properly repaired, and any relevant information was provided to vehicle engineers.

Of course things don’t always work out that way, but Agero’s Ferrick is mounting a major program to increase the likelihood that they will more often than not. Lincoln is among the automakers currently testing the program, which includes extensive dealer training and in-depth information for automakers. It’s based on the belief that a positive experience during a negative situation can increase brand loyalty.

Agero is well-positioned to make a difference. The company is a major supplier of roadside assistance services. With the help of more than 30,000 roadside assistance providers it protects more than 75 million drivers a year in North America during in-vehicle and post-emergency safety and security situations.

As connected vehicle technology evolves, there is more to be said about the quality of the customer experience. What are your thoughts?

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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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