John Day

News and commentary on automotive EE trends and topics

25 February, 2015

chrysler 200 CH015_252TW__midTime does indeed march on. One of the first things I noticed when I slipped behind the wheel of a 2015 Chrysler 200 Limited was the lack of a CD player. You can still find them in some new cars, but not this one.

The Chrysler, however, has USB and AUX ports, and should be able to accommodate a portable player if all that is accessible via Bluetooth and Chrysler’s UConnect multimedia system isn’t enough.

Pairing a phone with UConnect was reasonably fast and easy, as was playing music from the phone through the car’s six speakers. The car’s sound quality is ample.

Other infotainment choices immediately available were AM/FM radio, and SiriusXM (the car comes with a one-year SiriusXM subscription). Selecting and storing favorite AM/FM stations or SiriusXM channels was easy. Icons for AM, FM and SiriusXM are placed vertically on the left side of the 8.4-inch touch screen, which is included in a $695 option (a 5-inch screen is standard). Touch-selectable favorite stations/channels are displayed horizontally at the top of the screen. Volume and tuning knobs are located just below the screen.

2015 Chrysler 200CUConnect also supports Pandora, Aha, iHeartRadio, Slacker Radio, and Yelp. Logic suggested that having those apps on a paired phone would be sufficient to access them via UConnect, but I decided not to register for UConnect service online, so those apps were not an option.

I did select Pandora on my phone (while in Park) and could hear the station through the car’s speakers and see its title displayed on the screen.

The downside was that I had to use the phone to change the channel on the phone; not a problem while the car is parked, but not feasible while the car is moving. Presumably I could use the touch screen to change channels if the app were connected via UConnect.

Icons at the bottom of the screen let the driver or front seat passenger select Radio, (other) Media, Controls (to adjust the driver’s or passenger’s seat every which way), Climate, Phone, or Apps.

A large knob below the screen is used to adjust the speed of the fan, and red and blue arrows on either side of the knob allow the driver or passenger to adjust temperature. Buttons nearby turn the windshield and/or rear window defroster on or off. Rear seat passengers can also adjust fan speed and temperature.

The 200 offers keyless entry – no more struggling to unfreeze door locks in winter – and pushbutton start. A large silver knob allows the driver to shift from Park to Drive or Reverse. The ParkView backup camera works nicely, though I would prefer a broader peripheral view.

The MSRP on the Chrysler 200 Limited I drove is $23,485. My car included the Convenience Group ($895), the Comfort Group ($645) and UConnect 8.4A ($695). With a $995 destination charge, the total was $26,715.

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20 February, 2015


Volvo wants to integrate self-driving cars into real traffic with ordinary people, as opposed to professional drivers, behind the wheel.

This week they described in some detail what they call the Drive Me project.

Their plan is to put 100 self-driving cars in the hands of customers on selected roads around Gothenburg, Sweden by 2017, which is practically the day after tomorrow in automotive terms.

To make that work they need, and have designed, a production-viable autonomous driving system that encompasses a complex network of sensors, cloud-based positioning systems and intelligent braking and steering technologies.

“Autonomous driving will fundamentally change the way we look at driving,” said Dr. Peter Mertens, Volvo Car Group’s Senior VP of R&D. “In the future, you will be able to choose between autonomous and active driving.”
A Volvo Autopilot system is designed to be reliable enough to allow the car to take over every aspect of driving in autonomous mode. It includes fault-tolerant technology.

It’s Easy to Build a Self-Driving Concept Vehicle, But…

“It is relatively easy to build and demonstrate a self-driving concept vehicle, but if you want to create an impact in the real world, you have to design and produce a complete system that will be safe, robust and affordable for ordinary customers,” said Dr Erik Coelingh, a Volvo Technical Specialist.

The challenge is to design an Autopilot system robust enough for traffic scenarios and whatever technical faults might occur – without requiring the driver to be ready to assume control at any moment. At first, the cars will drive autonomously on selected roads with suitable conditions, so no heavy traffic, cyclists or pedestrians.

99 Percent Reliable Is Not Good Enough

“Making this complex system 99 percent reliable is not good enough. You need to get much closer to 100 per cent before you can let self-driving cars mix with other road users in real-life traffic,” Coelingh explained. “We have a similar approach to that of the aircraft industry. Our fail-operational architecture includes backup systems that will ensure that Autopilot will continue to function safely also if an element of the system were to become disabled.” He cited a second independent brake system as one example.

“When autonomous driving is no longer available – due to exceptional weather conditions, technical malfunction or the end of the route has been reached – the driver is prompted by the system to take over again,” Coelingh said, adding that if the driver is incapacitated for any reason, and does not take over in time, the car will bring itself to a safe place to stop.

There are significant potential benefits to autonomous driving, and now the technology is not all that far from reality.

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13 February, 2015

Sen. Edward J. Markey (D Mass.)

In a report issued last week Massachusetts Democratic Senator Edward J. Markey says wireless technologies leave vehicles exposed to hackers, and new standards are needed to plug security and privacy gaps in cars and trucks.

Hacking is a serious concern, and the thought of some nefarious thing happening as we drive is scary, to say the least.

Senator Markey’s report, “Tracking & Hacking: Security & Privacy Gaps Put American Drivers at Risk,” is based on responses from 16 automakers to questions Senator Markey posed last year regarding vehicles’ vulnerability to hackers and how driver information is collected and protected. The report is available here.

Responses were received from BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Porsche, Subaru, Toyota, Volkswagen (with Audi), and Volvo.

According to Senator Markey, the responses show a vehicle fleet that has fully adopted wireless technologies, including wireless Internet access, but has not addressed the real possibilities of hacker infiltration into vehicle systems.

“Drivers have come to rely on these new technologies, but unfortunately the automakers haven’t done their part to protect us from cyber-attacks or privacy invasions. Even as we are more connected than ever in our cars and trucks, our technology systems and data security remain largely unprotected,” Senator Markey said. “We need to work with the industry and cyber-security experts to establish clear rules of the road to ensure the safety and privacy of 21st-century American drivers.”

The report found that
–Nearly 100 percent of vehicles on the market include wireless technologies that could pose vulnerabilities to hacking or privacy intrusions.
–Most automobile manufacturers were unaware of or unable to report on past hacking incidents.
–Security measures to prevent remote access to vehicle electronics are inconsistent and haphazard across the different manufacturers.
–Only two automobile manufacturers were able to describe any capabilities to diagnose or meaningfully respond to an infiltration in real-time, and most said they rely on technologies that cannot be used for this purpose at all.

Should we worry? And what should be done? Are automakers taking adequate steps to provide security, or should government take action. The topic deserves a closer look.

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6 February, 2015

There is a lot of excitement in the automotive industry about potential applications for Ethernet. For one example, Broadcom recently introduced a new BroadR-Reach® automotive Ethernet chip optimized for use in low-power applications.

broadrreach_automotive_pressimage_jan2015Broadcom said the chip’s low power potential enables uses cases beyond infotainment and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and into telematics, shark fin antennas, instrumentation clusters, head unit and center stack module applications.

Advances in higher bandwidth are coming just in time. Scot Morrison, Mentor Graphics general manager, Embedded Runtime Solutions, says “the rapid growth of software and electronic systems in today’s vehicles has meant that existing vehicle network technologies are not able to handle the data communication load created.”

autosar logoThat’s good news for those in favor of higher bandwidth and Ethernet, but CAN, FlexRay, and other network topologies are likely to remain in place for some time, and all must be made to work smoothly together.

Morrison notes that the AUTOSAR (AUTomotive Open System ARchitecture) standard supports timing definition for all elements in a mixed-topology network.

Mentor’s Volcano™ VSA™ product is used for network design of AUTOSAR- and non-AUTOSAR-based electronic control units (ECUs), and this week Mentor announced the availability of automotive Ethernet support for Volcano™ VSA™.

Morrison explains that Volcano™ VSA™ addresses timing analysis challenges – accounting for many different timing paths – where a mixture of CAN, FlexRay, and Ethernet-based network busses co-exist.

He concludes, “The high-bandwidth capabilities of an Ethernet network, along with competitive manufacturing costs, have made it a good choice for many ECU interfaces within a modern vehicle. Our Volcano VSA design tools will allow engineers to efficiently design hybrid networks utilizing Ethernet, CAN, LIN and FlexRay technologies.”
At the Automotive Ethernet Congress in Munich, Mentor demoed a real-life example based on a Freescale ECU evaluation board, Broadcom’s BroadR-Reach® technology, and COTS network analysis tools.

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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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